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Live Review: Empire State Bastard, Grub Nap – Underworld, 28/03/2023

I don’t remember the last time that I was this stressed out getting tickets to a gig when the band hadn’t released a minute of music. Empire State Bastard, a new band created by Mike Vennart of Oceansize and Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro, playing the relatively small Underworld in Camden, joined by Dave Lombardo of Slayer (!) on drums and Naomi Mac on bass – it sold out in seconds. Support on the night came from Leeds based duo Grub Nap who were a genuinely excellent choice for this gig. With just drums and baritone guitar the duo created a hell of a noise, complete with truly visceral vocals from their drummer. They played a relatively short set but, in that short time, they brought us sludgy riff after sludgy riff, complete with heavy drumming that ensured everyone around me was headbanging in no time. I’d never even heard of Grub Nap going into the gig but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on what they do next – an unforgivingly loud band with a lot of personality.

After 30 minutes of repetitive oddly timed synth notes over the PA (I can only presume this was intentional to build tension/enrage everyone ready for a pit), Empire State Bastard take to the stage to a reception usually reserved for bands who’ve been touring for years. If Grub Nap were loud then ESB were thunderous; the distorted guitars on one side, the absolute powerhouse that is Dave Lombardo in the middle and the driving bass from Naomi – god help anyone down the front who didn’t bring ear plugs. They open the night with debut single Harvest which sounds absolutely massive live – a lot of thought has clearly gone into creating those hideous guitar and bass sounds and they absolutely hammer the audience. Simon lurches around the middle of the stage, occasionally playing a few notes on a synth, the rest of the time delivering an absolutely brutal vocal screech.

A few songs in and The Blues shows a slight change in pace and intensity, an incredible bass line and complex drumming really driving the track along, the vocal yells just punctuating a dark but interesting track. Later in the set there’s a track that just drops down to vocals and drums, something you rarely see for a full track. There’s something brutal about Simon’s vocals just sitting upon what is essentially three minutes of drum fill, with just the occasional vocal harmony to emphasise individual parts. It’s ballsy as hell and makes it really difficult to try and pin a genre on the band – they’re a lot of things, they’re not afraid to experiment but mostly they’re incredibly loud.

Forty-five minutes after they walk on stage it’s all over. The band members might be used to playing much longer sets at their “day jobs” but I doubt anyone would argue they didn’t put the same energy into the more concise set length. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the set; I really liked Harvest but an hour of that would have been a bit excessive. Thankfully there’s so much variety to their sound that, while you are pummeled by volume throughout, you can’t really predict what’s going to come next. It makes me really excited to hear the debut record, that’s for sure.

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