LIVE: Arcane Roots / Grumble Bee / The Hyena Kill @ The Leadmill, Sheffield

By Mark Johnson

Despite possessing three superb musicians and a back catalogue filled with massive alt-rock anthems, Arcane Roots have somehow managed to stay frustrating below the radar. They have all the ingredients to be one the UK’s largest bands, but on previous tours, the venues and audience numbers haven’t been of a size befitting a band of this quality. With latest album ‘Melancholia Hymns’, the trio have elevated their sound with synths and electronic effects, adding grandiose layers that wouldn’t be out of place in arenas, and as they air out the new tracks on tour for the first time, this shift in sound seems targeted at getting them there.

The Hyena Kill build anticipation ahead of the main event and the Manchester duo are an ideal way to get the juices flowing. With just a guitar, drums and vocals they have a lot of sound to make up and they’re definitely up to the task. Drummer Lorna Blundell fills the room from start to finish with energetic, pulsating drum beats and guitarist/vocalist Stephen Dobb brings the aggression with raw guitars and shouted vocals. It’s an intense, no-nonsense set of in-your-face rock songs that heats up the room, defrosting any last remnants of snow dragged in from Sheffield’s wintery streets.

Musician Jack Bennett’s project Grumble Bee has been steadily gaining momentum over the last 18 months, winning people over with massive anthems, incredible vocals and an endearing personality. Bennett’s on stage persona and passion for performing has produced the adage that no two Grumble Bee shows are ever the same, but while his raw presentation format can lead to unexpectedly wonderful results, there have also been times when shows haven’t gone to plan. Any technical difficulties or performance wobbles seem to be a thing of the past now however, as Grumble Bee’s live unit – completed by bassist Zach Phelps and drummer Callum Connell – sounds tighter than ever before. Having gelled as a unit through sheer experience and hard work, the trio are now producing wonderfully consistent performances and tonight’s is up there with the best of them. With a second EP imminent, it’s the perfect time to be turning out shows of such quality and consistency.

The expansive sound of Arcane Roots’ latest record ‘Melancholia Hymns’ seems a declaration that the band are not content with being a large fish in a small pond and as the lights dim in anticipation of their arrival, it’s reassuring to see that their ambition on record has been matched by a larger crowd than we’ve seen on tours in the past.

Opener ‘Off the Floor’ sounds enormous on stage, coming across heavier than the finely-balanced studio version and Andrew Groves’ absolutely note-perfect vocals become an immediate highlight of the performance. Groves takes a seat at the synth for ‘Matter’ which builds to a superb crescendo, but as it fades into ‘Solemn’, the slower pace drains the early adrenaline of the opening pairing. As the set bounces from the band’s old, raucous style to the expansive, synth-driven tones of the newer material, the issue of fluctuating pace becomes a theme of the set and though each individual song is performed to perfection, the hour and a half struggles to gel and maintain momentum.

In isolation, it’s a pleasure to witness Groves leading the vast beauty of ‘Arp’ and ‘Before Me’ from behind the synth, his vocals merging well with the harmonies of bass player Adam Burton and made complete by drummer Jack Wrench’s live electronic drum accompaniments, however these songs take time to build, and when flanked by old favourites ‘Triptych’, ‘Slow Dance’ and ‘You Are’, the abrupt changes in pace makes these otherwise fantastic songs seem like interludes in the set.

The level of talent on display is unquestionable and when taking any individual song at its own merit, Arcane Roots flawlessly deliver their ambitious mix of technically challenging, hauntingly melodic and at-times crushingly heavy, songs. Groves’ vocals are a joy to behold in a live setting, staying note-perfect through the entirety of the 90 minute set, matching the equally proficient instrumentation, which doesn’t falter for a second.

Arranging a set list is a fine art, particularly when trying to balance two distinctive styles of music, and on tonight’s showing, there’s still some work to do. With such peaks and troughs in momentum, the excellent tracks from ‘Melancholia Hymns’ don’t get the full praise they deserve, seeming more of an unwelcome distraction among the chaos of their older material. With a focus on smoother transitions from the old to the new, the set as a whole would be able to shine as much as the individual songs.