LIVE: Mutoid Man @ Oslo, London

By Katherine Allvey

Mutoid Man are not what they seem. Beneath layers of fuzz and noise there’s an intricacy, and a ferocious intelligence, in everything they touch. The four hundred people crammed into the sold-out Oslo in Hackney know that well. The crowd is overwhelmingly male (around ten women can be spotted in the audience), and every lyric starts a fire of memory that shoots forward through their ferocious sound before reverberating through our cramped bodies.

This is the kind of show that outraged parents fear will damage their sheltered offspring; Mutoid Man’s music is loud, fast, corrupting and engrossing. Though, between the retro guitar squeals and plaintive vocals, their live sound is closer to a Queens of The Stone Age album that’s being ripped apart at the seams than anything you’d play backwards to hear a satanic message. “Shit, London, it’s so good to see you again! Let’s burn some bridges,” grins vocalist and guitarist Stephen Brodsky before launching into ‘Bridgeburner’. He very much feeds off our enthusiasm and beckons our applause, though there’s no break and release between songs. They’re locked together by drummer Ben Koller’s pneumatic rhythms, which are practically causing tectonic shifts. It’s astounding how a band famed for noise can subtly change the emotion behind a song as they switch between reckless and pained with only the smallest change in their sound, playing with our emotions and responses behind the curtain of their distortion.

After six songs, the temperature saps our enthusiasm. We pass empty glasses to the bar in human chains, returning ice water along the same route, as it’s too crowded to move to find relief. “We’re gonna bring it to your homeland now,” screams Brodsky before unleashing a cover of King Crimson’s ‘Court of the Crimson King’. They reference themselves in the lyrics to rapturous applause and while their version is no less prog than the original, the sense of fantasy is replaced by a threatening, posing footstep beat like an incoming dragon.

As Brodsky flings out the final line, the first crowd member faints from the heat. He comes to and pushes his way through the crowd, stumbling as he passes, as ‘Date With The Devil’ begins. He won’t be the last to hit the floor before Mutoid Man’s set ends. The song’s ‘Motörhead meets Sabbath’ vibes climb an uphill audio slope, the pressure unrelenting with only bare instances of booming release. Koller drums like he’s performing an exorcism until the underground chords introducing ‘Bandages’ herald another shift in mood. It’s an intensely powerful song live, vibrant in its muddied purity. Sometimes it only takes small touches to add colour to the world-building a band hopes to create, as evidenced by this comparatively understated take on their song. Jeff Matz’ bass is so seismic that it causes waves and ripples across our essential ice water cups.

Just when you think you understand the flight plan of a Mutoid Man show, they throw you off course. Their encore cover of the Animals’ ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is a stained glass window into another, happier place. When he’s not begging or howling, Brodsky has a tremendous voice. Repeating the chorus completely a cappella as an introduction is stunning in the most literal sense. You cannot move, or turn your eyes away from him, or miss a second of the performance. Yes, there is some crowd participation silliness, but taking a moment away from their otherwise serious set only reminds us that they are human. To knock us off balance again, their oily slick smooth encore of ‘1000 Mile Stare’ feels barely contained by Brodsky himself. It takes us all a while to make it, but the shredding finally heats us up to boiling point as he struggles to hold on. We throw caution to the wind and start a small but vital pit, only for a few minutes.

An hour in Mutoid Man’s company passes far too quickly, and despite our desire for oxygen, we’d happily return for more. Pausing to really listen to each song is necessary to appreciate the intricacy of the guitar filigree and subtlety in their emotional manipulation. Standing back in awe is essential to feeling the full force of their set.