Live review – Famyne

The Red Lion, Stevenage, 15 July 2022

Pub gigs are some of the best on the circuit. The competition for live shows is at its fiercest right now with a slew of bands prolonging their album cycle to accommodate the two years of disruption caused by the global pandemic. Artists that might have passed through the provincial towns of the UK now stop off at some of them like eager tourists. Cro-Mags playing the Boulevard in Wigan and Sepultura patronising The Tivoli in Buckley, North Wales are just two examples of this phenomenon. Those artists with a regional profile in England can arrange their own UK tours with stops at the pubs and small concert venues that are the lifeblood of the scene. Tonight, Canterbury quintet, Famyne, make the trip to the outskirts of the home counties for a performance in the town that produced Fields of the Nephilim. Welcome to Stevenage.

First on the bill are guitar-free noise-rock puzzle, Torpid State, led by Negative Thought Process/Trading Hands drummer, Jordan Allard, on bass and vocals. The London Road producer and scene promoter plays his four strings like a guitar and uses a pedal board to reproduce the feedback-heavy grime of an electric six-stringer. Their set coaxes a small but dedicated army of followers to the front of the stage while I remain seated next to the jukebox on a bar stool. Members of Praetorian, Everest Queen, Indifferent Engine and Nomadic Reign are all in attendance. Allard’s heavy upstrokes and screaming false throat vocals struggle to overpower the hazardous bass rumblings of his instrument, but his drummer has no such problems making himself heard. One moment I hear d-beats, the next passage slips into a pocket groove. Somewhere under the noise is a pentatonic blues sludge, but Torpid State are a hardcore band at heart. The duo have a two-track EP coming out soon. I’m intrigued.

Above: Torpid State play some of the heaviest bass guitar music you’ll hear. Bassist and vocalist, Jordan Allard, is also the drummer for Trading Hands, Skullfucked and Negative Thought Process. Photo by Andy Edwards.

Main support, Old Horn Tooth, play the heaviest and slowest doom metal your mind can conjure. The scent of weed permeates through the beer garden and into the live area before they take to the stage. More of us congregate around the three-piece set-up in expectation of a stoner metal haze. They don’t disappoint. I can feel the low frequency reverberations in my collar bone. The bassist stamps his foot to the slow snare beats and throws his instrument around like a mobile telescope. Vocalist and guitarist, Chris Jones, appears to be shouting something through his microphone, but the fuzz-heavy guitars are too loud for his voice to be heard. Any regulars that call in for a quiet pint will be out through the door within two minutes of hearing this unrelenting morass of droning guitar distortion. Many in the audience love it. I crave more variation and a bigger emphasis on contrasting dynamics.

Above: Old Horn Tooth play stoner metal with the intensity of a post-metal band. Photo by Andy Edwards.

I feel like I’m in a live VHS recording from the early 1990s by the time Famyne fire up their set with their cult 2015 single, ‘Long Lost Winter’. Red laser pens and green sabre lights dart around the room like animations in a Tim Pope video. Those of us ready to spin our heads and lose ourselves in rapture are no further than five yards away from Tom Vane’s microphone when he unleashes his first brooding note. It gives new meaning to being on top of the band – we’re in their faces. Most of the group have hair long enough to cover their view of the audience, but the singer is not as lucky. Me and the guitarist from cult doom metal quartet, Gévaudan, look at each other in manic delight as if deciding which of us should devour the first bottle from the Queen’s wine cellar at Buckingham Palace.

Above: We’re so close to the members of Famyne on stage, we can read their thought patterns.

Anyone who’s heard Famyne’s latest record, II: The Ground Below, will know it’s one of the finest pieces of expressive doom metal of recent years. Unlike most of their contemporaries, the Canterbury quintet strike a fine balance between existential mud-wading and rocking like motherfuckers. I let out an inaudible howl when they launch into the doom maze of ‘Defeated’. Is there a better concoction of Alice in Chains and Cathedral in modern music? The hair ends from the tall blonde woman behind me flick against the back of my neck as she unleashes an almighty mosh rotation. I switch my pint from my right to my left hand to avoid a spillage. Tom Vane feels no need to introduce each song. The whole point is that the music thrives as an open-mouthed entrancement, which means I need at least thirty seconds to work out the familiar riff of ‘The Ai’ and the epic posturing of ‘Solid Earth’. “I fucking love this riff,” I say to the charming woman next to me as we lower our heads ready for a celebration of drop-C guitar heaven. I imitate the palm-muted motions with my own air guitar. Tom Vane’s microphone is above my head when I look up from my involuntary upper-body spasms. The two guitarists either side of him are in a kind of metallic Valhalla as they crunch down on the strings of their instruments.

Above: This is the vertigo you feel when you look up after spinning your head to a monstrous Famyne riff for thirty seconds.

Are we doing Famyne a disservice by labelling them a doom metal band? Those that dismiss the genre as Black Sabbath worship stopped listening after Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone. Famyne have the monumental grinding riffs and loud bass tone, but their music incorporates the glorious alternative rock of the early 1990s and a plethora of haunting vocal harmonies that Layne Staley perfected during the early days of his descent into heroin paralysis. Tom Vane’s position in the mix needs to be louder for him to demonstrate the full force of his voice in this crowded room, but the quieter contemplation of ‘Gone’ gives him the opportunity to muse in a darker tone. I hear Jane’s Addiction and early Smashing Pumpkins in the sombre psychedelic guitars. A few people raise their camera phones to capture the change of tempo. The six-foot-three chap in front glides along to the breezy rhythm like a hardcore brother unsure what to do at a rock gig.

Those that remember Famyne as the winners of the 2016 Metal 2 The Masses finals for the Kent region will be delighted to learn that they still play songs from their 2015 EP. ‘Enter the Sloth’ and ‘Tower’ earn a loud cheer from ex-Jackal’s Backbone guitarist, Sam Farrington, who stands at the front in his long-sleeved Tuskar shirt. At this point, it doesn’t matter which songs they play – I’m in the zone. This music is like pornography for some of the doom aficionados in the audience. The lights are dim enough to make me question if I’m still wearing my glasses. (It turns out my spectacles are on a beer stand behind me.)

“What a tune!” I say to anyone who will listen when the band end the set with their magnificent album closer, ‘For My Sins’. That bass groove at the beginning is as beguiling as the sight of a muntjac deer in the dawn woodlands of Hertfordshire. Tom Vane’s harmonies glow like dragon flies in the forest, while Tom Ross’s wah-wah lead guitar heroics give us the emotional climax our bodies deserve after such a collective intoxication. Man, this is heavy. The guitar distortion from the amp of Martin Emmons is harmful enough to give me long-term tuberculosis. No wonder the bar staff wear ear plugs.

Famyne will encounter audiences more lukewarm in other towns. After all, doom and sludge are the two most popular genres in the Hertfordshire metal scene. But I leave tonight wondering if I’ve heard a better band doing this type of music since the turn of the century. I’m more likely to listen to djent than doom, but Famyne can consider me a new disciple.