The Castle Tavern, Luton, 15 April 2023
Support from Spectral Darkwave
Tribe of Ghosts are one of England’s hottest prospects. You might not have heard the name. In a musical world of abundance and excess choice, they’re one of many artists competing for your attention. But this is a band in the ascendancy. In a few days’ time, they support avant-garde black metal darlings, Imperial Triumphant, at The Green Room in Brighton. Earlier this month, they signed a deal with Dark Mother Management. An appearance at last year’s Bloodstock created a buzz around them that shows no signs of abatement.
I arrive at the famous Castle Tavern in Luton wondering if this is the last chance people will have to catch the quartet on a grassroots headlining tour. The price of a pint is £3.70, and the band members wander around the venue like good-natured punters. Lead songwriter, Adam Sedgwick, tells me that their bassist can’t make tonight’s show due to a double-booking, so they’ll use his pre-recorded parts instead. Local Hertfordshire heroes, Nomadic Reign, have also withdrawn from the bill, which gives me time to sit with the Tribe of Ghosts crew for a pre-show interview. Drummer, Danny Yates, is the current sticksman for Sunderland deathcore bruisers, Osiah, and Adam used to front the occult-themed thrash band, King Leviathan. Nowadays, Adam wants to push as many creative boundaries as he can. The group even have a dance song in the pipeline. He’s excited about challenging people’s expectations. The comparisons with Spiritbox and Sleep Token are flattering, but Tribe of Ghosts are their own thing.
Vocalist, Beccy Blaker, joins us in the middle of a discussion about the band’s songwriting process. She speaks in an eloquent Sussex accent and brims with wide-eyed enthusiasm. The ambition and dedication in this band is infectious. Earlier this year, she had vocal surgery to give her the best chance of producing a once-in-a-lifetime performance on record. “We delayed the recording of the vocals for our album because I went and had an operation on my sinuses because they were affecting my voice,” she explains. Beccy brings a sophisticated pop element to the band’s dystopian metal sound, including the whistle-note technique made famous by Mariah Carey in the 1990s. “What I find with whistle-tone is that it’s there, really, because it’s such a thin sound. You can get up there, whereas things like actual projecting and belting are harder.” Can the audience expect her to dazzle us with this technique, tonight? “Mmm,” she smiles, breaking into a giggle.
We make our way from the beer garden to the stage for the gents from Spectral Darkwave to open the event. This London trio produced a magnificent piece of sci-fi death-doom with 2021’s sophomore album, At Outer Dark. Tonight, they play with no bassist (he has Covid-19), but guitar virtuoso, Joe Lyndon, of Hertfordshire metal favourites, Dorylus, joins them on stage to add extra muscle. Their five-song set reproduces the admirable punch and zest of their latest record, beginning with the Devin Townsend-esque groove of ‘731’ and ending with the eight-minute title track from At Outer Dark. The spooky synth pattern of ‘A Toll is Due’ sounds flat underneath the weight of the guitars, but drummer, Dan Kennedy, accents the chugging riffs with great precision and navigates the tricky transition from bridge to chorus with diligent time-keeping skills.
I make subtle glances around the room to see if other people share my enthusiasm for Spectral Darkwave. Maybe fifteen people congregate on the narrow dance floor in front of the stage. A young woman next to me wants to circle her head in time with the minor-chord brilliance of the guitars, yet something changes her mind. Vocalist and guitarist, Steve Kennedy, projects his playful death-metal voice like Tom G. Warrior under the spell of Christopher Lee. I close my eyes and hear the experimental doom of Triptykon in the rolling guitar riffs and palm muted shapes. A pint glass behind me could be mine. I can’t remember. My air guitar shapes become more vivid with each song. Spectral Darkwave are a unique band who deserve more recognition and a larger audience for their colourful extreme metal. Did anyone promote tonight’s gig beyond a few Facebook posts and posters inside the venue?
The number of punters milling around the stage is still sparse when Tribe of Ghosts plug in and sound their first note. This doesn’t stop Adam Sedgwick throwing his guitar around and standing up to the mic like a boxer eyeing up his opponent at the weigh-in ceremony. Beccy gets into the groove with an energetic karate kick. The first three songs are all from their upcoming album, but none of them are available as studio recordings. I find my stride when they roar into ‘Hive’ and plough through ‘False Gods’. These songs are new to me, but the equanimity of Beccy’s haunting vocals offer moments of calm among the sharp metal riffs and thunderous drums. Tribe of Ghosts love to explore contrasting dynamic extremes. Adam steps off the stage and into the crowd to hack into a succession of deathcore breakdowns like a man intent on destroying his guitar. I let my body follow the rhythms. It’s not pretty. My head and shoulders plunge forward as if evading a swinging axe blade. Fuck, this feels liberating.
Tribe of Ghosts are at their most enigmatic on debut single, ‘Cold’. This is the song that retooled their sound and vision away from the post-metal atmospherics of Cult of Luna and into something more industrial and dystopian. Adam’s lyrics depict a world where the elite use the masses for their sport as battery-farmed playthings. Beccy approaches her parts with the haunting introspection of Beth Gibbons (Portishead) and unleashes her high whistle crooning in the anguish of regret. I feel the crunch and dexterity of the drop-tuned guitar riffs in my chest, but my concentration receives a crude interruption from Adam’s barbarous death metal roars. Whoa! Where did they come from? Do Sleep Token write songs with this level of intricate brutality and beauty?
Current single, ‘Reign’, offers a slow-motion respite while my neck muscles recover from the audio tension. “Shed this weight upon me/This weight, my hollow crown,” croons Beccy in a glorious pass-the-vocal challenge to Adam, who repeats the same lines in an emotive baritone voice. And, of course, the whistle notes at the end leave me with mouth agape. Björk would sound something like this if she embraced a prog metal direction on her next record.
“Two more songs! Two more songs!” Is this me chanting these words at the end of ‘A Lesson Learned in Silence’?
“You can have one more,” teases Beccy. Apparently, it’s a cover of ‘Streets’ by American rapper, Doja Cat, but I spend most of the time looping my head around and waiting for the distorted guitars and drum grooves to lock in on the money beat. At the end, Adam sits on his amp like a prowling cat with a beaming smile on his face. He would like to treat us to one more song, but he knows that the best way to induce excitement is to withhold the goods for future consumption. Eight of us descend on the stage. I shake the hand of drummer, Danny Yates, and compliment him on his Nine Inch Nails vest.
Tribe of Ghosts won’t be playing these venues next year, and we’ll have an album to digest by then. This could be one of those future memories, where I can say, “I was there when they played a pub in Luton…”