Tonight marks the last date of a short three-day run through the UK either side of Damnation Festival for Nails and is their second lap of the country after last year’s stellar release You Will Never Be One Of Us. Accompanying Todd and co are the two hardcore outfits Helpless and Harrowed who, like Nails, tamper very little with the sacred elements of the genre, though this is not to say they are anything but thoroughly enjoyable. Nails on the other hand are absolutely next level tonight. Beating-around-the-bush be damned when I say the devastating California crew turned up and played what was possibly the greatest show I have ever seen, let alone this year, showing why, as a group, they are held in such reverence.
Nevertheless, first on were Harrowed, an unfamiliar band to most of the audience tonight judging by the reception unmatched to the sheer quality of their set. Shamefully, I must admit that this was my first time at The Underworld so when the band came on and they let the low end ring out prior to launching into their set, I was unprepared for quite how thunderous it came out in the confines of the club venue, shaking the floor unlike any other floor had been shaken before! With a duct-taped bass and a singer shuddering behind the unrestrained muscle of his vocals, they rumbled their way through a faithful hardcore set littered with blastbeats and the like.
Nearing the end of their set they mentioned a new album coming next year, from which most of the songs were lifed, though it was largely blurred by the muddy production of the venue. Despite largely a lackadaisical reaction to the band, a few fans are going for it, meaning one eye stayed on the pit during the entirety of their set. While the real weight of the evening came after their set, Harrowed were wholly enjoyable. A really good choice to entice people away from the bar and warm them up for what was to follow.
That of course, would be Helpless, the fantastically named and fully armed trio who reigned over The Underworld for the course of their set. There’s little that really set them apart from openers other than the fact that they took all of the aforementioned qualities and pushed them to 11. Initially this seemed far fetched but came about as no tricky feat for a group coming off the back of one of the scene’s stand-out releases in their debut; Debt. The record is despairingly raw and impossibly forlorn, packed to the gunnels with the best traits of this sound. An incredible debut. Bassist Steve adopts a Kilmister-esque stance, screaming up into the mic alongside vocalist Dan, also physically trembling behind the weight of his remorseful shrieking. This time around, the crowd warmed to the idea of a friendly game of fisticuffs and the pit closed in on itself. It’s the achingly slow and suffocatingly heavy closer that proves the highlight of the night thus far. Dan bleeds his soul through the mic and the 500-odd capacity room lurches aggressively in all directions. Really, really damn good.
However, it’s clear more than ever before who the crowd is here for. Skateboarding on, bassist John Gianelli is followed by the rest of the leather-clad Nails to roaring validation. These shows are among the first for Nails’ newest recruit; guitarist Leon del Muerte of Exhumed, Terroriser and Murder Construct among others. In typical punk fashion, the band say nothing as they tear open with “Tyrant”. Immediately, the crowd becomes a mob and the insanity ensues. Unrepentantly, the title track of You Will Never Be One Of Us steamrolls in as the second song, brutally flooring the assembly to our appreciation, setting the bar dizzyingly high.
Standing front and centre is yours truly, under the amassment of sweat and flesh that is Todd Jones. Assuming a power stance above half the crowd and curling his lip, he spits and snarls his way through their unbelievably hulking back-catalogue. It’s his channeling of his inner Anselmo and the perverse display of aggression (if you’ll pardon the paraphrase) that is utterly awe-inspiring. In other words, he truly made The Underworld his bitch tonight. I’ve said before how CJ from Thy Art Is Murder is one of the very few frontmen really embodying and carrying the torch for modern heavy music, though tonight serves as a testament to Jones’ unquestioned membership in that exclusive group.
The one-two sucker punch of “Life Is A Death Sentence” into “Wide Open Wound” is broken up only by Todd addressing the crowd perhaps the only time in the whole set by saying “I’m not one for talking because people don’t usually like what I have to say”. He follows with “London, people like to call me a piece of shit wherever I go. But if this is what being a piece of shit is like, then maybe I want to be a piece of shit”. We’re fully behind you on that one Todd.
Other highlights of the show largely come from the newest record though the likes of “Abandon All Life”, “Unsilent Death” and a surprise appearance from “They Come Crawling Back” make the night something else. After describing themselves as “not ones for encores” the appearance of their epic 8-minute “They Come Crawling Back” amongst the otherwise 30-60 second long songs is an odd choice for what is believably Nails first ever encore. Nevertheless, it rips as deadly as the rest of their cuts. Shaking his fist in a wholly possessed madman sort of way, he addresses the horde one last time to say that this “May have been the best show we’ve ever played” which is believable to the amount of people gushing at how unreal they were post-departure (myself included).
The Sex Pistols’ “Submission” suitably rings out as the throng achingly ambles out after being pummeled by the band. People reconvene with friends and strangers they were previously clambering over and diving onto just a second ago. As they’ve recently been announced for a mainstage slot at Bloodstock 2018, if Municipal Waste hold the crowd-surfing record, Nails undeniably have just acquired the stage-diving record. While this feat may not be replicable at the festival (without a giant trampoline… which I entirely encourage), it will be interesting to see how this show will go down in an open air environment. Once again, I’ll reiterate how this was perhaps the best show I’ve seen thus far. I can’t pin it down to one thing but between the band charging off the bat with You Will Never Be One Of Us, the audience being 100% onboard and the venue packing everyone in in perfect conditions like fostering mould, it was unfathomably brilliant. Roll on, Bloodstock!