Live Reviews

LIVE REVIEW: Empire State Bastard, Cathouse, Glasgow, 26/03/2023

Photo Credit: Calum McMillan

Empire State Bastard don’t really bear any real musical resemblance to Biffy Clyro despite both bands sharing a singer and live guitar player. Sure, you can see the through line between the more angular elements of Biffy pre-Puzzle and this…but Empire State Bastard is a much more wilfully antagonistic beach.

For starters, from the second the opening band finish to the moment Empire State Bastard take to the stage there’s a three note bassy synth pattern that plays for the entire changeover. Slowly, almost imperceptibly ramping up to the arrival of the musicians on stage. It’s an unsettling and unnerving statement of intent which introduces music that is wilfully confrontational.

Fans of Biffy Clyro’s sweeter melodies and enormous choruses will find pretty much nothing familiar here. It’s a raw performance, even rawer still thanks to the band being so knew. These compositions don’t so much ebb and flow as spin on a dime, switching from break neck drumming and shrieking to neck snapping chugs and eerie synths and back again. It’s joyously sonically confrontational and in your face and there’s no significant breathing space at any point.

The most obvious reference point is probably Faith No More at their most obtuse and extreme or similar Patton projects like Mr Bungle when they’re really pushing at the edges of what rock music can be. Empire State Bastard are a bit rougher around the edges than that, a bit more DIY and a lot less Pitchfork, but the comparison still stands. Mr. Bungle alumni Dave Lombardo (also of some band called Slayer or whatever) providing powerhouse live drums probably accounts for some of this, his propulsive energy is refreshingly organic change of pace in a world of laptops and click tracks keeping performances totally in check. 

One of the highlights of the set proves to be a short piece composed entirely of blistering live drums and Simon Neil’s caustic vocals and no other instrumentation. That and opener Harvest, with its frantic woo refrain, are the most immediate parts of the set. The rest of the performance is deafening, intense and borderline overwhelming at points. The likelihood of anyone going home with a new ear worm in their ear is slim…it’s more an aural experience as a whole and less of a selection of hits. Extreme hits.

All that being said about the extremity of these songs, there’s probably more hooky parts and melody than the “grindcore” descriptions in press releases would have you believe but it is in no way accessible. Simon Neil’s distinctive singing is replaced almost entirely with abrasive, banshee style screams and the odd eerie melodic passage, this clearly isn’t music designed for sing alongs. Instead, it feels more like they’re written to be blunt instruments which can be challenging to your audience when you only have one song out, opened with it and no one has any familiarity with even a second of the rest of your set.

There are a few first show kinks to work out. Having to start a song a couple of times over because of some confusion over what song is being played being a key example of this. That being said, the slight awkwardness and uncertainties are quite charming and bond the artist to the crowd in a way that a more rehearsed outfit just couldn’t.

Time will tell whether this is an exciting new artistic outlet for Neil and his co-conspirator Mike Vennart (Oceansize alumni and Biffy Clyro live player) or just an interesting curio, but on the evidence of tonight’s debut show there’s a good chance it could be the former.


Words and Photos: Calum McMillan