Momentum is a tricky thing. Barely noticeable when you’re embroiled in a wave of it, but much harder to get back when you’re not.
Back in 2018/2019, The Blinders had momentum. Debut album Columbia, packed as it was with twisted tales of an alternative world, was positively received and their incendiary live shows were garnering them high word-of-mouth praise before several unrelated issues bumped them slightly off-course.
Their conflicted decision to allow the use of early single Brave New World in a William Hill commercial was frowned upon in some quarters (by those not appreciative of the lack of money in the music industry, mainly) and, by their own admission, it sparked a series of internal conversations that nearly split the band up.
Then, in mid-2020, original drummer Matt Neale left shortly after the release of second album Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath, which itself was met with a more muted response than their debut.
And, of course, there was the pandemic, hard enough for most musicians but even more so for a group whose live shows were the foundation on which everything else was built.
Undeterred, the second album was released right in the middle of last year and, while perhaps a slightly watered-down version of their first, it bristled with enough menace to add further venom to their live shows. Yet without the live shows, it struggled to make an impact. To their credit, they ensured their profile was sustained via live albums and streams.
Now things are back to ‘normal’, can The Blinders reassert themselves in 2021? If there’s any justice, yes, but it’s a tougher ask than it was. Taking to a stage set-up that transfers the Fantasies… album cover to physical form (1970’s style lamps, table and red lights which generate suitably moody silhouettes) to the gentle piano of Interlude, the now-five piece (when playing live) launch into the boisterous Something Wicked This Way Comes, complete with anvil percussion (anvil sadly not present) which immediately segues into Forty Days And Forty Nights.
The latter track rumbles like a distant army before the frenzied chorus, singer Thomas Haywood’s face hidden beneath a mop of curly hair while bassist Charlie McGough (still attired like Nick Cave) conducts the music, prodding and poking at the air while glaring at the audience.
The three additional live members (drummer, keys and guitarist) all bolster the sound. There are flourishes of keys/mellotron on Rat In A Cage, while the bongos are deployed for Et Tu and Forty Days and Forty Nights.
Throughout the multi-tempo Hate Song their contribution is vital, freeing up Haywood to play chords and perform as frontman as the guitarist strokes and snakes around (rather than kisses) the sky when required.
Typically, but perhaps endemically to the issue, the older songs get a much better reception. Of the new batch, the freaky, hurdy-gurdy of Lunatic With A Loaded Gun stands out monstrously, while the moody set-closer Black Glass is brooding, dark and epic. The slow piano of Circle Song works well as respite for band and crowd, while Mule Song slots in nicely as part of a relentless encore.
Yet the small (but dedicated) moshpit make their feelings known by going for it during the older tracks. The righteous doom of L Etat Cest Moi still packs a punch, as does the double header of Et Tu and Brutus, which are expanded but the length doesn’t come at the price of nullifying their power.
Therein lies the problem. Three years ago, The Blinders played the same venue to a much larger crowd, and the lack of progress (through no fault of their own) represents the issue. They aren’t doing anything wrong, packing as much power and panache as they ever did, but for whatever reason it’s not resonating, which is a huge shame.
Here’s hoping the wind catches their sails once again.