Live Review: Dark Sky Burial – London

Live Review: Dark Sky Burial - Camden Underworld, London
12th September 2021
Review by Dan Barnes

From Nick Cave to the Man Cave for this live stream of Shane Embury’s Dark Sky Burial project’s first ever live show. When one thinks of Napalm Death’s longest serving member one would be forgiven for thinking him to be a man of limited dimensions; even his extracurricular activities away from the Godfathers of Grind seem centred around the fast and noisy, with participation in Unseen Terror, Venomous Concept, Brujeria, Lock-Up and more. Yet last year’s second Blood From the Soul album was a move away from the sound of the To Spite the Gland that Breeds debut into more of an industrial unit for DSM-5.

A quick glance at many a publicity photo of Napalm Death is revealing as to the band member’s tastes and influences: Barney speaks openly about his love of progressive music and can be seen sporting a tie-dyed Marillion Brave shirt on the Diatribes pictures; and although Shane was clad in a Morbid Angel beater on the back of Mentally Murdered, he is wearing a Cardiacs shirt on the rear sleeve snap of Harmony Corruption. Even, during the interview extra on the Punishment in Capitals DVD, Shane admits he enjoyed listening to Goldfrapp and other soundtrack music.

It should come as no surprise then that the lockdown saw Shane flexing his creative muscles away from Napalm, Venomous and Blood from the Soul in favour of his industrial / ambient project Dark Sky Burial.

Beginning in April 2020, this experimental project was conceived around a trilogy of records: De Omnibus Dubitandum Est, continuing in February 2021 on Quod Me Nutrit Me Destuit and concluding in August with Vincit Qui Se Vincit. Described by Shane as his “first step on a different path” and ably assisted by long-time collaborator Russ Russell, the musical trilogy is a journey very much into the self, guided by a musical Virgil along a path that is at times lushly verdant and at times coldly minimalistic.

Tonight’s debut show is being streamed by the good people of Hotel-Radio and the pre-gig banter on the chat-box suggests viewers have tuned in from as far afield as mainland Europe, Canada and the United States. With a drum-kit dominating the stage, a guitar positioned to the right and Shane tucked away to the left, almost out of sight, the show begins with the repetitive and mechanical progression of an ambient Godflesh. Rear screens project monochrome images of destruction and decay as a symphony of sampled sounds rise above the feedback loops. Progressive elements can be heard among the electronic beeps and choral vocals.

A spoken word section breaks through the darkness, filled with echo and reverb, akin to Sonic Attack by Hawkwind while, at the same time, strings are delicately picked, giving a simple, nursery rhyme feel to the moment; until it is broken by the underpinning of futuristic electronic soundscapes, juxtaposing the simplistic and innocent with the complex and (presumably) corrupting.

The tracks fit together without the need to identify them individually. Like a SunnO))) show it is more about the feeling that the music evokes than playing the ‘hits’ and following more pronouncements, Sonic Attack-style, the music dissolves into an 80s electronic sound, eventually to be supplemented by a dirty bass but always maintaining the same level of hypnotism.

Shane’s spoken word passages, when paired with the images being projected onto the rear of the stage, give the aura of an interior monologue from a damaged psyche in conversation with itself. The industrial sensibilities giving a framework for the desensitising effect of modernity on the human condition.

But, if there is hope, it lays in the climax of the recital. For the first time in the evening the music resolves itself into a recognisably structured melody; soaring moments upon which Shane’s accomplished vocals are raised. Pink Floyd interjections punctuate the tune until it ramps up to become musically savage – not the usual Shane-savagery, but in a relative sense compared to what has gone before.

The show ends after barely an hour, but sometimes the rich quality of a thing in small doses is more satisfying than lashings of mediocrity any day. Even from the displaced distance of a live stream the restrained energy of performance is palpable, so what the audience in attendance would have experienced could have been close to a revelation.

Where this project is headed now the trilogy is complete only Shane knows, but hopefully there will be more Dark Sky Burial rites like this one and I’ll be able to attend in person

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