Live Review: Devil Sold His Soul - Academy 3, Manchester
13th October 2023
Support: Towers, Hundred Year Old Man
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Bill Mawdsley
London post-hardcore crew - and Damnation Festival alumni - Devil Sold His Soul have chosen this weekend to play two shows and revisit their biggest selling album, 2012’s Empire of Light. Tomorrow night they’ll be at the Dome in London, but this Friday the 13th the band have chosen to spend in Manchester with a selection of their northern fanbase.
The show is opened by Towers, who arrive with three guitars and softly spoken frontman and play emotionally infused post-rock. This is the band’s first time in Manchester and for their debut they mix older tracks with new ones; there’s an admittance that although they take influence from the headliner they sound nothing like them, opting instead for a lighter, more whimsical approach to their songwriting. Towers’ tunes sit in a more indie or alternative mode, with the hint of latter-era Anathema, yet they are able to crank up the (relative) ferocity for the set’s climatic song.
On the opposite side of the musical spectrum is Hundred Year Old Man who have made the trip over from Leeds to terrorise the Academy with a raw, visceral take on the post metal genre. Not without its own nuance, but HYOM are a very different head-trip and bludgeon with gravity-inducing guitar and military-grade percussion. The stage is either dark and atmospheric or saturated with blinding white light, while the cycling, repeating riffs are both claustrophobic and cosmic at the same time. Add to that a vocal that will flay skin and this makes for an overwhelming musical experience. There are some lighter moments when HYOM borrow from the Cult of Luna playbook and add a trill here and there; as well as slow doom-oriented elements and even a futuristic Vangelis-motif to their sound. But, for the most part, Hundred Year Man seem perfectly happy making such a gloriously primal noise as to rearrange your organs.
A brief atmospheric build up gives way to the opening of No Remorse, No Regret to begin a set that has little in the way of running order surprises. But Devil Sold His Soul have been open that this is a celebration of the Empire of Light record and we buckle in for the full one-hour ride. Huge beatdowns and calmer moments lay a platform for dual vocalists Ed and Paul to weave their spells.
For those of a certain age this is a nostalgia trip in its purest form, for those of us older, to watch the entrancing effect of music from a neutral perspective assures us that, when we experience the feeling, we’re not alone. A New Legacy feels like it hits in waves, while VIII has Leks drumming like a man possessed. It Rains Down flips the band’s post metalcore sound on its head and takes us a more progressive direction during the early parts of the song. Hands are raised throughout the room as stark lighting turns the band into mere silhouettes.
DSHS play fast and loose with the conventions of the genre, being dissonant and abrasive on the likes of Sorrow Plagues yet turning it around and showing a more fragile side a moment later on the achingly emotional Time and Pressure and Salvation Lies Within. There’s a more traditional structure to Crusader which, in the context of the evening, comes over as jarring as anything else we hear tonight.
Guitarists Richard and Jonny add colour and shade to the core created by Jozef’s bass, lending the show a feeling of being bigger than the venue in which it’s taking place. Such is the breadth of scope of Empire of Light – as well as most of Devil Sold His Soul’s music – that a small venue like Academy 3 is both a blessing and a curse.
Heavy piano and clean vocals see lighters in the air for the emotive The Verge and End of Days bring the set to a close with a worthy crescendo. The band return for a two-song encore, including The Narcissist from most recent record, 2022’s Loss, leaving Manchester exhausted both physically and emotionally.
Shows like this are a fantastic reminder as to the breadth and depth of this country’s musical talent. All bands might not make it to the lofty heights dreamed of in the rehearsal rooms, but there are still rabid fan-bases out there ready and willing to travel to see the music that means so much to them. I met one such fan at this gig who a) didn’t sound like a local; and b) was over the moon that his favourite band was playing. Okay, he might have had a few but his is the kind of enthusiasm the scene needs to survive. Sir, I salute you!