Review: Of Monsters and Men + Highasakite @ Manchester Academy – Manchester

When the debut record from Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men was released in the UK during the spring of 2012, it appeared that the neu-folk revolution that had keenly assimilated itself into many popular forms of 21st century music had perhaps reached its zenith. It is therefore quite possible that My Head is An Animal’s arrival perhaps caught listeners off-guard with its infectiously joyous anthems all delivered within a smorgasbord of inventive musicality; it is fair to say that the album very quickly became a music festival’s dream. Three years later and the band’s UK tour kicks off in Manchester’s Academy venue, providing an opportunity to air some old favourites along with more recent material from this summer’s sophomore release Beneath the Skin.

The success of a support slot can very easily be judged on how the band manage to eliminate the chit chat of an audience still arriving, having a drink and meeting friends. It is therefore wonderful to experience the effect of opening track Lover, Where Do You Live by Norway’s Highasakite. The song is a completely mesmerising experience, offering early moments of pathos, drama and visual beauty that one does not always expect from a support act. It has Manchester completely enthralled. Musically suggestive of the inspiring landscapes of home, the band produce a gripping set built around epic, swelling soundscapes all united around the magnetic performance of lead singer Ingrid Helene Håvik who possesses a captivating stage presence that should see the band’s status begin to elevate exponentially.

Five days prior to this concert the live music landscape was violently altered, shocking the world to its very core. As I stood experiencing Garbage electrify a sold out crowd in this same venue on Friday 13th November, regular news updates began to arrive on my phone of the unfathomable atrocities taking place in Paris. Our thoughts go out to all those innocent people, caught up in such barbaric acts and it is impossible to dismiss the effect these attacks will have on an area of our lives that provide so much joy and fulfilment to so many. The body searches taking place prior to tonight’s show certainly appeared to be understandably more vigorous and the dramatic, cinematic stylings of the Of Monsters and Men opener Thousand Eyes perhaps mirrors the internal anguish we are all feeling at the moment. However, if there was any lingering trepidation about exercising our right to enjoy ourselves this evening it very quickly begins to dissipate as OMaM launch into the hugely satisfying Empire and it is fair to say that it is completely extinguished with the arrival of a joyous King and Lionheart which immediately follows.

Experiencing OMaM is a musical joy and is even more so on this tour with the addition of four session musicians complimenting the five piece. What this means fundamentally is that there is always something to look at and a dynamic light show compliments the visual and musical drama that unfolds before us as the evening progresses.

The latest album is certainly not as immediately accessible (although repeated airings of Beneath the Skin provide a more satisfying experience in the long-term) as its predecessor and the majority of the bouncier moments occur during the more rousing renditions of tracks like Mountain Sound. This results in a bit of an audience lull during the middle section of the show, but should not detract from the stirring material being performed including a brilliant rendition of Crystals, demonstrating the band’s easy ability to craft something epic yet intimate, all at the same time.

The emphasis of the final third of the show is on My Head is an Animal and the band reach their own little zenith tonight with a majestic performance of Six Weeks which ebbs and flows in a glorious manner reminiscent of the great Arcade Fire songs that have obviously inspired them. This leads them into an encore offering a bit of everything, but it is Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s solo performance of Organs that lingers in the memory, perhaps demonstrating the fragility of this beautiful art form in these torrid times, reminding us all how precious it really is.


For our interview with Of Monsters and Men, click here.

Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto

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