These New Puritans – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Monday April 19.
These New Puritans are not a band for the faint-hearted. As the opening number We Want War creaks into life, a sequence of brutal drum smashes pierces the smoky darkness, each one making us flinch in shock. Emerging from the gloom, lead singer Jake Barnett begins indistinctly, before taking full command. “We hold all the secrets, we hold all the words”, he intones. “But they’re scrambled and broken, so you’ll never know.” It’s as clear a statement of his intentions as you’ll find.
For while Barnett’s lyrics may tend towards the unfathomable and oblique, the overriding emotion that his band conveys is one of foreboding and dread. It’s almost as if the performers are trying to warn us of some nameless horror which is about to unfold, but are prevented from doing so by some unseen force. If that sounds pretentious, then perhaps their brand of symphonic, percussive art-rock isn’t for you – but for those who are prepared to enter their world, the rewards are rich.
On their most recent album Hidden, the four main players are backed by the brass and woodwind sections of a Czech orchestra, as well as a children’s choir. On stage, it’s impossible to tell who is doing what. There are keyboards, drums, mixers, a laptop and a heavy set of chains hanging off a stand, but these are almost hidden from view by the thick smoke which shrouds the three performers at the back. Only Barnett remains visible throughout: a puny figure with a long neck and haunted eyes, wearing a tunic over his T-shirt that could almost be made out of chain mail.
The drum sound is like nothing you’ve ever heard: fierce, punchy, complex and all-consuming. The music defies all categorisation; no one you can think of sounds remotely like this. But for the encore, as a standard rock back-beat finally kicks in, they’re almost conventional. It helps to break the spell, easing us back into something approaching normality.