There seems to be some debate on whether the molten industrial noise that occasionally pours out of the speakers during an A Place to Bury Strangers track can rightly be called “shoegaze”. Surely it’s a decent reach from the often-ethereal pop of recent shoegaze revival acts like Asobi Seksu, perhaps even further from the old dream-pop outfits like Lush. But then I recall the near-metal ferocity of those first couple notes of the arguably decisive shoegaze mission statement that was Loveless; there’s always precisely that visceral, abrasive potential lurking in shoegaze. A Place to Bury Strangers, with a delivery like an angry Jesus and Mary Chain backed by chugging industrial rhythms and band saws, just had to remind us.
Live, the band confirms this appeal. Arranged as a standard rock three-piece, apparently without any of the electronics punctuating the album, the band nonetheless puts out a densely textured racket. Frontman Oliver Ackermann’s guitar has all the versatility and raw power you’d expect from a guy with an effects pedal company (Death By Audio — incidentally also the band’s studio and a frequent concert venue) as bassist Jono Mofo and drummer Jay Space anchor the songs firmly in place. And even when the noise gets pushed to the forefront, Ackerman’s obscured-but-ever-present vocals and the inherent tunefulness of his melodies keep the songs intelligibly on track.
A Place to Bury Strangers, furthermore, seems to have worked out a solid visual aesthetic for their sound, with the stage kept in murky dark except stabs of light and grainy, degraded video looping over and behind Space throughout the set. In the end, as seething sheets of noise rolled over an extended but still distinguishable verse-chorus structure, a strobe came on, providing, at last, a fractured but clear image of the band in motion, Ackerman all but tearing out his guitar strings.
Opener Die Romantik, for their part, played gloomy love songs, exquisitely arranged for guitar, piano, and drums and unafraid to turn up the noise themselves, if only at a couple of select moments.