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Live Music Review: Church of the Cosmic Skull at The Level

10 February 20 words: Alex Mace

Church of the Cosmic Skull are the Nottingham-based seven-piece that answers the question: “What if ABBA did guitar shredding and was actually an occult?” The answer is pleasing to say the least...

With the archives of Spotify stretching as deep as they do, it’s trivial to find thousands upon thousands of psych rock/pop, prog rock/pop bands doing slight variations of the same thing. Church of the Cosmic Skull (COTCS) however, has meticulously crafted a sound, and an accompanying image, that avoids such eye-roll inducing tedium that would otherwise see them drift into obscurity.

Transcendental madness is their motif, leaning heavily on their rather aggressive nods to ABBA and Fleetwood Mac in both sound and style - their all-white get up being one obvious hint. Arranged within the mystical lore of the Church of this so-called cosmic skull, it’s very easy to forget this is a band and not a spiritual order.

As we gather on the dancefloor (sorry, pews), it’s a visibly diverse congregation. I stand amongst groups of leathered-up rockers bearing their first signs of silver, hordes of endlessly flowing ponytails, paisley dresses and even a few Motley Crue lookalikes (respect, lads!), all united by the love of our church elders for whom we were anxiously awaiting.

Before long, the rumbling of amplifiers are in earshot, sending one chap into a frenzied cry, summoning COTCS to grace the stage. There are no introductory sweet nothings exchanged; they simply descended upon their respective perches in hawk-like fashion, and set about destroying their prey with the euphonic wails of Mountain Heart’s signature intro.

Reinforced by a ceiling-high projection of what can only be described as various ‘trip-hazard’ visuals, COTCS zip through a frenetic set list; the structure of which was delightfully novel (at least to this fresh-faced writer). Some numbers, like the eleven minute-long epic Evil In Your Eye, are played and simmered down, only to be revived later in the show, whereas the rest of the performance is segregated by startling announcements of the church’s seven objects - commandments to you and I - through a perturbing bellow. It’s these minute tweaks and attention to details that retain a sense of illusion crucial for a band that appears to revel in mystery.

Auspicious still is the clear lack of studio magic going on behind the scenes as COTCS sound fantastic in the flesh. Bill Fisher commands his six-string electric weapon with a presence that flicks from po-faced to ecstatic, the synth keys of Michael Whetherburn emanating sheer retro-infused wholesomeness while the crash and rumble is a collaborative effort of bass, drums and electric viola.

The real drive behind their kick, however, comes not from an arrangement of strings or keys but instead honed through the band’s phenomenal vocal harmonies. Fisher’s voice, alongside vocalists Joanne Joyce and Caroline Cawley, are undeniable forces in their own right, but when the entire church acts in chorus, it’s a sound that has denied me of my ability to describe. It’s possibly the only moment in live music where I didn’t want the crowd to join in.

There’s little doubt that these brothers and sisters of this divine order will soon ascend to the likes of arena performances before tens of thousands of devoted followers, where they can unleash even grander visual psych odysseus amongst a mock-up cathedral. But for now, they’ve done their city proud. Church of the Cosmic Skull prove that, sometimes, preaching to the converted isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Church of the Cosmic Skull played at The Level on Friday 7 February 2020.

The Level website

 

 

 

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