Live: Earth, Beak>, Sabbath Assembly @ London Scala, 12/04/11

This line-up seems to have been arranged so as to ease the audience into the bleak landscape of Earth, and opening act Sabbath Assembly are tonight’s most immediate and energetic offering. Unfortunately, the confidence and dynamism of front woman Jex leaves the rest of the band looking timid and stiff in comparison, and while their music is neatly executed, it’s not enough to sufficiently impress – particularly when placed alongside the quality of the acts to come.

The locomotive repetition of Beak> appears to click with the audience better. The most enthusiastic support arrives during the bands slower, heavier pieces, swapping synth for guitar and replacing the electronic plink-plonk with fizzing powerchord fireworks. But one of the most appealing factors of their set is the maturity of their song structuring – Beak> don’t send every groove into high-velocity climax, leaving some of them to unwind patiently and come to modest, gentle conclusions.

Earth are simply astonishing tonight. Naturally, the new album features prominently in the setlist and has been effortlessly carried over into the live environment – the new material is slightly looser here, left to breathe and resonate, occasionally untethered to spiral off into steady, slow-motion jams. The re-working of “Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light Part 1” is a definite highlight (originally recorded in an improvised take, and adopting an entirely different form here), while “Old Black” sounds moodier than ever, having been refined and perfected over the couple of years it’s been the band’s staple “new track”.

It’s when the band dip into older material that the addition of cellist Lori Goldston proves to be invaluable. She confidently takes hold of tracks like “Ouroboros Is Broken” (an ancient Earth cut from their debut release, Extra-Capsular Extraction) as though she was involved in its initial conception, weaving in groaning harmonies while the rest of the band hold the fort from beneath. Something about her presence fortifies the thematic link between the Earth of new and old, and the strength of this evening’s set lies in its atmospheric focus. The band’s music has always brought to mind a desolate desert landscape for me, and tonight this visual is more intense and immersive than ever.