Eerie blue stage lights illuminate the Moon Club. The floor is sticky with its carpet of spilled lager. An audience clad in black overcoats and leather boots lie in wait, eagerly anticipating the werewolves of Cardiff’s rock scene.
Howl breathe new life into a genre that has become somewhat stagnant in South Wales. The problem is not a lack of heavy rock bands; the problem is the abundance of them. They are indistinguishable from each other. Yet, Howl are intriguing. They stray from common time signatures, but subtly enough that head banging is still comfortable. Drummer Tom Rees’ playing is controlled. He keeps the groove tight, but loosens to Cadbury-Gorilla-crazy in choruses and solo breaks.
Originally a two-piece, the introduction of bassist Marcëll Davies has added warmth and texture to their sound. He plays with melodic simplicity, a sensitive touch and musicality that fits perfectly into the ensemble. Vocalist Grant Jones balances a gritty falsetto with crunching undertones, straying from the conventional Welsh ‘scream until your lungs bleed’. They’re dirty. Jones says ‘It’s dark in here. Do inappropriate things with your friends’. Their music makes you want to.
Howl is a hard band to follow, especially if you’re a three-piece rock band. An electric organ sits on stage, dark and looming, a figure of Elton Johns’ worst nightmares. Gertjan Gutman perches on an old bar stool, hunched over the keys as he waits in the shadows. As Birth of Joy materialise on stage, Howl push to the front of the audience. Their appreciation for the Dutch trio is unreserved, and Howl’s singer moshes throughout their set.
They blend ‘70s psychedelic rock with blues and metal. Each song is upbeat, diverse, emphatic. Birth of Joy’s resemblance to Led Zeppelin is uncanny, and drummer Bob Hogenelst’s manic, zealous beating of the kit is almost frightening to watch. They play for over an hour, but individual songs can last for ten minutes, filled with improvisation and feel changes.
Their music is energetic; the audience tires but continues to dance. Singer Kevin Stunnenberg flirts vivaciously with a lady at the front. It’s entertaining at first, but becomes cringe-worthy when he starts dedicating songs to her. Despite this embarrassing display, his vocals are impressive, powerful and alluring. His Dutch accent adds flavour to English lyrics, and helps diversify them from their influences.
The bar is empty; the staff are rocking out. Birth of Joy hypnotise Moon Club with their eerie, crude adaption of rock and roll. Their set is astounding, and they close an excellent night of live music in Cardiff.