Gig review: The Horrors at Leeds Beckett University

The weight of expectation can be a tortuous cross to bear.

The Horrors.
The Horrors.

Some artists trumpeted as the next big thing collapse in upon themselves at the second hurdle– Welsh songstress Duffy springs to mind. Some, like Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys, buck the trend and become acclaimed superstars on the world stage. But then there are those who fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Southend-on-Sea rockers The Horrors never did reach the heralded heights predicted of them with upon their arrival in 2005 – but five albums later, there’s the tangible sense that their prowess as purveyors of chameleonic songcraft is about to pay dividends.

Touring behind their latest and greatest LP yet, V, their stop at Leeds Beckett University comes hot on the heels of a summer jaunt supporting fellow Essex titans Depeche Mode across Europe. It is astute to draw parallels between frontman Faris Badwan and Dave Gahan; both hold an affinity for angular goth rock, both are possessed of a dynamic stage presence and both are fond of black.

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Indeed, new cuts Hologram and Press Enter to Exit read as immaculately-tooled homages to the visceral sounds of the Violator-era, filtered through the prism of Tubeway Army. Such comparisons are relatively unsurprising; since their inception, The Horrors have visibly telegraphed their influences as clear as semaphore signals, their record collection worn on their sleeves.

What has changed is the manner of their dispatch. Always in thrall to their current reinvention, V’s dark retro-new wave allows the band to unfurl their kraut-shoegaze wall of sound with period-appropriate euphoric embellishments.

In and Out of Sight transcends Hacienda neo-psych for something funkier, echoing Talking Heads in its bass-driven undercarriage; Endless Blue’s woozy-prog blowout into garage-inflicted post-punk is slicked back into propulsive coolness, Badwan’s croon channelling Richard Butler via Syd Barret. Elfin and cloaked in shadow, his vocal is doggedly overwhelmed by the brutish maelstrom of noise around him, most notably on the industrial art-pop of Machine – but he rises above it when the moment truly calls, such as on the billowing post-disco finale of Something to Remember Me By, arguably their most accessible, shimmering concoction yet.

Indeed, The Horrors have shed their musical skins so often, it’s near-impossible to pinpoint what has been the incarnation truest to themselves; but under lasers, dry ice and darkness, they appear to be finally reaching for the peaks once promised, even if they’re not quite there yet.