Quite recently, the unthinkable happened: alt-rock titans Axis Of, who are renowned, if not notorious, for their relentless schedule, announced that their seven-year touring stint was finally coming to an end. For what may well be the very first time since their inception in 2007, with no further shows planned for the foreseeable future, what better way to mark such a portentous event than to curate and release a selection of their favourite live performances from their The Mid Brae Inn tour?
Having amassed a small army’s worth of new fans in the wake of supporting Frank Iero (previously of My Chemical Romance, now of “the Cellabration”) on an extensive string of European dates, ‘Companions‘ is a not only a joyous commemoration of what they have achieved, but a rather fitting thank you to all those who have accompanied the band on their momentous musical journey thus far, be they relatively recent converts or seasoned North Coast veterans.
Recorded in Cologne, ‘Cardiel’ is either an incredibly dynamic introduction that cackles at your lack of readiness and chucks you headfirst into the deep end, or induces the sensation of a welcoming, but nonetheless all-consuming wave crashing over you, depending on your level of familiarity with Axis Of. ‘Wetsuit’ is just as uncompromising, with its pace performing a tricky balancing act between rhythmic and remorseless.
One of the inarguable highlights of ‘Companions’ is the rousing ‘All My Bones’ in collaboration with “The Homeless Gospel Choir” and “Frnk Iero and the Cellabration”. Pulsating with energy, the first track from The Mid Brae Inn is, for fairly obvious reasons, a call to arms of sorts (the first use of the term “companions” can be found in the second verse); stomping, surly and surging with a couple of hundred voices yelling in unison with what is possibly the band’s most potent, anthemic release to date, it is nigh on impossible to resist or deny the defiantly catchy nature that belies this song’s core.
It is slightly more difficult to ascertain whether ‘Super Resurgence’ is an inspired regaling of a time when songwriters closed their eyes, jabbed freely at wall-mounted maps and threw loosely related phrases at their latest thunderous riff and called it a day, a prime example of the extent to which Niall and Ewen have been shaped by their time on the road, or a mixture of both. Whatever the case, it works, and being the well-oiled musical outfit that they are, this technically demanding, swaggering tune is played not only impeccably, but with a great sense of confidence.
Captured at their 400th gig and homecoming show at the Atlantic Lounge, Portrush, and devoted to “everyone who was there from day one”, the robust ‘We Dine On Seeds’ remains as potent a paean as ever. Resplendent with rollicking bass, sprightly licks and spirited vocals, it’s evident that Axis Of have went to great lengths to ensure that this fan favourite sounds just as vicious live as it did when it first appeared on their debut album, ‘Finding St. Kilda’.
The heartfelt ‘Grey Man’s Path at Night’ is a little less severe than its predecessor, but is veritably dripping with melody. ‘Marconi’s Place’ is of a similar sonic structure, with lots of densely packed punches dealt by the low-end and a guitar tone that isn’t a kick off Houdini-era Melvins.
Giving ‘All My Bones’ a run for its money is a particularly furious rendition of ‘Lifehammer’. Positively vibrant with ferocity and vitality, it is nothing short of a testament to the band’s seemingly inherent ability to come up with consistently captivating, formidable and yet accessible melodies.
Ample and bruising, ‘Brobdingnagian’ sees the boys ring in a new year in at the Empire in Belfast. The crowd bay for ‘Port Na Spaniagh’, but are instead met with ‘Auld Lang Syne’- given the quality of the delivery, I’m fairly certain that this didn’t receive any complaints, although they may want to rethink the seemingly indefinite retirement of one of their most popular songs (if not one of the most popular songs to be released by a band hailing from NI to date) from their live repertoire.
Finally, ‘Edge of the Canebrake’ laden with effects pedals and bellicose drum rolls galore, is the heaviest offering by far. Performed, rather appropriately, at the Rock Café in Hamburg, it is a firm nod to the band’s earlier, harder punk influences, but is rounded off with mature edges of dense melody and a strong, harmonised, verging-on-sludge-inspired refrain.
Unlike a lot of other artists, Axis Of are not a band whose music stays rooted in a sense of stasis; they not only reject, but practically spit on the idea of stagnation. Theirs is a body of work that has been built almost with the sole purpose of being felt live, and so it is constantly evolving alongside the band, breathing and growing and kicking in tandem with each performance, only to be carried beyond the confines of a venue by their legion of fans, domestic and international alike.
Based on an unabated desire to innovate, their output is reflective of the genuine passion that has been present in their music from day one, making it nothing short of a pleasure to have followed their lengthy journey. Although Ewen and Niall have had their music shaped by the North Coast that they call home, they have, in turn, shaped the musical landscape around them, with their ceaseless enthusiasm, musical expertise and the incredible sincerity that has long been just as much of a trademark as their barrage of rock-hard riffs. ‘Companions’ is an opportunity to thank them for being a continuing staple not only in Northern Irish music, but in the international rock community, and whatever the future may hold for Axis Of, they can be sure that their fans will wish them nothing but the very best of luck with their subsequent ventures.