Live Review: Of Monsters and Men & Highasakite @ Manchester Academy

reports an a night in the Nordic wilderness with Highasakite and Of Monsters and Men

PHOTO: Shane Timm

PHOTO: Shane Timm

Rating: ★★★★☆

Upon entering the Academy, the audience instantaneously takes me by surprise. Observed are the adolescent girls ahead who couldn’t seem any less interested in being here, whilst mid-crowd, a generous number of middle aged men are heckling so recurrently that this reviewer does wonder if they’re here for a post-football match pint. On the streets of Manchester , it is bitterly cold as the mercury dips, and we wait for that to be recreated indoors too. We wait to be taken to the Nordic wilderness.

Opening are Norwegian quintet Highasakite, whose stage presence is fairly impressive, and who even benefit from stylisation. Vocalist Ingrid Helene Håvik marshals the roundtable of piano keys, ricocheting horns and strings, and the five piece offer a polished performance, if not a little introverted. Ingrid sways her arms above her head as the instruments pirouette through the motions, and the five-piece do well in whetting our appetite for the main act.

Six-piece indie-folk mavericks Of Monsters and Men haven’t played in the UK since June, and their eagerness is telling. Having smashed onto the music scene in amiable style with their raggle-taggle album My Head Is an Animal in 2011, OMAM’s recently released Beneath The Skin is equally ethereal, and in performance, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s voice is fragile as much as it is mighty. OMAM boasts a delightful flight of imagination, with allusions to nature in lusty lyrics about forests of talking trees, evoking the icy vastness of their home country, whilst delivering songs using everything from twinkling glockenspiels to Motown drums, swirling chants and accordion galore, all with lashing of brass bravado.

Brooding is how they open with the penetrating ‘Thousand Eyes’, whilst pallid flashes of light are sporadic and skirting, illuminating snapshot images of Nanna and co. pounding ferociously at their drums. The middle ground is wholly occupied by new material, and it’s a bold choice, but ‘Human’, ‘Crystals’ and ‘Hunger’ are performed with the light and the darkness we’d expect from OMAM. Goosebumps are cardinal by the time we reach ‘Backyard’; fringed with flecks of pinprick light reminiscent of fireworks. Here marks the chilling highlight to the performance.

The announcement of ‘Little Talks‘ is met with euphoria, as earthy trumpets and a a piano melody dazzle before falling into a diminuendo of sound. The male-female vocals of Raggi and Nanna only adds to their fairytale-esque delightfulness and spirited rhythm, teeming with Icelandic merriment.

Incessant horns bleat whilst the room echoes “alone, I fight these animals / alone, until I get home” and so the emergence of a succeeding encore is a surprise. “Last time we played here, when we got to our slow song, there were some big, scary looking men stood in the corner just singing ‘love love love.’ I loved it” interjects Nanna. ‘Organs’ is then quite sombrely delivered as Nanna gives a small fragment of her heart and soul to the room. An orchestra ends the show by marrying this darkness with the proceeding light of ‘Dirty Paws’, and finally ‘We Sink’.

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