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Death Hawks - Bar Loose, Helsinki 30/10/14

04 November 2014, 16:00 | Written by Janne Oinonen

Helsinki's Bar Loose - a basement-level rock 'n' roll hole, with AC/DC on the turntable and a giant Iggy on the wall - doesn't seem like the most likely venue for a psych-rock revelation. Then again, Death Hawks aren't your average bunch of long-haired decibel merchants. Having taken a gigantic step forward from the dynamic but slightly derivative retro-isms of 2012 debut Death & Decay with the distinctly Northern voodoo vibes of last year's self-titled second album, tonight's explosive set suggests the band's inching ever closer to a sound that's exclusively their own.

The opening workout sets the tone. Bleary-eyed and bluesy on record, "Cain Go Home"'s bingeing on sweat-inducing stimulants tonight, the tempo more urgent and the delivery a whole lot more insistent, with frontman Teemu Markkula staring bug-eyed over the audience's heads - a favoured pose - as the four-piece reach for an even higher gear, any obvious resemblance to the original version by now a rather remote and unwelcome possibility.

Most of the time, it's not that straightforward to tell which song's actually under progress with absolute certainty as tunes are battered into compellingly strange new shapes that can stray far from the original model. For example, the debut's biker-Kraut-boogie anthem "Shining" is spiked with an intense burst of energy, the band churning its central riff like a particularly pile-driving mantra which, whilst nodding towards the bludgeoning dynamics of musty mutton-chopped hard rockers, also achieves a newfound level of funkiness that's rarely encountered at rock shows.

Then, a sudden change in mood as the beat collapses into a restlessly bubbling freakbeat racket whilst Markkula, by now tingling a chain of bells (most likely teleported here direct from the Age of Aquarius), foregoes what would conventionally be classified as singing in order to groan and moan like some shamanistic Gollum in the throes of some hellish visions from the netherworld. Just when it begins to border on a self-indulgent overdose of oddness, that monster riff kicks in again, even more mercilessly pumped-up than before. The band keep it going until the optimal state of hypnosis has been achieved. An epic take on "Black Acid" - with keyboardist Tenho Mattila's saxophone to the fore - is even better, the rhythm intensified until the generously portioned, chant-fuelled, pounding and bouncing mess begins to resemble Fela Kuti's Afrobeat fed through a processor that contains most of the noteworthy bits from the last half a century of forward-gazing, open-eared rock music.

By the end, Markkula balances precariously on the edge of the drum kit. It's easy to feel equally elevated in the audience, as this is quite clearly a band on the verge of realising their full potential, having already developed more between two albums than most bands manage during their entire lifespans. Too much of contemporary psychedelic rock churns out comfortingly familiar takes on templates that were once considered strange, even unsettling; at their best, Death Hawks are just as disconcertingly and exhilaratingly far out as those vintage slices of mind-expansion must have been when they first popped out. What's more, they rock like a moose, as they say in Finland.

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