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New Model Army (live at The Forum)

London
11 December 2015

“And you could be there…”

Zoom in. You’re down the front at The Forum. New Model Army are playing up a storm, and Justin Sullivan has put you right in the head of a religious extremist. They started with the never-more-appropriate-than-right-now-when-we’ve-just-started-bombing-in-Syria “Bloodsports”, a song which in itself encapsulates the endless War On Terror, from the packing of bullets to the bombing raids and slaughter to the impact on personal and community relations back home in the space of three minutes. They let it form a state-of-the-world triptych with angry classic “Christian Militia” at its centrepiece, rounded off by “Breathing”, an intimate glimpse into the mind of a terrorist atrocity survivor. As a statement of intent, it’s powerfully intense. As the opening to a rock show, it kicks ass. Zoom out. Take a breath.

New Model Army live at The Forum December 2015

New Model Army have always excelled at this panoramic view of life. One minute you’re gazing in awe at the majesty of nature, the next spying on the day-to-day life of an ordinary Joe, the next watching as humanity does its level best to destroy itself. They’re “epic” in the grandest sense of the word, almost fractal in their pursuit of detail from larger patterns.

They’re not afraid of self-contradiction, because life is complicated. As Justin himself points out, they’re a band of contrasts, who will quite happily follow the poundingly percussive “Between Dog And Wolf” — a beautiful expression of human devotion — with “Angry Planet”, a moshpit-friendly howl in the face of an world become infested with humans and wreaking its revenge.

New Model Army live at The Forum December 2015

Zoom in. “One Of The Chosen” puts us right in the head of a religious fanatic, from radicalisation right through to martyrdom. “We’re the Holy Fools, we are the fearless…” repeats Sullivan, as Marshall Gill‘s guitar all but strips the paint from the walls in its blistering fury. “Another Imperial Day” sees Justin delivering its spoken vocal as poetry, breathless and impassioned, as the band fill the space with an ambient horror soundtrack entirely fitted to its tale of human traffic. Zoom out.

New Model Army live at The Forum December 2015

They’ve always been a band who’ve thrived on live performance — “Wonderful Way To Go” is a case in point, a song that never really grabbed me when it featured on the 1998 album Strange Brotherhood, but which played live is an absolute monster and has become a firm favourite. “Orange Tree Roads”, with its questioning yet triumphant chorus, is another killer. The angry disappointment of “Heroes”, the slice-of-life search for belonging that is “Family”, the “oh-shit-it’s-all-gone-horribly-wrong” chaos of “Get Me Out”; they plunder their own history with sheer gleeful abandon. Significantly, they’re not playing “Vengeance” on this tour; Bloodsports‘ “I Am Not At War” seems like a far more appropriate message in the current climate.

New Model Army live at The Forum December 2015

They’ve never been a band interested in ignoring their past and touring an advert for their latest album, nor have they ever been a greatest hits self-tribute act. These are both warning signs that can indicate a band who either feel they have little to be proud of, or little new to offer. New Model Army, on the other hand, are very much a living, breathing, ongoing organic process. And they have such sights to show you, such feelings to share.

New Model Army live at The Forum December 2015

Zoom out. Zoom right out. You’re upstairs at The Forum, getting a final pint of cider in and watching the encore. Framed by lights, owning the stage, you’re watching one of the finest, tightest and most kick-ass rock bands in the world today playing “Green And Grey”, that bitter-sweet paean to England’s countryside… and then blowing it all up with “I Love The World”, the ultimate elegy to a wonderful planet delivered by a man watching it all burn. New Model Army. An awesome band fronted by one of the greatest living lyricists. A combination like that, even after 35 years, remains unstoppable. Epic win.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Samantha Penny-

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