There are certain times in your life that resurrect you, taking you straight back to default mode. I don’t mean to get intense, but in all our flawed brokenness, we can only be whole outside of this equally flawed and broken world, in a space where we can dream of bigger things. We need to be left alone to be ourselves as we are in that moment, stripped bare of history. Some find this space in drugs or sex, but I find it when I get lost in a crowd, watching a band that is masterful and present. I got to experience that moment again when two bands came to town who were sorcerers from a different world, momentarily bringing a madness that only comes with metal music.
I had been preparing myself all week for Friday night, May 3th 2019, at Mercury Live in Cape Town where I was going to watch, for the first time, two extensively impressive bands, Ukraine’s metalcore giants, Jinjer, and United Kingdom’s prog-rock up-and-comers, SÜMER. I had got in the sleep, I had taken the vitamins because I knew that once I walked through those doors, it was going to be a rough ride and I wanted to give this show my unrestrained and full attention. I knew they would be impressive because I had been researching them extensively for the show preview and my excitement levels were at an all-time high. I wasn’t alone. The Mercury tickets had been sold out two months before (a record, I believe), and those that had not bought tickets in time were clamouring for any extras going, so Mercury was heaving by 7:30 pm. This was a crowd who had also put in the necessary preparation; this was a crowd ready to give it their all.
If you’ve yet to check out Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, we suggest you do with their music video for “The Worst Is Yet To Come” from Shun The Reptile.
Which they did, from the moment supporting act, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend took to the stage. There was no time to waste, as ZAMG and the other local support, Ohgod, were under strict instructions to keep their sets short and tight. They were there to build us up and that they did. I got the impression that in the crowd, there were a few newcomers to the local bands, which is always a win for exposure. Certainly, for someone who has been at most of the metal and rock Mercury gigs over the past few months, this was a whole new crowd to me. I know that there are many people in South Africa who save their energy for those times when bands are most interesting or unique and, with the burgeoning of international acts hitting our shows, they come out of the woodwork every few months. While in some ways, it can be frustrating when bands are playing to near-empty venues, it also puts a spin on competition, pushing local bands to try to reach greater heights.
Well, our two local support acts are climbing that ladder to greater heights every time they play and I can be nothing but proud. ZAMG continue to impress me with their consistency. Their sets are always tight and strong. Ohgod were equally impressive. A well-travelled and technically solid band, they have a very loyal group of fans that spread their enthusiasm like wildfire. The venue started to pulse. The pit opened itself to the most energetic metalheads, arms were raised, the horns displayed and the local bands garnered new fans.
SÜMER road this wave to perfection, building their set to a point where the crowd etched towards frenetic. I closed my eyes, put my hands against my head and let myself be buffeted by this wild ocean of people all giving the UK band their every ounce of passion. This was a Mercury that only comes to play on very rare occasions. None of us cared about a lighthouse or solid ground as we raised our faces to take in their rhythmic blast of progressive rock. I also came to understand the beauty and power of three guitars. While their music is atmospheric, they also like to play with the emotions behind the sounds, exactly the type of music I love the most. It was such a tight, well-executed set, showing us why they are known for giving an impressive live performance.
Watch SÜMER’s music video for “The Animal You Are.”
But while their set left me feeling satisfied and slightly sentimental, I could tell that people weren’t worried about catching their breaths. They were here for one thing only, and that was Jinjer.
The legacy of Darwin was present that night. I felt as if I was experiencing survival of the fittest in a microcosm. Certain Jinjer fans had been waiting in the front for hours, while others were trying their best to shoulder their way deeper into the crowd, encountering quite a lot of resistance. Everyone wanted to be close enough to Tatiana Shmailyuk to be splattered with her sweat. God, yes, maybe that sounds weird, but you all know exactly what I mean. When it comes to these powerhouse bands, you’re living for the tangible, for the sweat that will soak your t-shirt, for the moshpit that will damage your limbs, for the full-frontal and dangerously loud music that will cost you your hearing before you turn 30. You are living for the moment and you are there to be punished.
What can you say about Jinjer, there are few bands like them. And at last, they were on stage so we could feast on them. I was in awe, gazing up at the form of Tatiana Shmailyuk. Surely she was a vision, it just didn’t seem real that someone like her could exist. Here was a woman in the top of her form, a beautiful amphibious beast that has a voice to behold. I was certain she must be, like, post-human or something. Of course, she walked past me later and some of the spell was broken when I took in her smiling face, in contrast to the fierceness she embodies in her voice, but for the hour or more she dominated that stage, she was from a different world, a world that affronts and brutalizes, but leaves you renewed.
“Perennial” has been a hugely successful song and video for Jinjer, from their EP Micro.
I know the metal world condemns the term “female-fronted” but I am pushing back on this, we need our roles models. Tatiana at the helm makes Jinjer who they are. Her voice is unbelievable. And I can tell you that looking out into the audience, that she is “WOMAN” mattered. In front of me lay a massive contingent of young women, their eyes fixed adoringly on her form, immersed in her every move, their arms levitating about them, lost in the music. I thought, “Yes, here is our goddess, the being we want to become.”
Jinjer’s performance that night was nothing if not reverential. There was not one moment when they lost their audience. They were masterful and we were slavish. They played only their best songs, they were exactly everything we wanted them to be, heavy, brutal but also accessible, playing for us, making us feel like we were the only things that mattered. Tatiana’s gaze focused upon us, searching our faces, connecting with us. She went from bearing her teeth, growling and gyrating, to smiling and chatty, showing her down-to-earth side. And you know what I thought? She is happy. This powerful woman, part metal matriarch, part crowd tamer, is happy.
In my preview article, I predicted it would be a perfect show and I was right. The night ran seamlessly and the crowd was more present than I have felt in months. It was one of those nights that makes you remember why you love THIS music, the music that is both dark and light, and how powerful it can make you feel. It was a night that we as South Africans have far too infrequently, and so we appreciate it that much more. Watching SÜMER and Jinjer that night was my kind of freedom, a chance to live outside myself. Music in its best form. Shout out to Turning Tricks Entertainment for making it happen.
Micro was released January 11th through Napalm Records.