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Oxegen 09 - Howling Bells

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ATL | 16:48 UK time, Saturday, 11 July 2009

Hot Press Stage, Saturday 11th July, 4.00pm

Howling BellsDescribe in a Tweet: Could this be the anthems for next year?

What happened: The Hot Press New Bands stage is a huge cavern, with sound ricocheting all around its many peaks. This is a situation that does not benefit Sydney's Howling Bells in any way. Their recent album, 'Radio Wars', succeeded because of the band's masterful use of tone and texture, rather than on the strength of it's songs. In this environment, all the stately grandeur and layered sound is completely stripped, occasionally sounding like a tuneless mess. However, there is more to Howling Bells than just atmosphere, and when the band really tear into their material, it's a completely different story. Jagged shards of melody fire out, whilst rhythms rumble on, driving everything forward. The 'Radio Wars' material comes alive, like a shift from black and white to technicolor.

Frontwoman Juanita Stein provides and arresting visual focal point, delivering what can only be described as a 'sexual' performance. Swaying and sashaying seductively against her fellow bandmates, she is completely captivating. And as much as she demands our attention, the music becomes more and more anthemic, to the point where one could easily imagine this on the main stage. Final song, 'Radio Wars', the title track of the album, is completely spellbinding. Military rhythms mesh with a doomy, dramatic atmosphere, the band flailing about like marionettes. As the last note hangs in the air, the band fall prone, their strings cut.

Hopefully they'll be repaired in time for next year.

This is a high: The all out drum assault at the very end with Juanita pounding on a drum of her own. The sound was so intense, I thought my heart might explode out of my chest. 

This is a low: Some of the slower songs were so muddled that it became impossible to detect anything even vaguely approaching a tune. 

Oxegen rating: 7/10

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