A few weeks ago, before the start of a spoken word night, another performer approached me and opened with the line ‘these people hate you.’ She went on to explain the specifics of why they hate me, citing a piece that was – but wasn’t – about suicide that I performed in August, and how the ferocity of my sets in general were not appreciated at this particular night. I was taken aback, shaken, and rather wounded. My confidence was rattled. It took me some time and reflection to realise that not only did I not care, but was actually pleased – elated, even – that people could react so strongly to my work. After all, it’s not hate speech or anything nearly so insidious, and ultimately, if you’re pleasing all of the people all of the time, you’re not making art, but entertainment.
The reason this is relevant is because Arrows of Love make art. They refer to themselves as art-rock, but there’s nothing pretentious about them or their music. In person, they’re some of the friendliest, most approachable and generous people you could wish to meet. On stage, they’re as challenging a band as you’re likely to see – or half-see: tonight, they play in near-darkness to a depressingly small crowd, moving shadows cranking out a fearsome wall of angular noise that straddles grunge and goth-tinged post-punk. And they don’t care: if anything, they revel in the perversity and play as hard as ever.
Arrows of Love
With more time than usual on account of the original co-headliners cancelling, they dig deep to deliver an attacking extended set which features the majority of the new album, Product. As well it should: while its predecessor, Everything’s Fucked was a snarling, sprawling squall of an album, Product is more focused, denser, more intense, and even more pissed off. The first song of the set is also the album’s opener and single cut ‘Signal,’ a sinewy slice of tension that explodes in every direction.
‘Desire’ is deep, dark, and brooding, and The Knife’ from the debut is deadlier than ever, with added guitar noise and played with a blistering ferocity at its searing climax. The grinding dirge that is ‘Restless Feeling’ invites comparisons to Swans circa 1983/84, and the jarring, grating sonic backdrop is rendered literal as Nuha swaps her bass for a plank of wood and coping saw, which she proceeds to gnaw away at while drums and bass shudder along at a glacial pace. It’s mighty, but hardly moshable.
Arrows of Love
Nimah would later tell me that he was tired and – on account of having to drive after the show – completely sober, but he still fires into it with unbridled fury, spitting the lyrics like they’re his last words as he’s being dragged off to his execution, and the band crackle with dark energy.
It’s this unstinting, uncompromising, total bloody-mindedness that makes Arrows of Love the band that they are, and as they churn out a juddering, sneering rendition of ‘Predictable’. The only thing predictable about the band is the intensity of the performance (as if to illustrate the point, guitarist Alex, who stepped in when Lyndsey left, is now Alice, who’s perhaps less flamboyant than her predecessors, but still cranks out a mean overdriven six-sting racket), and this highlights the contrast between them and the evening’s support act, Naked Six. The York duo kick out a fiery and energetic set of heavy, balls-out, stomping blues rock with big nods to Led Zep, and having seen them a handful of times, they’re incredibly solid and consistently entertaining. But it’s not art.
Art is dangerous, risky, uncomfortable. With the roaring attack of ‘Toad’ and the tempestuous closer ‘Beast’, Arrows border on the unlistenable, presented in a style that borders on unwatchable, with no concessions to commerciality. There is something about the lack of illumination which renders them even more inaccessible, more untouchable tonight. If Arrows of Love’s latest album really is the ‘soundtrack to the impending societal collapse’, then bring it the fuck on if it means more shows like this.