What with their slow, lugubrious soundscapes and the plaintive tenor of their lead singer, tonight’s local support band Flights of Helios were, perhaps, not the choice of band to end a hard week on a high note but are definitely an Oxford asset. Their doom-laden tales of demons, darkness and loss - leavened by incongruously cheerful and self-deprecating between song banter - were build out of a ramshackle mix of loops, drones and more traditional song-craft that seemed to work in spite of itself and was, at least, never less than interesting.
The closing interpretation of an old Irish ballad was a microcosm of what the band did - each verse working a different kind of musical construct around the simple tune, from noisy, chaotic drumming through to a slow and menacing throb - even including a rather brave and compellling moment where the band dropped out altogether leaving the singer a capella at what sounded to be near the top end of his vocal range. It was a shame that he was often trapped almost pointlessly low in the mix for a fair bit of the set - something that might have been down to the venue.
If you wanted more energy, then headliners White Noise Sound were going to give it to you - but, to be honest, at something of a price. Sporting no less than three guitarists in the band (plus a drummer, a keyboardist and an engagingly excitable bass player, whose permanent cheerful grin and relentless bouncing upped the entertainment quotient considerably), this was a group determined to live up to their name, delivering not so much songs as big, mantra-like slabs of textured sound.
It was possibly an issue, again, with the sound mixing, which both bands tonight seemed unhappy with at various points, but a lot of the time the whole tended to dissolve into something less than the sum of its parts, blending into a sort of aural sludge on which it was hard for the ear to gain purchase. With the songs being pretty simple, structurally - not much in the way of sudden changes of key or rhythm - this created a rather punishing experience.
When their sound periodically emerged from the mire, though, things improved markedly - operatic synth sweeps working their way over shimmering chords and chunky bass, ornamented by periodic howls of feedback, came together and produced something properly thrilling and immersive, as good noise should be.