How many ways can you say intense?
*Shels as a live band are an entity in flux, it's not meant to be a static arrangement, with various band members coming and going as schedules allow. This Cardiff gig is only the second time they have ever played live as this collective, but it never shows when they play. The band has an intense and massive sound and sometimes strains of their old bands - Mahumodo, Eden Maine and Fireapple Red can be heard in the mix but overall it all comes together to create something different.
Unfortunately for a band with such a big noise to get across The Barfly in Cardiff has a terrible PA system which occasionally fizzes and sputters, and to top things off, the cave-like stage area does nothing but bounce the noise back at the band, none of this makes it very easy when you've got seven band members on the tiny stage pumping out sounds, however, despite some of the intricacies of their complex tunes getting lost in the feedback sludge from the dying speakers, they still manage to pull off a brilliant set.
Ex-Mahumodo frontman and now vocalist for *Shels, Mehdi Safa, spends ages pre-gig with the sound guy, tweaking with the sound and the lights, trying to get the most out of the venue's speakers, so you know he really cares about the music, and it shows even more once he gets on that stage. In person, he's a mild mannered and friendly guy, but once he takes to the stage he's a commanding and very intense figure who gets carried away by the music they are creating together. This transmits immediately to those watching and right from the start, as soon as the opening strains of 'The Ghostwriten' (opening track from the new album "Sea of the Dying Dhow") ring out, a collective shiver runs up the spines of the surprisingly small but rapt audience and they get pulled into the moment with him. Played live, the tracks sound much heavier than the gentle atmospherics of the album, showing they are not just for the prog crowd, but they can turn out a heavy screamy rock tune with the best of them - the trio of guitars sound soul crushingly loud in this confined space and put together with the bass, keyboard, trumpet and vocals you have an intense mix.