Nathan Gray live @Dynamo: Losing your religion

I’ve sene Nathan Gray perform a bunch of times now. For some reason I completely missed out on the Boysetsfire thing when it was a thing, so I was late to the party. Last night I got to experience the latest form of expression for his thoughts, the Nathan Gray Collective live in Dynamo.

Photo’s: Justina Lukosiute

For me Gray is one of the most compelling and expressive vocalists that I enjoy listening to. His delivery is from the heart and with an open-wound like bravado that I think is very praise worthy. In recent years, Gray has undergone a transformation and a search. From a Christian upbringing, I first caught the singer live with I Am Heresy in the same venue. I swear to you, there were 7 people there for that show. I was one of them.  A few weeks later Boysetsfire sold out the venue.

With his solo work, he further explores the angst that comes with losing your religious foundations. Densely electronic, vaguely folky, but a great vehicle for Nathans vocals, I needed to check this out.

The Devil’s Trade

Warming up is one guy in a hoodie, on the stage with a guitar, playing the most harrowing folk music. Much like a downtrodden country singer, ony using twangy, noisy guitar as support for his deep sonorous voice, Dávid Makó is the man behind the project. He also sings in Stereochrist and plays in HAW.

You’d never guess that the man sitting here is from Hungary by his thick, southern slur vocals. He could well be a cowboy in the deep south with his big moustache and muscular frame. His songs are great and captivating, but I particularly feel enthralled by the Hungarian folk songs he adds to the set. The mystic, sing-style language is always something special when used for singing.  There are some technical issues, so an acoustic here and there is added. Even those are delivered with force. I really recommend anyone to check out his music.  Truly, listening to this again right now and I feel shivers down my spine.

Add to that the humble presentation of the man , the unconventional play and conviction and there you have something very special.

Nathan Gray Collective

The smiling trio makes their way onto the stage, dressed in grey shirts, the look is more industrial as predicted, like the neo-folk groups. Still, this is something else and way more personal and direct.

I would like to describe the way the opening song hits me. ‘Heathen Blood’ is like  a sledgehammer to the knees, it’s direct honesty, the pain in the voice of Gray and the frustration in the delivery are pure catharsis for the listener. I’ve come to terms with my own disposition towards the faith, but I just recognise the fury, the unrelenting sorrow that is voiced in this song. As Gray has said he was inspired by Skinny Puppy, this is exactly the immense impact that those guys make with way more effort. Nathan does it by just opening up to his crowd.

In a steady pace the band then moves through the tunes. Dan E. Smith is the main partner in crime for Gray, who plays guitar and delivers the electronics. It makes the whole sound more controlled and deliberate. The choice for electronics forces a new way of song writing for Gray, but in a sense many songs stay close to the emotional and melodic delivery that I’m familiar with. The high, soaring passages, but here and there we get a little bit of a dancy tune, like ‘Skin’. Most of the time the electronics do their work, but here and there I miss the organic connection between Gray’s natural voice and some more straight forward guitar work. It’s a personal note. Musically it works and Gray is a powerful frontman like always. Sweating profusely, his black handkerchief remains at hand for the rest of the set.

In between songs, Gray has a bit of banter ready for the visitors, but it’s mostly upbeat and shows that the man is enjoying playing this night, even for a relatively small crowd. The band plays a good 1,5 hours, where clearly some songs really work and some are not as convincing. Gray himself is always grabbing your attention though, with a delivery that is not only strong but urgent. As if this is something he needs as much as his fans. When the band closes with ‘Corson – An Ode to Vital Existence’ from the solo debut, it’s another powerful reminder that personal changes bring something new. It shows the hardcore roots of finding hope even when you’re down. It’s a parting gift from the struggling frontman. I say struggling, because I feel his quest for enlightenment is still fully going on.

I’ve got the book on the table here and I’m ready to read his autobiography ‘Until the Darkness Takes Us’. I expect it to be the next thing that hits me like a brick in the face from his work.

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