This is Frayle’s first-ever trip to our tiny island and the streets are wet and gloomy on this Sunday night. They’re here to support the release of their second album, Skin & Sorrow, and positive feedback has drifted down from Manchester following their opening slot at Damnation Festival the previous day. The dark upstairs room of Camden’s The Black Heart is the perfect setting for what’s to come and the anticipation of the crowd is palpable as we patiently loiter whilst observing band and crew moving equipment through the crowd on to the stage.
The four band members drift forth into misty pink and purple lighting and the ghostly ships in the night intro of ‘Things That Make Us Bleed’ from 2018’s The White Witch EP rings out. Guitarist, Sean Bilovecky’s wide stance dominates the stage while Gwyn Strang’s vocals are elegantly underplayed as she quietly declares, “I tried / I tried to save you”.
During ‘All The Things I Was’, Gwyn implores us to “Come join us”, while bassist, Jason Knotek, lunges his head forth and his almost floor-length locks writhe, snake-like, connecting with the man on the front row carrying a signed Frayle drum skin. Also on the front row is a young guy in a wheelchair, which is great to see and I momentarily wonder if a lift has been installed to make the gig space more accessible. Sadly, it transpires not, as the guy’s two friends carry him down the twisting staircase at the end of the gig.
The band’s video single from the height of summer, ‘Bright Eyes’, may not be the tear-jerking song about cartoon rabbits but it is the closest thing to dream pop meets doom metal you’re ever likely to hear. Uplifting vocal harmonies soar across a stoner rock backdrop with confessional lyrics: “Bright eyes betray a dark heart / I don’t want you to see / That there’s darkness in me”.
Frayle possess a delightful knack for diving deep under the skin of compositions written by others, two of which are aired this evening. I dare say Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire‘ (penned by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore), has never sounded so darkly mystifying. The song is turned inside out and performed with such conviction that it could almost be that Frayle have indeed slipped down, down, down, far further than the late man in black ever did.
The nine-second ‘Monsters’, from the band’s debut album, 1692, is played ahead of tonight’s finale. The disembodied, Exorcist-like child’s voice never fails to tickle me as it menacingly states: “The little monsters at our door / Laugh at us and call us whores / Take an axe and split their head / Laugh at them ’cause now they’re dead”. I gleefully imagine it must be Hallowe’en every day at Frayle’s house.
‘Darker Than Black’ – surely the aspiration of every competitive and self-respecting goth – pulses with swirling guitars and pounding drums. Gwyn sweetly warns, “I’m what goes bump in the night / I’ll tear the thunder right from the sky / Make darkness tremble / Make angels cry”, and based on tonight’s performance, only a fool would choose to disagree. There’s seemingly a world of pain and a lifetime of bad experiences swept up into Frayle’s lyrics, yet they are delivered in such a controlled manner as if Gwyn is inviting the audience to exorcise their demons along with her.
Wearing a long, black, lace dress and a red crown of thorns, Gwyn has an enigmatic stage presence and is so softly spoken in-between songs that it’s a little difficult to catch what she’s saying. However, we are encouraged to stick around after their hour long set and the band happily spend time chatting, signing records and posing for photos with fans. Off-stage, Gwyn confides that her crown of thorns is actually quite painful to wear. Sadly, I’m not quick-witted enough to respond, “I think it’s meant to be.”
Tonight’s offering is nothing short of intimate beauty; a snarl of gloriously down-tuned guitars and ethereal vocals trickling down an intense soundscape. This is not music to brighten your darkest days; moreover, it’s the soundtrack to accompany world-weary souls as they howl, echo and moan into the night.
Set list: Things That Make Us Bleed / Treacle & Revenge / Let The Darkness In / All The Things I Was / Wandering Star / 1692 / Dead Inside / Bright Eyes / Ring Of Fire / Monsters / Darker Than Black
Frayle conclude their European run of shows in Germany performing on: 15th November at MTC, Cologne; 16th at Backstage, Munich; 17th at Heinrichs Club, Gera; 18th at Zolkatine, Bremen and 19th at Gloomaar Festival, Neunkirchen.
Frayle’s discography is available from their Bandcamp page and physical copies of ‘Skin & Sorrow’ on grimace purple/sea blue heavyweight vinyl can be purchased from Lay Bare Recordings. Follow the band on Instagram / Facebook and subscribe to their YouTube channel for updates.