Heavy Lungs: one of the only truly loud bands around.

Heavy Lungs on stage at Clwb Ifor Bach.

The years of waiting for a proper return were worth it. Heavy Lungs have lost none of their appeal.

Verdict: A Post-Punk essential

Cardiff is balmy this evening. The wind has finally calmed itself, and at last this April sunshine can do its thing. It’s a golden hour deluxe walk on the way in, a glow bathing the rising hustle as I make my way up Queen Street, the nights out getting underway at the Glyndŵr, and the feast of smells along Church Street. The fact I’m not having to wear the jacket I’ve brought with me feels like a small miracle.

It’s yet more evidence for why I love this city so much, and it’s helped to add to the nostalgic feeling lingering in my mind. The first time I saw Heavy Lungs was on the very same floor at Clwb Ifor Bach I’m seeing them tonight. It was a Post Punk night back in January 2019, where they were joined by a then also little known act called The Murder Capital. By the end of that year, not only was I a Heavy Lungs fanatic, but it felt like Post Punk was omnipresent. Idles were on a victory lap, Fontaines had dropped their instant classic debut Dogrel, and a myriad of other bands were swelling around them.

Compared to their contemporaries, the band always felt like a more incisive, effective act. Their potent mix of an ear-splitting, hip-shaking mania was delivered baggage-free and egoless. As a result, they’ve always lived up to their name: their sound is heavy, but it moves with a poise and flair that no one else of late has really been able to match. It’s had me hooked since day one.

Things are a little different now. The energy of this current wave of ‘Nu-New Wave‘, ‘Brexit Rock’, and/or various other names (I outright refuse to call it something as lame as ‘Crank Wave’. Fuck you NME.), continues. But its spirit of change has been dented. Johnson, Covid and the sheer state of world politics have undone any idea that it was going to change anything. Amidst all that, Heavy Lungs went from being on the cusp of a debut album to a several-year-wait for a debut album.

But, last September, it finally arrived. All Gas No Brakes is a grower, and a wicked one at that, placing 10th on my Albums of the Year list for 2023. It scales up their style with total poise, adding more fuzz to their dense-as-lead heaviness and giving even more room for Nedelko to shout. He remains one of the best frontmen living right now, and all this new material is itching to be heard live.

Thus, we come full circle. It’s another sunny spring evening in the Welsh capital, I’ve got a flannel shirt on as usual, and Heavy Lungs are off to establish themselves once more. All taking place in my favourite venue in the city that I’ve called home ever since I let this sort of music into my life. Friday nights don’t get much better.

North Wales duo Alffa on stage at Clwb Ifor Bach.

First on are Alffa, a duo from North Wales who I’ve never got round to seeing, despite spotting them on plenty of lineups over the years. They’re well suited as a warmup to Heavy Lungs, with classic two piece sensibilities and plenty of energy from frontman Dion. He gets a terrific amount of noise out of his one guitar. Meanwhile, drummer Sion sits behind, composed as anything in his delivery and barely letting himself break a sweat. It’s only on the last few tracks where he really lets loose.

The obvious comparison may well be to Royal Blood, but they do the whole bluesy thing without it being cheesy. Others don’t always make the mark, but Alffa steer clear of any pitfalls by not being show-offs. It’s genuine, and even if some of the lyrics don’t exactly soar, the instrumentation more than makes up for it. Playing plenty of material from their 2019 album Rhyddid o’r Cysgodion Gwenwynig, they also teased some new stuff they’ve been working on, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for future releases.

You can always trust Heavy Lungs to choose some rollicking little gems you’ve never heard of to play in the build up. I couldn’t put a number on how much other material I’ve found thanks to them. As the band get set up on stage, I sip my beer in the corner, grabbing my phone to find out the name of pretty much everything that gets played. My favourite finds this time are NNHMN’s Berlin-basement-club-esque ‘Soldier of Beauty’, the unrelenting ferocity of ‘Lads Lads Lads’ by Lambrini Girls (I always need to pay more attention to them), and ‘God’s Awful Children’ by The Holy Nothing. They’re a tiny band who deserve a million times more attention when they can match names like that with the sledgehammer that is that chorus.

The band in full swing.

I’d have liked the room to be more packed by the time they get going, but I can’t be arsed to be annoyed by it. Drummer George Garratt looks like one of the crew from Primeval in his leather hoodie-jacket and black boots. He switches to his usual shorts before he takes his position. Bassist James Minchall occupies the right of the stage, needing the space for how much he’s about to throw himself around. Oliver Southgate is hidden away on the left, the silhouette of his guitar just about visible. 

And then, dead centre, is Danny Nedelko himself. It took me about 5 minutes the first time I saw them to become utterly obsessed with his character. It’s a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever shift. As soon as the music starts, he convulses into life, transformed by the sound and translating everything the band are making into movement. They drop the title track for ‘All Gas No Brakes’ as their second song, sending Nedelko prancing up and down the front of the crowd. I feel my hips beginning to swing, and thankfully a few others come forward to do the same.

As expected, their new material bristles when heard live. There’s little change from how clamorous it is, but without any studio polish, it comes across all the more virile. Heavy Lungs are one of the only truly loud bands about these days, and seeing them in the flesh is like watching a How It’s Made documentary on their inner workings. It’s got little to do with the riffs, aggression or production, great as they are. Their cacophony is fluid and natural; plenty of other acts make music in the same vein as this, but none of them really achieve a sound as inherent.

By the halfway point, any nerves have faded away, and Nedelko has got his top off. As much fun as the band are clearly having, he remains in character, glaring across the audience in between his theatrics. Does he condition that nigh-on perfect mop? It certainly survives getting sweaty. I join the moshpit at the front, whilst Nedelko makes the odd trip into the crowd during the quieter moments. He’s also the first person I’ve seen attempt to pole dance against the pillar at Clwb. One I did not expect to be on the bingo card.

Nedelko takes a moment to not fling himself around the stage.

‘A Bit Of A Birthday’ closes out the set, that gnarly riff cutting hard. Nedelko jumps off stage as soon as the vocals are done, whilst Southgate, Garratt and Minchall jam out the remaining feedback from their instruments to great applause. And just as quickly as the riot began, it dissipated. At the merch stand, you’d barely know that the courteous man behind the table had just done all that. Nedelko shakes everyone’s hand, and I leave with one of their Chloë Sevigny t-shirts.

Where the momentum for the band has felt unfortunately inconsistent, it’s clear that none of that has dented their desire to make righteously loud music. Indeed, as honed as their act now is, it’s the wilder elements they’ve left untouched that are the real draw. Heavy Lungs are a spirited, raw experience that never gets out of hand, imbuing a confidence that every bit of is intentional. I’m glad; I want them to be aware of how good I think everything they do is. Their setlist teased a few new tracks, which brings all the more hope that there’s plenty more of this to come. 

Heavy Lungs with Alffa at Clwb Ifor Bach, 19th April 2024

Munro Page

Munro Page is a music blogger and former student radio host based in Cardiff, Wales. He likes: thrift stores, cooking and parrots. He dislikes: chain restaurants, the M25 and Simply Red.