In Islington Mill for a show promoted by Fat Out Till You Pass Out, who generally have excellent taste in music and artwork for their gig posters. They have a series of interesting shows coming up this summer including their own two day festival in August, and they are kicking off this current bout of activity in style.

First up tonight is Glasgow four piece Take A Worm For A Walk Week. With two albums under their belts and another due for this year, TAWFAWW are bearded specialists in trad-Sub-Pop, post-hardcore / sludge metal type noise. They’re not that original, but they’re heavy without being overly macho, and although no particular song leaps out as especially memorable, over the course of their half hour set its all fun and engaging enough.

Vocalist Joe Quimby is currently suffering with a lost voice, but luckily it hasn’t gone too far and his David-Yow-from-Jesus-Lizard type vocal contortions and unusual gestures on stage keep your interest. TAWFAWW are one of those bands where everything, even live, is mixed into one dense, analogous whole with no separation or space between any of the instruments or vocals so it all sort of ends up slightly unintelligible and anonymous. As much as it seems like I’m not enjoying it, if I get the opportunity to go and see TAWFAWW again, I reckon I would.

Next is ‘Wode’, who I know amazingly little about. They’re a local three piece who I seem to remember from this year’s Sounds from the Other City Festival. They’re thrash / hardcore types, and it’s all well played with particularly impressive black metal style vocals. They look totally unassuming though, their image (for want of a better word) is distinctly un-metal – no corpse paint or black leather – but this doesn’t detract from the sound they are making. Again, I can’t pinpoint any particular element, but as a whole over another half hour, it’s a treat.

Finally, shortly before 11pm Æthenor take the stage and just begin.  For a band with such calibre, it’s a distinctly unassuming entrance and it feels like someone should say something, but they just get on.

 Æthenor play improvised music or ‘automatic composition’ and are comprised of Daniel O’Sullivan (leader of Mothlite, member of Guapo and, more recently, Ulver); Stephen O’Malley (one half of doom drone legends Sunn O))), and countless other frequently jaw-dropping musical excursions); Kristoffer Rygg (mainstay of avant garde metalists Ulver); and Steve Noble (improv drummer extraordinaire – check out his group NEW with John Edwards and Alex Ward for some proper top notch rock-noise-jazz improvisational enjoyment).

The set up includes Noble on drums (obviously), O’Malley on his Travis Bean guitar (though without the infamous Sunn O))) backline of amplifiers which was gut churningly loud when I saw them in concert); Rygg sat at a bank of effects and programmes; and O’Sullivan centre stage on synthesisers, effects and vocals. Previous long term member Vincent De Roguin has not played with the group for the last few years, but Æthenor now with Noble and Rygg on board has produced the amazing album ‘En Form For Blå’ released earlier this year and documenting their 2010 residency in the Blå club in Oslo.

Given that each member is known for something other than Æthenor might make some people think of them as ‘side project’. However, given the breadth of work which these artists are involved to view them like this is a bit naive. Calling them a ‘supergroup’ has weird connotations as well though. Although the members may be exalted for activities other than Æthenor, this shouldn’t detract from the music which they produce together, so let’s keep it simple and just say they’re properly amazing.

It starts off slow and ambient. Gentle, lulling tones rise and fall with some moaning vocal inflections setting a start point for the group to build on. Noble unleashes a drum crash and further elements emerge, O’Sullivan and Rygg treating and manipulating a variety of sounds, but it all stays fairly understated and brooding.

This continues until O’Malley unleashes a high, long scrawl on his guitar (which, when seen live, seems weird given he is the master of the drop tuned, slow and heavy doom drone style) and leads all the players into a swirling vortex of sound which they whirl down into. The players never seem to be anything but in total control, and they bring together an extended sound which doesn’t really have any obvious precedents, although it makes me think of something ‘kosmische’, like elements of Can or Faust and leaning also into Coil / Nurse With Wound / early Current 93 style soundscapes.

For the remainder of the set, O’Malley occasionally provides a blast of his powerfully evocative guitar playing, but generally is restrained. He doesn’t really take the lead but adds to O’Sullivan’s and Rygg’s overarching electronic sounds which are high in the mix and veer occasionally into 70’s prog style fills. The P-word might put some people off, but I’ve no problem with this – sounds really good in this context.

 At other times O’Malley plays totally sympathetically and rhythmically alongside Noble, who often runs with a rock style beat demonstrating that improvisation doesn’t deserve its reputation as disjointed and arrhythmic. Noble adds immensely to Æthenor, given his improv experience this is understandable, and it’s generally the drums which seem to ramp it up and lead the group into the transcendent moments which float you out of the room.

After one continuous half hour piece the group bring proceedings to a halt, O’Sullivan informs us that their previous gig was not particularly memorable for the group and requests a ten minute break. On return they play for a further fifteen minutes or so, this piece being sparser and more spacious than before. The sounds from the stage are increasingly odd as well, with Noble especially being even more experimental in the final section, making sounds which seem to be treated and manipulated but which are all of his own creation through drum kit alone. It all seems a bit lighter and like the group are having a bit more fun, finishing with Rygg making some wonderfully weird noises and the group joking that they can’t think of anything clever to name tonight’s piece.

O’Malley has spoken previously about the risks to playing improv with Æthenor, and given that they weren’t happy with their previous gig this must be true. I don’t know what they felt about tonight in Salford, but for me Æthenor are pretty darn special and the music they create feels totally unique. It might be risky for the musicians, but if anything mentioned here piques your interest, go and see Æthenor, cos they are no risk at all.