An irony of ironies: since the advent of punk rock, a movement rooted in destabilising the establishment, it has become established that virtuosity ≠ authenticity + quality. Though it must be said, even without the Sex Pistols, Clash et al, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and their ilk were doing an excellent job of making that point…

There’s a school of music fan though, as uniform and oppressive as any educational institution, that believes amateurism = authenticity + quality.

He Who Dares Wins, spanning 5 discs and over 30 years, charts Theatre Of Hate’s rise from charming and ambitious amateurs, to powerful purveyors of gothic might. And proves that amateurism does not necessarily equate to higher calibre music.

Even the space of just 8 months between the January 1981 show that makes up disc 1 and the September show of that year that is disc 2 makes all the difference. Where vocalist Kirk Brandon struggles to convincingly hit the high notes on Original Sin on disc 1, just a few short months later his voice has stepped up to the plate admirably.

And a generation later, on 2007’s disc 3, cloaked in ghostly reverb, Brandon’s voice is hitting those notes with all the powerful ease of a dictator commanding his troops. His open-throated bellow a far cry from ’81’s comparatively weedy attempt.

But the later shows of 2007 and 2012 represented here aren’t all spit and polish. The bass retains all the punk-inflected rattle of the earlier shows. And Brandon’s guitar keeps its trebly piercing quality, while sacrificing none of its clarity.

Theatre Of Hate’s music carries all the majesty of a gothic cathedral’s steeple. Where many an indie band of their time wallowed in their own ineptitude, Theatre Of Hate strived to further themselves. Not just as musicians, but as creators.

Virtuosity ≠ creativity. There’s scarcely a lick across He Who Dares Wins 5 discs that falls into the Yngwie Malmsteen category of virtuosity. And if there were, the record would have suffered for it.

It’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. It must be conceded that less is not always more. Just like it must be conceded that more is not always better. Theatre Of Hate are masters of leaving space, letting their impeccable rhythm section carry the tunes and utilising the guitar and saxophone as tools to alter the dynamics of their music.

Rarely is there a band that is this good so far into their career. One thinks of Swans and their run of excellent albums in recent years. Theatre Of Hate have proven themselves on this boxset that, at the very least, they’re an incredible night out. 

by James Fleming

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