When My Bloody Valentine returned in 2008 the shoegaze pioneers resembled an Ice Age mammoth miraculously preserved in permafrost. They stood on stage precisely as they had 20 years before, guitarist-singers Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher passive at either edge, bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig an aggressive blur of activity at the centre. The contrasting dynamics – male and female, sloth and action, noise and harmony – were the same. So were the songs: the band’s last album was released in 1991.
That finally has changed. Unlike other resurrected indie acts from their era, such as the Pixies and The Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine have managed to make a new album, which emerged without warning on their website last month. Titled mbv, it picks up where 1991’s Loveless left off, then accelerates into wilder, uncharted territory. You can sense Shields, almost 50, facing up to his creative block and breaking through it.
Perversely they only played three mbv tracks at the first of two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo. Still, that was a cornucopia by their standards, enough to confirm the genuineness of their reactivation. This particular mammoth, a creature the shapeless, shaggy Shields increasingly resembles, has survived its hibernation.
Opening with Loveless’s “I Only Said”, the quartet occupied the usual stage positions. Decibel levels were extreme. Shields, a connoisseur of cacophony, had a variety of pedals at his feet, each producing a different pitch of clamour from his guitar. The mood switched cryptically between comfort and discomfort, opiated waves of sound disrupted by flashing white lights and violent white noise.
The first new track was the aptly titled “New You” in which a basic hip-hop drumbeat updated the “baggy” beats of old, chunky riffs bouncing along to the groove, a vibrant assertion of purpose. “Only Tomorrow” also held its own with the classic songs, an extra guitarist adding to the immense wall of sound.
The band’s usual finale – 1988’s “You Made Me Realise” elongated into an almost unbearable 10-minute jet-aircraft roar – now strikes me as in need of retirement, a relic of 1980s noise-rock when bands such as Swans and the Butthole Surfers explored the outer limits of volume. But tonight there was a twist. The anachronistic sonic assault was followed by new song “Wonder 2”, a knock-out barrage of programmed beats, keyboard drones and oscillating guitar tones. It felt urgent and liberating: an onrush of renewed life.