2013 has already proven to be a phenomenal year for metal music; with blistering new records from some of the most talented bands from across the globe, both established and rising. Some of the reviews I have written already concern just a few of those perfect examples; and there are still many more to come. Heaven Shall Burn, Bleed from Within, Malefice, Killswitch Engage, Hatebreed and many others have already released stellar new records and we are still due for material from August Burns Red, Mastodon, The Black Dahlia Murder and Amon Amarth and several more.
2013 is also shaping up to be one of those years where we empty our wallets in attending an excess of gigs. The perfect three examples of those gigs fell on every night of the May Day Bank Holiday weekend between the 3rd and the 5th of May. In the country’s capital, each night presented a very different and remarkable performance for all who attended it. London crowds have always been particularly vocal and outspoken about all who grace said crowds with their presence, deserved or not. But this weekend brought something special. I have reviewed each gig in their entirety. Enjoy!
Friday 3rd May – Devin Townsend Project / Meshuggah / Periphery @ O2 Academy Brixton
As the doors open and the floor quickly fills up with epic beard-spouting, Meshuggah-shirt-wearing fans, the stage behind Periphery’s gear is sporting a huge monumental structure. Fans can only anticipate what’s to come but their attention is swiftly diverted to the ambient intro before Periphery’s “Ragnarok” erupts. Frontman Spencer Sotelo bursts onto the stage with hellish screams and the band waste no time in getting the Brixton crowd moving. Followed on from the opener is the slightly slower “Scarlet” and crowd favourite “Jetpacks Was Yes”, and here it becomes apparent that the incredibly talented Sotelo is finding it hard to reach his comfort zone in his clean vocals. The Maryland six-piece have soared in popularity in recent years but it’s clear that Sotelo’s immense vocal diversification between Periphery (2010) and Periphery II (2012) is at times too difficult to retain throughout this performance. This is later supported by what seemed like Pterodactyl-influenced vocals in “Luck as a Constant” and “Make Total Destroy”, which had the crowd in a state of “dafuq”. The rest of the band prove as competent and energetic as ever, despite the rough mix that they had, but do not stand out as they have done in the past. 5/10
Following on from Periphery’s quick set is the first of the two headline bands, the Swedish tech masters Meshuggah. After a wait of what seemed like forever, the epic hybrid of blinding strobe lights in time with ear-crushing drums draws deafening cheers. Upon his arrival, Jens Kidman does his trademarked death face and roars in the faces of the Brixton crowd with unmatched aggression. In a move that will obviously please the majority, Meshuggah play a great chunk of songs from their magnum opus obZen (“Bleed” being the obvious crowd favourite) as well as their new album Koloss, with “Demiurge”, “I Am Colossus” and “Do Not Look Down” being standouts, alongside golden oldies “Lethargica” and “Rational Gaze”. Meshuggah invoke a truly mesmerising stage presence, with little emphasis on crowd interaction, but that is okay because they do not need to do so. The crushing medley of polyrhythmic drums alongside technical riff masterpieces with copious amounts of groove fixate everybody to permanently bop their heads in approval. A fascinating performance that is hard to top. 9.5/10
But somehow, Meshuggah’s performance is topped. And there can only be one such musician who is capable of doing so, and that is Devin Townsend of The Devin Townsend Project. Left to keep the attentions of the already drained crowd, the stage is remodelled with four plasma screens, sky scraping lighting structures and a huge surrounding platform. Townsend’s traditional hilarious-nonsensical intro videos just exemplify who the genius is, in that the intro is so random it doesn’t need to make sense. But all of a sudden, the biggest crowd roar of the night is heard when the veteran steps onstage followed by his band and what was revealed to be VIP guests, sporting the same hockey jerseys. In a shocking moment, the melodic anthem “Angel” is the opener, which immediately sets the tone of a phenomenal stage show vibe and unparalleled vocal ability from both Townsend and his female counterpart. “More!” is not only what is on people’s minds but also the name of the next song, followed by “Juular” and “Supercrush!” in which Townsend immediately nullifies all who have preceded him on this night, just in his sheer ability as a musician. TDTP bring a handful of covers of Townsend’s solo project, namely “ZTO” and “War” which are nothing short of spectacular, but the real standout is the illustrious “Bad Devil”, which turns the whole of Brixton into a huge dancing platform. Townsend closes off the night with the ballad-esque “Divine” and the anthemic “Grace” to close off arguably the greatest live performance in the history of mankind. This show personified exactly how gifted Townsend is as a performer, an entertainer and a real treat for all who watch him. A genius at work. 10/10
Saturday 4th May – Hatebreed / Black Dogs / Demoraliser @ O2 Academy Islington
In an attempt to overcome the epicness that was the previous night, a trip to Islington was in the works purely to see Hatebreed, one of the UK’s favourite international bands, who haven’t graced the UK since their late slot on the main stage at Bloodstock Open Air last year. Supporting them on their Divinity of Purpose tour are North England hardcore enthusiasts Demoraliser and Black Dogs.
Hardcore has always been a marmite genre for many in metal, some fans do not appreciate it as much as others. But Demoraliser’s fusion sound offers a pleasing experience for fans of both genres. The band surge onto the scene in a decent opening set with breakdowns commonplace and with a great stage presence. The young band show evident signs of success in the near future. 7/10
Black Dogs are on next, who offer a slightly different flavour. Although a very talented band with every opportunity going for them, somehow do not hit home with the Islington crowd. The overtly political sentiments from frontman Gollo perhaps draw the informal vibe away from the band’s watchers; I don’t know about what hardcore fans reading this think but I don’t really want to think about David Cameron’s government while two-stepping and punching the floor. As said before, and similarly to Demoraliser, a promising band with a bright future and with every path to succeed in their wake, but Black Dogs just don’t shine as well as they possibly could. 5/10
The headliners Hatebreed, fresh off their release of The Divinity of Purpose earlier this year, rapidly set the Islington crowd alight with furious and destructive floor-punching chaos. Crowd favourites “In Ashes They Shall Reap”, “Defeatist”, “Live for This” and “Perseverance” get just about every single person in the building picking up their feet. In the wake of the unfortunate death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman, Hatebreed not only dedicate their performance to the better-than-Kerry King axe man but also cover Slayer’s “Ghosts of War”, which pleases the slightly older fans in attendance. In what seems like a shorter set compared to my five other times seeing the band, Hatebreed always offer an enjoyable and memorable gig. No moment better expressed than with the closers “I Will Be Heard” and “Destroy Everything”, which lead almost everybody involved to completely faceplant the floor and each other. An incredible live band who only continue to impress. 9/10
Sunday 5th May – Killswitch Engage / Sylosis / Heartist @ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Waking up after seeing two gigs on the trot is never an easy task, especially given the vibe that the previous two possessed. Yet the thought that such a hot Sunday would play host to another equally sweltering gig was enough. Upon yours truly getting relatively intoxicated beforehand (the same can be said for Saturday night as well), the doors open and the fairly small venue rapidly fills up.
Openers Heartist emerge and are fast to please the eager predominantly-metalcore fans in attendance. Yet again, another young, gifted band with every opportunity on the horizon for them, but who somehow offer a decent flavour of what is to come. Very solid performance, but whose watchers find it hard to get into from a vocal standpoint. Impressive screams but whose cleans need some work, but…all in due time (sorry, I couldn’t resist). 6/10
The penultimate band of the weekend is Reading thrash-inspired Sylosis, who have always managed to captivate just about everybody who watches them live. Hearing them on record is one thing, but a live show is something completely different (and filled with riffs better than anything Metallica has ever (or never) written). Frontman Josh Middleton’s precision with very extraordinary guitar playing combined with the ever-improving vocals is always a treat to watch. “Eclipsed”, “Altered States of Consciousness”, “Stained Humanity” and “Teras” are always those songs which purely permeate everybody in attendance in headbang motion. For those in the pits, it only means more bruising. It is always pleasurable to watch Sylosis play a slightly longer set, as the music is too good to turn off. Sadly, it has to happen eventually, but only after blasting through “Empyreal (Pt. 1)” does the band purely go out with a bang. Amazing, but that was a given. 10/10
Only too fitting to end such an awesome weekend would be a headline performance from metalcore genius’ Killswitch Engage. Having in the last year acquired original vocalist Jesse Leach back into the fold, the band are poised to shine, given the response to Disarm the Descent, Leach’s first record with KsE since Alive or Just Breathing (2002). “The New Awakening”, “No End in Sight” and recent single “In Due Time” are set to remain the new KsE anthems of every album. Returning are live renditions of “Fixation on the Darkness”, “This is Absolution” as well as the live debut of “Beyond the Flames” (also from the new album). Throughout the performance, not only is guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz purely hilarious but also Jesse Leach’s vocal ability (and beard) are perhaps the best examples of such things in the world. Of course, no KsE performance is complete without their melodic anthems, of which everybody in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire sings gratuitously: “Rose of Sharyn”, “The Arms of Sorrow”, “My Curse”, “The End of Heartache” and Leach’s signature song before he left the band, “My Last Serenade”. In said last song, the band welcome almost all of the tour crew, from Sylosis to gear technicians and collectively force them to chug their drink whenever a pinch harmonic is heard on the guitar – you could only guess the results. A perfect end to a fantastic weekend. 10/10
Thoughts for consideration: no more need be said other than to recommend you go and see all of the above bands at any given opportunity. Best decision you will ever make.