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Having seen Arch Enemy many times over the years, from the small confines of Manchester's Academy 3 venue back in 2002 to last year's festival stealing set at Bloodstock Open Air, it's been interesting to observe their rapidly growing fanbase around the world, and particularly in the UK. Stylistically remaining true to their roots throughout each new release, with big riffs, virtuoso shredding and simultaneous contemporary-retro metal tunes, it has been the metal world that has caught up with Arch Enemy's music, rather than the band adapting to the popularity of changing trends. It is, therefore, no surprise to see the Birmingham Academy nearly full to capacity just before they take to the stage with an air of excitement amongst the rammed, sweaty bodies eagerly anticipating their appearance. Band members are greeted with deafening cheers as they launch into opening track 'Blood On Your Hands' from last year's stunning new album 'Rise of the Tyrant'. The crowd lap up the essence of Arch Enemy's melodically brutal assault, and second number 'Ravenous' sees even greater movement from an enthusiastic audience. Playing for just over an hour, including a handful of tracks from the new album including 'Revolution Begins', 'Vultures', 'The Day You Died' and the neo-classical solo-led piece 'Intermezzo Liberté', the remainder of the set is somewhat predictable with fan favourites 'Dead Eyes See No Future', 'My Apocalypse', 'Dead Bury Their Dead', and closing songs 'Nemesis' and 'We Will Rise', each of the latter two numbers engendering the biggest pits of the night. There's even Daniel Erlandsson's mid-set drum solo; although impressive, it's perhaps slightly misplaced in a set this length - I would have preferred another song instead such as 'The Immortal' or the rarely heard 'Demonic Science', but then that's just my personal preference. As good and as polished Arch Enemy's performance is tonight, I can't help but feel it is lacking in some way. The sound through the PA is good, but not great; the Amott brothers (Christopher now with even shorter hair than when he rejoined Arch Enemy last year), together with bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, run around the stage with all their usual enthusiasm; and frontwoman Angel Gossow impresses both vocally and visually with her boundless energy. So what is lacking? Perhaps their overall performance is a little too 'polished'. Arch Enemy are a band in their prime, and indubitably one of the best bands currently on the live circuit, so I guess when you've witnessed them deliver one of the best live performances of any band ever (ie. Bloodstock last year), expectations will be high for all subsequent shows. Anyway, whatever the case, I find Arch Enemy to be 'only' very good this evening rather than the sublime metal brilliance of which they're capable. This is, however, not a major criticism, simply a comparative judgement.
Wednesday 23rd April 2008
Academy in Birmingham, UK
Opeth are another band whose career I've followed since the mid-late nineties and, like with Arch Enemy, have witnessed their transition from the small stage to much larger venues. It is very surprising to see Opeth's audience diminish in size to around three quarters of Arch Enemy's by the time they hit the stage, but there is still a large number remaining to show their appreciation for this much loved band. And as frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt and co appear on the Academy stage, the cheers drown out the intro music played through the PA. With Åkerfeldt the only original member of Opeth left, the band have suffered various lineup changes over the last couple of years, noticeably the departure of talented sticksman Martin Lopez, and long-term guitarist Peter Lindgren. The latter's replacement is the more than capable Fredrik Åkesson, who temporarily stood in for Arch Enemy's Christopher Amott when he took time away from the band to concentrate on his academic studies, although as Opeth begin to play opening number 'Demon of The Fall', a surprise opening song, from 1997's 'My Arms, Your Hearse', I am less impressed with new drummer Martin Axenrot who lacks the finesse of Lopez's unique style. Axenrot is audibly a talented sticksman, though lacks Lopez's natural progressive flair. Åkerfeldt informs the crowd in his quietly spoken voice and modest tone, "hello, we're Opeth from Stockholm", engages in a little banter with audience members, before continuing with the unpredictability of the setlist as he announces 'Serenity Painted Death' from 1999's 'Still Life'. Not having seen Opeth live since they recruited Per Wiberg as a full-time member on keyboards, I wasn't sure what to expect from this additional instrument on the older material, and although jarring initially, I find myself enjoying the extra depth it brings to the songs. Axenrot's drumming suffices during the faster passages of most songs, although his lack of finesse compared to Lopez is particularly noticeable as he plays the drum fills preceding the chorus of 'In My Time of Need' from 'Damnation'. Following the latter track, Åkerfeldt is on fine witty form as he tells the crowd "and now it's time for the big question", points to a now short-haired Martin Mendez, "yes, it is Martin Mendez...it is him. There's been a couple of photos of us on the internet and people have said he now looks like a bum. Let me correct that - he's always been a bum!". Then is perhaps the biggest surprise of the night as Åkerfeldt announces they'll be playing 'Wreath' live for the first time, the opening track from 'Damnation's heavier companion release, 'Deliverance', modestly stating he has the words by his feet in case he forgets them! And it doesn't get much more progressively epic than 'Wreath' with its melodically sweeping grandiosity of the lengthy mid-section filling the Academy with subliminal metal grandeur that only a few bands would be capable of achieving. Penultimate track is 'Heir Apparent', a new song from forthcoming album 'Watershed', that is well received by the Academy audience, before the band close with the ever popular 'The Drapery Falls' from 2001's breakthrough release 'Blackwater Park'. It is so pleasing to see Opeth experience such globally huge success in recent years as they have never compromised their compositional style, remaining a unique and genuinely progressive band throughout every new release. And after tonight's stunning performance, I leave the Academy reassured that despite recent lineup changes, Opeth are still an engagingly entertaining live act.
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Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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