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Now in its second year, the Metal Hammer sponsored Defenders of the Faith package commences at 6:30pm as Californian band Five Finger Death Punch take to the stage. In fact, doors had originally been advertised to open at this time, so it's a wise move of the venue by letting people in half an hour previously so at least there's a sizeable audience ready to witness the opening act. Completely devoid of originality, FFDP's music is at least competently performed with palm-muted thrash riffing galore, occasional lead flourishes, and hardcore style vocals, which invariably give way to clean singing parts over melodiously composed sing-a-long choruses. This is formulaic metal per se and fails to move me through its lack of innovation and predictable structures, although a couple of hundred people in the near sold-out 3,000 capacity Academy seem to lap up FFDP's aurally unchallenging metal tunes. A fairly weak start to Defenders of the Faith II.
Thursday 12th February 2009
Academy in Birmingham, UK
If anyone could kick-start Defenders of the Faith II into full-on, dynamic metal action after the bland start provided by Five Finger Death Punch, then Massachusetts crew Unearth were the band to do so. With the evening running to schedule thus far, they appear onstage around 7:20pm and launch into 'My Will Be Done', opening track from stunning new album 'The March'. Circle pits ensue and last for the duration of Unearth's set, as the audience reciprocate vigorously to the band's relentless energy. And there's a feeling of great sincerity to their performance as they genuinely look to be having fun, which is evident from their facial expressions in the way they interact with both the audience and each other (including guitarists Buz McGrath and Ken Susi's faked nose picking/eating!). Cramming as much material into their short support slot as possible, the ferociously up-tempo pace of the music is unrelenting as the likes of 'Crow Killer', penultimate number 'We Are Not Anonymous' and set closer 'Black Hearts Now Reign' impress me with their incisively tight delivery. McGrath and Susi's technically accomplished seven string widdlings are note perfect, and the tight rhythm section of John Maggard's bass playing and Derek Kerswill's skilled drumming lend the songs a "brutal groove" (to quote a term coined by Kerswill himself), over which frontman Trevor Phipps convincingly growls every lyric as if trying to convey each song's polemic to the crowd with aggressive veracity. A mightily impressive display of hard-hitting, in-your-face metal with a perfectly fused balance between old school influences and contemporary brutality. A hard act to follow...
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Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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Having been a fan of Dimmu Borgir since the mid-late nineties, I am eagerly anticipating their performance tonight, particularly after the Norwegians' majestically impressive headline set at last year's Bloodstock Open Air festival. With their appearance preceded by an overlong soundcheck (including a roadie testing a mic by informing the audience they shouldn't drink or take drugs as this costs money, but to masturbate instead as it's free!), the signs are not good this evening. Drums distort badly through the PA, which seems unresolved at the point a roadie states they only have a couple of minutes left to finish soundchecking. After a lengthy wait, the lights eventually dim as Dimmu's intro music plays and moving heads placed strategically around the stage provide a visually impressive and atmospheric lighting display. However, as band members appear to loud cheers and commence with 'Progenies of the Great Apocalypse', bassist ICS Vortex (aka Simen Hestnęs) walks off stage after only a few seconds with evident sound problems as a roadie can be seen trying to rectify the issue. Fortunately, this appears to be resolved mid-song as Vortex reappears in time for his clean vocal part. Overall, though, there is a discernible lacklustre feeling about Dimmu's performance in the Academy tonight and, apart from guitarist Galder's manic facial expressions and lively stage presence, the band seem to be just going through the motions. With a set that includes 'The Serpentine Offering', 'Reptile', 'Kings of the Carnival Creation', and encore tracks 'Puritania' and 'Mourning Palace', the pioneering black metallers have a plethora of strong material, so it's such a shame this evening that something is lacking in its execution. A poor sound doesn't help (ironic considering the length of the soundcheck), and latest drummer, Dariusz "Daray" Brzozowski, the talented sticksman recently departed from Vader, seems to be having an off night as his timing is far from perfect and misses key drum fills. Considering the large number of Dimmu and Cradle of Filth t-shirts worn by fans this evening, it is surprising to see the crowd rather subdued. There is some movement in the audience although this is comparatively flat following the far more lively reaction engendered by Unearth's performance. The Norwegian black metallers are an incredible disappointment tonight, sheerly because I am aware of what they're usually capable of in the live arena. And Shagrath seems to have rather pretentiously adopted an American accent during his between song talking! Distinctly average.
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With a more succinctly professional souncheck than Dimmu's, Lamb of God keep the Academy's audience waiting for a lot less longer than the Norwegians, as the stage disappears in a cloud of thick smoke, and the Virginian metallers appear as silhouettes, back-lit by vivid red lighting. Vocalist Randy Blythe wisely acknowledges Birmingham's metal heritage early in the band's set by declaring they're happy to be playing in the city that gave birth to three of the genre's greats - Sabbath; Priest; Napalm Death - a sure way to win over the crowd (which rather aptly includes Shane Embury tonight, along with a few other metal luminaries). Not that those in attendance need winning over though as people appear revved up from the off, with a crowd surfer plucked from the audience by security every minute. Lamb of God play a varied set, airing material from all four of their studio albums to date, including 'Black Label'; 'Ruin'; 'Omertą'; and 'Pathetic'. They also treat fans to a handful of tracks from forthcoming new album 'Wrath' - 'Dead Seeds', 'Set To Fail', and 'Contractor'. Performing in front an excess of Mesa Boogie cabs, the five musicians deliver a solid, tight set that sees the Academy erupt into a series of mini circle pits, and are fortunately not plagued by the same sound problems that marred Dimmu's show. For me, though, the night belongs to Unearth.
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