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Wednesday 13th November 2013
Academy in Manchester, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
With a mere twenty five minute set time (which would have been even shorter had Amon Amarth not generously and respectfully opted to truncate their own set later tonight), reactivated cult British occult metallers, Hell, are opening act on Metal Hammer's fourth Defenders of the Faith tour. And with such a short set, it could be argued that lengthy-ish intro music that precedes their entrance is somewhat misplaced. However, I would suggest it's imperative within Hell's aesthetic as it efficaciously primes their theatrically-charged essence. When band members do appear, they waste no time in commencing their sonic attack of exhilaratingly stylistic heterogeneity on a surprisingly well populated venue, despite doors only opening a mere twenty or so minutes previously. And it's their stylistic diversity (albeit underpinned by 80s metal idioms... after all, that's the decade that gave birth to the band), coupled with a stage show that deploys just the right amount of histrionic flair, that's seen their fanbase develop and widen beyond all expectations since they returned in 2011. And, tonight, there's a lot of love for Hell within Manchester Academy's audience as they work their way through a criminally short five song set, which mixes up material from 'Human Remains' and forthcoming full-length, 'Curse and Chapter'. Attired in accessorised smoking jackets, there's an inherent uniformity about their appearance, and choreographed stage moves are offset against conviviality amongst band members as smiles are often exchanged between each of them. The joint-axe attack of Kev Bower and Andy Sneap works a treat on the live stage, and the former impresses with his multi-instrumental skills as he occasionally adds a touch of keys to the songs, while it's evident that Sneapy continues his renewed passion for performing live following the ephemeral reformation of Sabbat. And, now, he looks a hundred per cent at home, playing in the band that once inspired him as a kid. Hell's pièce de résistance on the live stage, though, is Kev's brother, David Bower. A talented actor of both the stage and screen, he's proven to be the perfect replacement for the late Dave Halliday. He not only delivers a wildly energetic performance, but also acts the songs through an array of facial expressions. In theory, that sounds like a pretty cheesy prospect but, in actuality, and he demonstrates as much tonight in Manchester, it works magnificently within Hell's intended theatricality. Unfortunately, their twenty five minutes seems to pass in the blink of an eye although they've kick-started the night with a succinct burst of infectious metal energy, and the crowd cheer loudly in appreciation as they exit the stage.
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Following Hell is never an easy task for any band although said challenge falls within the hands of recent Century Media acquisition, Bleed From Within. And this Scottish act have only been tagged onto the UK leg of Amon Amarth's wider European tour for the purposes of fleshing out the Defenders of the Faith package with its traditional quartet of bands. While some would indubitably regard their presence on the bill as inappropriate given the metal pedigree and rich history of the other three bands, at least they bring something a little different to the evening's proceedings. Frontman Scott Kennedy even acknowledges potential dissent and disapproval within the Academy a couple of songs in when he thanks so many of the crowd for standing there, "even if you do think we're shit." And while the band do their best to gee up those present, the audience remain largely static throughout Bleed From Within's set so I find myself wondering whether there's a degree of sarcasm in Kennedy's "standing there" praise. Either way, the band seem undeterred and mix up their down-tuned, groove-heavy riffage with a distinct deathcore energy to good effect. It's seemingly not to the majority's taste within the crowd tonight, although a few heads can be seen banging away so their addition to the Defenders billing is not entirely unjustified.
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Amon Amarth at Manchester Academy, UK, 13th November 2013
Photograph copyright © 2013 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Shortly before Carcass hit the stage, the Academy is at its fullest this evening. There are evidently late arrivals aplenty. And be that deliberate or unavoidable tardiness, it's an irrefutable fact that Jeff Walker and co. are a massive draw on this bill. Since reforming and returning to the live stage back in 2007 following their split twelve years previously, Carcass' reunion has seen them go from strength to strength. Many thought the band would be calling it a day once again after a headline slot at Leeds' Damnation Fest in 2008 was cheekily promoted as "maybe" the last time to ever see Carcass live, although they've continued to tour and recently released a brand new album, 'Surgical Steel'. So these Liverpudlians' journey is far from over and, tonight, with a forty minute set, they air both classics and new material to a raucous reception from a clearly appreciative audience. Walker seems elated at the reception which prompts him, at one point, to declare: "This is why we never play Liverpool!" In fact, he also declares it's the first time they've played Manchester since 1994. Performing in front of a large backdrop that features artwork from the new album, they also have a couple of screens on stage showing projected gory footage. And there surely aren't many gigs where a band's frontman enquires: "Are there many pathologists in tonight?"! Songs from what many consider their 'Necroticism'/'Heartwork' heyday such as opener 'Buried Dreams', 'Incarnated Solvent Abuse', 'This Mortal Coil' and 'Corporal Jigosre Quandary' receive the biggest crowd reaction although newer cuts 'A Congealed Clot of Blood' and 'Captive Bolt Pistol' also engender big responses and some heavy pit action on the floor. Material old and new is hard-hitting, and the newly recruited sticksman Daniel Wilding and guitarist Ben Ash prove themselves perfect additions to the lineup to accompany flawless performances from Walker and his longtime comrade Bill Steer. Interestingly, as soon as Carcass finish and exit the stage, there's something of a mass exodus from the venue with what seems like half the punters disappearing through the doors. I presume this to be calls of nature and cigarette interludes although, as it transpires, many don't return so a large number of attendees in the Academy this evening were only here for Carcass. If the Destroyers of the Faith tour is ever resurrected then this bunch would surely be contenders for headline act.
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As already mentioned above, tonight's headliners Amon Amarth voluntarily and graciously opted to truncate their planned set length to allow Hell and Carcass more time on stage. However, leaving themselves and fans with seventy minutes, that's still ample time to engage in one final burst of mutual metal revelry this evening. With the venue now discernibly emptier since Carcass' set, there's something of a void in the back third of the Academy. There are still well over a thousand punters in attendance, though, and there's a party atmosphere amongst the crowd. When the house lights dim and intro music resonates from the PA, it's time for the party to begin. The crowd erupt into a cacophony of noise and when band members appear on stage, each is greeted with loud cheers; the loudest of which are saved for frontman Johan Hegg. Commencing battle with a duo of tracks from new album 'Deceiver of the Gods' - 'Father of the Wolf', followed by the title track - the Swedish metal warriors are on fire from the off. And their onstage energy is reciprocated within the audience as heads bang en masse, pits break out, and the night's first crowd surfers emerge. In fact, there's a steady flow of surfers throughout the entirety of Amon Amarth's performance, such is the love for these guys and the passion their music ignites within their fans. And the music comes thick and fast tonight with an endless string of classy death characterised by, and affectively infused with, invigorating riffage and melodies. It's predominantly material aired from their most recent releases although a couple of nods to older tracks materialise in the form of 'Death in Fire' and 'The Pursuit of Vikings'.

With a steadily increasing fanbase throughout their career, which is at an all-time high in 2013 (as evidenced by latest album sales and chart positions), I've been curious as to Amon Amarth's widening appeal in recent years. Tonight, judging by the large quantity of Iron Maiden t-shirts and back-patches within the audience, the band's draw is axiomatic. The more emphatic retro/thrash flavours they've brought into their melodically epic aesthetic on the new album, and a more prominent use of Maiden-esque twin guitar harmonies, appealing to said band's audience is, I guess, an expected corollary of their newfound reach. And they've constantly upped the production values of their live show so the visuals have become as epic as the music itself. Tonight, there's an impressively huge backdrop with the 'Deceiver of the Gods' artwork; well-thought-out lighting; smoke jets; and onstage backdrops illuminated with runic patterns. It all enhances the already epic nature of Amon Amarth's songs; fans in attendance lap it all up enthusiastically. And Hegg has full command over the crowd - when he requests everyone jumps up and down etc, the majority of people do. But it's easy to comprehend the respect he's attained - in-between the growling, he's one of the most smiley, happy frontmen out there. Such conviviality is also prominent throughout the audience for what is, in essence, a feel-good gig. And it's all smiles throughout the venue by the time Amon Amarth conclude their set.
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