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Thursday 3rd July 2014
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Formed just over two years ago, the UK's very own Empire have already garnered a degree of glowing press from a number of prestigious publications. And they prove just why that is tonight in Rock City, with their half hour set opening for Devin Townsend. Musically, they tread that fine line where alt-rock meets innovative metal, although their anthemic-based, hook-driven tunes ensure accessibility. With an early start of 6:45pm in front of a small audience, both crowd-size and punter enthusiasm increases as Empire's set progresses. While the band gel as a unit, the main focal point is vocalist Joe Green who not only commands attention through his dynamic stage presence, flinging his dreaded barnet all over the place, but has a wide-ranging, powerful and stylistically intriguing voice. A good, solid start to the evening.
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Devin Townsend at Rock City in Nottingham, UK, 3rd July 2014
Photograph copyright 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Releasing their new album at the end of April this year, the melodically sublime masterpiece that is 'The Dead City Blueprint', Thine's return surprised many. Why? Well, twelve years since their last release is one hell of a gap between records so it was a fair presumption the band had ceased to be. Not so, and what an emphatically majestic return it was, such is the strength of their new material. The announcement of their addition the bill of Devin Townsend's two pre-Sonisphere warm-up shows was a most welcome one, particularly as I was curious just how their new songs would translate in a live context. The short answer is magnificently. Airing four tracks from said new release, and a couple of yore, each and every bar of music is a sonically beautiful blast of melancholy, predominantly down-tempo although punctuated with a faster, more exhilarating rock/metal dynamic, right up until up-tempo closer 'The Precipice'. A fantastic sound through the PA helps their material thrive in Rock City this evening as onlookers alternate between a mesmeric gaze during the slower, melancholic passages, while bursting into fits of more animated action during the heavier, faster parts. Just about every band member opts to perform in an almost subdued, low-key manner, including hooded guitarist Paul Groundwell (isn't it hot up there, mate, it's the summer?!), although it's down to frontman Alan Gaunt to provide the onstage energy. Leaping around the stage with boundless enthusiasm, Gaunt manages to incite much movement in Rock City's audience, undoubtedly winning over new Thine fans in the process. A musically stunning performance and a stunningly assured return.
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And so, at 8:30pm, it's time for the unfalteringly compelling sonic experience that is the Devin Townsend Project. Due to hit the main stage at Sonisphere in three days' time, tonight marks the first time Devin and his trusty brethren have performed live for some three and a half months. Hence this Rock City gig, along with The Assembly in Leamington Spa tomorrow, have been advertised as "warm-up shows". A wise move as Devin's been somewhat busy during the past few weeks (is he ever not?!) by overseeing the crowd-funded release of 'Casualties of Cool', as well as fulfilling the associated PledgeMusic rewards by naming pets, Skyping fans, writing/recording personalised birthday songs etc. But what's undoubtedly occupied most of his days is recording the forthcoming new Ziltoid record, a double disc effort that's also set to incorporate a new DTP album. So, in what must feel like a jarring break from the studio and other associated Ziltoid-related ventures (we're promised full-on, animatronic aliens this time), Devin suddenly finds himself stood on Rock City's stage in front of a near capacity crowd, with every single body in the venue cheering enthusiastically as he casually wanders out...

With a beaming smile on his face, he initially natters away for a few minutes, mainly about readjusting to the live context. Looking cool, calm and collected, you wouldn't even have a vague inkling that "changing gears" is not one of his strengths (as he asserts). With his entertaining rambling out of the way, and a minor and fleetingly temporary technical glitch with his guitar sound sorted, the show gets under way with a storming rendition of 'Seventh Wave', followed by the bouncy dynamic of 'War', and then the technically heavy prowess of 'By Your Command'. Despite a predominantly "no surprises" approach with the majority of tonight's setlist (at least for those who've caught a standard DTP show within the last 2-3 years), it's an hour and a half of Devy bliss with the likes of 'Deadhead', 'Planet of the Apes', 'Numbered!', 'Supercrush!', 'Kingdom', 'Juular', 'Liberation' and 'Grace' sounding every bit as wondrous as they do in their recorded counterparts. Despite what Devin would later claim to be a "difficult" show, it's a relentless display of energy-fuelled musical innovation, even if the majority of the setlist is an oft- tried and tested one, and all delivered with technical precision. And Devin's usual charisma and batty onstage humour shine through. An encore airing of 'Bad Devil' wraps up the night and, for what has been the DTP's first show since the middle of March (and you would never guess), it's a flawlessly awesome performance they've delivered in Rock City. The rapturous audience reaction is an indubitable sign of unanimous agreement.
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