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Tuesday 25th October 2016
Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Swedish hard rockers Billion Dollar Babies have been around a fair few years now. I first encountered their name while over in Sweden covering the Rockweekend festival in Kilafors Herrgård back in 2009. I failed to catch their live set, but remember being handed a card by a band member while sat in the press tent waiting to interview another act, while being told to "check us out". Alas, too many bands and too little time, I never did check out Billion Dollar Babies... that is, until now... so, I kind of kept to my word, albeit seven years later...

Walking into Wolverhampton's Slade Rooms this evening, it's perhaps the nicest smelling venue I've encountered in a while, with the potent and ubiquitous scent of incense filling the main room. Its source soon becomes apparent upon entering the photopit just before Billion Dollar Babies are due on stage, as a couple of joss sticks are slowly burning away at either end of the pit. I'm not sure precisely what kind of aura the band are trying to create, beyond nostril tingling irritation for those positioned right up against the barrier, but I'm just glad I spotted each of the burning sticks in the darkened photopit before singeing myself on them!

With the, by now, overly potent smell of incense in the room, Billion Dollar Babies appear on stage to a few cheers from those who've bothered to show up early enough to catch 'em. Working their way through a half hour set of songs that combine heavier-edged hard rock elements and classic metal motifs, their sound is as retro as the instruments they play. And the big, warm-toned riffs and leads from their Les Paul and SG guitars, together with frontman Frankie Rich's semi-histrionic delivery, hark back to a bygone era of ostentatious rock.

However, there's a sense of refinement (and confinement, in front of PAIN's large, covered drum kit) about Billion Dollar Babies pastiched platter of music, which is ultimately about good old fashioned rock 'n' roll revelry. Their up-tempo compositions, loaded with hooks galore, are rather infectious in a live setting, and they seem to win over the small audience who witness their set. Rich's interactions with the crowd maintains the light-hearted atmosphere, including his declaration to one middle-aged woman, "I love you the most", after she yells out that she drove two and a half hours to be here tonight. All in all, a good, fun, opening to the evening.
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PAIN at Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton, UK, 25th October 2016
Photograph copyright © 2016 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Next up, more Swedish hard rock/metal crossover tunes are delivered to Slade Room's ever-growing audience by Stockholm's Dynazty, but with the emphasis more on the metal this time around. Coming across as even more clichéd than Billion Dollar Babies, Dynazty seem to be perfunctory in their live performance, a tad cheesy, and lacking the sincerity and fun of their Swedish comrades. They throw all the right moves on stage, but it all seems forced rather than natural... a case of impersonal performance banality rather than looking like they're genuinely having fun on stage. Perhaps I'm entirely incorrect and a little harsh in my judgement, but that's just the way it comes across. With frontman Nils Molin encouraging the audience to yell out the words "fire, flames, fury" during the chorus of 'Titanic Mass', and many obliging, it seems they succeed in winning over a large portion of PAIN's fans in the Slade Rooms tonight. Not for me, though, I'm afraid; I find the whole thing a little cold.
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After two Swedish retro rock/metal acts, the diverse billing of PAIN's 'Coming Home' European tour sees Germany's dark metal stalwarts The Vision Bleak take to the stage as main support... and much later than scheduled, as the seemingly over-ambitious 15 minute change-over times between bands have obviously not worked out quite as planned. With an 11pm curfew drawing ever closer, the core duo of vocalist Konstanz and guitarist Schwadorf take to the stage, along with a couple of live session players on drums and guitar (notably, no bassist is present).

After the up-tempo, hard rocking cheesiness of the two opening acts, it's refreshing to experience a dose of dark metal refinement, and The Vision Bleak deliver this with flawlessly executed majesty. Their stage presence might be somewhat subdued and understated, but this fits the dark, brooding motifs in their music. However, it's not all moribund in presentation, as Konstanz can be seen frequently smiling at the audience; evidently enjoying their response to each song played, and even climbs off the stage at one point to mingle in the crowd, to try and spark up even more energy within the punters present.

A fantastic sound through the PA, with live elements and backing tracks in perfect synch, the three songs from their latest work, 'The Unknown' - set opener 'From Wolf to Peacock', 'The Kindred of the Sunset' and 'Into the Unknown' - sound every bit as atmospherically rich as their recorded counterparts. As do the songs drawn from their back catalogue, with the likes of 'The Night of the Living Dead', 'Carpathia', 'Kutulu!' and 'Wolfmoon' all seemingly winning over those present in the Slade Rooms.

While The Vision Bleak's live show is perhaps synonymous with their moniker, as they offer little by way of visual stimulation during their set, the lushly darkened atmospheres conveyed through their music is more than enough to carry their performance. Judging by the between-song applause and cheers at the conclusion of their set with 'By Our Brotherhood With Seth', their appearance in Wolverhampton tonight has been a resounding success.
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The last time Peter Tägtgren's industrial metal outfit PAIN had a headline run of shows on these shores, it seemed to be very much about testing the waters, independent of their erstwhile "Nightwish house band" tag at a previous series of appearances, over a number of years, in support of the Finnish symphonic metallers. Promoters booked the band for small venues, including a room above a punk pub, The Hairy Dog, in Derby, where the in-house band booker/landlord mistook the Swedish PAIN for a stalwart UK punk act of the same name, so booked 'em, realised his mistake, but went ahead with the booking regardless when ticket sales proved to be rather healthy from the off! Just over three and a half years on and Tägtgren is back over here with PAIN, for three UK dates in bigger venues, and in support of new album, 'Coming Home'.

With the night now running around 40 minutes late, it's not until 10:10pm that lights dim ahead of PAIN's appearance, and Billy Idol blasts through the PA, before subsiding into atmospheric sonics that build into a passage from new song 'Designed to Piss You Off'... which climaxes with a crescendo of sped-up, increasingly higher-toned craziness. The crowd cheer loudly and excitedly, and even more so as the stage bursts to life with both lights and band members, who open with 'Designed...'.

What's immediately obvious is that this is not the PAIN of recent years in terms of Tägtgren's live assemblage that perform his studio recordings. Well, his son Sebastian sits behind the kit instead of longtime sticksman David Wallin. Kind of apt, I guess, as it was Tägtgren's progeny who performed all drums on the latest album. André Skaug fulfils live bass duties, as per other PAIN tours in recent years, but gone also is guitarist Michael Bohlin, who's been replaced with newcomer Greger Andersson. However, what's also immediately obviously is just how energetically potent, precise and invigoratingly dynamic this lineup is in performing the barrage of PAIN tunes that fill their set tonight.

The bias of the set is towards 'Coming Home', with no less than seven cuts aired from said album but, with an hour and twenty minutes on stage, that leaves plenty of time for an array of fan favourites, with the likes of 'Zombie Slam', 'The Great Pretender', 'Suicide Machine' and 'End of the Line' never sounding better than they have tonight. In fact, Tägtgren senior's voice is in fantastic shape - the best vocal performance I've ever heard from the guy, while Tägtgren junior, still a teenager, I believe, defies his relatively young age by proving himself a big hitter behind the kit, and with total precision.

There are a few choreographed shenanigans thrown into the mix, when a masked man prowls the stage during 'It's Only Them', before being bundled off by a guy in a white doctor's coat. Then there's the self-inflicted interruption during 'Call Me' where the band seemingly spontaneously stop playing midway through, only for Sabaton's Joakim Brodén to make an appearance at the side of the stage, in puppet form as per the track's video, and then the song resumes with his vocals on a backing track.

At the conclusion of 'Call Me', the club's supposedly strict 11pm curfew has already passed; however, the band plough on regardless with airings of 'Starseed' and then 'Dirty Woman' (which Tägtgren introduces with tried-and-tested sarcasm as "one for the ladies"). Rock 'n' roll rebellion reigns supreme in the Slade Rooms tonight, as PAIN's set continues way past the curfew (to 11:30pm), with two final encore numbers - 'Same Old Song' and 'Shut Your Mouth' - with the latter's intro vocalised by the majority present.

PAIN have always been an exciting prospect on the stage, as Tägtgren's energy and appetite for the live performance always seems boundless. And, with his latest live incarnation of PAIN, that remains true here tonight in Wolverhampton. They prove themselves a phenomenal live force over the course of an hour and twenty minutes of compelling industrial metal exaltation.
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