Saturday 15th March 2014
The Institute in Birmingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
As the clock strikes 7:30pm, it's time for the first real action worthy of attention this evening. I've waited some thirteen years to witness Darkane live, ever since discovering this Swedish gem of innovative metal with the release of their second album, 'Insanity'. The last time they performed on UK soil, prior to opening for Soilwork on this tour, was back in 2003, so opportunities to witness them in action haven't exactly been plentiful. But now, here they are, armed with a nine song, forty five minute set, and they don't disappoint. After the unfortunate sound blunder inflicted upon Terraform, Darkane are fortunately blessed with a resonantly loud, perfectly balanced mix through the venue's PA, albeit a few levels seem to require a little adjusting during the first half of set opener 'The Sinister Supremacy'. The first thing to strike me is just how incredibly tight Darkane are. Considering they've not been a relatively heavy touring band the last few years, they must be a well-rehearsed one. Although with the return of 'Rusted Angel' vocalist Lawrence Mackrory in 2011, they can boast their original lineup, so there's obviously years of experience, and talent, up there on the stage. And, judging by interactions between band members, the performance chemistry between the five men is evidently one of unmitigated trust, comradeship and astute awareness. That's exactly what can be heard through their flawless performance.
'Expanding Senses' favourite 'Innocence Gone' is up next before a couple more new tracks are aired - 'Insurrection is Imminent' and 'Mechanically Divine'. Each song sounds magnificent in its live incarnation, and magnificently heavy through its metal ingenuity, with genuinely progressive tech-thrash elements fused with a few death flavours. And the duality of verse-led dissonance offset against melodically epic choruses works a treat on the live stage. However, it's not until the next song, another 'Expanding Senses' piece in the form of 'Chaos vs. Order' that the audience really start moving. It seems those who were previously unconverted to the transcendent sound of Darkane (or, more likely, simply unaware of their music before tonight) are well and truly converted mid-set. The title track from 'Layers of Lies' keeps up the momentum with both band and crowd mutually animated by now, before the final new track of the night, 'Ostracized'. Lawrence then asks the audience if anyone present has been with Darkane since the beginning; just a few peeps raise arms in the air before they launch into 'Insanity' track, 'Third', and then conclude their set with 'Rusted Angel' number 'Convicted' (both sound as fresh in 2014 as they did back in the day, such is Darkane's forward-thinking creativity).
As the last bars of 'Convicted' burst through the PA, Darkane's set seems criminally short, although their performance has been one of aural epicness. Witnessing, first-hand, the virtuosity of guitarist Christofer Malmström and sticksman Peter Wildoer has been both a mesmerising and riveting experience, and Lawrence's obvious hunger and enthusiasm for performing live (with a commanding vocal performance) more than justifies his decision to return to the band. And not forgetting fine performances from guitarist Klas Ideberg and bassist Jörgen Löfberg, Darkane are unparalleled within the genre.
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Soilwork at The Institute in Birmingham, UK, 15th March 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
With Soilwork taking to the stage around 8:40pm to loud cheers throughout a packed out 600-capacity Library room of the Institute, it's surely indicative that just about everyone present this evening, young and old, has turned up mainly to see the headliners. The band and their adoring army of fans reciprocate each other's energy from the off as a small, yet fierce, pit erupts in the middle of the crowd while other audience members bang their heads and pump fists in the air en masse to opening track 'This Momentary Bliss'. And it's an energy that's sustained throughout the next hour and twenty minutes as further tracks from last year's double-album, 'The Living Infinite', are interspersed amongst older material dating back as far as songs from 2001's 'A Predator's Portrait'. Every track aired is greeted with enthusiastic cheers, as if a classic, from a ceaselessly animated crowd. And deservedly so for 'Like the Average Stalker', 'Bastard Chain', 'Spectrum of Eternity', 'Nerve', 'Distortion Sleep', 'Overload', 'Follow the Hollow' et al sound rather fantastic in the Istitute tonight.
A well-oiled unit, this bunch of Swedes are slicker than slick, exchanging smiles with each other and the crowd, in-between moshing around the stage while maintaining perfect control of their instruments. As such, Soilwork are visually engaging as much as they are aurally. And the aural treats come thick and fast with their prog-edged melo-death sonics afforded a great sound through the PA, with guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and vocals mixed in perfect unison, and every instrument audible with pleasing clarity. Just about the entire crowd show their appreciation between songs with loud chants of "Soilwork... Soilwork... Soilwork" throughout the night, and the band are visibly chuffed with such a response.
There is an audience faux pas at one point, though, when frontman Björn Strid begins to introduce Darkane's Peter Wildoer behind the kit (who's been standing in, the past few shows, for a temporarily injured Dirk Verbeuren). Before he's allowed to complete his introduction, hundreds of fans (who I guess must be either visually impaired or have no idea what Dirk looks like) start chanting "Dirk... Dirk... Dirk...". Björn informs them they couldn't be more wrong, introduces the Darkane sticksman, which then prompts a little laughter followed by chants of "Peter... Peter... Peter...". We're then informed that Dirk was incredibly close to playing tonight and I can't help but feel sorry for the guy (just before I exit the photopit after the third song, I spot him by the side of the stage, with a longing look in the direction of his kit). It must be said, though, that Peter does a remarkable job, particularly as he's been double-shifting every night, which must be pretty knackering in itself!
Wrapping up their set with 'The Living Infinite I', they temporarily disappear from view, before returning for encore numbers 'Rise Above the Sentiment' and 'Stabbing the Drama'. Soilwork's performance has been a positively energising experience so they deserve every single cheer and clap they receive. Guitarists Sylvain Coudret and David Andersson raise their axes high above their heads, along with bassist Ola Flink, before they exit the stage, as if warriors holding aloft their weapons after a conquering victory. For conquer Soilwork most certainly have tonight.
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With System Divide cancelling their slot on Soilwork's tour a couple of months ago, their still advertised appearance on the bill of tonight's show in Birmingham leaves many confused when local act Terraform take to the stage at the rather early time of 6:45pm. With a ridiculously bass-heavy sound through the PA, it mars the intricacies of their music. Mids and highs are rendered very much a sonic blur and it becomes quite difficult to hear anything but heavy genericism from their deafening discharge. And as much of a mess as the sound is, the lighting engineer must've been asleep, absent or incapable of working the desk. Band members are minimally backlit and four moving heads on a ceiling-mounted rig in front of the stage move around but emanate no light whatsoever. A flat start to the night, to be honest.