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Tuesday 12th August 2014
Robin 2 in Bilston, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
First up tonight, from what would prove to be a mismatched trio of support acts for The Agonist, are old rockers F1-11. With the band's drummer described as being "the baby of the band" at 48 years of age, old rockers is an apposite tag... in more ways than one. This recently reformed band from the early 80s ply their trade within the realm of rock/metal covers of yore, so we're talking full-on retro reverence; an overt homage to bands who are evidently their musical motivation. Cue versions of 'Live Wire', 'Smoke on the Water' and 'Born to Be Wild' et al. Coming across as a pub covers band, albeit a very good pub covers band, their inclusion on tonight's bill is somewhat inexplicable although they serve the purpose of a good warm-up act. And with solidly performed covers with a tad of between-song humour thrown out to the crowd, F1-11 are ultimately good fun.
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The Agonist at Robin 2 in Bilston, UK, 12th August 2014
Photograph copyright 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Some bands you remember for their epically awesome performances. Conversely, others you recall for their dire, uninspiring shows. In both cases, though, they're the gigs that'll stay in mind, albeit for radically disparate reasons. I previously encountered Apparition on a live stage some three years ago and was mightily underwhelmed by what was, arguably, a lacklustre performance in every conceivable way - dull music, unengaging performance, and a singer who wailed her way through each and every song in a gratingly off-key manner. However, I gather the band has regenerated somewhat, at least in terms of personnel, including the recruitment of one of their former vocalists, Fiona Creaby, and guitarist Amy Lewis. So, what of Apparition in 2014?

Well, unfortunately, they fare no better. Far worse, in fact. Duller than I recall, in terms of both stage presence and insomniac-curing tunes, each and every song epitomises sonic pedestrianism. On the plus side, the vocals are now on-key, although Fiona's delivery and melody lines are both as aurally vapid as the music itself. Amy's fretboard work is fairly impressive, and I gather this is her debut live outing with the band, which perhaps accounts for her discernible shyness, although every band member looks disinterested. If you look that bored by your own music, how do you expect onlookers to become engaged in any small way? Apparition are utterly terrible. I've heard more engaging muzak whilst standing in an elevator.
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Switzerland's November-7 are up next and provide the venue's audience with their first burst of genuine energy. A visually engaging band, vocalist Annamaria Cozza is the pivot of said force, as she turns in a dynamic performance throughout their entire set, encouraging the small crowd of onlookers into their first real movement of the night. However, as slick and accomplished as November-7 are for what they do, and as great a frontwoman as Annamaria is in terms of both voice and performance, their quasi-industrial metal discharge is old hat and straight out of the nineties. An amalgam of Lacuna Coil and Rob Zombie, their chosen musical path is one of tried and tested genericism. As such, it's largely lacking innovation and originality. That said, for what it is, November-7's music and, more importantly, the performance of, is an entertaining blast of up-tempo, melodically-infused entertainment. That's obviously made more emphatic by the musically drab experience that preceded them, although they're an engaging bunch of performers in their own right.
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Whoever deemed it appropriate to pump a selection of new Arch Enemy tunes through the PA tonight, between bands, is either devoid of tact or simply ignorant of The Agonist's former vocalist absconding to said band. However, listening to Alissa White-Gluz growl away serves as a reminder of her shift towards restrictive creativity and conversely primes tonight's show for the explosively dynamic and multifariously sonic feast that it promised to be. And all eyes and ears, at least initially, would be focussed on just how newly recruited vocalist Vicky Psarakis would fare within The Agonist's live vigour.

With Bloodstock Open Air, the UK's biggest all-metal party, climaxing just two days prior, I guess festival goers are still recovering from the weekend's revelry, so this might go some way towards explicating the sparse crowd this evening. However, The Agonist treat the small number of dedicated metallers in attendance to a show of supreme musical virtuosity. Opening with new single 'Disconnect Me', effectively the first taster of material from forthcoming new album 'Eye of Providence', the band exercise the might of their compelling live vehemence right from the off. Airing a couple more new tracks alongside perennial favourites from their three albums to date, this evening is simultaneously a showcase of musically technical mastery and unmitigated metal entertainment. Incisively tight throughout, yet still managing to effuse an affectively stirring passion through the live renditions of their songs, The Agonist once again reaffirm why they're one of the most exciting metal bands in the scene.

And Vicky's performance, this evening, is nothing short of spectacular. With Alissa, The Agonist had a great frontwoman. Now they have a truly awesome frontwoman. Whereas Alissa's live passion seemed to reside in her growled/sung recital of songs' fervently scathing critiques, Vicky's onstage demeanour and general performance is one that's more impassioned through sincerity and heartfelt congruity, where she seems to feed off, and blend in perfectly, with the music. As such, there's a great onstage chemistry between her and the rest of the band. Looking entirely at ease, she looks like she's having a whole lot of fun and, for all the seriousness and hard-hitting intensity of the music, this is and should be, in essence, entertainment... and it come across that way, more so with Vicky. And she seems way more naturally predispositioned towards such a propensity. Vocally, the range of her voice is also stunning, as she nails and betters both clean and growled parts on the likes of 'Thank You, Pain', 'Panophobia', 'Predator and Prayer', 'Ideomotor', 'The Tempest (The Siren's Song; The Banshee's Cry)', '...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep' and 'Business Suits and Combat Boots'.

By the time The Agonist finish their set in Bilston's Robin 2 tonight, I'm left with a sense of overwhelming optimism for the future of this most thrillingly unique bands. An incredibly slick performance, characterised by heaps of virtuosity, energy and invigoratingly innovative metal, live music doesn't get any better than this. And now with a vocalist who is, undoubtedly, amongst the best I've had the pleasure of witnessing during the past few years, I predict continued, and increased, success lies ahead for The Agonist. Roll on 'Eye of Providence'!
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