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Resplendent in their decadent regalia of suits and corspepaint, Fleshgod Apocalypse take their 7.30 slot and the audience by the throat and deliver a set that is as tightly packed with technical virtuosity, nightmarish intensity, and macabre tunes as the band is on the diminutive stage. From his dark corner, psychopathic maestro Ferrini maniacally summons orchestral magnificence from his keys. From behind the band, the man-machine that is drummer Paoli provides drum-lines that are ruthless and unremittingly solid. And with both rabid growls and operatic, falsetto vocals (for which bassist Rossi must have his nuts tightly squeezed in a vice to scale those heady highs!), intense and intricate riffs and lead work, and a mass of metal grimaces and swirling hair, Rossi, Triofera, and Riccardi front the orchestral assault. The crowd from back to front watch in awe as Fleshgod Apocalypse tear the venue a proverbial new one. The only downside to their set was the sound. With the drums dwarfing the other instruments, the keys and vocals were just loud enough to make the illustrious aesthetics and passionately dispensed lyrics audible, and the guitars could just be made out. Given the complexity of the songs their full effect didn’t quite cut through.

With a stage to themselves, Fleshgod Apocalypse could do wonders. They’ve got music that’s as elaborate and atmospheric as it is intense and dramatic (their latest album ‘Agony’ is one of the best of 2011) and they’ve got a visual side that could be developed to provide an interesting stage show (as long as it’s done as tastefully as the visuals for Mastodon’s ‘Crack the Skye’ tour). But with the 30 minutes that they were given, the diminutive stage, and the less-than-great sound, Fleshgod Apocalypse received the response that they more than deserved: massive applause from back to front.

Set List: The Hypocrisy, In Honour Of Reason, The Violation, The Egoism, Thru Our Scars
Monday 16th January 2012
Academy 3 in Birmingham, UK
Reviews by Jason Guest; Photography by Samantha Knight
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After the albeit scaled-down grandeur of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s set, Skeletonwitch strip it back with a hefty 45 minutes of blackened, deathened, thrashened metal. Whatever it is, it’s fucking heavy. Skeletonwitch’s latest release, ‘Forever Abomination’, is another one that rides high on many best of 2011 lists, and rightly so. With incredible riffs, incredible musicianship, and a great vocalist, Skeletonwitch have perfected the art of crafting songs that average the three-minute mark with no frills and no filler, that are nothing but pure gauntlet-brandishing, cut-off t-shirt-sporting, long hair-swirling fucking metal.

On stage, that focus and intensity manifests itself in an equally focussed and intense performance, the band cramming fourteen songs into their set. Frontman Garnette’s black/death metal vocals cut through the menacing guitars; and Loosh’s angry Rickenbacker bass and Boltjes’ drums both add weight and savagery to the mix. Drawing from all of their albums for their set list, Skeletonwitch pulverize the crowd and raise the energy level in the room considerably. Fleshgod Apocalypse already got it pretty high so to see Skeletonwitch raise it even further was a sight to behold. They are as precise, intense, and ruthlessly aggressive as the previous band and almost make the evening their own. Mouthpiece Garnette is a menacing presence, his guttural grunts and growls are as mammoth as his on-stage persona, so much so that the band could easily let him remain the focal point of the show and still be considered a great live band. But that’s not their style; Skeletonwitch are a unit both on record and on stage. Nate, Hedrick, and Loosh are a mass of distorted riffs, concentrated fury, and relentless headbanging. Boltjes too is a blur of ferocious activity, all sweat and saliva, sticks and hair behind the kit. With Skeletonwitch giving it their all, they plateau at an exceptionally high level for the whole of their set, meaning that for the last three or four songs they can take it no higher. But no one is disappointed – nor should they be – because this is the level bands should play at. All the time.

Set List: Reduced To The Failure Of Prayer, Erased And Forgotten, Beyond The Permafrost, The Horrifying Force (The Desire To Kill), Sacrifice For The Slaughtergod, Repulsive Salvation, Crushed Beyond Dust, Infernal Resurrection, Fire From The Sky, Vengeance Will Be Mine, Upon Wings Of Black, Submit To The Suffering, Choke Upon Betrayal, Within My Blood
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Tonight’s audience is truly spoilt. With two bands delivering two of the best albums of 2011 and then both delivering killer sets, The Black Dahlia Murder duly follow suit. Their latest release, ‘Ritual’, is another contender for the best of 2011, an album that takes the band into even darker conceptual territories and musically developed musical soundscapes that remain as brutal as ever. Live, the band is ruthless in their relentless assault on the senses. With a set composed mainly of tracks for the album, the crowd respond in kind to BDM’s battery with fists proudly held aloft and many a mosh exploding in the pit.

The technical and musical capacity of this band has been constantly evolving throughout their career and that evolution is reflected in their combined performance on a stage that is clearly too small to contain the energy that floods from the pulpit onto the wanting populace. Drummer Shannon Lucas is a blur of sweat and sticks, his kit bearing a battering from his intricate, complex, and pulverizing beats. Mangle many a menacing riff out of their instruments, bassist Williams mutilates the low end with a furious bass sound as Brian Eschbach and “new guy” Ryan Knight provide death metal ferocity. And frontman Trevor Strnad commands the crowd with his rabid vocal work and a cool, calm and collected but no-less intense stage presence. That is, until his t-shirt comes off and the front rows get a face-full (and maybe the occasional mouthful) of his sweaty and portly frame. An enduring image, yes, but the madman’s moistened mass does little to deter the crowd from their frantic worship. As with Skeletonwitch before them, BDM’s energy level plateaus but this time it’s earlier in the set. And as with Skeletonwitch, no one is disappointed. The Black Dahlia Murder are as brutal, tight, and focussed onstage as they are on record. A force as developed as their musicianship, their energy and enthusiasm is matched by the crowd’s reception. Malevolence at its best.

Set List: A Shrine To Madness, Moonlight Equilibrium, What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse, A Vulgar Picture, Malenchantments Of The Necrosphere, Conspiring With The Damned, Necropolis, Den Of The Picquerist, Everything Went Black, Miasma, On Stirring Seas Of Salted Blood, I Will Return, Unhallowed, Funeral Thirst

The Academy 3 tonight proved itself the perfect venue for all three bands. This was a club gig with a club atmosphere with the immediate and intense reciprocation between the band(s) and crowd felt from front to back. Three great bands, three great albums, three great sets: what better way to kick off 2012?
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Where a lot of American bands visit these shores for a handful of shows and erroneously (or audaciously?) call their sojourn a “tour”, The Black Dahlia Murder and the two accompanying dispensers of brutality have taken it upon themselves to check the definition and book no less than 21 dates. That, metal people, is a tour. Why the bands decided that January was the time to do it, however, is anyone’s guess. The British winter’s not great, but neither is the British summer after all, and so British metal fans are all the more grateful for these guys making their merry way over here to bludgeon us to death with their terrible tunes.