I went to see Killswitch Engage and Bullet For My Valentine live tonight on Sunday 4th December, 2016, at Manchester Academy. They were supported by Nu Metal revivalists Cane Hill. Usually for gigs at the Manchester Academy I show up roughly at the time of doors opening and get in almost instantly with minimal queuing, but this time was different. One of the biggest ques I have ever seen there, all the way to the Manchester Museum entrance met me upon arrival; the only longer que I ever saw there was for a Bring Me The Horizon show (which I’d swear I’ve reviewed but can’t find it anywhere… long story short stuff off Sempiternal sounded good, anything older sounded awful due to the mix, and the crowd were unbearable jerks. I was looking forward to ‘Chelsea Smile’ so much but it sounded so flat and lifeless due to the soundjob.) I guess once when I went to see Megadeth there was a lot of queuing too, but that was really because doors opened late more than anything. Interestingly, this time, rather than rip tickets they scanned em with little lazer machines. Scanners. Lazer machines makes it sound more advanced than it was. The only other time I’ve ever seen scanner machines was with Saxon at the Ritz. Is this the future?
Anyway, when I got in tonight, Cane Hill were already on stage. I’ve never checked them out before but I know from the excellent That’s Not Metal Podcast (who sent me a free T shirt today, for which I’m grateful) that they are a modern band who play in the style of late-’90s Nu Metal. I definitely heard a looooot of Korn in their songwriting, vocal style and extra guitar noises (as in not the riffs themselves but the noises, mid verse). A wee bit of early Deftones and a pinch of Coal Chamber was also audible in their general style. It wasn’t a total ’90s flashback though, there was still some hardcore and metalcore sneaking in there too. And the very occasional Slipknot, Pantera or Black Label Society moment. They were decent, they roused the crowd fairly well (got a ‘fuck Trump’ chant going at one point, and it didn’t feel too pandering, which was nice), and I have nothing bad to say about ’em. Don’t think I’m a converted fan or anything but I wouldn’t swear off them for life either. Their bassdrum said ‘smoke weed’ and ‘drop acid’ which I’ve no time for, and once during a more violent song they encouraged the crowd to hit each-other in the face and literally beat each-other up, exact words, which I’ve also no time for, but musically it was an ok opener. I would’ve preferred Trivium though…damn their new album has grown on me, and last time I saw Killswitch it was with Trivum. They go well together.
So, next up, after a random selection of rock and metal tunes over the PA including Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ which elicited a particularly big smile from me, the reason I bought the ticket took to the stage. I’ve saw Killswitch once before, and by god, it was a damn memorable show. It was flaberghastingly good and I have such clear memories of it to this day. My second Killswitch show did not disappoint. There wasn’t as fancy a lightshow or backdrop since they weren’t the headliner, and maybe the set was ten to thirty minutes shorter, but otherwise, it was every bit as jaw dropping, life affirming and all out excellent as I’d hoped.
The crowd, singing things like ‘My Last Serenade’ ‘My Curse,’ my favourite Killswitch song, ‘In Due Time’ or especially ‘The End Of Heartache’ was absolutely overwhelming. You were engulfed in the loudest, most passionate sing backs you could ever imagine. You felt like you were in some fabled Live At Donnington moment like Maiden doing Fear Of The Dark or Slipknot doing Duality or one of those ones you read about as legend. The crowd doing ‘The End Of Heartache’ was deathbed-memorable. Seriously. Holy fuck.
Anyway; the band. So good live. All the great little details you’ll know from the DVDs, like playing eachother’s guitars, or having all the extra picksqueals and competitive silliness, or amazing extra fills were all there. Adam D is still such an entertaining character and it doesn’t get old. Jesse live is an astoundingly good frontman. Aforementioned podcast called Killswitch the best live band in metal judging by recent years, and its damn hard to disagree after a show like that. When they go heavy-heavy at the end of songs you feel like you are seeing Machine Head or Pantera at their heaviest. When they do melody and harmony you feel like you’re in a classic Maiden or Priest live album and when they do their clean sing-alongs…there is no comparison, Killswitch fucking OWN that! No-one does or ever did that better.
The setlist was pretty decent. All the hits. ‘Fixation On The Darkness’ and ‘Vide Infra’ from the debut. A good four or five tunes from the new album. No messing about. The only thing I’d query is that their was nothing off the self titled album. Not even ‘Never Again’ or ‘Reckoning’ …but hey, you can’t fit it all. Previous shows had ‘A Bid Farewell’ and ‘You Don’t Bleed For Me’ instead of the new songs, which I personally would’ve preferred, but that’s a familiarity issue, not a quality issue. (Although those two in particular do rank rather damn high in my favourite Killswitch songs).
The show was strong, the performance was immense, the setlist was decent, and the atmosphere was pretty great. Time to go home then, satisfied as I was.
Well, not exactly, because there was still the headliners. Welsh Metalcore band Bullet For My Valentine. The biggest and most successful British Heavy Metal band since Iron Maiden. A band who, for some reason, about a decade ago without hearing any music, I decided I probably wouldn’t like and then completely ignored until their latest album Venom was released, before finally giving them a fair chance after much propaganda from my friend Brad over the years, and being taken aback. They have this reputation as being wimpy or girly or overly commercial or beginner’s stuff, or whatever. They were a cool band to hate. If you were wearing an Exodus t-shirt, then probably someone told you they sucked. …I was told they sucked and never give them a fair chance. When I finally did, I ended up buying all their albums (and their debut EP as well) within weeks. I’ve listened to them near daily ever since. Such a catchy, catchy band. Ironically underrated for someone famous enough to play arenas. Sometimes they are heavy as balls. The title track to ‘Scream Aim Fire’ sounds like Testament at times. Some of the mid album stuff on The Poison is as heavy as Trivium or Killswitch at their heaviest. Some of the song endings are almost Machine Head-esque… yet for some bizarre reason they are warned off to potential Metalhead fans because someone tells us they are wimpy or something. They’re heavier than Megadeth, than Priest. Than Motorhead. Than a lot of really beloved and respected bands. They have a few semi-ballads and a lot of clean singing parts, but hey, so do Priest and Maiden and Megadeth and Anthrax and Manowar and Fear Factory and even early Pantera. Not every band can be Nasum and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Whatever the reason for Bullet being on True-Metal’s blacklsit, its a spurrious and stupid reason, and it is leaving people to miss out on some seriously great music.
Well, let them miss out. Or better yet, let them learn the error of their ways like I did last year. I’ve had a great year listening to ‘wimpy’ Bullet nonstop and loving it. It didn’t stop me liking Napalm Death or Tygers Of Pan Tang or Deep Purple. It didn’t suddenly make me know or care less about Metal’s history, beloved albums, or heavier moments. I’ll just keep jamming ‘Army Of Noise’ or ‘Fever’ or ‘Cries In Vain’ and let a bunch of people in either Tokyo Blade or Morbid Angel t-shirts scowl. Its their loss.
Anyway. This show was a special show. They played their debut album The Poison in its entirety. They had producer Colin Richardson in the audience as a special guest. They seemed to record it as well judging by all the mics pointed out into the crowd. Oh, and Matt took to the mic and stated plainly and not as hyperbole that this was arguably the most significant gig of their career to date.
Visually, it was great. They had big specially made BMFV banners. They had fancy lighting. They had lazers. They were all dressed in matching suits like hollywood stars. It felt like an event. Not just any old gig.
Sonically, it was bad ass. The soundjob was so much heavier and livelier and more energetic/aggressive than on record and it all felt really organic and crushing. The drummer was really pushing himself doing so much extra, having such a big happy face on whilst doing it, and the backing vocals were really brutal. Maybe, I guess, someone could hear them and say its too commercial and too processed on record… but live, oh no no no, this was seriously good. Waaaay heavier than you’d expect. Slick and professional as hell but with that live feel too. Hard to have both. Bullet succeeded.
The crowd lapped it up. Circle pits. Boundless enthusiasm. The sing alongs were even wilder and more memorable than for Killswitch ‘best live band in the world right now’ Engage if you can believe it. The crowd sang like, every single little word from deep tracks’ third verses. It was bonkers. They sang the riffs, the solos. It was like when you see South American Megadeth or Maiden shows on DVDs. Such enthusiasm!
There were a few random sound drop outs and mistakes by the soundman, particularly distracting during the heavy-ass opening of their new single ‘Dont Need You,’ which almost stole its momentum but otherwise this was a flawless show.
With sound, visuals and an atmosphere like that it was truly something to behold. That the band were performing at the top of their game, confident and starlike as hell, playing the fuck out of the heavy bits, brilliantly singing the clean bits and shredding out the solos with fun and panache, it all just came together into this perfect better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts supergig!
It was genuinely one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, and it felt the the culmination of massive fandom for some reason. Hey, I didn’t even know or like this band two years ago, and now they’ve blown me away with literally, unarguably one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. I don’t say that often. I din’t say that for Down or Mosnter Magnet or Megadeth. Not for System Of A Down or Metallica or Amon Amarth. This was a seriously astounding show.
If they do release this on DVD or anything, get yourself a copy. Even if you don’t like the band. Seeing ‘Four Words To Choke Upon’ live, extra raw and heavy would make anyone a fan! For people who like the softer side of Metal, then ‘Ten Years Today’ or ‘The End’ or their signature semi-ballad ‘Tears Dont Fall’ would surely win you over, live, with that sound, performance and fan feedback there’s just something undeniable about them. Biggest British band since Maiden. I can well believe it.
Oh, you know what else was nice. I caught a drum stick! I go to gigs all the time, and I never manage to catch picks or sticks or setlists, but I actually caught one tonight! And not in that nasty fight-for-it selfish way, it literally just landed in my hands! Nice one! A very welcome souvenir, especially since I play the drums myself!
That was a great concert. If ever you get a change to see Killswitch or Bullet, take it. That is entertainment worth seeing!