Every so often a tour comes along that you just can’t afford to miss. While, all too often, a metal show will involve the headliner and maybe a good support, there’s also a good chance you’ll be lumbered with several lack-lustre support bands who have been dropped onto the bill at the last minute and are resolutely unsuitable to play somewhere so large. Happily, here, Arch Enemy have gathered together an exquisite line-up of exceptional metal talent offering fans the chance to indulge in an evening where all four bands are unmissable.
First on stage is the excellet Chthonic who so impressed with their intelligent, unique take on death metal on Mirror of Retribution. Arriving part way through the mighty Chthonic’s set (thanks to Wolverhampton’s bizarre city centre which seemingly eschews road signs for psychic ability) it is noticeable how the band’s time on the road has made them sound HUGE. Oozing stage presence and boasting a confidence that was partially lacking when we last caught up with them at the much smaller Rock City venue, here Chthonic attract appreciative attention from a crowd who have been waiting since February to see this rescheduled show. Singer Freddy roars his goodbye to a crowd who roar back almost as loudly and bassist Doris looks like she’s having the time of her life up there. Frankly, why this innovative and exciting band aren’t bigger is a mystery to me, but with Spinefarm behind them and with more appearances like this, Chthonic’s time is surely coming.
Next up is Malefice who are, as we are reminded, the only UK band on the bill. The band sound tight and fairly monumental thanks to a well-balanced mix, their Lamb of God-meets-Machine Head-Meets Pantera grooves jibing well with the melodic, metallic onslaught of the headline act. With thei diminutive singer in fine voice, the band kick out a new song to great appreciation and several circle pits also break out to the distinct pleasure of the band. Having honed their skills to a sharp edge on the road of late, Malefice’s new studio album should be an awesome beast – watch this space.
The last time we caught Grand Magus, surely the most traditional of the metal bands on this bill, they were slaying Bloodstock on a sunny Friday afternoon. While they were excellent, it is surely better to catch this band in a darkened venue full of sweaty, black-clad metal fans and their superb, doom-laden take on Black Sabbath with a Viking twist goes down a treat. Tracks such as ‘when the oar strikes the water’ and a closing blast of ‘iron will’ sound simply staggering and hellishly loud, but these two tracks are as nothing compared to the dark rumble of ‘wolves return’ and ‘hammer of the north’ and the staggeringly epic ‘ravens guide our way’. As a slower band than the others on the bill, Grand Magus may well have had their work cut out for them, but with style, a sense of humour and classic material the band swayed the audience to their side and fists were raised aloft for good portions of the set – absolutely thrilling.
And then it’s time for Arch Enemy. With the new album artwork adorning the stage and the house lights dimmed, the chant for the band begins long before they hit the stage. Hotly anticipated, partly because of the lengthy wait we’ve had to endure for this show, partly due to the fact that Arch Enemy are simply one of the best, most entertaining live acts on the planet right now, this is the one everyone has been waiting for and the crowd move forward eagerly as the band takes the stage like conquering heroes. From the moment they explode into their aural assault the band are clearly giving it all they’ve got despite being initially hampered by an uncharacteristically bad sound, however nothing is going to stop the crowd, who hang on every snarled word, from having an amazing time and a flurry of frantic activity at the sound desk sees the sound restored and as ‘revolution begins’ kicks off a mini-riot, Angela reminds exactly why she’s one of the best front-people heading up any band, anywhere right now. Absolutely on fire, she veers between amiable between-song banter and the mouthpiece of Hades, while the band back her up with a phenomenally tight ferocity born of countless hours on the road. Highlights include a massive rampage through ‘ravenous’ which sounds exactly as its title suggests, Angela’s funny and heartfelt welcoming speech and two of the best tracks from Doomsday machine back to back in the form of ‘taking back my soul’ and ‘my apocalypse’ (YES!!!) which are truly riveting. Equally it doesn’t matter how many times you check out Daniel Erlandsson’s drum solo – it is purely down to him and Joey Jordinson that drum solos are once again entertaining and his awesome skills are shown off to great effect, once again, in truly gob-smacking style.
There are times when I have foolishly doubted Arch Enemy – that was my mistake. The band are absolutely on fire – a blizzard of fast, melodic guitars and a front woman who is both genuinely exciting to watch as well as warm and funny between tracks. It is fair to say that as the doors opened and we found ourselves turned out into the freezing Wolverhampton night, absolutely no-one was disappointed. This was a fantastic show with no weak links on the line up and yet, with no disrespect at all to the other bands intended, Arch Enemy still carried the night away thanks to their brightly shining performance. They can’t return to the UK soon enough.