After a gig-free January (real life has a habit of getting in the way of going to concerts), February was set to start with a bang in the shape of one of the tastiest co-headline tours to hit these shores in recent years. There are endless discussions about who are going the be the “next big thing” festival headliner wise, but few would argue that on recent form both Trivium and Killswitch Engage are worthy contenders for that list… should the likes of Aerosmith and Sabbath ever run out of embalming fluid.
Before the headline-heavyweights slugged it out though, there was the small matter of a tasty looking undercard. We’ve been following Michigan thrashers Battlecross since their Pursuit Of Honor album launched them onto the CB radar a while back, so the opportunity to catch their first ever UK show was not one to be missed.
Although the band were on pretty much as soon as the doors opened there was a decent crowd assembling in the Manchester Academy when the amiable Americans took to the stage. Well technically they took to a narrow strip along the front of the stage with barely enough room for Shannon Lucas’ drum kit to fit in. The setup meant that vocalist Kyle Gunther was kind of restricted in his movements… and watching him you do kind of get the idea he’s not exactly the type for standing still… think Randy Blythe on speed, ably backed up by one of the tightest new bands around thumping out some buzzing old school thrash riffs.
It’s always nice when a band live up to expectations, and Battlecross certainly didn’t disappoint. It must be something special for a comparatively unknown bunch of guys to play their first gig on foreign soil and be greeted by a rabid crowd chanting their name. All too soon they were wrapping things up, with the awesome Push Pull Destroy giving the new arrivals in the audience a great taster of what they had missed
Battlecross… If you’re a thrash fan it’s a name you want to add to your “must see” list for Download 2014.
Next up were Ohio Metalcore outfit Miss May I. Owing more than a little musically to the anthemic ‘core leanings of tonight’s headliners the reception they received from a rapidly filling Academy bore witness to a booming popularity. Things kick off in typical ‘core style… hit the stage running and don’t f’kin stop. There was an enforced interruption to the set early on (one of the drum pedals broke) and although this could have taken the wind out of their sails, Miss May I responded by upping the pace and the circle pits and succession of crowd surfers coming over the barrier gave us (and the pit crew) a taste of what was to come.
Ahhh Trivium… what can we say about Trivium. This was the one I’d been looking forward to the most, especially after a triumphant headline tour last year that saw them visit the nearby Ritz. Trivium have obviously visited the Iron Maiden surplus store for their set, with various icebergs leftover from the Seventh Son tour decorating the stage. It’s always nice to see an effort being made, and with an awesome light show setting off the ice, and some lethal looking smoke cannon along the front of the stage, Trivium perhaps gave us a preview of a bigger vision, one which will be fully realised when they inevitably step up to the next level.
Special mention to the road crew bloke in charge of the smoke cannon too.. I think at one time or another he must have got every member of the band full in the face with the vertical jets, much to everyone’s amusement.
Well… almost everyone.
Thank christ it wasn’t pyro, not a great idea to immolate the band on the first night of the tour.
After the heady insanity of last year’s Ritz show this was definitely more assured and polished performance… The substance is still very much there but there was an increased helping of style to go along with it. Everything just seems to be coming together, and pretty much from the opening strains of Brave The Storm the whole sense of “big things happening” never lets up.
We all know Trivium’s “hits”, and they squeeze in as many as time permits but of course with this being part of the Vengeance Falls tour we’re treated to a selection from the new album too, with the likes of Through Blood And Dirt And Bone and Strife demonstrating that the art of “proper” bang-your-head heavy metal songwriting isn’t dead yet.
There’s a damn good reason Trivium are returning to Download for the 5th time in 2014.. and seeing them in the intimate confines of the Red Bull stage is bound to be one of the highlights of the weekend. Make sure you get there early because it’s going to be a rammed, sweaty mess.
And so on to the final band of the evening, the resurgent Killswitch Engage. The intro tape was Eye Of The Tiger, and it was appropriate as KSE were about to deliver a knockout blow. Sometimes the loss of a pivotal member it can split a band’s fanbase, we’ve all heard the “it’s not X without Y” conversations. Well whatever water may have flowed under whatever bridge, everything happens for a reason and sometimes, just sometimes, when differences are laid to rest that prodigal son returns it can kick things on to a whole new level. No one with ears would argue that the return to the fold of Jesse Leach hasn’t reinvigorated KSE. Hell, the guy is one of THE best metal frontmen around and the Manchester crowd welcomed him back with open arms.
KSE are, for me, always much better that their genre-label would have you believe. Metalcore with a BIG “M” and a small “c” if you like. They have a killer array of bona-fide metal anthems in their back catalogue, topped off by a performance that few can match. Sometimes we all take things a bit too seriously, and there is no one quite like KSE to remind you of just how much f’kin fun a metal gig can be.
And the big tunes just kept on coming, A Bid Farewell would have delivered the coup de gras to anyone who had any neck muscles remaining had the riff induced adrenaline surge kicked in. Just as well it did, as the pace was unrelenting.
You know that journalistic cliche about a band “being on top of their game” ?
Well that, exactly that.
For me the highlight of the set, hell the highlight of the evening, was an unforgettable My Last Serenade with Jesse playing master of ceremonies, leading the entire crowd in the sort of fist-in-the-air singalong of epic proportions that makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.
Battlecross and Miss May I had set the scene, and Trivium had landed the big punches but KSE were just off-the-scale unstoppable. In the immediate post-gig buzz it’s easy to get carried away with hyperbole, but in he cold light of a new day my initial thoughts remained, this was an event that 2014 will be hard pushed to top.