Sunday, 15 January 2017

Avenged Sevenfold - Birmingham Review

While I would never class myself as a die-hard fan, I have always enjoyed Avenged Sevenfold's music. From their humble metalcore beginnings to their current progressive leanings, Avenged Sevenfold have always created interesting music packed full of melody and attitude. They are of of the best mainstream metal bands around these days, and the fact that they are now able to undertake an arena tour in the UK shows just how popular and well-loved they are. The band's latest album The Stage, released without fanfare last October, shows the band pushing forward into new territories for them and is an album that is truly progressive and packed full of creative songwriting. It gives me hope for the future of rock and metal music when a band as big as Avenged Sevenfold can create an album so diverse and challenging. While better songs exist elsewhere in their catalogue, hearing The Stage gave me an all-new level of respect for the band of songwriters and musicians - and I feel it is the album that has finally allowed them to step out of the shadow of their sadly departed drummer and key songwriter James 'The Rev' Sullivan. While Avenged Sevenfold are a big band now, arena shows are always better with a great undercard to support the headliners. Providing that in this instance were American alternative metal legends Disturbed and Swedish melodic metallers In Flames. Birmingham's Genting Arena is always a good place to see live music, and the sound throughout the evening was mostly pretty good. Unsurprisngly, the place was pretty full too. Only really the back portion of the seats were not full, with the side seating and the floor being full of people.

In Flames were on first and I have to say I found them quite disappointing. In Flames are one of the bands who helped bring melodic death metal to the masses during the 1990s, but their sound over the past decade or so has evolved to take on more of a alternative metal vibe, losing much of their heaviness. While I have never been their biggest fan, I do own a few of their albums and was looking forward to seeing what they were like live. Unfortunately, the sound did little to help them and it was the only time during the evening where I felt the sound was less than acceptable. They sounded extremely muddy throughout, and did not seem to really perform with much energy at all which is a shame to see from a metal band. They were not on stage long, probably not much longer than half an hour, and I have to say I was glad when they walked off after their set.

Disturbed were another story however and really got the crowd excited during their hour long set that contained material from all of their albums and a fantastic stage show that matched the intensity of their songs. Dan Donegan (guitar/keyboards/vocals) appeared on stage alone to play the short instrumental The Eye of the Storm before the band joined him and crashed in Immortalized from their most recent album. Frontman David Draiman prowled the stage all night, making good use of the catwalk, and interacted well with the crowd. It is fair to say that the whole front portion of the crowd, as well as many others, were well and truly enchanted by him, and he led the band through a triumphant set that contained all of their best-known songs. Old classics like The Game sat perfectly alongside newer numbers like The Vengeful One, and the set flowed well. The Animal was included in the set at the request of an ill fan the band had met earlier in the day, before the old classic Stupify brought the first half of the set to a close. Their cover of Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence has brought the band a lot of attention recently, and as expected it was performed live with plenty of emotion as the band were joined by a string section and an additional guitarist. After this the set was basically just packed full of classics, including Inside the Fire, with accompanying pyro, and the ultra-melodic Stricken. Their set came to an end with arguably their best-known song Down with the Sickness which had the vast majority of people in the crowd singing along at the band's request. While I would only really classify myself as a casual fan of Disturbed, this was an extremely powerful performance from the band and they showed why they have the strong reputation that they do. The setlist was:

The Eye of the Storm
The Game
The Vengeful One
The Animal
The Sound of Silence [Simon & Garfunkel cover]
Inside the Fire
The Light
Ten Thousand Fists
Down with the Sickness

While I think Disturbed were probably the main event for more than a few people in the arena, Avenged Sevenfold were the headliners and received the biggest reception of the night. With a space-themed stage set to suit the themes explored in their new album, the band kicked off with The Stage and followed it up with a two hour set featuring songs from all seven of their albums. The lengthy opening number proved to be a strong set-opener, and the majority of the songs played from The Stage fit in well and came across well live. It was the older songs that received the biggest cheers however, with Afterlife and Hail to the King really getting the crowd going early on. While frontman M. Shadows is undeniably the band's focal point, and he turned in an excellent vocal display throughout, it is Synyster Gates (guitar/vocals) who stole the show with countless excellent guitar solos throughout the evening. He is one of the best mainstream metal guitarists these days, and this performance helped to cement that. Paradigm from the new album was also well-received, but it was the golden oldie Chapter Four that received one of the biggest cheers of the early set. Shadows sung the chorus with real venom as he was helped out by the large crowd. Of all of the new songs played, I felt that the ballad Angels was the only one that fell flat. It is just not one of the band's most memorable songs, and this showed when it was part of a set as strong as this one. The band have done better ballads in the past, and another one would have probably worked better. The heavy Nightmare soon put all memories of this slight misstep out of site however, and showed that new drummer Brooks Wackerman is a real talent behind the kit. The second part of the set mainly featured heavier songs, including the anthemic Almost Easy and the diverse Sunny Disposition. It would be great to see this song with a live horn section, but the backing track will have to do for now! The song Planets saw a giant inflatable spaceman, which looked like a reject character from Pink Floyd's The Wall show, rise behind the band. The set ended with the emotional and powerful ballad Acid Rain, and the band left the stage to huge cheers. Of course there was time for more, and three classics followed which saw the excitement in the crowd build even more. Bat Country and the strange nightmare ride of A Little Piece of Heaven saw everyone singing along, before Unholy Confessions from the band's past was wheeled out to huge cheers and this ensured that everyone went home happy. The setlist was:

The Stage
Hail to the King
To End the Rapture
Chapter Four
Buried Alive
God Damn
Almost Easy
Sunny Disposition
Warmness on the Soul
Acid Rain
Bat Country
A Little Piece of Heaven
Unholy Confessions

Overall this was a great evening of live music from some of the biggest mainstream metal bands around at the moment. I had not seen either Avenged Sevenfold or Disturbed before, so I was glad to have the opportunity to finally do so.

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