Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Arch Enemy - London Review

Over the last few years, Sweden's Arch Enemy have become one of the busiest touring acts in the metal world. Since their somewhat relaunch back in 2014 which saw the appointment of frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz and the release of the critically acclaimed War Eternal, there has been very few extended periods which have seen the band off the road. It is fair to say that the band has been pushing themselves again in a big way, with lengthy headline tours being mixed with plentiful festival appearances and support slots. This intense work ethic has continued into 2018, following the release of Will to Power album last year - the second Arch Enemy album to feature White-Gluz's vocals. Following a fairly extensive co-headline US tour with Trivium towards the back end of last year, the early couple of months of 2018 has featured a good-sized European headline trek which ended with a handful of UK dates.  Arch Enemy have always been a fairly popular band over here, and it was good to see them booked into (and sometimes selling out) decent-sized UK venues. Often metal bands are reduced to adding a token London date at the Underworld in Camden to their wider European touring schedule, so to see Arch Enemy coming over and adding a few dates across the country in good-sized venues was extremely welcome. Their choice seems to have paid off too, with good crowds turning up at all of their shows, and their London date - at the Koko - selling out. The Koko is a good, mid-sized venue in the Southern part of Camden which always seems to attract strong crowds and atmospheres. This night was different, with the sold out crowd really getting into the show for the most part and creating a strong vibe from the moment the first band hit the stage.

A strong bill had been assembled for this tour, and it was not too long after the doors opened that the opening band Tribulation took to the stage to run through 40 minutes or so of their trademark black metal. Black metal will never be my thing, but Tribulation are an interesting band. I saw them a couple of years ago supporting Paradise Lost in Wolverhampton and their black metal sound, that included a lot more classic rock strut than usual, intrigued me. While I do not think that their set this time was as interesting, probably as the overall sound mix was not as strong and one of the guitarists seemed to be having intermittent gear trouble throughout, their fairly melodic sound still was interesting. I like the fact that genuine lead guitar plays a greater part in their sound than is usually the case with black metal. Tribulation's two guitarists are both extremely talented (as well as flamboyant - something else not usually associated with black metal!) and peeled off numerous solos and atmospheric leads throughout their set. The large crowd was gradually building up while Tribulation were playing, and it seemed that the reaction to each song grew with the crowd. It is fair to say that they went down well with the crowd, and I enjoyed having another opportunity to see a band that, while not really my thing, are extremely original and doing something different with their music.

The main support came from Finland's Wintersun, a band with a fairly large following and reputation in their own right so it seemed right that they had nearly an hour on stage to showcase their craft. I have been a casual fan of theirs for a while now, but this was the first time I had had the opportunity to see them, and I have to say that I was very impressed. Their six-song set was a display of epic songwriting and consummate performance, with bandleader and frontman Jari Mäenpää leading the five-piece through their paces with his diverse vocal performance. Two songs from each of their three studio albums were featured, with the personal favourite Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring) getting things off to a strong start with the tight guitar rhythms and soaring orchestral backing. Mäenpää aside, the real star of the show for me was Teemu Mäntysaari (guitar/vocals). Since Mäenpää has now stepped back from playing the guitar live to focus on his vocals, Mäntysaari handles the vast majority of the leads. Most of the songs performed had complex solos for him to really sink his teeth into, as well as intricate rhythms which saw him and new recruit Asim Searah (guitar/vocals) locking in together perfectly. The highlight of their set for me was an epic rendition of Sons of Winter and Stars from 2012's Time I, which came across really well live with the whole band helping out with the vocals to help recreate the choirs of the studio recording. The reaction from the crowd throughout their set was also great, and I got the feeling that there were some there who here in attendance mostly to see Wintersun's set. There were lots of people in who were clearly well-versed in the band's catalogue, and that helped to create an excellent atmosphere while they were playing. Another epic, Time, saw Wintersun's set come to an end to rapturous applause and I do not think there were many people who would have been disappointed if the band had carried on for longer. I will definitely have to catch the band next time they come and play in the UK! The setlist was:

Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)
Winter Madness
Sons of Winter and Stars
Loneliness (Winter)
Battle Against Time

Despite Wintersun's huge reception, this was Arch Enemy's night and it was not too long before they hit the stage for a back-catalogue touring 90 minute set packed with some of their most crowd-pleasing anthems. Despite her relatively short time fronting the band, White-Gluz has made the position her own and sings the band's older material with as much conviction as she sings the songs that were written for her voice. The band hit the stage with The World is Yours, one of the singles from the new album, and that anthemic melodic death metal tune really set the mood for the set going forward. This was mostly a high energy set which allowed everyone on stage to really show off. Ravenous and War Eternal were early highlights and showed the band at their best. Both featured extended guitar solo sections for both founding member Michael Amott and relative-newcomer Jeff Loomis to show off their considerable chops. The latter in particular is a phenomenal guitarist, with a big history in the metal world in his own right, so seeing him peel off solo after solo was a real treat. Not every song featured was a speed fest however. The classic rock-influenced You Will Know My Name was a highlight of the mid period of the set, while the pseudo ballad Reason to Believe was thrown in towards the end for a timely change of pace. Elsewhere however, the pace was kept relatively high with the crushing Bloodstained Cross and the thrashy As the Pages Burn proving to be real winners. Arch Enemy are one of the defining bands in the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, and this was a set that hammered that home. Even the more melancholic instrumentals that were occasionally thrown in really helped the mood of the evening, with Amott in particular shining in these sections with his smooth, almost bluesy playing. Two of the best songs were saved to the closing section of the main set, with the groove-infested Dead Bury Their Dead, which included a short bass solo from long-time bassist Sharlee D'Angelo, and the early single We Will Rise. These songs led to a Arch Enemy receiving a big cheer as they left the stage, and it was not long before they were back for a little more. Another newer number Avalanche was the first featured in the encore section, but it was Nemesis - one of the band's best-known numbers - which really got the crowd going. The song has such an anthemic chorus which the crowd hurled back at the band with a lot of power. This led into their traditional Fields of Desolation outro which brought the show to a melodic and crowd-pleasing close. The setlist was:

Set Flame to the Night
The World is Yours
The Race
War Eternal
My Apocalypse
You Will Know My Name
Bloodstained Cross
Dead Eyes See No Future
The Eagle Flies Alone
Reason to Believe
As the Pages Burn
Intermezzo Liberté
Dead Bury Their Dead
We Will Rise
Snow Bound
Fields of Desolation
Enter the Machine

Overall, this was an excellent display of metal from one of the most experienced bands in the genre. While their latest album might not be as strong as some that have come before, the energy that the band can create live is testament to their experience and ability. Arch Enemy are always worth seeing live, and I am glad that I have finally got the opportunity to see a headline show of theirs, as my previous two experiences of seeing them live have been as a support act.

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