Sheffield Arena, 15th January 2017
I don’t get out much, so when I do, it’s nice to go all out! Tickets for this gig came courtesy of my rather marvellous fella, who wanted to treat his eldest boy to his first ever gig. The lad is a MASSIVE Avenged Sevenfold fan, so when I heard tickets for this line up advertised, I was like ‘Buy buy buy!’ And he did. So we trundle off to Sheffield on a Sunday night, already realising we won’t be home until 2am and me dreading work at 7am on Monday. Needless to say, for the grownups at least, this gig already has its work cut out to be worth it for us.
We get there at twenty-past-six and are dismayed to hear the opening strains of In Flames’ set from outside the arena. It’s not supposed to start until half past! Argh. We shuffle as speedily as possible through ticket check, and after a mandatory warning about pickpockets manage to easily find some standing space close to the sound desk. I am surprised how much space there is; I had imagined a packed room for these guys. They certainly deserve it.
‘For most of you people who can fucking read, we’re ‘In Flames‘. It’s [written] right there and there’, shouts singer Anders. ‘We’re from Sweden, where it rains as much as England, so we are like neighbours.’ Anders continues some playful banter with the crowd, then goes on to chat about pudding. Every other word is fuck. He seems delighted to be here, and the crowd that came are delighted too.
The first song I hear in its entirety is The End. Anders is on knees, as if pleading with audience. His vocals are flawless and the entire band has so much energy. Also, give the sound guy a medal as the room is filled with beautiful noise; what a ‘fat’, full sound this band has.
The guitar sound is tremendous, it alternately sings and cries. Some complaints about going to see bands, particularly very good bands, are that you could just sit at home with a CD, avoiding bad overpriced beer and crowd BO. Not so with In Flames. Although they are note-perfect, they are so much more vital live. The audience interaction is great too. A random fan shouts that he likes the guitarist Björn’s beard. ‘I like his beard too‘. Anders admits cheekily.
The song ends abruptly, and after a heartbeat of silence the room erupts. The crowd is won over, and so am I. There’s a slight pause followed by an electronic synth sound which leads into the leaden opening beats of Cloud Connected. This song draws the crowd in a bit more and gaps start to fill on the floor, as people who perhaps only came for the headline act start to realise they are in the presence of greatness.
Anders is off again: ‘We are truly honoured that we can travel the world and play our way of heavy metal.’ He says something that really resonates with me. There is so much debate today about what is proper Metal, and what is not. (Anyone starts that sort of shite here will be told to fuck right off! – Ed) He goes on to say that In Flames will only be playing the kind of Metal that they like to play. And if you don’t like it, fuck off! Hear hear, I say.
Some great back-up vocals come into play with the next song, The Truth. He reads some of this song like a poem rather than singing it, making it very personal. The place is really filling up now. Blue lights flicker around the room, and a long, drawn out synth drone is heard.
‘All right people, I know when you’re home alone, and no one is watching, you’re dancing your asses off. Let’s see some crazy dancers!‘ And the crowd start to move. They have been mesmerised both by the music and the charisma of the singer. The interaction continues on stage too. The band members seem to bounce off each other really well.
The next tune is Paralyzed, what a monster of a song. ‘Fucking scream for me Sheffield. You guys are too quiet between songs, we’re used to people screaming all kinds of shit.’ There’s a scream to my right which seems to spread through the crowd. Anders throws his arms up and we all follow suit. This is a delightfully dark and gritty track which shows off the talent of the whole band. Then we’re straight into Deliver Us. This is an epic tune with an orgasmic guitar solo. The guitarist has his foot right up on monitor, playing practically into the crowd. Very old school.
The band surprise me with some clever key changes, and some flawless vocal harmonies, all tiny spokes in a wheel of very heavy, crunchy Metal. Anders says ‘To each and everyone in this house thank you for paying attention to what we do’. You can’t help but feel that the band are genuinely grateful for their fans, and the opportunity to do what they love. And they are really good at revving the crowd up. They also have a great sense of humour. It’s implied, with tongue firmly in cheek, that listening to In Flames will improve your life, and it’s observed that one man doth not a mosh pit make. ‘One person is not a circle pit, it’s a drunk dance, that’s what that is. Now fucking dance for me.’
I was really impressed with In Flames (Never! – Ed). This is the first time I have ever seen them live and they did not disappoint. Great performance, great songs and great production. As Anders said, ‘This is a heavy metal show, right? We can all agree on that?’ Yes sir, yes we can.
We eat ‘The best hot dog in the world’ (it wasn’t) and drink some terrible beer while Disturbed start their show, with a guitar solo. There’s immediately something cheesy and posey about them, but the band are really into what they are doing. The stage production for Disturbed is hot. I mean literally. Every other beat is emphasised with a jet of fire. David Draiman is as imposing as ever, strutting the stage in his long coat. There’s something odd and off key about his vocals at first, then as soon as it sounds in tune, it sounds a bit too loud; a bit overbearing in the mix. The dynamics are odd too, as his levels seem to hover up and down. I wonder if maybe he has too much coming through his monitor.
The band open with Immortalised, from the 2015 album of the same name. I have to admit, I only know three Disturbed songs, and two of them are covers. However, this is an epic opener, although there is something off key-wise in the chorus. It’s worth noting I’m listening from the bar which may account for the odd sound.
Draiman is not the most energetic of frontmen; he walks up and down the stage, while the cameras capture some close ups of grasping hands and pumping fists. He starts to energise the crowd with the ‘Hey! Hey!’ section in the song. Soon people are jumping and thrusting their fists at the ceiling.
The next tune is The Game. Here we have the first emergence of what we fondly refer to as ‘the monkey sound’. You know what I mean. ‘Ooh ah ah ah ah!’. Not quite in that rhythm, but very reminiscent. Some of the lyrics stick with me:
‘You always wanted people to remember you, to leave your little mark in society’.
Draiman has a little smile as he sings this, like it’s a private joke. I wonder if he is thinking about the one song we are all waiting for, or if that’s just me being cynical.
The band are fully alive, energy zaps across the stage and guitarist Dan Donegan thrashes enthusiastically at the crowd. ‘Let me see your motherfucking fists in the air!‘ bellows Draiman, as another gout of fire punctuates the night. These guys love their fire! One of my companions comments that this stage production would have been oddly more apt for In Flames…
The Vengeful One is another soaring, cynical sneer at modern society, accompanied by further jets of flame that threaten to take the drummer’s eyebrows off. Green light soaks the stage and crowd, giving the whole room an eerie feel. The backing vocals are a touch too quiet in the mix, which is a shame as they are spot on for timing and pitch. It would have been nice to hear more of bassist John Moyer who seems involved in a few of the songs.
‘My brothers and sisters; my blood. Speak to me!’ Draiman calls, nay, commands. The crowd is shrieking now, as they are ordered to ‘put those devil horns in the sky’. We have left the bar and re-joined the masses, and the sound is much better here. Also, as the show progresses the band seem to gain in confidence and energy.
Prayer is one of those classic Metal combos of upbeat riffs and depressing lyrics, yet it has a vocal jump that oddly reminds me of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’. The sound has definitely improved now and the vocals are way more balanced. There’s a huge cheer for this tune, then a slight pause before jumping straight into one I don’t recognise, but which has some deep Metal mumbling. Cue another burst of fire and a key change, into another catchy chorus. These guys are good at these. They are also good at some lovely chromatic guitar work.
Speaking of which, a two-note riff suddenly takes me back to being a youngster at the late, lamented Bradford Rio’s. It’s Voices! A track I had completely forgotten about, which used to be a favourite to jump around the dance floor to. I could be cruel and say I had repressed it, but if so it’s because of some no doubt humiliating drunken memory that accompanies the song, because the song itself is great; sharp melodies, perfect staccato vocals, a super heavy beat and just discordant and crunchy enough to be a nu metal classic. It’s been worth coming just for this.
Next up, it’s back to sickly green and yellow lighting, and an almost rapped vocal line. I think this one is called Stupify. Again it is very staccato, but lacks a certain depth after the massiveness of the previous track. However, it’s clearly a crowd favourite, who shout along with Draiman in a call and response fashion. I find it a bit odd that the lead singer is least energetic person on stage; Moyer and Donegan are leaping about like crazy, whilst drummer Mike Wengren is going hell for leather. Draiman definitely has charisma though, which is carried not just via his voice but through a combination of pointing, grasping, and intense facial expressions.
We are left in darkness for a few moments, with a haunting, droning sound. Suddenly a crystal clear piano line cuts through the background noise. I know it is The Sound of Silence but for one horrible moment I’m afraid they are going to cover Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. Seriously, go play the first five seconds of Tyler and the first 13 seconds of Disturbed and you will know exactly what I mean. I’m suddenly surrounded by little specks of light, as everyone has their mobile phones out and is waving them in the way of lighters of old. Something I never thought I would write… I think it is guitarist Donegan who is playing piano, and it’s pretty much perfect. There is also some aggressive timpani action which is quite gorgeous. I know it’s a cover, but I can’t help but think that this song will be associated with this band for a very long time. It’s a very good rendition.
There’s another long pause, as if to let us absorb what just happened, then the room turns red and we are treated to more fiery excitement. Which makes sense, as we move into the song Inside the Fire. The sound by now is excellent, very tight and crunchy. The band seem re-energised by the response they received for Silence. The energy increases even more and the performance for the rest of the show seems note perfect and much more enjoyable. Albeit slightly over the top, the stage production is excellent, and the lights are perfect and dramatic. It’s a really well produced show.
Draiman pauses to have a word before the next track: ‘Tonight we have a special moment where the members of Disturbed need audience participation.’ Draiman wants us all to get out our ‘cell phones’ and lighters (no one has a lighter any more, oh sorry, there is one woman with a Zippo, I take it back!) to join in every time he sings the words ‘The Light’. The crowd howl; I don’t know this track (also called The Light) but they clearly do. And it’s a lovely song, so different to any of the previous offerings. It’s an optimistic ballad of hope, without being sappy. The crowd and band are as one now. Since Silence it’s been a different show from the start; twice as good with twice as much energy.
Stricken is soaring yet mournful, then the stage goes dark except for searchlights, and the sound of sirens permeates the arena. This leads into Indestructible, while flames fan across the stage. The crowd are drinking in every minute and Draiman knows it: ‘Alright Sheffield, your arms aren’t tired yet are they?’ There’s a thunderous roll of toms, and I swear I can feel the heat from those flames even over here by the sound desk.
After a rousing performance of 10000 Fists, we are commanded to Get on our fucking feet! and the obvious closing song is sung…. Ooh ah ah ah ah! There we go. So satisfying. The crowd surges forward, and the show ends in chanting and mutual worship between the band and the fans. Over the top, overly dramatic but so much fun. And worth it just for Voices, which I had forgotten about and The Light which is a truly beautiful song.
We move much closer for Avenged Sevenfold, having timed our ablutions and beer foraging perfectly. It’s pointed out to me that the original artwork for the single The Stage is on the screen, two halves of a skull, one on each screen with a perfect CGI eyeball looking around the arena. The left eyeball has the new album cover instead of iris. The sense of anticipation is palpable. Obviously there’s a longer gap before the headlining band, and the piped in music includes Space Oddity by David Bowie. There’s a touching moment where the crowd hushes, then starts singing along, and phones are in the air all around me. A brief but touching moment of tribute. So much love.
As the last notes and lights twinkle out, darkness falls and the crowd roars. The stage is set up as a series of screen and a huge cube suspended in mid-air, each side of which is a projector screen. Images of space and the Earth fly across our eyes, finally ending on the band’s logo as they appear on stage to a wave of crowd noise the like I have not heard for years.
As expected, the band open with The Stage. This is a great song, and I am impressed by some perfect guitar tapping. The audience absolutely love vocalist Shadows. I am surrounded by screaming women. Literally screaming. Unintelligibly. Whilst the band play, imagery plays pretty much constantly across the screens and the giant cube, meaning there is always something to look at. At the start, we have cave men puppets, Cromwellian witch burners and various other types of execution. Cheery.
‘Sing it!’ demands Shadows with a grin on his face. The two guitarists are in the spotlight, harmonising to the crowd, then bantering with each other and with Shadows. It’s clear that these band members have real love for each other, which is a beautiful thing to see.
I probably won’t write as much about A7x, simply because I was absolutely mesmerised. I can’t tell you exactly what songs they did and in what order, I just know this was one of the quickest two hours of my life, and that if their guitar sound was a real person, I would marry it. If I wasn’t bouncing up and down and screeching along, I was gazing wide eyed at smiling missiles, virtual flames licking across the stage and strange, Gallifreyan-looking swirls.
As the show progresses, we have synths and strings, and the screens go mad with imagery. There’s a clever thing they do, where they project the space imagery at the same time as projecting the live shots of the band, so on the screens it appears as if the band are playing in space. Later on, this technique is applied again to imprison the band behind chicken wire, and to set them on fire. The production is absolutely astonishing.
‘I don’t belong here,
Gotta move on dear’
A7x are a master of sing-along-specials, and Afterlife is the first of these (well, that I know!) and the crowd does not disappoint. Even Shadows repeatedly comments on how loud Sheffield is.
‘I can’t hear a goddamn thing I’m singing cos you motherfuckers are so goddamn loud!’
Shadows is an incredible vocalist. At times, he is almost rapping but the intonation is perfect on every note, whether low or high. The band really remind me of Faith No More, and the vocal lines are a big part of that, I think. There’s even some delightful three part harmonies. Oh, and it’s been said that A7x changed their style because Shadows couldn’t roar or scream like he used to. I’m here to tell you he can. Oh yes.
He also loves the crowd, and they love him. He asks where everyone is from. There’s a few locals, and many from surrounding towns. He laughs at the enmity we English have between rival towns and counties, and the room erupts with a chant of
Something I have never heard at a gig before!
Highlights of the next hour and a half or so include Hail to the King. This song starts with such a sweet riff and when the drums kick in, every fist is trying to hit the ceiling. Buried Alive starts with a gentle, understated guitar line, which is soon underpinned by cellos and accompanied by a cheery backdrop of skulls, bones and decay. I love how the band themselves are so cheery and upbeat, whilst their themes range from death and destruction to entropy and the downfall of society. A wonderful juxtaposition.
The artwork on the screens is utterly amazing. As well as the aforementioned skulls, we have planets brimming with lava, space scenes, and swirls and lines that look like they are from the TARDIS. I am staring at the Gallifreyan when I realise the projection cube is travelling towards the crowd, leaving a gap at the back of the stage. It tilts up and down, the moves back, and I wonder if this is merely a distraction technique while the stage is changed somehow.
As the bizarre move finishes, a familiar synth line starts and the crowd howls again as the band launches into Nightmare. Another sing-along choice, this track is amazing live. This is one of my favourites, and again, almost worth coming just for this.
After Nightmare, there’s some more crowd interaction, as someone inexplicably tries to give Shadows their phone! Shadows introduces their most recent drummer, Brooks Wackerman. Cue a drum solo, which somehow melds into a gorgeous little snippet of War Pigs. I tell you, I can’t hear this band without thinking of Faith No More and stuff like that is not helping! The kit is great, such a fat sound but never overbearing. Shadows comments on what a rowdy group we are for a Sunday night and he’s right. I’ve totally forgotten about my dreaded 7am start.
Another high point is Sunny Disposition. This is where we see the nukes with smiley faces. I wasn’t sure at first if the band had a synth/keyboard player hidden away at first, but now I’m pretty sure that the ‘non-guitar’ sounds were pre-recorded tracks. You can’t tell though; the performance is perfectly flawless. The band toys with us by leaving a long pause, eventually filled by the inevitable cries of we want more, get on with it. The cube is tilting again, creating a spot lit area for one, then both guitarists. The musicians move down the stage and the lights follow them as they play; it’s quite lovely.
A loud rumbling occurs and the lights stutter. The screens go blank. Square waves batter the audience. With a burst of light the screens come alive, with capillary like red streaks. Our eyes are drawn to the back of the stage, where there is suspended a giant spaceman! It’s the astronaut from the album artwork, skull and all, in three-dimensional glory. There is something akin to an Iron Maiden show in all this; a real sense of theatre.
The band roar through Planets and after a gorgeous rendition of Acid Rain, leave the stage. There’s the inevitable ‘Will they, won’t they?’ before they return, leaving a long enough gap that some people actually leave. I can only presume they are trying to beat the car park queues; not a good enough reason in my mind.
As Shadows returns, he asks how many more songs we want. Someone shouts ‘Ten!’, and he quips,
‘If we play ten we won’t get to Manchester.’ After some predictable ‘booing’ Shadows laughs,
‘I swear, all we have to do is name any city! What do you guys think of London?’
And the loudest booing of the evening occurs! We are awfully parochial aren’t we.
The audience now has its knowledge of song lyrics tested, as a condition for playing Bat Country. The harmonised guitar solo in this is amazing on CD, but even better in the flesh. Or wood. How about a love song, one equally about murder and necrophilia? After the roar, Shadows pleads ‘Never bury me in Sheffield!’ and adds ‘This one goes out to the Rev.’; a touching tribute to an amazing drummer and songwriter. Little Peace of Heaven is exactly that. I’ve never known a track make me so uncomfortable and yet have me singing along every time. It’s a real conflict of emotions.
The band finish with Unholy Confessions, not a favourite of mine, but my companions, along with most of the crowd, are elated. Shadows encourages the biggest pit he can, which becomes a swirling maelstrom in front of us. This is a frontman who knows how to wind the crowd up into a frenzy, and all the while has a smile on his face.
All in all, a really great night. Yes, I’m biased by my lack of interaction with the real world lately, but this was genuinely a fantastic line up. In Flames were solid, entertaining and really heavy hitting. Disturbed were not quite as tight at first, and a little over the top at times, but in the end very good, lots of fun and threw out some real classic tunes. The headliners though. My word. Avenged Sevenfold have made it into my top ten live bands, that’s for certain. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next time they visit the UK.
In Flames: 8/10