The Black Crusade - MEN Arena
Live Review

The Black Crusade – MEN Arena, Manchester

The colossal metal beast that is The Black Crusade looms on Manchester, promising to be one of metals highpoints this year. Five bands at either the top of their game or fast approaching it have been pulled together in a mini festival -similar to the eighties ‘Clash of the Titans’ tour.

If any band can lay claim to keeping that pure metal torch lit it’s Shadows Fall, who are more than aware of their small timeframe with which to force their (as 6ft dreadlocked front man Brian Fair describes) ‘Thrash fucking metal’ into. ‘Thoughts without words’ opens up the first of the night’s numerous pits, so wide in fact they give the security at either side some early trouble. Frantic radio calls are made for reinforcements but they are almost certainly going to need a bigger boat as ‘Redemption’ proves not only to be a solid finisher but also the perfect excuse to tear the skin off the person next to you in the pit.

With Corey (Trivium) and members of Dragonforce watching from the wings there’s very early on a strong family bond-this tour has been to Australia and one date (Glasgow) here, but already as hugs are exchanged and hands shook by bands leaving and coming on the stage these bands have clearly gelled together well.

If this was a war, and it is, Arch Enemy would be the shock troops, sent in to sort out the serious shit; tonight they are the epitome of all business as Gossow desperately tries to remove her limbs by throwing them in abandon whilst at the same time appearing calculating and controlled, picking words out to accentuate the throat grabbing assault in ‘We will Rise’. Arch Enemy have the ability to hold you in an iron grip throughout their set, with well chosen material from ‘Rise of the tyrant’, itself a great album, here represented by a deft combination of aggression and accuracy.

It’s as if Dragonforce seem hell-bent on being the comedy relief tonight-with an intro mocking other artists overblown excursions and then exploding out the box, guitarists Li & Totman kicking each other and covering more of the stage than the roadies at the end of the night. Sure to some Totman’s guitar can sound like Morse code or Herman Li’s audio output like a mega drive exploding, but you have to appreciate the sheer attack Dragon force have, ‘Operation ground and pound’ is undeniably rousing and every opportunity is hijacked for maximum entertainment value-keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov even has lights on his beer can. When a new song goes to pieces they see it as an opportunity to gain something from the audience-singer ZP always keen eyed for any chance to make a gig unique.

Several years ago Trivium came over to Britain on small tours- occasionally playing to very few people. In only a short time they graduated and now are very much on the cusp of something special-their last album may have divided some, but it still was heavy and determined enough to work. Now, approaching larger venues it’s time for growth.

With a more imposing set, ramps and walkways of the early eighties- it’s not only the architecture that borrows from the period, Trivium really have the thrash metal card down, and now seem to have run completely away with the ball.
There is everything within tonight’s set, new single ‘Becoming the dragon’ may have struggled for space on the album but escapes and runs wild live-‘Conflagration’ fits with quickly established standards ‘Gunshot’ and ‘Rain’. Always at ease Trivium are consolidating all they have learned and throwing it right back at you, speed picked, faster and more distorted than before-this tour will do them no end of good and be the perfect set up for them to knock us out with what they do next.

Machine Head have slowly made their way through detractors, against line-up changes, past trends to come out where they are now; something of coming of age happened at Download and Machine fuckin head were baptized as the standard in metal. Rob Flynn’s commitment to the almighty riff has seen him and the band produce some classic songs-and tonight the crowd want to hear them- they are not disappointed.
It’s frenetic and non-stop, Flynn and co always seeming surprised at the end of each song by how well they are received, the love and respect shown by the crowd-except one guy, that Rob points out ‘Isn’t head banging, doesn’t know the words’, it could have been an uncomfortable diva moment, but Flynn uses it to try and win the guy over. It’s an interesting point that illustrates that Machine head are about involvement. A MH gig couldn’t take place in a vacuum-it needs the pit, ‘Old’ needs action, ‘Take my scars’ shouts for attention and ‘Imperium’ well, just crushes.

One of the true secrets of approaching large venue gigs isn’t the big explosions and massive anthems, it’ also about the subtle the intimate, achieving that ‘One note with the audience’ and the ‘head do have those with the acoustic sections but its strangely ‘Aesthetics of hate’ that touches-a heart felt song delivered with power and meaning based on an article some of the audience will potentially never had read, but all understand the sentiment.

‘The Blackening’ should have been Machine Head’s defining moment, time will truly tell; but anybody’s reservations will be brushed aside when they experience it live -completing Machine Head’s vision -it all falls into place. The idea was to create songs and riffs which could only be made with fans in mind, could only be complete with interaction. The Black crusades relevance and importance is hammered home with the final moments of gig comprising of absolute pit mayhem, an overtly long ‘Thank you’ , crowd hysteria and Adam Duce with a bra on his head-what else did you come for?

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