Few Against Many UK Tour
Promoter: Black Star ESP & Factory Music
Date: Friday 21st September 2012
Venue: The Talking Heads, Southampton
Bands: Firewind, Leaves’ Eyes, Dendera.
So it’s been quite some time since my last review, even longer since one that didn’t start with ‘this month at Mosh!’, so when the 21st rolled round I was getting really geared up to the first gig I’d been to in exactly 2 months. Knowing full well that the next day at work would not be even close to pretty, I took the train down to Southampton, having listened to Few Against Many three times in the previous week, and in about an hour I was there at The Talking Heads. I was ready for Firewind, one of the most intensely powerful metal bands to come out of Greece in some time. Once the doors opened we filtered in and, with pints in hand, prepared for the rollecoaster face melter of a gig we were about to experience.
Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that I’m a big fan of a powerful little metal group from the south known as Dendera so when I found out they were the opening act (literally at the venue), you can guess how excited I was. It wasn’t long before I was right at the front of the stage with Ashley Edison and crew taking their places to rock the fuck out. Accompanied by the size of crowd their music deserves, Dendera upped the ante this time and gave possibly the tightest set I have seen from them thusfar. As ever, vocalist Edison provided the most entertainment value as the manic headbanger swinging from one side of the stage to another through the epic instrumental journeys, albeit sometimes restricted by the sound system and extra kit of the headliners. Alongside this madman of metal, this time round guitarists Steve Main and Tony Fuller and bassist Bradley Edison got some of their own showboating out there; guitars flying wildly and solos embellished with some real showman flare.
While most of the set stayed true to the gritty-yet-Maidenesque formula, new number ‘Till We Fall’ showcased a phenomneal amount of range in the first minute alone; skipping from drumming which would feel right at home in death metal, through a funky bass fill into a groove riff Pantera wouldn’t sniff at back to the home turf of simply fucking great metal.
Criticism levelled at this performance is limited at best, while Edison’s falsettos and screams are always a highlight, his lower range growls were often swallowed up by the mix and became lost, dampening the impact of some great lyrical content. Still, with a set that good I think such a minor fly in the ointment can be forgiven; fuck it, I’d be willing to ignore it based on the strength of set closer ‘Bridges Will Burn’ alone, surely the band’s staple anthem at this point.
As you can probably tell by now, the opener did their job flawlessly, fanning the fires of metal ready for the rest of the night and pumping the crowd to fever pitch for whatever came next. I’d never heard Firewind’s touring partner Leaves’ Eyes before but was ready for anything after Dendera. Well…I thought I was ready. I have mixed emotions about Leaves’ Eyes if I’m honest, the riffs were definitely there and some of the songs were truly epic. They even had a mandolin onstage…a fucking mandolin…that’s pretty awesome when used in the right way.
However, once this thrashy fused folk metal from Norway got into the swing of things there were a couple of things which soured me straight away. First off, it was about two songs in when I noticed the repetitive nature of some of the riffs going on. Relentless it was, providing a truly epic underscore to the haunting vocals of Liv Kristine, but most of the twiddly flares and embellishments, I noticed, were provided by a backing track of pipes, strings etc. which totally diminished the liveness of the performance, making the rest of the band feel more like Kristine’s touring band than an actual group. Things were saved slightly when second vocalist Alexander Krull, with hair flowing majestically all the way down to his waist, entered the fray and threw his death tinged roars into the mix to spice the set with some more variety, especially for songs like ‘My Destiny’. Audience interaction can play perfectly into the hands of most performances with clap and shout alongs really firing up the engine of the metal machine but the frequency with which Kristine and Krull tried this strayed from effective, through irritating and landed squarely in fucking annoying. Once every couple of songs if effective, three times per song is annoying, I hope I’m not alone in thinking this. I’m sorry to say even the mandolin was underused, duetting with a guitar to play the exact same notes at one point and effectively masking its sound and making its usage redundant (that said, in between songs it was used to play the Whole Lotta Rosie riff later so points for that).
Leaves’ Eyes, despite the flaws as I saw them, were not entirely a disappointment. As I said before, their riffage was strong enough for a great headbang, and the way JB Van Der Wal used his five string bass as a lead instrument in the closing numbers was truly impressive. The rousing yet chilling norse folk melody Kråkevisa was where they really shone (not least because its where the mandolin was actually useful) and I couldn’t help but feel the less folksey numbers came off sounding a little fake by comparison. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe without the whole crowd clapping in my ears every six seconds I’d like them more. If that’s your sort of thing go see them and decide for yourself.
So with a mixed bag of an evening so far I was still undiminished because I was about to be mere inches away from one of the metal industy’s rising stars: Ozzy guitarist Gus G and his epicly epic (there’s seriously no other way to describe it) Greek cohorts Firewind: The reason most of us were here.
Straight from the off Firewind were in raging form, delivering a hammering rendition of Few Against Many’s opener ‘Wall of Sound’. Heads banged, rock horns flew, air guitars roared (sort of) and the whole crowd came together in mutual celebration of this phenomenal start. From this moment on the momentum didn’t dip once and the band careened like a runaway train through hit after hit, not one note or beat ever out like a polished symphony of pure power. As can be expected, with his international acclaim as Ozzy’s axesmith, a lot of the limelight went to Gus G. When somebody reaches this level of recognition you’ll always fear the impending shadow of overrated-ness but, watching his fingers fly effortlessly across the fretboard from less than 2 feet away, I can honestly say any such accusations would be completely unfounded.
Whilst clearly a focal point, Gus was not the only highlight of this show as the set was peppered with solos in between songs from guitarist/keyboardist Bob Katsionis and vocalist Apollo Papathanasio. Alongside the ferocious rhythm guitar during songs, Katsionis levelled into a blistering solo which made that keyboard his bitch; his fingers an utter blur over the ebony and ivory keys of electronic mayhem. There was even a moment when he managed to ‘dual wield’ guitar tapping and key trilling and made it look completely effortless – definitely winning the ‘Metal As Fuck’ award for the evening.
Where Ashley Edison and Liv Kristine had both demonstrated their frontman/woman skills earlier in the evening; Papathanasio’s performance was an utter masterclass in holding the audience. The sheer joy and passion which he brought to his craft encapsulated all of us and his vocal performance was just as good as on the album, a rare feat from music of this style. His absolute highlight though came about three quarters into the set when, in the spirit of His Greatness Freddy Mercury, Papathanasio launched into a full on acapella vocal duel with the audience. Day O it wasn’t, to do so would be a little cheesy and leave a sour taste in the mouth, but Papathanasio brought his own unique flare and Greek spirit to the practice and it truly paid off.
Where the band went from strength to strength throughout the whole set I have to admit the only weak link was the idiot writing this review right now. Having only heard Few Against Many, songs from previous albums were largely lost on me (with the exception of World on Fire, thanks Metal Hammer) and, with the fact that I knew I had a train to catch/work in the morning, it’s times like this when you realise how much the real world sucks and so having bands like Firewind around is exactly what we need. The exhillarating thrill, the epic power, the true metal spirit with which they flew through every one of their incredible songs lifted me and everybody else out of our everyday lives. Even if it was only for one evening, we gave ourselves to music – it’s a joy I’ve never managed to surpass in life and, for a night like tonight, I would gladly travel to Southampton, get home late and get 4 hours of sleep before work anytime.
That’s what metal is all about
Leaves’ Eyes: 5/10