Ball of Destruction – Manchester, Star & Garter – 13.12.16

  

In another odd concert line up New York hardcore veterans Madball are over in the UK for a bunch of arena shows opening up for Limp Bizkit and Korn. I like Madball but I’m not keen on arena ticket prices – especially when you’re attending for half an hour of the opening band then heading off home into the Manchester gloom. 

About a month ago Ball of Destruction – a tribute band named after Madball’s debut 7″ released in 1989 – were announced to play the Star and Garter in Manchester the day after the Korn show. Three of Manchester’s current crop of hardcore bands were named as support, so as I was off work for a week and I really like Broken Teeth it was an excuse to head into Lancashire. 

We missed Restrict as we were sampling ales in a few other drinking establishments before hand. The first band I got to see was Guilt Trip who were performing to a near capacity room. Their Slayer infused beat down hardcore was very good, they might have spent a bit too much time trying to get the crowd to move about and step forward, but they are a band I’ll check out again. 

After a brief 15 minute change over I tunnelled my way to the back of the room to catch one of Nuclear Blast’s most recent recruits. I’ve seen these guys a few times before and their big label break is more than deserved and especially now with the calibre of hardcore bands that they can now call label mates. Not as many flailing bodies down the front as I’d expected, but everyone seemed to have fun. Surely the venue was an oversold sell out because Broken Teeth were playing their last home town show of 2016?

Walking into the venue a few hours earlier it was odd seeing a tribute band with so much merch and a blatant rip off of the current Madball designs. We slightly over estimated our return home and didn’t have a car arriving until 11:45pm (and that ended up being thirty minutes late) we decided to check out the cover band and if we didn’t like it there’s a bar downstairs. 

As 10pm approached people were still trying to find a square inch of space to gain a vantage point of tonight’s headliners. For a tribute band looks seem to be a big part of the appeal as much as their sound, and as the three musicians were waiting awkwardly on stage for the frontman to appear they did look remarkably like Hoya and Mitts – so bonus points were awarded there for attention to detail. 

A few of those points though were taken away when their version of Freddie Cricien bounded onto the stage. There was some resemblance there, but those long locks looked out of place. They did get the sound spot on though and Set It Off early in the set did get things bouncing. They introduced themselves as “New York’s newest band” and they took everything in good humour and there seemed to be a lack of a rigid set list and they just belted out whatever they could hear the crowd shouting out. At one point there was even an impromptu rendition of Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. Just another bizarre moment in an evening of weirdness tonight. 

Almost an hour later when they left the stage the room was still almost at capacity, and as someone who doesn’t really do tribute bands I have to say those four guys really did get their doppelgängers down to a tee and for of those of us too tight to shell out £50 to see them the night before it was a cheaper alternative. 

Hopefully though the original band will hit these shores for another British tour to celebrate twenty eight years as one of New York’s finest. Just for comparison, the video for Pride (Times Are Changing) is below and is taken from Madball’s second album Demonstrating My Style. 
  

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Iron Maiden – Toronto, Air Canada Centre – 3.4.16

  
The crux of my trip across the Atlantic Ocean to a frozen five days in Ontario was for one reason only and that was to catch Iron Maiden on their worldwide Book of Souls tour. 

Why travel for 3,428 miles one way to see a band who I’ve seen in excess of 20 times and are playing literally on my doorstep in June?  

To begin with, because it’s Iron Maiden. Shows aren’t exclusive to citizens of that city, country or even continent. Heavy metal is a global family. The three of us in attendance were most definitely not the only ones from the UK there, and out of the 14,000 inside the Air Canada Centre on Sunday evening I’d hazard a guess of a sizeable contingent of people there representing multiple pages from an atlas. 

Secondly, it’s indoors. I go to quite a few festivals, but as mentioned before, I’m not overly keen on the giant events like where their only UK date is scheduled for in June at the Download Festival with another 90,000 people in attendance. With my advancing years I prefer the more intimate surroundings with marginally better creature comforts and actually being able to hear the acts regardless of where you are situated, without the wind swirling the sound around and making your vantage point pot luck as to whether you hear all or some of the sound emanating from the stage that could be a quarter of a mile away. 

  

Gig day should have been a full on, wall to wall Maiden fest. It should of kicked off around noon with the Trooper pre party held in the Tilted Kilt bar directly across the road from the hotel, but due to me being ill I didn’t make an appearance there till 4pm, just as it was time to head off on the short walk in the snow to the Air Canada Centre. 

  

One of our travelling party booked us in for the Trooper VIP party at the arena. On arrival we saw a merchandise stall in the concourse and proceeded to snag our Canadian specific event shirts. When we signed in for the VIP we were handed out Trooper branded goodie bags and another shirt of the same design that we’d just paid $50 for. Schoolboy error! We were able to swap them, but if we weren’t I’m sure there would have been takers on eBay. 

  

We were herded through the doors at 5:30 and taken into the bowels of the arena to the Platinum Club for more free Trooper and bar snacks. As to not risk missing the main event I declined everything put out in front if me. Sixty minutes later we headed into the main bowl to check out The Raven Age. 

  
Bounding on stage with all their youthful exuberance the London five piece ploughed through their short set of modern metal with a very eager parent watching on from the mixing desk. To our left was Steve Harris, who’s son George is the guitarist in The Raven Age. They appeared to go down well with the Canadian metal heads in attendance and made some new friends. 

As UFO’s Doctor Doctor rumbles through the PA those in the know are whipped into a frenzy as we know what is imminent. The lights go down, the video intro rolls on the large screens either side of the stage and the road crew unveil the Mayan stage set in the darkness. The almost spoken intro to If Eternity Should Fail sees Bruce Dickinson alone on top of the stage in front of a smoking urn before the band kicks in and the breaks are let off the roller coaster. 

  
Seamlessly new song Speed of Light follows and sounds better live than on album. Delving back into the 80’s, Children of the Dammed gets a slot in the set for the first time in seven years and splits up a run of four new songs from the current album. A song most Maiden diehards want to see live since the albums release is The Red and the Black, which rounds out the first five songs, and goes down really well, even with its long instrumental ending. 

The Trooper, a stalwart of a Maiden live show, sees Bruce resplendent in his red tunic and waving the Union flag high above his head. It is followed by the epic Powerslave before another pair of new songs. As with all Maiden shows there is that element of pantomime and theatrics involved. Whether it’s the afore mentioned Powerslave sung with a Mexican wrestling mask on, Hallowed be Thy Name accompanied with a hang mans noose or the giant axe wielding savage Eddie that struts on stage during The Book of Souls and ends up having his heart ripped out and sacrificed to the Mayan gods. 

  
A trio of classics closes out the main body of the set and the now standard huge Eddie head rises at the back of the stage during Iron Maiden. Not the most technical looking of props that have been seen, but it is easily one of the best looking heads as it looks so much bigger and textured than most seen before. 

  
The encore opens up with Number of the Beast with another huge inflatable appearing on stage in the form of the devil with his arms crossed overseeing proceedings. Possibly the curve balls of the evening are the last two tracks. Blood Brothers hasn’t seen the light of day since 2011’s Final Frontier tour and the set closed with Wasted Years, which has been pretty regular but never closing the set. 

With a career spanning four decades and a limited amount of stage time there are always going to be songs people want to see that have been left out, but it is refreshing not to hear certain songs tour after tour after tour. 

  
No doubt I’ll see them again in Europe later this year and probably at their spiritual home of Donington, but fingers crossed they’ll announce an arena tour of the UK later on as standing in a field with 90,000 people won’t get anywhere near as good as the evening spent with mainly 14,000 Canadians. 

  

Top 10 Gigs of 2015

Now that was hard work trying to narrow down a top ten of shows I attended this year from over 70 shows.  In front of me now I have a list scrawled out of 17 memorable shows for one reason or another and enough scribble on the page to fill a small diary.

 

Some of the shows that I had to cut included debut UK shows form Belgium’s Bloodrocuted and Vektor from the United States. AC/DC rocking the foundations of Wembley Arena.  The mega line up of Carcass, Obituary, Napalm Death and Voivod on the Deathcrusher tour.  Intimate shows by Anthrax in Brighton and Iron Reagan in Manchester. And the merging of my teenage years and some of the newest bands on the Slam Dunk Festival (PVRIS, Beartooth, H2O and Millencolin).  Finally, a honourable mention to Discharge, the inovators of D-Beat, playing a home town show to a packed venue with their new vocalist JJ.

So here it goes…

10 – Bloodstock Festival (Catton Hall 7-9th August)

I was going to steer clear of lumping a festival as one, but there were some superb performances this year.  Finally seeing Dark Angel was a huge plus. Nuclear Assault’s last UK appearance.  Sepultura, Overkill and Re-Animator showing everyone the old bands still have it, and overlooking the technical difficulties, Within Temptation’s headline slot had everything you wanted.

  
9 – Overkill and Sanctuary (Hedon, Zwolle 17th March)

A flying trip to Holland to catch the Killfest tour.  The second time I’d seen Sanctuary, but the first time with a roof.  They were flawless and Overkill were as solid as ever.  An added bonus of the Hedon venue being so good.


8 – Hirax (Manchester, Sound Control 16th March)

I could have picked their debut show at Hammerfest a few days earlier, but after the initial disappointment of seeing what part of the venue they were playing, it was so pleasing viewing a band playing in such a small space with so much enthusiasm.


7 – Xentrix and Acid Reign (Dublin, Voodoo Lounge 16th October)

I could have picked anyone of the three shows I attended on this tour, but by the time they sailed into Dublin they had all hit their stride, especially the returning Acid Reign after a quarter of a century away from the stage, who were as much fun that night as they were in 1990.


6 – Obituary (Camden, Electric Ballroom 1st February)

The reason I didn’t include Deathcrusher on the list is thanks to this headline set from Florida’s finest. I had reservations about it being upgraded to the much bigger Ballroom from the comparatively tiny Underworld. By the start of their set any misgivings were put aside as the place was pretty much full.  They were on top form that night, plus there was the added bonus of seeing German thrashers Dust Bolt on the same night.


5 – Flotsam & Jetsam (Nuneaton, Queens Hall 19th May)

Another disappointing turn out in Nuneaton, but that didn’t deter the legendary Arizona thrashers.  Tonight was a complete master class of thrash metal. Such a tight performance and compared to when I saw them last year the live vocals were much better.


4- Metallica (Gothenburg, Ullevi Stadium 22nd August)

Metallica are my favourite band and can really do no wrong in my book (well maybe LuLu!), but they couldn’t make my top three this year.  This tour didn’t have to may surprises in the set list, but I got to see Frayed Ends of Sanity performed live and I had tickets for the Golden Circle so we managed to get pretty close and ended up with a few off stage souvenirs.


3- Slayer and Anthrax (Brixton, Academy 30th November)

Again, I could have picked either date of the tour that I saw, but with the added size of the stage in Brixton you got more bang for your buck. Two bands who are most definitely getting better with age. Slayer were just Slayer, no banter, no jokes, no roller coasters, no prolonged solos – just pure, unadulterated, evil, thrash metal (and dancing inverted crosses!)  What more could you want?


2- Tankard and Crisix (Barcelona, Razzmatazz II 25th January)

Finally the missing piece for me from the German Teutonic Big Four. If Tankard won’t come to me then I’d better go to them!  After Kreator these Frankfurt beer swilling maniacs are my next favourite band of the four.  Much like Anthrax or Acid Reign, they are often classed as the clowns of the bunch.  That night in January they were on top form.  The track (Empty) Tankard was superb sing-a-long, and seeing Gerre singing from on top of the bar right in front of me is something I won’t forget in a hurry. They were so much fun to watch.


1 – Nightwish (Wembley, Arena 19th December)

So my favourite gig of the year happened to be the last gig I attended.  Nightwish owned the cavernous Wembley Arena that evening.  We were promised the full European stage show and that’s what they delivered.  Metal fans have a weird preoccupation with fire in all forms and we had it all tonight! We also had smoke, ticker tape and giant video screens.  The visuals were well and truly backed up with some stunning songs performed to perfection by Floor Jansen who breathed life into tracks from the departed vocalists before her. Fantastic sound too in a place so enormous, and it only cost £25.  A real bargain. A truly superb evening.


Live Arena 8

Saturday – Wembley Arena.

As it stands I only have one gig for next week and that’s also looking like my last one of 2015, Finnish symphonic metallers Nightwish bring their full stage show for a one off show in the UK.

Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel

From the four shows I could have attended tonight I ended up in the Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton for an evening of death and black metal.

 

Mancunian black metallers Ethereal opened up proceedings, but we missed them.

Polish death metal band Hate were a new one to me so I was unsure what to expect. I quite liked them by the end of their 40 minute set. It’s odd hearing proper metal guitar solos incorporated into this genre of music, but it worked well.

Providence, Rhode Island natives Vital Remains were my draw for tonight. Guitarist Tony Lazaro is the only constant member in the band from 1988. This is the third time I’ve seen them smashing out their anti Christian death metal and it’s the third different line up I’ve seen. For those who saw it in some news feeds, this is the band that had the police officer on stage singing Let The Killing Begin in Florida recently. He later got fired.

Capping off the evening, and still on stage as I write, are Belphegor, an Austrian black metal band. There are very few black metal bands I enjoy and unfortunately these aren’t one of the select few. I just don’t get black metal in general. Musically they can be great with their fast tempos and irregular structures with an the emphasis on building up an atmosphere. The drumming is so frenetic at times it can be a joy to watch. Then the screeching vocals kick in and I just zone out. You can’t like everything.

So randomly here’s some Behemoth. As Vital Remains have no video, here’s a track from one of the few black metal bands I like.

The Live Arena 7

When the concerts are getting sparse it’s either the height of the festival season and every band seems to be playing in a field of mud somewhere within Europe or winter is drawing in and Christmas is fast approaching. In the forthcoming seven days I only have one guaranteed show, but I have a dilemma for mid week.

Sunday – Camden Underworld.

Confirmed.  This is the only guaranteed gig for the week and involves yet another trip to the nation’s capital.  This marks the first visit to these shores by American technical thrashers Vektor.  Support is of an international ilk from Spain’s Angelus Apatrida and Dutch thrashers Distillator.

 

Wednesday – The dilemma!

I have the choice of four shows all on the same night.

  1. Turnstile supporting The Story So Far in Manchester.  I missed Turnstile at Ghostfest, so I’d really like to catch them here, but this show looks like it’s sold out.
  2. Grave and Malevolent Creation in London.  I only really want to see Grave on this co-headlining jaunt as I’ve yet to see them live, but the running order isn’t announced yet and I’d miss most of Grave to get the last train home if they headlined.
  3. Hobb’s Angel of Death play a Northern show in Liverpool. One of Australia’s earliest thrash bands makes an extremely rare (if not debut) set of shows in the UK.
  4. Belphegor and Vital Remains in Wolverhampton.  Definitely the fourth choice gig of the lot as I’m not a massive fan of the Austrian and American black metal  and death metal offerings, but if I do end up here it’ll be due to me being the designated driver.

So lets wait and see what happens.


  

Live Arena 6

What’s in the diary gig wise this week? As my birthday bash continues I have a few days off work and I’ll be travelling about 460 miles for two shows, then a third one closer to home!


Monday – Brixton Academy. 

Slayer and Anthrax part 2! They were that good it NEEDS to be done again. This is really a bonus show just to break up the trip to Brighton on Tuesday. This will be my first visit to the legendary Brixton venue.


Tuesday – Brighton Concorde 2

I managed to grab tickets for an intimate evening with Anthrax. On their off days as Slayer’s support act, Anthrax have been doing their own club shows, so fingers crossed for a longer set and a few gems thrown in for good measure.

Friday – Stoke, Bunker 13


South Wales metalcore boyos visit the Potteries on Friday evening. Currently part of the legendary Victory Records stable. Supported by local metallers Headpress.