Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Review: Download Festival 2019

This weekend just gone was Download Festival 2019 at Donington Park. It was personally the 8th one I’ve been at, but the first full weekend festival since Victorious Festival in 2016 (and that one wasn’t that much effort as it is down the road from where I live). My last Download festival was in 2015, so it had been a while since I’d been. As was the case for 2014 and 2015, I was in a hotel in Derby rather than camping on site. It is a bit of a hassle getting there and back each day, but no complaints at all on that front. The queue to get in each day seemed to be managed in a very odd way, which caused delays each time. I also didn’t get searched at all when going in. I don’t try and take things in with me that I shouldn’t, so it wasn’t an issue. However, in previous years when I have been searched each time I enter the arena, I’ve been surprised to see glass spirit bottles in the arena. This year, when seeing them, it was less of a surprise. I’m not sure what happened there. Anyway, I guess the main talking point, bands and wrestling aside for me has to be the weather and the condition of the site. The weather was mostly fine when I was watching bands. On occasion it battered it down, but I was lucky to be in a tent when this happened for the most part. The arena floor was very muddy as a result, which made getting about a bit of a slog from time to time. That being said, I didn’t fall over in the mud or get hurt, so again, no major complaints. I felt the festival did what they could in the arena in terms of straw etc.

A quick note about the Thursday. I arrived in Derby on the Thursday. Went out for food at Sainsburys CafĂ© (getting the rock and roll started early) – had a belting sweet potato katsu curry. The evening after that was mostly chilled and washing my shoes (had boots for the festival, went out to the shop in shoes, and ended up getting them muddy – a precursor to the weekend ahead!) Anyway, onto the primary focus of this festival, the bands. It usually makes sense with these things to kick off with the first day, so I will, with Friday. As per, the scores attributed are based on my own personal enjoyment, and not a comment on the band in question, mostly.


I had Goodbye June on my list to watch but was queuing to get in the weekend arena/day ticket entrance the entire time they were on, which is a bit of a shame. Wasn't mad keen on seeing them mind, so not overly annoyed – but it would have been nice to see them. Instead, I trekked over to the Dogtooth stage to catch Groundculture – 6. I didn’t know much by them, but they were a fine way to kick the festival off. Up next on the Dogtooth stage was Those Damn Crows - 7 who were really good. Not a lot else to say about them. I left wanting to get into them properly. I trundled over to 2nd stage for the first time for Kvelertak – 5. I've seen them a few times before and this wasn't the best time seeing them. Not sure if it was just being too far away from the stage or owt, but after they left, all I could muster was a shrug.

I headed back to a now much busier Dogtooth stage to see Conjurer - 9 and blimey, that was something. Blinder of a set, that. Want to see them again and can't make the October tour, which made me do a sad. They were so good. There aren’t many bands that would make me miss some of Clutch’s set, so I am glad I enjoyed them as much as I did. Speaking of Clutch – 8. I love Clutch. I didn't see them all because of that vicious clash with Conjurer. They finished with Electric Worry and X-Ray Visions - what's not to love? I suspect I'll be seeing them in Southampton at the end of the year and having a lovely time (assuming the sound isn’t bobbins). Up next on second stage was Deadland Ritual - 7 - I base these scores on my personal enjoyment of the set, and I thought it was cool seeing a supergroup play songs from Dio-era Sabbath, Velvet Revolver and Billy Idol. Their own material is...fine, but the score is mostly for the covers.  I didn’t stick around for the whole set as I wanted to make sure I was in the 3rd stage tent for the next band.

If you had said to me in the build-up to this festival (well, before the times came out) that I wouldn’t be seeing Whitesnake, I would have called you a fool or something equally as derisory. However, when it transpired they clashed with The Interrupters – 10, well there was only going to be one winner there, particularly after their set at Slam Dunk. The Interrupters stole the show for the Friday (and nearly for the whole damn weekend). Their set was just immense. I really want them to be added to the Fireball tour. It will sell me a ticket in an instant. Stayed at the Avalanche stage for Reel Big Fish – 9, who were a lot of fun. The classics were all great as per and I liked one of the new songs. Sure, it was a bit RBF paint by numbers at times, but that didn’t hurt the set at all. They are good at what they do, that is for sure! Went over to the Dogtooth in the hope of seeing Jinjer but the tent was rammed, and people were several rows out, so decided against it. Figured this would be the case for At The Gates as well so decided to call it a night after Rob Zombie. Hey, speaking of - Rob Zombie - 7 - Decent way to end the night. I’ve never been a massive fan (due to me not listening to him/White Zombie more than not liking) but it was decent enough. Did think for a headline set on the second stage it was a bit short. I did consider sticking around for Def Leppard…but didn’t.


Got held up getting in again, but I had arrived early enough to factor this in, and didn’t miss the first band – which was nice.

For only the second time of the weekend so far, I was at main stage for a band! Alien Weaponry – 7 were first up and I quite enjoyed their set. Royal Republic - 9 were on main stage next and I loved this set, thought they were excellent. It made me want to see them again and they are playing up the road from me, so I might just! After them was a set I was very excited about. Power Trip – 8 did not let me down either – they had a great set. I thought it was brilliant that they were on the main stage and they didn't look out of place there. After Power Trip was probably the biggest extreme metal show in the UK to date with Behemoth - 8 on the big stage. I only saw the first 30 or so minutes, but they were sounding in fine form. You may wonder why I decided to leave their set to head to another stage. This was the second worse clash of the weekend for me, so decided to see some of Behemoth and then go catch Epica – 8. They opened with my favourite song of theirs, so that almost gave them a 10 right there. It was excellent though, but I think I prefer seeing them indoors. Not sure if they will stick a UK date on their Euro tour later in the year (which they couldn't announce right away due to Download) - we'll see. The rain started coming down during Epica, and it didn’t stop throughout the whole of the next band’s set really. 

Skindred - 9 - In the hands of a lesser band, this part of the day could have been miserable (what with the rain and all). Skindred were just excellent, which they always are. Sure, the stage patter is pretty samey at this stage, but that didn't spoil it for me. They could play every year and it not be boring. I don’t know if they will ever be higher on the bill, but they have the show to justify it. I’d love to see what they could do headlining the second stage or having a longer slot on main. After Skindred, I made my first visit to the NXT UK tent. Can't really give this a rating the same way I rate a band, but I enjoyed what I saw. Getting a main event of Matt Riddle v Ilja Dragunov was quite something! Moustache Mountain v Grizzled Young Vets as well was very good. Pleased to see Xia Brookside/Killer Kelly and Rhea Ripley/Piper Niven wrestle as well. After the wrestling, I headed to the Dogtooth and caught the end of Batushka - NR - I have no idea what to rate this. I base all these on enjoyment and I can't work out if I enjoyed it or not. I heard one song, a lot of bell ringing and what looked like a sermon? I was quite interested by the whole thing though. Also, probably worth noting that I heard a bit of Die Antwoord in the main stage on the walk and…I got nothing. Am I out of touch? No, it is everyone else that is wrong!

The headliner of the Dogtooth stage that night was Carcass – 9. Belting set this. One of the best of the day. Made even better by the announcement a new album is nearly finished. Hopefully a UK tour will come with that. I like that they played mainly classics but fit in some songs from their latest album. Jeff Walker joked that most of the people were in the tent because of the shit weather and a really shit band on the other stage. Not sure if he meant Die Antwoord or Halestorm, so I am assuming he meant Die Antwoord. They fit that description for my tastes at least. Anyhow, main event time to so speak. Slipknot - 10 - Band of the day for me. They were excellent. Could be one of my favourite times seeing them live, but all the times have been pretty great so tough to work out. Opening with People = Shit and Get This was incredible. Unsainted is massive live. It is outrageous when a band can drop a song as big as Before I Forget in the middle of their set as if it is just another song. Slipknot live 2020 has me interested - just not Ally Pally please!


Set off a little bit later after a call to my Dad (it was Father’s Day and all!). I didn’t need to be in first thing, but the queue to get in was relatively quick, so was able to see the first bands on. I headed to the stage where I was planning to start the day to see Redhook – 6. They were a decent enough start to the day.

Black Futures - 9 - I almost walked off when they hadn't started nearly 15 mins into their set, but glad I stuck around because they were excellent. Probably the delay (and subsequent overrun) had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day on that stage, which is a shame. A bit later than planned, but the next stop was to see NXT UK. Arrived as Toni Storm was wrestling Candy Floss, which was decent from what I saw. Xia Brookside v Jinny was also pretty good. The final two matches were ace, Matt Riddle v James Drake and Adam Cole v Zack Gibson. I did have a bit of a chuckle when they had to reshoot a segment with Toni Storm, Candy Floss and Kay Lee Ray (I guess these things happen, but it was hard to be that invested in it). Went back over to 3rd to see Black Peaks, who were due to be on in 5 or so minutes from when I got there, but Heart of a Coward were still on (aforementioned knock on effect). Resolved to missing Black Peaks, I went off to second instead and caught the end of Starset. Starset - 3 - Not for me! I didn't like what I heard. This is the only rating really that is influenced by not enjoying the set, and not really liking the music being played. Perhaps it would be a different story had I listened to them before the festival? Who knows. After them on second stage was State Champs – 5, who I thought were fine - didn't hate it, didn't overly like it either. 

Amon Amarth - 6 were up next and they are always decent, usually immense. I was quite far back for them though, which meant they were pretty quiet from where I was. Also, I bumped into a pal at this point, so was occasionally having a chat and not really paying attention. I may go see them at the end of the year if the price is right (which I tried to find out when typing this and it cannot be found – not liking this trend of gig ticket prices being unknown until they go on sale). Anyway, I cut seeing Amon Amarth short to see Beartooth – 8. First time seeing them and I thought they were bloody great. I need to check them out properly. They are another band who are touring in the UK soon, and it is tempting to drop into London to see them. Back to the main stage where I remained for the rest of the weekend. Lamb of God - 9 were immense as per usual. I loved their set. It was a slightly longer version of the set they played supporting Slayer at Wembley, so hopefully when I see them next they will mix it up, but this was still really good. The penultimate act of the day and indeed the weekend was Smashing Pumpkins – 7. They were one of the "must see's" of the day for me, and it was great to see some of the songs they played. They were good. The stage patter left a little to be desired, but it didn't spoil it for me. According to Setlist FM, they were joined on stage by Myrkur for a cover of Snowblind by Black Sabbath. I don’t think Billy Corgan announced her as Myrkur though, rather her real name (which to my shame, I don’t know). At the time, I remember not knowing who was announced but I have seen Myrkur before. Maybe Setlist FM is wrong, or maybe I just misheard the announcement. Anyway, the cover was cool although it probably meant we didn’t get 1979 played, which is a shame. No matter though, they were a must-see band and they didn’t disappoint. Finally, and oh boy! Tool - 10 – Comfortably band of the weekend. They were incredible. I just wish they could have played for longer. It was all so good, but he high point of the set for me was Vicarious, which I had got into my mind wouldn’t be played as the festival set list appeared to be shorter slightly than the main headline tour one. A comment on the graphics – they were all really cool to look at. It didn’t detract from the band at all that they themselves were not the focus of the cameras. Hope there isn't another 13 year wait to see them again!

All in all, Download 2019 was a decent weekend. Few little complaints here and there, and the weather did make getting about a bit treacherous at times, but it didn't spoil it for me which is cool. It was worth coming out of festival retirement for. I’m not sure now if I will return to festival retirement (indeed, I don’t have another one booked for this year). I guess it will all depend on the line up.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Review: All Points East 2019 (Bring Me The Horizon)

Festival season is well under way and unlike for the last couple of years, where the concept of a music festival was something that other people went to, I’ve been to two one day events so far this year, with a weekend one on the horizon. Yesterday, I went to one of the 6 days of All Points East, the day that Bring Me The Horizon headlined. I’d seen the stories about big portions of the crowd being unhappy with the sound quality for The Strokes the previous weekend, and was slightly concerned about this, but resolved that the organisers would have looked at this and fixed what went wrong. The festival itself is located in Victoria Park in London, which is pretty easy to reach, although the curfew being 11 meant I had to bail a little early to make sure I could get a train home. Unlike the review of Slam Dunk (here) from Tuesday, I can’t really post any negatives because I didn’t experience any. There was a slight hiccup with the first bar I went to, but that got resolved (and other bar queues all day were pretty reasonable), and the only time I experienced an issue with sound, when I moved it was better. No complaints from me! In fact, I would say I had an ace day – great bands, nice beer and decent weather – can’t really ask for more (well, aside from a free ticket but still…). As with the Slam Dunk review (and any other festival review on this here page), there will be a score out of 10 which is based on my own enjoyment of the set.

The way the bill was set out was two main stages with a staggered bill, with any overlap being very minimal. I started off on the smaller North stage to watch Lotus Eater (7). I hadn’t heard of Lotus Eater until their latest EP was reviewed on the Riot Act Podcast. I gave it a listen (it’s good) and decided to go see them here. This was a good decision because they were ace. A great way to start off the day. I wandered off to the East (main) stage to watch Scarlxrd (4) and off the bat, I’ll say it wasn’t for me. There were people near me who were loving it, so I guess that’s something. There was a guy on stage whose main role appeared to be starting the backing track, and dancing. Fine work if you can get it! I didn’t hang about for the whole set, instead deciding to head back to the North stage where I was sure that the next band on would be one of the highlights of my day. However, before getting there, I stopped by the Firestone stage to watch the end of Pengshui (5). I guess on reflection, I would have preferred to see more of Pengshui, but neither them or Scarlxrd were my cup of tea, so to speak. When I did head off to the North stage, I somewhat felt like a Principle Skinner meme:

Up next on North were Employed To Serve (10) who, unsurprisingly at this stage, smashed it out the park. I saw them earlier this month at their London headline show, and a couple of times previous in support slots. They are fast becoming one of those bands who seemingly can’t put on a bad show. This was an immense set. Speaking of immense sets, up next was Black Futures (9). They had a far too brief 20-minute set on the Firestone stage and they were utterly brilliant. Wasn’t familiar with them at all before the festival but that set makes me want to find out more. I wandered off to the main stage where there was a bit of a break plus a chance to get a good spot for the next band on main stage. Next up were IDLES (9). I wanted to get tickets for their April UK tour but failed despite having a chance for the Saturday London show, so when I saw they were playing this, seeing them would be a must. I really enjoyed their set and probably would have said it was set of the day if it had been a bit longer and they played I’m Scum and/or Television (my two personal favourites of theirs). I still loved the set though! After IDLES, it was back to the North stage for Sleeping With Sirens (5). I’m not massively familiar with them, I know I’ve listened to them a handful of times but never properly tried to get into them. If I am to be honest, I didn’t dislike this set, but it didn’t convince me to give them another go when I got home. Musically they were fine but I didn’t like the vocals really. Each to their own I guess.

The scope for a final break presented itself before the final 4 acts of the day, so it was one I took and had my first sit down since arriving. Sitting down is underrated. The next band I saw was While She Sleeps (8) who were ace. Their set made me realise how few of their lyrics I actually know (certainly in comparison to those around me who were screaming along to everything). There was only the one song from their album Brainwashed (my personal favourite) which is a shame but can’t win them all. Oli Sykes of Bring Me The Horizon appeared briefly during Silence Speaks which was cool. Their set was followed up on the main stage by Run The Jewels (8) who were great, both in performance and when speaking to the crowd. One moment was amusing for me which was when they announced they were playing a song we had definitely not heard before (paraphrasing, but said in a sarcastic manner), and then they played a song I didn’t know! (I’m new to Run The Jewels). They played Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) which meant I left happy. After RTJ were Architects (8). My original standing spot would have been a talking point if I didn’t move, as the sound was a bit crap and people around me were all talking. However, after realising I was able to move, I did and the spot I then took up was ace. Previous times I’ve “seen” Architects live were walking past them at festivals, and not really knowing anything about them. This was the first time seeing them proper and they were excellent. The set made me want to see them again, which I guess means job done for them. After Architects, it was time for Bring Me The Horizon (9). All I’d heard about this set was that it was going to be their longest headline set to date, and it would cover all of their albums. The intrigue for me was what would be played before I had to leave, and I can say I was not disappointed with the songs I got to hear. I smiled as the last song I got to hear in full is probably my favourite of theirs (Can You Feel My Heart). Getting to hear Happy Song live was ace, as was seeing Dani Filth and Sam Carter from Cradle of Filth and Architects respectively pop up. I left as Shadow Moses was being played. At that point I thought it was a shame I had to bail, but these things happen. For the time I saw them, Bring Me The Horizon were excellent. Any gripe I had with the set was minor and didn’t spoil it, which is nice.

And that is that. Festival number 2 in the bag. Another one day event, another ace day. I would definitely go again if the line up appealed to me in the way this one did, although I would probably look into getting a hotel next time so I didn’t have to cut out early.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Review: Slam Dunk South 2019

I went to Slam Dunk Festival for the first time this weekend, and wanted to write some thoughts about it, so that is what this blog is. I went to Slam Dunk South in Hatfield, and location wise, it is great. I went via a mixture of a friend driving a bit of the way and then getting the train – the walk from the station to the festival is about 10-15 minutes I’d guess, which is not much at all. The layout of the site is spot on – impressive that you can have 9 stages of music and, for the most part, the sound from the various stages not overlap with each other. I only really have two negatives to say about the day really. The first is one I’ve seen a few people comment on, which is the queues at the bar. I went to the same bar twice when I went, and both times the queue was bad. Of these, the first time was the worst (ended up missing Turnstile)- I queued for about 40 minutes I think, which really isn’t ideal. I saw some comments online about the cash/card issue, but this didn’t impact me as I had both on me, but I could imagine it being annoying if you had just a card and found out most places were cash only (as I was told was the case). The second negative, and it only impacted two sets I watched, was the sound on the open-air stages on occasion. The first time this happened was for Milk Teeth, when it sounded as though they could have done with the instruments being louder. The second was for Bad Religion, who on a whole just sounded as though the volume was turned down a bit. This could have been due to where I was stood, admittedly, but it was something I felt worth noting.

Those two things were my only negatives to say about the day. Overall, I had a cracking day at Slam Dunk – the general atmosphere seemed generally really friendly which was nice. The weather as well was mostly good – bit of rain towards the end of the day but nothing horrific. Earlier I mentioned the location and about using public transport – one confession I will make about my day is that I wasn’t massively fussed about seeing any of the 3 main headliners – All Time Low, NoFX and Bullet For My Valentine. This meant I was able to cut out a little early and catch an earlier quick train. I obviously can’t speak for what it would have been like trying to get a train from Hatfield when significantly more people were trying to get one – so I won’t! That is the general thoughts I have about the festival concluded – the next thoughts will be about the bands I saw throughout the day (with some scores out of 10 based on enjoyment).

My day kicked off watching Cruel Hand (8) on the Key Club Stage. Listened to a little bit of their music before going in but wouldn’t say I was familiar with anything they played, but it was all very good – a great way to kick off the day. After Cruel Hand was one of my favourite bands from the last few years, especially live – Milk Teeth (7). As mentioned previously, I think my enjoyment of their set was hampered by the sound/my standing location/a mixture of both but they were still really good. It was my first time seeing them as a three piece, and it was as good as it was previously when they had 4 members. I also liked hearing them play songs I hadn’t heard them play before, including Stain which is ace. Looking forward to some more new material when the time comes. This was my only visit to the Dickies/Marshall stage throughout the day so can’t comment if the sound got any better or if indeed, it was just where I was stood. Anyway, headed off to the Punk In Drublic Festival stage for the first time after this to see Anti-Flag (9), who were bloody ace. The main take away I had from the set was kicking myself for not going to their co-headline tour they did with Cancer Bats last year – I bet that would have been a fun night out. I’m not massively familiar with a lot of Anti-Flag, but they played some stuff I recognised and all in all, I thought they were great.

A lot of my day was going to be in the tent which held the Impericon and Jagermeister stages. I arrived after Anti-Flag to catch the last song of Knocked Loose (6 – probably would be higher if I saw more). They sounded pretty good. I decided finally to head to this tent at this time rather than try and get a spot in the Key Club Stage to watch Busted. I am very impressed they got a band that sell out arenas to play an unannounced set though. Would they be too pop to headline the whole thing outright? I’m not sure. Anyway, I went to see Wage War (6) who I thought were good. They are another one much like Cruel Hand, in that I checked them out a little bit before I got to the festival but didn’t recognise anything they played whilst there. I liked it though. I left a little early, with the intent of getting a beer and then heading back in for Turnstile, before heading back out again. No rating next to Turnstile because as mentioned earlier, I missed them due to being in the bar queue. Everything I’ve seen about them from this weekend suggests they smashed it, so more fool me and my want to have a beer I guess. I listened/watched a bit of Mad Caddies (5) whilst queuing/occasionally chatting with a person in the queue. They sounded fine but truthfully I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to them (generally was just exasperated at the queuing). The original plan was to watch most of Turnstile, and then head back to the Punk in Drublic stage to watch The Interrupters (10). However, because I wasn’t in the tent, I was able to get a bit closer to the stage for The Interrupters than originally planned and I was pleased that I did because this was one of the sets of the day for me. I loved everything about their set, and only wish it could have gone on longer. I arrived liking what I had heard and left a fan. They are playing Download Festival next month, and I am hoping to be able to see them again.

After the Interrupters, I then spent most of my day inside the tent that housed the Impericon and Jagermeister stages – occasionally heading outside for some sunlight. First up was Cancer Bats (8) who I enjoyed, but probably would have enjoyed more if there wasn’t a group of people in front of me having a chat for the first half of the set. Admittedly, I could have made more of an effort to move, but at the time I recall being fairly tightly packed in, so there wasn’t a great deal of moving space to be done, and by the time there was, they had stopped. Ho hum! Popped out after their set for something to eat and a bottle of water (considered a beer, took one look at the queue, decided against). Headed back in the tent for Silverstein (7) who I loitered towards the back of the crowd for. They were very good though. I recognised some of their songs, but couldn’t tell you where from. I stayed in my spot at the back of the crowd, which meant I was near-ish to the front for The Bronx (10). This was my 4th time seeing The Bronx and I don’t think it is possible for them to put on a bad show. They had a 9 (I think) song set and played 5 of my favourite songs of theirs, which probably helped my enjoyment somewhat. I left the tent after their set to brave the bar queue again, which was bad but not as bad as it could have been (probably helped by meeting a mate who was already queuing) before heading back into the tent for Story of the Year (7). I used their set as an opportunity to sit down and have a rest. They were good, although my favourite bit of the set was when they closed on a medley of covers, including Taking Back Sunday ‘Cute Without The E’, The Used ‘The Taste Of Ink’ and My Chemical Romance ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ (I recognised the first song but for the life of me, can’t think what it was called/who it was by – was hoping to rely on Setlist FM but alas!)

Gallows (8) were up next and if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have guessed they’d been gone for 5 years – they were excellent. I think my enjoyment of the set was increased by them leaning on the first two albums which I am more familiar with than the post-Frank material. Either way they were great, and it’ll be interesting to see what is next for Gallows. What was next on this day was a patchwork version of Atreyu (6). If I have this right, the lead singer couldn’t travel, so they had a stand in drummer, and the usual drummer was handling vocals. Dan Marsala from Story of the Year came out for the first couple as well. They were fine, but I didn’t hang around for too long as I wanted to get a decent spot at the Punk In Drublic stage for what was essentially the headliner for me, Bad Religion (7). The band themselves were really good, as I think you would come to expect from Bad Religion at this point. I was stood off to the right-hand side of the stage, and it just seemed a bit quiet, which was a shame. I still enjoyed the set, but I did find myself thinking about the sound more than once. After a bit of rain, and then a massive rainbow appearing in the sky, it was time for the last bit of live music of the day before calling it. Watched the first two songs of All Time Low (6) who I thought were alright. Was stood quite far away from the stage because of the plan to call it a day, so that was that.

Those were my thoughts on Slam Dunk 2019. Really good festival, really good day out overall. Couple of small gripes but nothing that would stop me recommending going. Indeed, I will be looking at the line up again next year to see if it is to my tastes again. Put some photos up here. No rest for the wicked as I'll be at All Points East on Friday for the Bring Me The Horizon day. 

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Live: Avantasia - Moonglow World Tour @ O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London 16-04-2019

Avantasia played London for the first time in 2016, and it was my gig of that year. When the Moonglow album and tour was announced, and that there would be a London date, I was sold (took me a while to pull my finger out and sort a ticket, but I got it sorted eventually). I plumped for a balcony ticket this time around as I knew it would be a long show and a seat would be quite nice. I had a seat for a gig at the Forum earlier in the year and knew if I wanted to be comfortable for the gig, I would need to get there fairly early to get my place secured. That didn’t quite work out as planned and I arrived at the venue about half an hour after doors opened. After getting a pint (I will always wince at £6 for a pint of passable lager), I wandered over to the upstairs merch table, to see it was cash only. I hadn’t prepared for this eventuality so was unable to purchase a shirt. By the time I got into the balcony though (a good 45 minutes before Avantasia took to the stage), it was rammed, and I was in the upper standing area. Truth be told, I think this would be preferable to one of the bench seats as after a while, they get quite uncomfortable.

Before this gig, I had heard that both Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville were not touring with Avantasia this time around (indeed, Kiske only appeared on one song on the album). I thought this was a shame but completely understandable given the nature of Avantasia not being the day job of anyone on stage (aside, perhaps from Tobi – not sure what the status of Edguy is at this stage). I’d given the album a few listens and really enjoyed it. Not my favourite album by them, but still very good.

Onto the gig itself – The first half of the show leaned very heavily on the new album with 9 of the 12 songs played from it (if you include the cover of Michael Sembello’s Maniac). This was no bad thing for me as I’d listened to the new album and recognised the songs as they were being played. Sometimes I find when listening to a new song from a band I love, it can take hearing it live to fully appreciate it. This is what has happened with a few of the song from Moonglow, in particular Ghost in the Moon and The Raven Child.  On the topic of Maniac being played, that was the first time I’d heard Avantasia play one of the songs they’d covered live, and I really like the fact they included it. I think previously they had only released cover songs on the Lost in Space EPs, which might be why they haven’t been played live before – but I’d love to hear them do either their ABBA – Lay All Your Love on Me or Ultravox – Dancing with Tears in My Eyes covers live (or both!) The other songs which made up the first half of the show were Lucifer, Reach Out for The Light and Dying for An Angel (the latter two getting massive reactions from the crowd).

When I refer to halves of the show, I should stress that the band didn’t go off stage at all (unless they weren’t needed for certain songs). The second half of the show was essentially a best of Avantasia which was bloody ace. I could list highlights from this half of the show, but I would be typing out almost everything they played. I enjoyed the first half the show, without doubt but I did prefer the second half more. I would guess this is due to having lived with the songs longer. Thinking back on this portion of the show, my only complaints are songs that weren’t played rather than ones that were. I would have loved to have heard Draconian Love again (and the guest singer was there, so it could have happened!) as well as The Wicked Symphony. I would have also liked to have heard more from Ghostlights, as I really liked that album. I would guess that a lack of Michael Kiske on this tour informed the decision to not play more from this album. The encore was made up of Farewell and the medley of Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels. If I’m honest, I skipped out as the medley was starting because I was tired at this point and worked out if I left when I did, I could get an earlier (and quicker) train home.

Final thoughts – this show was bloody great. I know I started the last paragraph saying how the band didn’t go off stage unless they weren’t needed, but they were there for more than 90% of the set which is just immense when you consider the show was over 3 hours long. Tobi, as usual, was a superb frontman and excellent showman. He made fun of the balcony fans a few times for not being as lively/active/loud as the standing fans, but it was all in good spirit. As said previously, my only complaints about the show would be about songs not played (when you have a back catalogue like Avantasia’s – it is inevitable songs will have to be left out) and people who weren’t touring this time around. I’ve no idea if Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville were just out for this tour or are no longer a part of Avantasia live (or otherwise). I hope it is just this tour they miss – assuming that is that there will be another tour. I had wondered if there would be another one after the Wacken 2017 show. The announcement of the album and tour was a nice surprise. Tobi did say on stage (in passing) that he wasn’t sure if there would be another Avantasia tour after this. He has said this before, but I can only imagine the undertaking to be able to tour the world with a band that has several guest singers from other bands. This show was ace, and I am sure will be in the conversation again come the end of the year for the top 10 gigs I’ve been to this year (currently been to 8 gigs this year, so it is definitely there at the moment!)

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Live: Behemoth – Ecclesia Diabolica Evropa 2019 E.V tour @ O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London 08-02-2019

I saw that the touring package of Behemoth, At The Gates and Wolves In The Throne Room (WITTR) were touring the USA and I remember thinking that it would be lovely if that would come to the UK. However, my hopes were low as the USA does get some insane touring bills which sadly never make their way here. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was wrong, and this exact touring package would travel round Europe together. The biggest surprises for me about this tour was the price (and how remarkably affordable it was) and the fact it would take place at the O2 Forum. If pressed, I would have thought they might try and hold this at Brixton. At The Gates had a headline show at the same venue in 2014, so I recall also being surprised they were now a support band in the same room (I do recall though it not being the busiest gig I’ve ever been to there). No complaints from me though, because for the most part, I like the Forum. My thoughts about the tour bill before the gig was love heart eyes emoji towards At The Gates, very much looking forward to seeing Behemoth (after seeing them once before at Wacken 2014) and also WITTR were there. I feel as though I should add that I recall trying to get into them some time ago and failing. I tried again before this gig – and failed again.

Looking at what time the doors opened, I felt confident that by leaving the hotel when I did, I would avoid seeing the band I wasn’t fussed about seeing. However, this confidence was dashed when I saw the size of the queue when I turned up. It was either that they hadn’t come on stage yet, or this was a repeat of when Slipknot played Wembley (and seemingly, about 75% of the crowd turned up after King 810). I got in as WITTR had not long started their first song and thought as I was there, I’d give them a chance. On reflection, I am glad I did so because I enjoyed them much more live than I did when listening to them on Spotify. I’m not sure I will go back and listen to them again, but I feared the worst when I realised I hadn’t missed them, and these fears were unfounded.

At The Gates…are bloody great. I’d seen them twice before this night – most recently on the earlier mentioned headline show in 2014 and on their first reunion tour at Wacken 2008. Fun fact, they were a part of one of the best festival runs I’ve ever been at – As I Lay Dying (awkward…but true), Carcass, Killswitch Engage, At The Gates, Nightwish and Kreator. Also, revisiting that running order, I realised I missed Hatebreed for Obituary – I’m sure I had my reasons but if making that choice today, it would be the other way around. Anyway, before going down that rabbit hole any further, At The Gates! They had 40 minutes and they made the absolute most of that time – they were superb. There was very little hanging around between songs aside from for the two/three times Tomas Lindberg talked to the crowd which I really liked. I remember thinking that if I was giving this set a festival score, it would have been a solid 9 out of 10. The one thing I really like about At The Gates at the moment is that they played 12 songs in this set, and 8 came from albums they have released since reuniting. Sure, it would have been nice to hear more from their earlier albums (no Under A Serpent Sun…), but it is nice to see a band have such faith in their post reunion material (and as well they should, because both albums are excellent). I am hopeful that At The Gates will announce a November/December headline run in the UK. Off the back of this set, I would go.

Since getting into Behemoth, I haven’t had many chances to see them live. The big regret was not going to Bloodstock in 2016 and seeing them perform The Satanist in full as that is my favourite album of theirs (and currently what I’m listening to as I type). I also missed then at Download 2014, but they were on stage at the same time as Linkin Park were playing Hybrid Theory in full and that album was instrumental into getting me into metal in the first place. Wonder if there are many people in hindsight annoyed about that clash? Probably not. Anyway, I saw them at Wacken 2014 and I remember them being great, but they were on in the middle of the afternoon/early evening when it was very warm, and that is not the ideal setting for blackened death metal really. I reckon it would be immense if they played as the sun would set there. Because of this, I was very much looking forward to seeing them indoors.

They set the stage up and then put up a curtain to block out the stage, which seemed odd until they used a projector to project an image of a massive upside down cross over an outline of the UK, which was cool. The stage show itself was great, with smoke cannons set up to shoot out upside down crosses, a bit of pyro and some cool lighting. Shout out to the mic stands as well, which looked like mini altars, superb. Setlist wise, they unsurprisingly leaned heavily on their new album (5 of out 14 played came from it) with songs from 4 of their other albums making up the rest. I would have liked for more from The Satanist but I wasn’t disappointed that there were only 2 songs from that album in the set. The set was unrelentingly heavy, to the point that by the end it was like having my ears and body assaulted in the best possible way (aside from the aching back from standing – I’m rapidly coming around to seating at some gigs). I think it is that reason why I was fine with the headline set being 70 minutes long. Sure, a longer set would have been cool, but I didn’t leave feeling short changed at all. Set list highlights for me were:

1)      The opening of Wolves ov Siberia, cause that song rocks
2)      Ora Pro Nobis Lucifier, because The Satanist and it got a very loud roar of approval from the assembled masses
3)      God = Dog because it was the first song from the new album released and it is bloody great.
4)      Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, as that probably prompted the loudest singalong of the night.

Behemoth were bloody great. I’m not sure if they’ll be as good at Download in the middle of the day on the main stage, but if you are going and you like your metal heavy, blackened and death – go and see them. If you don’t, well go see them anyway!

TL;DR version

1)      Wolves In The Throne Room were better than I thought they would be.
2)      At The Gates were superb. I really want to see them live again.
3)      Behemoth were outstanding. I wouldn’t be shocked to be hyperlinking this blog come December when I write my end of year list.  

Saturday, 22 December 2018

2018 - A Year In Live Music

And so, we reach another year end and I find myself wondering why, once again, I’ve not blogged more. I would say that could be a new year’s resolution, but we’ll see. Anyway, at the end of each year, I write a blog about the best gigs I’ve been to in that year, with a list of honourable mentions to accompany. This is never an easy task, especially trying to remember if I enjoyed a gig that happened right at the beginning of the year more than one that is fresh in my mind. However, last year it wasn’t so bad because I only went to 15 gigs. Choosing the 5 that didn’t make the cut was tough, and then it was a case of deciding on an order for the top 10. This year however, all being well, I will have been to 31. I say all being well – these words are being typed as I’ve to 26 of them and have 5 more left this month (for those who couldn’t do the math). It has so far been a bit of a headache trying to narrow these down to the 10 best ones. The only blog I have written this year was one half way through the year due to the number of gigs I’ve been to this year. As such, some of the words you read in this blog may have appeared in the one from earlier this year. With that being said, lets crack on with the honourable mentions, and my word are there a few. These are in chronological order.

Marmozets – Engine Rooms, Southampton. February 2018 – My first gig of the year and one that a week beforehand, I was very excited about as they absolutely smashed it at the Wedgewood Rooms in November 17. 5 days before though, my excitement wasn’t as high to the point I considered missing it due to spraining my ankle. The gig itself was very enjoyable but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, due to the aforementioned ankle injury.

Paradise Lost – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. February 2018 – My second gig of the year and was largely recovered from my ankle injury. I went to this because I’d seen Paradise Lost at a festival before and remember thinking they were decent. I’m not sure if a chance to see them again has come up – if it has I don’t remember it – but they were in my home town on a Friday night. A better chance to see them was unlikely to occur. Anyhow, I arrived while the opening band, King Goat, were on stage. They weren’t really my cup of tea. The main support, Outshine, were good. They made me think they would be what would happen if Oomph! went goth/doom. I enjoyed their set quite a lot. Paradise Lost though were on another level - they were outstanding. I went along to hopefully see a good gig, and left having seen a great one.

Ginger Wildheart – The Joiners, Southampton. March 2018 – The weather was atrocious before this gig, but luckily that did not impact my enjoyment at all. Laura from She Makes War opened, who was good. Ginger, with the band he put together for this tour, was brilliant. Last time I saw a Ginger solo show, it was him and Jase Edwards with backing tapes. That was good, but the additional members of this tour certainly added to the gig.

Milk Teeth – The Anvil, Bournemouth. March 2018 ­- I don’t often go to gigs in Bournemouth and as such, there were a couple of venues I would see appear on tours and want to visit just to say I’d been really. These venues were The Anvil and The Old Fire Station. After seeing them be excellent in Southampton in August 2017, I knew I wanted to see Milk Teeth again. They announced this tour which included a date at The Anvil in Bournemouth – a phrase about 2 birds and 1 stone seems appropriate here. The venue is underneath a bar, and the stage is really low. Anyhow, this time round the supports were Nervus and Fangclub. I really enjoyed both bands, but if made to choose which one I preferred, I would say Nervus. Fangclub, I’m guessing, really like Nirvana. This is no bad thing of course. Milk Teeth were just excellent. This didn’t come as a surprise but was nice to see again.

Skindred – O2 Guildhall, Southampton. April 2018 – Missed Danko Jones because of booze. Caught the end of CKY which was cool. Skindred are one of those bands that are just brilliant live every time. I think this tour was the first UK leg of the Big Tings album tour and they played 3 off the album which all fit in well with their better-known songs. A good time was had by all. Skindred being excellent live might feature again later (spoiler, they do).

Code Orange – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. April 2018 – Fun fact for those that are interested (and didn’t read the previous blog) – I went to this gig just hours after doing a half marathon that hurt a lot. If you were looking for me at this gig, I was the shambles at the back of the room. Lonely Waters opened, who were decent. Employed To Serve, I saw them supporting Milk Teeth in 2017 and they were incredible. I said after that gig that I want to see them again and this was the next possible chance for that to happen and they were probably better which is hard for me to fathom. They were my band of the night and I really want to see them again (had the chance over summer but the least said about that the better). Code Orange were really good. I wasn’t sure what to expect as the first time I saw them live I was somewhat nonplussed. This time though, they really won me over. Also, Bleeding in The Blur live is just wonderful.

Britrock Must Be Destroyed – EventIM Apollo, London. May 2018 – I had to choose between this or the Portsmouth one to make this list and really, it was a cigarette paper between them as to which was the more enjoyable gig for me. Chose the London one in the end for several reasons. The first, on a personal note, I got a message from a girl I’d started seeing the week before that day saying she didn’t want to take things further. I was a bit bummed out when heading to London, and this gig cheered me up so that was nice. Second, I walked in whilst Dodgy had not long left and got to see them play Good Enough, which is the definition of a Britpop banger. Third, Terrorvision blew me away and I totally wasn’t expecting them to. Fourth, The Wildhearts were bloody great as per. Finally, I didn’t stay for much of Reef, but they played the one song I knew. Lovely.

The Wildhearts – Concorde 2, Brighton. August 2018 – No-one is more surprised than me that this didn’t make the top 10. One of my favourite bands playing one of my favourite venues. Genuinely a surprise it didn’t make it. On any other year, I’m sure this would have made it. Gig was opened by Raging Speedhorn who were good. I somehow forgot how heavy they are. Might have been better suited if they supported/co-headlined with Mutation – a Ginger Wildheart side project, but they didn’t seem too out of place. The Wildhearts played a best of set which could not be faulted, heavy on Earth Vs but you won’t catch me complaining about that. The main highlight for me was the band playing Anthem from Endless, Nameless with Danny on lead vocals. I love that song and saw it live once before (at a birthday bash I think) with a guest vocalist doing lead vocals – so it was bloody cool to see Danny doing it as he did on the album. It was an excellent night out and was very close to making the top 10. If I could be allowed one criticism, and it is such a minor one - I thought that as new material had been played at recent acoustic shows, that this may be the show that it be debuted with the full band. It didn’t happen which was a shame. That aside, no complaints.

Marmozets – O2 Forum Kentish Town, London. October 2018 – How is this not in the top 10? Insanity. Anyway, Jamie Lenman opened this show and he was excellent – made me really regret not being able to make his headline show in Portsmouth earlier in the year. I suspect that would have been good fun. Marmozets were just as excellent, if not better. Seeing them in smaller rooms, such as I had up until this point, was awesome, but it was great to see them headline the Forum and hopefully now they will continue to headline venues of this size and bigger – the songs are more than good enough to justify it!

Skindred – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. November 2018 – Two Skindred gigs this year and both of them make the honourable mentions list. Both of these gigs have been boozy affairs, but this one was quite something. I was 7 pints deep before setting foot in the venue which isn’t an ideal state of affairs. Missed the opening band and walked in during the main support who didn’t do a lot for me. Skindred however were bloody great. I’ve seen them hold a festival crowd in the palm of their hands, so to see them do it again but on such a small scale was something else. A lot of the stage patter was the same as it was at the gig earlier in the year, but this didn’t take anything away from the gig. Skindred being excellent live is almost as certain as death and taxes.

Within Temptation – O2 Academy Brixton. November 2018 – Won tickets for this gig, which was handy as I was thinking about buying tickets when that happened. The support band for the night did nothing for me, I can’t lie. This was comfortably the best I’ve seen Within Temptation live, although I think this was the only time I’ve not seen them play Ice Queen live, which was a shame as I bloody love that song. No matter though! It not being there didn’t spoil the gig by any means. I was thinking about ending this with a sarcastic comment, something to the effect of me getting my money’s worth out of this one – but actually had I bought tickets for this, I wouldn’t have felt cheated out of my money – Within Temptation were great.

Fireball Tour – O2 Empire Shepherds Bush. December 2018 – There are a few in this list that could have easily made the top 10 in other years, but alas. Missed the first two bands due to being responsible with the amount I was drinking (lies, lies and damned lies) but got in during Face to Face. Saw probably half their set and they were good. The Bronx, muddy vocals aside, were bloody brilliant but then they are really. It was pretty lively from the off, including the first song I think when a crowd surfer kicked my glasses off my face (I was impressed with myself for catching them out of the air). The best band of the night though were the headliners, Flogging Molly. Firstly, it has been a long time since I’ve been in a mosh pit for a gig, and it was a lot of fun. Secondly, my word Flogging Molly are just brilliant live.

Bury Tomorrow - O2 Forum Kentish Town, London. December 2018 – Bury Tomorrow are a band who I first saw in 2014 and although despite me having nothing but positive memories of the shows in that year, did not mention them in that year’s yearend review blog. Not sure why now, but no matter. One thing which should be mentioned though is that since then, they somewhat dropped off my radar mostly until this year when they released a belting album and announced this tour. Walked in to catch the opening band, Crystal Sky, play their last song. They sounded good. Cane Hill were up next, and I was looking forward to seeing them and they were decent, although my enjoyment of them was somewhat hampered by nearby folk having a loud chat which was distracting. 36 Crazyfists were the main support and they were bloody great – they made me regret missing their most recent Portsmouth show (I had it in my mind it was this year, but I’m now not sure when it was). Bury Tomorrow were immense. Their set was pretty short but was top draw from beginning to end. Had they played Lionheart, I may have had no choice but to shoehorn it into the top 10. As it is, alas. Fine margins this year!

It was tough to not include some of those in the top 10 gigs of the year, but by the numerical value attached to the list suggests, there are only 10 spots available and they have gone to the following gigs

The Top 10

10.          Nightwish – SSE Arena, London. December 2018

Firstly, a bit of honesty. I went to the Nightwish Wembley Arena show in 2015 with Arch Enemy which I thought was very good (no.5 in the 2015 list) but I wasn’t that fussed about going to this one. I like Nightwish, but in the time between the 2015 gig and now, they had fallen into the territory of a band who I liked but didn’t feel the need to see live again. However, I got talked into going and as it got closer, I got more excited about it. Checked out the support band, Beast in Black, a few days before and they sounded ace, which certainly helped me look forward to it more.
As it is, I ended up not seeing the support band due to a clash with Star Wars being on TV in the hotel, and that finishing whilst they were on stage (in my defence, it was episode 4 – I’m not a monster). Nightwish themselves though were superb. The set list was great and contained songs I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen them play live before. When I left the venue, I turned to the mate who convinced me to go and said basically what I said at the top of this entry – I wasn’t fussed about going, and that gig reminded me why I really like Nightwish. Pretty sure there won’t be a question mark over going next time, provided I can of course.

9.            Kreator/Dimmu Borgir – Roundhouse, London. December 2018

This is the first of 2 tour packages that appear in this list and although it is listed as a Kreator/Dimmu Borgir co-headline show - the strength of this one, and its position on the list, is largely down to the show as a whole. Bloodbath opened things up and I enjoyed their set. Didn’t know any of their songs but I wanted to see them due to a story I had heard about the singer, Nick Holmes, introducing the band as being from Stockholm, Sweden. This in itself is fairly unremarkable aside from the fact he is from Yorkshire and says that introduction with a Yorkshire accent – which sounded funny (and was so when he said it at this gig). Anecdotes aside, they had a good set. Next up was Hatebreed and they were excellent. It was almost as if they acknowledged they had a limited amount of time and just blistered through their back catalogue. Before the show, I thought they stuck out a little bit on the bill, a point which they highlighted by saying that mixed genre shows are the future. They also announced a 25th anniversary run through the UK in June. Based off of this set, I want to go to that.
Dimmu Borgir were the first of the two headliners on and they were excellent as well. I remembered earlier in the day that Dimmu had released a new album and checked out the songs they were playing live from it – all 3 of which are great. I had forgotten just how good Dimmu are live and their 70-minute set certainly was a reminder. A nod should be given to their stage show, which was pretty ace. The gig could have ended there, and it would have been great. However, Kreator were still to come. I noted that a few people near me in the seating area left which is a shame. I’ve seen Kreator a few times now and know how good they are live, but I felt the bar had been set high by Hatebreed and then raised by Dimmu Borgir – and I was wondering if Kreator could top it. They were filming their set for a DVD, so I suspected they would have a big show and…well that they did! Their show contained video screen backdrops, confetti and, what came as a big surprise to me, a lot of fire. There is something about fire at a gig which is always cool. Stage show aside though, Kreator were bloody great – as good as Dimmu & Hatebreed, if not better. Their set list was immense, and this show probably ranks as my favourite of all the Kreator sets I’ve seen.

8.            Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Roundhouse, London. May 2018

I wanted to go to the first Lost Evenings festival but unfortunately couldn’t make it. When the second installment was announced, I knew I had to go to at least one night of it. The one I ended up going to was the celebration of Love, Ire and Song where, I thought, the album would be played in full. It wasn’t advertised as such, but I assumed it would be. I was wrong, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the gig overall (something you may have guessed, being that I have put it in my top 10 of the year!). Caught the very end of Emily Barker, who I thought sounded really good. I was very excited to see The Subways live again as the previous times I did I thought they were great. This set was no exception, the only difference being that it would appear I was one of maybe a dozen in the crowd who thought so. The band were great, but the crowd from where I was just didn’t seem to care.
Onto Frank and the Sleeping Souls. If you’ve read one of these before (I’m guessing not), you may note that this band have appeared in quite a few of my end of year lists. Once again, they were just superb. It was a cool setlist because not only was it a celebration of Love, Ire and Song, there were also a few older, rarer songs played as well including a cover of a song by The Postal Service. I was surprised that nothing newer than Love, Ire and Song was played, especially as Frank had not long released a new album before this festival. It was a unique set though and I loved it.

7.            Cancer Bats – The Underworld, London. April 2018

Before lobbing superlatives at Cancer Bats, a firm nod of approval should be given to both supports, both of whom were very different to one another, Funeral Shakes being a rock n’ roll band and Death by Stereo being a hardcore punk band. Both were really good though. Gun to my head, I would say I preferred Funeral Shakes but take nothing away from Death by Stereo because they were great.
This show was Cancer Bats playing Hail Destroyer in full. The first time I saw Cancer Bats was in 2009 on what was essentially the Hail Destroyer tour which I remember was a short headline set but it blew me away. 10 years on and they were playing this album in full and it was incredible. I loved hearing the songs that don’t usually get a live airing, alongside all the classics which will regularly find their way into a Cancer Bats set list. I also liked the anecdotes throughout, including one moment where Liam was being very gracious towards the crowd, thanking everyone for their continued support. It was a really nice moment, but then the band launched into Sorceress – which is probably one of the most aggressive from the album. The band kicked off the show with 3 songs from Dead Set on Living, which is no poor way to start a Cancer Bats show. The encore of 2 new songs, Pneumonia Hawk and N.I.B (a Black Sabbath cover) capped off a breath-taking evening. Best CB show I’ve been to? Would certainly be in the top 3.

6.            Epica – O2 Forum, London. April 2018

Top to bottom, this show was excellent, probably the best Epica show I have been to. This show was almost lower in the list for one setlist omission, but I decided I couldn’t justify that as it was bloody great overall. If Essence of Silence was played (like it was at other stops on this tour), it would likely have been higher in the list (as it would have made the gig damn near perfect for me). This was the 3rd Epica headline show I’ve been to and one of the reasons it was my favourite is because it had by far the best support bill. The gig was opened by Oceans of Slumber – a band who I first heard a few years ago and remember being blown away by but didn’t really keep up with. They were great live. The main support was Myrkur, who was also really good.
Epica were immense. This show was their 999th show with the next night in their home town (I think) being their 1000th show. Aside from the previously mentioned lack of Essence of Silence, the show was faultless. What this show did for me was made me realise how good some of the songs from their latest album was. I probably would have realised it earlier, but I missed the Shepherd’s Bush headline show at the beginning of 2017 due to transport issues. Anyway, this isn’t about a missed show, it is about the one I went to. 3rd time seeing Epica at the Forum, and the 3rd time they were bloody great. I can definitely see me going to see them again.

5.            Slayer - SSE Arena, London. November 2018

SLAYER! (Doesn’t quite have the same impact when typed. No matter). This tour was part of Slayer’s farewell tour and it seemed like a good time to see them indoors for the first time. I probably would have gone to see Slayer anyway, but the touring package certainly helped sell it. The opening band were Obituary, who I saw at Wacken in 2008 and thought they were decent. I missed the first couple of songs but got in for most of their set and very much enjoyed them. Next up was Anthrax and they had about 40 minutes, in which they just filled the time with the bangers from their back catalogue and everyone had a lovely time. Do Anthrax need to play longer than 40 minutes anymore? Probably not. The main support was Lamb of God who laid waste to Wembley Arena. It was the first time I’d seen them for a while, and the last time indoors the sound was questionable (Southampton Guildhall…) but based off of this performance, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lamb of God headlining the big room at some point.
I’ve seen Slayer a few times at festivals now. The first time, Machine Head fresh off releasing the Blackening set a bar they just could not meet which was a shame. The other two times at Sonisphere were both really good. This show was by far the best Slayer show I’d been to. The show top to bottom was just superb and as I was heading out the venue, it was without doubt in my mind this show would be in the top 10. As it happens, it just sneaked into the top 5. Farewell Slayer!

4.            Zeal and Ardor – The Haunt, Brighton. December 2018

This is a show I’ve wanted to go to since I first listened to the debut album, and immediately had to listen to it again because it was like nothing else I’d ever heard before. This year they released their second album (although I’ve heard the brains behind Zeal and Ardor refer to it as the debut album, with the first one being little more than a demo…either way) and it was bloody great. If I was doing a favourite albums of the year list, it would be in the top 3 probably (having a knife fight with Idles and Ghost). They’ve done 2 London shows before this tour that I’ve been unable to make which has been annoying and, on this tour, I couldn’t make the London show again due to being at the Fireball tour. It was either Brighton and a hotel or missing Z&A again. I found a hotel which was perhaps a 15 second walk away from the venue which was affordable and so, Brighton was a go! I almost didn’t go in to see the support band (was watching the Man in The High Castle) but I am glad I did – blanket were very good.
Zeal and Ardor were fucking great. I had no idea how they would replicate their sound live which added to my excitement of seeing it live. 4 vocalists on stage for the gang chanting which was quite something. The stage at The Haunt was quite small so to see all those people crammed onto it was pretty cool. I loved hearing the first/demo album material, but the new album music live was massive. Also, they played Row Row which I have fully fallen in love with. I will definitely see them live again if the opportunity presents itself. Amazing.

3.            Ghost – Royal Albert Hall, London. September 2018.

An evening with Ghost at the Royal Albert Hall was something I didn’t want to pass on, and although I was unable to get a floor standing ticket (instead located in my usual RAH haunt of the upper standing circle), this gig was bloody great. The stage show was done as though the gig was taking place in a cathedral which was pretty cool. I’m no Ghost expert, in fact I would say it is the new album that won me over. This gig though, not that I needed it, helped me get fully on board with Ghost. The music is great and live they are immense. When I saw them at a festival some years ago, I found them interesting. On this day, I was blown away. This gig was almost gig of the year but on reappraisal, there were 2 others I enjoyed more. That isn’t to take anything away from Ghost – if this band aren’t headlining Download at some point, then something has gone wrong. They have the songs, they have the show. They just need the chance and if this show is anything to go off, they would succeed. I’m not sure if they could take a 15-minute break in the middle of their set without losing the crowd, but who knows.

2.            Volbeat – House of Vans, London. May 2018.

Well, this was something. I had spent some serious time trying to work out if I could make one of Volbeat’s headline shows that were, relatively speaking, not that far away (if you consider that I went to Copenhagen to see them last year). I couldn’t get to Manchester or Glasgow because I couldn’t get the time off work, and Belfast was ruled out because the cost of flights and a hotel were prohibitive (I’ve learned my mistake about not booking a hotel for a Belfast gig before – add 5 years on to that and I do not want to be outside a Tesco overnight instead of in a bed). Dublin was do-able but pricey. After a bit of logic kicked in, I decided against going and felt sad about it. Then, Volbeat announced they were doing a House of Vans show. I skipped out of work early and headed to London to join the queue as early as I could, in a tunnel that smelt very much of spray paint – some of the art on the walls was pretty cool though! This gig was a first come first served type situation, so when I got there, I had a good feeling about getting in, but felt slightly nervous about the whole thing until I had the wristband on. First time at the venue and it was a very cool setting for a gig. No support, just a Volbeat headline show and my word was it good. Similar set list to the one I saw in Copenhagen but that didn’t take anything away from it for me. I’d gone from seeing this band in a sold-out stadium (which held just shy of 50k) to an underground venue with maybe 600 people in. Amazing. Volbeat are bloody incredible live and are one of those I will want to see whenever they come to the UK (or in nearby countries). I will not go into my usual rant about how they should be bigger in the UK (they bloody should be though!)

1.            Nine Inch Nails – Royal Albert Hall, London. June 2018.

I so wanted to see them at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown festival they were playing one night of. I couldn’t get tickets and that was a real shame. When this one at the Royal Albert Hall got announced, I was a bit more hopeful I would get a ticket and was successful. Black Moth Super Rainbow opened this gig, continuing the pattern of me not really liking bands that open for Nine Inch Nails (in fact, there has only been one I’ve genuinely liked). This was my first time seeing NIN since they were over here in 2014 and I had forgotten just how good they are live. Some of the new material from the 3 EPs released in the last 2 years or so are just massive live, and the cool thing for me about the setlist was that because of this new material, almost half the set was made up of songs I’d not seen them play live before. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen NIN quite a few times at this stage, and this gig could be the best NIN show I’ve been to. It is certainly in the conversation that is for sure. Part of the reason for this must be the fact it was at the Royal Albert Hall. Previously, whenever I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve been in the gallery standing area. I’ve been fine with this because usually, these are the cheapest tickets. I’ve often wondered if being lower down is worth the money. To stand on the floor for this one I think cost £20-25 more, and to answer that question – it was certainly worth it. My word was it worth it. It got me thinking of other gigs I’ve seen there, and I can now see why people would pay more to sit down there for most things (I’ve wondered since how much more I would have enjoyed Pulp and David Gilmour there, had I been downstairs). That band and that venue fit together perfectly.
Most of these words were written months ago. Looking back on it now, and having gone to quite a few gigs since, only one has really challenged it for the top spot (and that one ended up finishing 3rd, go figure). Ghost aside, this was the clear favourite for me as the best gig I’ve been to in 2018. NIN are one of those bands who I can go a long time without listening to properly, but when something like this happens, I remember why they are one of my favourite bands. Wonderful stuff.

And that is that. 2018 is over, gig wise. I’m very lucky that I was able to go to as many gigs as I’ve been to this year. I’m hopeful I’ll be at a few in 2019. Ones already booked include Cancer Bats in Portsmouth (the second round of Beers Before Bats!), my first Persistence tour which is co-headlined by Sick Of It All and Napalm Death with a strong looking undercard, Milk Teeth in Southampton, Frank Turner in Bournemouth, Behemoth with At The Gates in London, While She Sleeps in London and Metallica at Twickenham. Already looking pretty good!