Defenders Of The Faith - Birmingham Academy - Wednesday 23rd April 2008

There was a time when bands toured with one support act. Doors opened at 7.00pm, support act on stage at 7.30pm and played for between 30 and 45 minutes. Headliners usually appeared at 8.45 and played as long as they saw fit.... Nowadays we have multiple supports and unusual start times in a scary mirroring of Sky's bastardisation of football (why is Saturday at 3.00pm such a ridiculous time to kick off? Oops sorry, get off the soapbox and stick to music!)

My ticket clearly stated doors open at 7.00pm and yet by the time I sauntered into the venue at 7.15pm Three Inches Of Blood had already played their set. Hmmm. The bands I saw therefore were...

DevilDriver. Musically ok if unspectacular, their set will be remembered by many for the excessive use of flash lighting. Genuinely couldn't see the band for much of their set. Anyone with epileptic tendencies would have been carted out very early on, yet there were no warnings in the venue. Completely detracted from what the band were trying to achieve. Tight enough as a band, I found them very cliched and predictable in a modern power metal kind of way. Vaguely recognised the last track from a sampler or two. Ordinary.

Arch Enemy. Still too much flash lighting but nowhere near as excessive as the previous set. I got into this band relatively recently and still maintain "Doomsday Machine" is their benchmark work. Very polished performance, but they seem to be losing their earlier aggression. Way too many solos, the drum solo being mind-numbingly dull and why are they playing "Ravenous" as their second song? Respect that they have to get a crowd on side, but this is one of their standout tunes and needs to be kept in reserve to be unleashed in the last couple of songs or so. Played the classics you would expect; "We Will Rise", "Dead Eyes See No Future", "Nemesis" and "My Apocalypse" forming the cornerstone of their set. They are increasing in confidence as a unit, think I need to see them headlining again to really form a considered opinion. Enjoyable enough but they seem to be compromising their earlier brutality somewhat.

Opeth. Thanks to the sound engineer for the setlist. Got just over an hour on stage and what they played was incredible. Promised a full headlining tour when the new album is released which could go down in rock folklore. Started the night with "Demon Of The Fall" off "My Arms Your Hearse" followed up by "Serenity Painted Death" from "Still Life". What a start! Very few bands can match their level of musical ability, staggeringly technical. Michael Akerfeldt is an engaging and charismatic frontman, his lengthy introductions between songs are always entertaining (although there is still the "get on with it" contingent to contend with..). "Ghost Reveries" was visited next with an amazing version of "The Baying Of the Hounds" before "Damnation" was plundered for "In My Time Of Need". "Wreath" off "Deliverance" was up next; apparently this has never been played live before and there were apologies in advance should it fail, which it didn't. The new album "Watershed" is due soon; if "Heir Apparent" is anything to go by it will be a worthy successor to "Ghost Reveries". Wonderful song played like an old classic. "Drapery Falls" from "Blackwater Park" concluded the evening in typically stylish fashion.

Staging ruined DevilDriver's set, the flash lighting was a huge mistake. Arch Enemy grow in confidence with each performance, at the expense of aggression. Opeth continue to amaze and are at the forefront of avant-garde technical rock. Can't wait for the new album to be released and the full tour dates to be announced. Could well be the hottest ticket of the year.



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