Saturday, 10 January 2015

KREATOR / Arch Enemy / Shining & Marty Friedman @ Manchester Academy, Manchester UK, Friday 19th December 2014

The first thing that strikes you upon arrival at the Manchester Academy on this damp, typically dreary Winters night – even if it is Friday – is that this is far from a sell out. The mega bill has not quite quenched as many people’s thirsts as was intended it seems, and as I make my way inside there are still tickets available on the door. As such, the atmosphere was never really able to ramp itself up to any real dizzying altitude as far as intensity is concerned, but all three acts still went on to deliver robust, riff fattened sets, despite the slightly disappointing attendance.

Billed as Shining & Marty Friedman, the ex-Megadeth gunslinger’s early absence from the stage was extremely noticeable – he didn’t appear until half way through the set – which, for one, infuriated the journalists and photographers in the room, for which there were many enjoying one final metal bash before the festive break, knowing that we could only capture the first three songs of the set for our respective reviews.

And so, while Shining ploughed through an erratic ‘The One Inside’, a snarling, thumping ‘Fisheye’ and an unchained ‘My Dying Drive’, there hung a dark cloud of one unanswered question overhead that I need not state here. That’s not to say that the Norwegian black jazz quintet were disappointing – far from it. Despite sound issues which saw the sax too loud at points whereas the rhythm guitar, the instrument adding the needed aggression here, was too quiet, they played those tracks with a true conviction.

Jorgen Munkeby prowls the stage, stabbing viscous glares at the audience, treating them like his minions and drawing the eye straight towards him. Schizophrenic saxophone wheezed and walloped and the overall sound was, as ever, received with either confusion and disgust or confusion and elation. Either way their unique sound raised some eyebrows, winning as many fans as it did alienate others; watching people’s responses was proof positive that this band have something different, unearthly if you will. The success of this first trio of songs depends on personal opinion – mine was that I loved it.

Then Friedman did at last take to the stage, first ripping through ‘Meat Hook’ – a collaboration off his latest album, ‘Inferno’ with none other than Munkeby before a slow, drawn out but dazzling romp through King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ – a staple in Shining’s sets but here with additional guitar wizardry courtesy of Friedman – closed proceedings stylishly.   

Arch Enemy then stampeded onto stage, all guns blazing. ‘War Eternal’ provided the first crushing blow with new front woman Alissa White-Gluz – handpicked by the woman she would replace – a commanding presence. She had the crowd in her sweaty palms from the off, all the while guitarists Michael Amott and new boy Jeff Loomis staggering us all with blurred fingers, hellish arpeggios and rampant runs. Then you take a step back, take the entire stage in your periphery and realise the vast transformation that this band has taken recently. With a show-stopping new front woman and a wondrous axesmith in Jeff Loomis – both big hitters in their own rights who are sure to lure their own fans down Arch Enemy’s crooked path – they’ve become the musical equivalent of a football team being bought out by a gluttonous oil baron, hell-bent on flashing his wads of cash to bring in star names to the club. As someone who has never really delved into Arch Enemy’s back catalogue, they’ve all of a sudden become an exciting prospect to me and they deliver upon that excitement excellently.

The thing is, this is still Amott’s band. The new attractions may draw the eye a little like a child playing with his new Christmas presents while his beloved building blocks stand stacked in the corner, but there is no doubting who rules the roost here. These are Amott’s songs and this is his band and the respect that revolves around him here is unquestionable.

’Ravenous’ bursts out in a fashion of pathetic fallacy before ‘My Apocalypse’ rips open the pit and ‘You Will Know My Name’ has the crowd in full voice, a projected screen beaming the lyrics for all to see behind them. New single ‘As The Pages Burn’ shows that the Alissa era of the band is hardly going to be a puny, apologetic one: This is a full frontal assault of brutality, aggression and a deep melodicism that makes itself at home amongst grinding riffs. Kreator then, have an almost unassailable sea to call their own.

No band, however, could have lasted as long and as prodigiously as Kreator if they didn’t have the goods to deliver. Moreover, they surely wouldn’t have brought such fantastic bands along for the ride were they not confident of giving them a sonic punishing. In short, they blitzed the Academy with a 18 strong track set of anarchistic, thrash-founded, Slayer driven thrash metal.  

’Violent Revolution’ whips up a frenzy, with lofted horns and banging heads, its simple, gargling chorus packing a real punch. ‘Enemy of God’ couldn’t sound any more like Slayer if they tried, all tremolo picked riffs, machine gun blast bits and spat hating lyrics, but the effect it has on a crowd is to be applauded.

As they plough through their set on a stage adorned with monsters, a big screen of horrific videos matching their rather nasty lyrical themes, they capture the real sense of occasion tonight. Sure, the less than capacity audience don’t make for the intensity of a sold out show, but everyone here is clearly well into another solid set from the Germanic quartet.

Lead guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö impresses the most with an ear for memorable, adventurous solos while frontman Mille Petrozza’s lead work consists of unimaginative chromatic noise and incessant dive bombs that tire themselves out after several bars every time, but when they join forces and harmonise they stand mightily tall.

The likes of ‘Suicide Terrorist’, ‘Impossible Brutality’ and ‘Hordes of Chaos’ are as ferocious as ever: unarguable thrash metal excellence that brings the set to its final, dramatic foray.

A smashing cover of Maiden’s ‘Number of the Beast’ – just days before metalhead’s checked the charts in the hope that metal could once more topple the X Factor – and a damn good, floor shaking, pit erupting ‘Flag of Hate’ had all leaving with sore necks and spread smiles.        

Talking honestly, Kreator are not a band I listen to of my own accord, but whenever I get the chance to see them live, I take it. In the flesh, they are as entertaining as bands like this come, especially considering my limited knowledge of their music. Arch Enemy do however, steal the show from a personal standpoint as the infectious melodies that unfurl betwixt their trademark ear battery is more linear with my own personal tastes, but nothing could be taken away from Kreator’s performance. The last gig of 2014 for so many of us here tonight, and a damn fine way to end, a damn fine year.

Words: Phil Weller