Just when we all begin believing that the coldest weather is behind us in Britain, our beloved weather can turn. So it is, once again, brass monkeys and we’re all struggling to pay for our heating, so what better way to stave off the frostbite than gathering in someone else’s place (O2 Forum’s) with your fellow man to use their heating and get a beer jacket on? That there is music to be enjoyed is a bonus – most of us are just glad for not feeling bad putting the heating on! Regardless of all that, how were the bands?
Self-styled as a “miserable band from a miserable town”, Hull’s Mastiff took to the stage to open proceedings for the night and went about making the crowd’s first taste of live music for the night about as heavy as possible. Truly, if the crowd were hoping for a gentle introduction to their evening’s revelry then these purveyors of sludge and hardcore were all too happy to put paid to that with brutal renditions of the likes of “Midnight Creeper” and “Vermin”. As impressive as it is on record, the band’s ability to change it up on a sixpence is far more so live as they switched between bludgeoning breakdowns and rapid-fire blasts of dissonance with nary a problem.
There is a rather endearingly earnest and down-to-earth quality to the band that comes across during their set, with vocalist Jim Hodge indulging in a little inter-song patter, alongside supping from a beer. The fact that their stage presence was pushed further forward owing to the headliners’ stage show gave the whole set a certain level of intimacy – certainly not an expected occurrence on one of the capital’s bigger venues. If the crowd seemed a little unbothered to begin with, they were definitely onside by set’s end as the pit had opened up, and the Hodge-led chant railing against the party currently in government proved the final unifier between ban and crowd. Mastiff may be supposedly ‘miserable,’ but they sure left the stage having brought some cheer to the beginning of the evening.
From the bludgeoning heavy, to the more techy side of things, Veil Of Maya were up next and brought a certain levity to the fold after the thunderous opening act. Suitably warmed-up in many ways, the crowd were very receptive to the American metalcore merchants, and the band duly delivered an enthralling set of some of their finest. Featuring a more varied vocal style than their curtain-raising counterparts, the band’s vocalist, Lukas Magyar, was absolutely on-point from first to last. Flowing effortlessly from growls and screams to soaring vocal melodies, Magyar provides a fine focal point around which the band’s technical bounce revolves.
A flurry of energy on-stage, the band capably tore through track after track, finding time to debut one of their newest songs in ‘Godhead’ much to the crowd’s delight. It is fortunate, then, that their energy and effort is such, because the night’s mix left a lot to be desired. Live engineering is a tricky beast where so many factors need to be considered in order to deliver a balanced and audible mix to a crowd, but Veil Of Maya’s set suffers from a distinct lack of guitar high-end, with Marc Okubo’s fretboard gymnastics all in vain and lost amongst a more bass-heavy sound. Still, the crowd did not seem to mind and were so into the show that closer ‘Mikasa’ was interrupted and cut short due to fears of an injury in the pit. Props to Magyar for spotting it, but it was a bit of a limp finish to an otherwise explosive ride.
When designing a setlist, the school of thought is to open with a bang to enrapture the crowd and put your best foot forward the moment you step on the stage boards. Avatar were clearly taking that to heart with their headline set. With plenty of build-up, the band took to the stage with pyrotechnics and verve, tearing into the Forum with the title track from their latest album ‘Dance Devil Dance’. A flurry of coordinated headbanging from the string’s men and drummer John Alfredsson’s stiff, robotic performances made for an exciting visual spectacle, yet it is Avatar mainman, Johannes Eckerström, who runs the show.
Whether it is his crazed, maniacal eyes and wide, Joker-esque smile, his twisted ringmaster stage persona or his masterful inter-song chatter (including a euphemism-laden suggestion that the evening’s performance will change all in attendance), Eckerström can hold a crowd with rapt attention. Yet, of course, it is his vocal ability that should make the most compelling argument, and he delivers in spades, with the likes of ‘Bloody Angel’ and ‘Puppet Show’ dispatched with aplomb.
If a concert is a celebration of music and a big time excuse for a party, then what party is complete without balloons? Happily, Eckerström and his merry men were on-hand to handle that, with ‘Puppet Show’ taking a break midway through to allow for the main man to perform a balloon show, alongside a brief rendition of the ‘Pink Panther’ theme and a trombone solo (played by Eckerström atop the stairwell). If all that was not bonkers enough, pre-encore closer, ‘A Statue Of The King’ celebrated guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby by draping him in an elegant robe and crown, with regal backdrops unfurled in his honour, which he dutifully lapped up, as did the crowd.
Of course, the headline band is always the star of the show, so it is expected that those in attendance is super receptive to the performance of their favourite band. Yet somehow, Avatar managed to eke out even more from those in the pit, with ‘Smells Like A Freakshow’” and ‘Hail The Apocalypse’ damn-near bringing the house down. If you were one of the drearier static-types in the pit, you wouldn’t have been by the time Avatar took their final bow and headed off for a well-deserved kip. An insane show, and one that delivered variety and a little bit of theatre/circus in vast quantities – many a headliner should take note in how to wind up their tour from this.
It might be typical of the end of a show, especially the final night of a tour, but those venturing back out into the cold February night will have been doing so smiling with one akin to Eckerström’s. Metal quite often feels rather serious and staid when it comes to shows, yet the varied nature across all three bands ensured that there was a little something for everyone to latch onto. Yet it is Avatar’s bombast that made for such a wonderful slice of fun, and should make them essential concert viewing for the future. Download Festival is coming up…