||AVENGED SEVENFOLD TAKE 'THE STAGE' TO... WELL... THE STAGE!
Avenged Sevenfold: o2 Arena, London
Saturday 21st January 2017
1st February 2017
Words: Luke Milne, Pictures, Robert Sutton
On the night of 21st January, the towering screens hugging the stage of the O2 Arena in London flashed with lightning-bolt charges of electric energy, complimenting the striking visage of Avenged Sevenfold's M Shadows as he belts into the chorus to 'Hail To The King'. It's a track known well enough to the crowd that he needn't have worried too much about even lifting his mic to his face – the air is thick with the force of thousands of adoring fans blasting the words right back to the talented vocalist, and it's truly a sound like no other.
Alas, I'm getting ahead of myself, and you're probably wondering just how we got here in the first place. Let's dial it back a bit...
Kicking off their UK tour at Glasgow's SSE Hydro on January 10th, modern Heavy Metal giants Avenged Sevenfold have most recently been celebrating the success of their seventh studio album 'The Stage'. The band, who have won numerous accolades over the course of their eighteen years in the industry, saw the winter release shoot into the Top 20 rankings of multiple album charts across the globe, and it has even been labelled a "masterpiece".
Joined by Swedish act In Flames and Chicago's Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, known to fans simply as A7X, took to the stages of England's arenas, signing off the UK leg of their tour with two hot performances at the O2 Arena before departing for mainland Europe. MetalTalk's experience began with an interview with In Flames vocalist Anders Friden which aired on The Sunday Slam on 22nd January and you can listen right here.
Often hailed as one of the pioneering acts of the melodic death Metal genre, In Flames also unveiled a new studio album recently, their twelfth in some twenty-seven years of activity, and offered the opening performance of both nights at London's iconic venue. The band crafted their setlist to include a myriad selection of their finest tracks from their twelve studio releases, with fans and newcomers alike treated to a performance which meandered through differing stylistic choices adopted by In Flames through over three decades of life.
Though some focus lay on their latest release during their performance, Friden has explained that he wanted fans of the band to be able to enjoy a highlight reel of their career, whilst simultaneously inviting newcomers to delve into their extensive back catalogue of material. It proved a strong decision from the band, and the resulting performance at the O2 Arena served well to warm the crowd ahead of the main support and headline acts.
The Swedish act moved around the stage with marked ease, demonstrating a familiarity with arena performances that can only be formed from three decades of exposure to the industry. The stage had been extended with a walkway that cut through the centre of the standing crowd, offering Friden and his bandmates the opportunity to wade out into the masses to strike some poses for the photographers, all busily snapping away and fiddling with their lenses (take that as you will!) in the pit below.
In truth, the quality of sound during In Flames' supporting performance didn't quite pack the punch I had hoped for, and this was most noteable in the bands performance of 'Battles' single 'The Truth'. As a track which stands wholly anthemic in stature, its live delivery at the O2 fell a little short of the mark for my taste, and though I relished the opportunity to see it performed in a live setting I confess that it left me somewhat underwhelmed.
Sadly, it is a common, and somewhat irritating, trait that often muddies the enjoyment factor of supporting performances, but it seems a shame that this 'industry standard' of staggering the quality of live production values to enhance the headline act should stunt the performance of a band with such a vast and diverse history.
Regardless, the Swedish act gave their all for the crowd, and Friden's humble yet wise interactions with the audience added a fantastic level of humanity and character to the band; something which (as I've stated many times before) I feel is a key element to a successful live performance.
The next band taking to the stage well and truly turned up the heat for the fans swarming the frontlines of the pit. Following a brief changeover, the American powerhouse Disturbed burst onto the stage to a roaring applause, shooting pillars of flames towards the sky and filling the air with their chunky, distorted sound as they tore into the opening songs of their performance.
Disturbed have a long and healthy history within the alternative music scene, and this has been highlighted during the majority of their previous live performances. This is no less true for their performance at the O2, and vocalist David Draiman expertly conducts the audience through a sing-along serenade of the band's classic tracks, from 'Liberate' to 'Down With The Sickness' and almost everything in between.
A more recent twist from the band's typical styling, Disturbed's hauntingly emotional cover of 'Sound Of Silence' marks a key moment of their performance at the O2 Arena. As fans raise their cellphone flashlights above their heads, the arena is positively transformed, with fans casting a man-made star-scape across the air towards the stage. It's an awe-inspiring, breathtaking moment to behold, and sends a little shiver down my spine. As energised and driving as Disturbed's music may be, they certainly know how to pull on some heartstrings.
Sadly, from my perspective Draiman's vocal performance seemed a little stunted during the bands performance on the Saturday. Powerfully perfect phrases that inspired and roused emotions to a high seemed marred by pitchy attempts to stretch for notes that just didn't seem to sit well atop the backdrop of instrumentation behind him. Yet while I hold myself as someone who has a fairly keen ear for tune, this didn't seem to bother those around me in the slightest – and in truth, that's where it counts the most.
Fans in my immediate vicinity were wholly content with headbanging and singing along to the band's performance, blissfully enchanted by a wash of nostalgia and admiration. Those at the forefront of the pit pumped their fists, banged their heads and faithfully bawled the lyrics to every song performed by Disturbed – which, in my books, marks their performance at the O2 Arena, overall, as a success.
I'll confess that I'm not the biggest A7X fan. It's not that I dislike them, more that I just missed the boat with their music and never really caught up. As such, it's probably not unfair to say that I had a different experience of their performance when compared with that of the screaming swarm of fans below me in the pit. Even so, I can say with confidence that the band's performance on Saturday was tight, professional, looooud as fuck... and, most importantly; wildly entertaining.
With 'Bat Country' to 'The Stage', A7X's performance zig-zagged through their timeline of old and new material, with the band members visibly enjoying their time on stage and the opportunity to interact with their fans on a more intimate level... though I'm using the word 'intimate' pretty lightly... the O2 Arena ain't exactly small!
What struck me the most was Shadows' powerhouse vocal presence, in particular during the band's performance of 'Hail To The King'. Closing my eyes, I could almost hear the not-actually-departed-yet spirit of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson behind Shadows' performance. The doom-sayers among alternative music fans who sneer through gritted teeth that we'll never see another 'rock god' may simply not be looking hard enough, as A7X certainly conjure up the imagery and polished stage presence synonymous with some old 80's classics. Sure, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but if it ain't broke...
A particular highlight for me occurred after the band's performance of 'Nightmare', the chillingly macabre song penned shortly after the death of The Rev, A7X's band's original drummer. The song itself clearly still holds weight in the hearts of long-term fans, but upon finishing the song, Shadows invites relative newcomer Brooks Wakerman to wow the crowd with an impressive drum solo. The culmination of these two elements created a heartfelt moment to those familiar with the band's loss back in 2009, and although this wasn't explicitly embellished on by the band, I can't help but feel it was an intentional decision to have things fall into place in such a way.
Overall, A7X's performance on the Saturday had me hooked; so much so that I've started to work my way through their discography. I've heard different views of their Sunday appearance - including some seemingly unfounded accusations of lip syncing - however as I only attended the one show, I can't pass comment on that. What I can tell you is that all three bands performing at the O2 Arena put on a great crowd-pleaser of a performance on the Saturday that was memorable, hard-hitting and satisfyingly heavy.
Hats off to the dude triumphantly milling up and down the food court of the arena in a drunken stupor – you gave me a good laugh, buddy. Here's to you!
Check out more of Luke Milne right here and listen to previous editions of The Sunday Slam With Luke Milne right here.