Although I had a hell of a time at Wolverhampton’s Wulfrun Hall last Friday, this sheepish posture and shame-tinged sideward glance is my way of regretfully and apologetically admitting that – due to the cold indifference of Wolverhampton traffic conditions – I missed the first band of the night, Wisdom. As penance, I later checked out the band online and discovered they were something that I almost certainly would have enjoyed: straight-up Hungarian power metal. Well…shit! Hopefully I’ll be able to catch them, soon.
Now, onto the subject of bands I didn’t miss (i.e. everyone else)!
I’ve been a fan of Eluveitie for a few years now, but hadn’t yet had the good fortune of seeing them live, so I was curious to see how they would sound when uncaged from the confines of my stereo speakers. Whilst excited, I was also a little apprehensive; my previous live experiences of bands that heavily implement non-traditional instruments have been considerably marred by the decision to delegate said instruments to backing tracks. This choice (whilst admittedly the only option for many smaller folk bands) dehumanises the instruments, causing them to sink ungracefully through the levels into the depths of the mix where they remain muddied and barely audible. To my utter relief, this is far from the case with Eluveitie’s live show. Each of the trademark “ethnic” instruments are being performed live, on-stage and exceptionally well. Glanzmann’s capacity to seamlessly transition between guttural Gaulish growls and chirping tin whistle jaunts is oddly captivating, and Anna Murphy’s ability to effortlessly manipulate the hurdy-gurdy whilst keeping sternly to her vocal melodies is remarkable. This all going on in the limelight is backed by a cavalcade of equally competent musicians wielding violins, bagpipes, whistles and traditional heavy metal instruments – the sheer amount of activity bustling about the stage manages to consistently captivate, yet never overwhelm or distract. The only legitimate criticism I’m able to string together is not so much in regards to performance or ability, but more concerning the effect of the occasional “not-quite-harmonious” harmonies between whistle/violin and guitar. It’s a respectable effort – both parts are well-played and do harmonise in theory, but something about the execution seems a bit jarring and sloppy on-stage. That’s it. That’s my lone criticism. Well, in regards to the band, I suppose…
Unfortunately, other than on the barrier, the audience reaction for Eluveitie seemed curiously lukewarm and only really exploded during that one song, which in the crowd’s defence is fully worth going apeshit for. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon – it often seems to be a plague that shadows European non-headliner bands. UK crowds, whilst not unwelcoming, can neglect to muster some enthusiasm for support acts, apparently clinging to what modicum of surface emotion – a slight twitch of the face – that passes for English passion. That’s all terribly exaggerated and generally unfair of me to say, but I was definitely disappointed with the overall response to Eluveitie’s set. The band were certainly applauded, but not proportionately to the calibre of their performance.
Personal highlights included “A Rose for Epona”, “The Uprising” and “Inis Mona”.
Following a brief interlude of wallet rustling, alcohol purchasing and sweaty touching, “The Final Countdown” trumpets from the P.A. – a hyperbolic indicator of the Euro-cheese that will soon be clogging our ears. Now, I’ve seen Sabaton live a few times, and whilst they haven’t garnered a momentous amount of spins on the CD player at home, they do hold the not-inconsiderable honour of being one of my favourite live heavy metal acts, second only to Iron Maiden. That’s a pretty huge deal. I dig them live. A lot. But there’s something to consider here – I haven’t seen them perform since they lost and replaced 60% of the band in early 2012, I was anxious to see if the line-up change would adversely affect their show…I needn’t have worried. Joakim may all but steal the show (as always), yet the other members aren’t without their showmanship. Both of the new axe-men, Rörland and Englund, certainly know how to engage a crowd and keep the stage animated, without sacrificing the quality of their musicianship.
For those who haven’t seen the band or are totally unfamiliar with them, Sabaton absolutely fit the label of being “a live band”. Don’t get me wrong, the band are great in the studio – after all, how could the live show be so utterly engaging if the material being performed was dreck? The albums are great and definitely enjoyable to listen to at home, but the recorded experience outright pales in comparison to the spectacle of their stage performance. Brodén is as vibrant a frontman as they come, bounding across the stage, gesticulating every which way and captivating the crowd with his unique vocal style. The audience interaction is really hammered home by the easy-to-pick up, sing-along nature of the songs themselves, allowing even those with only a cursory interest in the band to engross themselves in an act of mass audience participation – part of a single unit of stomping feet and delirious roaring.
As for the material being played, it goes without saying that the set this year contains a decent amount of material from Carolus Rex, which left me partially alienated (I’ve still only listened to the album a handful of times), but it’s perfectly normal practice for a band to plug their newer material so prospective fans are more likely to buy it at the merch stalls – can’t fault them for that. Besides, the vast majority of the audience are certainly enjoying the new stuff. Regular set staples, such as the relentless, pulverizing opener “Ghost Division” make a welcome appearance, split up with the likes of fan-favourite chant-along “Cliffs of Gallipoli”, the highly energetic “40:1” and several instances where the band let the audience choose the next song, resulting in an almost-unanimous vote for “White Death” (good choice).
Sadly, Sabaton didn’t indulge us with their usual amalgamated medley of “Metal Crüe” and “Metal Machine”, instead opting to simply play “Metal Crüe” in its album incarnation, which is still a hell of a firework with which to end a show.