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Live review in Metal Pigeon, September 2004

Live at The Assembly Rooms, Derby, Friday 3rd September 2004 as part of Bloodstock 2004

[Metal Pigeon]

Infobia by A. Daniell
It would be foolhardy to assume that any band playing early on in this particular showcase would be a waste of time to watch. However,our very own Infobia would just about suggest otherwise. By their own admission, they are a "classic metal" band. This isn't too far off. All the ingredients are there: The old-fashioned melodic riffing, a bit of galloping bass, a fairly theatric singer. What there isn't are surprises, and classic or otherwise, you'd want something to at least grab your attention. Decent songs are therefore the only option. Unfortunately these are missing as well. Everything about Infobia generally screams ordinary. They do stand out from the audience, but this is more owing to the fact that they look as if they've just finished the office shift and have thrown on the first balck tee shirt available. The best thing to say about them is they have a vocalist that lokks like a fat Graham Norton. Not crap, just forgettable.

Sinergy by A. Nash
I have to admit, I'm not a huge Sinergy fan. Despite Alexi Laiho (of Children of Bodom fame) being one of my favourite guitarists, Sinergy just don't do it for me. That is, on record. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by Sinergy, but damn, I was wrong. Opening up with "The Bitch Is Back" from the album of the same name, Sinergy, despite being plagued with technical faults (as were most of the bands this weekend) played a fantastic set that was full of energy, with singer Kimberly's hair going all over the place (it came nearly down to her knees), Alexi running about like a madman, and bassist Lauri Porra gurning like a good'un. Highlights included the ultra-cheesy "Beware The Heavens", "To The Fourth World We Come", and Alexi's ever-so-eloquent introduction to "I Spit On Your Grave" - a great big howking spit - something which he carried on doing all night long, and which was the cause of Kimberly asking the stage-hands to mop the stage for them, as everyone was nearly slipping over. Fantastic.

Season's End by A. Nash
Picture the scene: the band walks on stage. There are six members: a female vocalist, a keyboardist, two guitarists (one of whom is also a vocalist), a bassist and drummer. They play gothic rock. Sound familiar at all? Yeah, I thought of Lacuna Coil too. But apparently they aren't influenced by them, they just happen to sound similar. But enough of that, who they sound like isn't important; it's how good they are that counts. And they are good. All the tracks tonight came from their debut album "The Failing Light" (I think), and they're all pretty long, I think the shortest was six minutes. Particular highlights were "Into The Flames" and the slower-paced "One Sadness", both of which were performed flawlessly. Something that did surprise me about their set was that the sound was nice and clear - the sound problems on the main stage didn't seem to affect the second stage much, so the smaller bands didn't face many problems. If you're a fan of Lacuna Coil though, check out Season's End, and keep an eye out for them playing somewhere near you.

Gammay Ray by A. Daniell
You don't last this long in the business by being second rate. But by arriving on stage a good half hour late, the German crew are not doing themselves any favours. The reasons for this late arrival are never explained, although you get the feeling that this full hall wouldn't care anyway, given the mass cheering that greets them when they walk onstage. What we then get for the next hour or so is a good sense of fun. Gamma Ray, remember, are one of the best Power Metal bands out there. This is a genre which is extremely laughable at its worst, and an exhilirating adrenalin rush at its best. Gamma Ray are certainly the latter, and tonight's performance would have those who have never heard a single tune banging their head in agreement. Kai Hansen is a decent frontman, and reminds us that you don't need banter to win over a crowd. Guitars soar, over-the top solos hit us into next year, and that reliable double kick drum remind us why we love this drug that we call heavy metal.

Intense by A. Daniell
We are hoping that we don't suffer the same "iffy UK act" syndrome as we did yesterday. Considering we've only just got past mid-day, we could be on a downer already. It's apparent though, that Intense could well live up to their name after just a few chords. It's power metal, ceratinly, but its that slightly more dark and brooding kind that you see more outside certain parts of Europe. You're remind of Dream Theater and Iced Earth as the crisp keyboard touches add a decent embellishment to the craft. Intense are not an amazing band here. They are damn good though. They play well and have a decent sound. They have some chunky riffs and songs like "War of Angels" and "Seeds of Betrayal" shine through especially. It's the first pleasant surprise of the day and just suggests how frustrating it is that they've only just released their first album "Second Sight" seven years after their first EP. Whatever happens, both would now be a wise investment.

Panic Cell by S. Tonkin
Panic Cell are a band that are starting to make waves in the UK, having already had 2 videos on heavy rotation on Scuzz TV there is a healthy crowd in the Main Hall to see what the fuss is all about. To describe Panic Cell, the easiest thing to say would be they are the UK's answer to Pantera, or Corrosion Of Conformity. Breaking up the general feel of today's pure speed and power bands, Panic Cell have that dirty low-end groove that the aforementioned bands are famous for. They open their set with Damn Self Pity from the outstanding debut Bitter Part Of Me and Christ is it loud! Vocalist Luke Bell's voice is on top form from the start and the microphone stand complete with skull and spine definitely deserves a mention. Heavy and uncompromising throughout throw everything into their set. Recent single Save Me is dedicated to Bloodstock Organiser Vince and goes down an absolute storm as does Shallow which inspires the first real mosh pit of the day. Frontman Luke Bell seems keen to get across the message that its important to support British talent and rightly so. He's joined onstage by Claire ffrom Invey for a stupendously heavy rendition of first single Away From Here. The male contingent in the room rightly enjoys this moment as it's always good to have a rose amongst some hairy metal thorns. Rounding off the set with album closer The End, Panic Cell have impressed just about everyone here today. Lets hope this potential propels them as far as possible. Awesome stuff.

Balance Of Power by A. Nash
Upon looking at my notes that I supposedly took for Balance of Power, I realised I somehow got them confused with Panic Cell, who bored the hell out of me. Damn. I am, therefore, writing this review purely from a hazy memory and the mp3s on the band's website, so I therefore apologise if any of this is wrong. Balance of Power were a decent power/prog metal band, with an energetic frontman, who put on a fairly good show. I can't remember any of the songs they played, and they weren't really to my taste, but if you're a prog-metal fan, keep an eye out for them.

Edenbridge by A. Nash
The moment they walked on stage, I thought that Edenbridge were desperately trying to be Nightwish. The frontwoman even wore the same clothes as Tarja does for Nightwish gigs: red long coat, black trousers and top underneath. That said though, they put on a decent set, and though they copy off Nightwish a bit (a sitar appears on a few tracks in "Once", one of the new Edenbridge tracks has a sitar on it. Coincidence?), they sound heavier than the Finns, and put on a good show, with some decent solos, and nice lilting, almost classical-sounding riffs. The only complaint I would have is the lack of a live keyboardist, as the keyboards were all sequenced, but if it works for them, that's fine. I'd just rather see someone onstage hammering keys like his life depends on it. Again, as with most bands on the main stage, there were sound problems, too me the guitars and keyboard sounded way too low in the mix, and at times I could barely hear them over the bass and drums, but it was still a good performance from the Austrians.

Evergrey by A. Daniell
There will come a time when metal bands will come form Scandinavia alone, as the rest of the world would have given up on trying to keep up with their standards. At the moment, it seems that Finland seems to be the promised land. Sweden's Evergrey unfortunately won't win back many points to bring their country back to the top of the league. Generally speaking, they are not a bad band at all. In fact, they are one of the more heavier bands of Bloodstock, with a huge sound and some deafening, chunky riffs. At times, they recall more a more etheral Biomechanical, or a less simple Fear Factory. Well into the second half of thier slot though, you get the feeling you've been somewhere before. It all gets a bit dull, and its apparent that their cannon of songs is severely lacking. Were they to put this sound to more melody, we would be talking. For now, though, Evergrey seem more like a quick fix then anything else.

Primal Fear by S. Tonkin
Primal Fear last played Bloodstock in 2002 and it seems they are more than welcome back this evening. A deafening roar greeted the Germans as they strode onto the stage one by one. Kicking straight into the classic Angel In Black from the Nuclear Fire album, Primal Fear had this crowd eating out of their metal hands. Surely in Ralf Scheepers, Primal Fear possess one of metal's best frontmen. More metal poses than you can shake a pitchfork at and lines like "We have 60 minutes, 5 albums and YOU!!!" he just can't fail. Slowing things down a little mid way through the set with The Healer from the Devil's Ground album, Primal Fear they are not just all about those juggernaut riffs and pounding rhythms. One song that was always going to go down a storm tonight is Metal Is Forever, again from the most recent Devil's Ground album, probably the biggest sing along of the weekend. Its safe to say that everyone in this venue agrees with the statement this song makes. This set was loud as hell and twice as heavy, not to mention the most balls out metal performance of the weekend. Metal is indeed, Forever!

Sonata Arctica by S. Tonkin
Tonight was the first ever UK show for Finland's Sonata Arctica and it showed by the size of the crowd gathered in the Main Hall. It was already looking like they could not fail in front of such anticipation from the majority of people in the room. It was then such a shame than from the start of the set, Sonata Arctica were inflicted with major sound problems. I'm sure the sound guy was given a serious lashing over this whether it was deserved or not. Despite these problems, the band kicked off their set with Victoria's Secret from the Winterheart's Guild album to a rapturous reception. The band were obviously not happy about the sound but within 2 or 3 songs all of a sudden everything improved. And oh how it did. Sonata Arctica firing on all cylinders are quite the force to behold. Biggest cheers were for the songs aired from the outstanding debut Ecliptica, the album that most fans see as the bands finest hour. The likes of Kingdom For A Heart and Replica sounded nothing but stunning tonight. As their set went on, the band just continued to get better and better. Opting to play the new Finnish Number 1 single Don't Say A Word was an excellent move as this song gives a great impression for the new album and was welcomed like an old favourite tonight. Rounding off their set with Full Moon from Ecliptica and ending on The Cage from Winterheart's Guild, Sonata Arctica leave the stage to an ovation from an appreciative crowd. Major credit goes to the band for this performance, never phased by the early sound problems, They played a stunning hour and a quarter. Please come back soon!

Cruachan by A. Nash
Unfortunately, do to some unfortunate timetabling (I was getting stuff signed by Children of Bodom), I missed quite a large part of Cruachan's set, but from what I did manage to catch, they were excellent. I walked in halfway through "Viking Slayer", a track from their latest album, Pagan, and the atmosphere was amazing. The crowd were lapping it up, fists were raised, and heads were banging, including mine. All the band members looked to be enjoying themselves, especially the fiddler (a new recruit, and Bloodstock was his first gig with the band) who was dancing about like a madman when he wasn't playing. I wish I'd caught their whole set, as the sense of energy in both the band and the fans was incredible. Fantastic.

Children Of Bodom by A. Nash
Unfortunate timetabling, it seems, has a sense of irony. I missed some of Cruachan's set waiting to meet Children of Bodom, and I missed some of Bodom's set waiting to see Cruachan. Oh well. By the time I got back to the main stage to see Children of Bodom, the floor was packed out with people, and most of the seats were full too. My fiancée and I were only able to get seats when a couple of people left. But why anyone would have wanted to walk out on Children of Bodom's performance is beyond me. They were absolutely stunning tonight, and played a storming set, including Warheart, a crushingly heavy rendition of Sixpounder, Bodom after Midnight, Bodom Beach Terror, Deadnight Warrior, and a damn good drum solo. Alexi got to show off a lot more than he did in Sinergy, and his flawless technical riffing was all pulled off with some serious foot-on-monitor posing. The sound was a little bass-heavy, I thought, but it didn't really detract from what was an awesome gig. A worthy choice for headliners.

A. Nash of Metal Pigeon

Debut Album
‘The Failing Light’

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Live DVD 'Ascension'

Out now in the UK

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