© Claudia Ehrhardt (Bochum 2010)
Whilst the majority of Manchester's metal worshippers may have been sampling the delights of Job For A Cowboy over in the Academy or ventured to Leeds for Damnation festival, a brave few made their way to the small club known as Satan's Hollow for a night of extremely happy metal courtesy of their German melodic power metal heroes Freedom Call!
Satan's Hollow is a venue with perhaps the most metal name on the planet. Inside, the décor is equally endearing with faces leering out of the wall and cemetery gates in one corner giving the whole place an extremely gruesome appearance. Whilst the look of the place may seem like the perfect setting for a metal gig the same cannot be said for the actual layout of the place which is just... odd.
In the center of the room there is a slightly raised circular area. That is the stage. Quite honestly I've never seen so much space wasted at a live venue before so its a damn good job that the place wasn't packed! As a plus point it is also not often that you get to be so close to the bands. Some people were, more or less, standing on the stage not two feet away from the musicians! Its a cosy place with a really nice atmosphere but as I said, its odd.
Anyway, onto the bands! First up Babylon Fire:
Babylon Fire is a Manchester based quintet with one EP, The Day The Angels Died, recorded last year. I'd not seen them before and didn't expect much... perhaps pure Pantera or Metallica worship? That still seems to be the norm for most of the UK underground... a situation which is, thankfully, changing. I looked at one of the many flyers laying around the place and saw a quote from Bruce Dickinson raving about them... but with some of the shit old Bruce has been pushing lately (Funeral For A Friend, anyone?) my expectations sunk even lower... and then the band took to the stage...
A chunky guitar riff caught my attention and I was at once captivated. The music is very familiar with chunky riffing, a good bass groove and nice soloing from the two guitarists. However, I found it almost impossible to classify. There were elements of groove , thrash, death and even power metal fused together into a pure metal assault that would appeal to fans of both melodic and extreme metal in equal measure.
The band were extremely tight with excellent drumming and good bass work from Mark Cooper and Ryk Swillo respectively. Both guitarists, Rishi Mehta and Will Reece (who bears a striking resemblance to Opie from TV series Sons Of Anarchy) excelled themselves and the vocalist Mark D proved himself to be extremely versatile as he changed from clean vocals to a good strong rasping growl with ease. Bands like this bode well for the future of underground metal and I was only too happy to buy the EP. Check 'em out at MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/babylonfireuk
Next up, London melodic power metallers NeonFly!
Yet another band I'd not heard of, another band I expected very little from (I've seen far too many appalling UK underground bands to hold high hopes anymore!). Yet another band that proved to be awesome!
The band set up, the crowd were expectant and then the German National football team manager Joachim Löw announced in an extremely soft voice that they were NeonFly...I'd describe NeonFly's brand of melodic power metal as something like Edguy mixed with Iron Fire. The music is very much of the hard rock tinged variety made famous by those two bands.
Ok, ok, so it wasn't really Joachim Löw but singer Willy Norton does bear a striking resemblance, especially with the coat he was wearing! Mickey-taking aside Willy Norton has an absolute beast of a voice and was certainly a great frontman. He never stopped moving and was always bouncing around or running, making silly faces and generally geeing up the audience. With this guy at the mic NeonFly should soon be at the top of the UK's melodic metal scene!
The duo of dreadlocked bassist Paul Miller and brilliant drummer Boris Le Gal provided a solid foundation for the twin guitar attack to weave its magic. Paul Miller also did what I think all good bass players should do in helping Willy Norton to incite the crowd to clap and cheer. I love it when bassists get involved like that as too often they just stand around and are content for the singer and guitarists to pose and get all the attention!
The lightning fast, twin guitar combo of NeonFly mastermind Frederick Thunder and Patrick Harrington was a joy to behold. Thunder is the Janick Gers of NeonFly... the poser (not in a bad way) who amazes you with technical playing and axe-wielding showmanship. Harrington is more like the Dave Murray. He lets his fingers do the talking and when they talk, you listen! The play-off between the two guitarists was brought to a head with a short guitar duel towards the end of the set.
The one downside to NeonFly's set was the tendency for the guys to bump into each other a little. They made a joke of it, laughing it off every time, and with the amount of running round and jumping they did I can certainly forgive them but I think its something they need to work on a little for the future. Minor gripe aside NeonFly put on a great show and I can't wait to see them again! Bought their EP too! http://www.myspace.com/neonflyband
After NeonFly, Freedom Call were going to have to put on something special! They did.
They began the set with We Are One and instantly the crowd, which had swelled slightly, was in the palm of Chris Bay's hand. I've long thought that Chris Bay must be the happiest guy in metal and I think tonight's show proved me right. Freedom Call played their hearts out to a half empty room and were smiling throughout the set. The band made the whole crowd feel like a part of the show and I don't think one person left disappointed.
I honestly don't think I've ever witnessed a band have so much audience interaction before. This wasn't just the usual 'you clap', 'you sing' stuff but actually picking out members of the audience and asking questions, pulling faces and sharing a smile. The crowd, small though it was, was full rabid fanatics who sang and clapped and just for that hour and a half seemed to exist only for the sole reason of making Freedom Call feel welcomed in Manchester.
The band played a good mix of songs from all of their albums. We had songs such as Merlin from their new album, Legend Of The Shadowking, that were far superior live than they were on record. Quite a few songs from Dimensions made their way into the set, including the mid-paced Blackened Sun and crowd favorites Mr Evil and Far Away, complete with crowd sing-alongs!
The biggest cheers of the night were reserved for what I feel are the true Freedom Call classics; Metal Invasion and Warriors Of Light and the encore signature track Freedom Call. The crowd were ecstatic when they heard the first bars of these songs! I was also extremely pleased to hear The Quest, a song which has become something of an anthem to me and actually brought a lump to my throat when I heard it live. The only song I wanted to hear and didn't was Hymn To The Brave, one of Freedom Call's most magnificent songs in my opinion but I guess you can't have everything!
I really hope Freedom Call come back soon and hopefully a few more people will come out to watch them. I've never felt like such a huge part of a show before or felt such a huge sensation of overwhelming happiness!