Could Dragonforce bounce back from the body-blow of losing distinctive vocalist ZP Theart? Could they f*ck! The ABC is a heaving, sweaty mass this autumnal Friday night, the audience are bustling somewhere between excitement and inebriation and one of the UK autumn’s biggest rock tours is already well underway.
The harsh, industro-gothic showmanship of The Defiled mightn’t be an ideal fit for this power metal feast but there’s no denying their formidable live power. Hacking and slashing about the stage like Danzig channelled through some degrading digital nightmare, there’s a remarkable sense of anarchism underlying the intricacy of their image. They have played and will play more enthusiastic audiences than this, but there’s a perverse joy in their two-fingered approach to tonight’s awkwardly traditionalist audience apprehension.
Somewhat ironically, Alestorm are on steadier ground. The pirate and key-tar obsessed Scots are onto a hometown winner from the get go. They benefit from a generous set-time too, enabling them to plough through choice cuts from their three gloriously silly LPs. Their defining moment comes with a raucous run-through of Buckfast Powersmash, riotously preceded by a speech on how the titular tonic is Scotland’s real national drink. It’s simplistic, juvenile, populist stuff but with anthems-in-waiting like Shipwrecked, Keelhauled and The Sunk’n Norwegian keeping the crowd in joyous tumult there’s no doubting the effectiveness of their exuberant shtick.
It’s almost enough to overshadow Dragonforce at their big comeback. Almost. Fortunately, the Guitar Hero-heroes are on combative form this evening and in no mood to be shown up.New vocalist Marc Hudson slots in with ease, inhabiting the space left open by Theart without trying too hard to emulate the South African’s flamboyance and OTT persona. He’s a voice, a lustrous mane and not so much of a character to draw away from the real attraction of the pyrotechnic guitars.
It’s somewhat strange that the ‘Power Within’ material showcased this evening is notably less solo-oriented and more about focused songcraft, roof-rattling choruses and an epic sweep that manages to emulate (and better) more the traditional power metal tropes.
Songs like ‘Cry Thunder’ and, particularly, ‘Seasons’ manage to compliment and build on the existing back catalogue without any significant loss of the show-off values the Dragonforce audience have come to demand.
The biggest cheers are, predictably, saved for the drawn out classics ‘Through The fire And The Flames’ and ‘Valley Of The Damned’ – both delivered towards the sets finish for an optimally delirious climax.
By this stage the Scottish faithful are well-enough along that they could be picking out makeshift Abba covers and the place would still be in rapture but it’s to their credit that the huge standard of musicianship is held right to the end. Solos are delivered faster than the actual speed of sound. Vocals are navigated with the agility of the aerial trapeze.
And the audience play along, howling and air-guitaring like loons. They sweat. They Drink. They headbang. They generally lose their shit.
Many of them came tonight racked with doubt, doubt about the longevity of such an overblown musical premise as much as about the imposition of a new vocalist, but like the collective fretboards on display, such doubts are shredded thoroughly into submission.
All photos by Stephen McKeague