With the onset of February we are getting a little busier. 2nd, Protest The Hero, 6th Del Amitri, 9th Molly Hatchet, 14th Monster Magnet, 15th Dream Theater, 19th, Sons Of Icarus, 20th Skyclad, 25th Soulfly, 26th Cadillac Three

And maybe a couple more to be added.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

PROTEST THE HERO, Tesseract, The Safety Fire, Intervals @O2 Academy 2 Birmingham 2/2/14

One of those nights with a tricky choice, and the rock and metal gig going public in the West Midlands are being rather spoilt. Just a mile or so away Thrash legends Sepultura are playing, with RTM faves Primitai in support, while over in the Black Country, The Quireboys are halfway thorough their no doubt tremendous fun acoustic tour.

It is however at the Academy that we find ourselves. Largely because Protest The Hero, who are headlining this large and impressive cast, make really interesting music and we have never seen them live, whereas we've bellowed, "oh it's seven o'clock, time for a party, with Spike and the boys for 20 odd years.

The headliners are a long way off, though and it falls to Ontario's Intervals to kick off the evening. Things have rather changed in their camp recently, and a band that started off as purely instrumental now is most definitely not. Former bassist Mike Semestry is performing vocal duties since December, while the group have Anup Sastry behind the kit. Sastry is technically incredible, performing live drums for Jeff Loomis so the group are predictably technically  superb, and make an extremely agreeable noise. Think a more accessible Periphery with slightly more prog metal overtones about them and you wouldn't be far out. There is enough here to hint that their debut album, which is due to land next month, could be a bit special. 

Last time we saw The Safety Fire was opening for the aforementioned Periphery and Between The Buried And Me. Except we didn't. Transport difficulties meant only guitarist Dez made the gig. Happily they are at full strength tonight, and cement their reputation as ones to watch. 

Still young, but now well into the touring cycle for their second album in as many years, "Mouth Of Swords" the Londoners have made giant leaps forwards. On the road for the last couple of years, they are now far more honed, polished and - dare we say it - mature. The title track of their last album is excellent and closing song "Old Souls" shows they have much more to come. Indeed The Safety Fire have everything, superb riffs, a tight rhythm section, huge chrouses, and a singer in Sean McWeeney (surely the best name in metal), that they need to suceed. 

It's actually not that long since RTM last saw Tesseract. Just a couple of months have passed since they opened for Karnivool, round the corner from here. There is not much we can add that we didn't say that night. 

The band are one of Britain's most innovative, and they construct huge songs that are played marvelously. A group such as this needs a crystal clear sound, and pleasingly they are not subject to the sort of problems that beset Iced Earth in this very venue a few weeks ago. At that Karnivool show back in November, singer Ashe O'Hara (with whom they seem to have put their issues with vocalists finally to bed) was struggling with his voice. He - and the rest of the band - are in top form tonight as they play a collection of songs primarily from last years "Altered State" album. Tesseract really are a band who just keeps getting better. 

Since forming in the early part of the last decade Protest The Hero are four albums into a career that seems to be virtually impossible to pin down. Few metal bands write songs as genuinely odd as the Canadians and remain so accessible. Which is probably why the Academy 2 is so busy tonight despite the competition.

The band almost apologetically shambles on to no fanfare whatsoever and proceeds for the next 75 minutes  to knock our collective socks off. Album number four, "Violation" has provided more fantastic moments, and gives us tonight's opener, "Underbite," which is typical of the band. The riffs are big, the song is tuneful, yet heavy and the lyrics cleverer than you might think.

You see, PTH are a band, like Clutch (with whom they have very little else in common except beards) who's songs contain lines that would look good on a tshirt, so second track "Hair-Trigger" gives us the idea that they've "wrote a goddamn love song, to everything I hate" while "Bloodmeat" which comes later, is just an outstanding song.

As you might expect, the band give you, well, the unexpected. Of all the things you thought might happen tonight, it wasn't that the Hunk Of The Day would be crowned, but this is exactly what happened halfway through, and nor did we expect singer Rody Walker to rival fellow Canadian Sebastian Bach in the motormouth stakes. During in the course of the evening we find out that Walker isn't a beer snob, doesn't have an international phone plan, doesn't believe in ghosts, and plans to take up hip-hop dancing to improve his live performance. So far, so good. Unfortunately we also find that he used to tell people to kill themselves in internet chatrooms, he mocks depression and his routine about Ian Watkins is a little unnecessary.

When he concentrates on singing, Walker is fantastic, and he is backed up superbly by the band, who rather stay in the shadows. New drummer Mike Ieradi - Lamb of God sticks man Chris Adler filled in their original drummer left last year - has slotted in seamlessly, and level of playing here is outstanding.

A career-spanning set includes three heads down tracks from their debut album "Kezia," now 10 years old, and 2008s "Fortress" - from which a brilliant "Sex Tapes" comes - as well as more modern material , is enough to keep everyone happy, and some stage patter that is a little awkward notwithstanding, Protest The Hero are a superb end to a superb gig.

"I hope you had a good night," says Walker. "And I hope you have a better one tomorrow." Highly doubtful, because given the gigs we could have gone to tonight we definitely made the right choice.

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