Neckbreakers Ball IV

7 November 2011

The Garage, London


The fourth instalment of the Neckbreakers Ball European Tour included a stop off in London for the first time.  However, disappointingly the bill didn’t seem to spark too much excitement over here, with Death Angel withdrawal a major blow.  Originally advertised at the Camden Electric Ballroom, the tour had been moved up to the 2,350 capacity Forum, however closer to the event this was downgraded to the 630 capacity Garage and it certainly wasn’t full on the night.  A real shame then that people cry foul when such tours don’t come to our shores, but don’t turn up when they do.


With this being a Monday work day there was no chance of getting to the venue for 4.45pm in time for openers Omnium Gatherum.  I’d also not expected to catch Gurd, however they’d only played one song as I arrived, with Johan arriving later in the set, hence no photos.


Gurd are very much a band of their time.Having kicked off in 1994 you can feel the influence of Chaos A.D. era Sepultura, early Machine Head, Prong and Pro-Pain soaked into their take on groove metal.  Actually it was with Pro-Pain when the band last visited the UK, back in 1998 and completing the links, it’s Pro-Pain’s frontman Gary Meskill, who sprung to mind when watching Gurd’s vocalist/guitarist V.O. Pulver.


Pulver claims the lion share of attention but Gurd are hardly animated.  The band half heartedly jumped in unison to the main riff of What Do You Live For.Maybe they were stoned, as it’s a topic that cropped up a couple of times in their lyrics.


To be fair they get a reasonable response, are not offensive, but certainly not mind blowing.  Closer, Skin Up, reeks of Prong’s 1994 (that year again!) album Cleansing and inspires some bouncing with Pulver noting, “Hopefully if doesn’t take 13 more years to come back”.


Gurd setlist:

? / Your Drug Of Choice / What Do You Live For / Rising From The Ashes / Bang! / The Grand Deception / Terminate / Skin Up


Looking like they were masquerading as Turisas, Varg took to the stage smeared in black and red, though there was only frontman Philipp “Freki” Seiler who had gone the extra mile and splashed out on a leather vest.  Regular readers will be aware I’m somewhat folk-ed out and the same can be said for the close neighbour Pagan/Viking metal.Yes there are good bands in both genre’s but the scenes have become flooded with bands who seem to think all you have to do is either wave a sword or don face paint and off we go with a hey nonny nonny no.  No indeed!


For me Varg fall into the also-ran category.  Each song was built around a folk inspired lead guitar line, however the guitar tone and playing was decidedly weak and threatened to head off key at any moment.  Seiler barked out the lyrics in German on top and it was all very uninspiring.  Tellingly the best songs of the set are a cover of Rammstein’s Links 2-3-4 and closer Wolfskult which bore an influence from that same band.


To top it off Seiler’s constant generalisation of the English as “Beer drinkers and bar fighters”, ticked me off.We may drink beer but I can’t recall the last fight I saw at a London metal gig.


Varg setlist:

Viel Feind Viel Her / Blutaar / Wir Sind Die Wolfe / Schwertzeit / Naglfar / Sehnsucht / Links 2-3-4 / Wolfskult


Varg Varg Varg


Much has changed in Mercenary’s world since we last caught them in 2008.  Back then there were six members on stage, tonight there’s just four, with half the previous band departing and new drummer Morten Løwe joining the ranks.  The most notable change however is bassist René Pedersen now taking full lead vocal duties, whereas previously the higher end stuff was handled by the departed Mikkel Sandager.


With not only less people on stage but also with a lead singer who also plays an instrument, there’s a very different dynamic to Mercenary live, but the important thing is that Pedersen bears the frontman responsibility on his broad shoulders with ease.  It helped that he was flanked by the seven string talents of Martin Buus, who added sublime solos and cast Varg’s guitarist’s skills in stalk contrast.


Although, incredibly, it’s the band’s 20th Anniversary, they were firmly fixated on the future tonight, with all but one track coming from this year’s Metamorphosis.  Pedersen noted that they saw this tour as an opportunity to promote the new record and it did the job, as it made me realise I needed to give it a few more spins.  However, for all of us yearning for some older material, particularly from the standout 11 Dreams album, Pedersen promised “We’ll be back to play some old songs.”


Mercenary setlist:

In Bloodred Shades / In A River Of Madness / Through the Eyes of the Devil / The Black Brigade / On The Edge Of Sanity / The Follower / The Endless Fall


Mercenary Mercenary Mercenary


I don’t know why but Eluveitie took me a little by surprise tonight.  They’d impressed me on the last two sightings but maybe it’s been my recent apathy with folk metal that has seen me rarely playing their albums.  What I had forgotten was what a whirlwind of energy they are live.  They arrived with the confidence of headliners, with the crowd moved up close and the band taking to the stage as silhouettes with one fist raised in the air as strips of white lights behind them blinded us.


What I like about Eluveitie is that they have crafted their own sound in this genre.  Taking Scandinavian Melodic Death Metal as a base point, they have inflicted it with traditional instrumentation.  Therefore where you’d usually expect a twin guitar line it may be a flute and a guitar or a fiddle taking on a melody line.


It takes eight people to build the Eluveitie sound and that’s an awful lot to fit on the Garage stage, with Chrigel Glannzmann exclaiming, “Jesus Christ, this is probably one of the smallest stages we’ve ever played on, but it’s still great to be back in London.”  Inis Mona that followed probably got the best reaction of the set, with much of the crowd singing along.  Quoth The Raven saw hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy picking up a drum stick and laying into Merlin Sutter’s cymbals, whereas The Song Of Life was plain manic.


“This isn’t called Neckbreakers Ball for no reason”, bellowed Glannzmann, demanding a circle pit.  Things certainly were whipped up stage front as Kingdom Come Undone whizzed by.  It was all wrapped up with Tegernakô and it was evident from a few people leaving at this point that the Swiss band were marginally the biggest draw of the evening.


Eluveitie setlist:

Everything Remains (As It Never Was) / Nil / Inis Mona / Slanias Song / Quoth The Raven / The Song Of Life / Your Gaulish War / Kingdom Come Undone / The Somber Lay / Tarvos / Tegernakô


Eluveitie Eluveitie Eluveitie 


However, for me and Dark Tranquillity remained the true headliners and they proved that with a completely classy performance.  The Swede’s presentation was bolstered with some very professional projections behind them, matched perfectly to each song.  In certain songs, short phrases of lyrics would appear at exactly the right moment or atmospherics would be created, such as the space shots for tonight’s oldest song The Sun Fired Blanks.


Initially it took the soundman a few songs to balance out the sound, with Martin Henriksson and Niklas Sundin’s guitars too low in the mix.  By The Wonders At Your Feet, this had been solved and there was an uplifting feeling as the crowd clapped along to the songs introduction whilst white lights beamed out on us.


The band did well not falling over themselves with the little space available.  Perhaps seeking refuge from Martin Henriksson’s windmilling dreadlocks, frontman Mikael Stanne ventured into the crowd during The Treason Wall and continued to sing as he surfed across the top of the crowd on his back.


Clearly having a great time, Stanne noted he’s often asked where the best place to play is and concluded it must be London, “As you get to play to every nationality”, highlighting the mix in the crowd.  The Mundane & The Magic followed with Theatre Of Tragedy’s Nell Sigland’s vocal appearing on backing tape and Stanne disappearing into the photopit to get closer to the crowd.


Other highlights included the change of pace of Inside The Particle Storm, with effective strobes and projections and Zero Distance from the recent tour edition of the Into the Void album, which saw the band playing along to it’s own video.


Dark Tranquillity setlist:

Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive) / In My Absence / The Treason Wall / Lost To Apathy / The Wonders At Your Feet / The Mundane & The Magic / Blind At Heart / The Sun Fired Blanks / Inside The Particle Storm / Zero Distance / Dream Oblivion / Final Resistance / Misery's Crown / The Fatalist


Dark Tranquillity Dark Tranquillity Dark Tranquillity 

Dark Tranquillity Dark Tranquillity