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Concerts I've seen

4/5 Therion Islington Academy
3.5/5 Arkona 20th December 2013
1.5/5 Coma
2.5/5 Sound Storm

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Review to follow.

4/5 Primitai The Black Heart
3/5 Motherload 18th December 2013

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Review to follow.

4/5 Triaxis Fuel Club, Cardiff
3/5 Counterhold 13th December 2013
3/5 Blacksphere

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Review to follow.

3/5 Watain The Electric Ballroom
0.5/5 Colts Blood 8th December 2013

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Review to follow.

4/5 Uli Jon Roth Mother Live
3/5 Alexa De Strange 6th December 2013

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Review to follow.

4/5 Pretentious, Moi? Nambucca
3/5 Espelho Mau 29th November 2013
3.5/5 Nine Day Decline
2.5/5 Anniversary Circle

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Anniversary Circle were slow, dirgeful goth. Almost ethereal in places. The vocals came from both guitarists, one male, one female. They were OK, but didn't massively appeal to my tastes. Nine Day Decline were much better, with a punk influenced set of much more up-tempo material. I've since heard them compared to Killing Joke, and there's certainly an element of that, both musically and vocally. The highlights were "Fall from grace" (which included a snippet of The Sisters' "Lucretia my reflection"), a cover of The Chameleons' "The fan and bellows" and "Decisions".

Espelho Mau are a 3 piece Portuguese band. Except that there were only two of them here. As the singer explained, the third one couldn't make it, so it was just the two of them and a laptop. A set of traditional goth followed, and they were pretty good. If pushed I'd maybe say there were some similarities to The Mist Of Avalon in places. Near the end of one song, the guitarist put his guitar down and rushed off stage. The singer explained that he couldn't last until the end of the set and would have pissed his pants had he remained on stage. Upon his return, they resumed for the last few songs. By now, the evening was running way beyond schedule, which wasn't a good sign. I'd been concerned about getting home, but with their 11pm stage time, I reasoned I'd be able to catch probably half of Pretentious, Moi?'s set before having to leave to catch the last tube home. But they didn't take to the stage until 40 minutes later. I stayed for a few songs and then left. However, I'd cut it too fine and by the time I'd got to the station, I'd missed my train. So I headed back to the venue to catch the rest of the set. Tim's voice was a bit rougher tonight than it's been in the past, and it occurred to me that he'd make a decent frontman in a metal band. Rachel's voice was fantastic. I'm still unconvinced about the need for 3 live guitarists, but the overall effect is good and it was another strong performance. Highlights for me were "Better late than never", "The garden", "Witchhouse", "Faith and reason part company" and "Sense in segments".

4/5 Tigertailz The Underworld
3/5 Damn Dice 21st November 2013
3/5 Cherry Scream
2.5/5 Kinkade

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Kinkade played a fairly generic slightly glam-tinged pub blues rock. They were OK, but really nothing to write home about. The lead guitar was quite good, but sadly mixed far too low. Cherry Scream were somewhat better. They started out as a covers band, doing songs by Poison, Gn'R, Mötley Crüe et al, but these days mostly play their own material. They were more energetic and had better songs than Kinkade, which resulted in an overall better experience for the audience. Lead singer Chloë is reasonably charismatic and her voice is decent enough if not outstanding.

Damn Dice were the only support I'd previously heard about, and then only in passing. They might be twenty years too late for the heyday of glam and sleaze metal, but they're clearly not letting that stop them make an attempt to recapture those days. They've got the appearance sorted, aided by a couple of giants, one on drums and one on guitars. But musically I'm not so sure, and in particular, they're hampered by a high pitched whiny vocalist. That in itself isn't a problem for this genre, but that particular pitch and tone just didn't work for me. The drums were quite good, but the overall effect wasn't quite there. Still not a bad performance, but I felt they could have done better.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Tigertailz. Guitarist Jay Pepper was the only band member in common with the last time I saw them. Distinctive frontman Kim Hooker had been replaced by Australian singer Jules Millis, a move which must lead to some logistical nightmares when it comes to touring. I was half expecting a train wreck. But actually, this lineup works quite well. Jules can't quite hit the high notes. But it didn't really detract from the experience. Jay Pepper has a great voice and his backing vocals (along with those of the drummer and bassist) helped fill in the gaps. Although Kim's absence on vocals was noted, it was his contributions on guitar that seemed to be missed more here. With just Jay's guitar, the songs sounded a bit thin in places, and having an extra guitar on stage would have helped. But still, a much better performance than I was expecting, with highlights being "Living without you", "Call of the wild" and the obligatory "Love bomb baby".

3.5/5 Lahannya The Underworld
4/5 Dyonisis 15th November 2013

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It was six years ago that I last saw Dyonisis. I'd never heard of them, but they were supporting Emilie Autumn and impressed me enough that I bought their album that night. Since then, circumstances have conspired to make me miss them on the few other occasions they've played a London show and in truth, although I like Lahannya, I probably wouldn't have been here had Dyonisis not also been on the bill. I wasn't sure what to expect in situations like that. There's always a risk that the previous show will have been a one off and they won't be as good the second time around. Fortunately, that wasn't the case here. Although they seemed a little awkward and ill at ease on stage, the performance didn't suffer for it. Backing singer Lou has a fantastic voice, and it would be tempting to say she's the strong point of the band. But in truth, it's the interaction of her voice with Nel's that really makes the whole thing work, and the pair of them make for a very strong vocal presence. The opening song, "Hunter" suffered with a rough mix, but fortunately that was soon sorted out and it was much better for the remainder of the set. The highlights for me were "Of the fear", "Arachne's song" and "Lunatic". I was midly disappointed that they didn't play "Winter", but that was a very minor complaint in an otherwise very strong set. I'll have to try and ensure it's not another six years before I get to see them again.

This wasn't a well attended show, and talking to Lahannya guitarist Chris Milden after the show, I found out that's because it had already been booked as part of a package deal with a couple of other more well known bands, who had later pulled out when more tempting opportunities arose. The band had decided that since the venues were already booked, they might as well play anyway. They played three songs, "Dying inside", "Payback" and "Sick and tired" as an acoustic mini-set, and for two of their older tracks, "Inside the machine" and "Burn", they brought former drummer Belle on stage to play. Their brand of somewhat lightweight industrial goth isn't bad, but for my tastes is less compelling than Dyonisis. I enjoyed the set, but somehow it just felt a bit lacking.

4/5 Satyricon Islington Academy
2.5/5 Chthonic 14th November 2013

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Chthonic hadn't impressed me at all at Bloodstock. This performance was better. Tonight, I could at least hear the music reasonably well. And actually, it's not bad. The keyboards are pretty good and Jesse Liu turns out to be quite a competent guitarist. The poor lighting meant that Doris Yeh wasn't the focal point she was at Bloodstock, although her fretboard lights certainly helped to draw attention in her direction. It's vocalist Freddy Lim, though, that is for me the band's weak point. The vocals need to be a bit more accessible before the band will hold any real interest for me. A better performance, then, but they've got a way to go yet.

Satyricon were the reason why I'd come. I very nearly didn't. I'd been feeling under the weather, and had considered giving it a miss. But unlike Chthonic, they'd put on a reasonably compelling performance at Bloodstock, so I'd wanted to see them again. I'm glad I decided to go. They were much better than last time, and I thoroughly enjoyed their set, despite being mostly unfamiliar with the material. They've been doing it a long time now, so it's not entirely surprising that they're a solid live unit now. Black metal is hard to convey well in a live setting, but a good mix and experienced musicians meant that they were able to pull it off with ease. The highlights for me were "Now, diabolical" (a song I'd never heard before) and in the second encore, "K.I.N.G", which was the only track of theirs I knew in advance.

4/5 Evil Scarecrow The Face Bar
3.5/5 Koru 9th November 2013
3/5 Driven
???/5 See You Next Thursday

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I missed the opening band, so my night started out with Driven. I later found out they're a local band to me, but we'd both descended on Reading for the evening. They just payed relatively straight ahead heavy metal. The vocals were reasonable enough (and surprisingly, clean, which seems to be a rarity these days). Their final song demanded audience participation in the form of a conga line. Apparently their manager sees it as a gimmick and is trying to get them to drop it, but I think it works well and in their shoes, I'd keep it. Koru were a band I'd heard of, but hadn't actually heard. Like Driven, it turned out they play no frills heavy metal. Again, featuring mostly clean vocals, which is a big plus in my book. There was little to choose between the two bands, but for me, Koru had slightly better songs and thus were slightly better on the night for me.

I'd seen Evil Scarecrow a couple of times at Bloodstock. Their last Bloodstock show in particular was very strong, playing to a packed Sophie tent, so I wanted to see them when they next toured. Unfortunately, that tour inexplicably didn't include a London date, which is how I found myself in Reading for this show. As expected, they rattled through all the favourites, including "Blacken the everything", "Crabulon", "Thundercats" and so on. But naturally the highlight of the evening was "Robototron". Despite their humourous approach, they're all actually pretty competent musicians, which always helps. Once more, they finished with "The final countdown", even though they keep promising to retire the song from their live sets.

3.5/5 Dark Tranquillity The Underworld
4/5 Tristania 7th November 2013
2/5 Sworn Amongst

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I've seen Sworn Amongst a few times now and sadly it seems they're getting worse each time. Tonight was just a wall of downtuned noise, with a bunch of indecipherable shouty vocals layers over the top. Very uninspiring. However, tonight for me was all about Tristania. I hadn't initially been overly impressed with their new album, "Darkest white", but it had grown on me with repeated listens. They started out very strongly with "Number" from the new album. But it rapidly became apparent that a poor mix was going to scupper their set, with the vocals being drowned out by the drums and guitars. Perhaps in acknowledgement of the headliners, some of the songs appeared to have been arranged to be heavier than normal here, particularly "Beyond the veil", which featured no female vocals at all apart from the brief intro section, and "The shining path", which is my favourite of their tracks, but this arrangement just didn't seem to work well. It was certainly heavy, but just wasn't epic enough for my tastes. Still, there were additional highlights in the form of "Year of the rat" and "Requiem", again from the new album. Another very good performance from them, then, but they've been better in the past.

Dark Tranquillity are a band I shouldn't really like. But some of their studio albums have got through to me anyway, and I've enjoyed them. However, their live performances have been another matter and I hadn't seen them put on a good show to date. Had Tristania not been on the bill, I wouldn't have been here at all. But I'm glad I was. They're still not a fantastic live band, but this was the best performance I've seen from them, by quite a considerable margin. Where Tristania had suffered, DT were blessed with an excellent mix. Making use of a support band with a female vocalist, Mariangela joined them on stage for "A bolt of blazing gold" and "Undo control". The new material from "Construct" came of particularly well, and although they didn't play my favourite track, "Punish my heaven", this was a pretty decent performance from the band.

4/5 Skid Row The Electric Ballroom
3/5 Ugly Kid Joe 5th November 2013
3.5/5 Dead City Ruins

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I'd never heard of Dead City Ruins before this show, but I'm glad I got there early enough to catch them. They had a dirty, bluesy sound, somewhere on the border between hard rock and heavy metal, and put on a surprisingly strong performance for a band I didn't know, helped by a suitably charismatic frontman. Definitely one to watch out for in the future, although being from Australia might hamper my chances of seeing them again very often.

Ugly Kid Joe saw a huge amount of success in the early '90s, but broke up shortly afterwards. They reformed a few years ago, and this was the first time I'd seen them. In truth, I was never their biggest fan, although I liked a few tracks. This show highlighted why. The well known songs ("Cat's in the cradle", "Neighbor", "Everything about you") went down well. But the rest of it was very much filler, and somewhat dull, and even a set closing cover of "Ace of spades" wasn't enough to rescue their performance for me.

Skid Row, on the other hand, were the complete opposite. Even on the songs I didn't know, they were engaging and full of energy. This was clearly a band that were enjoying themselves and giving 100%. I had a bit of a revelation on the way home from the show. I've seen the band several times now, with both Bach and Solinger. And while Seb clearly has the better voice, I've enjoyed the shows with Solinger singing much more. In fact, this was probably the best I've seen them to date. Highlights were mostly the obvious tracks; "I remember you", "18 and life", "Slave to the grind", "Monkey business" (which was somewhat surprising, because it's not normally one of my favourite tracks), and of course the set closer "Youth gone wild".

3.5/5 Sabbath Judas Sabbath The Face Bar
3/5 Karrion 24th October 2013
3.5/5 Eyes Of Darkness
2/5 Occupy

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Review to follow

Metal Female Voices Festival XI Oktoberhallen, Wieze, Belgium
3/5 Tarja 20th October 2013
3/5 Revamp
3/5 Anneke van Giersbergen
3.5/5 Stream Of Passion
3.5/5 Crimfall
2.5/5 Cadaveria
3/5 Eleanor
4/5 Dalriada
3.5/5 Hell City
2.5/5 L'Endeví

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The day started with a bunch of bands I'd never heard before. First up were L'Endeví, who played something I guess I'd describe as a cross between alternative and doom metal. Slow and heavy, with part sung and part growled vocals. The growls didn't do much for me, and the clean vocals were nothing to write home about. It's not that they were bad, but at a festival like this, I hope to hear outstanding vocals, and she just didn't supply that. Next up were Hell City. They were perhaps a bit lightweight, straddling the border of hard rock and heavy metal. But the songs were good and her voice was also good, with a slightly rough, raspy tone to it which suited the music well enough.

The first surprise of the day came from Dalriada. Again, I'd never heard of them, but they were fantastic. Hungarian folk metal, sung in Hungarian. Gang vocal choruses, and clean female lead vocals (with the occasional harsh vocal for emphasis) proved to be a winning formula. The language wasn't an issue. The songs were sufficiently epic and it was a great performance. I wasn't surprised to see they'd sold out of merchandise very shortly after their set ended.

In contrast, Eleanor were disappointing. They come over from Japan, and sung in Japanese. Dalriada had shown that wasn't necessarily a problem, but Eleanor just didn't have the same quality songs or the same stage presence, and the lead vocals just weren't strong enough. In fact, I think the backing vocalist probably had a better voice than the lead singer.

Cadaveria were an Italian band playing "horror metal". They've been describes as both black and gothic metal, but neither label really fits. The sludgy songs were Sabbath like in places and the vocals were a mix of clean and growled with neither being very good. After their show in London supporting Turisas, I'd been looking forward to seeing Crimfall again. Once more, they put on a solid showing of folky metal. Sadly, the performance was hampered by a terrible mix, with the drums dominating everything else and Helena's voice was barely audible on occasions. Still, there were decent showings of "Frost upon their graves" and "Son of north". Sadly, this turned out to be their last show with Helena, who announced her departure from the band a week or so after the show.

When I'd seen Stream Of Passion before, Marcela's voice had progressed from decent when I first saw them to very good the last time. Tonight she'd stepped it up another notch and was absolutely fantastic. The songs were good, the band were good and Marcela's voice was outstanding. I'll make a point of seeing them whenever they come around again. I'd seen Anneke in London before and it was clear she's been doing this long enough to know what she's doing on stage. Tonight was another example of that. It was perhaps slightly better than the London show, but suffered from the same complaints. It's too lightweight and AOR. Her voice is fine, but the songs just need a bit more crunch to them.

To some extent, I've never understood the praise that's lavished on everything Floor Jansen does. I can't fault her voice at all. But in both After Forever and here in Revamp, the songs just aren't there to back it up. Revamp just has too much prog nonsense for my tastes. In comparison, Tarja has both the voice and the songs to go with it. Sadly, she's also got some dreadful songs to go with them, and played many of them here. There were copious taped backing vocals which never helps things. The highlights were "Wish I had an angel" in the encore followed by bringing Floor on to duet on "Over the hills and far away".

Metal Female Voices Festival XI Oktoberhallen, Wieze, Belgium
3/5 Lacuna Coil 19th October 2013
4/5 Delain
3/5 Leaves' Eyes
1.5/5 Kontrust
3/5 Asrai
3/5 Kobra And The Lotus
2/5 Chaostar
3.5/5 Serenity
2.5/5 Imperia
3.5/5 Victorians
3/5 Azylya
3.5/5 Magion

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The festival proper kicked off with a band called Magion. I'd been told in advance that they were a bit like Epica. That wasn't too far from the mark. The songs were perhaps a bit less epic and the vocals weren't quite as prominent, but I thought they were very good and I bought their album at the merch stand. Azylya were next up, a band that took the increasingly common "beauty and the beast" approach to vocals. They were OK, and they made a decent attempt at putting on a show. But the vocals weren't particularly outstanding and I thought the songs were weak.

Polish band Victorians were next, or as they're sometimes called Victorians Aristocrats' Symphony. Faux Victorian costuming abounded, which would no doubt have anyone interested in authentic costumes of the period cringing. Musically they were OK, with epic songs and operatic vocals. The song structure was perhaps a bit average, but they were enjoyable enough. Their set ended with a cover of Woodkid's "Run boy run". I'd heard good things about Imperia, but for me, they just didn't work. The operatic vocals were rarely in tune, for a start. The songwriting was poor, the vocals didn't really fit the music and the overall effect was somewhat dull and unengaging.

Serenity, on the other hand, were much better. But then, having seen them before, I expected them to be. Not least because Georg is a great frontman and has a fantastic voice. This time around, in keeping with the festival, they'd reworked some of the songs to make Clémentine's vocal parts more prominent, and unlike a regular Serenity show, she sang on every song. Mostly that worked, but there were a few occasions where I felt her vocals weren't as powerful as they needed to be for the song, such as on the chorus to "Coldness kills" for example. Delain's Charlotte Wessels came on to guest on the final song, "Serenade of flames". Another strong performance, then, but I think they've been better in the past.

Chaostar. Where to begin? Are they an experimental art project or a serious musical band? Who knows? Way too much alternative random noises for my tastes, mixed with some occasional dubstep, which made them seem more than a little out of place at this festival. There were no guitars or basses. But there was a violin, along with two keyboards and one other choice (be it a lute, sitar or flute-like woodwind instrument). I've seen Kobra And The Lotus a few times now and I really want to like them. All of the elements are there. But somehow it just never seems to fall into place. I don't dislike them. But the vocals are never quite right and the songs always feel like they need a bit more work. Not bad, but nothing memorable. Again.

Visions Of Atlantis had been forced to pull out at the last minute, so local band Asrai were drafted in to replace them at short notice. I'd seen Asrai before in London as a support band. This time around, they seemed better. The music was more straight ahead metal, rather than the slightly alternative feel they had before. The vocals were good enough and it was a competent performance. If I'd thought Chaostar were out of place, Kontrust made them look almost normal. What were they doing here? Way too many rap and bizarre off the wall influences for my tastes. There was some actual singing, though far from enough, and there were two drummers on stage. Dreadful.

Having seen Leaves' Eyes a few times before, I'd always felt they were a bit lacking and that was mostly continued tonight. The highlight was "Elegy", but even that was a bit weak and washed out. However, they played 5 new songs here, and from what they played, I'm mildly optimistic about the new album. The new material was certainly very strong in comparison to their back catalogue. My other complaint, which will come as no surprise, was their over reliance on taped backing vocals.

So on to tonight's headliners, Lacuna Coil, a band I've liked since their very first EP. They've had their ups and downs since then, but the latest album, "Dark adrenaline" was a very welcome step back in the right direction. What I didn't know until about an hour before the show was that they'd decided to play the entirety of "Karmacode" tonight, an album that for me was one of the low points of the band's history, which wasn't a good start. Combine that with a muddy mix and you have a recipe for a substandard show, which is what we got. It wasn't all bad, and "Enjoy the silence" was good, along with an encore that included good performances of "Trip the darkness" and "Heaven's a lie". But this was far from one of their better shows.

Metal Female Voices Festival XI Oktoberhallen, Wieze, Belgium
4/5 Eve's Apple 18th October 2013
3/5 Liv Kristine

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Liv Kristine opened up the festival with a solo set. In some ways, the songs seemed a bit better than her Leaves' Eyes material. But they suffered from the same flaw that I've found when I've seen Leaves' Eyes. They were all just a bit lacking in bite.

However, tonight was really all about Eve's Apple, a collective of female rock and metal singers, originally conceived by Lisa Middelhauve after her departure from Xandria. Last year they'd performed an acoustic set, but this year was a full electric set, the first (and as it later transpired) last time they'd done that. The set consisted of a common backing band and an ever rotating selection of singers covering a selection of classic rock and metal tracks. Some were better than others, but overall, the quality was very high. Notable performances came from Mariangela Demurtas who was outstanding, and from Marcela Bovio and Iliana Tsakiraki. Suprises came in the form of Ailyn and Heidi Parviainen, both of whom seemed a bit weak, which is strange, because they've both been good when I've seen them before. My highlights would include Rainbow's "Stargazer", WASP's "The idol", Scorpions' "Rock you like a hurricane" and Queen's "The show must go on". For an encore, all 21 singers took to the stage for Doro's "All we are" and Hear 'n' Aid's "Stars". A fantastic start to the festival.

3.5/5 Annihilator Islington Academy
3/5 The Generals 13th October 2013
2.5/5 Nightlord

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Review to follow

4/5 Queensrÿche Islington Academy
2/5 Aeon Zen 12th October 2013

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Review to follow

3.5/5 Turisas Islington Academy
2.5/5 Revoker 9th October 2013
1.5/5 Astrohenge

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If a support band serves any purpose, it's to warm up the audience in preparation for the headliner and to get the support band a bit of exposure among an audience that should appreciate their music. Which is why inappropriate supports from different genres have always confused me. Honestly, what was the point of Astrohenge being on this bill? Their jazz-tinged psychadelic instrumental doom was never going to go down well with Turisas fans and so it proved here. They were competent enough, but the songs were dull and they were completely out of place. To a lesser extent, so were Revoker, but at least their southern metal based approach was a bit more in keeping with what the audience would have expected. I'm unconvinced about the need to use the word "motherfucker" at least twice in every sentence, but the music was OK if uninspiring.

I've seen Turisas many times over the years, but in truth, this was one of their weaker performances. The new album has generated a lot of controversy on the Internet, with the majority feeling it marks too large a departure from the traditional Turisas sound. I agree that it does, but from the tracks I've heard, I still like it. However, drawing a full 50% of your setlist from a new album that hasn't been particularly well received is always going to be a bad starting point for a good show. Even though I like the album, there were too many songs from it and I'd rather have had a better sampling of their career. Although "Ten more miles" worked quite well, it was unsurprisingly the back catalogue that went over best with the crowd. "A portage to the unknown" and "To Holmgard and beyond" were both excellent, "Stand up and fight" was good and of course the obligatory "Battle metal" and an encore of "Rasputin" ensured the evening ended on a high. But they've been better in the past.

3.5/5 The Vision Bleak Boston Music Room
3/5 Saturnus 6th October 2013
3/5 Dordeduh

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Review to follow.

2.5/5 Finntroll The Garage
3.5/5 Týr 5th October 2013
2.5/5 Skálmöld

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All I knew of Skálmöld before the show was that they were Icelandic. As expected, given the other bands on the bill, they played viking themed folk metal. Of the three guitarists on stage, the lead player was particularly noteworthy. The main vocals were too harsh for my tastes, and the band was better when the other guitarists and bass player helped out on the vocals, and particularly when the keyboard player sang.

I'd seen Týr a couple of times before so I knew what to expect, and this evening was much like the others. I find them a frustrating band in that when they're on form, they're really very good. But they seem to struggle to keep it up for an entire set, and the good tracks (in this instance, "Hold the heathen hammer high" and "Blood of the heroes") are interspersed with others that, while not bad, do little to maintain the energy of the better songs.

Finntroll were frankly disappointing. The newer material seems to be emphasising the folk elements less and less and they're heading towards just becoming a plain death metal band, one that isn't particularly interesting. They still have a way to go before they get there, but they're certainly not the folk metal band that they used to be. The troll ears were impressive, though. How do they get them to stay on, despite all the headbanging? Naturally, by far the best crowd response went to the set closing "Trollhammaren". Which also sounded notably different to the other material they played, illustrating my point about their change in sound.

???/5 Romeo's Daughter The Underworld
???/5 Dante Fox 4th October 2013
???/5 Kinkade

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I had a ticket, but circumstances meant I wasn't able to make it to this show. Shame really, as I'd managed to miss the band in the '80s too.

3.5/5 Tuff The Underworld
3.5/5 Shameless 2nd October 2013
2.5/5 Stala & So
3/5 Guiltz N Pleasurez

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Review to follow

3.5/5 Gloryhammer The Garage
4/5 Darkest Era 1st October 2013
3/5 Dendera
3.5/5 Death Valley Knights

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Review to follow

4.5/5 Powerwolf The Underworld
2.5/5 Ashes Of Ares 27th September 2013
4/5 Battle Beast
3.5/5 Majesty

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Review to follow

3/5 Diamond Head Islington Academy
4/5 Uli Jon Roth 26th September 2013
2.5/5 Iron Knights

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Review to follow

Bloodstock Open Air Catton Hall
2/5 Slayer 11th August 2013
1.5/5 Dying Fetus
3.5/5 Wolfsbane
1.5/5 Bludger
3/5 Anthrax
2/5 Belphegor
2.5/5 Phil Campbell's All Starr Band
2.5/5 Amulet
2.5/5 Cavort
??/5 Merciless Terror
??/5 Devil Driver
??/5 Breed 77
??/5 Betraeus
1/5 Bound By Exile
2/5 Exodus
??/5 Negligence
3.5/5 Gormathon
3.5/5 Andy James
??/5 Eridium
4/5 Evil Scarecrow
2.5/5 Amorphis
??/5 Fury
3/5 The Bastard Sons
??/5 Bossk
3.5/5 Line Of Fire
3/5 Fozzy
??/5 RSJ
??/5 Operation Error
1/5 Neon Halo
3/5 Sacred Mother Tongue
??/5 Kremated
4/5 Grifter
1/5 Whitechapel
2.5/5 Oceanis
3.5/5 States Of Panic
3/5 Scar City
2.5/5 Gama Bomb
1.5/5 Lifer
3/5 Black Emerald

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Bloodstock Open Air Catton Hall
2/5 Lamb Of God 10th August 2013
4.5/5 Last In Line
??/5 The Infernal Sea
4/5 Avantasia
3/5 Incassum
2/5 Skreamer
??/5 One For Sorrow
3/5 Power Quest
3.5/5 Sabaton
3/5 Awake By Design
??/5 Dishonour The Crown
3.5/5 Neonfly
1.5/5 Ten Cent Toy
2/5 Gojira
3.5/5 Mael Mordha
2/5 Internal Conflict
3/5 Earls Of Mars
??/5 In The Hills
2/5 Kataklysm
2/5 Scarab
1.5/5 Balls Deep
2.5/5 XII Boar
3.5/5 Hell
2.5/5 Betraeus
2/5 Gehtika
??/5 Diesel King
2/5 Cavorts
3.5/5 3 Inches Of Blood
3.5/5 Vanderbuyst
??/5 Mask Of Judas
2.5/5 Sworn Amongst
3/5 Beholder
2/5 Elithia
3.5/5 Stormbringer
1.5/5 Unfathomable Ruination
3/5 Fallen Riot

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Bloodstock Open Air Catton Hall
3/5 King Diamond 9th August 2013
2.5/5 Scar Symmetry
4/5 Accept
2.5/5 Mair
3.5/5 Mitchel Emms
1.5/5 Craniation
2.5/5 Xentrix
3.5/5 Fahran
2.5/5 Voivod
2/5 Xerath
2.5/5 Ravenage
3.5/5 Second Rate Angels
1.5/5 Municipal Waste
2/5 Karabdis
3/5 Cypher 16
3/5 Wraith
3/5 Prosperina
3.5/5 Firewind
3.5/5 Skiltron
3/5 Nocturna
2.5/5 The Prophecy
3.5/5 Mia Klose
1.5/5 Warpath
3/5 Dark Funeral
2/5 Shrapnel
3/5 Resin
1.5/5 Left Unscarred
2.5/5 Ex Deo
2/5 Sheol Afterlife
3.5/5 Bloodbound
3/5 Rezinwolf
3.5/5 Death Angel
4/5 Absolva
2/5 This Is Turin
2.5/5 Earthtone 9
2/5 The Way Of Purity
3/5 Cruel Humanity

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Bloodstock Open Air Catton Hall
3.5/5 Tragedy 8th August 2013
2.5/5 Ravenage
2/5 Oaf
3/5 Bull-Riff Stampede
4/5 Motherload

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4/5 Iron Maiden The O2 Arena
2.5/5 Zico Chain 4th August 2013

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Review to follow.

Barclaycard British Summer Time Hyde Park
3/5 Bon Jovi 30th June 2013
2/5 Kaiser Chiefs
2/5 Bush
2.5/5 The Virginmarys

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The Virginmarys were on one of the lower stages, and were the first band of the day for me. I'd heard the name before, but didn't know what they sounded like. I guess they could be described as vaguely bluesy indie rock, and actually, they weren't bad. Bush, on the other hand, were bland, inoffensive radio friendly rock. There were a couple of tracks I knew in the form of "The sound of winter" and a cover of The Beatles' "Come together". But mostly it was just very dull. Much the same could be said about Kaiser Chiefs. Just very, very dull, with nothing to keep the attention of the audience. Were it not for the two hit songs ("Ruby" and 'I predict a riot"), they'd have got an even lower rating here.

I noticed before the show that it had been 20 years since I'd last seen Bon Jovi. It didn't seem that long, but I was curious to see how the intervening years had treated the band. Opening up with a cover of "Rockin' all over the world" went down well with the crowd. But the following "You give love a bad name" felt a bit lacklustre, and that trend was continued throughout most of the set. Was it due to the lack of Ritchie Sambora? I don't think so. His replacement, Phil X, actually filled that role very well. Jon's vocals were mixed way too low initially, and although that did improve as the set progressed, it all just seemed a bit by the numbers. Jon's abnormally perfect teeth were projected onto the huge screen behind the stage, but that just served to highlight how mechanical the whole thing seemed. Even "I'll sleep when I'm dead", one of the more hard hitting songs in their repertoire seemed to lack bite. It's hard to say exactly what went wrong, and the set wasn't without its highlights ("Keep the faith", "Bad medicine" and "Have a nice day", for example). But as a friend of mine who also saw their Milton Keynes shows back in the day said to me "They're not like they were 20 years ago". That about sums it up.

Metal 2 The Masses London Nambucca
1/5 Anoxide 30th June 2013
1.5/5 One For Sorrow
3/5 Dethonator
2.5/5 The Mariana Hollow
3/5 Skarthia
2/5 Negative Earth

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For various reasons, I'd managed to miss all of the London heats again in this years M2TM. But I made it to the final. I couldn't find out who was going to be playing beforehand, so the first I knew of that was when I turned up at the venue. Negative Earth describe themselves as playing "brutal British groove". I'm not sure when the term "groove metal" came to be applied to that sort of music, nor do I particularly think it fits the music, but it describes the band reasonably well. I wasn't overly keen on the vocals, but the music was pretty decent in places, and the occasional clean vocal contributions from the drummer helped. Skarthia describe themselves as melodic death metal and groove metal, which wouldn't normally be my sort of thing. But there was something compelling about their performance that really worked. There were thrashy influences and the vocals were tending towards thrash rather than traditional death vocals. The timing was a bit loose in a couple of places, but that's nothing a bit more stage time couldn't cure. The female guitarist is no slouch, which was nice to see and quite impressive in places. Her vocals dramatically improved the one song on which they were used and it was a shame they didn't feature in the rest of the set. They also suffered from a poor mix, which meant the guitars were hard to pick out at times. But there's something there that's worth keeping an eye out for.

The Mariana Hollow were the only band playing that I'd heard previously, having seen them play a couple of times before. It has to be said, they've been better in the past. This time around, there were too many Kate Bush style laternative quirky vocals, and not enough metal. But in parts, they were still good, such as on "Scars not wounds". From the name, I'd assumed Dethonator would be a death metal band, but no, they played straight up traditional melodic heavy metal. Occasional guitar and vocal harmonies were very welcome, and even the sporadic harsh vocals worked well, rather than detracting from the music. The lead vocals were mostly good, but perhaps need a little work in places, with power and pitch not quite hitting the spot at times. Still, it wasn't enough of a problem to spoil the performance.

One For Sorrow were another so called groove metal band, but for me the sound had too many hardcore influences and not enough metal. The vocals were sometimes OK, but mostly not. That said, some of the guitar work was quite interesting. But overall, not a band for me. Which could be said of Anoxide too. They had plenty of energy, but the death metal they were playing was extremely dull and lacking in pretty much anything to interest me. Again, there was some occasionally interesting guitar work, but not enough to save them. The winner of tonight's show earned a spot at this year's Bloodstock Open Air and I was somewhat surprised when Simon picked One For Sorrow. I'd have given it to either Skarthia or Dethonator.

Download Festival Donington Park
4.5/5 Rammstein 16th June 2013
2.5/5 Thirty Seconds To Mars
4/5 Airbourne
3.5/5 Ghost
2.5/5 Rival Sons
2.5/5 Stone Sour
2.5/5 Amon Amarth
2/5 Parkway Drive
1/5 Hacktivism
2.5/5 Masters Of Reality
3/5 I Am I
3/5 Huntress
3/5 Night X Night
3/5 Graveyard
1.5/5 Black Dogs
3.5/5 The Graveltones
3.5/5 Mordecai
3/5 Arthemis
2/5 Hellyeah

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Review to follow.

3.5/5 Steve Grimmett's Grim Reaper Monto Water Rats
3.5/5 Midnight Messiah 8th June 2013
3.5/5 Widow

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I only caught the end of Widow's set, but was kicking myself that I wasn't able to get to the venue earlier to see more of it. As might be expected given the headliners, they played straight up no frills metal. NWOBHM with a modern sound. Imagine Holy Grail playing trad metal rather than power metal and you won't be far off. I really enjoyed their performance and bought the album. I'll definitely be looking out for them in the future. Midnight Messiah are born from the ashes of NWOBHM band Elixir. Like Widow, they played a set of NWOBHM inspired trad metal, albeit with perhaps a little less immediacy. The lead guitarist was very good without being too flashy with it. Their own material wasn't bad, and they also threw in a few Elixir songs for good measure. For me they were at their best when covering Elixir's "Treachery (ride like the wind)".

Grim Reaper were one of those bands you always felt should have made it more than they did back in the day. They were certainly one of the stronger bands of the NWOBHM era. For whatever reason, they're now branded as Steve Grimmett's Grim Reaper, and that reflects the fact that a large part of why they deserved better stems from Grimmett's outstanding vocals. 30 years on and his voice is perhaps a little more gruff than it used to be, but still very, very good. He was having to refer to printed lyrics occasionally, which he freely admitted was due to his memory failing with age and his inability to remember them all. The new material sounded strong, and like Midnight Messiah, they had a surprisingly competent lead guitarist. Highlights for me included "Rock you to hell", a cover of Dio's "Don't talk to strangers" and the obvious "See you in hell" set closer.

3/5 Megadeth Brixton Academy
2/5 Bleed From Within 6th June 2013

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It's hard to say much about Bleed From Within. I'd checked out a few videos online beforehand, so I wasn't expecting much anyway. But the sound was so bad that I literally couldn't hear the vocals at all. I could see the singer moving his mouth, but I could only hear the drums and one of the guitars. The rest was relegated to a dull, muddy droning coming from the side speakers. Actually, the guitar work was quite interesting in places and far better than the 7 string chug I was expecting.

After a couple of really very good live performances the last few times I'd seen them, I was expecting big things from Megadeth. But sadly they too were let down by some of the worst live sound I've heard in years. True, it was better than for Bleed From Within, but that's really not saying much. The band appeared to be putting in the effort, but the accompanying sound just didn't make for a good live experience. It was so bad that I didn't even recognise "Architecture of aggression" until over a minute into the song. The highlights, such as they were, included "She wolf" and "Countdown to extinction" but they were nothing special and even "Symphony of destruction" wasn't particularly outstanding. One of the weakest Megadeht performances I've seen to date. Very disappointing.

3.5/5 Lacrimas Profundere The Underworld
3/5 Awake By Design 2nd June 2013

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I'd never heard of Awake By Design before this show. They played a set of melodic, slightly prog-tinged, slight gothic-tinged rock/metal. Despite never having heard of them before, I was reasonably impressed and quite enjoyed their performance. I'd never heard of Lacrimas Profundere either before I saw them supporting Apocalyptica some years ago, but they had similarly impressed me that night, sufficiently so that I was happy to see them here at their own headline show. They started out with a dreadful mix, but fortunately that improved after a few songs. The bass and keyboard parts were taped, and were too dominant. But mostly they played a set of pretty decent gothic metal. In places they were heavier than I'd remembered too. I'd pick out "Again it's over" as my highlight.

3/5 Beholder The Face Bar
2.5/5 Bull-Riff Stampede 12th May 2013
2.5/5 Men That Follow Hell
3.5/5 Motherload

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Motherload had come out of nowhere and had impressed me at Day Of Rockening. Their presence combined with an inability to make the London date on this tour made the trip to Reading worthwhile. As before, they showed that they're a great live experience. I hadn't really noticed it before, but Simon Hall pointed out similarities to The Almighty, and now that he's done so, I can see them. The vocals were mixed too low which detracted from things a bit, but it was still a strong showing. Highlights included "We are the authority", "Hang your head" and a cover of AC/DC's "TNT". Also the drummer eating a banana in the downtime between songs, much to the amusement of both singer Tom Ford and the rest of the crowd.

I'd seen Men That Follow Hell at an M2TM round, so I knew roughly what to expect. Southern groove metal with gruff vocals was the order of the day. They're a reasonably accomplished band, but tonight's performance was nothing special, and I felt they were better last time around. Much like Bull-Riff Stampede, to be honest. They're another competent band, but they were hampered by the poor mix. They were also a bit too full on. Yes, thrash is meant to be full on, but there was no let up, no light and shade in the sound. Just a wall of noise. That's OK for a while, but a full set of it gets to be too repetative. Also the drums seemed a bit uninspired and the mix meant they were dominating the sound. They're a decent band but they've been better.

I'd been very impressed with Beholder's progression from a covers band playing in the tent at Bloodstock to a band writing and performing their own original material. Their first album was very strong, but the second, "The order of chaos" was better in pretty much every respect apart from the songwriting and for me was a weaker offering. Unsurprisingly, given this tour was in support of said album, the set list featured many songs from it and I'm not sure that helped things. The new album certainly has some highlights, and "Splinter", played here, was notably good tonight. My other highlights were "The heretic" and "The awakening". Chris Bentley once again stood out on drums. Not a bad night of metal, then, but three bands that have been better in the past, and Motherload who took the honours for my band of the night.

4/5 Audrey Horne The Underworld
2.5/5 The Mercy House 2nd May 2013
3.5/5 Sahg

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Review to follow.

Hellish Rock Part II The Forum
3/5 Helloween 16th April 2013
4/5 Gamma Ray
3/5 Shadowside

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Review to follow.

2.5/5 The Box Factory The Dublin Castle
2/5 The Unemployed 15th April 2013
3/5 Mudball
2.5/5 Moriarty

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Review to follow.

Metal 2 The Masses Reading The Face Bar
2.5/5 Dark Karma Soul 13th April 2013
3/5 Karrion
3.5/5 Second Rate Angels

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Review to follow.

3.5/5 Serenity Boston Music Room
2.5/5 Visions Of Atlantis 25th March 2013
2/5 Souldrinker

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Review to follow.

4/5 The Faces Of Sarah Mother Live
1.5/5 The Unkindness Of Ravens 22nd March 2013
2.5/5 The Ghost Effect
3/5 Maxdmyz

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Review to follow.

3/5 Tempus Fusion The Unicorn
2.5/5 Tank Trap 16th March 2013
??/5 Circle Of Fear

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Review to follow.

Lorriworks The Fiddler's Elbow
3.5/5 King Lizard 9th March 2013
3.5/5 Voodoo Vegas
3/5 Apollo's Child
2.5/5 Rob Angelico

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Review to follow.

Metal 2 The Masses Reading The Face Bar, Reading
2/5 Mutagenocide 17th February 2013
3/5 Men That Follow Hell
2.5/5 Black Emerald
??/5 Raised From Oblivion

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I didn't arrive in time to catch Raised From Oblivion, so Black Emerald were my first band of the night. I'm struggling to come up with a better way to describe them than just a modern take on straight up heavy metal. The lead guitarist looked competent. The vocals were slightly gruff, vaguely thrashy. I think a cleaner voice might have suited the material a bit better and that they could do with some work in the songwriting department, but they're basically a pretty solid band.

Men That Follow Hell had brought with them a bit of a crowd and were clearly the most popular band of the night. They played southern groove metal, with some doom and blues influences. In theory, that's not really my thing, and I should have preferred Black Emerald. A friend had noted that they've upped their game recently and it shows. The songwriting was good, the band were very tight and even if it's not really my chosen genre, they were actually very good. So were Mutagenocide. Musically, at least. Again, some competent guitar work and thrashy songs. But then it was all completely ruined by a tuneless shouty vocalist. They don't need to have a Halford or Dio style frontman, but they do need someone that better suits the music and a traditional thrash style singer would fit in much better. The judges ruled Men That Follow Hell to have won the night, followed by Black Emerald and then Mutagenocide, who will qualify for a second chance heat later on. That pretty much agrees with my assessment of the bands.

4/5 Pain The Borderline
2/5 Neosis 13th February 2013
3.5/5 Maleficent

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The only thing I knew about Maleficent beforehand was that they had Alice Rain on bass, formerly of King Lizard, and that they had a female lead singer. As it turns out, they had two lead singers; one male, one female. Miss Maleficent Martini, has a backround in ballet dancing, and performed pretty much the entirety of the first three songs on pointe, which was certainly an impressive sight, even if I imagine it will have been somewhat painful. After those three songs, she swapped her ballet shoes for a pair of ridiculously high heeled shoes, presumably for some modicom of comfort. Musically, I'd have described them as alternative industrial metal. They describe themselves as performance-lead industrial metal, which clearly emphasises the theatrical aspects of their live show. There were stage props in the form of a shop dummy, a birdcage (initially on Rain's head, later on that of the dummy) and miscellaneous additional bits and pieces. Combined with the general stage presence of the musicians and Martini's shedding of clothes (she started out looking like an Emilie Autumn clone, but by part way through the performance she was down to just a body stocking), the whole thing gave the impression of a band that's determined to go places. Good luck to them. It's nice to see a band that's actually trying to actively promote themselves. They're not normally my sort of thing, but they put on a compelling performance, and I'll gladly go and see them again.

Switzerland's Neosis continued the evening with some industrial cyber noise. The drums were good, the fretted instruments both had too many strings (5 for the bass and 8 for the guitar, which you don't see too often). The guitar work mostly consisted of chugging riffs, but occasionally escaped into some flashly solo leads. There were lots of taped backing guitars (or maybe synths, it was hard to tell), so it wasn't easy to work out how much of it was actually being played live. The vocals were raw and largely shouted, over a noisy polyrythmic musical backing, which didn't do much for me. When he was playing the solos, guitarist Greg Anxionnaz showed he was clearly very competent and I noticed a couple of guitarists in the audience paying close attention to his playing. But ultimately, the band weren't providing the stimulation that I want to see from a live performance.

The Borderline isn't known for its great sound quality and all three bands suffered from poor sound this evening. But it was disappointing to see headliners Pain suffer worse than the supports. But even so, they put on a strong performance, full of the industrial metal stomp I'd come to see. The show was sold out, and the crowd went crazy when the band hit the stage, resulting in quite a crush at the front, despite the venue's limited capacity. The guitars were barely audible, being completely drowned out by the bass and drums, but it didn't matter. Main man Peter Tägtgren has been doing this for a while now and is obviously very much at ease on stage (even wearing a straight jacket!) which always helps make for a good show. Fellow guitarist Michael Bohlin was equally at home, pounding out riff after riff. Notable highlights were "Zombie slam", "Nailed to the ground" and "On & on", but there weren't really any weak tracks in the entire set. Hopefully next time around they'll be able to find a venue with better sound.

3.5/5 Iron Knights The Unicorn
3/5 Toledo Steel 9th February 2013

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Toledo Steel don't have an original idea between the lot of them. They make no pretense at forging their own path. Instead, they're purely about early-mid '80s Iron Maiden worship. But that's no bad thing. As my friend Dave said, he doesn't expect to see them playing Wembley any time soon, but they brought a smile to his face. And ultimately that's what it's all about. Originality doesn't matter when you're entertaining the crowd, and they certainly managed that. The highlight for me was a track called "Speed killer". They also ended the set with a couple of covers, namely Anthrax's "Metal thrashing mad" and Grim Reaper's "See you in hell".

Stuka Squadron had built up quite a following due to some decent songs and a larger than life stage show. But then the band felt the need to fire their bass player, who felt compelled to then trademark the band's name and threaten legal action if the band continued to use it. All thoroughly unpleasant stuff, but rather than fight a lengthy and no doubt expensive legal battle, they opted to just change their name and get on with it. Thus were the Iron Knights born. This time, they had yet another guitarist. I'm not sure I've seen them with the same guitarist twice (Gravedigger Cox excepted, naturally). Along with the name change, they've cut back on the live show, and gone were the skulls and sword of yesteryear. In truth, they suffered a little without them. But still, a good enough performance, playing a mix of tracks from the Stuka Squadron and Iron Knights albums. I hadn't heard the latter (although I picked it up on the night), but the new material sounded fine. Highlights were "Tiger I" and "On the Volga bridge".

3.5/5 Hanging Doll Asylum 2, Birmingham
4.5/5 Triaxis 8th February 2013
2.5/5 Incassum

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Incassum were the first band of a night of female fronted metal. For my tastes, there were too many harsh vocals. Not necessarily a problem in and of itself, but the clean vocals used as contrast weren't outstanding either, and the combination of the two just didn't work. To be fair, they were better than the samples I'd heard online would have implied, but not by much. They also suffered from poor sound, which didn't help.

I'd gone up to Manchester at the end of last year specifically to see Triaxis and Hanging Doll and with the same pairing touring several cities this time around, I was determined to see them again. With no London date on the tour, Birmingham was the closest venue to me, so that's the one I went for. Triaxis can do little wrong these days, and this was another outstanding performance from them. Tonight's highlight was "Under blood red skies", a song that I'd liked on the album but until tonight, it hadn't really hit home in a live setting. Unlike Icassum, Triaxis had good sound quality for their set. Strange how two bands playing through largely the same equipment and mixing desk can sound so different.

I'd spoken to Sally earlier in the evening, and she'd said she had a cold and wasn't sure how well her voice was going to cope. Sure enough, she struggled here. I know she has a great live voice, but tonight wasn't an occasion where she showed it. That said, it was still a far from poor performance, with "Lacrimosa" and "The inauspicious host" both impressing, but they've been better in the past. Sally brought a smile to my face with the on stage quip "It's February. Love is in the air. How about a song about suicide?" Of note was that this was the first Hanging Doll show I've seen where they didn't play "Sweet retribution".

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