Mounds of stained snow lay in organised piles around Birmingham’s Barclaycard arena as people slowly filed in through the front doors and into the welcomed arms of warmth from the vast venue.
Of Mice & Men were up first and although the set contained no flashy stage production with the exception of their huge band-title backdrop, their technique and song catalogue was a fitting warm-up for the acts to follow. Since Aaron Pauley’s decision to move into the spotlight as not only the bands lead singer (replacing Austin Carlile) but as their long-time bassist as well, the group have unquestionably had their career catapulted forward due to this line-up alteration.
Up next was In Flames with something unexpected which was first song “Drained” performed entirely behind their front curtain, leaving nothing but the group’s dramatic silhouettes to loom over the audience before falling to continue their sizeable set. Fuelled by beer and intense heavy metal riffs, Bjorn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin have always portrayed themselves as charismatic guitarists who remain involved in a balanced mix of crowd interaction and technical guitar work throughout their shows and this evening was no exception. Niclas’s long hair flew as “Take This Life” attacked the very air surrounding their amplifiers with frontman Anders Friden unleashing his signature screams that carried through right to the back of the room. Unlike the opening band, their stage production was SLIGHTLY more upscale, with drummer Joe Rickard and their synth musician atop two towering pedestals with their wall monitors firing bursts of colour and visual imagery out including a pumping artery system and an unnerving series of stone storage slots all protruding human eyes.
One interesting comment from the singer was that “Although we are a sinking ship, we will not be going down anytime soon”, which is personified perfectly by the magnitude of their show and the simple fact that this band still have so much to give as the iconic Swedish metal group (including their own brewed beer and even a two-day festival called ‘Borgholm Brinner’).
The headliners had certainly not taken any chances in terms of their own production. With a similar curtain gimmick, it fell to reveal Ivan Moody standing with his chrome skeleton microphone stand and just in front of an enormous and pointy-toothed skull hovering over Jeremy Spencer and his drum kit. “Lift Me Up” lit the packed powderkeg and exploded with a thick atmosphere that included a continual barrage of forceful fist pumps and small pockets of mosh pits breaking out left right and centre.
Chris Kael’s wild beard dreads stretched out and came to life as he ferociously head-banged big riffs alongside Jason Hook with “Never Enough” who, when erupting into a solo, had lime green LED’s flood his seven-string guitar body accompanied by stretching strobes that outstretched their arms to brush the back walls of the Barclaycard Arena. Jason Bathory finding time to point out individuals in the front row as he plucked away at his Diamond guitar, kept a huge smile across his face for a large duration of the evening (possibly due to Mr Moody and his undeniably loveable stage charisma).
Surprises persisted with Tommy Vext of Bad Wolves and Of Mice & Men’s Aaron Pauley singing “Ain’t My Last Dance” alongside Ivan, acoustic renditions of “I Apoligise”, “Wrong Side of Heaven” and “Remember Everything” and before the start of “Burn MF”, Ivan Moody pulled a lucky number with their signature face makeup up on to the stage to allow them a look at the chaos and palpable adoration that the band are grateful to witness and receive nearly every night. Concluding on “The Bleeding”, the five-piece proved that regardless of setbacks in the past that could have easily terminated any relationship or future for many groups, this bunch of American rabble rousers still have much to deliver.