With over-chatty, overly gropesome door staff, and a remarkable line in broken cash machines, the enthusiasm for defending the faith is somewhat dented upon arrival, but perhaps nowhere near as much as it is for all those still stuck outside. With the doors opening at 18:30 and 3 Inches of Blood storming the stage at 18:35, one wonders who employed the rejects from "The Apprentice" to run tonight's event.
Suffice it to say that 3IoB open the show to an audience that's just shuffling and grumbling its way into a state of vague comfort. To their credit, they do a good job of brightening up the atmosphere and are well chosen to lead the charge. The band may still look like shit, particularly when they are dwarfed by the wrappings of a cavernous stage set that is not for their use, but with a no nonsense approach to serving up accessible, high camp, old-school metal, they have this sober scribe awkwardly head banging in his seat and dashing off to the merch desk. Although their music is carried by the entertaining vocals, one can't help but feel that as long as there is metal there will be always be a place for bands like 3 Inches of Blood.
Devildriver are up next. Despite the sudden onset of murky sound gremlins, they waste no time in making sure the event has a familiar American dynamic to it. So then, anyone for breakdowns, opening up some circle-pits and saying "fuckers?" You better like it. Fuckers.
With the event having been truly kicked off by the first two bands, the stage begins to open up, and Metal Hammer's true-metal-fest begins to feel like it has some momentum. So to the first of tonight's co-headliners: Arch Enemy. Having played second banana to Trivium's stage ramps last time they graced these boards, it is with a sense of vindication that I watch the band take command of the venue through a well constructed and career spanning set. All the hits are included, the new material sits in comfortably and all the virtuoso spots are well on cue. Angela is as intense as ever, the Amott brothers are as flashy as usual, and the rhythm section holds it all together with a well honed blend of machine-like timing and performance awareness. This isn't the most overpowering Arch Enemy gig, but it is certainly one of the most epic. The closing blasts of pyrotechnics only serve to underscore the feeling that Arch Enemy could be a much bigger band than the western mainstream metal press is comfortable with. Somebody would do well to take the hint.
After such a satisfying onslaught of pure fucking metal (tm), one wonders how Opeth will carry off the closure. Though never one to doubt their musical credentials or the integrity of their magnificent recorded output, I yet await their arrival with a sense of foreboding. Unfortunately, said foreboding is justified. Despite moments of sublime musical expression, Opeth's performance judders and misfires like an unreliable classic car that has retained all of its aesthetic attraction. Yes, they are great musicians. Yes, they are an impressive band. Yes, their music is truly great, but someone would do well to stop Michael Akerfeldt from talking bollocks between songs. In fact, the band kills so much stage time that the ugly sound of scattered booing and scathing heckles punctuate the band's performance. It may well be that such breaks are a respite for the musicians; after all, every Opeth song is a meandering, trance inducing blend of complexity, atmosphere and excessive length; but does it really make for a great live experience? Perhaps, but not tonight. After "The Drapery Falls" there is no time for an encore. No great loss.