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Gig Review: Avenged Sevenfold bring a little piece of Heaven to Belfast

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06 June 2018

In the world of rock and metal, there are two types of shows. The first are the ones where a bunch of dudes slouch onstage, play their tunes, maybe chat to the audience briefly then leave. The second though: ah, the second type of show is where there are lights, lasers, ever-changing backdrops. Flames! Skulls! Hovering, er, spacemen! Who would like to take a guess as to what kind of show Avenged Sevenfold put on for their first ever performance in Belfast?

At first glance, support act Avatar seem an incongruous choice, until you realise that, in their own very unique way, they are equally – if not more – theatrical as tonight’s headliners. Arriving onstage as a voiceover intones a request for “a moment of silence…the King of Avatar Country is taking to the stage” (to which some wag in the audience replies “no chance” in proper Belfast fashion), they launch into ‘Statue of the King’ with all the gusto that the regal title entails. “Belfast! Are you with us?” bellows the figurative (and pretty much literal) ringmaster Johannes Eckerstrӧm, the happiest frontman in the world.

Their ‘camp as holy hell’ set goes down surprisingly well with A7X’s notoriously picky fans; in fact, one suspects that there are almost as many people here for the openers as for the headliners. Eckerstӧm cajoles, commands and draws the crowd in with the sheer force of his personality; his ‘dandified Marilyn Manson’ persona seems to delight almost everyone here.

After a quick costume change (complete with butlers for the ‘king’, aka guitarist Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby), they fire up ‘The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country’, which sounds faintly like Poison’s ‘Unskinny Bop’, and finally their biggest song, the delirious ‘Hail the Apocalypse’, with that amazing riff that sounds like the whir of helicopter blades set to music. For all their pomp and glorious OTT-ness, the root of Avatar is a brilliant heavy metal band, which is undoubtedly what wins them many new fans tonight.

SETLIST

  • Statue of the King
  • Let It Burn
  • Paint Me Red
  • The Eagle Has Landed
  • Smells Like a Freakshow
  • The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country
  • Hail the Apocalypse

After what seems like an eternity for their eager fans, Avenged Sevenfold finally emerge after blaring out ‘Back In Black’ from the speakers; first, drummer Brooks Wackerman, then guitar master Synyster Gates, who teases the crowd with a short solo. Johnny Christ and Zacky Vengeance join him, followed – finally – by adored frontman M. Shadows, who unsurprisingly receives the loudest roar. The room miraculously fills up, the band brace themselves…and it’s on.

Opener ‘The Stage’ shows the crowd exactly what they can expect: a swirling backdrop that fluctuates between celestial images, laser shows and video snippets, wall projections, a well-used catwalk which reaches several metres into the crowd, and their beloved A7X blasting out the hits with relish. Frontman Shadows bounces like a ping pong ball from the catwalk to the stage, throwing his mike stand to an offstage roadie with practiced ease, rarely stopping for a second; all this is made even more impressive when he confesses that half of the band aren’t well.

That illness may account for why, at times, there are moments where the atmosphere falls a bit flat; when there is nobody onstage and nothing happening; why Gates only plays a few solos and they’re rather slow and drawn out; why quite a few songs in the setlist are mid-paced and don’t require lashings of energy to play, including, surprisingly, a fairly rocked-up version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, which delights the older fans in the crowd but most likely baffles the younger ones.

Thankfully it’s not all slower numbers: when they hit the faster tunes, it’s a thing of absolute beauty to witness. Songs such as ‘Afterlife’, ‘Hail to the King’ and ‘Buried Alive’ go down an absolute flame-belching storm, with moshpits breaking out everywhere you look, while the likes of ‘Nightmare’ and a full-throttle ‘Bat Country’ send everyone, well, batshit. They also throw in a few tracks Shadows calls “old but new” and “kinda random”, such as ‘Eternal Rest’, played for the first time in four years; ‘M.I.A’, aired for the first time since 2011, and album track ‘Higher’ from recent release The Stage.

There’s also, as expected, a touching tribute to fallen legend Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan, with the band playing ‘So Far Away’ after a video and audio montage of the man himself. It’s a goosebump-inducing moment which temporarily – and rightly – subdues the crowd.

Shadows, who has always been a bit of a mysterious figure in the metal world, is surprisingly amiable and witty onstage, waxing lyrical about the beauty of Northern Ireland and assuring fans they’ll be back, as well as joking with crowd members – at one stage someone asks him to draw something for them, and after a few minutes’ hilarious deliberation with the rest of the band, he eventually decides to draw Johnny Christ; also notable is his amused reaction when an inflated condom floats practically into his face.

A trio of songs in their encore ends with ‘Unholy Confessions’, after which Shadows thanks the crowd and declares “we will be back!”, to enraptured cheers from the audience, and, suddenly, it’s over. As thousands of sweaty bodies exit the SSE Arena (well it was a full two hour show, and it’s really rather warm outside, and my goodness those flames give off some heat), it’s patently obvious that, despite illness, A7X have put on – as always – a hell of a show. Actually, strike that. It wasn’t just a show; it was A Show. Epic in every sense of the word, fantastically entertaining, and exactly what their fans craved. Hail to the king(s).

SETLIST

  • The Stage
  • Afterlife
  • Hail to the King
  • Welcome to the Family
  • God Damn
  • Buried Alive
  • So Far Away
  • Nightmare
  • Eternal Rest
  • M.I.A
  • Higher
  • Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
  • Bad Country
  • ENCORE
  • Shepherd of Fire
  • A Little Piece of Heaven
  • Unholy Confessions

Review by Melanie Brehaut
Photos by Darren McVeigh

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