Review by Peter Finn for MPM
After spending the weekend in Cardiff with Mrs F to see The Stereophonics and the legendary Sir Tom Jones, I’m back on the road with my other ‘Partner’ MPM Tog Manny.
So, with our ‘Tour Bus’ packed with supplies, we’re off to the north-west and the O2 Ritz in Manchester. The ride north was straightforward by our standards, the only problem encountered was trying to use the Pay and Display machine at the carpark.
The Ritz was built in 1928 by architects Cruickshank and Seward, the Grade II listed building was originally a dance hall complete with a sprung dancefloor and revolving stage, it was one of the most popular destinations in Manchester during the 1930s and 1940s. But, with the emergence of Rock ’n’ Roll and pop music, The Ritz was transformed into a live music venue, hosting shows from some of the greats including The Beatles and Frank Sinatra. In 2015 it was acquired by Live Nation and added to their portfolio of O2 venues. I have been here once before to see Black Stone Cherry, and I’m looking forward to visiting it again.
After a quick 5-minute walk, we arrive at the venue and we’re straight in. Manny makes his way to the pit, and I head up to the balcony, and grab a position opposite the stage. There is a good queue at the merch stall. It’s hot in here, the hall is buzzing with anticipation. We have the pleasure of two bands tonight, American rockers Tremonti and The Raven Age. With both having appeared at this year’s Download Festival a few weeks ago and have been performing in Europe and at Festivals in the meantime.
The Raven Age were formed in London in 2009 by guitarists Dan Wright and George Harris who started writing music together. Eventually they had amassed a body of material that inspired them to form a band. By 2013, the Raven Age was a fully formed quintet, with Matt Cox joining on bass and backing vocals, and Jai Patel on drums.
Harris has explained that the name of the band was inspired by the mythology surrounding the ravens that reside in the Tower of London; legend has it that if the ravens ever leave, the tower and the monarchy will fall. The band have released three albums to date. After a couple of personnel changes during that time, the band now consists of Matt James (vocals), George Harris (guitar), Tommy Gentry (guitar), Matt Cox (bass), and Jai Patel (drums). Tonight, we have a line-up change as Tommy Gentry is unable to make it, so Jordan Spowart is playing guitar for the show this evening.
The house lights go out and ‘Burning Heart’ by Survivor from Rocky IV comes over the PA. A torch lights the way for the band to get out from behind the screens and onto the stage.
The show opens with ‘The Day the World Stood Still’ from ‘Conspiracy’ which was released in 2019. The punchy riff sets the tone. Matt James’ forceful vocal is backed up by Patel’s drumbeats. The twin guitar attack of Harris and Spowart really give the track character. James is up on the riser pointing and waving at people on the balcony. Matt Cox finishes the track with a bellowing scream, which is met by a great cheer. A very tidy start.
The stage lighting goes an electric blue, it’s ‘Salem’s Fate’ from the 2017 full debut album ‘Darkness Will Rise’. The slow solo vocal intro from James is gradually joined by the rest of the band, actually it’s more like gate-crashed. Patel is double tapping the bass drum. Matt Cox’s bass growls and rumbles adding real atmosphere. Matt James is on the riser, clutching his mic close to his face as the rest of the band get the Manchester crowd punching the air.
“Good evening, Manchester. It’s great to be here, we’ve missed this, let’s raise the roof” cries James. We go back to ‘Conspiracy’ for ‘Surrogate’, the tempo for the intro is blistering. This is clever as there are different tempo’s being played at the same time. Matt Cox calls for a “Hey, Hey” chant, which he gets. Spowart increases the excitement with his lead break.
Jai Patel’s rapid drumbeat brings in ‘Promised Land’ from ‘Darkness Will Rise’. James’ vocal is slow almost spoken. The guitarists are all stood up on the risers. George Harris’ lead break grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you. The music pauses and James leans over the front row, “Raven, Raven” is the chant. The fists are pumping. The heavy riffs of the outro gets the heads nodding.
The band momentarily leave the stage, Spowart is the only one left as he starts the intro to ‘Seventh Heaven’ from ‘Conspiracy’, Patel is double tapping the drums, Cox has the crowd cheering, James is running from one riser to the other. Stopping stage right, he asks, “Manchester are you ready to sing?” We join in a sing-back of “Woah’s”, James is now off the stage and in the pit pointing the mic at the crowd, apparently, we sound pretty good.
It’s straight into the high intensity start of ‘Angel in Disgrace’ which is taken from ‘Darkness Will Rise’. It’s a full-on drum assault, Harris is on the riser leading the clapping, Cox is leant forward headbanging. George Harris starts the solo, before Jordan Spowart joins in. The Manchester crowd are loving this. James screams, “Are we feeling alive?”, the thunderous cheer confirms we are.
James asks the crowd to show their appreciation to Jordan for standing in, the Manchester crowd do just that. The final track from The Raven Age is ‘Fleur de Lis’ from ‘Conspiracy’, buckle-up this is quick, the beats, the riffs, the lyrics are all or nothing. The Raven Age have put your senses on the ropes and are not letting up.
It’s been a great set; The Raven Age have definitely taken the excitement in the hall up a notch or two. They ask the audience to wave as they take a photograph with the crowd before leaving the stage.
Setlist: The Day the World Stood Still, Salem’s Fate, Surrogate, Promised Land, Seventh Heaven, Angel in Disgrace, Fleur de Lis
The two crews have given themselves just 20-minutes to changeover as they hit it mob-handed. The security at the front of the stage are handing out water, some are drinking it, others are tipping it over their heads, it’s baking in here.
Tremonti is an American heavy metal band founded and fronted by lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Tremonti, who is best known as the lead guitarist for Alter Bridge and Creed. The band’s music is a departure from Tremonti’s main bands, featuring more of a speed metal influence with melodic vocals. What originally started as a Mark Tremonti solo project evolved into a fully-fledged band that has released five studio albums.
The band also consists of rhythm guitarist Eric Friedman, bassist Tanner Keegan and drummer Ryan Bennett.
The house lights go out to a big cheer, and the Tremonti backdrop is illuminated. The band walk out and the show starts with ‘Thrown Further’ from ‘Marching In Time’ released in 2021, the driving beat and riff intro instantly make me think of Rammstein. This is soon forgotten as Mark Tremonti opens his lungs. Ryan Bennett’s beats are heavy. The old dance floor is shaking.
The band pause and the crowd cheer. The white lights are projecting shapes onto the ceiling. Tremonti’s breaks and solo’s make the room spin. The big bass finish gets the crowd cheering. A smiling Mark Tremonti gives the Manchester crowd the ‘Horns’.
Without pausing, and staying with ‘Marching In Time’ it’s ‘If Not for You’. We get to gather our senses, the intro is slower, but just as heavy. Tremonti’s vocal is slow and controlled, he’s getting the message across. There’s a nice circular riff bubbling underneath. Tanner Keegan is punching his bass, it is shifting some air in here, some very hot air.
Mark Tremonti addresses the crowd, “It’s beautiful to be back”. Followed by our first trip to the 2016 release ‘Dust’ gives us ‘My Last Mistake’. Wow, this is heavy, hard and fast. Tremonti is angry, spitting and snarling the words out. Bennett is double tapping the bass drum.
The noise is incredible. Keegan and Friedman are criss-crossing the stage. Friedman stops and calls for some “Hey, Hey” chants from the crowd. Keegan is like a man possessed as he jumps around. The finish is met with a huge cheer. This is going down very well.
We’re still going back in time, to 2012 for ‘So You’re Afraid’ from the debut album ‘All I Was’. This has power riffs all through the start. The rhythm boys are crashing out the beats. Mark Tremonti has one foot on the monitor as his fingers fly over the fretboard. This track has a very clever mix of tempos with fast beats and riffs, yet the vocal is far slower. It’s very effective.
Eric Friedman starts the intro to ‘The Things I’ve Seen’ which again is from ‘All I Was’ by comparison this has a gentle start, the acoustic twang and steady vocal is almost Southern Rock, but this illusion is shattered as Tremonti hits a crushing power chord, backed up by Bennett who’s spinning and twirling his drumsticks between beats. We’re asked to sing-along. This is hard and heavy, before swapping to slow and passionate.
We move from the oldest album to the newest for ‘Not Afraid to Lose’. Again, this has a slow intro, we’re clapping along with Bennett’s beat, it has gentle string picking and vocals. This is before Bennett shatters the ambience. This track has the ingredients of a stadium anthem, with the tempo changes and power riffs. The lighting is purple and yellow as Eric Friedman rips through his solo.
Continuing with the recent album is ‘Let That Be Us’, the heavy cannon fire of Bennet’s drums and white strobe lights are pulverising your senses from the off. Tremonti and Friedman are continuing the assault as their riffs and breaks swamp your body. The mid-section has the feel of 1000’s of horses charging into battle. Tremonti is shouting out the commands and everyone is obeying. The band line-up as they head bang together.
‘Cauterize’ is the title track from the 2015 album. The ferocity on the intro will sever limbs, so it’s a very suitable title. Of all the tracks so far tonight, this is the one that made me think of Alter Bridge, maybe, it’s the tempo of the lyrics and construction of the song. It’s more melodic and sits nicely in the set. Tremonti and Friedman are opposite each other duelling guitars. The crowd know the words and are singing along. Keegan is pointing at people on the balcony, who are punching the air in salute.
We clap the next track in, as we jump back to the first album for ‘You Waste Your Time’, the fast-chugging riffs launch the track off, this is an obvious crowd favourite as they’re all singing the words. The bass of Keegan and drums from Bennett are propelling the track forward. Tremonti is sounding angry again, he takes it out on his guitar for the solo. Keegan calls for a circle pit to start, the fans in here tonight, only happy to comply. You don’t need to wipe the beads of sweat off your face, Tremonti and his band are vaporising them.
Eric Friedman holds a note on his guitar, teasing the audience, then it’s time for ‘Catching Fire’ from ‘Dust’, squeals of feedback and a steady beat start the track as Tremonti is narrating the lyrics. The stage now covered in red and yellow lighting. The track has some brilliant different sounds and tempo changes it’s a real rollercoaster for the senses. It concludes as it began, with huge wash and distortion that you can feel into your inner core.
Up next, from the 2015 ‘Cauterize’ is ‘Flying Monkeys’. This is almost a ballad in comparison to the tracks so far. It has a strong melody and includes harmonies, but underneath is a fierce riff and salvo of drumbeats. Mark Tremonti is headbanging as Friedman is scratching his strings. This is all out rock, this is awesome. It finishes to cheers and whistles.
Mark Tremonti asks the Manchester crowd to switch on their phone torches. It’s the title track from ‘Dust’ next. The intro is spoken, this is a real favourite as the crowd are still cheering. Tanner Keegan plays a short solo, his guitar held low down by his knees. Tremonti plays his solo with his foot up on the monitor, the crowd are still singing, they’ve sang the whole way through.
The title track from 2019’s ‘A Dying Machine’ is next. We’re back to high-speed metal, Tremonti is shouting at us, delivering with force and passion. He starts the clapping as another circle pit starts. The sound is full and in your face. Then calm appears as the tempo slows with gentle fills from Friedman, this continues but slowly the pace increases until it’s explosive finish. Keegan holds horns above his head as his bass shakes the room.
Mark Tremonti calls on the crowd to “Give it up for The Raven Age”, Manchester obliges, he introduces the band to us, each member getting a great cheer.
‘Marching in Time’ is the title track from last year’s album. This is slower, more melodic, it has a rich sound, it keeps building and building. There are some good old dirty riffs. The changes demonstrate how good a vocalist Mark Tremonti is. The solo is mesmerising. This is epic. As the band line up for the finish, the deafening chant of “Tremonti, Tremonti” echoes around the hall. Tremonti thanks the crowd then adds “You’ve kept this band alive”.
We’re back to ‘A Dying Machine’ with ‘The First the Last’. The intro is slow and careful, a gentle guitar sound and Tremonti’s vocal. This track grows as everyone slowly turns it on, it has now become an anthem. The crowd are swaying their arms above their heads. The hall is corner to corner sound.
Tremonti tells us that they’ve only played the next track live once before, it’s ‘A World Away’ the opening track from the most recent album. The crowd know it, and are back singing the words. Bennett is crashing out the beats as the pit starts to spin again. The track slows to allow us to join in with some clapping. The band work to a big finish that has all the lights strobing too.
Mark Tremonti tells us they’re not going to leave the stage for an encore, they’re going to stay and play straight through, so they have time for two songs.
The Industrial Metal marching beats start ‘Another Heart’ from ‘Cauterize’, again this is heavy and powerful. We have added backing vocals, the mid-section instrumental seems to let all the band off the leash at the same time, they produce a brilliant heavy sound. Keegan is jumping around as he pounds out his bass riff. Tremonti has his guitar squealing again. Friedman and Bennett lead the outro to the big finish.
Mark Tremonti cries “We have one last song, are you going to join us?” The final track tonight is taken from the first album, it’s ‘Wish You Well’, this is in your face heavy metal. Chugging riffs, crashing drums, and pounding bass. The pace is relentless. The crowd are singing, the pit spinning. The squealing solo takes your breath as it flies past your face. What a way to end the show. Mark Tremonti leaves the stage after making a paper aeroplane out of the setlist, and launching it into the crowd.
The crowd are going bonkers, this has been a night of the highest quality entertainment, in sweltering conditions both bands have given everything. The crowd in here consisted of true fans who really appreciated the bands tonight.
Setlist: Thrown Further, If Not for You, My Last Mistake, So You’re Afraid, The Things I’ve Seen, Not Afraid to Lose, Let That Be Us, Cauterize, You Waste Your Time, Catching Fire, Flying Monkeys, Dust, A Dying Machine, Marching in Time, The First the Last, A World Away, Another Heart, Wish You Well.
As we made our way back home, we find the M58 is closed for roadworks, the diversion sends us out to the airport and around the motorway, only to put us back at where the road is closed again…But, after some ‘Industrial’ language from Manny, that I’m sure is physically impossible, we find an alternative route and head out into the daybreak of the Longest Day.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM