Home Gigs Gig Review : DragonForce / Amaranthe With Special Guests Infected Rain European Co-Headline Tour 2024 O2 Academy, Bristol

Gig Review : DragonForce / Amaranthe With Special Guests Infected Rain European Co-Headline Tour 2024 O2 Academy, Bristol

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

Into a fifth consecutive week of touring the European continent so this incredible trio of powering outfits, who each offer their own slant upon the modern forefront of the more rapid side of metal, hit English shores.

With a mindboggling sixteen countries behind them from Spain to Latvia and Norway to Italy the miles (or kilometres dependant upon which system of measurement one utilises) have certainly been clocked up.

Tonight, the 24th date of the tour with a raft of maxed out shows in the rear-view mirror, is the first of three whistlestop shows in England to conclude a successful jaunt to widespread territories. A veritable ‘league of nations’ these three bands are relatively rare visitors to the UK and thus the demand and expectancy levels have shot through the metaphorical roof. Lunar forces, too, are at gainful employment with the fullness of the worm moon just a couple of days away.

For both Moldovan melodic nu-core metallers Infected Rain and London hi-kinetic progressive power outfit DragonForce this is their first English gig since tours in 2019. Whilst Swedish metalliferous symphonic crossover cadre Amaranthe have made just two appearances since their set of dates in that year. It’s clearly a mahoosive deal for both fans and the musicians involved.

Doors are a little late but no worries as set-times are juggled about a bit and by the time Eastern Europeans Infected Rain sledgehammer on to the Academy stage time is being regained. A mournful battlehorn heralds the band’s on-stage arrival, spirits restless above the fields of impending chaos. Beady eyes glinting ravens stir as the solar rays part the eddying mist. A melancholic pseudo-Celtic vibe pervades.

Comfortably packed the O2 venue is stormed by the Moldovans with a devil incarnate attitude; it’s unrelenting, uncompromising and Bristol is right onside from the offset. The set-opening ‘Pandemonium’ sets a tone, it’s a brutal surge from the darkest of basements and well received – the first of five powerhouses from their sixth, and most recent, album ‘TIME’.

Wildy captivating vocalist Elana Cataraga (aka Lena Scissorhands) – co-founder alongside steely guitarist Vadim ‘Vidick’ Ojog – is in determined mood. Striking a deal to have fun with the crowd the band launch, like a hunting feline, into ‘The Realm of Chaos’. As dense as Osmium and as heavy as the planets themselves the rage shifts between shades of light and dark.

Cataraga controls the crowd with consummate ease, redolent of Lzzy Hale in some respects, opening up pits, encouraging moshing before ‘Vivarium’ and getting the entire assembled ranks down in readiness to spring into action for ‘Dying Light’. This singer knows how to work a crowd for sure.

There are touches of White Zombie melded with Sepultura within the asperity of ‘Fighter’, underpinnings of Evanescence in ‘Because I Let You’ and whilst, most probably unwittingly, Portishead’s singer Beth Gibbons’s etherealness is dunked into the broiling maelstrom of metalcore in the ebb and flow of personal favourite ‘Never To Return’. The embrace of Bristol’s trip-hop enveloped in the ferocity of a heavily magnified Rage Against The Machine. Unlikely no doubt of it, but by god it works!

“Let’s go fucking wild!” implores Cataraga whipping up the nest of hornets one last time before the feral scenes of set-closing ‘Sweet, Sweet Lies’. Moshing, surfing, and circling Bristol goes ape. “Thank you so much, that’s exactly what we fucking want!” roars a saluting Cataraga as the dying notes cast their bony grasp throughout.

From the roughly hewn metalcore ore to the eminently polished gemstone, both equally high-grade and as valuable as one another, we are taken into the Scandinavian realms of symphonic metal from which Amaranthe doth thunder forth from. A post-apocalyptic dystopian intro rouses the mettle casting a reflection “Despite all the warnings humankind came close to self-destruction!” Perhaps a sideways glance at the present moment, as our planet approaches a precipice that could prove pivotal, or a work of glorious fiction either way it chills to the bone.

The forces begin to ascend as drummer Morten Lowe Sørensen motions and salutes the O2 crowd as his colleagues steel themselves for the coming onslaught. Like Infected Rain Amaranthe’s career stretches back to 2008 and in the enthralling 70 or so minutes that ensue six of their seven studio long-players are represented.

2020 album ‘Manifest’ is well represented and the opening coupling of the speedy ‘Fearless’ and the rapid-fire pounding of ‘Viral’ are both craned in from this vaunted studio offering. The former alloys operatic and symphonic elements with the swift neoclassical style of fellow Swede Yngwie Malmsteen. With the venue bouncing the application of a slice Euro-pop – much in line with the mighty Ghost – in ‘Viral’ sends Bristol into overdrive. The hooky contagion is very, very real.

The seemingly seamless interplay and harmonizing of Amaranthe’s three, yes three (!), vocalists is one of many polished facets. Elize Ryd and Nils Molin’s ‘clean’ vocals contrast and neatly juxtapose with the ‘harsh’ voice of Mikael Sehlin – like diamonds and coal, formed from the same element but with differing processes applied.

With a Helloween-infused pummelling ‘Digital World’ is “the voice of the next generation” as lasers pierce the O2’s darknesses. Heads band, hands clap and fists pump as the metal rage encapsulates the club beats. Bristol erupts volcanically with as a slab of happy hardcore – a la Scooter – underpins the wondrously chaotic orchestral metallics of ‘Damnation Flame’.

Squeezing in an incredible 16 tracks into their set Amaranthe champion a new dawn. The sharp electronics nestling in with the harsher metalliferous components work in a delicious broth. Here lies the path forwards no doubt of it.

‘Maximize’ gallops friskily prior to the clean lines of ‘Strong’ that gleam brightly. Ryd says it all, no need for words to be uttered, as she clenches her left fist in triumph before forming a heart symbol two-handed to express a connection of love and appreciation.

The sorcerous cauldron bubbles and broils with the murderball rhythms of ‘PvP’ – a 2021 single written for the Swedish E-Sports world cup team. ‘Crystalline’ atmospherics are a highlight with Ryd accompanied by guitarist Olaf Mörck before the band returns to ensure the detonation.

Turning to this year’s release ‘The Catalyst’ the ‘dragonborne’ metrics of the titular track and ‘Re-Vision’ raid the overflowing mellifluous chest. Impaled upon the stake the trigger is pulled in ‘Boom!1’; gasoline drenched dynamite ensures one hell of an explosion!

Alone with Mörck’s shining keys Ryd enthrals in the crescendo of ‘Amaranthine’; sheer and utter beauty as the gentle embrace transforms into a raging torrent. The stormbringer delivers the proggish nuclear blast of ‘The Nexus’ to wind up the nucleus of the set.

The crowd are far from satiated and raucously demand further, thunder rolls across the marbled halls as ‘Archangel’, fuelled by Rammstein, frenzies and ferments in an industrious attempt to fulfil the hunger. Molin playfully raises Anglo-French rivalries as he gets Bristol to roar louder than Paris whilst Sørensen strikes a ‘We Will Rock You’ beat to bring in ‘That Song’.

The set then hits its lofty zenith with the jumping ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ that surely has the approval of Scooter, Evanesence and Rod Zombie alike. Mightily impressed no debate, this will not be the last time we see Amaranthe live. Hearts and horns aloft, at set end, throughout the crowd says everything one requires.

With Amaranthe going triple on vocalists their co-headliners DragonForce elect to hit the same mark but with guitarists! Co-founders Herman Li and Sam Totman joined forces with Stateside axeman Billy Wilkins back in autumn last year. Li reached out to Wilkins a little while previous having, along with 17 million other TikTok viewers, been impressed with his cover of the band’s seminal single ‘Through The Fire and Flames’. Trust me when I tell you that this edge of the mighty greatsword that DragonForce skilfully wields is a mellifluous vision to behold.

Emerging to the synth-bound energies of their intro DragonForce take to the O2’s stage to a deafening roar possessing the dynamics to rip open the chests and plunder internal organs. It’s been far too long since this sextet has graced the shores of their homeland. With a self-professed love of the 80’s coin-op gaming, singing of the lore of Skyrim and all things of hi-fantasy – the kin of Tolkien and Pratchett must surely be high upon their reading list – DragonForce’s works are, naturally, of an epic nature.

As well as two of the most unlikely covers that one could imagine, that are slotted into the encore, all gathered herein Bristol’s O2 Academy are treated to a further eight behemothic tomes of venerable trait. Opening track ‘Revolution Deathsquad’ is a Tolkien-esque speed metal anthem wrapped up lovingly in a Euro-metal clasp. “The victory is ours!” declares vocalist Marc Hudson as classic arcade games such as PacMan, Paperboy and DonkeyKong scroll on the larger-than-life arcade machines that flank either side of the stage.

There’s moshing from the commencement of the set with Malmsteen, Vai and Satriani all paid homage to within some rapid precision fretwork. It’s clearly all about the legendary narrative with DragonForce whether it be lyrically or musically. It’s a good part of what’s kept them ascending since formation back in 1999.

Prior to the second track ‘Cry Thunder’ frontman Marc Hudson extends welcomes to Alicia Vigil and Billy Wilkins; both playing in the UK for the first time ever and with the latter treading on English soil for the first time. ‘Cry Thunder’ is metal teleported into Dungeon and Dragons principalities; a maximum roll on the percentile dice every time! Armour clad clans face off on the field of battle, heather and bracken trampled underfoot as arrows fly and blades glint. Li and Totman warp into the next dimension.

In deference to Cucco the fabled chicken from the Legends of Zelda series of games Hudson launches a large soft toy chicken counterpart into the crowd. The incongruous sight of this bobbing about during the stirring ‘Power Of The Tri-Force’ is oddly captivating and not something one ever imagined writing. Coupled with this stirring riot that incorporates Sabaton and Helloween it’s all a touch surreal.

As Totman and Li combine atop their respective coin-ops a meteor crashes to the planet surface in the form of ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’. It’s top gear, full-on accelerator; a heavy metal odyssey. For a moment the amount of mobile phones recording the events afront decreases notably; it’s great to see folks truly captivated and lost in the moment.

Cucco becomes stuck on a ledge above the arena much to the chagrin of Hudson, “I can’t go on, something is breaking my heart!” he exclaims pointing towards the errant fowl. Quite how the epic Sabaton-drenched Viking metal of ‘The Last Dragonborn’ can follow this and not be upstaged by Cucco is going to be interesting. Mercifully DragonForce succeed where many a weaker soul would have staggered and succumbed.

Rending the heavens with an earth-shattering battle cry, fire rains down from the skies as the heady draught of ‘Fury Of The Storm’ sees the eagle soar free. A malleable alloy of Ghost, Sabaton and Scorpions is a potent incantation for sure.

Strobes flash quickly and Gee Anzalone hammers a double bass drum beat from his kit; a spontaneous loud cheer erupts as Cucco is ‘rescued’ from its lofty fate. It’s a rooster booster as the chicken is free once more in readiness to bounce about to the dance / metal crossover of ‘Doomsday Party’. “Get the fucking chicken up on the balcony!” urges Li. The party is all glitterball and neon lights with the skeletons dancing a merry refrain – try and spot the Boney M influences herein at your peril! The roof is lifted, and Bristol is right alongside.

Dragons arise for the encore, blue and red either side as we’re ‘serenaded’ by not one, but two covers lifted from the last two albums – this year’s ‘Warp Speed Warriors’ and ‘Extreme Power Metal’ from five years previous. It’s Celine Dion (‘My Heart Will o On’) and Taylor Swift (‘Wildest Dreams’) as you’ve never heard them before. I won’t spoil the fun or experience, go check out DragonForce live to experience the all-around mayhem and fun!

The signature track ‘Through The Fire and Flames’ – included in consol game ‘Guitar Hero III : Legends of Rock – brings down what remains of the house. It’s ultra-fast tempo, borne of conflagrant times, lifts proceedings to another level with the sell-out crowd of 1650 people totally engaged. It’s been that sort of a night, stellar in a single word. Truly a light shone in the darkness to illuminate the way forwards for heavy metal!

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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