Swedish Metal Veterans In Flames Arrive In Worcester, MA, Kick Ass, And Take Names
Band Photo: In Flames (?)
Friday, February 17 marked the fourth to last date of In Flames’ headlining North American tour in support of their 2011 studio album “Sounds Of A Playground Fading” (reviewed here). As a longtime fan and ardent supporter of the band through thick and thin, and having missed every performance since their spring ’08 Gigantour stint, I was rabidly eager for a live In Flames fix tonight. Anything less would constitute a crime against metal.
I kicked my evening off with a relaxed, friendly interview (coming soon). Guitarist Niclas Engelin met me at the box office, and off we ventured on a quest for a secluded, quiet haven, which the staff at the nearby Hilton graciously provided. Between our official chat and an impromptu backstage rendezvous with bassist Peter Iwers, I wound up missing the two opening acts. I’m unfamiliar with Kyng’s music, and their live sound, unfortunately, remains completely unknown to me. As for Veil Of Maya, I caught a glimpse of their set from the stage wing just inside the venue’s loading door. Based on the studio material I’ve heard – and the chaotic conversation-disturbing racket reverberating through the walls – Veil Of Maya is not exactly for me, though I’m open to second chances.
For this music fan, a Trivium performance is always a winner. This time out, the Floridian quartet has found itself on a tightrope between providing direct support for a formidable headliner and promoting its own hit 2011 studio album “In Waves,” and tonight, the band nailed that balancing act to perfection.
Allow me to momentarily digress for some editorial venting. For quite a few years now, Trivium has been something of a polarizing figure in American metal, likely due to the band’s increased popularity. This is stupid. Debates rage over the musical category in which they deserve to reside, as if it’s somehow important. Modern metal? Melodic metalcore? Thrash throwback? Metallica impersonators? I care not. Nor do I relate to the passionate disagreements among their diverse fan base over the respective merits of their five studio albums. Screamers? Clean singers? Metallica impersonators? Why ought we bother? To me, these relative youngsters simply write terrific songs and back them up with a ripping live show that’s never, ever phoned in.
Half the setlist was devoted to new material: “In Waves,” “Black,” “Forsake Not The Dream,” “Built To Fall,” and “Caustic Are The Ties That Bind.” As expected by now, the most-favored element of Trivium’s back catalogue was 2005’s breakthrough release “Ascendancy,” represented by “Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr,” the brilliant “Departure,” and “Like Light To The Flies.” Thanks to the abbreviated set time, cuts from 2003’s debut “Ember To Inferno” and 2006’s unjustly maligned “The Crusade” were phased out, though the band did a masterful job at gradually steering their show from a crushing display of technical proficiency to a massive, outright singalong. This logical conclusion arrived in the form of “Down From The Sky” and “Throes Of Perdition,” both from 2008’s stellar “Shogun.” Singer/guitarist Matt Heafy showed off some substantial maturation and enlarged presence – put all sexual thoughts out of your mind, NOW – as a frontman, and lead shredder Corey Beaulieu rediscovered his New England roots with a guaranteed crowd-pleaser: “Fuck the Giants!” They, together with bassist Paolo Gregoletto, have formed a tight three-tiered vocal unit that delivers live everything Heafy’s cords muster in the studio, and more.
A simple truth I’ve come to gladly acknowledge over years and years of concerts: In Flames never, ever disappoints. If they do, it’s probably your own problem. Their catalogue encompasses all that is right, good, and true about metal and hard rock – aggressive and melodic, old school and modern, and everything between – and their live performance encapsulates and distills such elements down to a package that provokes a peculiar frenzy of electrified anticipation. Tonight, they emerged to ecstatic roars with a three-round salvo from the latest album: “Sounds Of A Playground Fading,” “Deliver Us,” and “All For Me.” The already-impressive crowd reaction still wasn’t enough for frontman Anders Fridén. His initial address to us: “This IS Friday, right? Right. Well, prove it, Worcester! It’s looking like a Sunday night out there. What the FUCK?”
Anders got his wish soon enough. “Trigger” and “Alias” saw the onset of a chaotic melee of disorganized mosh pits that bordered on the downright dangerous, and would not cease until the final bow. From my ringside vantage point at the edge of the photo pit, I witnessed a nearby mosh devolve into an enraged, booze-soaked brawl, which ended with the forced ejection of the violent instigator to scornful cheers and middle fingers. Anders did some instigating of his own when he spotted a neglected “Happy New Year” banner festooned from the packed overhead balcony. “Tear that motherfucker down!” Down it came in shreds, to unruly cheers.
Anders shifted gears and turned the clock back twelve years for a taste of “where we come from.” That taste, as has been widely publicized throughout this tour, was “Swim,” a track last in regular rotation on the 2000-01 “Clayman” tour. “If you know this song, you know your metal,” the frontman remarked, before likewise introducing an even deeper cut: “The Hive,” resurrected from 1997’s “Whoracle.” These classics provided some refreshing balance to the set. Guitarist Niclas Engelin, a longtime friend and In Flames collaborator, echoed his stint with the band on the “Whoracle” touring cycle of yore, and made any open-minded fan forget to be upset by the absence of founding guitarist Jesper Strömblad, whose position he recently filled yet again. Through these songs, Niclas and co-shredder Björn Gelotte effortlessly merged the past with the present, and had a blast doing it. Afterward, Anders recapped the trip down memory lane: “Don’t be one of those guys who whines, ‘Play old shit!’ and then when we do, say, ‘I never heard that.’ Don’t be one of those assholes.”
Next came “The Quiet Place” and two more new songs, “Where The Dead Ships Dwell” and “Fear Is The Weakness” – the latter of which, to this fan, was a terrific modern continuation of such NWOBHM influenced rockers as “The Hive” and “Embody The Invisible” (off 1999’s “Colony”). While firing up the crowd, Anders channeled Don Rickles and castigated a lazy non-participant on the balcony: “Hey you, the guy too cool to stand up – yeah, YOU, the small-penis guy. GET. OFF. YOUR ASS.” That ceased to be a problem when the opening licks of cigarette lighter-friendly ballad “Come Clarity” flooded the venue, cementing the track as In Flames’ “volunteer assisted” live staple. Tonight’s verdict? “If I ever quit this band, they’ll know where to find a new singer.”
After two more new cuts, the progressive “Ropes” and rhythmic “Darker Times,” came “Delight And Angers” – and along with it, another groundswell of uncontrolled moshing. At this point, a commotion swirled up around me, wrenching my focus away from the band and toward the ground at my feet: a tiny girl, looking barely over sixteen, had collapsed on her back in a semiconscious state, stiff as a board, eyes riveted open in a fixed, doll-like gaze. I’d barely begun to register the sight before her wooden frame was hoisted by incoming bouncers and carried to safety. She’d shown no apparent signs of blood or bruising, and whether she’d sustained an injury in the pit or suffered an unrelated medical emergency, I haven’t a clue. Whomever and wherever she is, I hope she made it through the night all right.
Inevitably, Anders announced the imminent end of the show: “All right, guys, just a few songs left.” After gauging the expected reaction: “Oh, you’re booing now, huh? I’m WORKING here. I make my living drinking beer and playing heavy metal all night; what the fuck do YOU do?” Chuckling in spite of himself: “Just kidding. I don’t want any of your jobs. This job rules.” Have I mentioned that this bearded, baseball cap-adorned Swede likely spun the Cannibal Corpse discography while gargling nails in his warmup ritual? Say what you will about the evolution of Anders’ vocal style in the studio over the past seventeen years – tonight, he roared and deathgrowled his way through the set without mercy. Even his cleanest, most melodic offerings were spun into a harsh, edgy rasp that helped everything sound brutal, gnarly, and thrashed. He OWNED this show, and reminded us of that fact when he made yet another discovery: “All right, I just realized there’s a second ‘Happy New Year’ banner hanging up there. Tear it down NOW, before I get mad.” Yet another venue staff member was thrust into the spotlight for this task, and tough talk aside, Anders kindly remembered to publicly thank her and her colleagues for taking care of us all this evening. Then the lights dimmed for the closest thing to an encore break we would get, as the staccato opening synths of “Cloud Connected” pierced the air.
Anders proclaimed, “I haven’t seen a circle pit yet. Now’s the time to do it.” The speedy opening of “The Mirror’s Truth” whipped the messy chaos of the floor into uniform, cyclonic shape, and the band didn’t let the energy subside before launching into full-on thrash mode with closer “Take This Life.” Picks were thrown and waves and smiles were given, but the band didn’t linger too long. Unfortunately, drummer Daniel Svensson opted out of a stage appearance after retiring from the kit, and there was no collective bow, leaving a lingering, anticlimactic pall hanging over the place – but that’s hardly a reason to complain after such a performance. My thirst for a live In Flames fix is satiated. For now.
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