There hasn’t been as much controversy about a Download headliner since My Chemical Romance topped the bill in 2007; even Feeder and The Offspring got better receptions in 2005 and 2008. But with a new album that reached #1 in both the UK and the US and a near-sold out UK arena tour (fully so in the case of Wembley), there’s no denying that Avenged Sevenfold are a band with enough behind them to be given the chance to head up a festival as big as Download and tonight was their last date of the tour at the LG Arena in Birmingham. Upon arrival at the venue in the early afternoon there are already a hundred people waiting to get in, some even with sleeping bags who presumably had camped overnight. If ever proof was needed that this band has such a draw in this country then that was it.
By the time the evening rolls around, Swedish outfit Avatar (6) are first up, a late replacement for David Draiman’s Device after the Disturbed singer decided to stay at home with his new son. They certainly come out with pomp and circumstance, opening number Torn Apart going down very well with singer Johannes Eckerström marching around like the bastard child of Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper wearing a top hat, tails and a cane taking every opportunity to stick his tongue out with manic pleasure. There’s no denying their determination and songs like Paint Me Red and Ready for the Ride are pulled off expertly but the audience response is lukewarm – yes they cheer and fist pump but when Johannes asks for ‘chaos’ the response is minimal and it makes its mark on the quintet, whose energy drops quite spectacularly from then on. If they had only been around for a couple of years rather than twelve they could have been forgiven easier, but they should be displaying more professionalism than this. Maybe that’s why they’ve embarked on several European tours in support slots but never really ventured out further as a headline band.
The banner for Avatar is taken down and reveals Five Finger Death Punch (9)’s up behind it and a far greater cheer goes up. There are a number of shirts for the Americans in the venue this evening and they don’t disappoint. Opening with Under and Over It from the American Capitalist record, the band are quickly into their stride and sound huge, Ivan Moody stalking the stage with a huge presence and succeeding straight away where Avatar failed by starting the first pits of the evening with aplomb. There are only two songs present from recent double albums The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell – and both of them are from the first volume of that – but they provide one of the biggest moments of the night when they are joined on stage by none other than the Metal God himself, Rob Halford, for Lift Me Up, a song Halford provided vocals on and an appearance that did not occur at any of the other UK dates. This is followed by their cover of Bad Company which provides the first big sing-a-long of the evening and by now the crowd is really warmed up nicely. But the most beautiful moment of the set is when Ivan asks the audience to get out their lighters and camera phone lights and the band perform an acapella version of Far From Home with the stage lit by nothing but the power of thousands of artificial lights. It’s a sight on stage, it’s a stunning moment taking a look round the arena as well. Closing with The Bleeding, the quintet leave to raptures and another job well done.
In America, they had placed a huge royal skeleton on a throne behind Arin Illejay’s amongst the gates and walls used for their tour of Nightmare. They haven’t brought that to these shores sadly, but they HAVE brought a 40-foot deathbat instead, and when the curtains open and it’s revealed in all its glory the noise is deafening. The critics may still be out in force, but tonight Avenged Sevenfold (9) prove exactly why they have topped both Bullet for My Valentine and Machine Head to headline the country’s biggest rock festival. The death knell of Shepherd of Fire welcomes messrs Shadows, Gates, Vengeance, Christ and Illejay on stage and the pyros kick in with force; everybody in the first ten rows seems to jolt back slightly as the heat takes effect. Tight as a nut and with the arrogance their cock-of-the-walk stage attitude needs, the crowd are immediately in the palms of their hands and when Critical Acclaim follows on from the opening track M. Shadows is drowned out by the 16,500-strong crowd singing back in unison. Shadows, by the way, is turning into one of the greatest frontmen in heavy music today; his voice tonight is nothing short of exceptional and he commands the crowd like an army general with complete and total authority.
Elsewhere on stage, Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance are in fine form and playing off each other with the ease you would expect them to, Johnny Christ is prowling with menace and Arin is giving a stellar job behind the kit. The new songs from Hail to the King sound brilliant alongside the other numbers present tonight, particularly the title track and Doing Time, but the older numbers present like Buried Alive and Afterlife still hold up strong, the former even seeing 20-odd partners of metalheads slow dancing in the middle of the pit, which then turns seamlessly back into moshing as the breakdown kicks in. Naturally the band dedicate a song to the late Jimmy Sullivan tonight and that happens to be the one he sang lead vocals on, Fiction, which doesn’t leave a dry eye in the audience: everyone from the teenage followers to the punk with huge red liberty spikes are left wiping away tears as the number finishes. The move to put Nightmare next in the set is inspired; it stops everyone dwelling on the events for too long and the room is brought back up to fever pitch. It’s not a perfect performance by any means: Gates suffers a few technical problems with his guitar thanks to a faulty amp and a couple of the songs are a bit slower than their studio tempos but that’s nitpicking in the grand scheme of things: Sevenfold are on the top of their game and will continue to grow if they keep this up. Bat Countrycloses the main set and an encore of Chapter Four and Unholy Confessions rounds off a tour that can only be described as triumphant. “We look forward to coming back and laying waste to Download 2014 in the summer!” Shadows yells and you can’t deny that he speaks the truth. To anyone out there who’s reading this and still has their doubts, I say one thing…
Why not Dying Fetus? THIS is why.
M. Shadows – lead vocals
Synyster Gates – lead guitar, backing vocals
Zacky Vengeance – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Johnny Christ – bass guitar, backing vocals
Arin Illejay – drums
Shepherd of Fire
Welcome to the Family
Hail to the King
This Means War
Guitar Solo/Band Jam Solo
All photos by Steve Dempsey of Down The Barrel Photography, taken at the Dublin show on 03rd December