Both the evolution and diversity of progressive metal is displayed in full effect at the Manchester Academy tonight. The rise of “djent” cannot be understated since one of tonight’s co-headliners first rose to prominence, themselves the product of more traditional progressive metal combined with an unmistakeable Meshuggah influence, opening the floodgates for a hoard of imitators to come through. The Safety Fire [6/10] can in theory be seen as guilty of this, peddling a sound that has already been not so much perfected but certainly already too distinctive. Their musicianship cannot be argued with as they plough through ‘Anomalous Materials’ from their impressive but decidedly generic Grind The Ocean debut record, but their presence on stage (particularly that of frontman Sean McWeeney) leaves a little be desired, a sentiment seemingly echoed by a largely uninterested audience. However, it seems later on that the crowd’s relative lack of excitement could be mostly down to a simple unfamiliarity with the bands material, as their reception increases when they close their set with the “single” of sorts of ‘Huge Hammers’ to the biggest round of applause they’ve received all night. The Safety Fire have a bright future ahead of them, so long as they try to inject a little more personality into their future output.
The difference in execution when Periphery [8/10] hit the stage has a very telling “separating the men from the boys” quality to it, despite vocalist Spencer Sotelo’s self-professed appreciation of the band that came before them. Playing a shorter set than usual with drummer Matt Halpern missing in action as he nurses a dislocated shoulder, Periphery play to their strengths in the 30 or so minutes we’re granted with them this evening, opening with note-perfect renditions of ‘Ragnarok’ and ‘Have A Blast’ from this year’s fantastic Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal. In spite of the often frenetic and unconventional nature of their material, their set is an exercise in sound par excellence, with a mix that leaves no individual member untended to while never highlighting any of them too far above the rest, as Misha Mansoor’s dexterous intro to ‘Buttersnips’ gives way to that unbeatable riff we’ve all become so familiar with, and the sing-a-long worthy moments that subtly litter ‘Make Total Destroy’ reveal a depth to the band beyond the Meshuggah worship fans are so quick to pin on them. But the man of the match award has to go to Monuments’ drummer Mike Malyan who, filling in for Halpern, has kept this tour from failure and never missed a beat, and the inevitable climax of ‘Icarus Lives!’ almost see’s the floor cave in beneath us as the entire Academy bounces to its irresistible groove.
And so it’s over to Between The Buried And Me [8/10] to close the night in suitably deranged fashion. Next to the angular but no less thrilling bounce of Periphery, Between The Buried And Me have a much more difficult job ahead of them with their sprawling, multi-genre epics and time signature changes en masse. The one-two punch of ‘White Walls’ and new number ‘Astral Body’ from The Parallax II: Future Sequence (read our review here) plunges us into a prog paradise, but the biggest revelation that tonight brings is that their ADD-inducing prog freakouts has no real quality that could easily convert the passer-by at a festival, for instance. If you’re a fan, the rapturously received ‘Sun Of Nothing’ and the technical death metal, thrash and 70’s prog (all at the same time) of ‘Telos’, the only other new song in tonight’s setlist, are to die for, with enough twists and surprises to make you feel like your head is about to explode. But anyone unfamiliar with anything in BTBAM’s set is probably not going to be suddenly converted to their bizarre cause. That’s not say the set is without fun, however. Far from it in fact, as their encore gives way to a surprise go-through of the heavy section of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ after Tommy Giles Rogers orchestrates the crowd through the (played over the P.A.) opera section. It’s a light-hearted break in the action before ‘Mordecai’ from 2003’s The Silent Circus sends us off into the night with a glimpse into the bands humble beginnings, and highlighting the astonishing evolution their sound has undergone since they released Colors in 2007.
Manchester Academy 2 isn’t exactly packed to the brim tonight, which says a lot about the decision to have Periphery below Between The Buried And Me on this tour despite their difference in size in the UK. But it proves that progressive metal is in very good health in 2012, with an equal amount of respect awarded to each of our headliners from the baying crowd. Overall however, it seems fair to predict that BTBAM will likely never play anywhere bigger than this (as a headliner, at least), but Periphery have potential far beyond their genre’s limitations, not just in terms of composition and performance but simply by observing the ecstatic reaction they pull out of the audience tonight. Academy 1 next time around? Watch this space.