Belfast has become something of a favourite stopping off point for US bands either going to or from the European festival circuit… In recent years the path to this little corner of planet metal has been trodden by acts as diverse as Tesla and Metallica, Machine Head and Black Stone Cherry, Slayer (who have done so twice this year, with the thrash titans due to hit the stage in this same venue around the time this review is published) and, in the past, tonight’s headliners, who were returning to the Norn Iron capital for the second time in just over 12 months.
A goodly proportion of the crowd had turned up early to see math rockers TesseracT, who were very much the warm up act for the carnage that was to be wrought upon the venue a little later…. While their particular brand of prog metal (of which I’m not a fan, I’ll be honest) is all very fancy and clever, and they are undoubtedly amazing musicians, their performance was very empty and lacking in any real emotion. While guitarists Acle Kaheny and James Montieth and bassist Amos Williams (who was by far the standout performer, in my book, with his rumbling riffs, especially on the likes of ‘Deception’) did make some effort at headbanging, frontman Ashe O’Hara was staid and so laid back as to be virtually horizontal: his crowd interaction consisted of a few shout outs to LOG and an invitation along the lines of “I want to see you moshing – but safely of course”!.
Therein lay the problem: this is not music to mosh to. It is music for nodding your head in appreciation. Nor is it music for singing along to, as O’Hara urged later. Yes, it’s good – frighteningly so in places – but it’s music best appreciated by listening to it rather than watching it.
The energy levels were building exponentially as TesseracT’s gear was stripped and the huge black curtain which had formed their backdrop was dropped to reveal LOG’s equally huge backline: wall to wall Mesa 4x12s (I counted 18 of them all told – and this in an 800-capacity club!) and bass bins bracketing Chris Adler’s massive double kick kit. The expectation was heightened by the site of a ‘roadie’ wearing a gorilla mask scrambling around the stage (was there anyone in the room who didn’t know who it was?), and it had reached fever pitch when the house lights dimmed on the now capacity crowd. If the venue wasn’t on the ground floor of a five-storey office building, the yells as each member walked on stage would almost certainly have raised the roof!
The five piece hit hard and heavy with the opening twin salvo of ‘Desolation’ and ‘Ghost Walking’ from last year’s exemplary ‘Resolution’ opus (surprisingly, only three tracks from this most recent album, which they are supposed to be continuing to promote, are played during a set which is an exact replica of the one they had delivered at Bloodstock two nights earlier): the band show the benefit of years of constant gigging as, despite a muddy sound, they’re tighter than a nun’s crack, especially the rhythm section of Chris Adler and John Campbell. Willie Adler’s riffs and solos are precise and sharp, and is underpinned by the behemothic Mark Morton (even if the latter is in a bad mood, which he displays by lashing out at the photographers in front of him during the second song). Together, they are a complete powerhouse of a band.
But, the most attention is undoubtedly on frontman Randy Blythe, whose name is chanted with passion at every break in the set… he prowls the stage like a panther during the musical passages, before leaning louchely on the monitors to spit his particular brand of heavy metal gospel into the faces of the adoring congregation in front of him. He pauses briefly to reference his recent legal difficulties, as he reminds the audience about the primary rule of the pit – “if someone goes down, pick ’em up” – during the introduction to ‘Walk With Me In Hell’ (an appropriate song choice given the experience of his incarceration, trial and subsequent acquittal?), which in turn transforms the room into an even bigger moshpit than it had been before: the first bodies had started coming over within bars of ‘Desolation’, but now the entire venue was just one massive, seething mass of humanity, moving back and forward, from side to side and round and round in perfect time to the barrage of riffs being laid down upon it from the stage!
By the time the first real singalong of the evening, ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’, comes along, some punters are starting to feel the strain, retreating to the outer ages for water (well, that’s what they said that funny gold liquid was!) before diving once more into the fray… With their 50-main set drawing from almost all their albums (the sole track from debut ‘New American Gospel’, ‘Black Label’, is saved until the very end of the night), LOG deliver a set filled with unparalleled intensity, appropriately finishing with perhaps the fastest song in their repertoire, the chaotic ‘Contractor’… I swear I heard necks snapping in the front couple of rows.
After a lengthy delay, the atmospheric ‘The Passing’ starts rolling from the speakers and the imminent return of yet more mayhem – and that is exactly what happens, as all hell literally breaks loose. With only a brief respite in which Blythe “borrows” someone’s mobile phone and pretends to send rude messages to their entire contact list, the set heads towards the most frenetic finale imaginable, with any previously untouched corner of the venue drawn into the swirling, sweating, writhing madness in front of the stage, ending on a high with a stunning rendition of ‘Black Label’ – which is the only time a fan actually manages to make it onto the stage: perhaps mindful of recent events in Prague, Blythe appears to give the half-naked chap a polite pat on the back before he throws himself back into the front rows…
The set ends with another ‘first’, this time for the band, as Blythe and Morton swap roles: but, the singer brings this to a premature end, declaring “he screams a lot better than I play guitar”, before the band take their final bow, with the frontman appropriately being the last to leave the stage.
It’s safe to say that Lamb Of God not only have a rabid following, but they also bring out the beasts in their same fans, making this one of the most off the radar shows this venue probably has ever seen or will see for a very long time to come…
Desolation / Ghost Walking / Walk With Me In Hell / Set To Fail / Ruin / Now You’ve Got Something To Die For / 11th Hour / The Undertow / Omerta / Contractor
The Passing (Intro) / In Your Words / Laid To Rest / Redneck / Black Label
Photographs by Marc Leach: https://www.facebook.com/officialmarcleachphotography
See more photographs in our gallery: http://planetmosh.com/lamb-of-god-belfast-photos-2013/