Five Finger Death Punch/In Flames/Of Mice & Men – Birmingham, Arena - 17 December 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 06 January 2018 04:40

Between legal disputes, on-stage meltdowns and frontman Ivan Moody stepping back from the band, for a while it looked like the band’s fantastic Download Festival performance would be the last in the UK for a while – announced December tour or no. The build-up over the next six months plays out like a “will they or won’t they?” as to whether or not we’ll actually get to Birmingham Arena and catch hold of Moody and co, but come the 17th of December the canals of Birmingham are abuzz with activity as fans gather en masse for an evening of (literal) arena sized metal tunes.

 

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First up are Of Mice & Men. No strangers to frontman troubles themselves (having lost founding member and vocalist Austin Carlisle the previous December), a lot of pressure has been heaped on OM&M to prove that they can still be a vital rising force in metal with a new vocalist. In their case though there’s no infusion of new blood to replace Austin – instead, lead vocal duties fall to bassist Aaron Pauley. Pauley pulls off the frontman role with ease, his status as a mainstay of the band’s line-up (since 2012, at least) meaning the dynamic hasn’t lost any of the energy and power the band had previously.

 

A triumphant showcase of how a band can just shake off adversity and get the fuck on with it, OM&M pull off everything you’d want from an arena metal gig – there’s plenty of bouncing, massive riffs bounce around the room like flubber-coated ball-bearings and the crowd are ably engaged by Pauley throughout. There’s plenty of swagger to the band’s set and we get more than a hint of the fact that this is a band that still have a lot to say – which is handy, as this month (January 2018, the time of writing) will see the band drop their first record with Pauley on vocal duties.

 

In Flames 1

 

Seeing In Flames as a direct support to an arena metal band shouldn’t feel so surprising as it does and yet, the fact is this band have done so many stints as openers or academy supports that sometimes you have to slap yourself just to remember that they were one of the most pioneering forces in metal around the new millennium. Given the (well deserved) bump from arena opener in January (at the NEC, in support of A7X) to main support in December, In Flames don’t fuck about with the sheer level of showmanship they bring to the Birmingham Arena tonight.

 

Taking a few cues from the spectacular ‘The Stage’ set-up of A7X earlier that year, In Flames are backed by a visually stunning array of lights and screen-images as they blast through their set. The band have contended with some awful sound systems over the past couple of decades, these issues almost always managing to completely derail the effect of hearing such an iconic and crowd-minded metal band do what they do best. Thankfully, tonight the sound is perfect, every riff crashing with the force it deserves and every chorus roared back with the gusto that reminds us just why the Gothenburg sound was so vital in the first place. Tunes new and old mix for the set, and though we don’t get crowd-favourite ‘Cloud Connected’ the band more than make up for it with the inclusion of staple anthems like ‘Take This Life’ getting the crowd roaring along passionately.

 

It’s a testament to the passion of the fans that Five Finger Death Punch can still fill an arena even after the kind of year they have had and even though they haven’t released a new record in two years. The absolute hysteria that is raised when the band hit the stage is more than testament to their enduring popularity and it doesn’t take 30 seconds before opener ‘Lift Me Up’ has the entire audience responding with rabid appreciation.

 

FFDP 13

 

A lot of bands have come (and gone) in the past decade, but FFDP have maintained course as one of the most crowd-pleasing bands in the metal game, their shows a stunning combination of absolutely enormous choruses, riffs that hit like a locomotive and absolute faith that the fans will elevate the show to the next level. They don’t disappoint; the din is stunning, audience members roaring, moshing and even crying their way through a set that, six months ago looked unlikely.

 

Tonight it doesn’t feel like FFDP could be anywhere else other than together, on a stage, playing to a braying crowd. The tunes fly thick and fast (‘Never Enough’, ‘Wash it all Away’, ‘Got Your Six’ all fly by in quick succession) and Ivan Moody is the consummate performer, grinning and growling his way with the best of them. The band bring on Aaron Pauley and Tommy Vext (the temporary vocalist who filled in for Moody earlier this year) to pull off the superbly appropriate ‘Ain’t My Last Dance’, before bursting into quite possibly their most well-loved cover - Bad Company.

 

With FFDP, even the ballads feel enormous – these aren’t your cashgrab ‘radio play’ singles; they’re mini-epics, fully utilising Moody’s vocal range to stunning effect. As if to further prove their range, the band even includes a trio of acoustic renditions in ‘I Apologise’, ‘Wrong Side of Heaven’ and ‘Remember Everything’ to showcase their gentler tendencies, the songs somehow managing to feel intimate and massive at the same time. Throughout it all, Moody chats with the crowd like they’re old friends meeting for a drink, any after-effects of this trying year completely erased by a knock-out performance. Though the set is somewhat shorter than one might hope for at 14 songs (especially when there are so many great tunes which are inevitably omitted), the show is a spectacular example of just how far this band could go, their superstar status already achieved in the eyes of the many-thousand in attendance.

 

FFDP 7

 

Though it is almost Death Punch tradition at this point, it feels especially special when Moody brings members of the audience up onto the stage towards the end of the set, the whole show pausing so he can interact with the members. In a lesser show, this might seem galling, but here it is business as usual, and considering the sheer power of the relationship the band share with their fans, the moment in the spotlight that each enjoys feels like a worthy tribute to the achievements of the band and fans alike.

 

So much of this achievement is thanks to the efforts of the band themselves, their onstage chemistry and crowd interaction showing lesser bands how it should be done. And that goes for bigger bands too – it’s no coincidence that the band were so prominent on the bill at Download, and exceptionally appropriate that they were beneath Prophets of Rage and System of a Down. To the former, they are an antidote, an anti-heritage act, having never wavered on their path towards arena ambition or taken a leave of absence to build anticipation; they have always stayed the course, written the songs they wanted to and kept themselves current with each passing year. To the latter, they are stylistic opposites – the silent workmanship of SOAD is utterly smashed by a band absolutely living it up onstage, each member running laps so often you’d think they were trying to train for cross country. FFDP aren’t content with impressing the audience by being themselves alone; they put on a show, and one hell of one at that.  That the other two bands could (and did) headline festivals in 2017 – and when we’re wondering who will headline in the future – is laughable.

 

Five Finger Death Punch are the headliners we deserve; a band hungry to prove themselves to the fans and haters alike, purveyors of enormous tunes roared out by musicians with even bigger personalities.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © Hannah Reid (taken at SSE Hydro, Glasgow)/Uber Rock. You can see our full gallery of photographs HERE.

 

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