Now in its second year of nostalgia revival, the heavy metal travelling circus that is MTV Headbangers Ball has brought us the likes of Iced Earth, Kataklysm, Ensiferum, Unearth and in its original incarnation, Anthrax, Exodus and Helloween. This time around we’ve got thrash/death/nu/tribal metal overlords Max and Iggor Cavalera playing their last booked “Return To Roots” show, Overkill, Insomnium and Deserted Fear. A little bit from every corner of extreme music.
In homage to the headliners, people of all ages are embellishing old school Sepultura shirts from time gone by. The fact that people keep coming for the Cavaleras shows the reverence Roots commands. In fact, I even made a conscious decision to miss the last train, arriving home at 3am as it would just be too disrespectful to not see the full album through.
Before the Cavalera brothers hit the stage though, Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” blares out as German death metal quartet Deserted Fear take to The Forum. Despite this being only their first UK show and even their first EU tour, they’ve not held back on the stage set as the opening band with a colossal Dead Shores Rising backdrop. The artwork lends itself immensely to that. Nevertheless, all that stuff is nothing without good music behind it.
It’s disheartening to see a crowd so small for a band that put out an album as awesome as Dead Shores Rising (check out our thoughts on it here) but that’s to be expected with a 6:30 stage time. As they launch into a faithful death metal set (think Asphyx meets Bolt Thrower meets Dismember), despite the sound not being perfect, the power and feeling behind their playing translates brilliantly. As a new, out-for-blood band, their performance is really full on. It’s play hard or die here.
Vocalist Manuel Glatter bears his teeth and grimaces all throughout around his über low growling style. Throughout the set it feels as though they’re working up to something and as they bulldoze their way through the 7-and-a-half minute set closer “Bury Your Dead” from their 2012 debut My Kingdom, they’ve clearly won over the steadily filling Forum. Looking and sounding like the smiliest group to be pulled straight from Gothenburg circa 1990, it can seem a bit one-dimensional, especially when they’re sharing a bill with the multi-talents of the Cavaleras. However, judging by the show they put on tonight, they’ve proved that they own that dimension. Awesome.
Drawing a few more followers to the front of the venue, Insomnium take their positions onstage to deliver their larger-than-life melodic death metal. Coming on straight after the young, bloodthirsty Deserted Fear however, their initial performance in openers “The Primeval Dark” and “While We Sleep” seem a tad lacklustre. It isn’t until they kick into “Weather The Storm”, originally featuring Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquility, that they really begin delivering at the standard their fans have come to expect of them. From that point on, the band are as captivating as they are epic, creating a journey in the mind’s eye.
From there, the closing run of “Down With The Sun”, “Ephemeral” and “One For Sorrow” is joyous. The growing collective of Insomnium fanatics down the front erupt when “Ephemeral” kicks in. I think I could count the number of real life-affirming death metal songs on one hand and “Ephemeral” is right at the top of that. It’s a beautifully peculiar moment and the uncontested highlight of their performance.
We all knew it wasn’t truly going to kick off till thrash legends Overkill turned up to shred. Opening with “Mean, Green Killing Machine” off this year’s The Grinding Wheel, the fact they can turn up and play a new song 30+ years into their career and get such a brilliant reception speaks volumes of not only the band themselves, but also the strength of the new material and in fact, their entire set tonight. This rolls into “Rotten To The Core”, inciting an intensely fervent pit of all ages and sizes. Earlier in the night I was really looking forward to talking to the guys from Deserted Fear, especially after their set, but as my summoning ripped me away from the opening of “Electric Rattlesnake” I was gutted. That’s of no dismissal to the dudes in Deserted Fear though!
From the DF tour bus I can hear a very muffled version of “Hello From The Gutter” move into “Goddamn Trouble”, also off the new record and the end of “Ironbound” as I legged it not-so-graciously back into the venue. “Elimination” and a cover of The Subhumans’ “Fuck You” rounded off their set fantastically with a resounding chorus and flourishes of “Fuck You”s emanating from the pit. In a raging vigour, bassist D.D Verni throws his mic stand behind him and the band exit stage left to frenzied approval. The night could easily have just ended there.
I’ll admit I was very sceptical of how an Overkill set would weather in 2017, having never seen them before. I’ve never warmed to Bobby’s vocals also, though instrumentally they’re right up there in the upper-tiers of thrash. If you look at how vocalists like Mille Petroza of Kreator or Chuck Billy of Testament have grown comfortably into their voices, Bobby just doesn’t seem to have achieved that. Nevertheless, throughout their set, Bobby shows how 30+ years of fronting the band has manifested into his flawless stagemanship. Apart from a brief withdrawal from the front during opener “Mean, Green Killing Machine” to do his flies up (yes that really happened), he was immense and led the crowd through all eras of Overkill’s already superb back-catalogue. For me at least, they blew away all expectations and could easily have headlined the tour.
With a bullet-belt draped over Max’s mic and camo side-drops, the stage is set for the Cavaleras. Something metal this way comes. While it doesn’t look prepared for a 32-piece tribal orchestra, I haven’t given up hope. Tonight is the last booked show of Max and Iggor Cavalera’s Return To Roots roadshow that has covered almost every corner of the earth over the past 18 months they’ve been touring it. By this point, we can assume they’ve largely pinpointed how to deliver the songs the best they can. Coming on with album opener “Roots Bloody Roots”, the band lap up the roars of “ROOOTS” coming from the crowd. Similarly when they rip into “Attitude” chants of “I WON’T TAKE IT” are dealt right back to the band. Such an album is Roots that the whole night is filled with recitations of lyrical couples in “Cut Throat”, “Straighthate” and “Lookaway”. The introduction of “Ratamahatta” into the fold of the set is stunning and a clear fan-favourite.
As the show follows the tracklist of the record and Max swaps his Godflesh shirt for a Charles Manson one, the standard drops very little from the beginning until around two thirds of the way through. While Iggor dominates the kit, it’s clear Max struggles to maintain the power of his vocals from the throat-shredding original. Props to him for the effort though. Nearing the end they break into a drum solo in place of “Canyon Jam”. This isn’t one of those drum solos though. It’s not a self-indulgent, penis-measuring contest drum solo, the whole band bring out drums and it becomes this whole inclusive affair where the band seem to be having more fun now than the rest of the show and the crowd are oddly loving it.
A seemingly impromptu excerpt of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” makes an acclaimed appearance, though the cover of the night (besides Overkill’s brilliants cover of Subhumans “Fuck You”) goes to their rendition of Motörhead’s “Ace Of Spades” which leads into the second telling of “Roots Bloody Roots”, this time, the blastbeat edition. Sounds good on paper but live, it’s even better!
All in all, it was pretty predictable how the Cavalera’s set was going to go. “Roots Bloody Roots” would be immense and chaotic, “Cut Throat” would be feral, “Ratamahatta” would be a highlight, “Ambush” would be furious and so on, just as the album is. Impressively, the delivery is marred only slightly by the hindrance of age as the feeling behind it is very real. While there was no appearance from David Vincent, formerly of Morbid Angel, on “Ace Of Spades” as there was in Czech Republic (check it out), the set and the reception from the all-ages crowd stands as testament to the genuinely ground-breaking album that Roots is.