Defenders of the Faith III at the Guildhall (1/12/11)

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After skipping a year, Metal Hammer‘s Defenders of the Faith tour returned to Southampton; and you’ve got to hand it to the organisers, every year so far they’ve done a pretty good job of getting together a sweet lineup that offers something to tattooed oldies and swoopy-haired younglings alike.

Rise to Remain are currently being hyped by everyone from Kerrang! to Trivium frontman Matt Heafy as “the future of metal”. It’s a bit hard to see what they mean musically: this brand of growled verses and soaring sung choruses, hardcore-influenced metal was a cliché in 2006, there’s no getting around that. But I had to give it to these kids, they have serious live chops and bucket-loads of energy, and not in a ‘jump around the stage like six-year-olds who’ve had too much sugar’ kind of way, but in a way that’s charismatic and assured, which is all the more impressive when you consider their age. They’re miles better than Bring Me the Horizon at any rate.

Ghost were on next, and pretty much stole the show from underneath everyone’s noses. Picture a band where all the members are garbed in druidic robes covering their faces, led by some demonic Pope guy, playing awesomely catchy 70s-style heavy metal in the vein of King Diamond, all without a even a hint of irony or smirking self-awareness, and you have Ghost. Oh, and no-one knows their real names or where they came from. As a live a act they were effortlessly tight, while lead singer ‘Papa Emeritus‘ managed to be the most engaging frontman of the night without even once bellowing “I can’t hear you, Southampton!”. Pure magic. Check these guys out if you haven’t already.

Legendary Gothenburg-based In Flames were up next. I’m probably not exaggerating when I say the influence these guys have had on metal is comparable to, say, that of Oasis on modern indie rock, so one couldn’t help feel this nine-song set was a little measly, particularly when they focused so heavily on their new material. Still, there’s something to be said for keeping it short and sweet, and their blend of melody and crushing brutality always goes down well. Come back for a headlining tour soon, okay guys?

As their frontman notes, Trivium were popular in the UK long before they had any real success elsewhere (their latest album In Waves was the first to chart higher stateside than over here), so when they say they love playing here more than anywhere else they’re probably being sincere. They certainly receive a hero’s welcome from the crowd, who clearly have been supporting these guys for a few years, getting the band so pumped up they even mustered the courage to play a song off the black sheep of their discography, 2006’s critically panned The Crusade. Unlike In Flames, they struck just the right balance between playing old and new stuff.

What stood out the most, however, was how much they have managed to grow as performers since I last saw them in 2007, when Machine Head pretty effortlessly blew them off the stage. New drummer Nick Augusto has helped them play a lot more tightly, but it’s also that they’ve all grown into their roles as rockstars as well, confident in strutting their stuff on stage and equally confident in their new songs as much as their era-definining early work. After a few growing pains and pubescent identity crises, they’ve become the metal icons they’ve always wanted to be. It’s an appropriate end to a lineup that’s been such an excellent cross-section of heavy music in 2011.

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