Fightstar

support Arcane Roots + Making Monsters
author TL date 17/10/15 venue Troxy, London, UK

It was quite the story back in 2004 when Busted-boy Charlie Simpson decided to quit his lucrative boyband career in favour of playing heavier music with Fightstar. Despite initial skepticism, though, the new group eventually thrived, garnering a devoted following in the UK on the back of three critically acclaimed albums released from 2006 to 2009. Since then things have been quiet around the band, however, with Simpson focusing on his solo career, releasing two brilliant softer albums in his own name while guitarist Alex Westaway and bassist Dan Haigh got busy with their electronic dreamwave project Gunship. Somehow the group has still found time for a reunion, however, with the comeback album "Behind The Devil's Back" freshly released. So we decided to make a trip over to the UK to catch the first show of the new tour at Troxy, a large, theatre-style venue in eastern London.

All photos courtesy of Lauren Harris Photography

Making Monsters

The task of getting the shows on this tour started has been given to the Irish quartet Making Monsters, who are not dealt the greatest hand in terms of production value or crowd interest. Troxy has barely been open for half an hour when they go on, and while the light is kept mainly as a dim purple, the mix initially blurs their guitar riffs well below the drums and vocals. The band's sound makes you think of early 00's post-hardcore bands, like Blindside, for instance, except their singer Emma, who sings both dramatic clean vocals similar to former Flyleaf singer Lacey Sturm, and also masters an impressive range of screams and growls.

Regrettably, Emma is initially the only person who at least tries to look excited with being on stage, and it takes someone rudely shouting "Your guitarist needs to move!" from the audience, before the others start to show a bit of activity. This helps, but the quartet's lack of an extra guitar leaves the sound severely lacking in depth, and with the songs often finding Emma singing on top of the riffs instead of trading blows with them, the impression overall is quite generic. The crowd stands back rather impressed when Emma dishes out some properly deep and monstrous metal growls, switching deftly back to cleans when needed, but even when the band gets a bit of momentum going, they instantly lose it when Emma delivers the usual "thank you so much for coming out early" tropes in completely dispassionate fashion between songs.

Consequently, the band figures to maybe turn some heads during a time where 00's-metal is coming back in fashion somewhat, especially due to Emma's vocal versatility, but they need to show a lot more excitement and develop a better rapport with the guys doing the sound and lights, if they want to earn themselves many new fans in support slots like this.

5

Arcane Roots

Next up are the considerably more seasoned Arcane Roots, whose catalogue of one album and four EP's of technical post-hardcore and alt-rock makes them a better match for Fightstar in the first place, and whose experience shows from the way they handle themselves, in spite of starting out with pretty much the same adverse conditions as Making Monsters. Singer/guitarist Andrew Groves is the obvious focal point of the show on the right hand of the stage, looking striking with his vest and beard as he shreds through extremely complex looking and -sounding note- and chord patterns. Groves rocks around hyperactively, looking like there's no greater pleasure in life than to melt our faces, and much to his credit, his characteristically high and razor sharp vocals also sound on point tonight.

On the right hand of the stage, bassist Adam Burton has noticeably more trouble holding up his part in the vocal harmonies, but otherwise things sound increasingly better as the band's set progresses. Eventually, a sizeable moshpit even breaks out in the middle of Troxy's lower level, revealing that Arcane Roots are not an unknown entity among tonight's audience. The main point of criticism then, is that it remains unknown after a brief set of about half an hour, what the band has to offer on top of their hyperactivity. There are some impressive guitar parts here, as well as some anthemic moments sounding something in between Icarus The Owl and Twin Atlantic, but the way the band often races quickly out of their mellower parts and up to their screeching highs, seems like something that could do with some changes of pace during sets of any greater length than this.

7

Fightstar

By the time Fightstar emerges around half past nine, Troxy is well populated with anxious fans, cramming together both at the lower level in front of the stage and the medium level further back (the balcony has not been opened for tonight's show, however). And by the time the band opens with "Sleep Well Tonight", from their criminally underappreciated debut album "Grand Unification", they already get the kind of reception that seems positively mythical to music fans from back in old Denmark. Fans of various ages and subcultural affiliations instantly join in and fill the venue with near-religious singalongs to the song's hooks. The impressive part, though, is that this response does not seem to diminish much when the band follows a song that has been out for nine years, with one that has been out for a week, the new single "Sharp Tongue".

Thus, the tone is set for an evening where Fightstar focus mainly on songs from "Grand Unification" and the new "Behind The Devil's Back", and where the audience continually stands ready to make up for any slack on the band's behalf. Fans passionately carry the melodies of "Build An Army" and "Paint Your Target", and frantic, shirtless moshing breaks out in a sizeable circle in the centre of the crowd, mixing it up to the sounds of the likes of the crushing new "Sink With The Snakes". Meanwhile on stage, Fightstar act every bit the casual, no-nonsense band they have always intended to be. In front of a huge banner with the artwork from second album "One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours" - which, ironically, they only play "99" and "Death Car" from - Alex Westaway persistently smiles like a man who is secretively a little confused with the reception awarded to his music, while the whole band seems to take particular joy in playing their heavier parts, engaging in full body headbanging whenever the breaks in vocal arrangements allow for it.

In the front, Charlie Simpson in particular looks extra liberated whenever he gets to focus either on rocking out while hammering his guitar, or when he hands it over to a touring member (Charlie's brother Will) for the newer songs, and gets to throw himself around the stage like a proper post-hardcore frontman while delivering the blood-curling screams that make up for roughly half of the vocals in the band's dynamic soundscape. This being the live debut of a number of the songs, it is noticeable how the band exchanges satisfied grins whenever they've successfully rocked through a newer track, especially when heavyset drummer Omar Abidi completely slays a blast beat part that would summon horns up from most metal fans.

Otherwise, though, it's not that Fightstar do or say anything on stage that can be characterised out of the ordinary, leaving in mainly for their often apocalyptically themed songs to carry the day. Considering the rapport they have with the fans here, though, this seems entirely on the level, as even "Palahniuk's Laughter", from all the way back on the 2005 EP "They Liked You Better When You Were Dead", gets a positively storming response from the crowd. It precedes the regular set closer "Death Car", which in turn leads into a break before the band returns to play a stripped down version of "Wake Up" and then finishing up with "Animal" and "Mono".

Overall, Fightstar's performance primarily showcased just how many worthwhile songs they have written, as we could have probably easily stomached several more tunes from either "One Day Son...", or "Be Human", as well as tracks like "Waste A Moment" or "Overdrive". Yet the songs they did play were celebrated properly by a large and diverse audience, showing that the group is still strongly in demand even following their pre-album reunion tour in 2014. You could argue critically, that it would not do Fightstar any harm to get a bit more elaborate with their live production, and/or open up and appear more personal in their between-song banter, both of which would be elements that would increase the icing on the cake. Furthermore, there's some room for improvement in the mix, and in a few bits of Charlie's clean singing, where he opts to sing the lower end of the harmony while letting the dub of the backtrack supply the high end. That being said, with this many good songs, and with this kind of crowd reception, and with a band that were visibly enjoying playing together again, even taking the trip all the way from Denmark for the concert still definitely seemed worth it.

Setlist:

  • 1. Sleep Well Tonight
  • 2. Sharp Tongue
  • 3. Build An Army
  • 4. Paint Your Target
  • 5. Behind The Devil's Back
  • 6. Sink With The Snakes
  • 7. War Machine
  • 8. 99
  • 9. Grand Unification Pt. 1
  • 10. Palahniuk's Laugher
  • 11. Death Car

--Encore--

  • 12. Wake Up
  • 13. Animal
  • 14. Mono

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