Powerwolf

support Ashes of Ares + Battle Beast + Majesty
author EW date 27/09/13 venue Underworld, London, UK

Because of the need to service the musical whims of a pop loving adolescents, this debut UK club show for Powerwolf at the Camden Underworld on a Friday night had been scheduled to finish at 9.30pm, a time when concerts seem to have barely even begun on the continent. Consider that the roster featured three support bands before them it was to my amazement that the lower floor before openers Majesty was mostly full when I wandered in during their last song at an ungodly 6pm. Yes, some of us have to work for a living so thanks to such ludicrous stage times I can't report much on Majesty other than saying they sounded incredibly German, heroically cheesy and good live fun, at least according to the reception they got.

All photos taken by Nikki Ryan

Battle Beast

Finnish troop Battle Beast I knew nothing of before this appearance bar one listen to this track. However, as might be discovered when listening to "Enter the Metal World", these Wacken 2010 Metal Battle contest winners are nothing if not a glorification of the archetype band that festival excels in pushing - fist-pumping songs revelling in metal culture and overdosing on cheese with lyrics about as a Saharan puddle. The repeated refrain of "Enter the Metal Realm of Doom" is as catchy as it is stupid but delivered with conviction as these young Finns and their powerful frontlady Noora Louhimo do it makes for an entertaining half hour. Listening to each song it is hard not to pick out a famous band it slavishly reworks - "Let It Roar" is basically Bon Jovi pop metal, "Black Ninja" honours Dio profusely while "Out of Control" is Accept with added sweetened synth. For the sake of Battle Beast's honour now is not the time to focus on how in control their sound is, that's what album reviews are for, but they filled a half hour slot with excitement and youthful vigour - perfect fodder for the less discerning listeners of the metal world.

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Ashes of Ares

From the youthful and cheesy upbeat tempos of Finland to the darkened, experienced Americans in Ashes of Ares. With just a single album to their name this new collective don't have much of a catalogue to work with nor a sound, or performance, that yet rises to the standards borne by their previous Iced Earth and Nevermore incarnations. Frontman Matt Barlow for me possesses one of the greatest vocal ranges in all of metal, period, and having never seen him perform with Iced Earth (curses!) it was great to witness the man screech and croon in these cosy surroundings, but it saddens to see the lack of response that AoA's material generated in the packed crowd. This was no doubt in part thanks to a record that came out only a matter of weeks ago but the lack of hooks or striking melodies in "What I Am", "Move The Chains", "Dead Man's Plight" and "Chalice of Man" gave little opportunity for the masses with no knowledge of the album any chance to get connected. The great man himself was guilty of missing some notes during his frequent travels between high and low vocals but his sins are little compared to some of the abject lead work from Freddie Vidales who struggled to replicate the opening to "Punishment", the collective cock-up leading into closer "What I Am" and the all-round of lack of movement that any member engaged in. There are good moments to be found here but the majority of their output is flat and uninspired, giving no hope to continued appreciation of their album in time. Battle Beast play the safe game and harness the sound of others to play a good show; Ashes of Ares try for their own sound but on this occasion that bravery has not paid off.

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Powerwolf

From the doldrums of Ashes almost anything that follows is bound to sound theatrical and upbeat, and so it was that Germans (by way of Transylvania) Powerwolf came to drink London's blood dry. Freeing at last the stage from the second drumkit that had restricted all the previous acts to little more than standing space, they made impressive use of the area by adorning the surrounding walls with mock cathedral window displays and a large logo backdrop behind drummer Roel van Helden, while in front their four standing members put on a show that was ceaseless in humour, showmanship and personality for their 80 minutes. Vocalist Attila Dorn resembles a gothic Pavarotti with a big broad chest and vocal style which he compliments further with his protestations of having a poor grasp of English (it is much better than he makes out to be) and frequent goading of the crowd for added volume. Two guitarists (no bassist needed it seems) Matthew and Charles Greywolf stride from side-to-side to position themselves before the electric fans that billow their hair like some vampiric Loreal advert while on keys is Dorn's theatrical enemy, Falk Maria Schlegel, who when not flooding the venue with grand church-like symphonic is whipping up the crowd and encouraging his 'side' of the audience to be louder than Dorn's half. All these tricks of the trade have been successfully used before by the likes of Kiss, Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper and more recently, Sabaton, but when plugged in with the concept Powerwolf have built themselves it works and the audience lap it up like bloodthirsty vampires.

Backing up this grand sense of stage (and self-esteem) are tracks that combine plentiful singalongs and ridiculous lyrics of erections, Satan, wolves and the night (often combined for added variance). Whereas other metal bands play on this visual and theatrical gimmick while forgetting to write songs to match it (Ex Deo come to mind) Powerwolf's musical output is strong enough to forsake these OTT tendencies with the resultant songs sounding big enough to justify the impressive theme. Ok, what guitar-led melodies there are will never be a challenger to Iron Maiden nor do the keyboards provide anything other than a powerful sense of depth in place of intelligent leads, but "Sanctified With Dynamite", "Amen & Attack" and "All We Need Is Blood", which all come early on, or the latterly "St Satan's Day" and "Kreuzfeuer" (the only German language track) mix varying tempos and are well-bridged to bring the audience to climax just at the right moments, further escalating the sense of enjoyment that the 5 band members themselves were clearly having. Notwithstanding a drum solo which literally nobody was calling for Powerwolf put on the kind of performance which encapsulates why metal has remained a concert driven experience over the decades and shows that despite the often less-than-flattering mainstream headlines about the genre, it IS able to laugh at itself and produce a band that revels in the stereotypical imagery most sane people would mock with contempt.

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