Unholy Alliance Chapter III

support Slayer + Trivium + Mastodon + Amon Amarth
author AP date 30/10/08 venue Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK

The Unholy Alliance, conceived by Slayer and their manager Rick Sales, has been preaching to the perverted as a biennial high-profile tour of Europe and North America since 2004. It is headlined by Slayer, with the supporting acts hand-picked by the band themselves to ensure a "no-compromise lineup, the best of the breed." Consequently the tour has developed a reputation of featuring some of the biggest, as well as the most hyped up and coming names in metal, having included bands like Slipknot, In Flames and Lamb of God in the past to name only a few. With Slayer and Trivium co-headlining this year, with support from Mastodon and Amon Amarth in rotating slots, The Unholy Alliance Chapter III is no exception.

Two dates had been scheduled for the legendary Hammersmith Apollo in London, which, although no match to the gigantic Earl's Court and Alexandra Palace, is considered one of the larger venues of the city, and can accommodate about 5,000 people. Inside Nick and I are greeted by signs explaining that tonight's show will be filmed for an eventual DVD release and that photography of any kind from the crowd is strictly prohibited for that reason. I'd like to extend a big thanks to Rene Ackerman and Nadine Ballantyne for providing us with some of incredible photos from the show. You'll find links to their respective websites in the end of this article.

For this tour, Metal Hammer had organized a band competition dubbed "15 Minutes of Pain", the winners of which were allocated a warm-up slot on each of the UK dates. Chosen to kick things off tonight were the not-so-subtle Firebrand Super Rock from Scotland. Unfortunately some complications regarding the guestlist at the door mean that we miss the entirety of that show. From what I can hear through the doors, they sound like old school heavy metal in the vein of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Go check them out here. Now, without further a due, let's tear this show apart.

Amon Amarth

Since their show at Metal Town this summer, which left me unimpressed to say the least, I've been looking forward to Amon Amarth proving their worth as a live band. It baffles me that a band with such experience should fall short of their younger peers, yet that's the direction that tonight's show takes from the first song, again. Amon Amarth are essentially a melodic death metal band, so if the melody gets mauled by a wall of bass like tonight, what's left to keep you interested? Well, one thing would be to keep things interesting with, say, an excellent light show or a visible energy on stage - but Amon Amarth seem content with swinging their hair around a bit under dim red and white lights. Although the band haven't much time at their disposal, we're treated to a balanced mix of old and new, and, fortunately, towards the end of the set, things start looking and sounding better. It's during the more melodic tracks like "Cry of the Blackbirds" that the band is able to pull a proper response from the crowd, and consequently they seem more enthusiastic about their songs. I'm somewhat divided on the band's character, as this doomy gloomy live atmosphere might well be what the band intends as a means to capture the essence of their music. But even so, there's nothing much to rave about here.



Mastodon is another band I've been looking forward to experiencing live, what with having missed their show at Roskilde Festival in 2007 because of apocalyptic downpour. And without the slightest exaggeration, what Mastodon put on display tonight exceeds even my wildest expectations, because god damn, this has got to be one of the best shows I've seen this year, if not one of the best shows I've ever seen. It's convincing but playful, and while there's nothing particularly bewildering about the stage show, Mastodon manage to intrigue the crowd and invoke an atmosphere unlike any other. Why the show is so excellent is difficult to put in words, but it probably has to do as much with the strange vocal gimmicks of Brent and Bill as with Brann's unmatched drumming prowess. Personally it's the show's longevity that does it for me. Just as it sounds as if it's about to end in a grand finale, complete with a drum solo and frantic guitar noise, it suddenly flows into yet another song, and yet another, repeating this pattern at least four times before the band thanks the audience and exits - and these are the only words spoken throughout the 45-minute set.



At this point it's understood that Trivium and Slayer are both going to have to work hard to avoid being topped by one of their support bands; and having seen Trivium put on excellent performances twice before, I'm convinced that they'll at least be on par with Mastodon. But from the get go it's obvious that that isn't the case. It seems that as the band has grown, so have their egoes - a fact which manifests itself in the form of overconfidence and overcompensation. The stage set-up is massive, complete with various platforms and ramps, which by itself would be fair enough, if it weren't for the fact that Matt strives to fill in every bridge and breakdown with comments like "Alright, I want to see every fucking motherfucker fucking move. If you're too cool to fucking move to Trivium, go outside now and catch fucking pneumonia!" Hardly an opportunity passes that Heafy doesn't exploit for a few profanities that he probably considers metal as fuck, but, as the number of things that are thrown at him suggests, the crowd quickly grows tired of. The setlist is satisfactory, containing the very best of "Shogun" as well as a good mix of old tracks, with "A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation", "Pillars of Serpents", "Like Light to the Flies" and "Rain" earning the best response. Expectedly the show is wrapped up with "Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr" and I'm left with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. It isn't downright bad, but it does fall short of the more honest Trivium performances I've seen in the past.



Slayer had promised to play the entirety of "Reign in Blood" tonight, and that's exactly what is delivered - with about an hour of other stuff before, in between and after. Don't get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for Slayer as one of the pioneering thrash metal bands, and appreciate the fact that most modern bands owe their riffs to Hanneman and King; but let's face it, the music isn't exactly varied. In fact, the song structures are almost always identical, and two hours of that does become frustrating, especially when one happens to have been standing for the past four hours. Having said that, Slayer's performance tonight is flawless as usual, but not mindblowing. Although Slayer is one of those bands that is capable of pulling off an incredible show just by standing on stage and looking like pure metal, a two-hour show obligates any band to spice things up somehow, and that's not a fact that Slayer has taken into consideration tonight. Sure, there's plenty of ear-blistering solos and evil riffs, but the entertainment value falls short of the band's performance at Roskilde Festival this year. Like Trivium, it isn't a bad show, but it isn't a show to remember either.

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