After the brutalising five band tornado that hit the Rebellion Bar the previous night it was the turn of a different touring package to obliterate Manchester, as this four band bill was far more technical oriented than the bludgeoning I experienced the night before. Canadian act First Fragment were given the honours to stoke up the Manchester faithful and did a fine job in doing so as they started their set by playing their own intro, sort of. The intro came over initially as a backing track but as the band appeared on stage they added to it and the result was very effective indeed, bolstering the start of their set ready for “Le Serment de Tsion” which was a whirling typhoon of hyper tech guitar work and rapid velocity drumming that took a little bit of adjusting to as their super slick tempo shifts were cohesively driven into the song. Energy abounded from the stage as “Voracité (Apothéose, Partie 1)”, ( I really hope I’m getting these titles right), as again they maintained their stage presence but I felt the song was too overloaded with fretboard gymnastics and made the song chaotic and lacking momentum as a new song was aired called “Soif Brulante”. The masses of guitar flurries that saturated their songs often made their set feel like one long lead break but when they relented the powering riffs that were unveiled were formidable as “Gula” proved and the more strait laced deathliness of closer “Paradoxal Subjugation” perfectly exemplified with its double bass salvo as I particularly liked the cool middle section of the song. They were very well received by the crowd and perfectly poised the evening ready for US tech deathsters Allegaeon.
I’ll make no bones about it, I love Allegaeon, every single release they’ve done is a sonic delight, an exemplary demonstration in how to write technical death metal songs without resorting to hyper trickery and here they absolutely slayed and were by far the best band of the night and I am certain the vast majority of crowd would agree with me. There was some delay to them getting started and at one point I thought they were going to start their set with the Law and Order TV theme as that started playing but instead it stopped and they detonated on stage with “All Hail Science”. The impact was instant as the band floored the crowd with their tsunami of riffs and explosion of drumming proficiency. Asking how we are was kept brief and to the point as the cool riff to “Gravimetric Time Dilation” was poured onto the crowd. As I said earlier this band have that ability to be beautifully technical without pretension, injecting copious melody that you see the audience was wowed by as they looked at each other wondering who the hell were this lot. Announcing the next song was from the first album, they blazed into “Biomech – Vals No. 666” and if truth be told the track was slightly more lightweight than their newer material, but you just had to behold their musicianship, the way they naturally played yet managed to engage the crowd despite the limited space on stage with two drum kits being there. A new song from their upcoming opus “Apoptosis” was played called “Stellar Tidal Disruption” and returned the set to the super heavy material as the track was loaded with fine solo work as expected but also that innate methodology of making it all extremely catchy too. As their all too short a set was progressing “1.618” followed and maintained the impetus as by now the pit had started due to its very catchy riff that made the song that bit more melodic without loss of power as they closed their phenomenal set with “Behold (God I Am)” which they unceremoniously crashed into and left everyone with no doubts that both remaining bands had a mountain to surpass which ultimately I felt they failed to surmount.
Fallujah are one of those bands that you either love or loathe, their intricate progressive deathcore is multifaceted and indeed their upcoming latest opus, “Undying Light”, takes the style a step further as this tour saw them unveil their new vocalist, Antonio Palermo, who I personally wasn’t too enamoured with, though his vocal abilities were well suited to the band. After the sci-fi based intro piece the vocalist shouted let me hear you Manchester and went into “Carved From Stone” and what struck me immediately about the band’s sound was how much was provided via backing track for the atmospherics which I have no problem with per se but it was quite saturating. Arguably this is the crux of Fallujah’s progressive sci-fi stance within their music as they proceeded to deliver an enriched display of technical guitar dexterity that the ardent fans were thoroughly absorbed by as a new song from the said new album was aired called “Ultraviolet”. The sound was astonishingly pristine, a clarity you don’t often get in club venues as the track provided a foundation for the audience to latch onto with mild bass bombing added for extra density that was neatly followed by “Adrenaline”. The high velocity hook was infectious as the vocalist was doing his best to stamp his authority on the show and the band and in some respects I think that alienated a portion of the crowd as he continually cavorted around the front of the stage and again asked how we are all and told us who the band is, maybe stage jitters getting the best him, I doubt it as he obviously had reams of confidence when singing the back catalogue. “Abandon” was played and at this point there was a noticeable reduction in people watching as they literally took note of the songs title to go sit at the back of venue and chill for a while, though I stuck with it as I was enjoying the thundering technicality. My enthusiasm was jolted as a new song announced after thanks to the bands that had played, but if there’s one thing I cannot abide it’s spitting that the vocalist did a fair few times and I am certain that a few in the crowd will have got hit by it when “Last Light” was played and let’s be honest it’s disgusting, especially when it can land on your fans, and at that point I decided to bugger off and listen from afar as they went through their last remaining numbers of “Scar Queen” and the last track “The Void Alone” I believe, though I may have missed a track through chatting, and whilst I enjoyed the scintillating technical extremity of Fallujah they just could not cut through the euphoria after Allegaeon.
Whether I am biased or not the number of people watching German technical maestros Obscura was definitely less than Fallujah who were less than Allegaeon unless the amount of beer I’d had was playing tricks, which I doubt. With no hiccups in getting set up the Germans strolled on stage to a mammoth welcome from the gathered aficionados as two smoke fountains completely smothered the stage in smoke and the band produced their marksmanship display in technical death metal. My time to watch the Germans was going to be short due to having to be up early the next morning along with the others in my travelling contingent as they hooked the audience in “Emergent Evolution” as their set opener. It was hard not to be astounded by the musicianship of Obscura, like every other time I’ve seen them, though I thought standing on platforms was a little too posing for a club venue, as the vocalist said hi to us when the song dipped into a quiet phase. “Ten Sephiroth” was up next with an acoustic start that lead into the riff and cymbal smash and was brilliantly executed as the band looked thoroughly at ease and enjoying themselves. Some band introductions gave the crowd, and the band, a breather before the awesome “Akróasis” was aired, the power was palpable but like Fallujah they just couldn’t surmount the encompassing intensity of Allegaeon even though Obscura were far more technical which can often be at the detriment though I’m sure the zealous Obscura fans will say otherwise. One thing that has to be mentioned is the drumming, which was extraordinary, quite how the guy manages to keep up with the complexity yet produce the remorseless battering power is beyond me as the band disappeared off stage to allow a backing track to start “Septuagint”. It was instantly recognised by the crowd and even though the pause was brief for the band they were quickly back for the songs hyper tech acrobatics. As my own curfew was approaching it was hurried by the band adding a solo which may have been an impromptu addition as one of the guitarists disappeared off stage into the crowd to get something then dashed back before the band went into “Mortification Of The Vulgar Sun” at which point it was time for me to depart and head back over the Pennines.
Allegaeon stole this show with ease I felt, and though Obscura won the technical crown easily, in the hearts and minds of those that attended I am absolutely positive most people will agree that Allegaeon were utterly staggering and gained a whole new host of fans, which isn’t to detract from Canadian’s First Fragment who were very accomplished indeed.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: ANDY POUNTNEY