It’s been a proper while since AVENGED SEVENFOLD last visited our Nordic home base, with their last local show in 2013 on the Hail to the King Tour. DISTURBED‘s last show here was even further in the past, back in 2010’s Taste of Chaos Tour. As for the third band of the night, I’m not even sure that CHEVELLLE has ever played in Helsinki before. As a result, A7X‘s The Stage Tour on March 7th, 2017, promised to be an interesting night, particularly considering I’ve never seen any of these bands before.
CHEVELLE is a band that honestly doesn’t do much to interest me. I don’t dislike their sound per se, but their music tends to fall a bit on the slow side and as a result, I consider it more background music than something I’d want to listen to actively. I’m only familiar with the band in passing, as an old friend used to like performing “Vitamin R (Leading us Along)” at karaoke. I showed up to the venue midway through their set as well, unfortunately missing most of their songs, and as a result, I honestly don’t have a great deal to say. An arena stage was pretty large for a band of three, especially considering their stage presence was quite minimalistic, without a great deal of movement. They performed their songs with clean precision though, and I can imagine fans of their music would have been satisfied to have seen them and would have perhaps liked a longer set in a more intimate environment .
1. Another Know-It-All
2. The Clincher
3. An Island
4. Joyride (Omen)
5. Door to Door Cannibals
6. Face to the Floor
DISTURBED was set to take the stage at 19:45. These guys have really grown on me over the years, as I was one of those teenage snobs who couldn’t admit to liking American numetal until I grew up a bit, but I’ve learned to appreciate David Draiman‘s unique vocals in my 20s and their upbeat, catchy sound in my later years. I’ve heard rumor, however, that DISTURBED doesn’t actually put on a very good show, which I found hard to imagine considering how good their music can be.
Their show started more or less right on time, with a couple of spotlights on Dan Donegan (guitar) who soloed while the others came on stage, followed shortly by some proper rockstar flames. Meanwhile, the venue had filled up so quickly that I felt like I had blinked and missed it. Five minutes before their set it was still half full, and 2 minutes into the first song and it was packed!
Immediately I had a suspicion regarding why these guys are not considered great performance artists. As they played “Immortalized,” the crowd got their hands up and clapping, but considering the good energy their music has, their stage presence is somewhat subdued. John Moyer (bass) has a certain flare in the way he plays and isn’t afraid to jump, but the band doesn’t quite keep up with their own energy, wandering the stage casually, and in any headbang-worthy moments, the band was bobbing their heads, maybe even doing so with some fervor, but certainly not headbanging or rocking out like most heavy bands might. I appreciate Donegan‘s moments of connection with people in the crowd too.
Some lurking fog introduced “The Vengeful One,” and the song was accompanied by copious firebursts that put a grin on my face. How cool was it to see diagonal (and occasionally vertical) lines of flame shooting from two alternating spots on each side Mike Wengren‘s drum kit!
“My brothers and sisters, my blood… SPEAK TO ME!” Drainman shouted, and asked the crowd to put their hands up, and the crowd readily obeyed as they set into “Prayer,” which is maybe not one of the songs I was most longing to hear. Meanwhile, it was a shame that the low end of the vocals on “Liberate” were nearly impossible to hear. This went into “Stupify,” and it was fun to hear such classics live after all these years too, even if I’ve gotten a bit sick of it over the years; this song was a bit… squawky live.
An eerie intro played and Draiman instructed the crowd to hold up their cells for their cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Sound of Silence,” a song I had been really excited for. Seriously, Draiman‘s voice in this song. Wow. This is one of those covers that the new artist has truly taken and made even better! As well, the band went full acoustic and brought some guests on stage – I couldn’t see them all but there was at least one violinist and cellist, and Wengren‘s percussion (kettle drums, I think?) were pure chilling bliss. By the end I was covered head-to-toe in goosebumps. Huge props for not using backing tracks and performing it all live and acoustically!
“How the hell are you? That’s a joke you probably didn’t get,” Draiman said, addressing the crowd directly at last after a whopping nine songs. Also, I got the joke – it’s a play on Helsinki. “Can we talk? The members of Disturbed humbly request a moment of audience participation. In the next song, when I say the words ‘the light’ hold up your cell phones. But only to those words.” He didn’t sound too convinced that the audience would participate, but the band went for it anyway, and of course he was referring to “The Light.” When the song hit “the light,” Drainman shouted, “beautiful” in an approving manner, and I’ll go ahead and agree – this is a newer song for me, and it was way more epic live with all those lights in the air. Then then roared straight into “Stricken,” another old classic.
Some soft sirens introduced what could only be “Indestructible,” another DISTURBED must-have. This was accompanied by moving arcs of fire on either side of the drum kit, which both looked cool and was pretty unique. “This is the last time I’ll ask you tonight, but I’ll need to see it once more – let me see those hands!” Draiman shouted as the rather appropriate “Ten Thousand Fists” started. This was another rousing success crowd-wise, though again the deeper vocals were nearly unhearable. Of course, the last song had to come, and Draiman asked that the people in the stands get to their feet and that a huge circle pit form on the floor. It did – the 2 meter gap between the crowd and the sound booth vanished and I was instantly squashed by the people backing up to make room. The pit itself was brilliant – perhaps the best I’ve seen since CHILDREN OF BODOM at Tuska last year. I longed to dive in, but alas my back prevented me, and I was crushed mentally (as opposed to physically, like I had wanted).
I have to say that I enjoyed the set quite a lot – the lights were top-tier, the band’s performance of the music was great, there was creative use of fire that I’ve never seen before (such as the appropriate long-burning flame pillars in “Inside the Fire”), and even if the energy wasn’t turned to a full 10, they played very well. The set was a bit hit-or-miss – the song “Hell” has been the wild card on this tour, with alternatives including “Another Way to Die,” “The Animal,” and “Remember” and frankly, I’d have killed to hear “Another Way to Die,” which is one of my favorites. As well, I got the sense that Donegan and Moyer might want to run around a little more, but might be holding back a little to ensure a good performance. Overall though, I really thought it was a great show. Maybe not a 10/10 because the set had some flaws in it and the energy doesn’t match what some other bands are capable of, but I did get to hear all of the classics, with the only missing song being “Another Way to Die,” and I was really in a great mood by the time they left the stage.
Intro: The Eye of the Storm
2. The Game
3. The Vengeful One
9. The Sound of Silence
10. Inside the Fire
11. The Light
14. Ten Thousand Fists
15. Down with the Sickness
I can’t honestly say that I’m a huge fan of A7X. M. Shadows‘ voice is hit or miss with me and can annoy me if I’m in the wrong mood. While “The Stage” (2016) was decent and I applaud their choice of subject for their first attempt at a concept album, I was truly unimpressed, to the point of active irritation, with the song “Exist,” as they had the bad timing of following in the conceptual footsteps of NIGHTWISH‘s “Greatest Show on Earth” (the near-24-minute epic finale from “Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” 2015) and comparatively speaking, “Exist” doesn’t begin to touch on the depth and span and beauty of NIGHTWISH‘s song, so it feels like a cheap knock-off. Perhaps if their song had come first I may have liked it, but as it stands… quite the opposite.
It was nice that DISTURBED was able to get a decent set in, with A7X meant to start at 21:00. However, when DISTURBED left the stage at 20:51, I assumed we were going to be in for a long delay; imagine my surprise then when A7X started a paltry 8 or so minutes late! During that time, an eye appeared with the “The Stage” version of the universe skullbat appeared in a skull or a mask that moved back and forth, watching the crowd from the two screens on the sides of the stage. Just before the show started, I realized that there was now a large cube above center stage, with a few slender screens on each side between it and the larger side screens – these had appeared without my notice somehow. As the intro played, “The Stage”‘s universe imagery appeared, swirling with bolts of lightning.
As the band took the stage to “The Stage” (pun not intended), the music video (a marionette show of covering a bit of the world’s history) began playing on the screens. The crowd’s anticipation was electric, with lighters and cell phones already going up within the first few minutes of the show. I honestly can’t say that I liked the video, even if it was cool that they played it – with the screens above the band and not behind them, they distracted too much from the performance and while I tried to focus on the band (which was more interesting), the screens kept drawing my eyes away, and it began to annoy me. Synyster Gates did play a cool plucky guitar outro (or possibly interlude) after the song concluded.
Things picked up a bit in “Afterlife” as the band was portrayed on the screens with the universe images replacing videos. These guys really brought the energy levels up after CHEVELLE and DISTURBED too, making good use of the risers on the sides, as well as the catwalk. As well, I noted that I enjoyed Shadows‘ voice a lot more in a live context, and the screams were fantastic. “It feels fucking good to be in Finland tonight!” Shadows shouted to the crowd. “Are you guys doing okay? This is supposed to be the greatest city in the world for heavy metal, right? We tried to play “Nightmare” here once and everybody left the building. Then they made us stop. They said, ‘Maybe someday you’ll be a decent band, but tonight you should go home,'” he joked. “This song is for our friends in Finland, to the kings of heavy metal!” Of course, this meant that it was time to play “Hail to the King” and Shadows asked the crowd to scream so loud that Gates wouldn’t be able to hear himself and we’d fuck up his performance.
There was no breather before the heavy intro to “Paradigm” began, with images of the evolution of man moving across the slimmer screens – a creative use of them that I appreciated. Gates had another guitar interlude after this under a blue spotlight, before they played the slower “Buried Alive”, which featured a quaking crowd singalong and a ton of cell phones in the air.
UFO-type lights began to appear from the bottom of the screen cube over the drum kit as some red planets appeared. The cube began to move toward the crowd to the end of the catwalk, and Shadows came out to the end to lean on the mic (in a very Mikko Kotamäki [SWALLOW THE SUN] manner) as he sang “Angels” under a yellow spotlight. Of course, they really had to kick things into overdrive for “Nightmare” – I don’t think anyone left the arena this time, considering how loudly the crowd screamed, “It’s your fucking nightmare!” At this point in the night, I began to appreciate how often these guys have solos in their music – say what you will about them, but they do at least have that aspect of heavy metal covered. I also appreciate that their guitars always sound distinctly like A7X and no one else.
“Nightmare” was followed by a drum solo by the band’s latest addition, Brooks Wackerman, giving him a moment to show his stuff as the new guy in town. This was followed by “God Damn,” which was a bit odd in that it ended, there was silence, and then this was followed by a short drum fill. I’m not entirely sure why the drum fill was necessary, as the moment was rather weird.
“I love Finland,” Shadows continued. “Everyone here is so nice.” Someone from the crowd shouted something, which initiated a short conversation that most people could only hear one side of: “You’re not? You look nice. Are you nice? Oh, okay. Fuck you guys.” There was some laughter from the crowd, before he announced that there were many more songs to come, and the next was called “Almost Easy.” Shadows had a huge grin on his face as he got the crowd to sing parts of the chorus for him, while Zacky Vengeance (guitar) and Johnny Christ (bass) had a “conversation” with each other as they played.
“Warmness on the Soul” was played next, and it was nice to have an instrumental break in the set – live shows should do this more often. There were a few people ‘slow dancing’ in the crowd, so I think I wasn’t the only one who appreciated this nice little interlude. After the lights dimmed, the cube had moved forward again and something came out of the darkness – a big astronaut with lights in the helmet. This accompanied the last two songs of the main set, “Planets,” which I honestly thought was kind of lame, and “Acid Rain,” which I had mixed feelings about. On one hand, it’s very dramatic and feels very final, which is appropriate. On the other hand, it’s quite ballad-esque, which makes it rather a slow way to end things, and I always prefer to have a high energy song at the end of both the encore and main set.
The astronaut receded back into the darkness and the band waited a good long couple of minutes while the arena cheered for them, before announcing their return to the stage with the opening riffs from “Bat Country.” “Do you want some more?” Shadows screamed. “I need you to prove to me that you have the energy to take some more!” Naturally, the crowd obliged. This was an overall nice performance of a classic, but I wasn’t sure if he was wimping out on some of the earlier high notes, or if the sound was just a bit quiet and I couldn’t hear them.
“I’ve just noticed that this is the best looking crowd we’ve ever played for. I’ve never said that before and it feels kind of strange,” Shadows said, laughing a bit at himself. “We’re going to play a love song. It’s about love. And murder. And necrophilia. Raise your hand if you know what necrophilia is! Okay, now scream for me if you like necrophilia!” I was a bit surprised by how many people took that bait. Of course, this was all introducing “A Little Piece of Heaven,” which I might’ve enjoyed when I was a teenager for its shock value, but at this point I’ll just say that I’ve outgrown that aspect of AVENGED SEVENFOLD‘s music (I kind of think they have too, but they have to keep playing it because it’s a hit). Of course, again the music video played on the screen. The night then ended with another massive pit for “Unholy Confessions” and the band said goodnight.
So, overall, it was a pretty good show. The set was sort of divided awkwardly between new and old. In a way that might be good – both groups got a near equal number of songs, but the phantom at least claimed that there weren’t enough old songs for the old fans to be satisfied, nor enough new songs for the new fans, and perhaps they should’ve picked one group to focus on. However, since this is an album tour, I suspect that group would’ve clearly been the newer progressive fans. As well, none of the best new songs were played; at least in my opinion, “Creating God” should have been in the set. The performance was excellent though, with solid playing/vocals and great energy. I know a lot of people aren’t big on this band, but if you are, you’ll probably want to check them out at least once. I can say that I’ve seen them. Who knows, I might even consider going again someday.
Avenged Sevenfold’s setlist
1. The Stage
3. Hail to the King
5. Buried Alive
8. God Damn
9. Almost Easy
10. Warmness on the Soul
12. Acid Rain
13. Bat Country (encore)
14. A Little Piece of Heaven (encore)
15. Unholy Confessions (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by JB