“Birmingham!” exclaims Atreyu singer Brandon Saller, “you are the best crowd on the tour!”. Notwithstanding the fact that if Mr. Saller (as I am calling him just in case) told me anything I’d agree given his size, the statement might have more than the usual cliché in it. The Californian’s have been greeted like long lost heroes throughout their half an hour – and they have responded by delivering something incendiary, it has to be said. On “The Time Is Now” for example, the drums thunder, and if no one can find Saller its because he’s gone for a stroll in the pit. Perhaps just enjoying his time in the spotlight after being on the drums for years, he gives the band a real focal point. A set that takes in the old – “Ex’s And Oh’s – and the new – just released single “Drowning” bristles with electricity, and everything in between, is perhaps best underlined by two things. First, the absolutely vicious breakdown section in “Battle Drums” (“unclean” vocalist Marc “Porter” McKnight gives this one a real old-school metalcore feel) but second, the fact they are also happy to tease Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” before their closing “Blow”. Indeed, Saller promises to play the full version when they return for – as he puts it – a “real show”. Atreyu at full length is probably a mighty thing. It’s a challenge that Birmingham looks ready for.
The Ukrainian flags were waving anyway, but there’s a special poignancy it when Jinjer’s Tatiana Shmailyuk announces “we just want our home back” before the song of the same name. The stage bathed in blue and yellow, it’s a real statement. More than that, its indicative of the interesting nature of the work the band display in their set. Comfortably the heaviest band on the bill here, they have plenty of interesting rhythms and as a singer, Shmailyuk has a real range and captivating style. The slower, more delicate “Perennial” is a nod to the other side of the band – and if the poetry in their words doesn’t come over here, then their visceral charm does. “Dead Hands Feel No Pain” sees the singer sit cross legged on one of their benches, and she resumes her usual prowl for the last one “Call Me A Symbol”, then it comes in with plenty of menace. The band probably feel they are representing freedom at this point, and certainly this is a show that comes replete with a fair amount of free spirit.
Bullet For My Valentine have come back for their encore – they were always going to, of course, but they sort of had to, they chants of “Bullet! Bullet! Were not about to stop until they did. They’ve already ripped through a brilliant “Your Betrayal”, when Matt Tuck stands there, just him and his guitar to play the opening of “Tears Don’t Fall”. As he does, he says something that I knew, but still surprises. “We are just a year away from 20 years as a band…..”.
It shouldn’t be a shock. It’s not far from 16 years since they and me were at Wembley Stadium with Metallica, but BFMV always seem to be the young metal band that’s breaking through, the boys most likely. Tuck then plays the start of the song, the rest of the band join him for a reprise, then they crush their way through “Waking The Demon” by way of a goodbye.
Look, they’ve made it. They’re there. They are the best metal band formed in this millennium. No arguments.
Rewind to 9.25pm. The sold out crowd was at fever pitch long before they’d come on to “Knives”, but if anything the atmosphere went up a notch further. That one was one of a clutch of tunes they’d played from their most recent record, but this was, as Tuck reasoned, “90 minutes of everything”.
He’s not wrong. Another couple from their latter period “Piece Of Me” and “Over It” give way to “4 Words (To Choke Upon)” and its fair to say that at that point four men from South Wales have the freedom of the second city.
No strangers to arenas, “Hearts Burst Into Fire” belongs in one, in truth and as the sea of fists appear in the air for “The Last Fight” it could be argued that the band are not needed, such is the way the crowd are.
They have always been capable of real moments of heaviness, have BFMV, and “Shatter” is almost thrash, but they have an innate gift for writing songs that sound huge – see “All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me)” and “Scream, Aim Fire” for proof. These are serious statements of intent from an experienced and Premier League rock band.
They give themselves a couple of breaks in the show, and when they come back from the last, they seem to be recharged, if the way Jason Bowld thumps his kit in “Don’t Need You” and an explosive “Death By A Thousand Cuts” are anything to go by.
Make no mistake this is slick, its polished, and its expertly planned, paced and done. There’s nothing off the cuff here, Bullet For My Valentine are as well oiled a machine as any out there. For much of the last decade, they’ve flitted between arena tours and these sold out club shows. What is clear, however, is that wherever they play, the ambitions are always the same, this is a band who’s never been shy of sounding huge. Consequently, this is an arena rock show, it just wasn’t played in one. It will be again, and there’s nothing more certain.