There can be no denying that Absolva are one of the country’s top metal acts today, with an insatiable appetite for performing live all around the UK and beyond, the crown jewel of Rocksector Records have seen their stock soar. This is especially true right now as the band have just released the critically acclaimed Anthems to the Dead, a sure fire contender for album of the year, and along with label mates Babylon Fire they embarked on a tour for this record which culminated in one of the most epic gigs Sound Control has ever seen.
It was up to the cult heroes of Asylum City Zoo to start the night with a bang and boy did they do just that. Their music had a thudding and authoritative tone, with each instrument unleashing a commanding and all-encompassing sound that was as ballsy as it was thunderous. This was a real group effort but credit must be given to Bobb the kilted bassist, whose wild headbanging set the tone just as much as his impressive instrumentation. Frontman Mark sang with supreme confidence, at times combing vocal efforts with guitarist Rishi Kumar, whose tremendous solo work established a theme which would be followed throughout the night. Tom completed the picture excellently with tenacious drumming. This was a great set musically but it was also nice to see how relaxed the atmosphere was for the hometown boys. Bobb joked about heading off to the Etihad to catch the One Direction show once they were finished and the banter would entertain for the rest of the group’s time on stage. This was a really engaging and atmospheric start to the night which totally had us all lost in the music.
Babylon Fire, like Absolva, have been gaining tremendous live experience over the last year with support slots for White Wizzard and Soilwork among others. They were impressive on those nights but they surpassed those performances here. From the powerful double bass filled opening number they stormed through a vibrant set which had the whole room rocking out. Indeed the crowd was lively and active in joining the lads in having a great time, getting their hands up in the air to clap along during the intro to ‘Shattered Crown’, a number which saw a wonderful guitar solo from Rishi Mehta.
The audience was rewarded for their enthusiasm with a brand new song entitled ‘Flight of the Falcon’. Once again the drum work of Mark Cooper was spectacular, and on the whole this was a forcefully driven track with a great galloping rhythm and an awesome breakdown to finish things off. Mark D gave a big and emphatic thank you to the fans for coming out and to Rocksector Records before launching into the closing number ‘Blood In Blood Out’, during which Absolva drummer Martin McNee came on stage dressed as a caveman complete with a bone which he used to strike his label mates, just because.
The show had been incredible but now it was about to get kicked into a higher gear. Absolva took to the stage along with Iced Earth’s Luke Appleton to perform what was undoubtedly one of the most awe-inspiring sets I have ever seen. Naturally the new album was the main focus early on, from the thrashy ‘Devil’s Mouth’ to the suitably anthemic title track every facet of the performance screamed epic. Chris Appleton sang with the all powerful sweep of Rob Halford and shredded with a virtuosity and finesse that was all his own, unleashing outstanding solo after outstanding solo through the entire set.
The best way to describe this spectacle is to say that like Asylum City Zoo and Babylon Fire the headliners were all working together phenomenally well, it’s just that in their case Absolva seemed to bring just a little more grandiosity to the proceedings. Everything that was epic in this set was heightened and emphasized, from Luke and bassist Dan Bate combing with Chris to rev up the already powerful vocals to the way Martin really attacked the drums, this was a band playing at their very best.
It’s hard to pick individual highlights from a set that was this good but Chris shined best vocally during ‘From Beyond the Light’. Meanwhile Dan’s bass work in ‘Free’ was positively astonishing. In terms of crowd interaction and enjoyment ‘Taste the Blood’ really stood out, as did the big hits ‘Flames of Justice’ and ‘Code Red’ which finished the night off. It must be said too that Martin’s extended drum solo was very well received indeed. My personal favourite moment of the whole night though was the melodic interlude ‘Only When It’s Over’, for while the band had already more than demonstrated how epic their sound could be in purely heavy terms this was them at their atmospheric best.
There are gigs which lack atmosphere until the headline act takes to the stage and there are gigs which start well and get better with each act. This was a night that began excellently and continued in excellence right until the very end. I have been to a lot of shows this year, including a truly spectacular performance by Absolva at Grand Central when they were Blaze Bayley’s tour band, and to be perfectly honest this one tops the lot. This is the show of the year so far, and let me tell you, it’s going to take something truly special to beat it!
1) The Devil’s Mouth
3) Anthems to the Dead
4) Never Back Down
6) Killing Season
7) From Beyond The Light
8) Soul Remains
9) Only When It’s Over
10) Silent Sacrifice
11) Taste The Blood
12) Flames of Justice
13) Code Red
Review: Michael Dodd
Photos: Craig Hutton