Unearth @ The Underworld, London

Review by Tim Bolitho-Jones
Photography by Inty Malcolm
4th September 2014

It shouldn’t have ended like this. A decade ago, Shadows Fall were one of the most celebrated acts of the so-called New Wave Of American Heavy Metal. They regularly appeared on huge tours, attracted near blanket coverage from the press and were going to be superstars at any moment. But fame is a fickle thing and with Anthrax and fatherhood having effectively ended their tenure as a full time band, tonight could be the last chance we get to see the Massachusetts head bangers in a long while.

If fate was kind, they’d have brought this period of their lives to a close in a triumphant sold out show at Brixton Academy instead of being crammed into the dingy sweat box of the Underworld again, but that also means it’s going to be an up close and personal slam fest with no barriers between crowd and stage. And with fellow riff-masters The Acacia Strain and Unearth to enjoy as well, this is going to be one hell of an intense gig.

Pay No Respect Pay No Respect

Pay No Respect get the evening off to a suitably heavy start with their enthusiastic brand of UK hardcore.

Pay No Respect Pay No Respect

Singer Joe Kenney is one of those likeable, working class frontmen who doesn’t let the sparse crowd put him off and while they don’t do anything particularly ground breaking, they get the committed spin-kicking and that’s all they really need to do.

War Of Ages War Of Ages

They’re followed by War Of Ages, whose upbeat and slightly-too-slick brand of metalcore is reminiscent of As I Lay Dying without the awkward Court room aftertaste.

War Of Ages War Of Ages

But despite attracting more curiosity than excitement at first, they still kick off a circle pit by the end and leave having made a few new friends.

The Acacia Strain The Acacia Strain

There are no problems winding up the crowd for The Acacia Strain however. Even before they set foot onstage, a huge pit has opened and when the first breakdown kicks in, the floor area degenerates into a melee of spinning fists and slam dancing.

The Acacia Strain The Acacia Strain

Coming across like a stoned Cannibal Corpse fronted by Peter Stormare, their set is thirty minutes of mercilessly bleak brutality.

The Acacia Strain The Acacia Strain

Each groove laden riff seems slower and nastier than the last and when Joe Kenney joins them onstage the place goes predictably apeshit.

The Acacia Strain The Acacia Strain

Unlike most deathcore acts however, they also have a certain dry humour about them and Vincent Bennett’s melancholy ribbing of the crowd is surprisingly endearing.

The Acacia Strain The Acacia Strain

Shadows Fall Shadows Fall

That said, tonight undoubtedly belongs to Shadows Fall and singer Brian Fair is determined to make this a party. Forgoing the last three albums entirely and focusing mainly on the ‘Art Of Balance’ and ‘War Within’ albums, their ten song set is a decidedly old school affair.

Shadows Fall Shadows Fall

‘Thoughts Without Words’ and ‘Destroyer Of Senses’ trigger a sea of pumping fists, while ‘The Power Of I And I’ results in a predictably chaotic mosh pit.

Shadows Fall Shadows Fall

The faithful down the front bellow along to each and every lyric and when they finish with a rare appearance of ‘Crushing Belial,’ they leave to an utterly rapturous applause.

Shadows Fall Shadows Fall

There’s a certain injustice that along with God Forbid, Chimaira and Bleeding Through they’ve had to call time while Avenged Sevenfold are able to headline Download, but it’s a hell of a send-off nonetheless.

Shadows Fall Shadows Fall

Unearth Unearth

After four different bands you could forgive the crowd if the energy levels dip for Unearth but if anything, things only get more manic.

Unearth Unearth

There’s been a noticeable lack of stage diving all night, but halfway through the opening ‘Giles,’ Trevor Phipps goes for a ride on the hands of his fans and from then on, not a minute goes by without some sweaty lunatic climbing up and diving into the audience.

Unearth Unearth

Hell, even Leroy Hamp from War Of Ages sprints out from backstage and launches headfirst into the air at one point.

Unearth Unearth

The songs meanwhile are as tight and brutal as ever. There’s a clear emphasis on their classic ‘The Oncoming Storm’ with ‘This Lying World’ and ‘Failure’ both being aired early on, but more recent tracks like ‘Watch It Burn’ go down just as well as the old favourites.

Unearth Unearth

They save the best for the finale though as ‘Zombie Autopilot’ and ‘Black Hearts Now Reign’ are a formidable closing duo.

Unearth Unearth

On any other night they’d have crushed it, but tonight was always going to be about Shadows Fall. They deserved to be much bigger than they were but even if they didn’t finish in the largest venue in England, that didn’t stop everyone here from treating them like champions. We won’t see dreadlocks that epic in a long time.

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