Photo: Ian Jenkinson
March 29, 2024

Winter may have returned to the north west of England but so have three bands that have been away from the United Kingdom stages for far, far too long.

It may be cats and dogs outside but if there is any welcome rain then it is the infected kind and the Academy is practically full with the buzz of expectation for tonight’s opening act, Infected Rain. To describe the Moldovan quartet as just metalcore does them something of a disservice, throw in cinematic and progressive elements, twists in time signatures and a rumbling back line and Infected Rain holds the power to split the earth’s core clean in two.

Front and centre of attention is vocalist Lena Scissorhands who it has to be said is not just a vocal force of nature but is also a burst of colour with those bright yellow dreadlocks. Guitarist Vadim ‘Vidick’ Ojog hurls himself around like the stage is full of discarded Lego bricks, whipping his hair while hammering down those riffs. With excellent album TIME fresh out in 2024, there is no surprise that most of the set is mainly culled from the record with two from 2022 album Ecdysis but it is the stunning set closing song Sweet, Sweet Lies from 2014 album Embrace Eternity that somewhat steals the show.

Infected Rain continues their rise and their upcoming return to the UK’s Bloodstock festival this summer is going to be the talking point of the weekend.

Had aliens decided to pay earth a visit right at the point of a DragonForce show, they would probably hi-tail it out of our galaxy but would at least leave safe in the knowledge that humanity had reached the pinnacle of speed guitar playing. Well known for the hardest song to play in the Guitar Hero series, this UK extreme power metal outfit has never seen the extra boost of a video game as an albatross and instead revel in it. 

DragonForce – Photo: Ian Jenkinson

With the five-year absence and their new Warp Speed Warriors album out only a week ago, this three date UK tour is a chance to wow the home crowd and in that regard, Dragonforce does not disappoint. What plays out is 75minutes of utter insanity, a thrill a minute where-to-put-your-eyes-next. DragonForce is a band that inspires love and hate in equal measure but even their detractors could not argue that this is what a show is all about; a retina burning thrust into an ‘80s inspired video game, complete with two oversized arcade video game machines perched sentinel-like either side of the stage which made for platforms for various members of the band to stand on.

The nods to gaming continue with the new song Power Of The Triforce, drawing inspiration from Zelda, and features a moment where a giant plush chicken from the game is tossed into the crowd to be surfed back in one piece. Amidst the spectacle, the music remains a focal point. However, with the frenetic energy of guitarists Sam Totman and Herman Li shredding through a barrage of notes with effortless grace, all while leaping about the stage, it’s a challenge to keep pace.

Along with a journey through their discography featuring songs like Cry Thunder and Soldiers of the Wasteland, it’s the two cover tracks that elicit a massive cheer from the audience – high-velocity renditions of Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams and the Titanic mega-hit My Heart Will Go On. At this point, two enormous inflatable dragons engulf the stage, which then he band has to navigate for the remainder of the set. Vocalist Marc Hudson introduces the new song Doomsday Party as a shift from “power metal to dance metal.” The track, less focused on guitar acrobatics and more on a bare essence, stands out as one of the most memorable tunes of the night. The show concludes with their Guitar Hero classic Through the Fire and Flames, accompanied by the final burst of the confetti cannon showering the Manchester audience.

‘Understatement’ is not a word that really fits into DragonForce’s lexicon but this show was both a visual treat as well as – aherm – a sonic firestorm.

Amaranthe – Photo: Ian Jenkinson

No one could be blamed for wondering how the show’s closing act, Amaranthe, would follow DragonForce, but they manage to do so – and quite impressively. Similar to the earlier bands featured tonight, Amaranthe has a new album – The Catalyst – freshly released. It may not deviate much from their previous works, but it certainly raises the bar in terms of songwriting with a collection of catchy tunes that consistently hit their mark.

At first glance, Amaranthe’s setup may seem improbable – with three vocalists: Elize Ryd leading with her female vocals, Nils Molin providing male clean vocals, and new edition to the band Mikael Sehlin adding growls, Amaranthe is a diverse mix of metal genres, including symphonic, melodic death, metalcore, and even a touch of Euro-pop which creates something of an eclectic sound.

Each vocalist makes a dramatic entrance, taking their place on the platforms before launching into Fearless, the opening track from the 2020 album Manifest, which is swiftly followed by the pandemic-themed Viral from the same album. The older track Digital World features a synchronized headbanging session by the singers, leading right into new song Damnation Flame from new album The Catalyst.

Amaranthe’s unfinished business from their 11th hour cancelled Manchester appearance in 2022 with Beyond The Black seems to fuel a determined presence on stage. The band members frequently switch positions, and even the sharply dressed bassist Johan Andreassen, sporting a sleek new haircut, ensures he’s not left out of the front-stage action. Maximize is energetically performed before transitioning to the impressive Strong. In the opening, Elize Ryd is not overwhelmed by her fellow vocalists; instead, they join her one by one, culminating in a stunning bridge duet between Ryd and Molin.

The Swedish E-Sports single-only anthem PvP is aired before the tempo slows down for Crystalline. The pace quickens once more with the title track and Re-Vision from the new album, leading up to Sehlin’s showcase on BOOM1, while Andreassen delivers some seriously neat slap bass.

The evening’s highlight is a unique rendition of the debut album track Amaranthine, with guitarist Olof Mörck at the keyboard and Elize Ryd spotlighted on opposite sides of the stage, offering a beautifully gentle re-interpretation of the song. The Nexus energizes the ending of the main set before the stage glows devil-red for the encore and the wickedly sinister Archangel. Another standout moment is the Maximalism track That Song, set to the rhythm of Queen’s We Will Rock You, for anyone not sure, Molin incorporates the line “You got mud on your face, you big disgrace,” with practically the entire Manchester crowd joining in the iconic clapping sequence, creating a remarkable fusion between band and audience. The concert concludes with – to no-one’s surprise – a blistering Drop Dead Cynical, , leaving Manchester reveling in a thoroughly entertaining performance.

The band takes their bows, throw out hand ‘heart’ emojis, and poses for their photograph. Manchester is certainly a gig to remember.

You have to give it to Amaranthe; just a few years ago, they were playing to 300-capacity venues, and now they are filling Academy venues. It may have required patience and relentless touring, but Amaranthe is on the cusp of becoming an act that will soon surely be commanding arenas.