It is an unenviable situation for any band to cancel their appearance at the 11th hour, but this is the position that Amaranthe find themselves in due to illness. With the tour already having been postponed previously due to the pandemic, it must feel like the tour has something of a black cloud hanging over it. As they say, “the show must go on” and as a double headliner, the responsibility falls to Beyond The Black to close the show. While that may not necessarily be a huge pressure, it is still an extra step up and it is inevitable that there will be faces in the crowd mainly to see Amaranthe with little chance but to attend anyway; there will be doubters to convince.
The queue to get into the venue snakes well around the venue and into the next street so there is a considerable turn out despite the late-in-the-day change to the lineup. With a lot of people to get through security, it does mean that many arrive during the last couple of songs of Ad Infinitum, a band that was initially a project for vocalist Lisa Bonny. A powerful voice and an excellent backing band, the Manchester audience that are in attendance does provides an enthusiastic response to the Swiss/German symphonic metal act.
It is up to Butcher Babies to give the now packed 02 Ritz something of a shakedown. The musical vehicle fronted by co-vocalists Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey makes no secret of their love for Wendy O Williams and The Plasmatics and bands such as Pantera. Butcher Babies has come a long way from playing basement clubs several years ago and their appearance at this year’s Bloodstock festival showed that they can dominate the biggest of stages. In addressing the crowd, it is Shepherd that is the most talkative and while there can be one look that is like butter would not melt, there is also something of a demonic glint in the eye as well.
Both Harvey and Shepherd constantly switch sides of the stage, Harvey throws her hair back, raises her hands in a horned salute while Shepherd leaps from the raised platforms of the stage at every given opportunity making for an exciting visual spectacle. There is one problem though and that is that the drums are way too loud and for the first three songs, both sets of vocals are lost in the mix; there is movement and songs in there which feels empty without the vocals cutting through. It is a shame because from that visual perspective, both Shepherd and Harvey are absolute dynamite to watch, 100% committed and with explosive energy that is nothing short of a rampage.
By the fifth song, the vocals are more audible like the sound desk has woken up, but it still needs more, and it is like the juice is running out of the back door. There is a slight improvement for Sleeping With The Enemy and the excellent Yorktown which does go some way to salvage the set. Had the Butcher Babies just stood stock still at mic stands then this would have been something of a disaster, but it is thanks to the ‘Babies dynamite energy and stage patter that still made their set worth seeing.
For some reason, it does feel like Beyond The Black is a relative newcomer. It could be perception; Beyond The Black albums reach the higher echelons of European charts and it is just a case that the band is yet to make a major impact in the UK. If that is the case, then on the back of the performance tonight then that is all about to change because here is a band that is in truly stunning form. Maybe it is that extra edge of closing the show and going out to prove something, but Beyond The Black brought everything and delivered in jaw dropping style that was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
With the stage bathed in red, the band enter to the strains of new song Is There Anyone Out There? lead vocalist Jennifer Haben appears on the stage holding what appears to be fluorescent lights that burst into life to give the retinas a tickle. The visual accompaniments are a major plus, the light show is excellent but there are these extras such as Haben conjuring a dress from nowhere or the wearing a twisted crown and a mask. Nothing actually distracts from the songs nor the performance itself, visuals and music are finely in tune.
Beyond The Black does bring new songs to their set and the three singles already released as a taster for their new album due out early in 2023 and if the new material is anything to go by then the album will be an absolute stormer. Older songs such as Songs Of Love And Death and Lost In Forever receive a huge cheer, the former features an absolutely ripping solo, the latter with its symphonic/power metal vibe on the intro and an impressive vocal performance from Haben. Human from latest album Horizons has become something of an anthem and has the crowd singing and waving their arms in unison.
Of the new songs, Dancing In The Dark remains unreleased and is offered as a further treat. A standing drum is brought out and Jennifer Haben thumps out the beat while singing and it is impressive to watch. Heart Of The Hurricane has that chunky guitar riff which nestles in between Haben’s glorious vocals. Highlight of the whole evening has to be debut album track When Angels Falls which as well as a wall of guitars, it has pretty much everything else, soft melodies and orchestral punch with Haben’s punctuated by guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer’s aggressive vocals on the chorus. The band is faultless and while Jennifer Haben is the star of the show, there are co-ordinated moments when they band falls back to occupy the corners of the stage and then at another point, the two guitarists and bassist are all gathered around Haben at the front of the stage, everyone is laughing and enjoying the moment. The fact that the tour has taken three years to come to pass and Beyond The Black is not taking it for granted and putting everything into their show.
As sad as it was for Amaranthe to have pull out of the show and at the last minute, Beyond The Black is hardly second best – far from it – and no doubt that the performance would have just been as good not closing tonight. Instead, there was that extra frisson of electricity with the baton being passed.
Either way, Beyond The Black excelled tonight and as a new album and new chapter arrives, this is a band ready and willing to take it to the next level.