Thanks to a mixture of there being a nice comfy pub above the venue and some slight confusion over how to actually get into the Underworld, no sooner had I descended into the venue and found a good space to plonk myself, openers Crystal Head [3.5/5] appeared onstage. They seemed a little unsure of themselves, presumably because the area directly in front of the stage contained exactly no people. Well, one guy did wander down the steps to the main floor of the almost empty venue, but when he saw that he was alone he did a little turn on the spot and headed back up to the slightly more populated balcony. Nevertheless, they played a really solid set. Since I don’t generally listen to their genre I’m going to have to apologise for the vagueness of my comparisons, but they sounded a bit like October File might if they ditched their harsh vocals for soaring cleans and went all hard rock on us. Jon Deal’s rumbling basswork by itself was enough to seriously grab my attention, and even when they headed offstage as politely and discreetly as they had entered I would’ve been happy to hear some more.
While Crystal Head’s response to the sparse crowd was to just get on with the music, Jacob Løbner of Malrun [2/5] wasn’t about to let the assembled spectators get away with it quite so easily. From constantly encouraging anyone who would listen to come down to the front to jumping off stage and screaming directly into one (presumably terrified) onlooker’s face through both a megaphone and a microphone at the same time, he really did his absolute best to get a party atmosphere going. Unfortunately, the band just didn’t have the songs to back it up. While there was the occasional moment of flair, the vast majority of their set consisted of pretty mediocre and forgettable metalcore. A couple of songs broke this mould and showed some interesting use of progressive elements, but it just wasn’t enough.
The venue had filled up a little by now but still far too few people were around to see Engel’s [4.5/5] stellar set. Guitarist Niclas Engelin was unfortunately absent as a result of his commitments with In Flames, but the remaining quartet did an absolutely fantastic job in bringing their electronics-infused melodeath to the stage. If I’m honest, before they reached the stage I feared that their material would suffer from its reliance on samples as Septic Flesh and Devin Townsend Project did when I’ve seen them. Fortunately, Engel suffered from no such problems – the samples worked fantastically well as accents and atmosphere, but it was the live instruments that punched through all of that and were clearly the focus of the night. Even the lack of Niclas didn’t put too much of a hole in their sound, although it would be nice if they had someone to stand in for him.
As far as their albums go, I’ve always felt that the band has a tendency to write a few incredible tracks and then submerge them in so-so filler. This is not the case in the live arena – every single song hit hard. While songs like ‘Question Your Place’ and ‘Threnody’ were obvious high points; the various album tracks and even ‘Frontline’ (which I’ve always felt is pretty mediocre) were great to see live. Maybe it was having the songs blasted directly at my face by a band who were obviously up for it, maybe it was because I was surrounded by enthusiastic fans responding to Engel’s display, but I genuinely felt like I was hearing these songs in a completely new light.
All things considered, this was a pretty cool way to spend an evening. Engel did a fantastic job stepping up as headliners, when I paused to give my neck a rest at one point I couldn’t see a single person who wasn’t busying themselves tracing 90° arcs with their heads. That’s a pretty special sight.