The last few years have not been kind to BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE. The days of the Welshmen being the darlings of the rock world touted as metal’s leading lights and sure-fire Download Festival headliners are long gone, replaced by embarrassing failures, worrying downturns, and an inability to keep up with a changing rock landscape around them. It’s hard to think of bands who have been as thoroughly derailed by one bad album as BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE were by Temper Temper. That catastrophe was released mere months before Sempiternal by BRING ME THE HORIZON, and so the baton of Britain’s great metal hope was seemingly passed as BRING ME THE HORIZON soared and BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE hit the ground hard. Last year’s return to form Venom was a gargantuan improvement, but even so it failed to have the impact they may have liked, and BULLET seem destined to never reclaim their spot at the top. As such, this run of shows playing their game-changing and generation-defining debut The Poison in its entirety could cynically be seen as one last clasp at glory driven by desperate nostalgia, but instead tonight leaves a very different and far more pleasant taste in the mouth.
Prior to this, the job of opening things up falls to Louisiana’s CANE HILL who are an altogether different proposition. The signs have been there for a few years with bands like the aforementioned BRING ME THE HORIZON, OF MICE & MEN and most blatantly ISSUES incorporating elements and aspects into more modern templates, but the growing nu metal resurgence has never been clearer than in CANE HILL. This is a straight up pure-blooded nu metal band built for early 2000s Ozzfest, and there’s an irony to such a band opening a bill otherwise consisting of bands that helped kill off nu metal the first time around. Not that the audience care; their down-tuned stomp has people bouncing from the offset. Frontman Elijah Witt very much plays into the idea of the nu metal frontman as a cartoon character, exaggerating his movements as far as going to lovingly borrow the Jonathan Davis backwards kick and playing up his weirdness. Sometimes, like an awkward and aimless tirade against Donald Trump and hilarious outbursts of “smoke weed!” to rather young and inoffensive-looking BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE fans, it becomes a little hard to stomach, but thankfully the caricature never crosses too far into the wacky area. Sonically CANE HILL are at their best at their most visceral. It can feel a little like they have one heavy song and one softer song which they alternate between and repeat (though (The New) Jesus is a genuine banger), but crucially they play them like they mean it. There’s a lot of work to be done here, but CANE HILL feel hungry and that may go a long way.
KILLSWITCH ENGAGE meanwhile are still riding high on an untouchable run of form since the return of Jesse Leach to the fold four years ago, and charging onto the stage launching into an authoritative rendition of My Curse is an instant indication that that’s not going to end any time soon. This year’s Incarnate failed to live up to the album that initially marked Jesse’s return Disarm the Descent, but even that has not managed to hamper their prowess in the live environment. Admittedly a track like Quiet Distress does provide the greatest lull, but for the most part KILLSWITCH fire on all cylinders. Incarnate’s best moments do provide a couple of anthems to bulk up the setlist like Hate By Design which receives a rapturous reception, and the majority of the set is just classic after classic. Rose of Sharyn is both blistering and life-affirmingly huge, Fixation On the Darkness and a scorching Vide Infra ramp up the hardcore energy, and the pair of My Last Serenade into The End of Heartache threaten to blow the roof off. The characters within KILLSWITCH ENGAGE remain endearingly different, Jesse’s inspiring hardcore lifer attitude the perfect foil to Adam D’s goofy humour. It’s been established for a few years now but it’s still remarkable just how well Jesse Leach has taken to the Howard Jones-era material, matching the wide-reaching vocal prowess of his predecessor while putting his own distinct personality within those songs. It’s apparent that a great deal of people here tonight are indeed just here for BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE and maybe do not have as firm a grasp on metalcore lineage, but KILLSWITCH ENGAGE have enough dedicated fans congregated to make this feel like a success.
On paper it’d be tough for BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE to follow one of the most renowned live bands in modern metal, but thankfully BULLET finally bring their a-game tonight. The current lineup (minus drummer Moose who is currently taking some time out to be with his family as they expect their first child) emerges looking slick and suited, a clear and solidified unit, and launches into one of the best BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE sets we’ve seen in recent memory. Of course it does help that they’re playing The Poison in full, Her Voice Resides instantly sending the entire Academy into a frenzy. With a decade of hindsight, The Poison is a remarkable record, and in a landscape over-saturated with uber-polished radio fodder and acts that barely even qualify as rock music being pushed, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It seems funny now for a band that have been the object of so much elitism and hatred over the years, but compared to much of what passes in the pages of magazines today BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE eat those bands for breakfast. The muscular riffing on the likes of Hit the Floor and Room 409 and the sleek melodic leads on Suffocating Under Words of Sorrow and the title track are breathless and exhilarating, and these of course are married with gargantuan hooks that allowed BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE to break into the public consciousness with these songs a decade ago. The Poison is anthem after anthem after anthem, more consistent than a debut record has any right to be, with every word of 4 Words (To Choke Upon) and All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around You) being emphatically sung back from the crowd. The running order of the album allowing for Tears Don’t Fall to fall a mere ten minutes after BULLET have hit the stage is frankly absurd, some improbable heights hit staggeringly early with its chorus ingrained into every brain in the room and beyond, its ballistic latter section inspiring venue-swallowing pits and wildness.
Matt Tuck is clearly very happy with how things are going. His statement that this is the best show they’ve ever played in their career is perhaps hyperbole, but saying that this run of The Poison shows is the best thing that BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE have done in a very long time feels very honest coming from him. As the band return for an encore of material from the rest of their output (thankfully skipping over Temper Temper), they don’t lose an ounce of the momentum they’ve built up over the previous hour. Your Betrayal is unstoppable, Waking the Demon is a crunching and snarling beast, and No Way Out from Venom stands just as tall as any earlier material aired. Most promisingly of all, BULLET prove that they’re not operating on mere nostalgia as they bravely choose to close on new single Don’t Need You released only a month ago, and it is well up to the job. From beginning to end tonight, BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE seem reinvigorated with more power than they’ve had in years. It’s an incredibly encouraging showing that suggests that there’s a lot more left in the tank, and that even if them conquering stadiums and festival headline slots now seems unlikely, BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE should not be written off.