Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Threshold - London Review

Since picking up the band's Dead Reckoning album on whim a few years ago, Threshold have become one of my favourite bands. Their melodic and accessible approach to progressive metal is what makes them appeal to me, as they constantly serve up albums that are musically interesting, but also full of huge tunes. There are very few Threshold songs that do not posses a strong chorus, and that makes them easy to like. My only gripe with the band is that they do not seem to tour that often, with usually only an obligatory London show in the UK when they do. For a British band, that is rather odd, but promoters always seem to be fairly conservative over here when it comes to melodic metal - with London often being the only stop. That being said however, the trip from Devon (or Sheffield as it was this time) to London to see the band is worth it, as their shows are always excellent. I had seen the band live before once, at the horrible Underworld in Camden in 2013 when the band was promoting March of Progress. The band put on a good show, but were plagued with technical difficulties throughout, and the sound was pretty muddy. The Underworld is one of my least favourite venues so I was glad to see that this time (and last time, but I could not make the last tour unfortunately) the band had upgraded to the superior O2 Academy in Islington, which seems to be the venue of choice for melodic metal acts these days. The sound there is generally pretty good, and the room is a good size that can accommodate a decent crowd. With this being the only UK show of the tour, the band managed to pull a pretty decent crowd with people filling the venue almost to the back. I was down near the front for the majority of the show, but had to move back towards the end thanks to a call of nature, and could see the extent of the crowd much better. The crowd were pretty vocal all night, and created a great atmosphere which the band, and particularly frontman Damian Wilson, seemed to feed off.

Before Threshold graced the stage however, there were two support bands. Up first was British symphonic metallers Damnation Angels who I have been a fan of casually for some time. I have had both of their studio albums for a while, but I feel that it is only while listening to those albums again in the run up to the show that I have fully come to appreciate them. Despite only having a short, five song, set; the band really impressed me live and the growing crowd seemed to enjoy them too. The band's second album, The Valiant Fire, was released last year, but this run of dates with Threshold is the first time the band have been able to present that material live. A rather large line-up change in the meantime ensured that Damnation Angels were out of action for a while, but the new line-up and performance made up for the wait. Four songs from The Valiant Fire made up the bulk of the set, with the opener Closure and the Kamelot-esque This is Who We Are standing out the most. Founding member and songwriter Will Graney (guitar/vocals) was a man possessed on stage, and sang along to every song while he shredded his way through some fast solos. Frontman Ignacio Rodriguez, who was joining the band on this tour for an extended audition, absolutely nailed the material with his hugely powerful voice. He hit some extremely high notes throughout, and had a huge grin on his face throughout. As I am writing this, I have just read on the band's Facebook page that they have made Rodriguez an official member of the band, which I have to say I think is the right decision - the man is amazing! The set ended with the epic Pride (The Warrior's Way) from the band's debut album, and the whole crowd was cheering for more at the end. This was one of the best support slots I have seen in a while, and I hope they tour again soon! The setlist was:

Icarus Syndrome
This is Who We Are
Finding Requiem
Pride (The Warrior's Way)

In contrast, second support act Spheric Universe Experience fell flat in comparison, although they did seem to improve somewhat after a dreadful start. The French band's first song sounded like a complete mess, with clunky riffing and nasty harmony vocals; but the songs after this did improve. I never felt that the songs were that melodic really, with the vocal melodies never really standing out or sticking with me. Musically however, the band had their moments. A few excellent guitar and keyboard duels helped to build some excitement, and the riffing generally was pretty solid. While I did enjoy the set more as it progressed, I could not help but feel that the band could really work on writing some more memorable songs in future. They certainly had the chops, but the songs just were not that memorable.

After clearing away all of the support bands' gear from the stage, Threshold came on and played a lengthy set that contained all of their latest album For the Journey played in full, plus a selection of older songs and favourites. The band's current line-up is probably their strongest ever, and they all seem to have a lot of fun when performing on stage. Oldie Freaks opened the show, with Richard West's (keyboards/vocals) washes of retro-sounding organ helping to back up the song as Wilson sung the lyrics with ease. The epic Mission Profile followed, which was one of four longer songs played throughout the evening. This seems to be a staple in the band's set these days, and it is easy to see why as it contains all the hallmarks of the band's sound, with plenty of excellent instrumental sections thrown in. The For the Journey album followed, and it contained many highlights - rather unsurprising as I feel it is one of the band's strongest releases. The catchy Watchtower on the Moon saw Karl Groom (guitar/vocals) and Pete Morten (guitar/vocals) trading flashy guitar solos, while the epic, piano-led The Box was a treat to hear live with the epic orchestral arrangement. Autumn Red features one of the album's best choruses, and some excellent drumming in the middle from Johanne James, who was as flamboyant as ever behind his drum kit. My personal favourite song from the album however, Morten's Siren Sky, was possibly the highlight of the show. Wilson sings the strange lyrics with extreme emotion, and the off-kilter riffing came over well live. Songs like this show why Morten is invaluable to the modern Threshold sound, and I hope he writes many more great songs for the band. His solo during the song was also very special. After the For the Journey portion of the show, oldie Oceanbound, with some excellent bass parts from Steve Anderson, got a rare outing, before two modern staples: Pilot in the Sky of Dreams and the hugely catchy Ashes rounded out the main set in style. There was time for an encore, and it contained another epic and finished with a real crowd-pleaser. The Art of Reason was the epic, and it went down really well as it progressed. It is a song that takes a little while to get going, but when the chorus rolls around it is impossible not to love it. It was good to hear it live, as I have always enjoyed it. Slipstream was the crowd-pleasing closing number, and this was probably the song sung loudest by the crowd all evening. It ensured the show finished on a high, and the band received a huge cheer at the end. The setlist was:

Mission Profile
Watchtower on the Moon
The Box
Turned to Dust
Lost in Your Memory
Autumn Red
The Mystery Show
Siren Sky
Pilot in the Sky of Dreams
The Art of Reason

With only four songs repeated from the last time I saw Threshold live, it made for an extra enjoyable evening of live music with one of my favourite bands. I hope it is not too long before they play live in the UK again. After the show I bought a copy of Damnation Angels debut EP Shadow Symphony, something which I have been meaning to pick up for a while. I also got the majority of Damnation Angels to sign my ticket for the show, which was cool. I also mentioned to Graney about keeping Rodriguez on permanently and, while I am sure his mine was already made up, I would like to think my comments helped him make the decision he did!

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