Live Review: In Flames and Norma Jean with Light The Torch – O2 Ritz, Manchester – 04/04/2019

Tonight’s show is the second leg of In Flames‘ UK tour promoting new album ‘I, The Mask’. They’ve brought some heavy-hitting support along for the ride and with the theatrical surroundings of Manchester’s O2 Ritz rapidly filling, the air buzzes with excitement.

Light The Torch arrive on stage in a blaze of metalcore. Most famous as home to former Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones, the Californian four-piece show off with real confidence. Crammed onto the small stage, they rip out a set of solid but uninspired music. Despite some heavy riffing on songs like ‘Consume The Damned’ and Jones throwing in some blood-curdling screams on ‘Die Alone’ they struggle to really hold the crowd. It’s a bland but assured set. (3/5)

Polar opposite to the openers, Norma Jean might not be to the taste of the more traditional metal fans in the crowd, but they bring a fantastic mix of crushing riffs and more expansive punishment. More accustomed to a smaller stage, they’re a ball of sweat-drenched energy, leaping around and swinging guitars as they play a set heavy on more recent material.  Songs like ‘Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else’ establish a structure, just so all hell can break loose within it, while the repetition of ‘Synthetic Sun’ creates a fist-pumping yell-along. Frontman Corey Brandan lurks and bellows with frightening intensity, but on ‘Deathbed Atheist’ he revels in its slower sections. The unadulterated filth of ‘You Got It At Five…’ is crushing but it’s an unbearably tense ‘1,000,000 Watts’ is an undoubted highlight. (4/5)

Playing a set spanning almost their entire career, tonight feels like a celebration for In Flames. On a stage made cramped by light-filled cages, it seems a little like they’re playing in a prison, until they break out with a storming ‘Voices’.  It isn’t long before they pulling out deep cuts like ‘Pinball Map’ and ‘Colony’ but the set is seamless. Diverse and flowing, the song choices complement each other so that it never sags and for every new song featuring a great big chorus there’s a darker number like ‘Leeches’ to redress the balance.

Frontman Anders Fridén clings to his microphone stand for much of the set, but he’s just as comfortable to stride around, bending and pivoting on the raised part of the stage, yet he never lets it interfere with his vocal performance, which is faultless. Likewise, guitarists Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin are all smiles as they dig riff after riff out of their back catalogue, it’s almost like a competition between themselves as to who can find the biggest. ‘Monsters In The Ballroom’ surprises by being one of the heaviest of the night but it’s a blistering rendition of new song ‘I Am Above’ which is the deal breaker.

Sitting comfortably alongside the older material, newer songs from ‘Battles’ dominate the set. You’d think ‘Here Until Forever’ was a classic and its emphasis on Tanner Wayne’s drums really sets it apart. Variety is also provided by the comfortable electronic parts of ‘Cloud Connected’ and there’s even a mid-set break during the long tension-building opening of ‘The Chosen Pessimist’.

As set-closer ‘The End’ swoops in, you can’t help but admire how effortless, yet passionate the performance has been. With all their experience, In Flames (4/5) are never less than consummate professionals, but they play like they’re loving every minute and it really shows, making for a slick, powerful set.

Words by Ian Kenworthy (@WhisperingSand)

Photos by Jez Pennington, taken at The Roundhouse, London.


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