Trivium, In Flames, Ghost, Rise To Remain & Insense @ Newcastle O2 Academy, December 7 2011

If – and it’s a big if – metal truly needs defending then you’d be hard pressed to find five more willing and able volunteers for the cause. 

The grandiosely named 2011 Defenders Of The Faith tour features a quintet of unflinching devotees to the finest traditions of uncompromising guitar music.

And anyone attempting to slay these men of honour would surely find themselves impaled on riffs and solos designed to pierce and maim.

Headliners Trivium boast the experience and the back catalogue to lead from the front, fearsome metallers In Flames would die for their music, Ghost have the potential to scare the shit out of the unsuspecting mainstream, Rise To Remain possess the youthful energy to carry the fight for decades and Insense…well, they can carry the bags.

But on this evidence – and the proof far beyond these four walls is just as conclusive – there’s no need for any defence of a genre which continues to evolve, enlighten and excite.

In reality metal has rarely been in such rude health with bands like Mastodon and Opeth making giant strides into crossover territory, Machine Head, Megadeth and Anthrax all releasing massive albums in 2011 and so many new kids on the block that Black Sabbath really will be the grandaddys of them all at Download next summer.

This juxtaposition of new and old – or at least new and older – allowed Insense and Rise To Remain the chance to shine on a bill which started with a bang and gradually exploded.

But it was Ghost who really got the party started as Papa Emeritus (imagine Morissey in religious garb) and his faceless cohorts delivered their melodic doom metal with mysterious panache. Anonymity is nothing new in music but this lot look like they really mean it.

For many lesser bands the opportunity to couch musical frailties in gimmicky outfits would be a godsend. Ghost, however, craft the glorious metal hymns to match their elaborate stagecraft and this heavenly combination is worthy of substantial praise. If only we knew who to praise…

In Flames might be a more traditional antidote to Ghost’s weird and wonderful metal package but the prolific Swedes are no less endearing. Latest album Sounds Of A Playground Fading might just be the band’s best work yet and frontman Anders Friden delivered this set with all of the confidence of a musician at the top of his game.

Rarely metal by numbers, but always tipping a respectful nod to the genre’s key conventions, In Flames is a band born to play live. An astute choice to precede Trivium and the ultimate metal head’s metal band, the only disappointment was too few tunes in too short a time.

In Flames had, at least, found the time to put the pit through its paces before Matt Heafy and company casually threw the title track from this year’s In Waves into the mix. A brave opening gambit when a cult favourite would have been less of a gamble, the reaction from the floor suggested Trivium’s latest album has already found a place in the heart of the band’s loyal and passionate fan base.

Paying homage to his personal guitar hero, former Megadeth shredder Marty Friedman, the irrepressible Corey Beaulieu slayed the masses with some of the finest axe work seen this side of the Viking invasions and here was the ultimate defender of the metal faith. All in black, with the long, greasy locks to complement the flowing solos, the one-time hockey wannabe proved ice cool under pressure.

The killer one-two of Down From The Sky and Departure did more to explain Trivium’s enduring popularity than any other combination of songs on the night and a dazzling version of the latter was the undisputed highlight of a delicious December metalfest.

So what of Trivium’s insanely popular leader? Heafy sings good, plays good and looks good. What he doesn’t do good is sincerity. It might be the accent but every time he praised the crowd it sounded so rehearsed you feared he’d fluff his lines.

Trivium weren’t, however, going to fluff anything else as their Newcastle show surged from one high to the next. Hot on the heels of Machine Head it’s little wonder the Floridians are being talked of in terms of special guests to either Sabbath or Metallica at Download. Where metal is concerned they have it all and they’ll defend their faith for as long as they can breathe.

Simon Rushworth