LOG pit@ Newcastle O2 Academy, January 14 2014

If you ever want to show someone what heavy metal is all about, take them to a show like this. Singer who’s into the occult? Check. Huge beards? Check. Monstrous riffs? Check. Performers and fans who sweat blood for the love of their music? You bet.

The first ‘big’ metal show of the year to hit Tyneside saw this diverse trio of heavyweights pull a huge crowd to the Academy. And the three acts didn’t fail to deliver. 

Openers Huntress are an intriguing proposition. Their fusion of traditional heavy metal a la Mercyful Fate with thrash/black influences is compelling enough, but fronted by mesmerising, witchcraft-obsessed singer Jill Janus, they can entrance an audience from start to finish – just ask anyone who witnessed their stunning set at last summer’s Download Festival.

They were on similar form last night, cutting through a muddy mix to deliver a salvo of spectral, livewire songs which sparked the Academy into life. Janus was as hypnotic a frontwoman as you’ll ever see, soaring through the fittingly titled Spell Bound as if her life depended on it. She gets extra bonus points for her homage to Geordie legends Venom, too.

And it’s a fair guess that when Newcastle’s finest proto-thrash/black metallers were starting out in the early 80s, they couldn’t have imagined that bands like Poland’s Decapitated would eventually blossom from the seeds they sowed.

The deathsters were welcomed as heroes, and in many ways, that’s exactly what they are. Guitarist Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka has successfully reignited the band following the tragic death of drummer Vitek in a bus crash in 2007 – an accident which also left vocalist Covan in a coma – and carried forth their formidable legacy with 2011’s Carnival Is Forever. Much of last night’s set was culled from that opus, with its title track and 404 hitting home like sledgehammers.

However, it was Day 69, from Organic Hallucinosis – surely one of the best death metal albums of the noughties – which drew the greatest cheers. Complex time changes, churning, brutal riffs – technical DM at its absolute best.

A lot to live up to for Lamb Of God then. But the Richmond outfit seem absolutely determined to get back on course following vocalist Randy Blythe’s arrest for manslaughter in the Czech Republic and his subsequent acquittal last year.

Arguably the leaders of the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal pack, the quintet look like grizzled veterans seven albums in. But they’re no slouches and it was an energised, fighting fit band that hit the stage last night.

A prolific career gave them plenty of options (and fan favourites) to draw on, even if the set was little shorter then hoped – possibly due to guitarist Mark Morton sitting out this tour due to family issues.

However his stand in, Between The Buried And Me’s Paul Waggoner, was a more than able replacement, seemingly at home with tracks old and new.

Inducing mayhem from the off, the quintet cemented their reputation as a formidable live force (if that was ever in any doubt), and tested the stamina of their more excitable fans in the circle pit throughout.

Tracks like the punishing Ghost Walking, from last year’s Resolution, were greeted with the same vigour as older classics like Hourglass and Now You’ve Got Something To Die For, while even 2003’s As The Palaces Burn was plundered for the Slayer-esque Ruin.

Of course, ‘singalong’ hit Redneck ensured that there’ll be plenty of hoarse voices around Newcastle this week, but in truth, the band’s more mature material – In Your Words a perfect example – impressed more, showing just how tight this outfit can be, even without Morton’s presence stage left.

Are Lamb Of God rightful heirs to Metallica, Slayer et al? Who knows. Will they ever make a ‘black album’? Probably not. But if they succeed in packing out venues like the Academy for years to come – and keep on performing with such ferocity – who cares?

And, as the band proved last night, metal is alive and kicking in 2014 – from Richmond, Virginia, to Newcastle, England.

Richard Holmes

Exclusive image by John Burrows @ishootgigs