Unfortunately, due to a prior work shift with some horses at the traditional Grand National races, I was running late for the opening bands. So, I am starting this with an apology to both Light The Torch and Norma Jean for my absence. I did, however, hear that both delivered greatly entertaining sets and were very well received by the Manchester audience that almost filled the iconic Ritz venue. I promise that I will be there extra early next time. My arrival into the venue, fortunately, coincided with the headlining act, In Flames, hitting the stage. It was clear who the audience had come to see from the amount and variation of In Flames merchandise being proudly displayed representing all eras of the band’s history.
Opening with a new song is always a challenge and an early indication of how a gig will pan out. “Voices” delivered as fans responded with their own, passionately engaging with the band from the outset. This proved very challenging to the in-house pit crew as the number of stage divers clearly proved more challenging to control. I have done pit security myself and it was certainly a no-brainer that a security company should have done their band homework prior to the venue deployment of staff before the concert started. A sea of bodies moving towards the stage presented a major security and safety risk both to the band onstage and also to the audience members themselves. Fortunately, steps were taken before anything serious occurred and a visible yellow line was soon in place between stage and audience.
In addition to the relentless sea of crowd surfers, several large pits in the venue throughout the show ensured that the audience intensity and passion showed no dropping in levels during In Flames headlining set. There was a familiar face present with the band as Chris Broderick – formerly of Megadeth – pealed out the type of intricate solos that he had mastered with his former employers. Despite the melodic sonic elements, there was certainly no let up in the visuals, as strobe lighting and smoke dominated with no relaxation, rendering the band members virtually invisible from my balcony vantage point.
The last time that I witnessed In Flames was as an opening act on an arena tour with Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold back in 2017. At that time, playing before a largely disinterested audience, I came away feeling pretty nonplussed by what they had delivered live. However, headlining their own tour before a rabid and passionate fan base of their own, they had certainly stepped up to the mark, delivering a set of such intense brutality which raised the roof sonically of the Manchester Ritz venue. Generally, I am not a fan these days of the particular heavy and powerful music that bands like this deliver. I guess it must be an age thing after having personally witnessed all the thrash innovator’s first time around. However, In Flames, over the course of their set delivered enough variety and musical diversity to keep me entertained right through until prophetic set closer “The End” from their most recent album Battles.
All photos by John Gilleese