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Arch Enemy/Dark Tranquillity - May 29, 2008 - Slim's, San Francisco, CA

By: Jacob Richardson

Contrary to what most people might believe, Sweden has given more gifts to the world than just meatball recipes, swimsuit models, and Max von Sydow. One export that’s often overlooked by the mainstream public is their national contribution to the global metal scene. Ask just about any fan of what’s become known as the “Gothenburg Sound” to name a couple of their favorites and 9 times out of 10 the names Arch Enemy and Dark Tranquillity will be on that list. Both bands have been carving their name in the chronicles of Scandinavian metal lore since the early 90s. Playing what they’d probably consider an intimate show at the San Francisco venue Slim’s (capacity is around 300 max), the patriotism to Swedish allegiance was on full display.

Before either of those bands came on the crowd was treated to the fist-pumping adrenaline rush known as Firewind. They shouldn’t be lumped in as some sort of 80s hair metal revival band, but there’d be little surprise if a lot of the guys there slugging back PBRs looked up to Sporto in The Breakfast Club 20 years ago.

While waiting in the line outside one of these aging metallers was proudly displaying the Exciter patch he had sewn onto his sleeveless jean jacket. Firewind didn’t have too much time on stage to shake things up, but they managed to start the night off well. A good amount of fans showed up for them and the guitar solos were sharp enough to carve diamonds as they wiped the floor in testosterone.

They retired after about 30 minutes, to the chagrin of many. Most of those disappointed were from the older crowd. The guy with the Hello Kitty wristband standing next to the girl with the oversized Family Values t-shirt and horn-rimmed glasses couldn’t have cared less about who just played. Yes, there were some youngsters there and if they’re reading this they’re probably still wondering who Sporto is.

The parents of these kids probably wouldn’t have been terribly happy with the next band, Divine Heresy. They welcomed these teens and everyone else to their set with guest vocalist and Ryan Reynolds stunt-double Jake Veredika (replacing the recently fired Tommy “Vext” Cummings), screaming, “What’s up, San Francisco! We’re Divine Heresy and we’re gonna fuck you up!” followed shortly by barking, “Come on, motherfuckers. Stop being a bunch of pussies!” when the mosh pit didn’t open up to the “size of California” as he had kindly requested.

Their six-song set decimated any scraps of inspirational niceties left over by Firewind’s anthemic power chords. If their songs were palm-stinging high fives Divine Heresy’s were kicks to the throat with studded cleats. Veredika’s clean vocals sounded a little weak at times but his growls kept up with the brutality coming from Dino Cazares’ riffs and Tim Yeung’s intense drum work.

Then, the Kingdom of Sweden took over for the rest of the night. Existential sextet Dark Tranquillity opened their ominous set with the lead single “Where Death Is Most Alive” off of their most recent album Fiction. From there, most of their minor chord musings focused on the better known cuts on that album and their previous two, Damage Done and Character. To satiate longtime fans they tossed out an older cut, “Punish My Heaven”, from 1995’s The Gallery. Some pieces (such as “Inside The Particle Storm”) showcased Dark Tranquillity’s ability to pivot back and forth from aggressive thrashing to haunting bridges. They were light years away from the no-nonsense approach of the opening bands, but the opportunity for the crowd to collect its senses and absorb their deeper complexities was appreciated.

It’s fortunate for DT that vocalist Mikael Stanne can put more charm in one smile than a Wayne Newton impersonator during the early bird special at the Bellagio. The stage show was noticeably sparse in terms of lighting, decorations, and general theatrics. Not so with Arch Enemy.

Coming out through an opaque cloud of fog Angela Gassow’s guttural shrieks (sounds like an oxymoron, but if you’ve heard her sing you’d understand) setting off a string of overhead strobe lights. The blizzard of hot white flashes gave Ninja Scroll a run for its money.

The formula followed for their set was almost exactly the same as Dark Tranquillity’s: start with a venomous opener (“Blood On Your Hands”) from the latest release, Rise of the Tyrant segue into some staples from the album before that (“Nemesis” and “Taking Back My Soul” from Doomsday Machine), draw the newcomers back with the newest, hot single “Let The Revolution Begin,” then please the loyal followers by rolling the clock back with other favorites from Dead Eyes See No Future EP and Wages of Sin.

What ends up happening when these classic steps are followed? Well, if added into this mix is Gassow’s stage-prowling menace and the Amott brothers technically stunning guitar work you get a pretty damn good show to talk about the next day while your ears stop squealing.

With the starkly different styles of each band the transitions from one to the next were difficult to smoothly ease into, yet each held their own when they had their chance to play. Fortunately, the slot each band held was beneficial to how the energy level of the crowd should’ve been controlled. Open strong, bring in some grit, settle down just a little, then set off the fireworks…somehow it ended coming off very well despite the gaps between their respective sounds. Well done, Sweden. Well done.

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