Headbangers Ball is a name that awakens true nostalgia in the mind of any metalhead. The once cult MTV series which traced the rise to fame of many bands in the late 80s and early 90s has in recent years been revived as a tour that puts together bills formed of classic bands from that period along with some newer acts. On Tuesday 12th December, London’s O2 Forum Kentish Town witnessed the closure of this year’s Headbangers Ball tour around Europe.
After an opening set by death metallers Deserted Fear (which I unfortunately missed due to the joys of rush-hour London Underground), Finnish melodic death metal band Insomnium graced the stage. The still gathering crowd was treated to luscious dual guitar harmonies and fast drumming, showcasing a selection of tracks from their discography but unfortunately overlooking their fantastic 2016 one-song opus Winter’s Gate. Insomnium played a solid set and reaffirmed their reputation as one of the more consistent yet always fresh sounding name in the melodeath world.
Next up were New Jersey thrash outfit Overkill – a band with over 30 years’ history who somehow have managed to retain their freshness and hunger to prove themselves to every audience. The Wrecking Crew delivered a rapid fire set of classics and newer cuts. Vocalist Bobby Blitz’s towering figure and unmistakable shriek still have the ability to pull all eyes and ears, while his trusty partner D.D. Verni on the bass was all smiles and razor-sharp riffs next to him.
Everyone joined in for the signature gang vocal sections in their choruses in songs like their anthem to metal ‘In Union We Stand’ – or rather, in union we crowdsurf, as evidenced by the conveyor belt of bodies swimming towards the stage. An hour of high-tempo thrash metal came to an end as Overkill and the audience extended middle fingers for the signature closer of all of their gigs – a cover of punk rockers The Subhumans’ anthem ‘Fuck You’. The New Jersey trashers proved that they are still at the top of their game and the enthusiastic reception of the audience will hopefully bring them back for a headline concert soon.
Headlining the night was a special performance of Sepultura’s landmark album Roots by Max and Iggor Cavalera – two of the key people behind it. Loved and hated in equal measure, Roots is one of the most controversial records in metal history, responsible for inspiring countless followers and heralding an era of downtuned rap-heavy solo-less nu metal. Whatever it may have inspired, it is undeniable that the album holds some of extreme music’s most recognisable riffs and grooves. Album opener ‘Roots, Bloody Roots’, a fine example of one such groove, caused everyone at the front to jump in unison, as did the following series of hits like ‘Attitude’ and ‘Ratamahatta’ from the album’s first half.
Iggor Cavalera, built like a tank, is still merciless behind his drum kit – his Brazil-inspired beats are one of the key contributors for the heavy groove of the album. His brother Max’s powerful growl filled up the Forum as he repeatedly calls on the audience to scream their lungs out for him. While it was great to hear these songs, the album’s particular sound could get monotonous after a while and the set slightly dragged on towards its latter half. There were a few too many directionless jams, and the crowd would have definitely received a well a few extra cuts from old Sepultura. One such jam – a fast version of ‘Roots, Bloody Roots’ brought the evening and the tour to a close.
A great mix of modern and classic metal, the Headbangers Ball tour offered a varied bill and many headbang-worthy moments, with Overkill’s high octane performance ultimately stealing the night.