LIVE: Beartooth / The Amity Affliction / Higher Power @ Academy 1, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

If you were to suggest that many bands have had a bigger few years than Beartooth since the release of third album ‘Disease’, we’d struggle to believe you. Not that they were in any way a small band before this – Caleb Shomo has been a well known part of the alternative scene for over a decade, and the last time they headlined Manchester was in the only slightly smaller O2 Ritz back in 2016. Tonight’s sold out show in the 2,300 capacity Manchester Academy, though, isn’t just significant for being Beartooth’s biggest ever headliner in the UK; it also forms part of a colossal sixteen date tour of Europe, with every single date sold out in advance. Yep, make no mistake – these are the days of Beartooth, and as the floor of the Academy begins to vanish under the soles of thousands of feet, tonight feels like a pivotal moment for a band who stand on the precipice of something huge.

Of course, no tour would be complete without openers to get proceedings underway, though (relatively local) Leeds lads Higher Power may not be quite what most would have had in mind to do it. Sounding like something straight out of the 90s, it’s a little too chaotic in a bad way, with teeth-grittingly uncomfortable vocals from front man Jimmy Wizard making this set feel more like a cool down than a warm-up. There’s certainly not too much movement from a largely unimpressed looking early crowd, and it’s perhaps with good reason that this sound isn’t one you hear too often these days – Higher Power have made an impression tonight, but it’s unlikely to be the kind they’d have hoped for.

Second support The Amity Affliction are about as well-established as support bands get, having been one of the first bands to develop and push what has evolved into the modern metalcore sound since their beginnings in the mid 2000s. Unfortunately, that sound went on to evolve without them long ago, and The Amity Affliction’s set feels tired in the face of a much fresher and more exciting headliner. It’s not necessarily bad, simply lacking a spark, and with no variety from song to song, this extended support slot eventually merges into what feels like one long, repetitive riff fest. They do, at least, get a reasonable chunk of fans moving as a pit forms near the front of the crowd for something more resembling a metal show, but ultimately, this is metalcore at its least inspiring, and most forgettable.

The contrast between these two lacklustre supporting bands and the chaos that unfolds from the moment Beartooth take to the stage could barely be more stark, and as the opening riffs of ‘The Lines’ blare out, there it is – the show we came for, decked out in bright orange glory and hitting with the force of a ten tonne truck. By the time the ominous bars of ‘Enemy’ roll in, the floor of the Academy is awash with movement from front to back, the pit churning in preparation for the drops. Beartooth’s biggest UK show to date is coming so easily to them that they could’ve been playing rooms this size for decades, and it is sensational to witness.

Unsurprisingly, given that this is the ‘Disease’ tour, large swathes of the set are given over to their 2018 release, though as this era of the band’s career draws to a close, this may be the last time several of these songs are aired live – at least for a while. It’s a shame to see any of these powerhouse tracks go, as they bring together Beartooth’s knack for blending almost poppy, singalong melodies with fast and furious heaviness better than ever before, the gigantic choruses of tracks like ‘Afterall’ and ‘Fire’ practically bursting out of the venue. Never have Beartooth sounded more like they belong at the top of a main stage billing than with the utterly destructive, venomous ‘Bad Listener’ and ‘Manipulation’, though, and voices around the room chorus in unison with Shomo as he breaks from coarse cleans into gut-punching roars with staggering ease.

As with any show of this size, there are some expected theatrics and stage production to complement the thunder of the music – though it’s surprisingly understated, limited predominantly to some colossal stage risers, flags, and several truckloads of confetti, though what’s there seems underused. At the same time, there’s something satisfyingly unrehearsed about this show; the sound is immaculate, but the movement is natural, and a genuine rock show vibe permeates the room. Tracks from earlier albums that find their way into the set list tonight are greeted like old friends by the crowd – and, as is the custom for heavy music fans, those greetings largely consist of pits that engulf the centre of the room, feeding off the energy emitted by the five on stage as this 16 song set flies by.

“I have a feeling, you all know what song we’re about to play to close this fucker out“, Shomo says with a hint of amusement as a space is already cleared in anticipation of the night’s final dance, before the triumphant melodies of ‘In Between’ explode through the room in an echo of voices. It’s an uplifting moment and the perfect finale to a show by a band well on their way to dominating the genre; when you look for the future headliners of festival main stages across the globe, there’s little need to look much further than the spectacle of tonight’s show and the power of Beartooth. The biggest UK show to date? Not for much longer – Beartooth are coming, and you’d best be ready for what’s next.