HALESTORM have a ball in Brix­ton.

HALESTORM AVATAR BRIX­TON ACAD­EMY, LON­DON Lzzy Hale’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing rock­ers step closer to sta­dium sta­tus

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - ELEANOR GOOD­MAN

When you go to watch AVATAR, you know you’re go­ing to get a proper freak­show. They’ve pre­vi­ously toured with cir­cus per­form­ers, and at Down­load this year they brought a hy­draulic throne for gui­tarist Jonas Jarlsby – the ‘king’ of lat­est con­cept al­bum Avatar Coun­try. So tonight it’s dis­ap­point­ing to see they’ve shown up with nei­ther, and bassist Hen­rik San­delin is ab­sent due to fam­ily mat­ters (the “res­i­dent stage ghost” is play­ing “in­vis­i­ble bass”, aka there’s a back­ing track). But the Swedes soon prove they don’t need those bells and whis­tles; they’re weird and won­der­ful enough as it is. Jo­hannes Eck­er­ström is a sea­soned ring­mas­ter by now, twirling his cane, drink­ing from a petrol can, stroking gui­tarist Tim Öhrström’s hair and play­ing his role with a leer­ing sat­is­fac­tion ri­valled only by Ghost’s Car­di­nal Copia. “Horns in the air, horns in the air, horns in the air and keep them there!” he rhymes, like a de­mented Dr Seuss. They’re thun­der­ous when they hit their groove, the run­away train stylings of Avatar Coun­try earn­ing them a score of new fans.

On Face­book Live right now, Robb Flynn is drop­ping the bomb­shell of Ma­chine Head’s ‘farewell tour,’ but the crowd are obliv­i­ous, caught up in the fan­tasy of th­ese face­painted lu­natics. Once you’ve en­tered Avatar Coun­try, re­al­ity no longer ap­plies. “It feels like we’re des­tined to do this for­ever, Lon­don!” yells Jo­hannes. And with a head­line tour an­nounced a few days later, in­clud­ing a date at the 2,000-ca­pac­ity Shep­herd’s Bush Empire, who’s to say he’s wrong?

Ma­chine Head may be hav­ing a wob­ble, but hALeSToRM prove there are still bands out there op­er­at­ing at the top of their game. Tonight’s show is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of hard work, from plug­ging away at the church and farm cir­cuit in ru­ral Penn­syl­va­nia, to head­lin­ing shows at the cap­i­tal’s Koko and Round­house venues, to more than dou­bling their ca­pac­ity at tonight’s 5,000-strong Brix­ton Acad­emy. Open­ing with the ti­tle track from new al­bum Vi­cious is a state­ment of in­tent – they’re here, they’re armed with their most raw and ur­gent al­bum yet, and they’re go­ing to put on a proper rock’n’roll show. Lzzy Hale is the quin­tes­sen­tial rock star, sport­ing her Joan Jett half-mul­let, a fringed leather jacket, and ham­mer­ing her gui­tar un­der the spot­light as though her life de­pends on it. Ev­ery­thing about her screams ‘at­ti­tude’, while her ac­tual screams are throat­ily pow­er­ful, bor­der­ing on histri­onic but with a grit that be­lies the four­some’s US rock ra­dio cre­den­tials.

The crowd, rang­ing from schoolkids to re­tired cou­ples, also scream from the off – and Lzzy wastes no time work­ing them into a frenzy. They do ev­ery­thing she com­mands, in­clud­ing hold­ing their phones aloft to light up a mighty I Am

The Fire. “Lon­don! What can I get you to do?” Lzzy teases, dom­i­na­trix-like, be­fore Amen. “Any­thing…?” The band ex­tend the cho­rus, with Lzzy’s call of, ‘Can I get an Amen?’ be­com­ing more and more like the im­pas­sioned ex­hor­ta­tion of a South­ern Bap­tist preacher, while Joe Hot­tinger’s gui­tar wails un­con­trol­lably and a throng of will­ing dis­ci­ples throw the horns. With the band now based in Nashville, there is a slight coun­try vibe to pro­ceed­ings, both in the mu­sic and sar­to­rial choices like Joe’s hat and Lzzy’s flares.

With such an ac­com­plished per­for­mance, it’s a lit­tle weird when ev­ery­one leaves the stage so Are­jay Hale – dressed in a short leop­ard-print suit and shades – can sing part of The Off­spring’s Why Don’t You Get A Job? and per­form a solo. He whips out his trade­mark giant drum sticks, and though the bit is well re­ceived, it does seem goofy; he’s lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively the lit­tle brother. Lzzy re­turns to crank up the mo­men­tum with Freak Like Me, Un­com­fort­able and Takes My Life, dur­ing which she falls to her knees and de­liv­ers a foun­da­tion-rock­ing squeal. In keep­ing with Brix­ton’s the­atri­cal trap­pings, she wrings a per­for­mance out of ev­ery sec­ond she has on­stage. Be­fore re­cent sin­gle Black Vul­ture, their best yet, she takes a beat to ac­knowl­edge the sig­nif­i­cance of the evening. “Since we were kids – I was 13 years old and my brother was 10 – we’ve dreamed of play­ing in Lon­don, and you guys have made our dream come true tonight”, she says with sin­cer­ity. “Thank you so much.”

Their con­fi­dence in Vi­cious is such that seven of its tracks ap­pear in the 15-strong set, all up­beat apart from

The Si­lence. Lzzy and Joe per­form the bal­lad alone, lit from be­hind, al­most like a gospel song in a church. But nor­mal ser­vice re­sumes with the high-oc­tane dou­ble-hit of I Miss The

Mis­ery and Here’s To Us, along with a toast to the road crew, clos­ing out what’s es­sen­tially been an arena show in an Acad­emy venue. They’ve pre­vi­ously sup­ported Shine­down and Al­ter Bridge at Wem­b­ley, but surely a head­ling billing there is the next step for Halestorm.

Jo­hannes eck­er­ström has a taste for the the­atri­cal

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