Concert review: Bullet for Valentine and Halestorm

Bullet for My Valentine and Halestorm went all-out during a recent District concert.

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011 – Any gig with only two bands better present a lineup locked-and-loaded to blow concert-goers away. Coming out guns blazing May 24, Halestorm and Bullet for My Valentine delivered an explosive set at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club that took no prisoners. Both bands aimed to please, and the end result was overall more hit than miss.

Halestorm played the kind of grungy “hard” rock that’s usually best left in the 1990s. Bands of their ilk normally trade legitimate sonic heft for radio-friendly rock with “edge,” a buzzword that conceals a lack of any real danger on the part of listener or musician alike. Most groups peddling such a style exude play it-safe music at its worst, accessibility marketed through faux aggression and nothing else.

Halestorm (photo by Aaron Buchop)

Halestorm (photo by Aaron Buchop)

Halestorm were notable, then, for being capable of such flaws and largely rising above them. Sure, their brand of grooving power chords, angry shout-alongs, and verse/chorus/verse simplicity at times felt antiquated live. But shouldn’t individuality and charisma count as well?

The answer is a resounding yes. The band’s frontwoman Elizabeth “Lzzy” Hale transcended rocker chick cliché and flaunted an impressive vocal register ranging from hoarse growls to banshee wails. Her brother Arejay Hale, meanwhile, displayed above-average chops behind the drum kit. Frenzied with excitement, the man’s anything-counts-percussion could have convinced onlookers he was being electrocuted. Elbows, heels, and more whirled around an intricate kit containing complex cymbal arrangements and even trashcans. It was truly a sight-to-see, and an even better sound to hear.

Halestorm’s songs, meanwhile, were more uneven than their near-flawless presentation. When the band was on, they were on – the rousing “It’s Not You,” for example, paired biting lyrics with full-throttle guitars and catchy choruses. “Familiar Taste of Poison,” meanwhile, drifted out of speakers like wispy cigarette smoke, only to clog around a triumphant anthem making the most of Hale’s husky vocals. In contrast, the band’s cover of Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind,” though musically competent, lacked both the sleaziness and thick guitar tone of the original. Even worse, “Get Off” is the kind of shock rock raunch that should have died with bands like Hole. Tacky and tongue-in-cheek, it seemed an awkward moment in an otherwise polished set.

Bullet for My Valentine took things in the opposite direction by opting for a no-frills performance. Drawing heavily from all three of their albums, the Welsh rockers took their brand of arena-ready metalcore and let fans’ energy drive their tunes. Kicking things off with the chugging guitars of “Your Betrayal,” the band set the tone for the evening with a hypnotic sing-along at song’s end that had the crowd hanging on every word.

Bullet for My Valentine (photo by Andrew Stuart)

Bullet for My Valentine (photo by Andrew Stuart)

After this, they delivered a trio of barnstormers clearly meant to shock and awe. “Scream Aim Fire” upped the tempo with a firestorm of melodies and bone-crushing breakdowns that sparked frantic mosh pits. “Eye of the Storm,” meanwhile, invoked the essence of early Metallica with fast-paced choruses and searing guitar solos. In much the same vein, “Waking the Demon” attacked with stabbing guitar lines and non-stop percussion.

This doesn’t mean the show constantly ignored beauty for brutality. “Bittersweet Memories,” for example, proved a poignant rock ballad cloaked in twinkling guitar notes and an ocean of fans’ lighters. Afterwards, “Hearts Burst into Fire” began as a somber acoustic jam only to morph into a tune brimming with inspiring melodies.

The band’s bread and butter has always been heavy music, however, so “Pleasure and Pain” came blazing out of speakers with nimble guitar melodies and high-speed drums. “4 Words (To Choke Upon)” began with urgent guitar harmonies, only to erupt into the night’s largest beat down with brawny riffs so big they hung in the air like storm clouds. Combining Bullet for My Valentine’s soft and heavy elements, “Tears Don’t Fall” pulled double-duty as an aggressive thrasher and a rousing choir session for crowd members.

Although each band delivered a crowd-pleasing performance, it was Bullet for My Valentine who nailed the bulls-eye. It’s a testament to the Welsh warriors’ mix of melody and marauding that when they ambled offstage, they did so without encore or subsequent complaint from the audience. It just proves the old adage – musically speaking (like anything else), shoot true once, and there’s no need for shooting again.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Read more of Mark’s work in Heavy Metal Hensch and Out and About D.C. at the Washington Times Communities.

-cl- 6/9/11

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Mark Hensch

Mark Hensch is a heavy metal fanatic who has been scribing about the genre since 2003.  A Grand Rapids, Mich. metalhead, Mark also writes for while serving as its editor.  He maintains a recurring column there called "Hensch's Hometown Heroes" which spotlights unsigned heavy metal bands.  He apologizes for any subsequent ear bleeds readers incur while checking out his music blog. He also writes about restaurants and mixed martial arts for the "Washington Times" in addition to extreme music.


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