LANDMVRKS @O2 Ritz (Manchester): Review

My biggest question on that rainy Manchester evening night was the same one I have at every metalcore show – is the band’s multi-thousand-pound rig, with every guitar tone, harmony and ambient synth track mixed to a scalpel’s point, going to be even remotely audible? Or is it simply going to get lost behind the drummer’s crashing and the outdated, mouldy sound system that so many of Manchester’s venues are still trying to squeeze the last rumbles out of? In this case, the latter excuse was invalid because I think the Ritz is perhaps the best sounding venue in the city.

I think anyone who has already seen Landmvrks already knows the answer to that, but what about the other three bands on this stacked lineup? Yes, the show was even scheduled to open at 6 PM rather than the usual 7 or later. A real treat for fans of the genre, then.

This show was a long one and I’ve got several thoughts, so let’s get right into it.

Guilt Trip is a name I’ve seen on plenty of shirts over the past 18 months or so, and they brought a welcome energy and variation to the show’s dynamic. Modern metalcore can be clinically clean at times, so I was happy that a hardcore act opened the show, and even happier to see the crowd moving so early, with a ring of two-steppers already making the historic venue’s spring dancefloor bounce.

Riding on the preestablished high, Like Moths To Flame took the floor. The intricate tapping riffs their lead guitarist played looked fantastic and highly technical, but the issue of the overbearing crash cymbal chose its time to step up and I frankly couldn’t hear anything of what looked to be an intense, high-energy set because of the drums. As the vocalist yelled “This one is a singalong,” and then aggressively insisted seemingly every member of the crowd wave their arms, it was somewhat unsurprising when their reception was lukewarm. The vocalist’s response was then to yell “Do you not have arms or something?” and distastefully impersonated an amputee – yuck. In fact, he brought this poor joke back several times.

The next cliché name on the lineup was The Devil Wears Prada who, despite my lack of enthusiasm at this point, dredged the show up from the depths of gnawing cringe and ringing ears to play a varied set of anthemic highs and crowd-killing lows. The DWP (not to be confused with the Department of Work and Pensions) sounded huge. Finally – great metal songs with sweeping choruses and emotional verses! With a full stage – three guitars, separate heavy and clean vocalists, and a keys player, in addition to the bassist and drummer, I was prepared for another set of sound-mashing. But it sounded good! Thank God. For me, and I’m sure for many, the highlight of the set was the guitarist walking into the crowd to order a beer at the back of the room, then return in time to continue the song.

So … Landmvrks. Despite my grievances about modern metalcore sounding too processed, I can’t deny that Landmvrks have flown to the top of that pile. By the metric of whether I could actually hear the show, they passed the test and stamped it into the dust.

The French headliners heralded their appearance with a cinematic light show. A huge strobe V taking the centre-back stage silhouetted an enormous drum kit, flashing ice white and blue, flickering between glimpses of a distorted face and snowfall, before filling with neon red.

In a progressive style, Landmvrks filled the air with the classic tech-metal riffs and chugs you expect, but with every member providing harmonious and scream backing vocals, and an incredible use of dynamics within their songwriting, I knew I wasn’t watching just another bunch of guitar nerds but masters of the medium. I’m not against the use of modern technology in music performance, but it was certainly nice to see a sound that looked and felt more organic, especially in a genre so heavily dominated by laptop bands.

(And yes, I could hear every instrument and the backing track. It was true sound mixing wizardry.)

Again, Landmvrks fans may not be surprised to hear that I am a Florent Salfati convert – what a voice! It is truly a rare find to come across a vocalist so proficient with beautiful falsetto and head voice, as well as chest voice and guttural lows with projective power. I stumbled into that show trailing my expectations on the floor and I left having witnessed greatness.

Salfati’s skill is also evident in his songwriting. One moment he was rapping in a French flow and the next screaming in rhythm with machinegun guitar chugging. As a big nu metal fan, I’m always excited to see these different elements of genre worked into modern metal, replacing some of the maths with emotion, and offering what are essentially pop choruses between brutal breakdowns.

I’ve offered some opinions in this piece that are stronger than I usually include in my reviews. I hold metal and alternative genres close to my heart – I think because of the emotional stabs that they offer. I’ve never been that bothered for guitar solos or technical mastery; what I want to see is vocalists sharing their souls with crowds, and big smiles and shouting about the government, and whatever else counterculture inspires so strongly in those moments of adrenaline and sweat and joy.

I recently came across a video by The Punk Rock MBA in which he discusses why nu metal bands like Deftones and Limp Bizkit are suddenly popular again – I’ll cut to the chase: it’s because they’re fun, and they write great songs. For a long time, I’ve been bored of metal because I find it too self-serious, too competitive, and too complicated. As The Punk Rock MBA puts it, modern metal is inaccessible, only really catering to young instrumentalists who love a challenge. Shredding guitar is cool but if I can’t hear it, what is the point?

I suppose the point of my self-indulgent rant is this: if your MO as a metal band is to write intelligent music, be intelligent about it. A track on your laptop might sound great through your several-hundred pound/euro/dollar interface and headphones, but how is it going to sound in the 40-capacity grungy bar you’re about to play in through a speaker system from Cash Converters (or your country’s equivalent pawn shop)? Avoid overcomplicating individual parts in favour of big choruses, vocal hooks, dynamics and impactful section changes – like TDWP. Unless you can get hold of a vocal prodigy like Salfati, don’t waste time trying to be something someone is already doing, be the best at your own unique thing.


Photos: Courtney Turner

About Tom Farley-Hills

Writer, journalist and musician - I create professional content by day and enjoy music by night. I don't restrict myself based on genre and approach every track with a fresh eye. I like to cover relevant issues and music that pushes the boat out. Artists of all shapes and sizes welcome!