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JAXX; West Springfield, VA; September 26, 2002

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

To say that I was excited about seeing the line-up of Sentenced, Dark Tranquillity, Killswitch Engage, and In Flames upon hearing that it would make a tour stop at JAXX would be an understatement. When I found out that the show would not have any local support acts I was doubly excited. I love the support acts in the area, but no support at this show meant that each band would get a good shot at playing close to (or hopefully more than) an hour. As it was, Sentenced, Dark Tranquillity, and Killswitch Engage played for about 50 minutes each while headliners In Flames played nearly 70 minutes.

Sentenced, on their first proper tour of North America, was by far the most unknown band on the bill; concert attendees were questioning what Sentenced were like before the show started. My desire to see Sentenced in concert was not whetted by their first North American show at the March Metal Meltdown in March of 2000 – and what a disaster that was, no fault of the band, of course. At the Meltdown, headliner Sentenced hit the stage with all guns blazing only to have their set cut after four songs due to curfew rules - Sentenced's short set was the result of events that had occurred earlier in the day that caused a one-hour stoppage in performances. 

Back to the present and my desire to see Sentenced was as strong as ever. It was obvious that there were just as many people in the room that were anxious to see Sentenced as those hadn't heard of the band before. And the Northernmost Killers did not disappoint. The set drew heavily from "Down" and their latest CD "Cold White Light" which really showed the band's dichotomy in their steady musical evolution. However, "Nepenthe" was the oldie-but-goodie that had Sentenced's long-time followers in ecstasy. Sentenced's suicide music was filled with passion and emotion and seemed to convert quite a few new fans over.

Dark Tranquillity, also on their first tour of North America, brought the crowd to feverish heights as years of pent up demand to see the band evaporated in the measured precision of the band's singular and lethal style. Dark Tranquillity struck gold by playing the classic "Wonders At Your Feet" from the "Haven" release when they hit the stage. Dark Tranquillity plowed through material from their last two releases, but managed to play gems like "Sun Fired Blanks," "Punish My Heaven," and "Zodijackyl Light." The highlight for me was "White Noise/Black Silence" which is as close to perfect a song that I've heard in the last year or so. Mikael Stanne was surprisingly engaged and upbeat; Stanne was the catalyst of the ever-increasing rapport between the audience and the band. The band's complex musical arrangements and sonic density of one vocalist, two guitarists, one keyboardist, one bassist, and one drummer was expertly mixed by the hall engineers and the band’s sound was crystal clear. I waited three and a half years to see Dark Tranquillity and I was rewarded with a set that was filled with exhausting and exhilarating performances. And to think that the show was only half over.

Killswitch Engage, the only American band on the bill, brought their polished and energetic sound to an audience that was probably perplexed to see an American band amidst the Scandinavian heavyweights. Killswitch Engage have been clawing their way up from obscurity to wide-recognition over the last couple of years and it's not hard to see why. Killswitch Engage are a disciplined machine in concert and deftly managed to control their passionate songs into concise nuggets of powerful music. New vocalist Howard Jones did a great job getting the skeptical crowd into the band's blend of metal and hardcore (and they're not a metalcore band, trust me). Killswitch Engage drew material extensively from their latest Roadrunner release "Alive Or Just Breathing" by wasting little time between songs and letting the music and passionate vocals do the talking. "Life To Lifeless," "Self Revolution," and "My Last Serenade" were the highlights of the set. I’m never one to rely solely on my singular observances of a band in concert so I inquired about Killswitch Engage after their performance. Many of the people I talked to after the band's set were impressed with the band's talent and positive messages.

In Flames is truly one of my favorite bands of all times. I don't miss a In Flames show in my area when they are headlining. It's been interesting to see fans and critics alike react to the band's latest effort "Reroute To Remain." However, it seems that most folks have eased up on their criticism of In Flames' refreshed sound once they've spun the record a few times. I, for one, like "Reroute To Remain" despite its new directions and was eager to hear how the material sounded in the live setting. Having seen In Flames quite a few times now the excitement of seeing them has worn off, although they continue to impress with their consistency and dedication – tonight was no exception. The new material played well among the classics like "Embody The Invisible" and "Gyroscope." In Flames took a few people by surprise by playing "Clad In Shadows" from way, way back in the band's catalog. It was also interesting to observe that Bjorn Gellote play most, if not all, of the solos instead of Jesper Stromblad. I don’t think In Flames' latest direction has made the band any less relevant – just more diverse in their choices for set lists at concerts.

This line-up for tonight's performance was a top-notch from beginning to end – four quality bands, four quality performances, and very little dead time throughout the evening – you can’t ask for more than that in a metal show.

Hail to JAXX, Jay Nedry, and the venue’s great staff for being one of the best concert halls ever!

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Copyright © 2002 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:16 -0400.