So the 31st of May 2015 is finally upon us. It might not be an important date for a lot of people; but for any metal fans who had the late 90’s and early 2000’s as their formative years, this is a big one. The long awaited comeback of the mighty Coal Chamber. The alternative metal heroes that broke out of the shadow of nu-metal by introducing a darker side to proceedings, have reformed and are back on our shores. They are bringing along two other veteran bands and London’s own The Defiled Could this be THE show of 2015?
Koko club in Camden has been completely sold out for weeks in anticipation of this show. The droves of fans soon fill up the balconies and the floor, awaiting the first ever London performance of Dope (9/10). Even before they come on stage, die-hard fans who have been waiting 15 years to see them are chanting their lyrics at the top of their lungs. This kind of love and anticipation for the opening act is rarely seen.
When they do take to the stage, with an unusual lineup of Murderdolls members included, the reaction is deafening. In fact the only thing that can match the crowd is the crazy amount of bass being thrown out as they kick off the night in style. Singer Edsel Dope is determined to make up for the lost time by delivering a stunning performance. The catchy songs from their substantial back catalogue whip the crowd up into a frenzy. Songs like Die Motherfucker Die and Sick see the first crowd surfers make their appearance and the fantastic cover of Rebel Yell gets the whole room singing along with the chorus.
The band are constantly on the move, play their hearts out and look so happy to be finally touring in the UK. Edsel has a great rapport with the fans and genuinely shows a love for the room. He promises not to leave it so long before they come back, and I for one, hope he means it.
For the few fans that hadn’t heard the news of American Head Charge pulling out of the tour, the next band on might’ve been a disappointment. But for everyone who has had the pleasure of them in the past, London’s own The Defiled (8.5/10) fit into the bill nicely. Starting off strongly with Sleeper and As I Drown, Stitch D and his merry band of lunatics soon convert any doubters in the old-school crowd. They seem more natural and experienced than I’ve seen them before. It is a polished, albeit quite short, set that borrows heavily from latest opus Daggers and we even get treated to a new song Running In Circles from their upcoming third album.
Drummer Needles is as ever the consummate professional, Vincent Hyde gives a moody bass performance while prowling round the stage like a caged animal. Then there’s The AVD, the band’s keyboardist, mastermind and resident energiser bunny. Although seeming slightly more mature and restrained tonight, he still throws his synth around the stage like it stole something. Tonight’s performance is perfectly executed and proves that the band are ready to move up the venue ladder. Not a moment too soon.
When it’s time for Soil (8/10) to hit the stage, the floor is crammed so tightly it’s impossible to move. The venue seems suspiciously like it might be over capacity and Soil are responsible for a lot of the people here. They have built up a huge and fiercely loyal fan base over the years and it shows here tonight. As they appear on stage, it’s great to see singer Ryan McCombs back on his feet and doing what he does best. After suffering a stroke a little while back, you’d expect him to simply phone it in; but he’s not that kind of guy. I can’t speculate on the difficulties he must face in his daily life, but on stage, he puts in 100% for the fans.
Opening up with Loaded Gun and then launching straight into Breaking Me Down, they set a relentless pace that barely lets up. The crowd laps it up and bodies start flying everywhere. Many crowd surfers are safely delivered from the hands of their peers to the side of the stage by security, grinning like children at their idols on stage.
The performance from the band is fantastic and the towering stature of the guitarist and bassist only adds to the stage presence they already have. The set mostly comprises of the older end of their catalogue and this suits the atmosphere of this nostalgic night. Nearing the end of the set, Ryan steps things up a gear as they break out evergreen fan favourite Halo. The room explodes with even the bar staff singing along to the chorus. The band might be tired of playing this song, but it never fails to get a crowd jumping. Before they leave us and make way for the headliners, they perform a beautiful cover of Black Betty. It’s been a great performance, especially considering what’s happened to Ryan. I can’t wait for a headline tour in the future.
This moment for me has been 17 years in the making. Having not seen Coal Chamber (9.5/10) live since 1998, I, along with the capacity crowd in Koko, can barely contain our excitement. This is a band that I spent my late teens arguing with my friends about. Some were in the KoRn camp, some in the Limp Bizkit camp but I was firmly in the Coal Chamber camp. In my opinion they were the kings, partly because they brought a much needed gothic aspect to the down-tuned nu-metal genre and partly because they felt like a breath of fresh air to me.
The expectations from everyone was so high for them tonight, it almost felt like they were destined to disappoint. But these feelings were completely washed away as soon as guitarist Meegs plays the opening chords of Loco. Dez strides to the front of the stage to an almighty cheer as the floor goes insane. Coal Chamber have always produced songs that lend themselves to a violent pit and Loco is one of the favourites. People literally throw themselves on top of others to try and get to the front. There are so many crowd surfers that the security team have a problem dealing with them all. I nearly get a foot in the face as one guy gets pulled over the barrier but I still feel safer in the photo pit than on the floor.
Going straight into another track from the debut album, Big Truck, the band settle into their stride and feel like they’ve never been apart. Bassist Nadja fits in perfectly to the look and sound, and is a worthy replacement for Rayna and Chela. Mikey shows his drumming prowess and plays like a man possessed, while Meegs saunters around the stage like he owns it. Dez has changed his look over the years and no longer sports the mesh shirt and luminous extensions he was once synonymous with. His years fronting Devildriver seem to have had an effect on his singing as well. He still has his unmistakable tone, but he sounds more aggressive than he used to. This is not a bad thing, just a noticeable evolution.
Playing two songs from their new album, IOU Nothing and Rivals sound unbelievably crushing live and prove that the 13 year hiatus has done nothing to dispel the band’s creativity and flare. The tight, explosive energy that made them famous comes out in droves tonight. Koko is brought to it’s knees with a deluge of bass, volume and a sense that we are all witnessing something special.
Brining the evening to a close they return to the debut with a killer rendition of Oddity, which was always a personal favourite of mine due to the demented way the words were whispered. But what song could they finish on but Sway? The immortal lines of “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire…” are the catalyst for WWIII in the building. A bystander would think the floor had been electrified when the drop hits, as no one’s feet are on the ground for long. It’s a barely controlled chaos that brings back fond memories of 90’s Coal Chamber shows. I’ve seen people leave with nose bleeds before now, but I’ve never seen anyone leave without a smile.
Tonight has truly been something special and I feel privileged to have witnessed it. So many comebacks end up in disappointment because the band can’t live up to the memory the fan’s hold of them. But Coal Chamber are the exception to the rule. It was a pleasure to see them, a feeling shared by everyone in the room. The whole show was being filmed for a live video, I can safely say they picked a good night for it.
Coal Chamber are back and quite possibly, better than ever. This is THE show to beat in 2015. Good luck trying…
Coal ChamberKoko, London - May 31st 2015
Photographer: Colm Browne