Thanks to the 35 mile trip along the A449 from Worcester to Wolverhampton during Friday rush hour, I arrive at the Wulfrun just as the last notes of Dope‘s set ring through the air. Still, a look at their setlist, the amount of Dope t-shirts on display and the amount of punters who filled up the venue tells me that they went down well. Maybe next time, then.

Dope setlist:
Violence, Bring It On, No Way Out, Fuck Tha Police, Rebel Yell, Die Motherfucker Die, I’m Back, Sick, Addiction, Bitch

American Head Charge were originally supposed to take this slot on the tour, and if I’m honest they were the big draw for me so having London mob The Defiled take their place was a bit of a disappointment. However, despite the sub-AFI image and keyboard throwing antics of the curiously named The AvD they do enough to get some energy going with their set of melodic, hook-laden metal, and frontman Stitch D does have a strong voice with which to croon and growl with. New song ‘Running in Circles’ seemed to garner favourable reactions from the assembled masses down the front and as they left the stage they seemed to have won over a few of the more stoic audience members, although ulitmately the Phil Oakey haircuts, Misfits/AFI imagery and Radio 1 Roadshow-style crowd-baiting gives them the allure and appeal of a holiday camp novelty act.

The Defiled setlist:
Sleeper, As I Drown, No Place Like Home, New Approach, Blood Sells, Running in Circles, Unspoken

Of all the bands on the bill, Chicago’s SOiL were the ones that could have gone either way for me. 2001’s breakthrough “Scars” was a great album and should have put the band in the big leagues commercially but line-up changes and changing musical climates meant that it never quite happened for them in the way that it should, although the re-recruitment of former vocalist Ryan McCombs a few years back seemed to steer them back in the right direction. I shouldn’t have worried though, because as the opening bars of ‘Breaking Me Down’ rips through the speakers the audience goes batshit and a visibly stoked band plough through a set of guaranteed crowd-pleasers, all displaying shit-eating grins and feeding off the rabid hordes shouting and singing along. ‘Redefine’ and ‘Unreal’ seem to see the band and crowd peak in a tangled mess of sweaty hair and fist-pumping before McCombs leaves the stage… only to reappear in the crowd as the remaining band members launch into evergreen anthem ‘Halo’. We can hear him, we can see the mic stand being raised above people’s heads but for the whole song the singer remains buried beneath the bodies that are flinging themselves around in sheer abandon. He survives and returns to the stage for a furious rendition of Ram Jam‘s classic ‘Black Betty’ before it’s all over and a clearly emotionally moved SOiL are gone. I feel sorry for whoever has to follow that…

SOiL setlist:
Breaking Me Down, Loaded Gun, The Hate Song, My Own, Pride, Redefine, Unreal, Halo, Black Betty

…unless whoever happens to be following that is a rejuvenated Coal Chamber. After waiting a little while and letting the audience build up a head of steam the nu metal icons hit the stage to a rapturous ‘Loco’ and it’s heads-down-and-see-you-at-the-finish-line from then on in as they run through a set consisting of back catalogue highlights and a couple of choice cuts from their excellent new album “Rivals”. You can forget all of the face piercings, tattoos and colourful nonsense that the band overdid back in the ’90s that earnt them the reputation of being something of a cartoonish joke – this is a band hungry to prove that they were always better than the clowning around with make-up suggested and thankfully they deliver on all fronts. Guitarist Meegs Rascón whirls around the stage throwing out riffs like they were candy for the crowd to devour while he shows that he’s also quite adept at gobbing into the air and catching it back in his mouth, which is nice, and statuesque bassist Nadja Peulen is all business as she stalks around laying down those heavy grooves with octopus-like drummer Mike Cox. But it is singer Dez Fafara who holds the whole thing together with his natural bonhomie; part ringmaster, part that grinning bloke in the pub who would ply you with drink and suggest you do something outrageous, Fafara has used his time fronting DevilDriver wisely and evolved into the frontman he always threatened to be during the heady days of the late 1990s.

Instead of being ‘Coal Chamber featuring DevilDriver‘s Dez Fafara‘, which is probably closer to what was in most people’s minds when the reformation was first announced, tonight Coal Chamber were the conquering titans to the nu metal crown. Deftones and Korn may have been the more credible bands from the original nu metal trinity but Coal Chamber always had a consistently strong collection of tunes and in Wolverhampton they unleashed the best of them as a huge ‘Big Truck’ made the whole room leap in the air as one and saw the first wave of crowdsurfers make their way over the front row’s heads, all receiving a high five from Dez Fafara as they were lifted over the barrier. ‘Something Told Me’ gave people’s larynx’s a good workout while banging new song ‘I.O.U. Nothing’ looks set to remain in the band’s setlist for a while to come, given its anthemic qualities and the reaction it got.

As the set comes to a close Dez does his parting-of-the-crowd thing and incites a circle pit as an incendiary ‘Sway’ is offered as a parting gift. In return the visibly-knackered-but-still-up-for-it crowd respond with a pit swirling with enough momentum to swallow the room whole, and even deliver a few minor injuries from certain quarters. Total insanity to end a set of high-octane metal goodness, Coal Chamber leave the stage clearly loving the devastation they just caused and truly appreciative of the frenzied response they received. Whether this comeback remains a permanent thing is anyone’s guess but if it doesn’t, the band can be safe in the knowledge that they have given the fans the best Coal Chamber album of their career with “Rivals” and a live show that surpassed all the hype and delivered like it was 1997 all over again. “I knew tonight was gonna be good!” says Dez Fafara at one point. Good? It was fucking brilliant from where I was standing, Dez.

Coal Chamber setlist:
Loco, Big Truck, I.O.U. Nothing, Fiend, Rowboat, Something Told Me, Clock, Drove, Not Living, Dark Days, I, Rivals, No Home, Oddity, Sway

Coal Chamber – Official Website
SOiL- Official Website
The Defiled – Facebook page
Dope – Official Website

Photos by Sabrina Ramdoyal.