It makes sense that Manchester’s Ritz, the lavish former dancehall of choice in the ’30s and ’40s, should play host to Fightstar, a band with unashamedly grand ambitions and both the scope and talent to pull them off. Tonight sees the band midway through a tour promoting their new album Behind The Devil’s Back, their first collection of new material in six years, and sees them gunning for a return to the heady heights they once inhabited, an occurrence that would be, well, grand.
What isn’t so grand though is that, thanks to public transport woes, we unfortunately miss the entirety of openers Making Monsters’ set. Thankfully, the marvel that is Arcane Roots ‘ live experience more than makes up for it. Leaning heavily towards material from the new EP Heaven & Earth, the tightness and focus that the Kingston trio demonstrate throughout is almost second to none. Everything that makes this band so irresistible – complex polyrhythms, soaring melodies and transcendent vocal lines – are all present and correct, and hit with an enormous impact. Slow Dance slithers its way from gentle beginnings to a full-blown hurricane of riffs, while the mathy textures of older cut You Are have lost none of their glorious angularity. Andy Groves gives a record perfect representation of every single vocal, and it’s not hard to imagine them tackling venues of this size on their own fairly soon.
It’s certainly a tough act to follow, but Fightstar  are more than capable of living up to the task. The keystone of their set is Behind The Devil’s Back‘s heavier material, with older songs chosen accordingly. This means that, while mega-bangers like Mercury Summer and We Apologise For Nothing are absent, there’s an undeniably impressive cohesion to the set that flows incredibly well. New songs like Sink With The Snakes comfortably sit alongside the likes of Deathcar and Palahniuk’s Laughter, linked together by the sole factor that they’re all aural battering rams in their purest and most enjoyable forms.
Charlie Simpson really comes into his own live – screams that take up a hefty chunk of vocal time are honed to near perfection, and his guitar duties are even defected to his brother Will (of Britrock mob Brigade) for some of the heavier, metalcore-leaning tracks like Behind The Devil’s Back or the aforementioned Sink With The Snakes. It’s his cleans that truly impress though – while on record there’s the argument that they can be a touch monotonous, there’s none of that tonight. For a set in which the priority is given to heaviness, it’s refreshing to see that melody hasn’t been skipped out on, and that it’s done so well. Paint Your Target is a true anthem in the truest sense of the word, while 99 and the closing salvo of Mono pack in staggering levels of poignancy and emotion, the latter especially.
But the most impressive about Fightstar live in 2015 is that they haven’t missed a beat. There’s hardly a hint of rust to any of the four members, and their passion is frequently reciprocated by the baying crowd in the likes of Animal and the floor-shaking War Machine (and that’s without any sort of hyperbole – the Ritz’s design means it’s floor is deliberately springy, and it can definitely be felt). And for a band to make a return to the spotlight this strong is certainly something not to be taken lightly.
Words by Luke Nuttall