Hammerfall and Flotsam and Jetsam Bring Down the Rex Theater!

The progressive blackened death metal of Erie’s Bravura seemed somewhat out of place at the other night’s Rex Theater metal extravaganza, yet one would not expect to see Swedish power metal mainstays Hammerfall touring with grizzled, second-tier American thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam either, despite the latter playing what used to be known as power metal until the former, assembled originally by a group of Gothenburg melodic death technicians, revitalized and redefined the genre in the mid-90’s. Few seemed to notice, however, each band acting as something for all tastes.

Bravura impressed with their 3 Inches of Blood/Gojira/Thy Art Is Murder stylings, their proficiency and cerebral aggression serving to cleanse the palate for warhorses Flotsam and Jetsam, who have never sounded better nor have ever released better material. Flotsam and Jetsam managed to touch upon a good sampling of their career, the ballsy vocals of shamefully unheralded singer Eric A.K. propelling the guitar phalanx of Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley into a ground war, drummer Ken Mary and bassist Michael Spencer flanking the battle steeds as arrows and bullets flew. This is what power metal used to be thought of as: armor-plated tradition led by an emergency siren throat. Rusty, clanging, dented, and die-hard, F&J are survivors.

Hammerfall, of course, were the stars on the marquee and lived up to their status, rocking the hall with festival, stadium-strong aplomb. Joacim Cans has every right to be a star in his genre and beyond. From his presence to his golden, pristine Jeff Scott Soto/Mats Leven/Tony Martin pipes, the man should be occupying spots held by Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske, and Geoff Tate, manipulating the crowd like the masterful frontman he is, commanding the crowd as if he were Dickinson or Byford. Put Cans in front of any group, and he would excel, taking whomever he’s playing with to unseen heights. It’s a wonder Malmsteen hasn’t stolen him away, and speaking of the modern Paganini, he was invoked superbly by both of Hammerfall’s guitarists, Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren whipping out arpreggios throughout the set as if they were auditioning in front of the late Ronnie James Dio, Fredrik Larsson and David Wallin playing the parts of Jimmy Bain and Cozy Powell like it was in their blood. Intensely heroic sing-a-long choruses and race horse riffs abounded and the crowd chanted and threw fists and horns upward with each note as if they were at a European festival. My only caveat about Hammerfall’s gig was the total lack of the band’s seminal debut album, Glory To The Brave, in the setlist. Why the band ignored what was probably their best and most celebrated and seminal record escapes me.

Nitpicking aside, three disparate acts, each of their own alloy, united to create a memorable evening of metal in Pittsburgh. Steel met steel, if you will.

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