Protest The Hero

support The Safety Fire + The Contortionist
author LF date 20/11/14 venue Voxhall, Århus, DEN

Even though I recently moved from Århus to Copenhagen because a lot of bands seem to only play here when they're in Denmark, this tour is one of the rare ones that only has a stop in Århus on the other side of the country. I saw both Protest The Hero and The Safety Fire when they played in Copenhagen in January, but this line-up seemed to good to skip when given the chance to see some Århus friends at the same time. Even though it would have been cool to see The Faceless who has ended up dropping off the tour entirely, The Safety Fire who replaces them are coincidentally one the rare bands that I have completely fallen in love with, and thus I don't mind the change too much. Of course this ended up being a brain-wrecking evening full of insane progressive metal skills but, thanks to the uncompromising attitude of Protest The Hero, also a real party.

All pictures by Sebastian Dammark

The Contortionist

Despite being the first band on stage, with all the lack of audience that entails, this band manages to really impress many of us who are present. A few hardcore fans, who seem to know every eclectic rhythmic pattern of the set, are spread out among the crowd, and they move about much more aggressively than any of the guys on stage. The Contortionist definitely takes the prize of being the most schizophrenic band tonight as their music seems to move with no warning at all from being atmospheric and cathartic, with slightly longwinded but beautiful guitar noodling and extremely vulnerable vocal melodies, to some ridiculously heavy and fierce parts where vocalist Mike Lessard transforms into a growling beast of a man.

Lessard's behaviour on stage in general feels oddly restrained in combination with the mind-bending compositions as he moves like an insanely precise robot, overly controlling every movement he makes and making weird mechanical effects with his voice whenever he presents the title of a song. They play a very mixed set with songs from all three of their albums. The song where Lessard's approach works the best however is "Flourish" from their first album which ends their set and feels completely claustrophobic in combination with his almost threatening, mechanical movements as he growls "Elapse / Evolve / Expand / Adapt" and looks like he's about to just explode and transform into an alien organism that is going to eradicate humankind. At the same time he is extremely polite and friendly when he talks to us in between songs, and while the band seems to enjoy themselves on stage they also seem like they don't want to risk overstaying their welcome.

The Safety Fire

As mentioned, The Safety Fire only recently became a part of this tour. Despite this, they are in superb form tonight and have even brought some very home-made on-stage banners with them. I am surprised but also infinitely pleased that so many members of the audience seem intimately familiar with the band's music, as at least a handful sings along to pretty much every line. All members of the band seem really into the music as well, grooving around surprisingly much considering the complex nature of the compositions. The mix tonight is kinder to the band than it was the last time I saw them play but the songs are still not as crisp and clear as they appear on record and at times it all feels slightly more chaotic than it should, especially on the harsher "Huge Hammers" which is the only song from their older album that is played tonight.

The only weak point in their live performance seems to be the vocal department as Sean McWeeney has a little trouble with some of the really high notes he reaches for, especially around the middle of the set. He is supported by a backing track that adds harmonies in crucial places and this really helps his voice to burn through in the mix in a similarly powerful way to what happens on record. Also featured on a backing track are some of the more quiet outros of songs, which neatly allows the band time for tuning in between songs while also setting an immersive atmosphere. For the song "Beware the Leopard (Jagwar)", on which they collaborated with Tommy Jiles Rogers Jr. of Between The Buried And Me, the guest vocalist's parts also feature on the backing track and even though it would be cool to have him here, I don't feel that this takes anything away from the live performance as there's simply so much going on with the instruments that I'm already too busy just staring in disbelief at the way they handle them.

Protest The Hero

Even though I find that I can immerse myself more easily in the music of both preceding bands, there is just no denying that Protest The Hero are on a different level when it comes to performing. They own the stage in an entirely different way than the other bands and are constantly in the audience's face in a mischievous but friendly and funny way. This attitude is led by vocalist Rody Walker who seems in a good mood tonight as he tells anecdote after anecdote from the tour bus or about TV-shows he watched as a kid. A bunch of happy moshers are active throughout the set and while we're slightly too few tonight for any crowdsurfers to try their luck, the band seems happy with the energy they receive from the crowd. They play a variety of songs from all of their four albums with an ease that is almost ridiculous considering the difficulty of the diverse compositions.

The comic tone Walker sets in between songs is sharply contrasted by the seriousness of the music, even though this doesn't keep him from throwing weird dance moves or making fun of his own growl, and it all sets a good mood in the entire room as sheer joy over witnessing the skill level on stage combines with light-hearted fun. As they are clapped back for an encore, Walker makes the audience choose if they want to hear "Bloodmeat" or the newer "Mist" by telling us to choose a side of the venue to stand in, all of which results in "Bloodmeat" being the clear winner and Walker cracking up at how the audience sort of keep their places before telling us he wasn't trying to trick us into a wall of death. He doesn't get one either but a moshpit ensues that is filled with even more energy than before. A great end to a fun show by some insanely talented people.

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