Protest The Hero

support TesseracT + The Safety Fire + Intervals
author AP date 14/01/14 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

For a technical/progressive metalcore (or, as our photographer Peter Troest phrased it, netal - stemming from nerd-metal) aficionado, the line-up which VEGA had assembled for us on this cold January evening left little to be desired. Featuring three acclaimed bands from the genre, all of whom released records deserving of 8's and 9's last year, as well as one up-and-coming act whose debut won't surface 'til March, this would be a fine opportunity to test the live worthiness of some of the best metalcore released last year, not to mention a long due chance to catch, in my opinion, one of the most innovative progressive metal bands in existence today, namely TesseracT.

Though Lille VEGA is already bustling by the time I arrive shortly before the beginning of Interval's set, I must admit to a certain degree of surprise at the fact that the show is not sold out despite the dashing figure that both The Safety Fire and Protest the Hero cut in their previous appearances here (the former supporting Between the Buried and Me in 2012, and the latter playing at Copenhell in 2011). Mind you, as the night grows older, so does the audience grow larger, and by the time TesseracT are due to take the stage, the venue does look almost at full capacity; some 50-or-so short.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

Intervals

With nothing but two EPs to their name, Intervals have their headlining compatriots to thank for their inclusion on this tour, newly added vocalist Mike Semesky vocally remembers. Out of the four acts on the bill, I have no knowledge of the quartet beyond their only recently acquiring the services of Semesky, whom many of our readers will no doubt recognise as the current front man of Raunchy, and the former ditto of The HAARP Machine. Not too shabby a resumé, if you propose to front a djent/technical metalcore band such as Intervals.

Once the Meshuggah idolatry of the introductory track is swept aside and Semesky enters the frey bringing things to a more jovial level, I am at first troubled by the absence of a bassist. But really, the fact that Aaron Marshall and Lukas Guyader both wield 7-string guitars renders this issue void, as there is more than enough depth to the mix courtesy of those - so much, in fact, that Semesky's contributions threaten to, and then proceed to drown in bass heavy rumble. His singing is still audible to an extent to those of us wise enough to wear ear plugs, and for the breadth of his pipes one must offer applause, even if the vocals tend to sound like an afterthought to songs that were originally written to be instrumental.

One must also recognise his enthusiasm and charisma, the driving force behind Intervals' live performance; but in the end it is the competence of Marshall, Guyader and drummer Anup Sastry that is the primary attraction. "Tapestry", is particularly impressive, its groove, time-bending rhythm and harmonised tapping striking an instant chord with me. But in the end, I'd rather be listening to this stuff on record, with a flawless sound mix, than watching these rather inanimate gentlemen play it with all the sonic resemblance of mud.

6

The Safety Fire

As already mentioned in the preamble to this review, The Safety Fire cut a fine figure the last time they graced these pastures. There is something utterly mesmerising about their riff light style, their songs primarily composed of noodling dual leads as opposed to power chords. This is most evident on their sophomore album "Mouth of Swords" released last year, and I note to myself that there is even a curious nod towards Dance Gavin Dance and their ilk in the second song, the title track to that record. The material off the debut album "Grind the Ocean" from 2012 is markedly harsher, but no less dazzling in terms of the musicianship; and together, when placed on one setlist, these two types of song produce cool contrasts and give rise to diversity - a quality which Intervals sadly lacked.

It is true, however, that vocalist Sean McWeeney's abilities aren't quite on par with Semesky's, neither when it comes to singing, nor to his demeanor on stage. McWeeney lacks the necessary power and mix presence to make a true impact, and so it is left to the remaining wizards - guitarists Derya Nagle & Joaquin Ardiles, bassist Lori Peri and drummer Calvin Smith - to woo the audience. Thankfully, the axemen in particular are in a mood to exude energy, and there is this constant sense of wonder at how they're able to deliver material of such demanding complexity whilst exerting their bodies so much. What I also dig about them is that each musician, bar McWeeney, look to be in their own little world, immersed in their own psychological groove, as this gives the impression that they live and breathe the songs they've written.

And these are great songs, as my colleague Lærke Fenger determined in her review of "Mouth of Swords", with the already mentioned title track, "Huge Hammers" and "The Ghosts That Wait for Spring" in particular coming across as phenomenal. In the end, McWeeney claims some of the glory, too, when, speaking of the Nordic winter climate, he observes that "warmth makes people boring. When people fight for survival, that makes them more interesting", winning the hearts and minds of the audience.

7

TesseracT

The rumours that have been circulating in the venue all night are true: TesseracT are without guitarist James Monteith on this mainland segment of the tour, much to my grief. What this means is that it is left to Alec Kahney alone to interpret the songs to the best of his abilities; and what it ultimately means, I discover, is that the material off "Altered State", which is of a more melodic nature than that found on "One", is suddenly missing an enormous portion of its texture, songs like the opening "Of Matter"-trio "Proxy", "Retrospect" and "Resist" sounding so thin I want to cry. I've been looking forward to watching TesseracT since the release of the "Concealing Fate" EP in 2010, and now I must consign my towering expectations to one guitarist. Oh, the injustice.

But no matter: Kahney actually does a sublime job at merging bits of Monteith's work into his own wherever he can, and the more punishing old stuff, represented here by parts 1-3 of "Concealing Fate" ("Acceptance" - the last song; "Deception" and "The Impossible"), sounds virtually indistinguishable from the recorded versions. And the fact that TesseracT choose to play "Acceptance", my absolute favourite of theirs, tonight, having subtracted it from their setlist on previous shows of this tour, has me in a kind of ecstasy where I'm that much more willing to forgive the fact that so much is missing off tracks like "Of Mind - Nocturne". There isn't a better riff in this djent movement than those which feature at the beginning and end of "Acceptance", and judging by the deep headbanging unfolding around me, I am not alone in this sentiment. Neither is Kahney or his bass wielding colleague Amos Williams, both of whom look utterly immersed in this, animating their bodies with movements resembling those of marionettes - as if mere instruments for the otherworldly music they profess. Very fitting.

It is also welcome news that the sound engineer has defeated his problems (or perhaps it is the lack of an additional guitar?), because had Ashe O'Hara's celestial singing been obscured as well, then TesseracT's concert would have been in serious danger of flopping. Thankfully, it does not flop, and once it winds to a conclusion with said "Acceptance", I cross my fingers and toes that Jeppe Nissen, the booker of Copenhell who is in attendance tonight, shares my feelings about this band and is, as we speak, preparing to offer them a slot at the festival this summer.

8

Protest The Hero

Marching deeper into musical territory that soon only extraterrestials can comprehend, it is then time to witness, once again, the quirky madness that is Protest the Hero in the live setting. This may not come across so vividly on their records, but this is a band who prefer to do things with their tongues in their cheeks, and the result is twofold. One: their concerts are always amusing, full of so-bad-it's-good humour, nerdy brotherhood and positive vibes. Two: they are thus at liberty to do exactly as they please without needing to concern themselves with the ramblings of some small minded genre scrutinist. Their music is an unlikely combo of pop-punk, hardcore and progressive metal that sounds like the full visible spectrum played on an overdose of caffeine and sugar.

For some reason, it takes the Copenhagen audience all of one song, "Underbite", to come to grips with what is actually going on (owing perhaps to the fact that the band simply snaps onto the stage and dives straight into it without any sort of fanfare). But from then on, what I see makes me proud. In what has regrettably become a highly unusual occurrence at Danish scene gigs, the crowd descends into a frenzy when "Hair-Trigger" and "Sequoia Throne" are aired - and remains in maelstrom until "Sex Tapes" and "Tilting Against Windmills" conclude the ordinary set. The foremost half of the room is positively boiling, bodies flailing left and right and dudes and ladies surfing back and forth over each other's heads.

Protest the Hero themselves look irrevocably fueled by this behaviour, and alluding to wave dynamics, the result is what you would refer to as constructive interference (written deliberately in keeping with the netal being played, you see...). Vocalist Rody Walker, guitarists Luke Hoskin & Tim Millar, and bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi look more energised than I've ever seen them, and the orgasmic grin painted across Mirabdolbaghi's face throughout betrays their obvious desire to play the best show ever. It's not the best show ever, of course, but it's the best Protest the Hero show ever that I've seen.

Walker's between-song banter, full of juvenile provincial humour, is sharp and witty as ever, as is his crowning of one fortunate curly-haired dude as the hunk of the night; the sound engineer has a firm grip of things now; and there is an overwhelming atmosphere of joy floating inside the venue. Then there's the fact that Protest the Hero possess such skill these days that the various members seem not at all worried, or as if they're exerting too much focus into playing their bits correctly. All of it is played correctly, and as an additional bonus, each of the front four musicians is physically giving it 110%, reciprocating the rapturous reaction from the audience to virtually every song, and especially the oldies "Heretics & Killers", "Bloodmeat", and encore piece "Blindfolds Aside". What more could you ask for?

Setlist:

  • Underbite
  • Hair-Trigger
  • Sequoia Throne
  • Clarity
  • The Dissentience
  • Heretics & Killers
  • Bury the Hatchet
  • Mist
  • Bloodmeat
  • C'est la Vie
  • Sex Tapes
  • Tilting Against Windmills

--Encore--

  • Blindfolds Aside

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