Protest the Hero -- Cambridge, MA -- April 5th, 2014
The Safety Fire:
Mouth of Swords
Beware the Leopard (Jagwar)
The Ghosts That Wait for Spring
Force Fed Lies
Never Coming Back
Flesh & Bone
Get Over It
Push Pull Destroy
Protest the Hero:
A Life Embossed
Bury the Hatchet
C'est La Vie
The Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts was treated to one of the best tour packages in recent history as Protest the Hero, Battlecross, The Safety Fire and Intervals rolled through town last night.
Intervals opened the evening. The band recently shed their instrumental tag by picking up Mike Semesky (formerly of The HAARP Machine) to handle vocal duties. While the transition from being an instrumental act to a traditional progressive metal act with vocals is daunting, Intervals handled it very well. Semesky's soothing vocal style fits the mold of Intervals' music perfectly. Despite the addition of vocals, the instrumentation is still the aspect of Intervals' music that stands out the most. Guitarist Aaron Marshall is a virtuoso talent with his ability to organically shift between intricate soloing, beautiful melodic passages and heavy grooves on a whim. Marshall is right up there with Animals as Leaders' Tosin Abasi and Revocation's David Davidson as one of the best guitarists in modern metal. Intervals was an impressive start to the evening and I expect them to absolutely explode in popularity over the next couple of years.
The Safety Fire was up next. Their newest release, Mouth of Swords, was a substantial improvement over their debut Grind the Ocean- which had some promising moments musically, but was dragged down by poor production and grating vocals. Just like their recent studio output, The Safety Fire have also come into their own with their live show. Their music is incredibly melodic for a young progressive metal act, making them standout amongst a lot of their peers who have more screaming and heavier guitars in their respective sounds. This melodic edge is especially interesting live as the subtle instrumentation really showcases the vocal ability of Sean McWeeney. McWeeney has a striking vocal range and is able to hit every single note he sings on the record in a live setting. The high notes on "Beware the Leopard (Jagwar)" seemed like they were nearly impossible to hit live, but McWeeney hit them with ease and held them for longer than on the studio version. The Safety Fire's music really hits the next level in a live environment. Between this performance and the stunning progress they made as musicians on Mouth of Swords, I can't wait to see what direction The Safety Fire goes in with their next release.
Battlecross was the next band up. They were kind of the odd man out at this show as they have a much more abrasive sound than the other bands on the bill. I don't know if it was because they were so different from the other bands on this tour or if the overwhelming heat of the venue had got to me, but Battlecross was monumentally better than the first two times I've seen them. From the second the intro to "Force Fed Lies" came in, the entire band was on a tear for the duration of their 40-minute set. Vocalist Kyle "Gumby" Gunther continues to improve as a vocalist each time I see them. With the relentless touring schedule Battlecross has, you would expect Gumby's vocals to suffer in the process, but the exact opposite has happened as he's become supremely confident in his style and delivers his vocals with much more finesse than when I first saw them a year ago on Mayhem Fest. The band also seems to really be in the zone with Shannon Lucas on drums. Lucas recorded the drums on their newest record War of Will after longtime drummer Mike Kreger left the band in late 2012. The band has been using various touring drummers since starting the touring cycle for War of Will while they continue their search for a new permanent drummer, but no one has been more talented or had a better chemistry with the band than Lucas. I've been a huge fan of Lucas' playing since his days with All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder so I really hope Battlecross can lock him down as a permanent member. Battlecross is one of the most polished and energetic live acts I've ever seen and I really hope they start to get the recognition they deserve in the scene.
After a bit of a wait, Protest the Hero closed out the evening's festivities. I'd been waiting to see them headline for a number of years and they did not disappoint in the slightest. The entire band was able to match the mind-boggling technicality of their studio material live while vocalist Rody Walker was spot-on with both his clean singing and growling vocals. The setlist played heavily on their "hits" (including "Sequoia Throne", "Blindfolds Aside" and "C'est La Vie") from their first three records Keizia, Fortress and Scurrilous. Their older material is very strong live and the way they sequenced the songs(especially in the second half) gave the set a very cohesive and natural flow. While the music is excellent, the most entertaining aspect of a Protest the Hero's live shows is the between-song banter from Walker. Walker could have honestly had a career in comedy if music hadn't worked out. He is able to play off anything anyone in the crowd yells at him and turn into a bit of improvisational comedy gold. Gems from this show included a rant on how you couldn't be a real Star Trek fan if you liked the new films; chastising some kid in the crowd for trying to have a conversation with him mid-song; and of course, venting about how the Boston Bruins eliminated his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs with an improbable comeback victory in Game 7 after someone in the audience started a "Let's Go Bruins!" chant. The only thing that prevented this from being the best performance of the night was their failure to play any of the strongest material from their new album Volition and only playing a mere 50 minutes for a headlining set. Nitpicking complaints aside; Protest the Hero put on an excellent show and proved their place as the greatest Canadian entertainment export since Tom Green.
The Safety Fire 8.5/10
Protest the Hero 9/10
11/28 Run the Jewels
12/21 The Red Chord/Despised Icon