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London’s first big show of the year reviewed, with a packed out bill and a packed out venue

Protest The Hero Tesseract The Safety Fire Intervals tour poster

Fridays in London are strange sometimes. As gig-goers, we’re used to getting venues to ourselves until closing, and making a night of it whenever possible. The only problem is, some very inconsiderate types like starting their party at 10:30, rather than ending it then (harumph), and so some venues double book the weekend nights so they can please two lots of punters (or at least one, at any rate) with a later club night.

Such was the case as the year’s first ‘big’ metal bill rolled through town. I say big, because headliners don’t come a lot bigger than Protest The Hero in tech circles, and when joined by the likes of TesseracT, London’s own tech upstarts The Safety Fire, and newly-envocalisted Canadians Intervals, you’ve got four bands out of four worth at least a look. The show was sold out weeks in advance, and the guest lists tighter than a nun’s cooch, so the anticipation was high.

With four bands on, there was no room for error (or time to get in the doors, for that matter) as doors were at 6pm, and Intervals due for 6:10, and with four bands to squeeze in before the early curfew, and doors opening a little later than advertised, the first act were already on stage by the time I get into the venue – despite there being fewer than 100 people in front of me in the queue.

Despite having recently made the transition from an instrumental band, with Mike Semesky switching from bass to vocals, the band are still effectively a man down, and the bass is supplied by a backing track. Instinctively, I find this disappointing – but with the relatively recent changes to the band’s configuration, together with the practicalities of having one less mouth to feed as the opening band on the bill, allowances can be made.

The band run through a set of tracks from their upcoming full-length A Voice Within. The tracks are pleasant enough, and contain some pleasing moments – especially some particularly tasty stickwork from drummer Anup Sastry. The band seems to have comfortably made the transition, and the songs don’t sound like instrumentals with a vocal line plonked on top.

However, the tracks aren’t especially memorable or head-turning. With the changes the band have been through, its clearly going to take a little while for them to carve out an identity of their own.

Quick changeovers are in order this evening – but as this touring package is now just one show away from the end of a truly gargantuan thirty-odd date run that has taken them over most of Europe, the change is smooth and well-practiced.

As are The Safety Fire. Last time we saw the band, in the somewhat more intimate surroundings of the upstairs room at Highbury Garage, it was their first show back after taking time out to record their outstanding second album Mouth Of Swords (review).

It would be fair to say that the band was just a little rusty then, but the cobwebs of their hibernation have now been well and truly blown away. The band are totally on point tonight, and clearly loving playing a hometown show to a crowd that has now swelled almost to the 1,000-body capacity of the room.

However, Sean’s voice is definitely showing the strains of such a long tour, and he struggles to hit the high notes in some of the tunes. This doesn’t stop him giving it a damned good go, though.

The set is mainly culled from Mouth Of Swords, with only “Huge Hammers” getting an airing from Grind The Ocean. None of the supports get more than 30 minutes on stage, so I guess the new material has to take priority.

In the latter half of the set, Sean introduces a couple to the stage. It’s fairly obvious what is going to happen, and after some stammering into the mic from the chap – who is clearly petrified – about the pretext, he proposes to his girlfriend. Fortunately for all involved, she says yes to cheers all round.

It is during The Safety Fire’s set that I really notice just how quiet the PA is in general – so quiet, that I can comfortably dispense with my earplugs. But that quietness is matched by a notable clarity in the sound. This is great news for all the intertwining parts of closing track “Old Souls”, which are clearly distinguishable from each other – although it does mean that the crushing intro of “The Ghosts That Wait For Spring” is not quite as visceral as it could be.

The set is over all too soon – but given how active the band have been since releasing Mouth Of Swords, I fully expect that it won’t be long until we see them again.

Because bad planning on my part meant I missed the majority of TesseracT’s last London show, with Karnivool, I retreated to the Ballroom’s balcony to watch their set.  The band open with the “Of Matter’ trio of tracks from Altered State, as has become standard practice over what has now been pretty much a solid year of touring.

Perhaps because of the extra practice, Ashe’s voice is holding up a little better than Sean’s, but he still decides against attempting some of the more challenging passages – but an exuberant crowd is more than happy to fill in the gaps.

From my vantage point, I can see that the crowd in front of the stage is split into two camps – those who want to stand up close and lose themselves in the music – and those who want to start a pit. The pitters are small in number to start with, and but their numbers swell, bolstered through “Nocturne” which receives a huge roar of approval. The pit well and truly takes over during that bit – you know the one – of “Deception”, the first of two Concealing Fate tracks that round out the set.

The band is as tight and professional as they always are, but this does mean that there isn’t a tremendous amount of spectacle, past a somewhat half-hearted trip down to the barrier for Mos and Ashe towards the end of the set – but this is somewhat offset by possibly the best light show I’ve seen in this venue.

- Simon

The evening segues swiftly into headliners Protest The Hero, who take the stage to an absolutely packed room. The energy in the room was very high, and despite all the bands looking halfway to their beds already after a long tour, PtH didn’t let the side down at all.

Older fan favourites like “Bloodmeat” and “Sequoia Throne” were thrown in with material from their newest record Volition, which made more than a few of our year-end lists. I honestly don’t remember much apart from enjoying myself a hell of a lot; standing at the back of the room, enjoying the show and pulling out the air guitar every so often. Protest are the epitome of live vitality – hell, you need to be pretty ‘on it’ to play what they do night after night – and it was a pleasure to watch them after a couple of years’ absence from our shores.

The energy of the crowd more than matched them – blowing off some steam after a long week of work and tube strikes – and the customary pits swirled across the front end of the room.

Of the four bands, only Intervals have a new album to promote, and the others have a lot more touring confirmed for the first half of this year, so after the final show of the tour, we hope they all have a good rest. TSF in particular are currently on a boat sailing out of Miami on the Progressive Nation At Sea cruise with the likes of Anathema, Animals As Leaders and Periphery. Probably going to catch some rays and have a bit of a sleep on that.

- Chris

Simon Chris