I thought for some reason it’d been 20 years since the last time I went to Top Cat’s, the newly reopened venue on Short Vine, up and across the street from Bogart’s. Turns out I was off by about 10 years. But still. The last time I was there was for a package of heavy-ish bands - Hopesfall, Drowningman, and Engine Down. It still feels like forever ago.
This time around - maybe less than a decade since the last time - the bands were decidedly heavier, I was decidedly older, and the venue was decidedly more interesting.
Silent Planet, now 10 years into their career and remarkably humble for a band that just sold out a 200 cap room, were playing an off date from their current tour opening for The Amity Affliction and Senses Fail. Their most recent release, When the End Began, is soaked in proggy, synthy heaviness, lung bursting and guttural screams, and staccato, spoken word-esque rhymes mixed sparingly with soaring clean vocals. Misery Signals, Sky Eats Airplane, mewithoutYou, and Enter Shikari come to mind as sonic touchpoints - as does Underoath - but I don’t think that does Silent Planet justice. “Progressive Metalcore,” sure. Silent Planet is trying to be so much more than that, though.
Throughout their set, vocalist Garrett Russell felt on the urge of collapse, the emotion of a night so much closer to their fans than they had been in some time evident in every word. Their fans - mostly 20 something, white, male - were, as they the kids might say, there for it. Shows like this, where breakdowns are figurative but only because they’re sonically literal, are times of catharsis. One could try to psychoanalyze - and I’m sure folks much more intelligent than me have - the dynamics at play. But if nothing else, I’ve always genuinely appreciated and enjoyed the sincerity of the bond between strangers and friends. There are a lot of hugs, a lot of smiles, and a lot of people going out of their way to smash their bodies and arms into the people around them as much as they’re willing to pick those same people up when they fall.
For all its shortcomings, the hardcore scene has always been one of directed emotion. The bands that make a difference, the ones that last, understand this on a fundamental level and use that emotional wayfinding for good, to spread a message of acceptance and positivity, to seek change. These tiny efforts are never as small as they seem. That’s Silent Planet.
I admit to only passing familiarity of their back catalog. Everything I’d heard either in passively or actively I’ve enjoyed, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve taken pleasure in listening to unapologetically heavy music. But as Silent Planet moved through their set, I was struck by the depth and breadth of the issues they were sincerely trying to tackle with each track. PTSD, anorexia and body image issues, homeless LGBTQ youth, the strife of Indigenous American populations, World War II, the sadness of modern consumerism, and the Spanish Civil War are just a few of the topics they touch on. Perhaps not what the “Progressive Metalcore” label is meant to evoke, but I do appreciate a good homograph. Absent the emotional connection of true fandom, the music, the presentation, was still stirring, still moving. It made me want to learn more, to find and understand the meaning in their music.
I’ve fallen out of love with heavy music these past few years. I’m sure there are any number of reasons. Times and tastes change. It’s bands like Silent Planet, and their live shows, that bring me back to it, though. If you can catch them opening for bands much bigger and more popular than they are playing to the disinterested early arrivers, or on their own while playing to a sold out room with 200 fans screaming along with them, piling on top of each other to be a part of something bigger than themselves, I doubt you’d notice a difference in how they play. They have a lot to say. I think they’re just happy somebody, anybody, is listening.