Full disclosure: I’m in a weird place when it comes to heavy music. The landscape of hardcore, metal, and everything in between has shifted so dramatically since the late 90’s/early 00’s, when I was really cutting my teeth on contemporary heavy music like Shai Hulud, Bane, Deftones, etc - I’ve done my best to keep up, but I admit that I’ve missed quite a bit of what’s been going on. Or, honestly, it just hasn’t worked for me. I’d eventually make my way to Norma Jean, The Chariot, Every Time I Die, Between The Buried And Me, etc, and I think that’s where this tour more comfortably exists, sonically speaking.
The audience for last night’s show was primed, though. Even as the pre-show music was playing, standing in the photo pit I could see folks who were ready for whatever happened - they were just stoked to be there. An image of Shrek kept popping up on the projection screen on stage, and the crowd would scream with excitement. It would disappear to audible sighs and disappointed shouts. It turned into a game that whoever was running the projection screen at the time took to with good humor, as this continued for basically the rest of the night. Good for Shrek, I guess?
Openers 156/Silence and (personal favorites) The Callous Daoboys certainly tap into those particular icons of their genres. 156/Silence traffics in moody, roiling, breakdown heavy post-hardcore, with a few sprinklings of metalcore and the more angular takes of bands like Norma Jean. Snarling vocals in between droll stage presence, they were a good way to start the night.
The band I was, admittedly, most curious to see played next. The Callous Daoboys are that weird mix of “we’re good and we know it” and “we’re really not taking any of this too seriously,” and that’s a really wild sweet spot to try to live within. They pull it off pretty flawlessly, though. A 6-piece, they were almost on top of each other on stage, and between two guitarist, a violinist (yes, really), keyboards, and drums, it was a chaotically entertaining 30 minutes of Wii Sports jokes, a 30 second dance party, and some of the most interesting and complex (and lyrically impenetrable) songs from their catalog. They’re not quite metal, not quite hardcore, not quite progressive, but somehow all those things at the same time.
Philly’s metalcore-adjacent Varials took the stage next - a violently loud, bass-drop heavy set that varied from mid-tempo chugfests to monstrous, circle pit inducing breakdowns. I noted to a friend who attended the show with me how amusing and also baffling it was to see what I’d assume to be mild-mannered, relatively quiet folks with veins popping out of their necks, screaming lyrics, shouting at the crowd throughout a song, then ending with a quiet, sincere, “Thank you so much.” Their set was one of variations on a theme, with chunky low-end and throbbing bass coupled with swift guitar work, driving drums, and clean to scream vocals throughout. It was a well calibrated set, timed perfectly with projected visuals on the backdrop. Solid all around.
Closing things out was Craig Owens, formerly of post-hardcore legends Chiodos, with 3 of 4 members of Varials playing the backing band for his once defunct project, Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows. Or, D.R.U.G.S. As he took the stage shortly after the rest of the band, it was easy to see that this was his project, his show, his stage. His vocals were as on point as ever as the band tore through D.R.U.G.S. songs from 2 full length releases, even veering into the Chiodos catalog a few times (much to the crowds delight). Naturally high notes and piercing screams paired with more straightforward melodic post-hardcore are a good combination, and coupled with some Chiodos arrangements, it was a dynamic set that let Owens shine as both a vocalist and a frontman. That’s not something everyone can do.
When it was all said and done, it was a good night not just for heavy music, but for collaboration - throughout the show, members from other bands routinely joined the band on stage for guest vocal spots, all of them fun and well placed. No doubt the crowd left sated. I hope the bands did, too.