Gig Review – The Contortionist, The Safety Fire, Protest the Hero, November 28th, Voodoo Lounge

This kind of lineup – progressive and mathcore bands – often attracts a slightly hipper crowd with haircuts and snapbacks alongside more stereotypical metal fans, thanks to mathcore’s strong roots in the (post-)hardcore scene. I’m not fully sure where I fell on this spectrum. I was there in black jeans and band t-shirt and boots, but the band was Job for a Cowboy (a reformed deathcore band), and they were kinda skinny jeans, but on the other hand my beard is a little too unkempt at the moment to be considered hip. It led to a tension of identity, but one that on reflection I think allowed me to be the ideal audience member for a gig of this kind.

I managed to again miss the opening act, on account of being on a bus to the gig while they were on stage. London’s Palm Reader seem to be a catchy, aggressive outfit, with short and punchy songs, and were probably worth a look. Their debut album is on Spotify. Sorry guys, I’ll try catch you next time!

I caught the last song or two from second act The Contortionist, who sound like a checklist of everything that progressive metal bands have been doing for the last few years; chuggy djenty section, followed by a section with clean vocals, followed by an extended dreamy ambient section, before returning back to a heavy chuggy section. Perhaps hearing more of their set would have impressed me more, and while they weren’t bad by any means, they gave me nothing that I haven’t heard many times before.

The Safety Fire were more or less in the same vein, turning to a jangly Cynic-worshipping ambient section as early as the first song. The singer had an interesting vocal quality, reminiscent of Brandon Boyd from Incubus, but unfortunately a little thin in the higher register. About halfway through their set they played a song that they had recorded with Tommy Giles Rogers from Between the Buried and Me – who are the perfect band to illustrate the kind of sound that’s become almost ubiquitous in prog in recent years. Hearing Colours for the first time was one of the freshest and most interesting musical experiences I’d ever had, and it still stands up as an excellent record, but I feel like a huge number of today’s prog bands are attempting to emulate BTBAM too closely. Ultimately The Safety Fire didn’t really keep my attention, and slightly before the end of their set I headed to the merch stand to get a t-shirt.

No other band quite sounds like Protest the Hero, the evening’s main act. Though they too are broadly in this post-hardcore/prog metal region, there’s a definite quality to their sound reminiscent of pop-punk and the more whiney types of ‘core. They’re like Pantera in that they’re a band whose very earliest material should probably not be mentioned in polite company. Protest have adapted those elements of their early material into a unique sound, at once fearsomely technical and relentlessly catchy. You could perhaps say that they too incorporate all the typical elements of modern prog, but it feels like a natural progression achieved through organic songwriting rather than a checklist. The setlist managed to include every track I wanted to head, even playing my two favourites in order: “Sex Tapes”, which has a hint of the demented-fairground atmosphere of Panic! At The Disco, and “Hair Trigger”, a ferociously difficult track that also manages to have some lovely lush pop progressions in it (and was my introduction to Protest the Hero when I tried to learn the bass part… it’s still a work in progress). The singer frequently stopped to banter, being funny and charming and weathering some good-natured abused from the audience. One slight problem with their set was that the vocals were far too low in the mix, ending up obscured by the other instruments, but this was corrected after the first few songs. Ending with “Plato’s Tripartite” and “Bloodmeat” was an excellent way to sign off the stage and end the night. Definitely a band worth seeing live.

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