By Adrien Begrand
You know luck’s temporarily on your side when while waiting in line at a show to get your press pass, a security guard runs up to the will call to tell them to add your name to the guest list exactly when you get to the front of the line. Talk about timing! Hey, any time you’re spared having to pay 45 bucks to get into a show is reason enough to be thankful you’re a music writer (it’s one of the few perks us penniless scribes still have left), so yours truly was breathing a sigh of relief as I made my way into the huge concrete warehouse to check out what looked to be a pretty interesting bill. As it would happen, unfortunately, Howard Jones would have no such luck whatsoever on this night.
It’s understandable that Protest the Hero would get higher billing over Between the Buried and Me, seeing how the Whitby, Ontario youngsters have a very loyal following on the prairies, but that doesn’t mean that it was right. Simply put, the virtuosic North Carolinians mopped the floor with their white belt-wearing Canadian counterparts. With only half an hour, it was barely enough time to work up a good sweat, but Between the Buried and Me wasted no time, launching into an impeccably performed “All Bodies” before pulling out the new nine-minute song “Obfuscation” from their forthcoming album The Great Misdirect. The band continues to edge closer and closer toward becoming an extreme metal version of King Crimson (trust me, the new record is superb) and their performance of the track was dead-on, its second half prog rock at its most scintillating. The Floydian, 15 minute “White Walls” closed out the all too-brief, immaculately mixed set on a positively epic note.
Protest the Hero, meanwhile, is a) far more preoccupied with hardcore than prog, b) have no semblance of texture, and c) for the life of them are completely incapable of a single memorable hook. Well, come to think of it, the “DA DA DADA!” of “Bloodmeat” is incessant enough, so we’ll give ’em that. And those tracks on Kezia with the girl singer are decent enough. But despite their popularity and ridiculous chops (they can’t write songs but egads, can they play), compared to the band that preceded them, they came off as rank amateurs.
Judging by the merch purchased and worn by a ridiculously diverse crowd (heshers, scene kids, biker dudes, Affliction-wearing thugs, curious hipsters, nerd writers), Killswitch Engage was clearly the band most people were there to see, which is not at all surprising, considering that the latest record by the formulaic but hard-working New England band is selling like gangbusters, one of the more likeable metal success stories of this decade. Despite the fact that co-headliner In Flames was playing last on this night, the unforgiving concrete floor was packed with bodies in the moments before Killswitch took the stage, and the joint practically exploded when the five dudes kicked into the tasteful melodic metalcore of “My Last Serenade”, Jones and his rather flamboyant counterpart, guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, leading the charge.
Jones started labouring more as the set went on, and after five songs, including new standouts “Reckoning” and “Starting Over”, faster than Kanye raining on Taylor Swift’s parade, he bolted from the stage, where, according to the band, he proceeded to throw up for a good 15 minutes. It’s never a good thing being stranded onstage without a singer, but when you have a gregarious guitar player dressed in a tuxedo t-shirt, cut-offs, bandana, sunglasses, and a garish gold cape, not all hope is lost, and Dutkiewicz did a tremendous job keeping things loose, performing a hilarious improvised tribute to Canada he called “Friendly Neighbour to the North”, cracking jokes (“Just be glad I’m not the one puking back there…I’d bottle it and sell it on eBay”), and delivering an irony-laced cowbell solo. Eventually, the band would have to piss or get off the pot, so Dutkiewicz suggested they play fan fave “Rose of Sharyn” and have the crowd sing it, and the end result turned out to be one of the more endearing moments you’ll see at a metal show, a couple thousand voices belting out the chorus with fervour. So impressed was the band that they went right into their very popular cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver”, but before the fans could chime in, Jones appeared to a monstrous cheer, the place erupting. He tried mightily, but his range and energy was clearly shot, and after fighting his way valiantly through “The End of Heartache”, the band was forced to call it a night.
So it was left for In Flames to pick up the slack, and they did so with gusto, delivering a well-oiled, workmanlike, 15 song, 65 minute set complete with a light show so strobe-happy it’s a wonder nobody was thrown into seizures. Oddly, the volume of their shows continues to be an issue. I’m all for protecting one’s own hearing at a metal show, and far too many bands overdo it when it comes to volume, but if you’re standing in the wrong place, like, ironically, the friggin’ mixing desk, In Flames can be one of the thinnest sounding live bands you’ll ever hear, with absolutely no oomph on the lower end whatsoever. But if you’re at a more advantageous location, say, near the front directly under the PA, the mix is comfortably punchy, and having seen the Swedes several times, that was where I headed.
Of course, with an In Flames show comes the usual complaints from stodgy oldsters that they just don’t play enough Old Stuff anymore, but while I’m usually one of those curmudgeons when it comes to many bands, that’s not the case with In Flames, as I consider their post-Colony turn toward the accessible an admirable move after taking melodic death metal about as far as it could go with 1999’s Colony. So with the setlist devoted exclusively to their last five albums (save for Colony‘s brilliant “Embody the Invisible”), I didn’t mind at all, and neither did the kids, who relished such favourites as “Cloud Connected”, “Come Clarity”, “The Mirror’s Truth”, and “Take This Life”, guitarist Niklas Engelin ably filling in for the rehabbing Jesper Strömblad. Clayman was given some welcome attention, with the title track, “Only For the Weak”, and “Square Nothing” carted out, while the underrated “My Sweet Shadow” brought the rousing, sweltering, quite unorthodox night to a close. Whether or not those who did shell out the bucks for a ticket got their money’s worth depends on which band they were there to see, but as I sped to the neighbourhood donair joint only to find it closed (Dammit! So much for good timing…), I couldn’t help but think to myself, I’ve seen a lot worse shows by much healthier bands.
In Flames’ setlist:
Embody the Invisible
Delight & Angers
Only For the Weak
The Mirror’s Truth
The Quiet Place
Take This Life
My Sweet Shadow
Killswitch Engage – “Rose of Sharyn”, minus Howard Jones, Saskatoon, SK