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Live Review + Gallery: Northlane/In Hearts Wake, Sydney 2016

Northlane + In Hearts Wake / Hands Like Houses / Ocean Grove
Luna Park Big Top, Sydney 18/06/2016
Review: Matt Doria | Gallery: Gwendolyn Lee

It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when Northlane and In Hearts Wake weren’t as fervently enormous as they are today. Sydney’s favourite math-metallers and the Byron Bay envirocore unit essentially grew as brothers in the scene, slowly building a name for themselves whilst supporting each other with every step. By no stretch is either band anywhere close to their peak, but for now, the hike has paid off: Almost 3,000 avid punters packed into the Big Top to trade their Saturday munt for a cheeky mosh, and with two of UNFD’s standout stalwarts tagging along, this epically-awaited collab was set to make straight-up history.

This is the biggest tour that Ocean Grove have ever been a part of, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. The UNFD newbies toddled out to a headliner-worthy crowd of their own, and with as much erratic spontaneity as their wardrobe implied, promptly tore the fucking house down. Bodies whipped like wrecking balls to reel after reel of ’90s-core mania, sour lashings of nu metal riffs and pseudo-rapped gutturals seeping into our souls with a serrated twinge that brought forth war flashbacks of classic YoGo ads. The boys kicked off on a spicy note with breakthrough banger “Lights On Kind Of Lover”, cuts from the soon-to-be-cult-followed Black Label EP spurring moshes fiercer than Samuel L. Jackson in any movie where he gets to hold a gun.

Hands Like Houses flipped the vibe, turning a sweaty mosh into a breezy dancefloor with their ethereal arsenal of experimental frothers. Dissonants still fresh in our minds, the quintet spent most of their stage time giving the new disc a proper showcase; all but one of their seven tracks (the timeless “Introduced Species”) were pulled from the opus, standouts “Colourblind” and “New Romantics” proving that even if your songs aren’t stuffed with fuckoff massive breakdowns, there’s still hope in the fight to sate a core-inclined crowd. A muddy front-end mix meant that a lot of the band’s backing tracks felt off, but the sheer vocal strength of frontman Trenton Woodley more than made up for that. They killed it, basically – even if they weren’t exactly what we asked for.

For the 20 minutes or so that followed, hype flooded the room with rapturous speculation of how the two-in-one feature presentation would go down. Two drum kits were set on risers at either side of the stage as smoke slowly crept in from underneath them; as per the legal requirements of metalcore shows in 2016, a stream of millennial classics – “Teenage Dirtbag”, “All-Star” – kept us busy in the interim, before an ominous echo buzzed through the hall to usher In Hearts Wake to their 30-minute throne.

The fivesome blasted in without a shred of relent in Earthwalker lead-in “Gaia”, causing half of team BLUNT to breathe their last in the resulting stampede (R.I.P.) The 2014 outing served as the sole keystone of their introductory exhibit, frontman Jake Taylor searing through verses with the rabid ire one would only expect from a black metal roadshow. Mellowing the atmosphere without ever cutting its energy, bassist and clean vocalist Kyle Erich shined on the angelic “Wildflower” – phone torches swayed brightly in its allure, as if the band hadn’t sparked the most frenzied mosh of the year just a few moments earlier. Intensity pierced every second of the set, Taylor and co. letting up for not a single one until “Divine” fizzled out and the echo returned.

While the down-tuned deviants in Northlane were solid in their shreddery, their slicked-back grittiness and cabalistic stage presence never reached the convulsive highs that In Hearts Wake did time and time again. Marcus Bridge reigned with a voice that demanded your undivided attention, the prickly cleans on Node tracks meddling stoutly with the restless screams that anchor older cuts – “Impulse” held just as much weight in its proggy exuberance as “Quantum Flux” did in its unremitting indignation. Woodley made a brief return to lend a celestial glow to Northy’s comeback single “Rot”, but elsewhere, there was little to single out from the first of their two sets.

Now honing in on last year’s game-changing Skydancer, In Hearts Wake returned to the stage with more tooth-rattling volatility than they had to begin with. If not at the hands of its cathartic title track, a packed house bursted into action at the chugging kick of star cut “Badlands”. Luke Holmes (the ledge behind Ocean Grove) blew shit up spitting bars on “Erase”, but without a doubt, the highlight of the night came in a sudden cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” closing out throwback number “Survival (The Chariot)”. Between an onslaught of beach balls, a circle pit to the Lone Ranger theme (complete with rainbow sombreros) and an elsewhere limitless outpouring of fast, loud, inescapable liveliness, In Hearts Wake did everything in their power to ensure the smiles never faded from our faces, nor our limbs ever relaxed in the pit.

And thus, Northlane’s re-entrance came with a vague feeling of, “Hurry up and finish so we can see the Equinox part.” This isn’t to imply they can’t pull off a decent set: in their own right, the Blacktown boiz are an atmospheric beast of djent-y goodness. But here, they only worked to dim the mood – a striking contrast to In Hearts Wake’s animation. Part of that comes down to Northlane’s haphazard focus on the visual element: Alex Milovic slapped bass from behind full body paint and a face mask, while guitarist Jon Deiley met him halfway and no other members seemed to get the memo. In the end, energy trumps aesthetic, and In Hearts Wake had just stolen all of Northlane’s allegorical Red Bull.

Five hours (and eight paragraphs) down, and finally, the moment we’d been waiting for had rolled around. Northlane and In Hearts Wake were set to transcend the boundaries of a traditional performance and become one in the Equinox – a metalcore kumbaya celebrating all things revolutionary in the name of genre dissipation. This was what an EP, a documentary and months of promotion were poured into building up to. This was an Aussie hardcore kid’s dream come true between two drum kits on a theatre stage. This was… Nothing less than a disappointment, in every sense.

You would think that “welcome to mayhem” implied at least some semblance of fortitude, but for something so relentlessly hyped, neither band could possibly have put any less effort into bringing their concept to life. “Refuge” was an In Hearts Wake offering with a quick drop-in from Bridge, while “Hologram” merely flipped the format. Interluding the two was less of a drum-off, and more of what first-lesson drum school students would believe a drum-off to be. Sure, this was interesting enough of a concept – and having four weaved mini-sets was infinitely more enticing than the standard two-set co-headliner format – but with how epic it could have been, the collaborative element and overall execution of the sets felt far too undercooked to justify the ticket price.

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