White Arms of Athena pretty much wowed everyone around here last year when they released their debut album Astrodrama. Their blending of influences from Between the Buried and Me and Cynic to Blink-182, it has got to be some of the catchiest prog out there. Despite their signing to Prosthetic Records (home to like-minded bands Animals as Leaders and Last Chance To Reason), White Arms still very much acts in a DIY fashion, having booked their own short run of headlining dates (which were originally supposed to include fellow favorites Picture it in Ruins, who unfortunately had to sit out) across the country that we at Heavy Blog are honored to help sponsor.
Edit: Tom of White Arms says that Arthur Alvarez of Arsonists Get All the Girls and Active Management actually booked this tour.
Apparently keeping us in mind during booking, White Arms of Athena landed about four hours north of the HBIH Kentucky Division in Columbus, OH at the surprisingly spacious and well-equipped Skully’s Music Diner. I know some of you are thinking, “woah, why would you take an eight our drive total to see such a small tour?” Apparently White Arms couldn’t believe it either, with bassist Thomas Sifuentes claiming he was honored we made the trip just to see them. Indeed, the guys are down to Earth and aren’t exactly used to people making leaps and bounds to come out and see them. Don’t underestimate a music nerd’s adoration and lack of responsibility.
While Gunnar and I were firmly in the White Arms corner, we were both surprised by the quality of the local acts, especially show opener Shall Be The Conqueror. Research after the show lead me to their Bandcamp page to see that their EP had been engineered by the apparent godfather of modern prog, Jamie King. Not surprising, considering their bassist was sporting a Colors shirt and their overall progressive flair. In the later half of the set, vocalist Josh Richter pleaded with the crowd to stick around through the following song, saying “don’t step outside just because this isn’t metal, or whatever.” The band then busted out a legitimate jazz fusion jam, which was quite the contrast from their strong death metal/metalcore leanings.
The next two bands powered through their sets. Empirian were still slightly rooted in prog, but had a more traditional modern metal flair, like Trivium or Avenged Sevenfold with stoner tendencies. The guitarist’s A7X shirt was initially disconcerting, but they performed well and had a fun time doing it. The following band, Arise the Titan, were firmly in the realm of deathcore along the likes of Whitechapel and The Black Dahlia Murder. While stylistically out of place supporting White Arms, they exuded great confidence. To be honest, having travelled the distance that day for the sole purpose of catching up with White Arms and had no prior knowledge of the local acts, I wasn’t so invested in their performances. Even still, every local act performed well and there was never a boring moment.
Finally, White Arms took the stage at midnight — on a Tuesday, no less. As they started their set — and throughout the remainder of the night — they thanked the crowd every chance they got. At the request of an audience member, they opened their set to a jam session while they waited for everything to be ready to go. A great way to kill time while entertaining the audience; it surely beats standing around awkwardly on stage.
The band’s actual intended set opened with the one-two punch of ‘Creationed’ and ‘Recreationed,’ playing their material with absolute prowess. The epic and soaring lyrics “We all must be a little out of our minds…” rang with even more power in a live setting, and with at least four of us in the small crowd up front singing the lyrics back at the band — who were totally into their performance — the set started out with brilliance.
I was always fascinated by the idea of the prog metal frontman and what he does during long instrumental breaks. Does he just run off stage and hang out? Does he stand around awkwardly? White Arms frontman Josh Everett figured out this dilemma in the most clever and intriguing way while tapping into the band’s psychedelic and spirituality-based theme. During the back-to-back instrumentals ‘Crown Chakra’ and ‘Astral Body,’ Everett sits himself motionless on the floor of the stage and meditates as his bandmates carry on with the commotion. Fascinatingly apt, and not just any band can pull something like this off. I’m not sure if this is a staple in the act, but it certainly a touch that accentuates what White Arms of Athena are all about and brings to mind Cynic frontman Paul Masvidal, who has been known to lead the crowd in yoga between songs. It’s the little things like this that make a show more memorable.
But of course, this was the instrumental part of the set; the focus was on the music. It is without a doubt that White Arms are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. The members would likely argue otherwise — a true testament to their down-to-earth and humble attitude — but they performed with enthusiasm and near-flawlessness. It’s always good to get a confirmation that a band’s talents on record can translate to their live show. They don’t fuck around.
Actually, I take that back. While being technically proficient musicians with serious musical output, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Drummer Austin Rupp, while holding down the technical rhythm section, makes the absolute best “drumming faces” I’ve ever seen. Guitarist Colin McDonnell also laughed audibly and joked with audience members when his effects pedal made very noticeable squeaking noises under his foot. It’s this kind of lighthearted humor that helped make the show that much more intimate and personal.
As the instrumental portion of the set ended, the band announced that they were playing a new song. When describing their new material, Tom described it as being “poppy.” While this new track (live video coming soon!) was entirely comprised of clean vocals and wasn’t heavy at all, the band kept their progressive and psychedelic style intact. For instance, guitarist Andrew Swinson played with a slide and made a bunch of crazy sounds likely inspired by their so-called “Divine Moments of Truth.” The bands new material is taking shape, and it’s looking good.
White Arms completed the final portion of their set with ‘Evince,’ ‘Ascend,’ and ‘From Now On.’ By this point in the set, it was clear that the group were every bit as good live as they were on Astrodrama. Given time and preparation, they could have easily played their whole album. Colin agreed, saying he would have loved to. Maybe next time; I can’t wait to hear you perform ‘Superhuman.’
Lack of full-album tit rocking aside, White Arms of Athena are among the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Not many bands are worth a 9 hour drive total to see, but to catch up with those dudes was a treat. I’m shy as shit and found them incredibly easy to talk to and get along with, so take it as no small praise in that respect. Go out to see White Arms of Athena if given the chance, and stick around after the show. They’ll blow your mind and you’ll likely leave the show some new friends.