It was, by all accounts, a typical windy Chicago winter day, except for those who also knew about the event that I was attending: the hometown show for two of the biggest and oldest bands on Sumerian Records, one of the first dates on what seemed to be an all-out banger of a tour, would surely make for an exciting and fun-filled Friday night, or so I thought. Taking the train over to the venue was easy – just one switch, from the Red line to the Green – and walking there, I psyched myself up for the show that was in store. I arrived right in the nick of time, walking into the venue just as the opening band went on.
These guys were Bad Omens, a Sumerian-signed upstart with just two singles to their name but an attitude and show that more befits a band two or three albums into their career: they’ve clearly thought hard about the image they want to convey in their live performance and cultivated an aesthetic and onstage style that is definitely fitting of their sound. Although their set certainly wasn’t bad, per se, their music, which is a combination of punky, hardcore-inspired verses and Sempiternal-era Bring Me The Horizon worship, didn’t come across as particularly engaging at first. Their band setup was entirely typical; both guitarists stood pretty much still as the bassist moved and grooved slightly in the back and the drummer went nigh-unnoticed all throughout the set, heard much more than seen. Their vocalist bounced around across the stage, and his energy was by far the most engaging part of their performance: by the end of their brief set, they had gotten people engaged enough to start a pretty decently-sized pit (in comparison to size of the crowd, anyway). They definitely weren’t the most mind-blowing band here, but as a start to the night, they set the palate acceptably and their vocalist’s energy had me bobbing my head along with their tracks by the end of their set.
Erra followed them, and man, was it a fast change of equipment. They’ve been on the road recently with various bands, and clearly have their routine down pat for setting up and tearing down their stuff. As always, they’re a tight band instrumentally, and their new harsh vocalist sounds absolutely fantastic live; they’ve always had good vocalists but this guy definitely takes the cake as one of the best harsh vocalists I’ve seen barring the super well-known ones (Phil Bozeman, Travis Ryan, Trevor Strnad, etc.) in terms of his tone and control. Playing both of the singles from their upcoming third LP, it was easy to see that they were more comfortable with this than any other material and their clean vocalist sounded much, much more at ease singing these tracks than any of their previous material. The problem with Erra in any live setting has always been that the cleans don’t translate well to that setting at all, but if all the new material is as accommodating to that side of their sound, they could easily become one of the most engaging metalcore live acts out there within a year or so.
After that, though, it all fell apart, starting with After the Burial. Their performance itself wasn’t the issue – throughout their entire time on stage, they were clean, tight, and had a well-polished sound that was perfect for the setting – but with their set itself. These guys, some of the most respected veterans of the modern metalcore/deathcore scene, played a five-song, twenty-minute set. Let me repeat that: After the Burial, a band that has had an established and excellent career since their first LP, Forging A Future Self, came out in 2006, as one of the pillars upon which Sumerian Records is built, played for a grand total of approximately 22 minutes. There’s something perversely wrong with making a band embarking on their first major tour after what they’ve been through recently – a tour commemorating the label they helped build from the ground up, no less – play a set that’s not much longer than either of the ‘opening’ acts. More than anything, after their ludicrously short set, it was hard to not feel cheated out of seeing the vindication and triumphant return of After the Burial following the tragedy surrounding their most recent album (which actually came out on the day of the show); it was discouraging and hard to reconcile with in light of the decidedly longer following sets by Veil of Maya and Born of Osiris.
Veil of Maya directly followed, and their set was equally disappointing, not because of the length, but as a consequence of their odd choice in material to play that night: taking only the one of popular singles off each album beside Matriarch, they played almost the entirety of their most recent album and practically nothing else. Hearing “It’s Not Safe To Swim Today” and “Unbreakable” live was fun, and I was definitely enraptured with their renditions thereof, but it was obvious that their collective heart as a band just wasn’t in it for the old material anymore. It makes sense, given their new vocalist’s obvious proclivity for clean singing, but it was still far from pleasing to hear them rush through their classic tracks just to get back to the “fun stuff” that they’ve put out recently. Again, it was hard to shake the feeling of being cheated out of something here; admittedly, I am far more invested in their old material and willing to accept that I am slightly biased here, but given the way every other band seemed to sprinkle songs from their entire discography across their set, it was weird and a little bit confusing to see Veil stick so close to their newest material (and this an anniversary tour, so it’s not like they were on tour specifically to push Matriarch, either!).
Last came Born of Osiris. Playing a set that spanned just about their entire discography so far and covered all of their sonic bases as a band over the course of 45 minutes to an hour, their set suffered from some mixing issues and their extremely heavy use of backing tracks. Every member of the band sans their guitarist, Lee McKinney, sounded tight; everybody was in sync and this was clearly a group of veterans who know all the ins and outs of their trade. It’s hard to avoid beating the dead horse that “Lee can’t play his material live” has become, but unfortunately, it’s still very much a real issue and over the course of such a long set, it’s easy to zone out and become lost in the repetitive chugging that seems to make up most of their live instrumentation, since a vast majority of the lead guitars are done as digital backing tracks for the band. The mix was extremely muddy and obscured just about all of the synths, and, at times, the vocals got lost in there as well, making the whole affair a lot noisier than it had any right being.
This ultimately disappointing show, coupled with a crowd that seemed rowdy at some times and just downright inconsiderate at others, as well as plenty of vape smoke clouding up the venue (listen, I have absolutely nothing against vaping, I think a lot of the vape jokes are played out and lazy humor at this point, but please, please, don’t vape anywhere you wouldn’t smoke a cigarette) made for a night that ended up being equal parts energetic and aggravating. Overall, I think it’s safe to say this played out mostly how I would have expected, but with a few extra problems thrown into the whole affair, it became hard to eke a lot of the enjoyment I was looking for out of the show. The extremely short set from After the Burial, the odd song choice from Veil of Maya, and the overlong miasma that was Born of Osiris’ performance, all on top of a crowd that was plain obnoxious most of the time, severely hindered my enjoyment of the show and meant that what originally promised to be a great night never grew to anywhere except a cut above decent.