CONCERT REVIEW – Of Mice & Men, Issues And Beartooth Invade The UK

Quite why a lineup as good as the one on show tonight has been crammed into a venue as small as KOKO is a mystery, but the lucky 1500 or so who got tickets (which allegedly sold out within 6 hours) know they’re in for something special as they wait in the queue stretching up the street away from the venue. With their recent Restoring Force album, Of Mice & Men made the leap from metalcore underground heroes to real hard rock heavyweights, and their upward trajectory continues on this sold out European headline tour. With one of the most hyped and innovative bands in the world, Issues, in tow, along with the Caleb Shomo-fronted Beartooth opening things up (that both he and OM&M’s Austin Carlisle once fronted a band as terrible as Attack Attack! now seems thankfully forgotten), this is a perfect showcase of how healthy the scene is right now.

The apparent underdogs on this star-studded bill, you wouldn’t know it from the way Beartooth attack the stage with enormous confidence. Coming across as an Americanised, clean vocal-infused While She Sleeps, they detonate impressive sounding new songs among cuts from their Sick EP. Shomo utterly dominates the stage, calling for circle pits and mass bounces and whipping the crowd into a frenzy before the sun has even set outside. Both guitarists venture out into the audience while still peeling out razor-edged riffs, epitomising the “any of you could do this” message that Shomo espouses. When their debut full-length lands you can expect to see Beartooth making a big impression.

A band that are already doing so are the seemingly unstoppable Issues, and tonight they feed off the obvious love the assembled throng have for them in an explosion of colourful heaviness. From the first barnstorming grooves of ‘Stingray Affliction’ to the final anthemic strains of ‘Hooligans’ they refuse to let up, an all-too brief half hour of raucous music blowing the roof off of KOKO. Tyler Carter and Michael Bohn represent perhaps the finest vocal tag team in rock today, Bohn’s screams hitting like a battering ram before Carter’s unbelievably smooth tones sooth and soar. Their secret weapon, though, is Scout on the turntables, who injects electro and hip-hop flavourings into each of their tunes and takes them from a very good heavy band to a genre-transcending powerhouse. Though more tunes from their sublime self-titled full-length would have been welcome, Issues truly make the most of their time on stage. Expect to see them headlining venues this size sooner rather than later.

But tonight that duty falls to Of Mice & Men, and as good a reaction as both supports received it utterly pales in comparison to the flood (no pun intended) of adoration that the headliners enjoy from start to finish. As soon as Carlisle walks out alone to begin the chants of ‘Public Service Announcement’, 1500 people are utterly enraptured, the subsequent hour of tunes each receiving enormous responses. Where Issues were an untempered eruption of brilliance, OM&M are a concentrated, focused assault that goes straight for the jugular, and they already seem too grandiose for a venue this size. Perhaps the most surprising facet of their attack is just how good clean vocalist Aaron Pauley is. He not only nails every chorus (those recorded by Shayley Bourget are done total justice), he if anything acts as more of a frontman than Carlisle at times.

The new songs from Restoring Force dominate the setlist, and understandably so – ‘Bones Exposed’ and ‘Would You Still Be There’ sound huger than anything predating them, while ‘Another You’ offers a tender moment of catharsis among the bluster. Old school fans are satiated with a ferocious ‘O.G. Loko’ and the clearly revered self-titled throwback ‘Second & Sebring’. By the time ‘The Depths’ has levelled the pit and encore song ‘You’re Not Alone’ has united each and every person in one voice, there can be no doubt that Of Mice & Men have truly staked their claim as one of the most pivotal heavy music acts of their generation. All three bands were hugely impressive in their own right, and together provided one of the most entertaining triple-headers London will see in 2014. Bright futures are in store for them all.

[Michael Bird]

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