LIVE: Crystal Lake / InVisions / Captives @ Star & Garter, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

Sometimes, gig venues – especially new or refurbed rooms – can feel a bit too sanitised. Star & Garter is not one of those gig venues. A well-known sight to anyone who’s ever departed from Platform 14 of Manchester’s main train station, the listed building looks almost abandoned from the outside as it sits in the shadow of the long since closed and dilapidated Mayfield Station. On the inside, punters are greeted by a cosy pub, while upstairs is the one of the oldest, darkest, sweatiest rooms the city has to offer touring bands – one thing it’s not lacking in is personality. In short, it’s the perfect location for a bit of midweek metal.

Opening tonight’s proceedings in these satisfyingly dingy surrounds are the relatively local (an hour on the train definitely counts) Leeds quintet Captives, with their fresh and powerful post-hardcore sounds. A few technical hitches and minor, brief pitch issues aside, it’s a set that comfortably shows off just what this band are capable of; gorgeous melodic riffs and a healthy dose of meatier chug underlying gritty, passionate vocals from front man Matt Flood. Despite being the least heavy band on tonight’s bill, Captives manage to pull plenty of energy into the room by the end of their set, and there can be no doubt about their ability to capture everyone’s attention. Coupled with their huge potential and plenty of upcoming tours, Captives are one of the most exciting young bands on the circuit – and one we’re certain to be hearing plenty more from in future.

More Yorkshire-based talent swiftly follows, with the immediate and unapologetic onslaught of InVisions – you’d be forgiven for thinking that this might be the headline set, as the front of the room descends into mosh pit madness and stays that way for the ensuing 30 minutes. With vocals that cover the full spectrum of heavy – furious squeals, growls and a smattering of cleans – accompanied by high-octane drumming and eardrum-abusing breakdowns, it’s not so surprising that the crowd feels the need to go as hard as the band on stage. InVisions’ deathy metalcore is already earning them plenty of fans, and they’ve definitely found a few more in tonight’s crowd with this blistering set.

Sweat is already beginning to drip from the ceiling – yep, it’s that kind of venue – by the time headliners Crystal Lake make their way to the stage through the sold-out room, people lining every available surface around the room. Originally formed in 2002, Crystal Lake have been on a steady upward trajectory since a line-up shuffle in 2012 introduced vocalist Ryo Kinoshita; it’s still only two years since the band first made their way to European shores, but their reputation is deservedly growing.

Opening with ‘Hail To The Fire’, from this year’s incendiary full-length ‘Helix’, it’s the perfect, heartpounding introduction to everything Crystal Lake embody – an almost unreal combination of thundering heaviness and powerful melody, fuelled by unrivaled energy. The crowd is whipped into an instant frenzy with circle pits that sweep away anything in their path, and this limb-flailing, floor-shaking chaos is a lasting feature of the evening (impressively, considering the stifling heat).

Tonight’s set draws heavily from ‘Helix’, an album that represented huge progression for the band with its punishingly heavy sections, electronic samples, and general disregard for any kind of genre rulebook. It translates to an equally intense live sound, dialing back at just the right points before kicking in with renewed ferocity on tracks like ‘Agony’ and the soaring ‘Apollo’, and consistently demonstrating the incredible range of Kinoshita’s vocals. There’s still some time dedicated to older releases, including a one-two hit of the atmospheric ‘ALPHA’ and its guttural, roller coaster ride album-mate ‘OMEGA’, and 2014 ‘Cubes’ EP track ‘Beloved’. Despite the changes in their sound over time, the set flows seamlessly between each song – like a well-oiled machine, if ever a machine could be capable of this many face-melting breakdowns and unquenchable enthusiasm.

There can be no questioning the skill and musicianship on show, as the five piece form a tight unit seemingly incapable of putting a foot wrong, yet still infusing every note and melody with spirit and heart. What makes this show truly special, though, is their unfaltering performance, and the connection they are able to maintain with every person in the crowd. Not for a moment does the energy fall, and Crystal Lake’s passion for the music they play is not only clear to see, but deeply infectious. The music may be heavy, but the atmosphere is light; joyous and immersive, it’s an hour spent wrapped in a protective cloak against the world outside and, as the night draws to a close, it’s hard not to wish it wouldn’t end.

It seems like metalcore is going through a resurgence of epic proportions at the moment, and with bands like Parkway Drive and Architects drawing huge crowds as festival headliners, it takes something exceptional to stand out from the crowd. Crystal Lake are that something exceptional – the impact of their live performance cannot be overstated, taking music that’s already astounding on record to a whole new level. The band are set to return later this year, and if there’s only one thing you put in your calendar this autumn… Make it a Crystal Lake show.