LIVE: Impericon Never Say Die! Tour 2019 @ Club Academy, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

Let’s get one thing straight – 5.30pm is an punishingly early time for a gig to begin on any day of the week, let alone a Tuesday night in wintery Manchester. The Never Say Die! tour, however, has become an institution, with more than a decade of putting on the best and brightest of the hardcore and metalcore world – Parkway Drive, Despised Icon, We Came As Romans and Architects are just some of the illustrious names to have graced previous line-ups. The cross-Europe tour has now grown to include seven bands, and seven bands mean early doors for what is now less of a gig, and more of a weekday mini-festival. Buckle up, because as evenings go, this one’s going to be about as exhausting as they get.

Despite a stage time of 5.45pm – when many have barely had enough time to escape their offices, let alone get down to the university’s basement Club Academy venue – Great American Ghost fortunately still have a reasonably healthy crowd to witness their first venture into our city. Getting things started with a bang is a concept they seemingly take very seriously, and if you were to judge a band solely on the quality of their ‘blegh’, these guys would be topping the bill – and the rest of their energetic, dirty groove-laden metallic hardcore wouldn’t be far behind either, filled with gruesome breakdowns and the odd nu-metal influenced moment. It’s an almost unexpectedly attention-grabbing set from a band sure to be gaining themselves some new fans tonight.

With only 15 minute turnarounds between sets tonight, the stage becomes a flurry of activity before Aussies Alpha Wolf take to the stage. After the electric atmosphere of Great American Ghost’s set, this sounds a little more muted by comparison – but definitely no less brutal. With fast riffs and bruising vocals, the rapidly multiplying crowd are happy to respond with some of the first earnest pits of the night (“we’re in a university right now… I need you to get fucking stupid,” urges vocalist Lochie Keogh), and though it’s not the most memorable set, Alpha Wolf have definitely turned the heat up for the remainder of the night.

One of two Brit bands on the bill tonight, hardcore punk outfit Polar sweep in like a mammoth tidal wave with piercing, enticingly melodic riffs bolstering front man Adam Woodford’s rib-rattling yells. This is a set with determination written all over it, and it doesn’t take long before Woodford finds himself afloat on a sea of hands in the crowd. While backing vocals could do with a little improvement, this is a devastating assault of a performance that sets heads banging in a fashion that will probably result in the need for neck braces in the morning – and we’re not even half way through the night yet…

Fellow Brits Our Hollow Our Home follow swiftly with their classic melodic metalcore sound, making solid use of dual vocalists in the form of guitarist Tobi Young and front man Connor Hallisey. Young’s clean vocals are solid throughout, but it’s Hallisey who really steals the show with his constant energy and distinctive growls atop hefty breakdowns. It’s a set that also unleashes some of the first big singalong moments of the night with OHOH’s penchant for seriously anthemic choruses, and with the crowd now reaching a peak it’s exciting to see British bands more than holding their own on such a strong international line-up. With Our Hollow Our Home having steadily built their reputation through 2019, performances like this only go to prove how much rising talent we have in the UK scene.

If any band was going to stand out on tonight’s line-up, the inimitable King810 are that band. Once raising eyebrows as the ‘most dangerous band in the world’, King offer a unique take on metal and it’s undoubtedly a popular one with tonight’s crowd. Bringing a dose of spectacle as well as a slick performance and drops that are deep and all consuming, this is a fascinating set whether you enjoy the band or not – and, judging by the riotous reaction, most of tonight’s crowd are firmly in the former category. It’s an aggressive, ominous, blisteringly chaotic forty minutes, albeit one that sometimes feels a bit out of place in this night dominated by metalcore. The change of pace and mood keeps proceedings fresh, though, and for anyone new to King810… This is quite the introduction.

Modern metalcore seems to be finding itself a comfortable new home in Australia, and one of the bands rolling out the welcome parade is Byron Bay’s In Hearts Wake. If the response to King810 seemed enthusiastic, it’s nothing compared to the sheer madness that seems to strike the room as this five piece lay waste to the stage. Full of the kind of stage presence that helped make fellow Byron Bay locals Parkway Drive the global force they are today, In Hearts Wake throw down riff after thundering riff as front man Jake Taylor clambers into the crowd. Musically, there’s nothing especially unique here, and clean/backing vocals from Kyle Erich are a little hit and miss, but the power is in the delivery; this is an enjoyable set from an enigmatic band who are building themselves a faithful following, and their place on this line-up has been well earned.

By this point of the evening, it’s hard to remember a time we weren’t all tucked away in a windowless room listening to some of the world’s most punishing breakdowns, but there’s one more glittering gem in store tonight – and headliners Crystal Lake are about to blow everyone, and everything, else out of the water.

It’s only two years since the Japanese quintet first made their way over to Europe, and early in the set front man Ryo Kinoshita expresses their gratitude at having gone from playing to “twenty or thirty people” to this tonight. This rise can undoubtedly be attributed to what is unquestionably one of the most magnificent live performances on the circuit – from their almost impossible tightness, to the mindblowing energy and passion they display on stage from the first second to the last, theirs is a show to remember, and tonight is no exception. The band have packed their heaviest crowdpleasers into this 45 minute explosion of music, with Kinoshita’s vocals diving from melodic cries into fearsome, guttural roars at a moment’s notice; tracks from this year’s ‘Helix’ offer the  best demonstration of Crystal Lake’s staggering ability to fuse melody with the heaviest of metalcore, the depth of tracks like ‘Devilcry’ truly making this band stand out in a competitive genre.

Crystal Lake are, as Kinoshita takes a moment to point out, the first Asian band to ever headline the Never Say Die! tour – and nobody could put it better than the crowd, as a chant of “you deserve it!” goes up entirely unprompted. The passion of the five on stage reflects in the energy given out on the floor, despite nearing the end of an exhaustingly long night; the sound is huge, with a vibe to match, and as they close with the shattering ‘Apollo’, there can be no doubt that Crystal Lake are well on their way to a global takeover.

The only real shame is that the venue begins to empty partway through this final set of the night – with much of Manchester’s public transport ending soon after eleven, it’s not too surprising that many need to scarper, but it’s a crying shame that Crystal Lake aren’t able to perform their whole set to a full room. It’s a sign that perhaps next year, the line-up needs to be reined in a little to allow everyone ample opportunity to enjoy all the bands on offer – seven is, realistically, too many (though it would be a struggle to pick any artist we’d willingly cut from this year’s offering). Despite this minor misgiving, Never Say Die! have once again given us a night to remember, packed with names who’ll be making their way up plenty of festival line-ups in future. As for us? We’re ready for 2020 – bring it on.