LIVE: Polaris / Alpha Wolf / Great American Ghost / Stepson @ Electric Brixton, London

By Dave Stewart

It’s Saturday night and Brixton is buzzing like it always is, but a particular pocket of it is buzzing a little louder than usual. That pocket is right around Electric Brixton and the area directly outside of it where a swarm of black-clad metal lovers are gathered, eagerly awaiting the beginning of an incredible evening with some of the genres finest talents. Once the doors open and the queue begins to funnel its way through, it doesn’t take long for the chaos to kickstart.

A mere 15 minutes after doors, the first Australian band of tonight’s bill, Stepson, takes the stage. Armed with a sound that sits somewhere between Counterparts and tonight’s headliners, their set flits between breakneck whirlwinds and calculated punishment, all given the occasional lift by a big and colourful chorus. Vocalist Brock Alan Conry really commands the stage, taking full advantage of the riser to tower over the crowd and bend them to his will as the band lay down a solid foundation for him to stand on. It’s always great to see a band that are relatively new to the UK win over a crowd, and as their set went on you could see the appreciative nodding heads growing in number as the set progressed, especially during their high-energy performance of their latest single ‘Eraser’. Super tight, nicely balanced, undoubtedly attention-grabbing – the perfect warm-up for the night ahead.

Next up is Great American Ghost who steered the entire night round a very sharp bend and down a hellishly treacherous road. The Massachusetts quartet – usually a quintet, but perform with a member missing tonight due to guitarist Grayson Stewart’s commitments with his other band Norma Jean – make their intentions known right from the get go. Those intentions? Carnage, and nothing but carnage. The brute force of their heaviness quickly grabs the attention of the entire room, eyes drawn to the stage as front man Ethan Harrison stomps and snarls across it, looking as though he’s ready to fight anyone that gets close enough. He might’ve actually wanted a little brawl with the non-existent security who fail to catch him post-crowd surf (bravo, security team), but the anger that his trip to the ground fuelled him with fed into the set perfectly. Blazing through pit-rippers like ‘Kingmaker’, ‘Torture World’, ‘Alter Of Snakes’ and the glorious ‘Scorched Earth’ – the latter of which saw Harrison enter the pit and encourage its participants to crush him – their show turns the temperature up a few notches and makes a lot of attendees jaws drop. Their closing number ‘Ann Arbor’ is the perfect closing statement, leaving the room fizzy with energy and craving more. If you’re sleeping on this band, WAKE UP.

Despite most of the crowd already being inside the venue at this point, the crowd felt like it doubled in size ahead of Alpha Wolf’s set, cramming into every available inch of space. As soon as the house lights go down the room roars, and as the band take the stage to rip into ‘Ultra-Violet Violence’ that roar turns into chanting voices, everyone screaming the words back towards them. They have the room in the palm of their collective hands right from the off; every low ‘n slow chug from Scottie Simpson and Sabian Lynch, every bone-shattering drum hit from Mitch Fogarty, every thunderous bass hit from John Arnold and the rage-fuelled, blood curdling vocals of Lochie Keogh all cause the collective adrenaline in the venue to surge, and everything they do keeps that adrenaline at peak levels.

Alpha Wolf treat their hungry onlookers to riotous performances of some of the tastiest moments in their catalogue, including the furious ‘Creep’, the brutish ‘Acid Romance’, the venomous ‘Russian Roulette’ and the captivating ballad-hybrid ‘Bleed 4 You’, but there are a couple of stand out moments. Recent single ‘60cm Of Steel’, a collaboration with UK favourites Holding Absence, was one of them. Lucas Woodland wasn’t in attendance to sing his parts, but his vocals were in the mix and coming through the PA, encouraging the crowd to erupt with flailing limbs and bellowing voices, at times drowning out the band with their volume. Closing their set with ‘Akudama’ is a genius move, forcing everyone to deplete their energy reserves for one final thrashing that leaves everyone absolutely speechless. This was their first time back here in three years, and their commanding set completely made up for the lost time. They could be headlining this place in a few years time, mark our words.

After an opening one-two-three like that it’s amazing that the crowd still has any gas in the tank for Polaris, but you can feel the entire room is itching to witness one Australia’s finest modern metalcore exports lay waste to their biggest ever headline UK show. As soon as their huge backdrop becomes illuminated the pit opens up in anticipation of the first note, and the chaos explodes the second that ‘Pray For Rain’ leaps into action. Vocalist Jamie Hails tirelessly dashes across the stage unleashing his intensely vicious vocal to the entire room, with every head from the front row right up to the highest balcony fixed on him as they immediately demonstrate just how worthy they are of a headline slot here. Everything that follows is a whistle stop tour through all of the band’s biggest and best moments, and they don’t turn the intensity down even for a second.

Ripping straight into ‘Vagabond’ ensures that the pit stays active, with guitarist Ryan Siew and Rick Schneider laying down their riffs so mechanically tight it could be a recording of the album. The needle-point accuracy ricochets around the venue like a bullet, and they keep that level of musicianship through the entire set. The discordant panic-inducing ‘Hypermania’ is one of the set highlights that sees one of the largest collective headbangs of the evening, ‘Above My Head’ sees bassist and vocalist Jake Steinhauser lead the onlooking masses through a loud and powerful singalong, ‘Landmine’ explodes like an actual landmine and the entire venue gets caught in the blast – it’s just blow after devastating blow, and everyone in attendance has the stamina to stay standing until the final punch.

The only real moment of rest comes in the form of ‘Masochist’, one of the calmer tracks in the catalogue, but even then it still hits like a cannonball to an eggshell. The audiences bellowing of “Am I addicted to the misery? Is this how I’ll always be?” almost drowns out the PA, much to the bands delight as their faces all beam with pure adulation. Ending the main set with fan favourite ‘Lucid’ picks the pace back up for one final hurrah, every glistening groove-laden riff encouraging the pit to squeeze every last ounce of energy into the room, creating a mini whirlwind before the band disappear for JUST long enough for some people to actually believe the night was over.

When the band returned to the stage they were met with rapturous applause, and rightly so. Polaris have established themselves as one of the front runners for metalcore not only in their native Australia but in the world, and tonight’s sold out show displays that the UK are happy to keep them on that pedestal. Wasting little time to see off the evening in style, ‘Martyr (Waves)’ slowly drifts into being, with Steinhauser’s sincere and note-perfect delivery preparing the crowd for the emotional onslaught that follows when the whole band bursts back into action. It feels a bit like a celebration, the epic nature of the track washing over the venue as everyone stares in awe at the masterclass they’ve seen play out before them. Having caught their breath, the dancefloor opens back up one final time for a deadly performance of ‘The Remedy’, with Hails’ line “black clouds hover low like a curse” summoning the remaining demons in the room to be expelled with one last outburst of breakdown-induced energy. They leave the stage grinning and the crowd leaves the venue in the exact same way, and we want nothing more than to do it all over again. Metalcore is very much alive and well, and with bands like Polaris in the fold putting on shows this devastatingly flawless, it’s going to be healthy for a very long time.