LIVE: Spiritbox / Caskets / Vexed @ O2 Academy Islington, London

By Dave Stewart

A little over two years ago in March 2020, Spiritbox were on tour with After The Burial, Make Them Suffer and Polar, making their way across Europe in anticipation of making their UK live debut. The day they boarded the ferry to travel to the UK the entire world shut down because of coronavirus and, as we are all fully aware, live music ceased to exist for a very long time.

Now, with a stunning debut album in tow and the hype surrounding them at an all time high, they’ve finally made it to our shores to play a handful of shows. The demand for their debut Download Festival set was so high they had to move them onto a bigger stage, and you still couldn’t get into the tent to see them. No wonder, then, that they’ve sold out two headlining nights in a row at O2 Academy Islington, with hordes of adoring fans piling into the venue to see one of the most captivating bands around. We’ve managed to get ourselves into night #2, and the venue is already buzzing with excitement before anyone had even stepped on the stage.

Before we get to the main event, though, we need a good warm up, and who better to kick off the evening than the UK’s very own Vexed? Armed with bludgeoning brutality that stems from the weighty guitars and the intense vocals of Megan Targett, they immediately set the tone for the whole night and guide the onlooking masses through a calculated display of sheer metallic power. The set is relentless as is the show that the band put on, no member standing still for even a second, the crowd roaring with approval from beginning to end.

Next up is another homegrown band; hotly-tipped Leeds metalcore quintet Caskets. Their approach to their set perfectly juxtaposing the aggression of the preceding band, swapping out the furious onslaught for big soundscapes, soaring choruses and the almost inhuman vocal precision of Matt Flood. The vibe change provides exactly what the crowd need – a slight breather from the heaviness – and they lap up every second. From the infectious catchiness of ‘Drowned In Emotion’ and ‘Glass Heart’ to the fast-paced and razor-sharp ‘The Only Ones’, they have the crowd in the palm of their hand from the first note to the last and leave the stage what feels like far too soon. Many attendees are left hungry for more, but they’re happy to deal with that hunger for the time being seeing as the next band to take the stage is the one that they had all been waiting for.

There’s a noticeable static that’s swept across the venue on the run-up to Spiritbox’s arrival to the stage. There are people in this room that have waited almost two and a half years for this, people that have only waited a few months since discovering the band via ‘Eternal Blue’, but for all of us it has felt like an eternity. It’s been a very long time since a band shot through the ranks with this much excitement, and that reaches its peak as soon as the lights on the stage dim and the band’s intro music begins. All heads turn to the stage, hundreds of bodies push themselves towards it, and all that matters for the next hour is the band that’s about to step out from the shadows.

Wasting no time getting the audience whipped into a frenzy, Spiritbox burst straight into ‘Circle With Me’ and immediately make their intentions known for everything that’s about to happen. They’ve waited two long years to be able to do this, and they’re going to make as much sonic chaos as is humanly possible. The band, comprised of drummer Zev Rose, guitarist Mike Stringer, session bassist Josh Gilbert and the incredible Courtney LaPlante, waltz and thrash across the stage as a room full of wide and glassy eyes gaze at them in awe. Bleeding straight into the nu-metal-influenced ‘Hurt You’ and the thunderous ‘Yellowjacket’ that sees LaPlante channel her inner Sam Carter as she effortlessly performs both vocal parts, it’s a full throttle start to the evening and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

LaPlante tells the room that she hurt her ankle the previous night and wouldn’t be moving as much in an effort to take care of it, but the music takes over throughout the set and pushes the pain to one side. This exact scenario occurs during the devilishly heavy ‘Rule Of Nines’, the song starting calm and collected, with LaPlante stood right in front of the microphone, but stepping away from it to bask in the heaviness and go where the music takes her. ‘Halcyon’ and ‘Silk In The Strings’ causes the crowd to have the same reaction, the pinpoint accuracy of Stringer’s riff delivery playing a huge part in the multiplying pits and the bodies flying over them right before the first real opportunity for a moment of reflection.

The emotional ‘Constance’ serves as the mid-point of the night, with LaPlante sharing just how much the song means to her and how happy she is that she’s able to perform it. The voices singing the words back at her are deafening, the meaning behind the song clearly resonating with much of the crowd too, and it makes for one of the most heartwarming moments of the night. The following tracks pick the pace back up, the band storming through near-perfect renditions of ‘Blessed Be’, ‘Secret Garden’ and deep cut ‘The Mara Effect Pt 3’, before reaching the coolest moment of the entire evening by a country mile.

The intro music to the monolithic ‘Holy Roller’ erupts through the PA, the room expands into one giant mosh pit, and while it started to swirl into motion LaPlante reveals that a friend will be joining her. Chatter and muffled guesses began to scatter around the room about who it could be, but nobody guesses that it would be ten-year-old Harper who, on the day of the gig, had appeared on America’s Got Talent performing ‘Holy Roller’, getting voted into the next round of the competition. She stands side by side with LaPlante and gives her a run for her money, keeping up with her performance both vocally and physically which has the entire band glowing with adoration, and the crowd reaction is insane. A truly beautiful gesture from the band, nurturing the next generation of talent and making a young girl’s dream come true.

Closing out the evening is ‘Eternal Blue’, swaying through its rich and devastating tones to bring this momentous evening to a triumphant and dramatic end. It’s such a fitting way to close the set, ending with the title track of the record that helped push the band to the point that enabled these sold out shows to be possible, but the now sweaty and battered room still has enough gas in them for one final blowout. They treat us to one last onslaught in the form of ‘Belcarra’, with everyone in attendance indulging in one final energy outpour as the band masterfully skulks their way through its ominous dark tones before finally leaving the stage. The entire room has the same opinion, and that’s because there was only one to have. This was totally worth the wait.

Spiritbox have proven many times that they aren’t just a flash in the pan but now they’ve given that definitive proof to the UK and made sure everyone knows that they’re here to stay. Their musicianship is second to none and the emotions that they’ve woven into their songs radiate from them when they’re performed live. The ever-strengthening connection that the music has been able to create without live performances is incredible, but witnessing that connection really take hold in a venue, band to fan and fan to band, is simply magical. Spiritbox are a truly special band, and this has been a very special night indeed. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another two and a half years for their next appearance, eh?