LIVE: Spiritbox / Loathe / Brand Of Sacrifice @ The Academy, Dublin

By Fiachra Johnston

Bands like Spiritbox are a rare treat for Ireland. As far as popular destinations on an EU tour go, it seems to be quite low down on the list, and given the ballooning costs of international touring, it’s an expensive accessory for any group who want to add a little spice to a UK tour. So when Canadian metal outfits come knocking? You answer the door, and you answer it with gusto. Fortunately, a rain-slicked and metal-starved Dublin crowd of 1000 have done just that, escaping the downpour outside to give the troupe a proper welcome.

The already humid crowd cramming the main room venue is greeted first by Toronto based deathcore group Brand of Sacrifice. The main stage is a surprisingly narrow affair that can barely contain the equipment sprawled across, and it contrasts vocalist Kyle Anderson’s intimidating stature. Clad in body armour and opening up with demonic howls of ‘Dawn’, the band look like mythological titans. Yet for someone who takes up a solid quarter of the stage, Anderson still finds a way to navigate around the joint, maniacally conducting the crowd through tracks from their new ‘Between Death And Dreams’ EP. BOS are part of a wave of intense North American deathcore like Lorna Shore that never really made roots in Ireland, but the crowd take to their seven-track set with open arms, matching the mania onstage as Rob Zalischi breaks in the speaker system with some apocalypse-heralding drums in ‘Exodus’. To the dedicated few in the Academy who dare crank up the temperature even further in the pit, it’s a perfect malevolent warm up, and for the rest of the crowd, it’s a suitably berserk first act that sets the tone for the night perfectly.

For many in the crowd, Spiritbox were not the only band in high demand for an Irish show. Despite being so close by, the Liverpudlians of Loathe make their debut in Ireland for the first time here tonight, and the mighty reception they receive seems well deserved after the show they put on. Despite their recent breakout songs being melodic metal tracks a la Sleep Token, they are as much a wall of sound as Brand of Sacrifice before them, and silhouetted against a pure red backdrop, the quartet introduce the crowd to their own slice of hell with ‘Aggressive Evolution’. With 12 tracks in their set they’re practically a headliner in terms of length, and Kadeem France has all the charisma a main event player requires, bathed in red light like some bloodthirsty war god. Though it would have been nice to see some more tracks outside of ‘I Let It In and It Took Everything’ bar the two we get, it’s a fantastic album to see live, France and cohorts Erik Bickerstaffe and Feisal El-Khazragi swanning between the machine-gun violence of ‘New Faces in the Dark’ and uplifting shoegaze/metal hybrids like ‘Two-Way Mirror’. While the crowd believe they’re about to be sent off to Spiritbox with the popular ‘Is It Really You?’, in reality Loathe were never going to leave the crowd feeling mellow. Instead setting things alight one more time with ‘Gored’, the energy, and heat, in the main room is perfectly maintained for what is yet to come.

Despite the difference in stature, Courtney LaPlante stands as tall as any of the acts that have come before her. The screeching electronic intro to ‘Rule of Nines’ is enough to send the crowd into overdrive before the first guitar notes even hit. Our opening half-dozen salvo of tracks are dedicated to some of the hits of ‘Eternal Blue’ and the latest single releases, with the one-two combo of ‘Hurt You’ into ‘Yellowjacket’ serving up the perfect combination of sweet and sour. Clean and rough vocals swirl together as LaPlante’s stage presence moves between mesmerisingly ethereal and monstrously chaotically, and though Sam Carter is not in attendance for ‘Yellowjacket’, LaPlante is more than metal enough to comfortably fill his role with bassist/co-vocalist Josh Gilbert aiding to keep the energy at maximum.

Much like the performers, the lighting setup plays with contrast to great effect. Though the main room is limited in its space it’s used to its fullest, shimmering spotlights piercing through the crowd at regular intervals while the backing screen flares up with everything from hazy black smoke to cobwebbing tree branches. The blaring pinks and reds of ‘Silk in the Strings’ play against the moody blues of ‘Rotoscope’. Often, such as during ‘Circle With Me’, the two are merged, soft and sharp played against each other as the stage lights up a brilliant violet.

That doesn’t mean the show is formulaic: the myriad of flickering TV screens that appear signal ‘The Mara Effect, Pt. 3’, a classic from the original 2017 EP that adds its own unique aesthetic to an otherwise uniform show. But, much like their music, there are very few bells and whistles attached to Spiritbox’s live performance. Beyond the stellar lighting and Laplante and co’s own energy, it’s just classic metalcore pushed to its limits. The sinister atmosphere of ‘Hysteria’ gives way to a slower, somber closing duo of ‘Constance’ and the titular ‘Eternal Blue’. LaPlante is frank about what these songs mean to them, both then and now: “They used to make us sad… so feel what you have to feel, and we’ll see you soon”.

You can’t help but wonder if Courtney Laplante and Mike Stringer knew this is where things would be heading after leaving Iwrestledabearonce. Laplante certainly still has a sense of wonder to the whole thing: “I can’t believe this is our job” she remarks, during the first break in the set, seemingly amazed to even be on a UK & Ireland tour. Yet for their debut in the country, it’s an incredible first showing, a pure metalcore gig that lets Spiritbox highlight all of their strengths. By the night’s end, the icy cloudburst the inhabitants of The Academy walk out into feels almost like a relief from the sauna they’ve just escaped. Ireland marks the halfway point in their UK excursion, the final leg of the ‘Eternal Blue Tour’ that has supported the immense swell in popularity their debut record has received. Now set to tour with Shinedown and Papa Roach come September, Spiritbox aren’t planning on resting for very long, which only leaves us hoping they don’t wait too long for a return visit.