LIVE: Stray From The Path / The Devil Wears Prada / Loathe / Gideon @ O2 Academy Islington, London

By Dave Stewart

If there’s one thing that everybody knows about Stray From The Path, it’s that they’re angry. They’re angry about politics, religion, racism, social injustice, abuse and homophobia, and a whole lot more. If Stray From The Path know anything about their audience, it’s that they’re angry too, and about all the same things with just as much passion and venom brewing inside them. The music they create isn’t just a call to arms, but also acts as an open invitation for those listening to vent and let off some steam, all the while standing up for what they believe in. Their live performances provide a perfect opportunity for that invitation to be used, and everyone knew exactly what to expect when their UK tour made its way to 02 Academy Islington. Bringing some of the best acts in metalcore with them for the ride, this was a triumphant night in Stray From The Path’s already glittering career.

As attendees began to pile themselves into the venue, hardcore giants Gideon took to the stage to launch their muscular riffs directly into peoples faces. Opening with the furious ‘Bite Down’ before quickly erupting straight into the heavy groove-laden gem ‘Cursed’, it didn’t take long for those faces to scrunch up in appreciation, enticing the first pit of the night to open up in record time. Their riffs are enormous, echoing through the venue like a sonic boom as they ensured everyone in the room had their attention fixated on them. Powering through newer jams ‘SLEEP’ and ‘2 CLOSE’ as well as older monsters ‘Champions’ and ‘Freedom’ gave those experiencing Gideon for the first time a well rounded offering of exactly what they’re capable of. For those that have already been to this party, it served as a potent dose of exactly what they expected. A hard hitting, bold and ballsy start to the evening.

Next to take the stage was Loathe, flying the flag for homegrown metal on this stellar line up. With a fan base quickly growing and an already impressive live reputation, it’s no surprise that the venue was packed in time for their performance. With the stage drenched in moody red light, they ripped straight into newest release ‘Aggressive Evolution’, and the crowd wasted no time bursting into action, opening the pit up wide and keeping it in motion for the entirety of the set. Every note that followed connected like a sledgehammer, from the mind-blowing riff-work of ‘Servant and Master’ and the sludgy punishment of ‘Gored’ to the pulsating mammoth ‘Dance On My Skin’ and the furious set closer and fan favourite ‘It’s Yours’. Every ounce of tone was delivered with real clarity and precision, which both added to the weight of their set and made it blatantly obvious why they’ve amassed this level of reputation and respect in the short time they’ve been a band. A powerful display from one of the UK’s finest modern exports.

The third band to take the stage was metalcore legends The Devil Wears Prada, and it’s safe to say the venue was hungry to devour their set. Sat atop one of the most adored back catalogues from what is widely regarded as the golden age of the genre, they had plenty of weaponry in their arsenal to choose from and managed to whittle it down to a solid assortment of some of its most impressive contents. The first portion of their set was pure aural onslaught, dominating the stage with new cut ‘Switchblade’ before causing absolute chaos with the surprise early inclusion of classic ‘Danger: Wildman’. Vocalist Mike Hranica darted across the stage and commanded the crowd into a frenzy, the band keeping the tornado in the centre of the room swirling with a soaring performance of ‘Worldwide’. They left no opportunity to catch your breath, no time to stand still – they took the stage and made it theirs, and by the end of the first three songs the entire room was enchanted.

The rest of their set was a turbulent ride, jumping from soul-crushing tremors to tranquil havens at a moments notice. ‘Assistant To The Regional Manager’ beckoned the crowd into a mass singalong, screaming the guitar melody back to stage amidst a sea of flailing limbs. New songs ‘Lines Of Your Hands’ and ‘Chemical’ surged through the crowd like a static explosion and demonstrated just how much the band have grown, able to paint a far more detailed emotional picture than they could a decade ago. That said, set closers ‘Anatomy’, ‘Planet A’ and the gut-wrenching powerhouse ‘Born To Lose’ also proved that, sometimes at least, brute force is all that’s required to make a lasting impact. An excellent set from a band that have helped pave the way for a lot of today’s metalcore acts.

The bar was set high for the evening, with every band running up to the main event putting on incredibly energetic and musically tight performances. But, no matter how good the openers were, tonight belonged to Stray From The Path. It was clear that the majority of the crowd were here solely to see them perform, with merch and Downbeat (drummer Craig Reynolds’ podcast) shirts scattered throughout the room. It became even more clear as soon as they took the stage and played the opening notes of ‘Fortune Teller’. Front man Drew York didn’t really need to say his opening line as the crowds chant of “firewalk with me” drowned out his vocals almost entirely. Now the show had really started, and this was just the beginning of the chaos.

They made their intentions for the remainder of the evening immediately clear – no holds barred, unadulterated rage, delivered with pure adrenaline-fuelled precision. Their set was potent and unstable from the off, every single song threatening to stir the chemicals in the cauldron and blow the roof off of the venue. The opening moments were relentless, not allowing onlookers a shred of recovery time as they blasted through monolithic renditions of ‘The Opening Move’, ‘Outbreak’ and the rampaging ‘Goodnight Alt Right’. Launching into each song without warning they effectively forced the crowd into action and just kept stirring them into a frenzy, creating a room crammed full of passionate, hungry metalheads with an appetite for even more sonic devastation.

The show may have appeared to have occasional breaks where York would address the crowd, but it felt as though the onslaught was never ending. His speeches were rife with the same fury and fervour as the music, blurring into the music like a rage-filled storm. From the earth-shattering low grumbles of ‘Kickback’ to the anthemic gang chants of ‘D.I.E.P.I.G’, the politically venomous ‘The House Always Wins’ to the brutal gut-wrenching assault of ‘Second Death’, the pace didn’t let up for a single moment. And to think, the best was still yet to come.

After a brief exit from the stage the venue became drenched in red and blue lights, police radio chatter oozing from the PA as static and drones slowly swelled in the background. The band retook the stage, and guitarist Tom Williams took centre stage as he wailed into the opening notes of ‘Badge & A Bullet’. The Rage Against The Machine vibes are impossible to ignore in this track in both the lyrical flow and the Tom Morrello-esque guitar work, igniting a fire in the hearts and minds of every attendee and enticing them to take action for one last time.

Nothing could have prepared the venue for the ferocious and hard-hitting performance of ‘First World Problem Child’ though, with what felt like every lung in the building screaming “shut the fuck up” back at the stage. The song is an undeniable riot-starter, made even more dangerous by a surprise guest vocal spot from their close friend and Architects front man Sam Carter. Together they brought the evening to a close and left the crowd satisfied, but hungry. This was a musical banquet of the highest quality, with every single person in the room wanting to make another reservation before they’d even left the venue.

The caliber of bands tonight was phenomenal, but Stray From The Path towered over everything that preceded their performance. Their power and precision could was felt by everyone in attendance, coursing through the room and forcing hairs to stand on end and limbs to flail in chaotic unison. Seemingly going from strength to strength and their intensity continuously rising, this show was an important milestone in their career. Breaking the crowd-surfing record during the biggest headline show of their career, blowing the minds of every single person in the sold out venue. They’ve set the bar incredibly high for themselves, but with the way they’re progressing they’ll effortlessly leap over it with plenty of airspace beneath them. Truly astounding.