LIVE: While She Sleeps / Bury Tomorrow / Polaris @ Alexandra Palace

By Katherine Allvey

The sound of thunder and breaking glass shatters our anticipation at Alexandra Palace. The prestigious and legendary venue is sold out for tonight’s show, and its interior filled with the glamour of a festival evening. An image rises onstage of a burning tenement, the embers crackling across the screen. With a burst, the floodlights reveal While She Sleeps, posed like a boyband on a scaffolding catwalk stretching across the stage. After a motionless instant they spring into life and kick off what has to be one of the most visually impressive shows of the year. 

Even before Lawrence Taylor and co launched us into the metal core stratosphere, however, this was a solid night of harder metal. The tragic loss of guitarist Ryan Siew earlier this year has not deterred first act Polaris from making exceedingly cool music that zooms around the sky like a jet. In fact, even the small pit did not put off vocalist Jamie Hails; he flings his hair, squats, bounces and opens his body wide to absorb our screams, all while ripping the most unholy, unclean vocals from the atmosphere around him. The industrial hints in Polaris’ studio sound are minimized live, but thankfully they’re still there in the smoke trails left by each high powered tone from the guitar. Polaris have successfully mined the core of metalcore, making music which is melodic and brutal while being fundamentally very interesting. “Fuck this place up,” demands Hails, and from a distance, a pair of skinny legs in grey jeans kick the sky above the crowd ineffectively as their owner is turned upside down. 

Bury Tomorrow, next in line for our attention, have a Jekyll and Hyde character to their live sound. Vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates moves like a muscular, deliberate dancer, conducting our appreciation, while producing vicious vocals and swearing like a trucker. ‘Black Flame’ utilises his screamed obscenities, unifying them with soul-bearing, harmonic heat from vocalist and keyboardist Tom Prendergast. Bury Tomorrow manage to produce a set which is always heavy, but never oppressive, with nothing added that would dilute the darkness of their sound. Unconsciously, the front few rows have synchronised themselves to Winter-Bates’ every movement, and at points their quieter riffs have a monstrous arcade quality to them. All six members bask in out red reflected applause. During ‘DEATH (Ever Colder)’, their final song, even a security guard on patrol pauses for a few seconds to slam at the edges of the solid crowd. 

Even from the opening chords of ‘SLEEPS SOCIETY’, While She Sleeps have our full focus, almost to a hypnotic degree. Taylor bounces in his sequin bomber jacket over the crystalline, dying-star guitar riffs of ‘YOU ARE ALL YOU NEED’ before the worshipful introduction of ‘THE GUILTY PARTY’ implodes with sledgehammer guitar and toxic, oil drum percussion. Their set is arranged as a narrative, with each section of twenty minutes illustrated by a dynamic backdrop. Their every move creates drama, from exaggerated guitar flings to pauses to let each chord fade out into the distance. There’s also never an off moment or a pause in their power. They build an image with each intro then smash it, returning to examine and unearth the remains while the floodlights burn.

It’s not just their spectacular visuals and commitment to providing a show in every sense of the word that delights the fans though, as new track ‘SELF HELL’ receives its live debut through a streetlight yellow haze. It’s a late night, post-clubbing dissolution of a song, stapled back together with guitar strings and soaked in aggression. In the moody breaks, we feel the spirit of Serj Tankian in the song’s righteous fervent rhythm and megaphone vocals. As well as new material, While She Sleeps crack open their rarities box and bring some less-performed tracks out for our enjoyment. ‘Our Courage, Our Cancer’ brings a distinct mood change as the smell of burnt matches from the pyrotechnics signals the halfway point of the show. It’s been reworked as a far more electronic song than it was in the studio, and it’s now an anthem for us all as we reach up to the rolling gas giant projected behind the band. “Put your arm around the person next to you. When this shit kicks in, we are united,” preaches Taylor before the white lights above him slice down like blades and fantasy notes begin ‘Our Legacy’. Whether the tempo is fast or slow, the band’s intensity does not let up for a second. There’s a desolation in each member’s isolated parts before they join together like a rocket launch.

After ninety minutes of a fairly unrelenting set, there’s a long blackout. Someone begins an impromptu singalong of ‘Hey Baby’ before an evil laugh echoes through the arena. A vast boom shakes us and the graphics shift to a slowly moving sunrise as the organ kicks in. We’re recharged by the perpetually splintering guitar, before Taylor emerges with a question. “Want a fucking old song?” he asks rhetorically before the melancholy guitar fuzz of ‘Seven Hills’ breaks over a hopeful vocal. It’s the final song, our “last chance to mosh” as Taylor puts it, that really pushes our admiration over the edge. The pit for ‘Anti-Social’ is less a circle than a vast swathe, a stripe which stretches from the stage to the sound desk. Between the minute pauses for drum pops, Taylor crawls on his hands and knees across the scaffolding. Wind chime effects repeat endlessly over the echo of “bullshit” before the song ends with an atomic roar of everything they and we have left. The graphics drop to plain white, with only the silhouette of a Hollywood sign reading ‘SLEEP’. The narrative has ended and While She Sleeps are back to being humans again. They MC their own departure, take selfies and wish us a safe trip home as ‘Forget about Dre’ plays on the sound system and the magic of the show burns itself into memory. 

This was a show which deserves our respect. While She Sleeps sustained a frenetic and powerful show without pause for close to two hours. Every inch of the usually banal space was transformed into a cinematic experience, a passage to new worlds where our favourite songs were converted to pure energy. A film of this set is what should be shown to outraged civilians who think metal is monotonous and aggressive, because the bar has been raised across the genre for what can be accomplished in a single show.