LIVE: While She Sleeps / Loathe @ Underworld, London

By Dave Stewart

Picture the scene; it’s Friday night, you’re in London, you’re on your way to a completely sold out Underworld and you’re about to see one of this country’s finest metalcore bands, While She Sleeps. Six months ago you’d have pinched yourself and woken up from your dream, resuming your daily routine of staring out of your window and finding new ways to hate the government, but those days are gone. Live music is back, nights like this are possible again, and we were beyond thrilled to be in attendance to the band’s third sold out show at this iconic venue. We still hate the government though, but we won’t bring that up again. This is ALL about the music. Man, it’s nice to be able to write live reviews again.

Opening the evening are Liverpool’s rising stars Loathe, a band that have quickly become one of the UK’s most treasured talents. Their performance cements exactly why the country has embraced them; aurally visceral, visually hypnotic and an unapologetically commanding live presence, there is no stage that they can’t dominate and no audience they can’t win over. The slowly growing Underworld crowd has had an air of nervousness, this being the first live gig back for some attendees, but Loathe have squashed that anxiety beneath their Dr Martens almost immediately.

Opening their set with the brazen barrage of ‘Red Room’, everything that follows is like a strobe-lit waltz through both the heaviest and most serene moments of their catalogue. The gurn-inducing, chug-tastic tightness of ‘Gored’ and the insatiable grooves of ‘Servant And Master’ stir the crowd into a frenzy with vocalist Kadeem France towering over the pit and effortlessly conducting its movements, and the beautifully intense ‘Two-Way Mirror’ shifts their atmosphere and summons a borderline deafening singalong that visibly moves the band. From light to dark, crushing to calm, they put on a stunning display that stuns both fans and newcomers alike.

We know as soon as Loathe take to that stage that we are going to be treated to over 30 minutes of sweet, sweet carnage, and boy do they deliver. What we don’t know, however, is that it’s going to be guitarist and founding member Connor Sweeney’s final live performance with the band, announcing his departure from the band a day later. Looking back at the night, it will feel bittersweet, but in the moment, the atmosphere among the blissfully unaware masses in that room is a mixture of awe and adrenaline, and Loathe provide the perfect warm up for the energy explosion that is about to hit the stage.

On the run up to While She Sleeps’ set, the room attendance seems to double in size. It definitely doesn’t – maybe a handful of people arrived late or piled in from the bar – but there seem to be so many bodies crammed together, all eagerly anticipating their arrival. Surprising? Well, if the headlining act has a live reputation for pure chaos and a horde of songs that provide a voice for a passionate generation, then it most certainly isn’t. It is exactly what you’d expect, and the show that ensues exceeds everybody’s expectations.

As soon as the lights dim, the crowd roared with excitement, and when the opening notes of ‘SLEEPS SOCIETY’ creep in, the volume continues to soar. By the time front man Loz Taylor screams the open-armed statement “Welcome to the Sleeps Society” the room is already full of flailing limbs, surfing bodies and beaming grins, and this is just the beginning. What follows is over an hour of restless, energetic and utterly faultless metalcore, performed by one of the best to ever do it.

Without missing a beat they launch into the furious ‘ANTI-SOCIAL’, the whole room morphing into a swirling storm, and though it dips in intensity a few times, that storm keeps thundering for the entire set. The violent riffage of ‘Brainwashed’, the addictive bounce of ‘INSPIRE’, the impassioned cries evoked by ‘Four Walls’ and the infectious riot ‘Silence Speaks’ all throw more fuel onto the fire, Taylor repeatedly telling the crowd that the stage belongs to them and encouraging more mayhem with every note.

There area few well placed breathers in the set, which both the band and the crowd need to prevent them from passing out in the heat or wearing themselves out due to the non-stop pandemonium. The anthemic chorus of ‘I’VE SEEN IT ALL’ provides a beautiful lighter-worthy moment, but it’s too hot to even consider igniting a flame. The enormous ‘You Are We’ sees the entire room erupt with those very words, the band all grinning as they take in what they’ve created.

Then there’s the crowd-favourite ‘Hurricane’, the emotionally powerful ‘NERVOUS’ and the uplifting belter ‘KNOW YOUR WORTH (SOMEBODY)’, all rounded off by a furious closing performance of ‘SYSTEMATIC’ that sees about half the crowd storm the stage in absolute bedlam. And then, just like that, fans slowly re-enters the crowd and the night was over. Everyone is covered in sweat and beer, all teetering on boiling point, but we all share one exact same thought: “That was incredible”.

You’d have thought that playing three sold out shows in a compact, volcanically-hot venue would’ve taken its toll and at least worn the band out a little but the performance they put on looks like it could’ve been the first show of the entire tour. No matter how high the temperature gets, the band just don’t stop moving (apart from the occasional lie down post-song accompanied by the declaration of “fuck me, it’s hot up here”). One minute Taylor is rolling around on top of the crowd and hugging the venues pillars, the next he’s draped over the kick-drum, then he disappears and emerges on the balcony before front-flipping onto a welcoming bed of clammy hands. The band are no different, lifting crowd surfers onto the stage and flailing around them before they eject themselves back into the sea of onlookers. They’re tireless entertainers, and their dedication to putting on a good show is second to none.

If this was your first gig back, you’d have found yourself completely mesmerised and full of joy, fully immersed in the atmosphere and glad to have live music back. If it wasn’t, you’d have felt exactly the same, and that’s the beauty of this band. They’re one of the most exciting and consistent bands in the UK metal scene, and no matter what your relationship is with them the whole audience leaves their shows with the exact same feeling. Pure ecstasy.