• Charlotte Hardman

Of Mice & Men - Liverpool O2 Academy 2 - 13.11.18 / Louder Live

Beneath the darkening skies, the wandering pigeons and the rumble of trains coming in and out of Lime Street station, buried in the depths of the city’s underbelly, Liverpool’s O2 Academy 2 feels almost like a secret hideaway, where misfits gather and where expecting the unexpected is simply the norm. Even to the venue’s regulars, however, having a band as influential as Californian metalcore giants Of Mice & Men gracing their compact stage is an unmissable experience. When any band who is used to playing huge festival headline sets on giant arena stages finds their way back to the heart of a city’s pulsing basement venues, you know it’s set to be a night to remember. However, with a new album ‘Defy’ recently unleashed upon the world and a remoulded line up ready to prove to the world what they’re capable of, this was set to be an event of epic proportions!

Kicking off the night in style, and riding high off the recent release of their second full-length ‘Greater Than’ were openers Shvpes, who, with their blend of meaty vocals and chugging guitars, were an unexpected but welcome surprise! The crashing hook into the opening of ‘Calloused Hands’ was enough to capture the attention of the packed room, carrying them along with a melody that had more than enough bite, but also allowed each layer of the song enough room to breathe, a difficult but admirably executed balancing act. The fist-pumping chorus vocals on ‘Afterlife’ would have easily been able to fill out much larger stages, while the galloping ‘Undertones’ glowed with a subtle danger, like a hot coal burning softly in a dying hearth. Despite the potency of Shvpes’ vocals, there was enough zest in their guitar lines that they avoided being dragged down into the dark quagmire of stodgy metalcore, proving that successfully walking the line between intensity and vitality is not something saved only for metal’s huge names.

Next up on the bill were hometown boys Loathe, and from the first second of their set, one was given the impression of being thrust headfirst into a swirling tornado made up of screeching guitars, thundering drums and frontman Kadeem France’s electric screams! The experimental and explosive ‘White Hot’ boasted a crunching bassline and clean vocals that rise and swoop in amongst the guttural screams, while ‘Servant and Master’ opens with a section of Korn-esque distorted guitars before passing through a calm fluidity filled with warped synths and blurry vocals, and then descending into slow but deliberately crushing guitars and rumbling basslines. The band are playing with the boundaries of the metal genre, pushing it outwards in all directions to create a new, distorted vision that is all their own, and it’s a spark that’s catching- even the momentary lulls between songs were filled with the rhythmic chanting from the band’s small but fierce legion of hometown supporters! Towards the end of the set, the tidal wave of noise did begin to become somewhat impenetrable, and the relentlessly ferocious nature of the set had sapped the energy of several of the crowd, slowly depleting the circle of moshers. However, Loathe are certainly a band clamouring to be heard, and, in short sharp bursts, they are impossible to ignore.

At last, it was the turn of the veritable giants that are Of Mice & Men to take to the stage, and the weight of their presence fell like a blanket over the room from the moment they stepped out into the spotlight- a gravitas that was shattered as the first earth-shaking note blasted out across the room! The tracks from their latest album ‘Defy’, the first the band have produced as a four-piece since health issues forced the sad departure of frontman Austin Carlile last year, shone like the jewel in this band’s star-studded crown. The title track itself was a whirlwind of impassioned screams, relentless chugging guitars and a fist-pumping chorus that whipped the mosh pit into a frenzy in no time! The other tracks taken from the album also more than held their own when woven in amongst the band’s classics. The most memorable moment of the night came as the infinitely poignant ‘Unbreakable’ soared over the crowd, a forest of hands raising to the sky as the repetition of ‘I’m not afraid’ built from the sizzling verses into an anthemic chorus that just begs to be screamed from the rooftops with every ounce of that self-same energy that the band has poured into its bellowing guitars and affecting lyrics that paint a powerful reclamation of strength and defiance in the face of adversity. Of Mice & Men are a band reborn, like a phoenix from the ashes, and with it they have continued to raise the bar to new, even headier heights.

Yet the band's older tracks also more than held up when juxtaposed by their new material. Bassist-turned-frontman Aaron Pauley took both the screams and the clean vocals of their older tracks, especially the likes of the cataclysmic ‘Bones Exposed’, with it’s deep, guttural screams, swirling, writhing guitars and it’s melodic, undulating chorus, effectively in his stride. Painful irony of the title aside, one of the night’s highlights was undoubtedly ‘Will You Still Be There’- the soaring vocals rode on the crest of the pummelling drums and burly bassline that sent the mosh pit into a swirling frenzy, hands narrowly missing the ceiling, punching the air with each pounding syllable! The passion with which Aaron enunciated each syllable of ‘Pain’, a track heavily influenced by their former frontman’s battle with Marfan Syndrome, was palpable throughout the room: the depth and magnitude of the roaring bassline was only enhanced by the very real waves of pain of a different sort that rolled off the stage. Yet the sense of hurt was more than matched by the palpable essence of hope and of unity that filled the small room. Here was a band who have picked themselves up and been remoulded, stronger than ever in the face of adversity, and both the jokes and the sweat that were shared between band and audience in equal measure stand as a testament to the fact that that connection has definitely not been severed either.

Though they took the small cocoon of a room in their stride, it is clear that Of Mice & Men are a band who have retained all the drive and the desire to continue to stake their claim on the big stages of tomorrow, and it will be a delight to see them back there in the hopefully not too distant future.

‘Defy’ is out now via Rise Records. Watch the video for the latest single ‘Instincts’ below:

Connect with Of Mice and Men on Twitter: @OMaM

Connect with Of Mice and Men via their website: www.ofmiceandmenofficial.com

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