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[Review] Polaris @ Bar On The Hill, Newcastle 13/09/2023

Review By Raelee Atkinson

Most people generally aren’t fond of the mid-week gig, but when Sydney Metalcore band, Polaris announced a mammoth tour with three other ‘core bands from the USA and coinciding with the release of their new album, Fatalism, Novacastrians put aside the fact that it was a weeknight, and bought up their tickets quick smart! In no time, the concert was sold out. 

At the last minute, the gig was moved outside and a few extra tickets were released for the stragglers.

Finally, Newcastle’s turn to headbang and circle pit had arrived.

This mammoth metalcore extravaganza was held at Bar On The Hill, the University of Newcastle's student union bar. Upon arrival at 6pm I could hear that the first band had just begun their set. I made my way swiftly to the outdoor area to watch Currents, from Connecticut, USA, who played a cracking 25 minute set consisting of Living In Tragedy, Remember Me, The Death We Seek, Monsters, Better Days and ending their set with Into Despair. Currents’ melodic, riff heavy, djenty sound, while singer Brian Wille alternates between clean and harsh vocals was the perfect way to start the evening. Personally, I would have been a happy camper if these guys played for at least another half-a or so. 

After a quick stage changeover, the next band who walked on stage were Kublai Khan TX, hailing from Texas, hence the TX in their name. The band's main sound consists of heavy, slow breakdowns, heavily downtuned guitars and raspy, harsh vocals. It’s like treacle in your ears. Kublai Khan TX played a 25 minute sludge-fest of a set that included, The Hammer, Self-Desctruct, Boomslang, Resentment, Swan Song, Theory Of Mind and ended with the crowd favourite, Antpile. The crowd gave Kublai Khan TX respect by making dog noises and circle moshing themselves into a lather of sweat.

It was time for another efficient stage changeover and then the crowd welcomed Grammy nominated, Pennsylvanian metalcore minotaurs, August Burns Red, to the stage. 

August Burns Red’s signature sound is a combination of progressive and djent metal elements which include melodic guitar riffs, technical time signatures and heavy breakdowns. Unlike most other melodic metalcore singers, lead vocalist, Jake Luhrs generally does not mix clean vocals with his screams and growls. The other element that sets August Burns Red apart from other metalcore bands, is that most of their songs do not contain a chorus. ABR played a powerful 45 minute set that kept the crowd entertained with circle pits, headbanging, moshing, and even a spot of rowing, the crowd was warmed up and ready to give their all for the main band to follow. ABR’s set included bangers old and new such as The Truth Of A Liar, Meddler, Invisible Enemy, Backfire, Revival, Bloodletter, Paramount, Composure, Mariana’s Trench and rounded out the set with White Washed. Bro’s mate was frothing these guys, a long time fan, who growled along with Luhrs – it was impressive. I admit, I’ve struggled to connect with this band, listening on Spotify leading up to this gig, but live, OMG, live these guys shine. 

The final changeover progressed quickly, then the stage lights dimmed and the PA played an assortment of classic songs that had the crowd singing along loudly. At 8:45pm it was finally time for the beloved ARIA nominated Sydneysiders to take the stage. The crowd swelled and shuffled towards the front, Polaris appeared on the stage amid a thick fog with cheers and applause, opening with Harbinger followed by single, Nightmare. The audience was divided in half and as Hypermania played, and as the chorus hit, the crowd ran towards each other in a ‘wall of death’. After With Regards was performed, the mosh pit began rowing enthusiastically. During Lucid, All Of This Is Fleeting, Landmine and Overflow, there were several circle pits, some crowd surfing and a lot of energetic moshing. Girls were perched upon shoulders bobbing in the crowd as the audience sang and danced. Vocalist Jamie Hails, informed the audience that it was the largest headlining audience that Polaris had ever had in Newcastle and expressed his gratitude for making their recently released album, Fatalism, Number 1 on several ARIA charts. 

Midway through the set, Vocalist, Hails quieted the audience as he spoke of their recent loss of guitarist, Ryan Liew, and thanking the crowd for the outpouring of love, support, and messages, he talked about the importance of finding someone to talk to and how difficult it is for the family and friends who lose a loved one by suicide. He encouraged everyone to “be there” for each other. The crowd was quiet and respectful during this chat then the band played Martyr as the audience held up their mobile phones with the torch on, lighting up the area, making the courtyard look as if it were lit up for fairy lights as everyone sang along loudly. I could feel the outpouring of love and respect for this band by the audience. 

Then it was time for more circle pits, crowd surfing and moshing during  Parasites, Consume, Dissipate, Massochist and the set was rounded out with Fatalism single, Inhumane. The band left the stage briefly while the audience cheered and yelled for an encore. Polaris complied and returned to perform Pray For Rain and ended the evening with fireworks and The Remedy.

Post gig wrap up:

What an epic night! I’m still buzzing. Three killer bands from the United States and a much loved Aussie band for eighty bucks! That’s a freaking bargain! 

Each band gave their all, each giving a tight set, entertaining the audience, and taking time between songs to communicate a similar message, that the metal community is a family so have fun, do what you want, express yourself any way that you wish, but also that we need to be there for each other, to listen, to care, to share our grief and to pick each other up if we fall. I definitely felt that there was a sense of community amongst the crowd and during the memorial for Ryan there was a shared sadness as we all stood quietly listening to Jamie sharing his thoughts. I no longer hang in the mosh pit, choosing a safer spot at the side instead, but as an observer, the pits looked like so much fun (for youngsters whose joints don't creak and ache), people looked happy and I think the bands really enjoyed the enthusiastic vibe of the audience. 

Polaris put on an incredible performance. The band are energised, riding high on an almost sell out headlining tour, and the massive support for their current album, Fatalism, which is positioned at number one on several charts. I didn’t catch the name of the guitarist, but the dude can shred! It was a pleasure to listen to and watch him perform. The band sounded at least as good as their recordings and Jamie Hails was in fine voice! Expectations surpassed! 

The light show was well coordinated and included quite a bit of fog / smoke and fireworks at the end. For an outdoor gig, the sound was ok, we all know the best sound is back up next to the desk, so from our position on the right side and closer to the stage, the vocals were muddied in the mix, but what you lose in sound quality you gain in vibe and energy. And we got that in spades! From my observation as we exited the venue, everyone appeared to be highly impressed and thrilled with the evening's entertainment.

There are only a couple more dates left on this tour, so if you are Brisbane or Sydney, get your skates on and grab one of the final tickets available. I highly recommend fans of metalcore go and check out this tour – Details on the Destroy All Lines website.

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Album ReviewReviews

August Burns Red – Death Below

For the uninitiated, August Burns Red (ABR) are a two-time Grammy nominated metalcore band from Lancaster Pennsylvania. Since their inception they have, for the most part,  been labeled a “Christian Metalcore” band. Whilst their members are indeed Christians, this in no way indicates that ABR preach , nor do they push any agenda. They are merely musicians who wish to entertain.and who pride themselves in generally promoting positivity and being positive influences.

Forming in 2003 while still in High School, drummer Matt Greiner, and guitarists Brent Rambler and John Benjamin (JB) Brubaker have been the foundation of the band, with vocalist Jake Luhrs and bassist Dustin Davidson both joining in 2006, and together they all remain to make up the current line up.

ABR have made a name for themselves as being a very melodic and atmospheric metalcore band, with some occasional progressive vibes also. Jake Luhrs, unlike many other metalcore vocalists, does not lend his vocals to both screams and clean vocals too much. His are mostly scream vocals.

The upcoming tenth studio album, titled Death Below, is due for release 24/3/2023, and features some heavy hitters in Jesse Leach ( Killswitch Engage) ,Spencer Chamberlain (Underoath), Jason Richardson ( Chelsea Grin and All That Remains) and also JT Cavey (Erra).

In fact the tracks featuring both Jesse and Spencer were some of the first to be released. Ancestry was released on November 3rd 2022, and Reckoning was released on February 22nd, both being received exceptionally well when you look at the plays across all platforms.

One thing that is apparent when listening to Death Below, is that this album seems markedly more deep, dark and personal. Given that writing for this album started right at the beginning of the global pandemic, it is not surprising that there is a vast array of heavy emotion transcending through both the lyrics and music. It was a time in the lives of our generation that was full of dread, with fear of the unknown at times becoming paralyzing for some people. Parts of the world were crippled financially, and we viewed our health, and our place in the world so much more differently than we did before.It took it’s toll on so many, yet, through music ABR have unleashed their feelings and have come through the other side with an album that is sure to be yet another success.

Opening with Premonition, this intro track lulls you in with an airy sound, with unusually clean spoken vocals and then smacks you fair in the face as it shifts seamlessly into The Cleansing. In very typical ABR fashion this is technically brilliant, with exceptionally captivating riffs, and a very likeable melody. At 7:48 minutes long, it takes you on a real  progressive sonic journey.

Ancestry, the track featuring Jesse from Killswitch Engage. is dark and heavy both lyrically and musically. It gets in your face from the get-go as it imparts on feelings of abandonment, and anger within the family. It can be interpreted to reflect many varied family situations and is sure to resonate with fans. This track is touted as being one of the darkest and most personal Jake has ever written. Definitely a highlight of the album for me.

Next up is Tightrope, with the added dimension of having Jason Richardson impart some of his touch. A moderate track of 4:14 long, it is intricate and powerful.

Leading in with a gentle and mesmerizing sound, Fool’s Gold In the Bear Trap quickly hits you with a wall of sound at 1:47 and  is unrelenting until the end.

Backfire has a really strong message within it, along the lines of being responsible for your own decisions. Don’t be influenced by others, and choosing wisely who you follow.

Revival is next, followed by Sevink, which is a 1 minute 23 second shot in the arm of hope and peace amongst all the darkness, or at least that’s how it felt to me.

Dark Divide and Deadbolt come next, both staying true to the ABR formula of searing riffs and solid breakdowns, however I personally found Deadbolt to be a little more catchy and memorable. I found myself going back to it over and again.

The Abyss is a track which  features artist JT Cavey. I found this track to have the cadence and melody of some old school thrash in parts which I really liked.

Reckoning closes out the album, featuring Spencer Chamberlain from Underoath, a band very close to the ABR boys, so it was a very natural collaboration.

All in all, Death Below is yet another feather in the cap of August Burns Red. They have consistently provided absolutely stellar music over the years, maintaining their style, their perfectly intricate musicianship and are a testament to the theory that sticking to the formula that works for you, is often times what the legions of die hard fans want to hear. They don’t vary too much from their tried and true way of doing things, and that’s ok. If you like it ,you like it. And if you don’t, then you don’t. Masses of metalcore fans across the globe love it, and that is a great reason to keep following the path that has brought them so much success to date.

Death Below is out 24/3/23, so if you like what you have heard from August Burns Red before, be sure to check it out. It’s been a long time since we saw them here in 2019, so let’s hope we can get the boys back down, as their last tour kicked some serious ass.

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