Meddling with Metal: August Burns Red, Protest the Hero, and In Hearts Wake

Noise — that’s the first thing you might notice walking in. Friday night, fans leisurely filing through the SOMA Theater entrance. A stand packed up to the brim with band merchandise — lots of spiky letters, a few classic tees. And a stripped-down pit before the stage, walls bare of decoration and stacked with speakers. The atmosphere was homey, despite SOMA looking a little dilapidated.

I’d never been to a metal concert before. Hell, I didn’t even know what to expect. My knowledge began and ended with AC/DC, and I’d only heard a few Metallica songs on the radio, once. Maybe. So, I stood at the edge of the room, felt uncomfortable and pretended that I wasn’t, and wondered when the show would start.

The filler music receded, and opening act ‘68 strode onto the stage. Fan conversation simmered down to a murmur, and most watched the two-man band with interest. Doing double-duty as vocalist and guitarist, Josh Scogin strummed a few chords and began.

To say he was loud would be disingenuous — I felt the sound pulsing out, running through the floor and reverberating through my chest. Also, I think my ear popped. He screamed into the microphone stand, ran through chords at dizzying speeds and completed his set with brutally choreographed efficiency. I was duly impressed — I definitely hadn’t seen that level of bombast and spectacle at high-school band performances. So, I was certain that ‘68 would remain the highlight of my night.

I was thoroughly mistaken. I’d heard that the next band — In Hearts Wake, an Aussie group returning stateside — had an eco-friendly kind of deal going on, with an album called “Skydancer,” lyrics about the dying earth and some earthy imagery. I thought I knew what was up. Instead, I received a wailing banshee possessed by a demon, backed by strings from hell. The main man stalked forward, crying out to a frenzied crowd, swinging his arms, throwing back his head. Then, he produced a balloon alligator, jumped onto it and rode over the mosh pit for a few moments before being deposited safely back on stage.

Photo by Christian Duarte

By the time Protest the Hero came on, the crowd had filled out to a considerable size and squeezed into SOMA’s modestly sized theater. Some groupie dancers made their way into the mosh pit and began circling, bouncing and pushing with professional disinterest. These guys were a step up, I gathered — they got their own hype crew. The main singer announced the other members — and an actual baby belonging to one of the members — and got to playing. Smoke leaked from fog machines, obscuring just about everything, and strobe lights packed along the back wall lit up the stage in eerie shades of purple, yellow and blue. I couldn’t see a damn thing, and around this point I’d gone a little deaf. So, I rode out the performance in the hope my hearing would improve enough to hear the main act.

Thankfully, there were a few minutes to relax and stretch before technicians began setting up for August Burns Red. I’d gotten pretty antsy at this point, waiting for the title band. The crowd seemed equally agitated, a few latecomers piling in. A voice soon boomed from the speakers, hyping the performers who came on. At this point, the fans let out restrained applause and cheers. They’d waited three hours and were ready. So was I.

Jake Luhrs stalked across the stage, posed on the riser, shouted into the microphone and swung it about like a lasso — all with surgical precision. Sleeves rolled up, his shirt hanging off him, heavy with sweat, Luhrs seemed half-dead with the effort. It was fantastic. The listeners bobbed their heads along to the beat and mimed drum solos with the track. The mosh pit had expanded with a few tertiary ones splitting off in other areas. Smoke hung in the air, music blared. Then, it ended. After a finale set, Luhrs and August Burns Red filed offstage, the lights brightened and concertgoers made for the exit.

It was buckets of fun, completely unexpected at that. Next time, though, I’m bringing a pair of earplugs.

Date: January 27, 2017
Location: SOMA Theater
Photo by Christian Duarte