For a time, some years back, it seemed as though literally every part of the metal world was talking about WHILE SHE SLEEPS as being one of the next big things. Dropping debut album This Is The Six to rave reviews back in 2012, the band quickly found themselves becoming darlings of the British metal press, but a variety of issues meant that by the time they released the arguably superior follow-up Brainwashed in 2015, much of that momentum had seemed to be gone. Undeterred, the band soon ploughed on, leaving their record label behind and crowdfunding a third album, You Are We, directly with their fans. Now, deep into the touring cycle for that album and just a few days removed from opening for ARCHITECTS at London’s legendary Alexandra Palace, we caught up with the final show of the band’s own UK headline run at O2 Ritz Manchester to see if they could finish things off in style.
Tonight’s openers, BLOOD YOUTH, don’t end up actually taking to the stage for a while after their billed time, but that does mean that the Harrogate four-piece get to play to an almost full room tonight, instead of the generally-sparse attendance you might expect from an opener. Immediately bursting onto the stage and kicking into I Remember, the band seem to have a good portion of the assembled crowd on their side almost immediately – with a circle pit that almost engulfs the entire floor quickly forming. Frontman Kaya Tarsus has always been a great frontman to watch, but tonight he especially shines, with an impassioned vocal delivery and a charismatic persona, whilst his bandmates craft absolute sonic chaos behind him. With a set mostly culled from the band’s debut album Beyond Repair, but also taking in their much beloved other EP releases, it’s clear by now that the band have found their groove and easily have the potential to thrive on larger stages such as this.
If what preceded them felt like a nailbomb going off in terms of sheer chaos, then COUNTERFEIT on the other hand, seem like a far more controlled blast by comparison. Led by actor-turned-frontman Jamie Campbell Bower, the five piece waste almost no time in dishing out riff after riff of swaggering punk rock power. Opening with the punchy stomp of As yet Untitled, the pace is quickly set for a set that manages to keep the evening’s momentum going extremely well, as the five men on stage fly through an eight song set of scuzzy punk rock anthems. This is only amplified further when Bower and some of his bandmates take to the crowd itself for their performance of Family Suicide – allowing their fans the chance to get up close and personal, and providing plenty of mic-grabbing moments. It’s a cool moment, and one of the night’s more memorable, and COUNTERFEIT can undoubtedly say they leave tonight having gained a great deal of new fans along the way.
It’s hard to quantify the feeling of pure jubilation that seems to emanate from the room as WHILE SHE SLEEPS take to the stage tonight. In short, this album cycle has felt like a redemption for the band, and their clearly-devoted fans seem out in force to celebrate that fact on this occasion. As all five band members take their positions, there’s an odd feeling of calm, which is promptly shattered as 1500 people bellow in unison the first line of opener You Are We. From there on out, the Sheffield collective proceed to put on what can only be described as a masterclass of a performance, churning out anthem after anthem from across their career. Fan-favourite Seven Hills even crops up just third in tonight’s running order, as frontman Loz Taylor bellows an almighty roar of a chorus that’s immediately reciprocated by just about every person in the building. The likes of Brainwashed and Death Toll quickly follow-up with just as much pace and fury, but tonight, most of the best moments come from the You Are We material. Guitarist Mat Welsh’s ever-increasing presence as a co-vocalist on the newer tracks adds a whole new depth to the arsenal of WHILE SHE SLEEPS, and when their voices combine on the likes of Empire of Silence, Steal The Sun and Feel, the result is absolutely spectacular. Another of the unexpected highlights of their set however, comes later during fan-favourite This Is The Six, in which Mat pulls a fan from the crowd to play his guitar. It’s a cool moment, and one that really helps hammer home the sentiment behind the song, and shows just how much the band value their fanbase.
The riffs don’t stop there though, as a back to back pairing Our Courage, Our Cancer and Steal The Sun shows perfectly how the band have always been capable of writing colossal songs across their entire career to date. That it’s then followed up by a monolithic rendition of Crows from their debut EP The North Stands For Nothing is nothing short of ludicrous either, as the floor opens wider than ever before and bodies begin to once again fly everywhere. As the evening gradually begins to reach its climax, there’s still more to come though, as WHILE SHE SLEEPS proceed to pull out one of the most ridiculously strong three-song runs in music to close things off – a positively titanic run-through of the anthemic Four Walls, followed up with Silence Speaks and Hurricane, that firmly puts to bed that this has been anything other than the greatest WHILE SHE SLEEPS show to ever hit Manchester. Wherever they choose to go next isn’t yet clear, but based on tonight’s performance, they surely can’t be far away from that massive breakthrough they’ve deserved for far too long now.
Check out our photo gallery from the explosive night in Manchester from Em Coulter Photography here: