HEARTSUPPORT FEST 2023 Day 1 Recap - Metalcore And Modern Metal With A Heartfelt Message Invades Central Florida

February 24, 2023, 4 weeks ago

Words by Jonathan Smith | Photos by Joel Barrios

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Metalcore is best understood by its emotionally-charged and highly confessional character, to the point where one might rightly dub it as metal with a heart. For the better part of the past couple decades it has proven a commercial force to be reckoned with, often crossing over into areas of the public consciousness well beyond its Gothenburg and post-hardcore roots. In essence, it’s a sub-genre that is primed for a cause larger than its respective blend of musical styles and often lovelorn lyrical pursuits, and recently a rather substantial two-day festival dubbed HeartSupport Fest would accomplish just that in the tempered climate of Central Florida on February 18 and 19. Spearheaded by August Burns Red front man Jake Luhrs and partnered with the Non-Profit Community Support for Mental Health Group bearing the festival’s name, it comprises a veritable who is who of the American metalcore scene of the 2000s through the present, and carries with it the primary goal of raising funds and awareness for veterans and anyone else dealing with anxiety, depression, and addiction; including numerous video displays in-between the bands’ sets that would add a level of poignancy and depth to the event, and arguably surpassing that of the music itself in many cases.

The first day of festivities would be an exercise in mostly smooth sailing from a logistics standpoint, with the climate proving favorably mild one in the high 60s with a slight breeze. Most of the bands that would filter in and out of the two stages managed to keep to their assigned schedule, barring a couple of slightly late starts that wouldn’t exceed 5 minutes. Nevertheless, even the early acts would garner a heavy degree of audience activity, replete with moshing and crowd surfing, which would reveal a slight logistical oversight in the width of the photo pits, resulting in a narrower space to work in that was often fairly chaotic. Security would be working their proverbial asses off to catch each crowd surfer and settle them out of the pit, resulting in photojournalists exiting the area, after only the second song in certain cases, due to safety concerns. Be this as it may, the highly impressive turnout for the first day was a boon to the festival and all participating bands, with a non-stop line clamoring for all available merch and each person charged with moving the band’s products looking like they’d ran a full-on marathon by the time the day had concluded.

The early entries of the day did well in answering their call to warm up the arriving crowd, making the most of sets that spanned 20 minutes and upwards of 4 to 5 songs. Rocking the Hot Topic Foundation stage at 1:30 PM, Texas-born Christian hardcore quartet and Facedown Records trustees Bloodlines made a solid first splash, sticking to the groovier and traditionally-grounded side of the coin and revving things up something fierce with their signature hit entry “Colder”. Meanwhile over on the Better Help stage at just prior to 2 PM, Connecticut progressive metalcore quintet Currents would make a similarly concise, 20 minute splash but with a few more twists and turns, garnering the most boisterous crowd response with their dense atmospheric and djenting forays “Monsters” and “A Flag To Wave”, but the entirety of their 5-song extravaganza presented a solid dichotomy of raw aggression and refined musical nuance, led by the vicious yet versatile vocals of Brian Wille, whom transitioned from guttural verse to infectiously sung chorus seamlessly at every turn.

As the afternoon progressed, the sets largely stayed short, yet the level of intrigue on display would continue to elevate. Taking the Hot Topic Foundation stage at 2:30 PM would be Scottish metal mainstays Bleed From Within, rocking long hair and a sound that was arguably the closest to the orthodox In Flames one that helped to birth the metalcore style. Indeed, the presentation was a near perfect blend of the aforementioned old Gothenburg sound with the heavier side of American groove metal, with such noted acts as Lamb Of God, Suicide Silence and Pantera also going into the blender and resulting in this outfit’s unique metallic edge amongst the sea of post-hardcore acts. Fans were treated to truly monstrous renditions of such colossal crushers as “I Am Damnation” and “Levitate”, and not a still body would be found among the throngs of avid onlookers. Over at the Better Help stage just after 3 PM, North Carolina rockers He Is Legend would take things in more of a retro-psychedelic meets sludge direction. Led by the almost schizophrenic blend of ragged and downright nasty vocal work of front man Schuylar Croom, their presentation would be informed by the festival’s hardcore theme to a sufficient degree, yet the looser, hard rocking character of odes like “The Seduction” and “The Prowler” struck a far more organic tone that stood out from the pack most auspiciously.

The later afternoon would see the gradual increase in set length for all acts involved, but the energy level and subtle variations in approach would remain consistent. Donning the Hot Topic Foundation stage at 3:30 PM, Arizona-born metalcore mainstays The Word Alive would offer an alternative-tinged and ambient take on things not all that far removed from the sounds of latter-day Linkin’ Park, owing in no small part to the forceful yet often smooth voice of Tyler Smith, though the guitar work of Zack Hansen proved intricate and the contributions of touring guitarist Jose DelRio and drummer Daniel Nelson (both recent acquisitions due to ongoing lineup instability) complemented the band’s dense, keyboard-rich arrangement. Banger entries like “2012”, “Nocturnal Future” and “Life Cycles” stole the show, but this quartet’s entire 30 minute set would prove a consistent marvel for the eye and ear alike. 4 PM over at the Better Help stage would see a more stripped down, hardcore-steeped presentation would commence courtesy of Winnipeg-based quintet Comeback Kid. Taking heavy cues from the glory days of early Suicidal Tendencies and Discharge, this would be a power-packed half hour dominated by guitar-dominated bangers, with thrashing beasts like “Wake The Dead” and “Heavy Steps” shining the brightest amid a sea of moshing and crowd-surfing bodies.

The gravitas of the acts that would continue the succession of half hour kill fests would become even more apparent as the afternoon wore on. 4:30 PM on the Hot Topic Foundation stage would usher in the fittingly flamboyant Ohio-born metalcore titans The Devil Wears Prada. Though their six-person arrangement made for a more crowded stage, they brought the same level of fire and intensity that they displayed a year ago at the Blue Ridge Festival, featuring heavy and hectic performances of noted cruisers as “Watchtower”, “Sacrifice” and “Salt” that would have the crowd in a state of total elation. The aggression factor would be amped up even further over on the Better Help stage at 5 PM with the entry of Texas metalcore masters Memphis May Fire. Their presentation would also prove a bit more stylistically versatile despite a more stripped down arrangement, with guitarist Kellen McGregor throwing riff-happy feats into the mix with a brilliant degree of precision and poise as singer Matty Mullins was a marvel of versatility amid a rock solid foundation provided by bassist Cory Elder and drummer Jake Garland. A dull moment was not to be found, but those in the crowd would likely point to multifaceted groove machines like “Blood & Water”, “Vices” and nu-metal tinged “Misery” as highlights of a towering set.

The late afternoon would usher in the headliner acts of the day, and no neck was spared in the process. Taking the Hot Topic Foundation stage at 5:30, Florida natives Underoath would bring the fury with their emo-tinged brand of post-hardcore mayhem. Boasting a similarly large arrangement of six members like The Devil Wears Prada, they’d make full use of the stage space allotted to them and flailed about in a manner that could be best described as organized chaos. The yin and yang of Spencer Chamberlain’s raw and throaty shrieks and drummer Aaron Gillespie’s clean as the wind-driven snow vocals would provide the greatest level of tension in the presentation, though keyboardist Christopher Dudley would have given them both a run for their money in terms of stage gesticulation as they rocked and roared their way through a grueling one-hour set, with noted classics such as the mouthful “It’s Dangerous Business Waling Out Your Front Door” and “Reinventing Your Exit” standing at the apex of an explosive assembly of screamo-infused emo and hardcore trappings with the occasional progressive twist.

Though they would be the de facto men of the hour, Pennsylvania metalcore mainstays August Burns Red would opt for a slightly shorter 45 minute set when they took the Better Help stage at quarter of 7:00. Occasionally chided as being the pioneers of flip-flop metalcore (due to lead guitarist JB Brubaker often donning such attire on stage), they struck a chord more analogous to a steel-toed boot in terms of heaviness, often flirting with outright death metal territory. Front man and festival mastermind Jake Luhrs presented as a veritable force of nature, working the stage in a highly animated fashion and swinging his mic cord in helicopter-like fashion as his band mates did their best to match his intensity, moving about amid an impressive display of strobe lights and heavy fog. Standout entries would include melodic thrasher classics like “Fault Line”, “Meddler” and “White Washed”, though special note should be made of the newly minted crusher “Ancestry” off their soon to be released 10th studio album Death Below, which spared no expense in the aggression department and matched the infectious character of their classic material at every turn.

As evening fell upon the Florida sky the Better Help stage would become the sole venue for the remaining headliner acts. At 8 PM the pop-tinged rock meets post-hardcore trappings of California’s Dance Gavin Dance would bring a very different flavor into the mix, marked by a smoother presentation adorned with a healthy amount of technical wizardry from the instrumentalists in congress. The contrast in approach between dueling lead vocalists Tilian Pearson and Jon Mess could be best described as the metalcore equivalent of a beauty vs. beast approach, where ultra-clean stylings and a flamboyant presentation were contrasted with an ultra-aggressive and rugged foil. The guitar work of Will Swan often came off as Steve Vai-like in terms of its quirkiness and technical brilliance, which would fit in well with bizarrely titled and prog-accented odes such as “Chuck vs. The Giant Tortoise” and “Strawberry’s Wake”, though it would be the jazzy semi-balladry of “We Own The Night” that would truly see this band merge their sense of overt originality with something that would get the bodies in the audience swaying to the rhythm.

The closing act of the first day from the Australian territory of South Wales, namely Byron Bay metalcore veterans Parkway Drive, would deliver the most potent punch of the bunch. The visual display would be on another level entirely with dancing lights and smoke machines blazing away, turning this Aussie quintet into silhouettes at times. Their sound would be a carefully balanced display of crunchy riffs and soaring guitar harmonies, informed heavily by a more old school heavy metal formula that dovetailed nicely with the eye-catching visuals. Having recently completed the promotion of their riveting and universally praised 2022 album Darker Still, highlight moments of the performance would include noted entries from said album such as “Glitch”, “The Greatest Fear” and the title anthem, though one would be remiss not to consider the utter brutality of noted classic entries of yesteryear such as “Carrion” and groovy banger “Vice Grip”, both of which brought this house with no walls down like a full on urban demolition.

Featured Audio

OVERKILL – “The Surgeon” (Nuclear Blast)

OVERKILL – “The Surgeon” (Nuclear Blast)

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