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Words by Matt New

Pix by Angie New Photography

Over the past few years, we have seen a resurgence in heavy genres such as Nu-Metal and Metalcore, and the market has been flooded with bands that can sometimes be indistinguishable from one another. One band that does not conform to the norm is the Californian quartet Of Mice & Men, a band that has continued to evolve their sound over the past 15 years. They have been experimenting sonically with elements of metal music, among other musical tidings from genres outside the metal paradigm that their peers are always one step behind on. Their pioneering nature and reputation as one of the tightest live metal bands make them an exciting prospect.

It has been almost six years since I last saw this band at Download 2018 in Melbourne, so it is fair to say I was fairly keen to see how far they have come and to see how the material from their 2023 release Tether would translate live.

Opening for this intimate show at Sydney’s Metro Theatre in the heart of the Sydney CBD, was local post-hardcore quintet Sienna Skies. The band had been fairly active throughout the height of the genre’s heyday, returning with a new EP entitled Don’t Let Me Go in early March after a few years away from the spotlight. The Metro Theatre appeared to be full for the opening band, even though it was curtained off to around 60% capacity. Even before the first note was played, Sienna Skies were energetically active on stage, moving with purpose while spinning guitars and kicking the air.

They had a big sound that was complemented by the heavy/clean vocals of frontman Thomas Pirozzi, bassist Josh Wade’s gritty backing vocals, and drummer Damon Brohier’s melodic hooks that soared above the band’s mix. Drawing influences from bands such as Thrice and occasionally evoking Killswitch Engage, they were dynamic and highly entertaining live. The crowd seemed to consist of close friends who playfully heckled the band, leaving frontman Pirozzi out of breath from laughter. Their positive energy was infectious, and I look forward to hearing more from this long-standing band in the Sydney heavy scene.

Covering the middle slot for the evening was Melbourne’s Dream on Dreamer, who have been making the most of their reformation since taking a few years off during the Covid pandemic. The quintet is highly respected within the Australian metalcore scene and is much more polarizing than meets the eye. They are a band that employs many layers of experimentation that are magnetic. At times, they traverse through the core characteristics of heavy, detuned riffs and breakdowns, but they have so much more depth than that. Highlighted by their crossover electronica elements and shared vocal duties between frontman Marcel Gadacz and rhythm guitarist Zachary Britt, at times drew a similarity to bands like Linkin Park or even Alexisonfire.

The band, truly confident and deserving of their place on stage, delivered a meticulous set that really got the crowd moving along to their diverse sound. They seemed happy to be back touring with Sienna Skies, as they have a long history of touring together over many years. A tidy seven-song set consisting mostly of tracks representing their recent offerings, Dream On Dreamer looks like they are back where they want to be, on stage performing their art for their many passionate fans.

Finally, the main course: Of Mice & Men, who began their set with Bones Exposed as drummer Valentino Arteaga powerfully pummelled his drums with a groove that resembled the beat of Queen‘s We Will Rock You. Their sound is monstrously tight, and once they gained momentum, they did not relent. As a highly featured rock band that appears at some of the largest festivals all over the world, it was very humbling to see them perform for such an intimate audience. Frontman Aaron Pauley drew attention to the extensive choice of shows happening in Sydney on the same evening, including Taylor Swift, Blink 182, and Slash, for which he sincerely conveyed his gratitude on behalf of the band.

Guitarists Alan Ashby and Phil Manansala laid down awesome riff after awesome riff throughout the night, complementing each other well when switching between their respective lead and rhythm guitar roles. The last time I saw Of Mice & Men, Aaron Pauley was handling both lead vocals and bass guitar. These days, the bass tracks are now incorporated in their backing tracks. Although I am not generally a fan of this, it seems to be the norm nowadays. Pauley focuses solely on his lead vocal duties and absolutely owns it in the process. His vocals were pitch-perfect, shifting from brutal screams and growls to hook-riddled clean vocals. Retrospectively, this has allowed them to transcend beyond the underground act as they were originally known when they began in 2009.

The theme of appreciation for the fans continued, as their genuine appreciation fuelled an incredible performance. Even when one fan heckled the lyrics “where are you?” from Blink 182‘s I Miss You, mocking the fact that the pop-punk powerhouse was in town, drummer Valentino retorted through his overhead mic “and I’m so sorry,” inciting raucous laughter and highlighting the band’s warm nature and engaging personalities. Highlight tracks throughout their set included Warpaint, Instincts, O.G. Loko, and Earth and Sky, the latter resulting in one of the largest and most powerful circle pits witnessed at the Metro, probably since Periphery in 2017.

Concluding their Sydney visit with Depths from 2012’s The Flood and an encore of Second & Sebring from the band’s 2010 self-titled debut, the fans went nuts as the band offered tracks from their early years. Of Mice & Men delivered a premier performance that will be remembered as a contender for one of the top shows of 2024 so far. Though it was a smaller showing, as a fan, I appreciate when bands demonstrate their humility by deliberately playing intimate shows.

With a couple of shows left on their Australian tour, be sure to get out and support these guys while they are in the country.

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