Growing up in Massachusetts, it was impossible to ignore the tenacity of A Loss for Words. From sharing bills with hardcore bands in VFW halls to landing high-profile pop-punk tours, these boys from the South Shore spent 15 years as one of the hardest working bands in the scene. Their passion is palpable regardless of the size of the crowd, and it doesn't hurt that vocalist Matty Arsenault can sing circles around most vocalists in the genre.
Like when a local team wins a big game, A Loss for Words' signing to Velocity/Rise Records in 2011 felt like a victory for all of us who had been championing them for so long. The band seemed destined to take the scene by storm, as their virtually non-stop schedule of touring and releasing music never relented. But, like so many before them, they were never quite able to break through to the mainstream.
That said, the group has accomplished more than most bands ever dream of, developing a sizable fanbase, going on multiple worldwide tours and influencing several younger acts. The announcement of their imminent breakup in 2014 came as bittersweet; it was sad to see them go, but the guys graciously gave fans a year of advance notice. Their final show took place on December 27, 2015 at Worcester, MA's The Palladium.
A Loss for Words had played this particular venue countless times throughout their career, but this night was different. Ever the earnest frontman, Arsenault explained to the audience - which he repeatedly referred to as his friends - that it had been his dream when he was 15 to sell out The Palladium. Now, at age 31, he had done just that. The 2,100+ people in attendance roared with applause.
The main line-up consisted of Arsenault, bassist Mike Adams, guitarists Marc Dangora and Nevada Smith, and drummer Christian Mullen, but they were joined by various friends throughout the night, including several former members. Other guest appearances included Pvris' Lynn Gunnulfsen on "Distance," saxophonist John James Ryan for their cover of The Temptations' "My Girl," and Sweet Pete of In My Eyes doing his part on "Stamp of Approval."
The band's 80-minute set was appropriately career-spanning, including fan favorites like "Honeymoon Eyes," "Hold Your Breath," "Pirouette," "Half Step Down" and an ancient song, "Say Goodbye," from when they were known as Last Ride. The members left the stage after a huge singalong for "Wrightsville Beach," only to return moments later for an encore. They played the somber, acoustic number "Mt. St. Joseph" before powering through the ferocious "Stamp of Approval" to say goodbye for good.
The bill featured many longtime friends and fellow hometown heroes. Direct support was provided by Pvris, a group managed by Arsenault on the cusp of a breakthrough. For this performance, vocalist Lyndsey Gunnulfsen was accompanied only by guitarist Alex Babinski. The pseudo-acoustic (Babinski was playing electric, but acoustic would have been more fitting) environment showcased Gunnulfsen's impressive vocal abilities. I'm certainly not the first one to point it out, but this band is poised to do big things. Despite the rare quiet set, several enthusiastic girls crowd surfed during closer "My House."
Although they played their final show in 2010, local legends Therefore I Am reunited to play with their longtime friends one last time. Guitarist Brian Marquis was unable to make it for the show, unfortunately, but his brother, Greg Marquis (of Actor|Observer), did a fine job filling in; everyone else was accounted for. They only played three songs - "I Am Only an Island," "45 Miles" and "I Get Nervous in Cars" - but the crowd response was unreal. The band members appeared to be having just as much fun as the enthused audience. Hopefully this isn't the last we see of them. Before their final song, vocalist Alex Correia teased: "This is it. Might be a long time. Who knows?"
Prior to Therefore I Am taking the stage, the crowd was treated to a surprise reunion from Junction 18. Many people seemed confused, as the set was unannounced, but those who were familiar with the band (mostly fellow South Shore locals) were unbelievably excited. It was their first show in almost a decade, and their first time playing as that particular four-piece in twice as long, but they showed little rust. They did three songs, kicking off with "Granite Street Knife Fight." By the end of their set, Adams and Dangora couldn't resist getting onstage to sing along.
Vanna beat the odds by putting on the most energetic set in a night full of high-energy performances. They always put on a strong show, but you would have thought this was a headliner based on the fervent crowd reaction. Frontman Davey Muise sang closer "Digging" from the audience, the result of which was pure chaos. Earlier in the set, Muise revealed that Vanna will have a new record in the summer and strongly hinted that they'll be playing Warped Tour as well. It was also announced that it was drummer Eric Gross' last show with the group. Most poignant, however, was when Muise shared a story about how Vanna and A Loss for Words had given him a home when he didn't have one.
I was hoping for some old material from Transit, given the nostalgic occasion, but instead they pulled only from their three most recent albums. It's hard to fault the band when they only had 30 minutes, and the performance was solid nonetheless. Their live show simply isn't the same in the absence of founding guitarist/vocalist Tim Landers, but Torre Cioffi did an admirable job picking up the slack left in his wake.
Lions Lions, another group with a longstanding and incestuous history with A Loss for Words, is such a fun band to watch. Its members are absolutely reckless when it comes to the well-being of themselves and their belongings, carelessly tossing around their instruments without giving it a second thought. During their closer, "The Undertow," guitarist Isaac Vigil hopped in the audience and continued to play while crowd surfing.
Despite not being from the area, the crowd greeted openers Handguns and Major League - both former A Loss for Words tourmates - with warm responses. With eight bands playing brief (15-30 minute) sets before the main event, the evening felt like a mini Warped Tour. In the six and a half hours in which the show took place, the lively crowd never lost momentum; they may have even set a crowd surfing record for the venue.
Success comes in many forms, particularly from the perspective of a band. A Loss For Words never got that major record deal, mainstream radio play or platinum sales. But they had a profound impact on the microcosm that is the New England music scene, to listeners and musicians alike. From a group of small-town high school friends to revered torchbearers, A Loss for Words paved the way for many kids just starting out to take a shot at pursuing their dreams.
In "Finite," Arsenault sings: "I won't let tonight pass me by / I won't see with paralyzed eyes / No I won't, no I won't because / Time is so precious for us all." Those lyrics rang especially true as A Loss for Words laid down their instruments for the final time. Running the gamut from punks and hardcore kids to hipsters and preppy bros, the diverse audience came together to sing along with a longtime stable of our local scene for the one last time. 15 years of blood, sweat and tears had led to this moment, and the band members received the grand send-off they deserved.
The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival has been a staple of the Massachusetts music scene for 14 years now. I attended the third day of this year’s festivities at The Palladium in Worcester, MA on April 22. The two prior days featured such acts as All That Remains, The Black Dahlia Murder, DragonForce, The Acacia Strain, Overkill and tons more, but the sold out final day touted the highly anticipated return of Killswitch Engage.
I arrived just in time to catch Recon on the second stage. It was their return show and first with new vocalist Rob Fusco. Recon's music is more straightforward than Fusco's past projects (Most Precious Blood, One King Down), but he seemed to have fun. The crowd kept a healthy mosh going for their 20-minute set. In fact, the second stage was virtually a non-stop mosh pit - with the occasional stage dive - throughout the day.
On Broken Wings’ music is chock full of mindless breakdowns, but it’s always fun to see them in their homestate of Massachusetts, where kids go hard. The moshing was mostly respectful, despite encouragements for violence. The band has been laying low for a while, but they just recorded some fresh material and played one of the new songs. Longtime staples “I Do My Crosswords in Pen” and “Listless” really got the crowd going.
After their opening song, Stick to Your Guns frontman Jesse Barnett remarked how he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t seen one person jump off the stage yet. That’s all it took; the next song, “What Goes Around,” was a frenzy of stage diving. It continued throughout the remainder of their half-hour set, until the stage became a sing-along pile-on for closer “This Is More.” It was good to hear Josh James (of Evergreen Terrace and Casey Jones), the latest addition to STYG, doing some back-up vocals as well.
I’m not familiar with Sleeping Giant, but they were headlining the second stage (and my other option was Chelsea Grin), so I stuck around to check them out. It got surprisingly personal. Before “Eyes Wide Open,” vocalist Tom Green revealed that he was molested by his babysitter at the age of 4. The trauma in turn ruined his first marriage and affected his children. Despite the abuse, he said that he still believes in God (which received a lukewarm response). Green spoke about his religion a few times throughout the half-hour set, getting dangerously preachy at times, but he was so passionate and genuine that it was hard to mind even from an atheistic standpoint. Performing is his way to work out those demons, and members of the audience clearly shared that mindset.
With the second stage wrapped, I headed downstairs for the main stage. The vibe is completely different there. Where is the upstairs of The Palladium provides an intimate show perfect for a couple hundred tightly-packed kids, the main room is a full-scale concert hall that holds over 2,000 people. As such, most of the hardcore bands played upstairs, while the metal groups were downstairs.
I got to the main stage right before another Christian band, For Today, went on. I had just checked out their new album and enjoyed their August Burns Red-esque metalcore sound, so I was interested to see them. They delivered a solid set, and it too was not without a little bit of preaching. Frontman Mattie Montgomery proclaimed that if you feel broken, there is always hope in Jesus Christ. The band was joined by Matthew Hasting of fellow fellow Christian group MyChildren MyBride for "Devastator.” At one point, Montgomery went onto the barricade to sing; it’s always nice to see musicians bridge the gap with fans.
I have never made my disdain for Emmure a secret, and their live show certainly did nothing to change my opinion. I will say this: there were a lot of kids into them. More power to ‘em. I just don’t get it.
Vanna went through some line-up changes only a couple of months ago, but it didn’t seem to impact their live show. They always get a good reaction in their homestate, and Metal Fest was no exception. They kicked it off with the “Let’s Have an Earthquake,” a great opener. Matt Lanners, vocalist of The Greenery (who played the previous day), later came out for a guest spot. I was happy to learn that the band still plays “A Dead Language For A Dying Lady,” despite it being from two vocalists ago, and the audience loved singing along. They closed with “Trashmouth,” at the end of which the band members dove into the crowd.
Every Time I Die opened with “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space,” the first track on the new album. It was the perfect way to set the pace for the energetic, 45-minute set. Everyone running around the stage at all times mixed with the inherent aggressiveness of the music made for quite an intense live show. There was even a fan in a beer can costume moshing and crowd surfing. With a new album to support and five others to also choose from, the band’s set was a mixed bag. They threw in “The Logic of Crocodiles,” from their full-length debut, for the old school fans. Frontman Keith Buckley asked for as many high fives as humanly possible during the second to last song, “We’rewolf” - which spawned an army of fans crowd surfing their way to the front. The band then closed with “Ebolarama.”
Killswitch Engage’s Alive or Just Breathing played a large role in developing my taste for heavy music, so to say that I was ecstatic to see their first show back with original vocalist Jesse Leach would be an understatement. I am happy to report that the show did not disappoint, and Killswitch Engage is officially back.
The band entered the stage, appropriately, to the tune of Peaches & Herb's "Reunited.” They started with a bang as the pulsating “Numbered Days” kicked in and continued on through “Self Revolution” and “Fixation on the Darkness.” At this point, I thought that perhaps the band was surprising fans with a complete performance of Alive or Just Breathing (as those are the first three tracks). Unfortunately, that was not the case - but the hour and a half set was still more than worthwhile.
Leach dedicated the next song, “Rose of Sharyn,” to former vocalist Howard Jones. The situation is awkward from the outside, so it’s great to see them being respectful about it. Leach took it a step further later when he confessed that “The Arms of Sorrow” is his favorite Killswitch song, and he didn’t even write it.
The band played a few more Howard-era songs in addition to the old favorites. They exited the stage after “The End of Heartache,” but fans knew that it wasn’t over yet. It wasn’t long before they returned to play “My Last Serenade.” As an added surprise, they ended the night with a heavy rendition of Dio’s “Holy Diver.” They famously covered it with Jones, but Leach did the iconic song justice as well.
Jones had great power as a frontman, making his performance seem effortless. Leach, on the other hand, gives it his all, with raw passion shining through. The debate as to who is better will rage on amongst fans, but I, for one, am happy to see Jesse back. The band seems rejuvenated and even more energetic than usual. The experience was perfectly described by eccentric guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz as “fucking amazing.” (He went on to confess that he woke up with the biggest boner that morning.)
The beautiful thing about this music scene scene in general is how it unites people, regardless of race, gender, beliefs, etc. The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival takes it one step further; it allows metal heads, hardcore bros, scene kids and mall goths alike, from the old school to the new school, to come together under one roof and enjoy some good music. It's no wonder that the festival continues to be a smashing success each year.