The first show of a new year is a sacred rite for regular concertgoers. Think of it a bit like Groundhog Day; a good and energetic first show may signal a fun year to come, while the opposite can spell bad luck for the future. For many heavy music fans, that all-important first show of 2023 was (or will be) the Darkbloom Tour, a massive trek across the U.S. led by Michigan metalcore heroes We Came as Romans. And whether or not you put any stock into superstitions, it’s hard to deny that this tour is a strong sign for what looks like a tremendous year of live music.
It was instant pandemonium at The Underground in Charlotte, North Carolina when opening band Brand of Sacrifice took the stage. The Canadian deathcore act was easily the most savage-sounding of the three groups that night, laying waste to the unsuspecting early crowd with their wall of modern brutality. An explosion of lights and huge symphonic elements danced overtop head-splitting death metal breakdowns and plenty of “BLEAGHS!” from frontman Kyle Anderson.
Evidently, the Charlotte crowd liked things heavy. It only took a moment to get the pit to open up and the first crowd surfers going. Once things started moving, there was no going back. The past few weeks of cold and muddy weather in the area had clearly created some frustrations that needed to be unleashed that night. It’s nice to see so many people going absolutely nuts so early, as it’s a strong indication that the show will only continue to build on that. By the time Brand of Sacrifice ended their set with a pair of older tracks for the hardcore fans, ears were ringing and anticipation was high for what the next musical onslaught would bring.
I had ERRA recommended to me only just last year. After jamming through their discography, I was lucky enough to see them live for the first time in Columbia, South Carolina, where they played with The Devil Wears Prada, Silverstein and Beartooth (talk about a stacked lineup!). They’ve become one of my current favorites - a fiercely technical yet groove-laden headbanging mix of progressive metalcore. The Alabama natives opened their dynamite set with a perfect choice: ‘Pull From the Ghost’, a newer song that showcases the powerful dual vocals of frontman J.T. Cavey and lead guitarist Jesse Cash along with the band’s usual talent for creative riff wizardry.
“Our friend Joe in Raleigh all gave us haircuts, we’re looking fresh and clean for you all tonight.” Cavey told the crowd. It was hard to say whether anybody had even heard the banter; most of the audience’s focus had gone towards the endless barrage of crowd surfers that had begun at the start of the set. Security had their work cut out for them that night and ERRA wasn’t there to make it any easier as they tore through heavy hitters like ‘Scorpion Hymn’ and ‘Snowblood’. It was a real party now - people were losing shoes, the circle pit had been swirling nonstop for three songs and counting, and someone dressed as a unicorn went soaring over the barricade for the dozenth time in a row.
Only one band remained. We Came as Romans were one of the leading bands of the big 2010s boom of metalcore and post-hardcore acts, maintaining a consistent creative output up until the tragic death of vocalist Kyle Pavone in 2018. The group has been coming back slowly and on their own terms in the years since. Rather than replace Pavone, Dave Stephens has taken over all vocal duties and new music has tentatively been released leading up to Darkbloom, the first We Came as Romans album in five years. If the huge reception to the new collection of songs and a sold out comeback tour is any indication, they've been sorely missed.
The Darkbloom Tour was only one week into its month-long run when it came through Charlotte and tore the roof off The Underground, but it was already operating like a fine-tuned machine. The second We Came as Romans made their entrance with ‘Daggers’ and the crowd roared the words “I WILL CONQUER!”, the room was launched into a cathartic frenzy. “Leave it all on the floor tonight!” Stephens instructed everyone, and they certainly seemed to heed his words with enthusiasm. There were pits of all shapes and sizes breaking out across the venue as the band proved just how confident they were with the new material, playing through nearly all of Darkbloom in its entirety. Longtime bass player Andy Glass greeted every crowd surfer that made their way down with a warm smile.
Fans were even given the chance to vote on a song that would be played, with ‘Fade Away’ from 2013’s Tracing Back Roots scoring a win and being met with an exceptionally enthusiastic response. Forget about hearing damage or sore necks; the real killer of the night was undoubtedly going to be everyone losing their voice from singing along to every song. Furthering that spirit of collaboration, Brand of Sacrifice’s Kyle Anderson returned to the stage to join in on a crushing rendition of Darkbloom’s title track. It was a scene of beautiful chaos as the place ignited and the energy reached a fever pitch.
There’s probably no better outlet for channeling grief and feelings of loss than music, and that goes double for music that’s loud and heavy. We Came as Romans understand how their fans have been one of the most important factors of them staying together and continuing this musical journey of theirs. Like other artists who have gone through tragedy, their fans have experienced a sort of collective trauma - and healing - alongside the band themselves. For many in attendance that night in Charlotte, this was far more than just their first show of the year, this was their chance to finally see their favorite band back in action. For plenty of others, it was their first time seeing the band ever.
I was one of those people. I remember listening to the first We Came as Romans album, To Plant a Seed, in the garage of my high school friend Josh. During the formative years that I knew him, he introduced me to bands like A Day To Remember, August Burns Red, Parkway Drive and others that helped a stuck-in-the-past, nu-metal exclusive kid like me expand his musical tastes and pay more attention to new and upcoming bands. We Came as Romans was one of his favorites, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up somewhere in that tangle of bodies with me that night, lost in the array of dynamic sounds and flashing lights and celebrating over a decade of essential metalcore tunes while helping usher in a new age at the same time. If you haven’t already gotten your tickets to the Darkbloom Tour, you’re missing out on the best way to kick off the new year.
We Came as Romans are currently on tour across the U.S. on the Darkbloom Tour alongside ERRA and Brand of Sacrifice. Almost all dates have sold out.