h

Metal this week: UNIFY Gathering saw Harm's Way return in a big way

It was a blistering set from the American metal outfit.

Recently I made the trek down to South Gippsland for the annual UNIFY Gathering. While normally I’d go and make a complete mess of my brain over two nights, this year I opted for the tactical in-and-out. It was a little sad to leave the fun just as it was getting truly dark, but when I was back in my own bed a couple of hours later, I felt quite pleased with myself. 
 
The main attraction of the fest for me was the ridiculously tough and heavy appearance of American hardcore-turned-metal band Harm’s Way. Playing in the middle of a stinking hot afternoon, and while no doubt big for the band in the scheme of things, the crowd felt a little small in terms of how the rest of the festival performed. I don’t mean to throw shade, but perhaps you can’t expect everyone excited about the appearances of In Hearts Wake or Tonight Alive to connect with the level of sonic intensity that Harm’s Way has honed in on. Their set was as stripped back as it was heavy – with insanely muscular vocalist James Pligge of course getting his shirt off only two songs in. They were the only band of the day to not have their name, let alone a skilfully edited or animated visual, beaming from the huge LED screen hung up on the stage behind them.
 
However, two members of the band were wearing their own merchandise on stage – screen printed cloth proudly protecting them from the elements, while also advertising part of the spread to be found up the back at the merch tent. It’s a common ‘joke’ or practice amongst touring bands to wear your own band’s merch as a lifesaver when you’re two thirds through a run and have no clean clothes left. Yet I feel this is more a justification for behaviours already eyed through insecure lenses than a real practicality – if it was truly pure practice, we’d be seeing a lot more bands slinging socks and undies at the merch desk.
 
This was the first day of tour for Harm’s Way. It’s a subtle power move – a bold statement without needing to say anything – and one that can only be pulled off if your band is in fact, really good, and exhibits otherwise humble behaviours. Spotted loading in to your first show in your own band’s shirt? Maybe you are trying too hard. Done a tour or two, and now you think your band is something, and you’re wearing it out to the club? Your ego is probably flying too close to the sun, too soon. Wearing it on stage, at a festival you don’t quite fit in with, in front of a completely bare bones stage setup, while being the heaviest band of the entire event? You rule, and I respect the fuck out of it. 
 
Now I don’t know exactly at what point in their careers that bands like Slayer and Metallica started wearing their own shirts on stage, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all about confidence, and delicate social mathematics, baby.