Review: Ontarian hardcore outfit Counterparts return to Camden’s Underworld for sell-out UK tour

Following the release of seventh studio album A Eulogy for Those Still Here on 6 October, Ontarian hardcore outfit, Counterparts‘s hastily announced UK and EU shows were a welcome cross on the calendar. The band’s last transatlantic excursion for a headline tour was back in 2020. Lest we forget, this is enough time to see a global pandemic and a total political overhaul on the home-side unfold. 

An ill-timed scuffle with one of my cats meant I was four minutes away from missing the doors opening. I careered into the basement of Camden’s Underworld with enough force to wind myself. I was, however, conveniently placed for when first support Cauldron kicked off the evening.

Hailing from Birmingham, Cauldron abruptly materialised as part of the UK hardcore circuit back in 2018 with its self-released Shrine EP. First appearances stoked the flames of some niggling misgivings, with each member looking as if they were there as a result of having their name drawn from a hat.

Luckily, the visual dissonance didn’t translate onstage, with vocalist Frazer Cassling and guitarist Jon Dyke’s energy being on a constant upward trajectory for the duration of their performance. The second track from August’s Futile EP, Crossing the Threshold , showed a good deal of promise. Drawing comparisons with Manchester’s Guilt Trip and their brand of caustic intensity, most unfavourable initial judgements were proved pleasantly wrong.

Second support, Sydney’s Justice for the Damned, has already established itself as a force to be reckoned with. My respect for the five-piece was cemented during their stint supporting Kentucky heavyweights Knocked Loose 2019, with the crowd being raucous enough to almost relieve me of my left arm.

It took little effort for vocalist Bobak Rafiee to convince the assembled rabble that he has every right to be counted among the most commanding frontmen in hardcore. Bruising renditions of tracks A Crimson Painting, Please Don’t Leave Me and Dragged Through the Dirt saw those of us in close proximity of the pit swept up with the pulsing current of noise provided by Rafiee’s band mates Ben Mirfin, Kieran Molloy, Nick Adams and Chas Levi. Justice for the Damned is skilled at administering an audio assault which appeals to those with more brutal sensibilities, but equally unafraid to reinforce that their music is underpinned by a conscience.

Ending the set with 2020’s Pain is Power, scrutinising the policing of women’s reproductive rights, was a smart executive decision to drive home the point that the group exists to fulfil a higher purpose. With any luck, bigger and better things are waiting around the next corner.

Having a loose grasp of the recent Twitter spats ostensibly started by vocalist Brendan Murphy, scepticism threatened to derail an attempt to take Counterparts entirely seriously. Luckily, the choice to begin their set with A Eulogy’s opening tracks. Including Whispers of Your Death and Bound to the Burn made me put my doubts aside. The appearance of the first crowd surfers during the latter set some lofty expectations of what was still to come. The majority of those participating seemed more than happy to surrender their seven-pound bottles of beer to the melee.

As soon as it was created, this euphoria was shattered by Murphy’s aggravated whining about the stage becoming sticky. Clearly, the Canadian audiences the quintet are most accustomed to, conduct themselves with more decorum. In a sitcom-esque call and response routine which pitted Murphy against hecklers, there was a fleeting pang of anxiety over tensions boiling over. Ultimately, Murphy secured a narrow victory in reminding those unaffected by parting with their beverages that they “paid for that s**t”.

Any further arguments were averted by the considered selection of quintessential tracks from Counterparts’s back catalogue. With guitarists Alex Re and Jesse Doreen providing an indomitable backbone for crowd favourites such as Wings of Nightmares and No Servant of Mine. Murphy ascertained that his most valuable skills shine once he saves talking for more appropriate moments. During the encore of The Disconnect from 2011’s second full-length The Current Will Carry Us, his vocals carried their recognisably blistering quality. And grounded the band’s output so deeply within the human experience.

The jury may still be out on whether I’m a committed Counterparts devotee. What is certain, however, is their irrefutable consistency and knack for putting together a reliably great album. The UK leg of the tour has ended and headed stateside but will be returning to Europe in the new year.

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