While She Sleeps at St Pancras Old Church, London - live review

Sheffield ragers put their stamp on consecrated ground

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It’s Monday night and Metal Hammer is attending church. No, we’re not repenting for our sins from the weekend; we’re here to witness one of the UK’s most vital metal bands outside of their natural habitat in one of London’s best venues. Famed for its acoustics, the Old Church is buzzing with While She Sleeps disciples tonight, packing the pews and filling every nook at the back, trying to open beer cans in as hushed a manner as possible. Following an enchanting set from Lio, the Steel City bruisers are here and they’re in the zone.

Having been delayed for a number of months, nobody knows what’s going to happen tonight. An expected acoustic set is swiftly corrected to an ‘alternative’ set by guitarist Mat Welsh, as the Sleeps boys plug in their electrics, ready to shake the church to its core. Evoking memories of Converge’s Blood Moon set that hit London last year, WSS reinvent some of their biggest and newest songs to fit into the resolutely non-metal environment. The Old Church has stood for centuries, and while it often hosts live music, tonight is all about celebration, as the band are rounding off their You Are We tour.

Frontman Loz Taylor, who usually has the crowd in the palm of his hand, seems shy tonight, admitting that he’s approaching brown trousers time, and it even looks like he’s wary of swearing to begin with. Keeping his back to the crowd during the first half of the set, he’s no longer able to hide behind the safety of screaming, instead having to harness his true voice, bearing his soul for the whole church to see and – more importantly – hear. The intensity of While She Sleeps has been replaced by a fragility and humbleness that we’re unaccustomed to. From the chilling reworking of Our Courage, Our Cancer to a rousing, emotional version of Silence Speaks, the set spans Sleeps’ entire career, although disappointingly the band play for less than an hour.

Criticisms of one-dimensionalism are often bandied around the UK metal scene, but tonight proves just how versatile and proficient While She Sleeps are. Any band can scream bloody murder, but it takes a special band to turn a church such as this into a haven of emotional heaviness. Hail!