It was a chilly night in December at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ for the sold -out Holidaze Rager 2 tour featuring Killswitch Engage, Rivers of Nihil, Unearth, and Lybica. As the parking lot quickly filled up and fans lined up, it was evident we were all about to experience a high-energy show to match the anticipatory buzz of the crowd. The venue has a maximum capacity of 2500 people, and it certainly felt that way as the night developed.
First to hit the stage was Lybica, an Instrumental four piece from south Florida, featuring Killswitch Engage drummer Justin Foley on bass. Lybica was formed in 2020 during the pandemic, which helped the members explore music where the instruments speak to the fans rather than the lyrics. This unexpected style seemed to resonate with the crowd as they progressed through their set. The music itself does indeed become the forefront when the vocals are stripped away. The listener is treated to how the music flows through them rather than relying on the words to convey the artist’s messages from their melodic to heavier pieces such as ‘Oktavist’.
Next to take the stage was Unearth, a five piece Metalcore band from Boston. In stark contrast from Lybica, Unearth exploded onto the stage and commanded immediate attention from the crowd. The aggressive vocals of Trevor Phipps tore through their set heavy with selections from their fan favorite second album The Oncoming Storm (Metal Blade 2004) with political and social overtones which are still very relevant today.
After a quick break, it was time for Rivers of Nihil, a five piece Death Metal band from Reading, PA. The venue was filled to capacity at this point and the crowd was elbow to elbow as they took command of the stage and the crowd. Despite having lost their vocalist and a guitarist recently, the show they put on certainly showed no signs of that. Bassist and now vocalist Adam Biggs authoritatively tore through their set which included fan favorites from their first album The Conscious Seed of Light (Metal Blade Records) Where Owls Know My Name, and their most recent The Work.
Killswitch Engage finally took to the stage and everything exploded. Dressed in matching blue holiday sweaters as this was a holiday party, the fans welcomed them with everything they had. Frontman Jesse Leach blurred the line that separates the stage and the crowd as he came down into the photo pit to get closer to the crowd’s energy which clearly feeds him. Fans respond in kind as the wave of crowd surfers becomes constant keeping the venue staff busy throughout their set.
Each song becomes a sing along with the fans, which is ideal for a holiday party. Towards the end of their set, the band unleashed plush snowballs and engaged the crowd in a snowball fight as snow makers blew snow on the front rows of the crowd who were clearly enjoying themselves.
The Holidaze Rager 2 was high energy from beginning to end with each band building on the energy of the last until the party exploded. I can’t think of a better way to close out the year and look forward to the next one. I hope there is a Holidaze Rager 3 in our future.
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WORDS AND PHOTOS BY KIM HANSEN