Show Review: Killswitch Engage, Rivers of Nihil, Unearth, and Lybica at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ

On an unseasonably warm night in Sayreville, New Jersey positioned perfectly in between Christmas and New Year, there was one last, unique gift to be unwrapped. It came to us in the form of the Killswitch Engage Holidaze Rager 2. Sleigh riding in with them was a rather eclectic lineup featuring Rivers of Nihil, Unearth, and Lybica.

Lybica kicked off the night and featured KSE drummer Justin Foley. The instrumental group helped everyone get nice and cozy as the sold-out crowd continued to pile in. Even without vocals, their musical stylings and catchy guitar riffs were able to captivate the massive crowd.

Following that was the first of many rounds of applause for the IHOP ad that appears in between sets… sorry, sorry I’m getting off track. Just know it’s a Jersey thing, and you just kind of have to be there to appreciate it. Anyway, back to the music; next up was Unearth. The stage veterans from Boston came out swinging with Giles, and the energy inside Starland changed instantly.

Lead singer Trevor Phipps brought all the energy as he guided the crowd through circle pits all while he kept moving side to side and across the stage all night. Despite having a limited set time which gave me major Warped Tour vibes, they jammed in some major hits including “This Lying World” and “Endless.” They would eventually close with “Black Hearts Now Reign,” and it hit just as hard as it did in 2005 when they played in the venue’s back parking lot. Unearth proved they still have a lot of gas in the tank and don’t intend on slowing down anytime soon.

As Rivers of Nihil took the stage, most of the crowd, including myself, didn’t seem to know what to expect. It’s not every day you’re at a hardcore show with two bands that each have over 20 years of experience, and sandwiched in between comes a band featuring a saxophone player. From the beginning, it was clear this group don’t just blend in with any specific genre, but instead, they stand out.

With the departure of their lead singer, bassist Adam Biggs stepped up as the lead vocalist. Biggs sang with equal parts passion and intensity throughout their performance. As he did so, the rest of the group took on what I could only describe as a transcendent psychedelic experience. By the time they closed out the night with “Where Owls Know My Name,” it’s safe to say they had gained some new followers.

By this point in the night, everyone was nice and snug next to each other. As the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd waited for their headliner to emerge, the stage was decorated with some snowmen that looked ready to come to life and stage dive. Ironically, the hello KSE gave the faithful crowd was “A Bid Farewell.” From there, it was a blistering, no-holds-barred set. The second Massachusetts band of the night came out sounding heavier than ever and would execute songs that touched just about every album they’ve put out.

The rabid New Jersey crowd seem to know the words better than frontman ahead Leach himself and cheered on the unpredictable antics of guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz. Even after being a part of the opening act, Foley seemed to have no issue pulling double duty on drums. Leach, ever the artist in motion, found a unique way, as only he could scream into his microphone, bringing such favorites as “Rose of Sharyn,” “Hate By Design,” and “My Curse To Life.” With the band playing almost 20 songs in one night, it’s too much to recap them all, but if you had the chance to attend and didn’t, well, you messed up. Closing out the night with “The Signal Fire;” then the night was complete, and this was definitely a gift worth waiting for.

This was the final show of 2022 for the Starland Ballroom, and it certainly helped the venue end the year with a bang. If this is any prelude to how 2023 is going to go, we’re in for a treat. I hope everyone had a safe and pleasant holiday season.

See you in the pit.

Words by Juice Menendez. Photos by Alyson Coletta.

Killswitch Engage

Rivers of Nihil



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