From the Pit to the Crowd: Kelen Heller with F.I.L.T.H, Auditory Armory, (de)absolve, and Rellek

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On January 20th The Haven in Winter Park, FL was graced with the return of Kelen Heller. Their last performance on August 19, 2016 filled The Haven and left us with a memorable performance. The lineup for this show  had the potential to blow the roof off. I arrived around 7 PM to say hello to friends I was expecting there including Jennifer and Troy, fellow photographers, and a number of the musicians who I befriended over the past few months photographing here. I was able to catch Ricky (lead vocalist for Kelen Heller) who remembered me and gave a hug as we chatted for a minute before the show got started.

Rellek was the first band to get on stage to kick off the night. The band based out of Orlando with Jodas (vocals), Jay Michael Hunter (guitars), Andy Staggs (bass), and Robert Tetro (drums) have always put on a stellar performance since I’ve seen them and they did not disappoint this evening either. They kicked it off with “Adrenalized” a quick paced headbanging song. Jay and Andy shred away, Rob thunders out his drums, and Jodas belts out into the mic setting the tone for the rest of their set. The followed it up with “Grattitude” which kept the same pace. Rellek never shows signs of slowing down during their set.

They continued in with “Bitch Slapped” one of my favorites from them. Jodas truly shows off his rock voice ranging from some great lows to screaming highs. Jay joins him on backing vocals to add into it. During this song Jay has a really nice guitar solo showing off his skills. Andy gets heavy into his bass strumming away with vigor. Robert bangs away onto the drums and cymbals giving the sound you expect from song called “Bitch Slapped”.

I have always enjoyed photographing the band. Jay is always tuned into his guitar playing and you can see from his expressions how much he loves his music. Andy likes to have fun on stage sometimes holding his bass up high as he plays away. Robert is always hard to get since he has such a big drum set, but has always told me that I am welcome to come up on his stand to photograph him. I have some great shots photographing this way. Jodas always has certain poses he makes while singing and usually knows the ones I’m looking to capture and happily those some in there for me.

The band also included in their set “One Bullet”, “Loveless” and closed it out with “Blame Game”. By far, this was one of the best performances I’ve seen from them. They set the bar for the bands to follow and the crowd truly enjoyed their performance. You can easily tell how well these four work together and I look forward to them recording and releasing a CD in the near future.

Next up was a band called (de)absolve who I had not heard of until that evening. The band from Sebring, FL were definitely the heaviest of the evening who fall more into the death metal style of music. The members consist of Wyso (vokills and shredding souls), Reaper (shredding souls), Luisafer (war drums), and Ra (low end destroyer) per their Facebook page started off strong with “Children of a Failing System” a brand new song from the band. Wyso’s guttural vocals caught the crowd off guard not expecting this style of music this evening. (de)absolve definitely had the crowd’s attention and definitely had mine too. The band was out to kick ass that night and that’s exactly what they were doing.

They followed up with “The Absence of ” from their Out of the Void EP. Reaper and Ra brought their A game with their shred skills to open the song. Wyso again with guttural vocals and then switching into screaming amazed the crowd. Luisafer is a beast on the drums and she takes no prisoners in her playing wearing her war paint. I grabbed some photos of band as they continued their set. The lighting was lots of reds and blues and greens that fit their sound quite well.

They also performed “Unobscured” and closed with “The Rot” from their Elements EP. Their closing song “The Rot” is as strong and heavy as they started. The band left it all out on stage with this performance, which was amazing. The ended their set with a great song and the crowd was definitely entertained. I look forward to see them again. This was turning out to be an amazing night.

Auditory Armory was next on stage. I got to see them perform for my first concert I photographed. The band from Altamonte Springs, FL consists of April Rose (vocals, guitar), Justice Maynard (bass), Dennis Burns (guitar), and Oscar Garcia (drums). They began with “Perpetua” from their Awakening album. As soon as April started playing those infamous guitar chords the crowd cheered wildly. Dennis jumped in with his guitar rifts and it was on. April’s vocals are clear and graceful and can change to power chords at a moment’s notice. Auditory Armory defines themselves as alternative metal but they clearly set themselves apart from other bands with their music. Their melody and transitions in “Perpetua” alone keeps you rocking for 8 minutes and never losing interest.

They continued with “Phantom” also from their Awakening album which continued to rock us out. The band then brought up Eric Mann, lead singer of F.I.L.T.H on stage to perform The Light That Was Lost. Eric and April are good friends and sing so well together on stage. It’s not the first time the two of them shared a stage and I don’t expect it to be the last. Auditory Armory likes to have fun with usually one cover tune in their set. This time they brought back “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran and perform it in their own metal style.

They are definitely a fun band to photograph. Justice loves to sway when he plays his bass. April and Dennis get lost in their guitar playing absorbed in the moment. And Oscar is always so focused on his drums. They finished their set with “Dark Matter” and to much applause from the crowd. Once again, Auditory Armory provided a great performance. They are currently working on publishing another full length album.

Next up was F.I.L.T.H. I have known of them for months and never had the opportunity to hear them play. So I was excited to finally see them perform. Each of them took the stage all wearing something neon green. The band from Orlando, FL consists of Eric Mann (vocals), Mike Andes (guitar), Mikey V. (bass), Freddie Hull (drums), and Josh Lyons (guitar). They started out with “Criminal” a very fast paced song. Eric’s unique singing to screaming vocals plus the music shows who F.I.L.T.H is so highly loved. Mikey’s bass line mixed in with Mike and Josh’s guitars sounded perfect. Add in Freddie’s drumming and it was amazing. I was blown away. They followed with “The Quiet Song” which took up the energy a notch. It felt like F.I.L.T.H wanted to make this the performance of a lifetime.

Photographing F.I.L.T.H provided some beautiful shots. First, I loved their neon green items, which was different per band member. Second, the green lighting provided some nice contrast to their non-green clothing. And third, they are active on stage and Eric is more than willing to get right up to a photographer’s lens to sing, scream, or just playfully make a face. This band not only likes to rock, they like having fun on stage.

Now it was F.I.L.T.H’s turn to bring up a guest singer, April Rose. Together they sang “Anthem for Rejects” a song that brings out Eric’s best screaming ability with April following up in her singing for the chorus. It was indeed a great mix and the fans appreciated them for sure. F.I.L.T.H also treated the the crowd to a brand new song called “I’m Drowning”. They finished their set with “Shotz” and “Timebomb”. The received great cheers from the crowd 2 days later F.I.L.T.H had the honor of opening up for Nonpoint and 10 Years on January 22nd (http://dreadmusicreview.com/from-the-pit-to-the-crowd-nonpoint-with-10-years-and-f-i-l-t-h).

Finally, the time was upon us, Kelen Heller was taking the stage to close out the evening. The South Carolina band consists of Ricky Shuler (vocals), Kevin Wall (drums), Brandon Moore (bass), and the enigmatic Efrum (guitars). They kick off their set with their standard pre-track before jumping into their set with “Redfine” from their EP called Limited Edition. If you’ve never heard or seen Kelen Heller live you are missing out on a solid rock band. Ricky’s vocals smoothly go from singing to power chords or screaming all the while keeping clarity. Efrum and Brandon work well together playing hard and in sync. Kevin does a great job on the drums also being in sync with Efrum and Brandon and banging away for some solid sounds. They followed up with “Without the Pain” also from their EP. Though not as heavy as some of their other songs it shows their versatility and how well their songs are written both musically and lyrically.

Photographing them is always fun. Efrum wears a mask for all of his shows. So when he stares at you on stage it looks creepy. In pictures the frozen stare looks even creepier and I love it. Ricky is very active moving around from spot to spot and interacting with the crowd. Brandon is also active moving around on stage and standing at the mic as backup vocals. Kevin is always focused on his drumming, but willing to give a photographer that pose if he sees you aiming for him.

The band played a long set that night including songs “Burn It All”, “So Deserving”, and “Never Lived”. April from Auditory Armory and Eric from F.I.L.T.H stood near me during Kelen Heller’s set. Ricky seeing them in the crowd during songs reached his microphone out to let Eric and April get some Kelen Heller lyrics in. It shows so much respect and friendship these bands have for one another. The crowd was all focused on them throughout the show and more and more people came from their barstools to get closer to the stage during their set. When they finished it was to a loud roar and cheer from the crowd. They’ll be even happier when Kelen Heller release their first full length album on March 24, 2017.

Before I left I made sure to say goodbye to as many of the band members as I could find and get pictures with them for my own mementos. I finally found Efrum, who I was looking for before the show but couldn’t find him. Conversing with Efrum is essentially talking to a mime. He’ll respond to you with hand gestures and poses, which you pick up quickly enough to have full out conversations with him. He gave me a big hug when I saw him as I congratulated him on another great show. Even though we don’t converse often online, I feel there’s a friendship there. I want to share my first interaction with Efrum the first time I saw Kelen Heller back in August 2016 at The Haven.

As the other bands were playing their set and I was photographing, I noticed the odd man in the mask walking around The Haven interacting with people. And every now and then I noticed him staring at me. I thought it was weird, but tried not to think about it as I was photographing. As the night went on I’d still catch him staring and eventually I made the hand gesture of pointing to my two eyes and then pointing at him indicating “I’m watching you”. I did this a few times during the night. And then during one set before Kelen Heller, as I was standing in the crowd, I felt someone massaging my shoulders. I turned around and it was Efrum who snuck up on me. I started to laugh seeing the mischievous side of the guitar player. He made it up to me by giving me some great poses while they were on stage. By the end of the night it was handshakes, hugs, and heart hand gestures.

Overall, this was probably the best show I’ve seen yet at The Haven with many of my favorite bands who all put on killer performances and provided me with some killer photos for this article. If you have the chance to see any of the bands listed here, do it. You will not be disappointed.