Nico Cervantes bled through his first show playing guitar for As the Sky Darkens

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On stage, the vocalist for local metal-core band As the Sky Darkens is the definition of intimidating. Jon Vela isn't very tall and has an affinity for cuffed jeans and black TOMS that contrast with a stage presence resembling that of an angry, caged animal. Shoulders hunched, he stalks across the stage in wide, measured steps, cutting sharp glances at the crowd and growling ferociously.

His message, however, is unexpectedly encouraging. "This song is a revolution," he screams. The words are lyrics from the band's first full-length album Freedom, released in February of this year. Every ATSD song has those lofty ambitions, calling listeners to live a life unburdened by others' expectations.

Off-stage, Vela wears glasses and an easy grin, nothing like the creature he appears to be with the microphone in his hand. "When people think of heavy music, they think, 'Oh, scary'," says Vela. "But hardcore is about positivity." He's discussing this with one of the band's two guitarists, the heavily bearded Trever Mock.

"It's the same in suburbia or in the ghetto," says Mock. "Other people impose what you 'should' do onto you. They tell you how you should live and what you should act like." But this band doesn't think anyone should give up the free will to choose whatever future they want. That's part of what ATSD hopes to convey with its music and with its live performance.

Vela said that the best shows he's been to are those that go beyond his expectations. He wants to do the same thing for his audience. It is this mindset, along with thrashing guitars, an impossibly fast rhythm section and a set of five very passionate musicians, that draws fans of the metal scene to ATSD shows. This was made evident last Saturday at the band's tour kickoff show. The Marquis was nearly full of sweaty, screaming fans.

This show also served as the debut performance of the band's new guitarist, Nico Cervantes. As the Sky Darkens has been playing the Denver scene for five years, and its lineup had remained the same until June of this year, when former guitarist Jared Rozeboom left. Mock describes Rozeboom's departure from the band as being on "very, very good terms," and adds, "We're still great friends."

Although it was sad seeing Rozeboom go, Vela says it's "exciting to get to work with someone new and get a different perspective on the music." As a musician, Rozeboom had the kind of natural energy and passion that his bandmates could only describe as "unique" -- energy that typically requires profuse amounts of caffeine to achieve.

Cervantes previously played in a much tamer, instrumental math-rock band before his transition into the heavy metal of ATSD. His taste brings a new texture to the music and, though his energy is very different from that of his predecessor, he embraces it. "I don't want to replace Jared," he said of Rozeboom. Rather, he wants to bring his own style to the group while still maintaining the enthusiasm that was already there.

Cervantes embodied that hoped-for energy Saturday night. He spent nearly the entirety of his first show with ATSD bleeding after a collision with bassist Brandyn Rupp sent him spinning into the drum kit and knocking his guitar into the back of Vela's head. Although Cervantes' performance style is different than Rozeboom's -- slightly more technical and with less headbanging -- the uplifting experience of the show and the group's thrashing presence remained intact.

The frenzied atmosphere and fast-paced set list kept the sweaty, screaming crush of people in the crowd leaping in unison with the jumping and spinning of Mock and Cervantes. Rupp and drummer Schuyler King pounded out a rhythm that got every hardcore dancer in the crowd flipping and flailing fists.

The interplay between technical chord progressions and a ribcage-vibrating wall of sound that is signature to metal shows was almost perfectly executed. The mistake-free nature of the show was made more impressive by the fact that Cervantes had just under a month to learn the band's entire repertoire. When asked about how he learned it so quickly, Cervantes said that he just "let the music ride."

Riding the momentum of the music is exactly what ATSD plans to do. Although Rozeboom will be missed by fans and the band alike, the current five members of the band won't let it stop them from enjoying the successes they've seen this year or pushing forward to new things. When they get back from tour, they plan to start work on a second album that embraces the fresh ideas of the new lineup. But above all, As the Sky Darkens is going to keep playing shows like the one it played Saturday. Shows with no negativity and no regard for society's expectations -- only a hot sticky room filled with crowds of people headbanging to the beat of the same thrashing anthem.

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