Review by Natalie Zed; Concert Photos by Adam Wills
The more deeply I fall down the rabbit-hole of metal, the more difficult it becomes to separate my critical/creative and personal lives. What I mean by that is: more and more, the bands I write about are not just artists I appreciate from a distance, but people I have come to know, like and respect. More and more, I find myself writing about my friends. This would put me in a difficult position, perhaps—but I am doubly lucky. Not only are my friends lovely people, they’re also brave, brilliant musicians. Therefore, I feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever praising and supporting their work across every corner of the Internet.
This past Friday was an exciting night for metal in Toronto. This is a city that is unabashedly spoiled for choice when it comes to cool things going on, and on this particular night, the members of the metal scene demonstrated that they appreciated that fact. A few doors down from the Blue Moon, High on Fire, Priestess, and Skeletonwitch put on what I am certain was a great show at The Opera House (covered by intrepid Team Hellbound contributor Laina Dawes). Despite this competition, the Blue Moon was comfortably full of happy, chatty metalheads, including some devoted folks who split their time between both shows (the 9:30 start time at The Blue Moon meant that I spotted more than one brand-new Skeletonwitch shirt in the audience).
The first band to perform on this most auspicious of metal nights was—well, I am honestly not sure what to call them. Originally billed as The Great Collapse, this band is actually composed of the remnants of two local bands: The Great Collapse and The Womb. Their setlist drew upon material from the oeuvre of both bands; the result was schizophrenic. Whatever this band will become now, it is still most definitely in the process of reconfiguring itself, and this came across in their performance. It was a conceptually interesting moment to bear witness to, watching a band that is no longer one thing, and in the process of becoming something else. Right now, they are post-caterpillar, pre-moth, all pupa; they occupy a difficult liminal space that made their performance scattered. Their set was not without an anchor, however: drummer Cameron Warrack is a fearsome physical presence behind his kit and is capable of making some sense of the manic energy of the band. Soft-spoken and good-humoured offstage (he played with an upside-down cross shaved into his chest hair), Warrack transforms when he plays, becoming incredibly intense and entirely focussed on punishing his kit. There was a particularly powerful moment when he threw a shattered drum stick into the crowd—not to be theatrical, it seemed, but to get the broken thing away from him so he could pick up a fresh implement and continue on unhindered. This band, whatever it will become, certainly has an engine within it.
Next up were Battlesoul. Their high-energy celtic/folk/thrash metal is a ridiculous amount of fun. Performing kilted and bare-chested, it is clear form the outset that every member of this band shows up to have a good time. They also don’t take themselves very seriously; their manner on stage embodies an endearingly clumsy oafishness. For example, after announcing that their next song would be “Lay Thy Burden Down,” bassist/vocalist Jon Doyle complained “Man—this song is long.” Their performance was raucous, jovial and up-beat, and provided a perfect palate cleanser between the discord of The Collapsing Womb and the doom-laden complexity of Woods of Ypres.
Speaking of Woods—this band and I have a history. Way back in November of 2008, their show with Wolven Ancestry at the DC Music Theatre was the experience that started me down this strange and twisted metal path (an experience I have written about here). Since that initial encounter, I have seen them live multiple times with different line-ups, and obsessively listened to/enjoyed/reviewed their latest album, Woods 4: the Green Album (which I’ve written about, at length here ). Simply by looking at the virtual ink I’ve spilled on this band’s creative output, it is clear that they are a favourite of mine. Whenever I have the chance to see them perform, I expect the world; I have yet to be disappointed.
This particular show marked Woods of Ypres’ penultimate performance in a month-long, North American tour that began in Sault Ste. Marie and reached as far South as Texas before looping back into Canada. They’d endured more iffy accommodations and broken glass than many people see in a lifetime; to say they must have been tired is an understatement of epic proportions. However long and difficult the journey, Woods of Ypres give themselves no breaks and indulge in no excuses. Every single member of the band poured all the heart and energy they had into their performance at the Blue Moon, led by the apparently indefatigable David Gold. They are incredibly generous performers in this regard, never giving less than their physical and emotional all on stage. Seeing them live remains, for me, a unique audience experience in this regard: no matter how much I put in, I can never seem to quite keep up with how much I receive from this band.
Woods of Ypres have undergone another shift in live line-up, and this particular alchemical combination of talents is pure gold. Evan Madden‘s drumming is both precise and emotive, providing an excellent structural support for the sonic architecture of Woods’ sound. I particularly enjoy the way he emphasizes the wave-like cymbal crashes during “Suicide Cargoload,” a choice that lets deep growl of the guitars drag along the bottom of the song. Bassist Shane Madden also provides backing vocals; his growls and screams are as impressive as his fierce-yet-controlled bass lines. The newest addition to this incarnation of the Woods lineup is Joel Violette, the mastermind behind the Thrawsunblat demo (a “rawfolk/meloblack” project I have thoroughly enjoyed). He is a terrific addition to the band; a hell of a guitar player, he understands intimately how to serve the overall sound of the band. The sound his guitar adds is both tremulous and precise; in particular, his interpretation of “Your Ontario Town is a Burial Ground” deeply impressed me. David Gold remains the mind and spine behind the band, and commands an incredibly intense presence on stage. This particular performance, his banter was somewhat minimal; he opted instead to project a piercing, merciless manner that made the moments of disarming tenderness within the music that much more devastating—especially during “Distractions of Living Alone.” This version of Woods of Ypres feels solid, complete and balanced. They were, as always, a sheer joy to hear.