Review by Laura Wiebe; Photography by Adam Wills
Arriving at the Opera House a little late (missing Unleash the Archers for the TIFF presentation of Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins) we walked into a friendly greeting from Leaves’ Eyes growler Alex Krull. That second or two was characteristic of the relaxed and intimate vibe that held for the rest of the night. With Kamelot off the line-up, the Leaves’ Eyes / Blackguard billing drew a smaller crowd, making it easy to get close to the stage and giving the in-between-song banter a more conversational tone. The casual atmosphere made me a little more forgiving of the often muddy mix for all three bands that blurred some of what, on record, comes across fairly clean and precise.
Borealis were already in gear (musically, and leather pants-wise) when we wandered inside the venue. I’d been intrigued so see how their Ontario version of prog/power metal would translate live, and they didn’t disappoint – me or the folks I saw singing along from the floor. And on stage. In boxer briefs. As in Blackguard vocalist Paul Ablaze’s guest appearance, when he joined Borealis for a song and a bit, providing a short but amusing distraction.
Ablaze kept up the dynamic frontman routine throughout Blackguard‘s set (though with more clothes on). Even to the point where the sparse-ish audience managed a little moshing and crowd surfing. The band plays Toronto fairly often (with more dates on the near horizon) but their high-energy delivery stands up well to the threat of burn-out. “This Round’s On Me,” in particular, is enough of a celebratory anthem to beg for repeat renditions.
In between sets we were serenaded by Styx, with classics like “ Come Sail Away,” “Mr Roboto,” and “Babe” blending seamlessly into the live sounds before and after. (Okay, the blend wasn’t so seamless, but it was still kind of fun.) But without too much delay Leaves’ Eyes stepped up for their part of the night, expressing their thanks that this headlining jaunt was possible after their original tour plans collapsed.
The Leaves’ Eyes line-up has changed slightly since I first saw them play Toronto, not that the “beauty and beast” pairing of Liv Kristine and Krull leaves much space for noticing what the rest of the band is up to. That says something about the couple’s on-stage chemistry but also implies a less flattering comment on the newer members’ lack of live charisma. At times, the younger guys almost looked bored. With (Atrocity frontman) Krull moving to the sidelines for some songs, Liv Kristine clearly acted as the band’s focal point. Her light blond hair and corsetted dress offered the usual stark contrast to the men’s dark and casual garb, and her high melodies soared in the mix, supported by, more than integrating with, the heavier sounds around her. Leaves’ Eye’s second album, Vinland Saga, figured large in their playlist (with tracks like “Solemn Sea,” “Elegy,” and “Farewell Proud Men”) offset (unsurprisingly) with newer material like the single “My Destiny,” all of which came across comfortably well. I was charmed, if not enchanted, reluctant to leave but willing to head for the door with the final few songs carrying on behind us.