Unexpect / Stream of Passion / Manahil / Modified / Half Past Four @ Sneaky Dee’s, October 19 2010

Live review by Natalie Zed, Concert photography by Adam Wills

Before this show, I hadn’t been to a concert in 26 days. This is absolutely unprecedented. I was experiencing genuine withdrawal symptoms, found myself getting shaky and irritable for the lack of heavy metal in my bloodstream. And why would I put myself through this? Well, for 14 of those 26 days, I was in Europe (Frankfurt, Germany; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Brussels, Belgium), visiting my brother and drinking the cheapest and most delicious beer imaginable. It was glorious to be away; it was also incredibly good to come home. This show served as my unofficial welcome-home celebration, a mark of a return to normalcy (not that you could cal my routine “normal”). By the end of the night, I was incredibly glad that it was this show I attended to get back into the swing of things. First of all, every single band on the bill featured a female vocalist, a rare treat in the metal-verse. I like a lot of things, but I rarely adore something this much; I fell head-over-heels in love by the end of this show.

It was a journey getting to my musical epiphany of the night, however. There was a steady incline in the quality of the music over the course of the night. I arrived when Half Past Four had just begun their set. They were, at least, entertaining, though I am not sure in the way they intended to be. I couldn’t help but giggle at the keyboardist’s black silk shirt with cravat and puffy sleeves, the bassist’s white suit jacket and fedora, the incredible spazz-dance that the gangly female vocalist would break out whenever she wasn’t singing. Their sound was definitely all over the place. They call themselves prog rock, but this classification works only in the loosest sense. There were moments during there set when I genuinely cracked a grin, such as when they sampled the Looney Tunes Song “Kill The Wabbit” (a la Elmer Fudd) in the song “Rabbit.” In the end, Half Past Four certainly held my attention, but seemed more of a party band than a genuine musical entity, with unifying force or brilliant musicianship to hold their complicated patois of styles together.

Modified were up next, and were definitely my least favourite band of the night. For a band attempting to evoke the idea of something strange and edgy in their name, they were incredibly vanilla on in from of an audience, with a weak stage presence and timid vocals from the faux-blue-plaid-corset-clad singer. The was absolutely nothing dangerous or compelling in their sound, just a sort of empty catchiness that was easy to sing along to but almost impossible to remember as soon as they stopped playing. Overwhelmingly, they struck me as a very white-bread, easy-listening kind of band, which is not for me at all.

I was starting to get aurally hungry by the time Manahil came on stage, and they finally threw me something I could sing my teeth (my ears?) in to. Vocalist Hind Fazani has a captivating voice. Whether singing in Arabic or English, the sound remains exotic and hypnotic. I have to admit that I was more impressed with her voice than the music, which was surprisingly gentle, metal-influenced but definitely heavy on the prog-rock, electronica side. Their set was smooth and satisfying, but musically I wanted something more at that point in the night, more rough edges – though this is an issue of preference and programming rather than quibble I have with the band.

Stream of Passion offered meatier fare. They face some very particular challenges as a band, as most of the other members are based in the Netherlands, while singer Marcela Bovio lives in Mexico. Their first album was famously composed over the internet, and the band primarily works together electronically. Despite the distance between them during a great deal of their collaboration, they present a unified front on stage. A great deal of symphonic/gothic metal hits me right in a soft spot I have lurking in my psyche somewhere, probably due to the fact that I grew up with a devastating crush on the Phantom of the Opera. Stream of Passion hits this soft spot dead on with their emotive, sailing vocals, and operatic instrumentation. I was particularly impressed by how fierce the keyboards were. Marcela Bovio is also a startlingly beautiful woman and compelling performer; it is difficult to take your eyes off her. I enjoyed their set, but part of me was almost embarrassed by that enjoyment, by the ease and straightforwardness of the satisfaction that I drew from it. This is definitely my idea of guilty pleasure music.

After a couple of disappointments and a great deal of relentless teasing, I was ready to be blown apart – and Unexpect delivered, dishing out a life-altering performance. When they hit the stage, this show became a genuinely extraordinary occurrence. Hellbound photographer Adam Wills has sung the praises of this band for quite some time, and after seeing them live I am completely converted. This Montreal-based band call themselves a “metal laboratory,” a description as poetic as it is apt. Nearly impossible to describe, they hit me like a crazy gothic metal version of cabaret/gypsy music, which a great deal of dark, psychotic carnival thrown in the mix as well. The violin took centre stage for me, running the gamut from classical trills and traditional Roma fiddling to dark, screeching black-metal wailing. Violinist Borboën is a positively manic performer, completely subsumed in his instrument, and channelling a terrific amount of energy through the bow and strings. But, then, every member of this band is incredible. Vocalist Leïlindel moves like a beautiful, if demented, marionette, blue-black hair a whirlwind, her voice almost preternaturally clear. Both guitarists, syriaK and Artagoth are incredible performers, and give the vaguely uncomfortable impression, by giving the audience crazy eyes and creepy fingers, that they’re closer to ogres than men (they also dress the part). I was also completely hypnotized by Chaoth‘s 9 string bass. It was hard to tell where to look, and what to listen to. The entire show, I left the panic that, despite being completely enraptured, I was missing something. I was absorbed, intellectually and physically, into the music. It was an extraordinary experience, one that I hope that every metalhead with a penchant for the weird and complex gets the chance to enjoy — and one that I will repeat, come hell or high water, every time the grim magicians Unexpect deign to visit Toronto.

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site. Plus he's the man behind heavymetalhamilton.ca.