Mayhem/ Keep of Kalessin/ Hate/ Abigail Williams/ Woe @ The Opera House, Toronto ON, November 10th 2011

By Natalie Zed

I arrived at the Opera House just in time to catch the tail end of Woe‘s set. This Philadelphia, PA black metal band, helmed by Chris Grigg, have undergone significant lineup changes in the past year. Therefore, it was good to hear them live, and see they have retained their trademark crackling, crushing sound. I very much enjoyed Quietly, Undramatically and am looking forward to their new material .

Next up were Abigail Williams. The theatricality of this set was really toned down from what I have seen before. They wore no paint, no hilarious spiked shin guards. Their attitude seemed quite smothered as well, and energy of their performance was sullen. The band members didn’t really seem to be enjoying themselves on stage at all; while black metal artists aren’t usually very cheerful, Abigail Williams could not muster any real misery or fury either. It felt more like angst that anything truly risky, an I was not exactly inspired.

Luckily, Hate brought back some of that energy of the show. This Polish, blackened-death metal act was the only band to perform in full paint at this event. This was the third time I have seen them in approximately a year. I couldn’t help but notice they are still playing a very similar set,with the same intro and structure. Their set was solid, and I certainly enjoyed it – their music has a listenable yet abrasive quality and their low-end is heavy and stirring. But as a very heavily touring band, I am now actively looking forward to something new from them.

Keep of Kalessin, also an inveterate touring band, provided direct support. Their set drew primarily from Reptilian and Kolossus. Thebon‘s voice is a live setting remains incredible: vicious and sophisticated, towering or subtle, the voice of a dragon. They put on a dynamic, energetic performance, with lots of movement on stage. Keep of Kalessin are also a striking-looking bunch of Norwegians, billowing long blond hair only adding to their mythic appeal. The set ended with “Ascendant,” going out with a spectacular bang, demonstrating once again that this is a band that values high quality liver performances.

As soon as Keep of Kalessin stepped of the stage, buzz began to build. There was a slightly longer break between the penultimate and final set, as Mayhem‘s crew had more to set up: a huge backdrop as well as smaller side banners that security guards ended up hiding behind. It’s strange to review Mayhem. The band sits at the centre of all the controversy surrounding the most notorious era in
Norwegian black metal history. From church burnings to murder, it all revolved around Mayhem.

This is the band that Dead, Euronymous, Grishnackh all played in, the band that still boats icons Atilla, Necrobutcher, Hellhammer as members. However controversial and dark, Mayhem is still incredibly important aesthetically and culturally. It’s also relatively rare the the band successfully crosses borders, making this a rare Canadian appearance.

There was a great deal of excitement, a surge forward when Mayhem began to play, but also a kind of hush. It was not a mad scramble, but an almost reverent anticipation, as though the crowd was trying to absorb as much of the performance as possible. I was a part of a room full of people who were riveted. A steady wave of stage divers began to flow forward, all reaching for Atilla. With no barriers in place many people tried to grab him as they were whisked away by security, trying to make contact, as though he were a relic or an icon.

Mayhem’s set itself had a depth to it, an echoing, cavernous quality to the sound that made it seem like it was issues from the mouth of hell. Atilla is capable of extraordinary vocalizations, keeping up a mostly hellish, harsh cadence. Near the end of the set he broke out some clean singing, showing off a huge and operatic voice, which reminded me a bit of chanting in Byzatine orthodox rites, but twisted and perverse. He moved the noose and skull he held in his hands rhythmically, in a strange circular pattern, as tough conjuring. Necrobutcher is still a tight, lean man, and plays bass very physically, fingers pressing hard into his instrument as though squeezing out the sound. Everything about him is a clenched fist. Hellhammer provides a rhythm that is part giant’s heart beat, part war drum, a precise, almost lovely violence. Touring guitarists Teloch and Morfeos seemed to dance around these three rocks, their playing comparatively bright as agile, as if their souls were lighter.

While their entire set was intensely satisfying – I particularly loved hearing “Ancient Skin” — the last three songs were incredible to hear live: “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” and “Total Fucking Armageddon” from Deathcrush and “De Mysteriius Dom Sathanus” form the album of the same title. This was Mayhem at their most primal and dangerous. There were no pig heads, no real blood at the Opera House that night, and Attila did not attempt to hang himself, but there was still the stink of hell about it all, a whisper of ash.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.