Noctis Metal Fest 2009: The Concerts

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Words by Rob Hughes, Photos by Mira Born

Conference dismissed, it was time to put away notepads and pick up beers for the first of two nights of metal in Calgary. The Distillery, a mid-size club with great sightlines and sound just a stone’s throw from the conference hotel (kudos to the organizers for their foresight), was the venue for “Club Night” featuring headliners Novembers Doom.

Friday, October 2: Club Night at the Distillery

NoctisIII_Kilyakai by Mira Born

Kilyakai, a local five piece, played the first full set I caught (Tosca and Norrath had played earlier). Frontman Wes DeLeeuw was a dominating force, fully committed to whipping up the crowd. The rest of the band matched his intensity, powered by flurries of double-kick rhythms. While they performed to a high standard, their amalgam of death/thrash/hardcore could have benefited from some extra dynamics and individuality. A sixth member operated a laptop at the side of the stage, taking advantage of the club’s video screens, where he projected a mix of war footage, explosions and assorted violence.

Kansas City, Missouri’s Ares Kingdom performed nothing but the finest all-out black thrash metal. The corrosive four-piece impressed with their good old-school songwriting—with well-defined intros, solos, and “thrash” sections—that drew a direct line back to Possessed and other pioneers of the genre. Remember when a band would play a riff more than twice?Bassist/vocalist Alex Blume showed his commitment to being 100% metal by introducing songs in his singing voice.

NoctisIII_sloughfeg by Mira Born

Slough Feg’s Mike Scalzi is a total rock star. By the third number he’d shed his glittery shirt and was down to a paisley vest over his war-painted torso. Slough Feg practised what they preached at their conference interview earlier in the day, and put on a no B.S. pure rock ‘n’ roll show, with Marshall amps and Gibson guitars (an SG and a gold top Les Paul to be exact), classic stage moves, and a set drawn mainly from the new album, Ape Uprising. Opening with “The Hunchback of Notre Doom” and closing with “Shakedown at the Six,” Slough Feg simply stormed the place, stacking twin-lead harmonies to absurd heights and reminding us that heavy metal is serious bloody fun.

Paul Kuhr of Novembers Doom liked what he saw out there. “They don’t headbang like that in America!” the singer told the Calgary crowd. The appreciation was mutual. Novembers Doom live were as majestic as their recorded work; the band clad in black, headbanging in sync to the immense sound they produced. “Drown the Inland Mere” made for a powerful opener, followed by “Empathy’s Greed” from the new album. The rest of the set list drew mainly from the last three albums, mixing monsters like “Rain” with a couple ballads. Only “I Hurt Those I Adore” fell flat towards the end—as a new song, it might come into its own after some more road-work.

Calgary’s own Truck closed the night, playing to a sparser crowd that they won over with some funky, mathy instrumental prog metal, full of slap bass and clean ambient passages. Playing a style more akin to Canvas Solaris or math-tech kings Dysrhythmia, they probably wouldn’t have gone over so well earlier in the bill, but as the last act of the night, they were exactly what was needed, like a fine single malt after a gourmet meal.

Saturday, October 3: MacEwan Hall

Day two at Noctis III featured an all-ages, two-stage blowout at the University of Calgary. The Den at the MacEwan Hall Student Centre hosted six local bands, as well as serving some much-needed foodstuffs to overextended festival-goers. The Den’s beer taps were kept under wraps unfortunately—those of age could score a brew at the beer garden adjacent to the main stage.

The main stage saw Edmonton’s Begrime Extremious and Calgary’s Exit Strategy opening for the “big four” special guests: Aura Noir, Destroyer 666, Suffocation and Cynic.

NoctisIII_auranoir by Mira Born

It was immediately clear that MacEwan Hall’s acoustics aren’t well suited to metal shows. Aura Noir proclaimed themselves the ugliest band in the world, and the Norwegian trio sounded it. Their “unholy thrash metal” was a mass of tangled frequencies, with the bass cancelled out by reverberating kick drums. They still made for a decent spectacle, sneering and prowling through the dry ice fog. By the time they played “Condor” the trio started to sound OK. Either the soundman had tweaked something or my ears had trained themselves to better process the din.

NoctisIII_Destroyer666 by Mira Born

Destroyer 666 upped the ante in the nasty-ass black-thrash sweepstakes with a furious set, playing material like “I Am the War God” with incredible power and enthusiasm (the drummer was so carried away he dropped sticks a couple times). Their music’s high-velocity delivery was difficult to fully absorb in such a large venue, but when they locked into a slow riff and pounded it out, it was pretty stirring stuff.

During the break between Destroyer666 and Suffocation, I wandered over to the Den Stage and caught Calgary’s Sacred Ally in full flight. The confines of the venue gave the Den Stage a genuine party feel, reinforced by the band’s good-natured Maidenesque mayhem and their singer’s generosity in letting friends take the mic at various points.

NoctisIII_suffocation by Mira Born

Every metal fan needs to see Suffocation at least once, and with the godfathers of brutal death metal more active than ever, chances are they’ll come a-slicing and a-dicing at a venue near you. The largest crowd of the night witnessed a pulverising set comprising old nuggets (“Infecting the Crypts”, anyone?) and new material from Blood Oath. Frank Mullen (he of the death metal spirit fingers) was in classic form, responding to a request for “Jingle Bells” by tunelessly crooning “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”—brutal! Sure, he comes across as a likeable goon, but the joke’s on you when he’s talking between songs about the end-times and saving that final bullet for your own head—you’d best not mess with Suffocation. With “Pierced From Within” delivering the final blow, the crowd were left to pick themselves up and allow their brain matter to settle back into place.

NoctisIII_cynic by Mira Born

As with Truck the night before, Cynic arrived to soothe some shattered souls. It’s a good thing the jazz-tech metal legends are so adept at living in the moment, Eckhart Tolle-style, because there were moments when their opening number threatened to wither and die due to a wonky PA connection creating horrific crackles of static at top volume before the whole rig was disconnected. Despite playing “The Space For This” through only their backline for uncomfortably long stretches, they made it to the end, after which some techs rushed in to fix the problem. Paul Masvidal, graceful under pressure, tried to lead the crowd through some yoga moves, but found it a hard sell. Back to the music, which took in most (if not all) of Traced in Air along with Focus classics like “Veil of Maya” and “Textures”. It was a shame that the crowd had thinned out by this point, as the chance to see such incredible musicianship (performed in such a low-key manner) doesn’t present itself very often.

On the positive side, it was a tribute to the organizers that each night of the festival featured bands that represented different degrees of HM extremity. By favouring veteran acts from different scenes around the world, they did a great job of appealing to a cross-section of hungry Western Canadian metalheads. Every band, from my perspective, brought their absolute best to the festival. After the show, as I took off my all-events wristband on the C-Train back downtown, I started to wonder what the Noctis crew might be able to put together for next year. I can’t wait to find out.

All photos used courtesy of Mira Born. Please check all of  Mira’s photos of this festival online at  http://www.metalshots.com/2009/2009-10-03_NoctisIIIFest_Calgary/index.php

Sean Palmerston

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