Dimmu Borgir / Enslaved / Blood Red Throne / Dawn of Ashes @ The Sound Academy, Toronto ON, December 12 2010

Review by Natalie Zed; Photos by Adam Wills

Goddamn, do I ever hate the Sound Academy. For a place that has the bloody word “sound” in its name, the acoustics are horrendous. My dubious affection for this venue wasn’t improved by the fact that by the time I finally made my way down to the docks, the wind blowing off the lake was colder than the proverbial witch’s tit. When I finally walked into the venue, my hands were curled into frozen claws, fingers painful to extend. I was chilly, flushed and a bit grumpy.

The condition wouldn’t last more then a few moments once inside, thankfully. Despite the aforementioned terrible sound everywhere but front and centre, this was an excellent show. I had the chance to laugh and drink, crowd-surf and stand in awe with a load of great friends — this was the type of show that brings just about everyone from the community out of their hidey holes, a genre-transcending performance that unites goth kids, dark ravers, black metallers and prog heads alike.

I walked in and lubed up for the last two songs of Dawn of Ashes’ set. What I caught ably demonstrated that they’d chosen theatrics over musical substance. They were masked, but without the corresponding amount of menace in their sound it felt like they were bluffing, that rather than any true horror lurking beneath their costumes, with any scrutiny there would only be thin air.

Blood Red Throne brought considerably more to the table, upping the ante, in terms of musical quality, as well as sheer energy. They had a great, dirty edge to their sound that complemented their appearance. One of their guitarists was a dead ringer for Dimebag Darryl, saluting the legendary six-stringer when the crowd called him out on this with a riff, a toast and a flip of the bird. Vocalist Vald wore a filthy (bloodstained?) wife-beater and spiked gauntlets, adding impressive, if somewhat monotone, growls over a sound that managed to successfully combine filthy Southern rock with Nordic-influenced metal. I get the sense that they’d be excellent party/adventure companions (the kind that leave you waking up on someone’s floor the following afternoon with a guitar pick in your underwear).

Enslaved were… can I say orgasmic? They opened their set with two epic songs from latest release Axioma Ethica Odini: “Ethica Odini” and “Raidho.” The ebb and flow of their material is absolutely breathtaking, increasing in intensity then easing back, becoming gentler at exactly the right moments. The guitar solos were flawless, firm and plaintive, seemingly played on my sinews as well as their strings. Their set was one of those performances that makes me feel more at home in my body, as the sound might as well be plugged into my spine. In this sense, Enslaved are profoundly physical performers, throwing off an amazing amount of energy. Their stage set-up is minimal, just Viking men with long blonde hair and instruments playing urgent, complete metal flawlessly. It’s downright erotic.

I expected Enslaved to represent the high point of the night, and they did. But before they took the stage, I was already thinking of Dimmu Borgir as a kind of denouement. However, the infamously theatrical band impressed me more than I expected. Despite being plagued by technical difficulties (likely a result of their complex set, which incorporates many samples and programmed lights), they produced a live set that was much more complicated than most acts would dare. The intense lighting, dominated by greens and purples lancing through the heavy smoke, gave the impression of the underworld crossed with an alien landscape. Their sound was massive and heavy, reverberating straight through me. Shagrath’s vocals were mixed quite low from where I was standing (front and centre), but the intense, symphonic instrumentation more than compensated.

I began their set somewhat indulgently suspicious and ended it quite impressed. When I finally departed the venue, I was as warm as I had been cold.

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.