Sepultura / Belphegor / Hate / Keep of Kalessin / Neuraxis @ The Opera House, Toronto ON, April 18th 2011

Review by Natalie Zed; Photos by Adam Wills

I remember, distinctly, the first time I heard “Roots” by Sepultura. I was sitting on a friend’s couch at the end of a party, at the end of the summer, drunk and tired and content. The ambient sounds filtered in first: indigenous Brazilian chants, the sound of birds and night insects buzzing. Then, I was overtaken by the vicious drums, the heat-drenched blood-soaked riffing. It smashed my brain apart.

I knew that the Sepultura I was about to see would not be the same band that recorded Roots. The Cavalera brothers were no longer in the band and a nearly 15 years had gone by. But that was theexperience that I was holding in my heart when I stepped through the doors of the Opera House.

Neuraxis were already a few songs into a set that clearly ran too long. They announced at one point that they were out of time, and then went on to play two more songs. Their death metal gallops along ata furious pace, relentless and punishing, but also formless and vague. If I am going to endure a beating, I’d better damn well know why. The drums were also mixed a little to loud, reducing the guitars to abuzz behind all the double-kick. Their front man at least displayed some roguish charm, chuckling and snarling at the audience, reminding me of Blanka from Street Fighter with his wind hair and heavily muscled shoulders. But, over all, the experience was underwhelming.

Keep of Kalessin‘s set marked the true beginning of the night for me. I’ve enjoyed their last two albums, Kolossus and Reptilian, very much, and it was a treat to finally see them play live. They have a real power to their music, a weight and heft to their sound that is meaty and satisfying. Every now and again, a chord or chorus strayed into a kind of power-metal epicness that I absolutely adored. They liveup to the majesty, intricacy and power of the Ursula LaGuin novels from which they take their name.

I had seen Hate perform very recently, with Rotting Christ, and they really impressed me. They maintain an excellent balance between theatrics and substance; their music carries the weight of their corpse paint. Their set was a slightly truncated version of the set I had already seen less than a month before, so it held no surprises for me. I found myself admiring their stamina, finishing one tour only to join another and playing with exactly the same level of ferocity and passion. I will be happy to see these Polish blackened-death metal warriors whenever then deign to visit Toronto.

This was my second experience with Belphegor; I saw them play with Kivimetsan Druidi, Eluveitie, Alestorm and Vreid back in November of 2009. The represented the most straight forward black metal aesthetic on this bill. Try as I might to submerge myself into their sound, I could not get past the singer’s voice. Vocals make or break a band for me, and I just could not take them seriously once the vocalist addressed the crowd. He maintained his “evil” voice while speaking, and the effect was something akin to a muppet with laryngitis. I couldn’t help giggling between every song. The audience was extremely appreciative though, obeying the band’s demands for violence, turning most of the floor of the Opera House into a swirling vortex of human bodies. While I was able to hold myself at an academic distance and be amused by their antics, most people threw themselves into the set with rabid abandon. Belphegor certainly know how to work a crowd and keep the energy level at a frenzied pace.

By the time Belphegor ended their set, the Opera House was absolutely packed. As they waited for Sepultura to take the stage, the feel of the crowd began to change. People were agitated, uppity, full of coiled energy. I found myself getting anxious too, gulping my beer more quickly.

When the lights finally went down and Sepultura stepped out, the crowd erupted. This was what they had been waiting for. And this, truly, was what I had been waiting for, too.

Derrick Green is a beast of a man. Huge and muscular, with some of the wildest eyes I have ever seen, he is an absolute force behind the microphone. His voice is vast, and coveys a kind of hunger that threatens to swallow the listener, the audience, whole. As much as we were consuming the music Septultura were creating, I could not get rid of the feeling that I was also being devoured. The band was particularly ravenous when playing their newest material, songs off the upcoming Kairos (the title track “Kairos” and “Seethe.”)

At the risk of stating the obvious: this is a very different band from the one that recorded Roots in 1996. Sepultura as they exist today have incredible muscle and power, at the expense of some of their subtlety. Their music now has less of an eerie quality, gets under the skin less. Instead, it wants to tear you apart. The experience of seeing them live was thrilling and exhausting, but left a ghost behind, a little bit of longing for the sound of a jungle breathing on the back of your neck.

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