By Adrien Begrand; Live photos by Darcy Begrand
Twelve hours before the show, you just knew that the Saskatoon stop on Children of Bodom’s big headlining tour of North America would be a tough one to endure. From sunrise it was a blazing hot day hovering around the 30s (about 90 degrees for our backwards friends south of the border), cloudless, pulverizing, dry, spirit-crushing heat. And this being the Canadian prairies, the sun takes forever to set, so that heat lingers as the sun seems to simply refuse to duck behind the horizon. When it’s like that on a day when you have a big metal show at the great-sounding but poorly ventilated Odeon downtown, it goes without saying it’s going to be a brutal, sweaty night.
The place was half full when I arrived just before 7:00, but the heat and humidity was already oppressive, and the more people continued to trickle in, the worse it got. But the good thing was that most people knew that this bill, featuring Finnish faves Bodom, Canadian metal hero Devin Townsend, Greek black metalers Septicflesh, and German tech death virtuosos Obscura, was far too good a bill to miss out on. As a result, opening band Obscura had a very large and lively crowd in front of them, and when the intro of “Septuagint” gave way to its central riff, the pit immediately ignited. The band, led by guitarist/vocalist Steffen Kummerer, was as technically sound as everyone had all anticipated, and indeed the live performances translated extremely well, but it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to see Kummerer so genial. No false posturing between songs, just good, honest, warm sentiment by a guy who was clearly pleased to be part of such a popular tour. The half hour set consisted of three tracks from this year’s brilliant Omnivium (“Septuagint”, “Ocean Gateways”, “Celestial Spheres”) and a pair from 2009’s Cosmogenesis (“Anticosmic Overload”, “Centric Flow”), all songs met with great enthusiasm from the audience, many of whom were familiar with the material already.
The 30 minute performance by Septicflesh was just as enjoyable, but in a considerably different way. Their brand of symphonic black metal is a lot more rigid, depending a great deal on backing tracks, and the band projects an air of theatricality, from the poses, gesticulations, and anti-Christian pontifications of bassist/vocalist Spiros Antoniou, to his H.R. Giger-esque mike stand. Unlike Dimmu Borgir’s 2010 flop Abrahadabra, Septicflesh marries black metal and orchestration with great skill, both sides enhancing the other gracefully, and despite the reliance on backing tracks, which bothers those who prefer their metal to come from a much more organic place, it worked exceptionally well. It certainly helped that the band’s mix was a lot more robust than Obscura’s, the black metal blasting whipping the already hot and rabid crowd into a froth. Like Obscura, Septicflesh’s set focused solely on the last two albums, the highlights being the title track from 2008’s Communion and the sheer ferocity of The Great Mass’s “Five Pointed Star”. For a city that doesn’t get many European black metal acts at all, Septicflesh was a very refreshing change, and practically everyone there seemed to agree.
An hour and a half in, the environment inside the Odeon had become unbearable. Drenched in sweat from head to toe, it was imperative to head back out to the street to air out, but only the over-19 crowd was able to come and go while minors were not allowed re-entry. Not exactly fair, but those of us old enough couldn’t care less, as we were bent on drying off until the next set. Back inside, after hitting that wall of humidity once again, the Devin Townsend Project was next, which was the main reason a lot of people had bought tickets to this show in the first place. Townsend’s cult following across Canada is remarkable (just look at Hellbound’s staff picks for Canadian metal songs as an example), and it’s been five years since the Maple Ridge madman had played Saskatoon, so expectations were high. After commenting on the size of our mosquitoes (“They’re like flying protractors!”) and asking if everyone was ready for a helping of “nerd rock”, the perpetually mugging and joking Townsend, clad in a grey suit jacket, led his four-piece band into a literally non-stop 45 minute set. The most manic performer in all of metal, Townsend always goes over the top and then some, cracking jokes during “By Your Command”, blowing kisses at cellphone cameras, and basically acting like the world’s biggest goofball. Like his own equally crazed music, that shtick is something only Townsend can make work, and as he and his band reeled off “Truth”, “Om”, “Supercrush!” (oh, if only the incomparable Anneke van Giersbergen was here to sing!), and “Kingdom”, all his geeky fans ate it up, clearly starved to hear the man in person for the first time in ages. For all the old faves, it was most fun to hear the two selections from the new demented masterpiece Deconstruction, the sprawling “Stand” and the “shitty oompa-loompas” (in Townsend’s own words) of “Juular”, which closed the set on a very high note. When the band finished, Townsend offered a cryptic, “See you in two months!” perhaps hinting at a new Canadian tour this fall. One can only hope!
By now it was imperative that I rehydrate as much as I could during the last changeover, but with the venue out of bottled water and nothing but overpriced cans of beer to offer, a number of us instead dashed to the pub across the street and downed frosty pints like we hadn’t drank in weeks. Manna from heaven, I tell you. Venturing back inside the crippling humidity, it was crunch time; although several Townsend fans opted to avoid the awful conditions and head home, I was determined to make it through the entire show. Children of Bodom has done a remarkable job building a very loyal fanbase in Canada, and it’s gotten to the point where the band dramatically outsells the United States per capita north of the border. They are loved here, and as usual their fourth performance in Saskatchewan in four years was met with great enthusiasm.
With Bodom’s song selection hardly a secret – the band ingeniously sells autographed setlists at the merch booth for $25 – the band dished out a neat and tidy performance of 16 favourites, with the preening Alexi Laiho leading the way. A quarter of the show consisted of material from the excellent new Relentless, Reckless Forever (“Not My Funeral”, the great “Shovel Knockout”, “Roundtrip to Hell and Back”, “Was it Worth It?”), but the biggest responses, no surprise, were to the older songs. 2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll dominated as well (“Bodom Beach Terror”, “Needled 24/7”, the ever-popular “Angels Don’t Kill”), and 2005’s Are You Dead Yet? was given a nod, but the biggest reaction probably was to “Children of Bodom”, which has been dusted off for the first time in ages on this tour. By the time the band ended with a big sing-along to “Hate Crew Deathroll”, everyone, especially yours truly, was spent, and we all staggered outside, eager to get home and shower after a stifling, filthy, enormously enjoyable four hours of live metal. If the music hadn’t been this consistently good from start to finish, I wouldn’t have made it.