Review by Natalie Zed; Photos by Albert Mansour
I’ve reviewed relatively few shows this summer. It turns out even I need to recharge now and again. Now that the air is getting a little crisp at night and the fall tour announcements are kicking into high gear, I’ve rekindled my love for hearing damage (just kidding — wear earplugs, kids) and am ready to leap back into live show coverage.
Giddy and fresh, I walked into the Annex Wreckroom about halfway through Kommando’s set. This Toronto, ON-based band played a set of fun, raucous thrash metal with distinctly punk riff structures. I was pleased to see they performed to quite a good crowd, even though it was barely eight p.m., and an appreciative one at that. Kommado established a positive tone for the rest of the night, raising the energy in the room high from the beginning.
Always straddling the line between an original interpretation of traditional heavy metal and retro homage, Holy Grail appeared a bit more haggard and rougher than usual. The band have endured several line-up changes over the past two years, endlessly touring to support Crisis in Utopia. In this latest incarnation, with new guitarist Alex Lee (of Bonded by Blood) added to the mix, they’re going for something a bit grittier, slightly darker and less slick in their live performances. Vocalist James-Paul Luna still has a soaring wail of a voice, and Eli Santata with Alex Lee are an astounding lead guitar playing duo. Despite feeling a bit worn down by the grind of their tour schedule, Holy Grail still have a great deal of energy to give and enjoyed a very positive reception in Toronto, as the crowd roared along and enthusiastically pumped their fists in the air to beloved songs like “Call of Valhalla.”
Punk band Inepsy provided direct support; they did a split with Toxic Holocaust in 2010 and have a strong relationship with the headliners. I wondered if they’d be the odd act out, but Inepsy have enough of a rock’n’roll backbone that they suited the dominant thrash/traditional metal aesthetic of the bill very well. Their performance changed the climate of the show, for the better (and more violent). Inepsy clearly have a strong following in Toronto, who proceeded to cheerfully war with each other in the pit and stage-dive throughout the set. Their sound was buzzy, filth-clotted and vicious, and their energy set the bar for the headlining performance even higher.
Predictably, Toxic Holocaust delivered on the challenge laid down by Inepsy. Their set was a riot — pure, dirty thrash glee. The band are touring to support new album Conjure and Command, an excellent full-length with no pretensions and profoundly catchy songs.
The success of their record came through in their set, which was a blast to sing and scream along to; I, for one, found I knew every word to “Bitch.” Toxic Holocaust excel at writing incredibly satisfying, hooky songs that work on listeners’ reptilian brains, and this translates fantastically well in a live setting. Frontman Joel Grind is also part of their live success, as he clearly loves being on stage, exhorting the crowd to ever greater acts of violence. Rarely during Toxic Holocaust’s set was there not someone leaping on or off the stage. At one point, Grind demanded only women stage-dive during the next song, and was obeyed. When their tight, satisfying set ended, it did so cleanly. “No encores, no bullshit,” Joel Grind swore, without guile or pretense, and promptly departed the stage.