It’s Victoria Day weekend, which means Toronto’s premier extreme music underground fest is here! Now in its fifth year of existence, local promoter Max Deneau’s BriefcaseFest is on a mission to provide a platform to emerging and appreciated Canadian and international artists in Toronto. This year is slightly different to previous ones; it features a slimmed down line up of fewer bands and is an all ages event for the first time. The first day involves a screening of Norwegian documentary Blekkmetal alongside a Q&A. The second day features genre-bending and weird bands pushing the limits of experimentation and hybridization while the third and final day provides extreme metal for those of a heavier persuasion.
Quebec’s Black Empire have been spewing dirty black metal since 2001 and have two gritty full-lengths to their name. Influences draw heavily from the second wave Norwegian scene both musically and visually with the use of corpse paint. Cold melodic guitar leads are the focal point and are executed with conviction yet aping a time long ago so loyally commits the music to feeling predictable and displaying little of intrigue.
Local favourites Demontage waste no time firing off a caustic volley of imaginative blackened heavy/thrash metal. Frontman Spatilomantis Lout deals both razor-sharp riffs and vocals that oscillate between growls, singing and shouts and is backed by Abominable Reverend’s punishing drumming. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, the trio also dispatch a cover of Japanese black thrashers Sabbat’s “Satan Bless You”, rounding off the set in rewarding headbanging fashion.
Next up is the first Danish band of the night, namely black metallers Myrd. A relatively recent horde, these Danes conjure unearthly black metal with the grit of the second wave scene. Songs either feature riffs bleeding melancholia and introspection within mournful melodic passages or hateful thrash rhythms that suit a live airing better. This level of variation keeps three-piece’s performance worth watching throughout and they receive a solid response from the crowd when they put down their instruments.
Throwing their collective weight behind their bristling black metal are Quebecers Hak-Ed Damm. This is fierce. Drawing influence from Marduk, guitar work is unashamedly violent, drums are pure distilled battery and vocals are spat out at a scathing pitch. Occasionally tempos slow down and display more intricate musicianship or brutal death metal style bludgeoning as respite from their tornado of blastbeats. This is enough to clear out the mid-fest lethargy that may kick in to the increasingly more boozed up attendees.
Old school death metal addicts should salivate at Outre-Tombe’s gory expulsion. Exhuming the corpse of this classic genre, these Quebecers forge a synthesis between the likes of Entombed, early Death and Bolt Thrower. Serving up prime selections from sole album Répugnation, Swedish old school guitar tones and d-beat inspired drumming are utilized to paint the cacophony of battle, the sound so nearly tangible that it could be described as atmospheric. Creepy guitar harmonies and punchy rhythms pepper the set and hook the audience into another layer of intrigue. With innumerable retro death metal revivalists freshly signing up with popular metal labels, it is pleasing to see one play with genuine passion. This was their first live attack outside of Quebec and hopefully will not be their last.
The penultimate act of the night is Toronto’s Paroxsihzem, following in the footsteps of fellow Canadians Antediluvian, Mitochondrion and Adversarial. Incantation’s suffocating vibe is recreated but with dizzying technical prowess and war metal additions. Guitar solos are extremely speedy, hectic and crazed, like the last spewings of a moribund madman; Krag’s vocals are guttural savagery and Abyss’ battery on the skins rattles the walls of the Coalition. Paroxsihzem’s product is something as intricate as it is brutalizing, a mind-fucking hypnotic descent towards the bowels of the Earth’s core. Shifting through the claustrophobic, astral, depressing and unrepentantly belligerent provides a whole barrage of different moods for the audience to absorb. There is an abundance to focus on and it is impossible to soak it up all in the single live setting so multiple live viewings are recommended.
Last up is Denmark’s Angantyr, an underground black metal group potentially better known for sole member Ynleborgaz’s more recent other band Make a Change…Kill Yourself. Angantyr can stand on their own two feet, sounding distinct from the younger band. Formed in 1997 this is their debut trek to Toronto as part of a wider Canadian tour. Ynleborgaz is joined by bassist Vrede of Myrd and Make a Change…Kill Yourself’s live drummer Skogsvandrer to bring his studio creation to life. Their black metal is typically Scandinavian – atmospheric, vast and otherworldly – provoking a similar reaction to the likes of early Satyricon, Emperor or Kampfar but assuredly different to these Norwegians. The guitar is comparatively sweeter than comparable acts, made so by rich sustained tremolo riffing, far from the aggressive tremolo attacks frequently crawling out of Northern Europe. With five albums from which to pluck songs from, the Danes’ drive through a bevy of mood scopes, including rhythmic wonder, mournful musings, folk-tinged commands and ethereal harshness. While recorded material occasionally includes cellos and keyboards, these instruments are excluded from tonight’s show so the music loses a dimension but the result is not deleterious and remains perfectly enjoyable. This performance wraps up BriefcaseFest ideally and the metalheads in attendance leave the Coalition with complimentary adjectives in mind.
So there it is. Another BriefcaseFest has taken over Canada’s most populouscity showcasing a list of talent that Ontario dwellers may not have otherwise crossed paths with and provides successful results. Props are liberally given to Max Deneau for entreating Southern Ontario to a great selection of styles and musicians that the area may not otherwise have had any exposure or access to. Hopefully next year will be more of the same and Deneau’s efforts to make such a huge project come together and wholly appreciated.