Acid Witch / Vanik @ Hard Luck Bar, Toronto, 14 October 2017

When October comes around, horror aficionados salivate at the thought of Halloween – the creepy highlight of the month. And what better way would there be to honour this ghoulish time of year than to see the purveyors of hallucinogenic Halloween death metal, namely Acid Witch?

Speed metal outlaws Vanik are notable for frontman Vanik’s presence as a live guitarist in fellow Cleveland sleaze metallers Midnight. After scoring a record deal with the selective label Van Records, last year saw the release of their eponymous debut. Tonight they hold nothing back from their grisly cacophony. They spew up fast and dirty thrash riffs with the same don’t-give-a-fuck, Motorhead-tinted demeanour of Midnight. This music commands the audience to headbang with the same exuberance as a coke-fuelled demon.

Meat-and-potatoes song structures, punctuating drum work and a dose of the foreboding every now and then all join forces to go for the throat with a tight grip. The band’s stage presence features a fair share of headbanging, mirroring the attendees at the front of the stage. The music initially finds the sweet spot but as the set nears the end, there’s little left that remains intriguing. This is a style of metal that has exploded in favour over the past few years and it requires something more to stand ahead of the pack.

Detroit’s death metal disciples Acid Witch have a solid underground following in Toronto. They were last in TO in 2014 for their debut show outside of the United States and they definitely have not returned too soon; the Hard Luck is busy tonight. They splice their horror movie obsession with a penchant for drugs to brew a potent concoction of groovy death-doom. To accentuate the classic horror soundtrack feeling, they daringly incorporate eerie keyboards into their metal and circumvent any horrific side effects one would assume keyboards in death metal would breed. Frontman Slasher Dave’s gurgling growls are blood-curdling and he pulls double duty, periodically fingering his ’70s horror soundtrack synthesizer. Guitarist Mike Tuff summons forth hallucinogenic-addled guitar leads and crunchy death doom riffs and drummer Gnarls Charles with the whole line up headbanging through their pounding set.

Acid Witch’s songs are infectious and the likes of the hard hitting ‘Stoned to the Grave’, the entrancing ‘Trick or Treat’, the addictive ‘Witchfinder Finder’, the punchy ‘The Black Witch’ and the bone-snapping ‘Sabbath of the Undead’ are outstanding live. The audience is fully in the grasp of the headliners, headbanging and crooning along to choruses. This kind of music is thoroughly enjoyable party metal with theatrics, brutality and psychedelic energy in a single package. It’s energetic, sinister, atmospheric, and Ghoulish enough to summon the dead, creative enough to warrant repeated listens. When the last note concludes, it’s a shame to see the Americans leave the stage but the memory of a thrilling trippy death metal show will remain in the attendees’ collective memories forever.