Review by Natalie Zed, Live Photography by Adam Wills
I always feel it is important to provide a little bit of context for my reviews. Every review that I write is profoundly coloured by the state I was in when I attended a particular show. Something as simple as how tired I am can deeply impact how willing and able I am to listen; sometimes exhaustion can be a help, sometimes a hindrance. There is nothing objective here; all I know how to do is present the most twisted, bent, personal and subjective interpretation imaginable.
In light of that, it is only responsible of me to tell you that I was possibly in the best mood on the face of the earth walking into this show. I’d spent the day before eating too much and watching horror movies with friends. The day of the show, photographer Adam Wills and I spent several hours at the beach in Port Dover, where I ate strawberry ice cream and frightened people with the preternatural whiteness of my skin (I’m not pale – I’m transparent). We listened to Virgin Black and Primordial during the two-hour drive to Buffalo. The company, the music, the weather had all been perfect, and so I walked in feeling sated, calm and centred. The feeling would not last long.
We had only a few minutes to chat with the other car-load of Toronto metalheads who’d made the trek up to Buffalo before Bloody Panda took the stage. As soon as vocalist Yoshiko Ohara began to wail, my sense of peace was shattered. At once chaotic and urgently rhythmic, her voice tore me apart with its chant-like cadence. She spent the entire show bent nearly double, perfectly straight black hair forming a curtain over her face, rendering her expressionless. This eerie distance only made the aural violence she unleashed that much worse, like the falls of a whip tipped in steel. Gerry Mak‘s accompanying vocals were just as challenging; he employs Tuvan throatsinging techniques, which sound both unsettling and wonderful. The rest of the band played their hearts out, matching the two vocalists’ intensity. I was particularly impressed by drummer Lev Weinstein, who delivered a blistering performance and then played a second set (as he also drums for Krallice). By the end of Bloody Panda’s alien and intimate performance, I felt skinned, wound-raw all over.
Krallice tend to take their time with their sound checks; I needed the few extra minutes their perfectionism allowed to wander dazedly around and try to reassemble myself. However, with the drummer and bass player both serving double duty in Krallice and Bloody Panda, it wasn’t long before I found myself once again in front of the stage, listening, rapt. Krallice poured an intense amount of energy into this performance; Colin Marston, in particular, was positively fiendish. I saw Krallice for the first time back in April, with Ludicra and Empyrean Plague, and was initially unsure how I felt about the unusual, organic way their experimental black metal moves. After spending some time listening to them, and now seeing them live a second time, there is no uncertainly left. I’m in love. They have a way of playing that makes me feel unbalanced, as though my auditory senses have been tilted somehow. I listen to their music as carefully as I listen for thunder after lightning, and still the sound surprises me.
I did my best to prepare myself for Portal. I’d seen photos of their previous live performances, and anticipated that their set would be surreal in a Dali-esque, Cabinet-of-Dr.-Caligari way. I was expecting theatricality, The Curator‘s trademark grandfather clock headpiece. I could not have anticipated how fucking terrifying this band is to watch. Every one of the band members wore hoods over their heads, only one of which even had anything approaching eyeholes cut into it. They were also covered head-to-toe in heavy black suits. The Curator wore an all-black cardinal’s robe complete with headpiece, and also wore a blackout/executioner’s mask. Even his hands were covered in thick leather gloves. It was hellishly hot in the Mohawk, which made the heavily-clothed band members look even more oppressive. A few songs into their set, their masks were soaked through at at the eyes and mouth. But it was not just their visual aesthetic that was deeply frightening. The energy that Portal projected, both in their music and their sheer physical presence, was overwhelming. Every gesture that The Curator made was impossibly intense. I spent the entire set staring wildly up at the band, certain that any moment something Very Bad was going to happen. They’re masters at wielding this carefully managed sense of dread. Portal is aptly named; when they were on stage, reality felt somehow thinner than it was before.
Walking out of the venue, preparing for a long drive back to Toronto, I began to giggle hysterically, running down the sidewalk, trying to throw off some of the excess energy. I felt the giddy rush of adrenaline, as though I had just narrowly avoided being hit by a car. I did not just experience this show; I feel like I survived it, and that I am now better, and stranger, for it.