Review by Natalize Zed; Photos by Albert Mansour
Some nights, getting utterly shitfaced is not only unavoidable, but a natural phenomenon, like the weather. This show was most definitely one of those times. I’m sure part of it was the slight nip in the air, and the fact that Thursday is the end of my workweek also contributed to the debauchery. But above all, I blame the bands. All three — Raven, Cauldron and Skullfist — are there to make sure the audience is having a fantastic time, destroying your liver in the process. There is something about traditional heavy metal that dovetails beautifully into overindulgence.
Skullfist started off the banquet with a bang and bite, offering the perfect appetizer platter of traditionally flavoured heavy metal. Their hair is spectacular! There are bleeding skeleton torsos on the mic stands! The singer is wearing the tightest of pants! Did I mention the hair? While all the band members are appropriately flashy, it was drummer Alison Thunderland who consistently drew my eye; she’s incredibly fierce behind the kit, exuding fiery energy. Their sound was just as satisfying as their look. Many bands define themselves by the cross-genre quality of their sound — the specific blend of sonic elements they’re going for — or claim to be inventing something new altogether, which is why amazing portmanteaus like “aquacrunk” exist. Skullfist aren’t trying to do any of this; they’re occupying a very established piece of metal territory, and doing so incredibly well. From the leather tights to the wailing high notes, they know just what they’re about. For instance, they performed an excellent cover of Angel Witch’s “Angel Witch,” which blended seamlessly into the rest of the set. It didn’t feel like they were performing a cover; the song fit in their set as a natural extension of their original music. That’s a sure sign they’re matching their influences extremely well.
Cauldron provided an incredibly complementary, just-different-enough flavour of metal for the second course of this smorgasbord. They’ve recently been intensely involved in the recording process, which is a very different mode than live performance. Watching them on stage, one got the impression they were blinking in the light, almost surprised to find themselves in front of an audience after spending so much time doing studio work. This show also served as a photo shoot for the aforementioned album’s artwork. There were flashes set up all over the stage and a designated photographer sharing stage space with the band. Despite these distractions, Cauldron put on a super-fun show. This band have an excellent sense of humour and are willing to do a lot to entertain their audience, including perching one guitarist upon another’s shoulders. They also made good use of their smoke machine and have a thing for dry ice. Smoke lingered throughout the venue (even pooling in the girl’s bathroom!) long after their set ended. It was hilarious and over-the-top, which suited them perfectly. Where many bands pay great homage to the classic heavy metal genre (Skullfist included), Cauldron are unique, in that they appear completely natural in that mode. When they perform, they’re not trying to honour or match the aesthetic so much as fully embody it. When they perform, their style is effortless.
Raven stormed the stage last, serving as both main course and dessert for this particular metal buffet. It was fascinating to watch this legendary NWOBHM band perform after Cauldron and Skullfist had already worked the audience over. The only word to appropriately describe the experience is “educational.” This is the aesthetic that the younger bands are going for; this is the original template they’re paying homage to. I was absolutely blown away by the amount of energy these gents still have. They refer to their style as “athletic metal,” and I can see why. At one point, John Gallagher mused, “maybe I shouldn’t bash my guitar into the ceiling so much, knocks it bloody out of tune.” Armed with a headset mic, and running around the stage, he was never out of breath or tired.
Their performance was not only extremely high energy, but exceedingly positive. Their primary goal was to incite the crowd to emit more positive energy — to yell louder, to sing along. I was also very impressed by their interest in creating a sense of camaraderie. They praised the other two bands for “getting it,” for doing something positive and understanding the aesthetic they’re operating in. They also built up a sense of belonging through their song choices, playing a set full of pieces like “All For One” and “Rock Until You Drop.” They left the audience recharged, worn out and feeling as though they were a crucial part of the performance.