WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM/ THOU/ THANTIFAXATH/ GATES @Soybomb, Toronto ON, September 6, 2011

By Jonathan Smith (Photos Taken and Badly Enhanced By Jonathan Smith)

I wasn’t sure where exactly the Soybomb was, having heard it was a fairly non-traditional venue located above a bike shop near Bathurst St. and Queen St. However, since apparently I look like someone who would be going to a Wolves In The Throne Room concert, it wasn’t long before a random stranger wearing a windbreaker on a bike stopped me to ask if I knew where the place was. The long line-up we found on the sidewalk turned out to be a giveaway. Soybomb itself is a small, open loft-style apartment space that has been hollowed out in the middle to make room for a two-sided state board ramp and very small performance area. Along the edges of the venue were a desk for taking tickets, a kitchen area, a merch corner, a couch, and what looked to be a washroom with a low-flush toilet. Adorning various walls were signs ranging from the tongue-in-cheek to the immature, offering such helpful information as “If your last name isn’t ‘the Soundman,’ this equipment will KILL you (and if it doesn’t WE WILL)” and, in front of the bathroom, “NO DRUGS, NO SEX, NO CHICK SESSIONS” (the latter sign also invited people to pee on the roof, an experience I declined and therefore can’t comment on). The Soybomb also had some of the most friendly, patient, and organized staff I’ve dealt with at a Toronto show.

After grabbing some inexpensive merchandise from Wolves In The Throne Room’s table and getting a free back patch from Thou’s vocalist Bryan Funck (who refused my $5 donation), I did my best to settle in for the evening. It wasn’t easy, as the venue filled up very quickly and made moving anywhere in the room an exercise in both basic politeness and patience. I was told that the place had a capacity of between 200 and 250 people, which is roughly the amount of people that showed up to the sold-out show. It wasn’t long before the mass of bodies began to heat things up (literally), and I was pleased (and grateful) that the staff was re-filling water bottles from the venue’s sink at no charge. Only the quality of the music kept the hottest and most cramped show I’ve ever been to from being near unbearable at times.

First band up was Toronto-based(?) Gates, a band whose identity is not well-publicized and whose set consisted of a long, droning piece in the style of Sunn O))) or Nadja. The sheer heaviness of the music reverberated off the walls, and the wall of tall people jammed up against a makeshift barrier separating the performance area from the audience made it nearly impossible to get any good photos of the band. The evening’s “no flash” request and low lighting ensured that any photo I did get was mostly shadows and maybe a forearm holding the neck of a guitar. The music was good enough, even if it was a style I wasn’t expecting that night. After their performance, I wondered whether I should resign myself to spending the rest of the evening squished up against the back of a skateboard ramp. By the time Toronto’s Thantifaxath donned their hooded robes, it was clear that the show was already running quite late. Nonetheless, their commanding performance tore through a good portion of their cassette EP release and beyond, even if their longer playing time meant that the next band was forced to watch the clock very closely.

Things improved (or worsened, depending on how claustrophobic one was) as Louisiana’s Thou set up their equipment. With the barricade removed and the performance area open, Bryan Funck asked the crowd to step forward several paces before adding “Don’t be shy!”. The new set-up consisted of the crowd pushed right up against the musicians, meaning that the band’s physical performances were mostly limited to head-banging and Funck shrieking in people’s faces. However, it was hard not to get sucked into Thou’s crushing and sludgy metal, and it quickly became obvious that half the appeal of the performance was close quarters and the lack of distinction between performer and observer.

As Thou packed up, brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver began to patiently make their way through the thick crowd in order to begin setting up for their performance. By the time the band began playing the opening chords of Celestial Lineage‘s “Thuja Magus Imperium,” the set-up meant that there were audience members standing or sitting within the band’s space, creating an inescapable sense of intimacy that is rare during a metal performance. With the addition of mist, low to non-existent lighting, the extreme heat, and the early morning hour, what had previously been a loft apartment with branches hanging from the ceiling and leaves strewn about the floor could not help but feel like something more extraordinary. Pausing only to remind the crowd to not take flash photos and to thank people for coming out, the band tore their way through three other songs (including a particularly inspired rendition of “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks and Roots”). One of the appeals of a Wolves in the Throne Room performance is their ability to put their music where their mouth is and concentrate solely on creating a wall of atmospheric, ambient noise as opposed to highlighting individual performances. Even Nathan Weaver’s vocals largely disappeared into the mix, becoming a part of the deafening swirl of eerie and moving sounds.

The evening finally came to an end to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” playing over the PA, leaving me both exhilarated and exhausted after being squashed up front while standing on the slope of a skateboard ramp for two hours. The Soybomb was not the most comfortable concert space around, but then again, its limitations are what made the experience more unique. There was no indication that the band intended things to be anything less.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.