Review by Natalie Zed, Photos by Adam Wills
There’s no doubt in my mind that when I look back on 2011, this show will stand out as one of my top concerts of the year. It was incredibly well curated and all the artists on the bill enhanced and challenged one another. I was initially disappointed that Ghost couldn’t make this show due to visa issues, and wondered how the substitution would affect the line-up. As it turns out, it was a non-issue. The flow of the performance, the tension and build, was lovely and perfectly balanced — definitely one of the best tours to come through Toronto in a while.
I walked in just as Junius began to play. I’d recently been introduced to them via their split EP with Rosetta. They’re much more heavy indie rock than traditional metal, but they’re plenty hard enough and strange enough to fit this bill perfectly. They’re an intelligent band as well: Junius is a literary reference, the pseudonym of a writer who contributed a series of letters to the Public Advertiser in the 18th century, and their last album, The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist, is about controversial revisionist historian Immanuel Velikovsky.
Watching them perform, and the audience reaction, was interesting and even a little moving. The vast majority of the crowd was unfamiliar with their music, initially regarding the band with curiosity, but from a reserved distance. As Junius played, the crowd was slowly won over, and at each pause the applause was a little louder and the shouts a little more emphatic. After they finished their set, there was a small rush on their merch, which was great to see. They played smart and hard, won over the crowd and received a great deal of well-deserved praise. I sincerely hope that this tour boosts their profile and exposes them to a new, appreciate audience.
I had the pleasure of seeing Alcest last spring in a very intimate setting at the Hard Luck Bar. This time around, I wasn’t entirely sure how their sweet, nostalgic shoegaze style would translate to much a larger setting. They work so well in creating a sense of intimacy that I worried that some of that would be lost. However, it ended up that I was incredibly pleased by the quality of the sound. Despite the cavernous space, very little of that sense of closeness was lost. Alcest’s music is very much about the exploration of the inner landscape; it also conjures images of the fantastical, making reality seem thin and diaphanous. Neige is the perfect frontman for this act: delicate, almost fay-like, a little bit otherworldly. Zero (on second guitar and backing vocals) is also a striking figure, a tall man with a mane of blond hair and a soaring voice. Winterhalter (drums) creates a sense of vibrating warmth, an energy that is at once soothing and urgent, like the heartbeat of a bird you hold in your hands. Together, they created a spellbinding performance and I, like most of the audience, was completely immersed.
I most recently saw Enslaved when they supported Dimmu Borgir on their last tour, and was completely blown out of the water by the intensity and quality of their performance. Enslaved are a band with a long, lauded history that are still producing mind-blowing material every time they release an EP or full-length. The band members are all brilliant musicians who produce gripping music and give energetic performances; it was awesome to see them in a headlining position, performing with such excellent support. Their set list followed a rough, inverted chronology, starting with “Ethica Odini” and “Raidho,” from Axioma Ethica Odini. Later, they got the crowd really moving with “Giants” and “Ground,” huge, stomping numbers that are viscerally exciting. The main part of their set ended with “Jotenblod,” from 1994’s Frost, and “Allfadr Odhinn,” from debut EP Hordanes Land, and the encore included a drum solo, a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and “Isa,” from the album of the same name.
The level of excitement ramped up throughout Enslaved’s set and there was rarely a moment when the huge pit was still. Early on, one kid crashed-and-burned while stage diving and cut his face open in his excitement, which was sobering, for about three minutes, before the furious pit recommenced raging. Vocalist Grutle Kjellson expressed his love for Toronto over and over, thanking the crowd for their enthusiasm and expressing how much fun they were having on stage (and telling terrible jokes). They have an incredible presence, helped by the fact that every member of Enslaved looks like a freaking Viking, and authentically too, with no hint of affectation. Their set featured everything I had hoped for, including brilliant guitar work performed effortlessly. I also noticed and appreciated keyboardist Herbrand Larsen in a live setting, whose work rounds out their sound while losing none of the heaviness. This was, without a doubt, once of the best start-to-finish concerts of the year, and Enslaved served perfectly as the stellar headliners to this incredible show.