Review and Photos by Adam Wills
Most readers of Hellbound are probably familiar with the typical metal venue – sticky floors, questionable washrooms, a dimly lit stage, and a sound system that only the most experienced sound engineers can master. But every once in awhile, we get treated to a special show, where a venue has as much to do with the atmosphere as the performance itself (see Gruesome Greg’s live YOB review from last year). Saturday’s Heritage Hunter Tour stop in Toronto, which took place at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, was one of these rare occurrences, and believe me, this was indeed something special.
Openers Ghost took full advantage of the Sony Centre’s stage lighting to enhance their already ghoulish stage presence. The Swedish sextet quickly plowed through a 6 song sermon (fitting for Easter weekend?), featuring “Elizabeth”, “Satan Prayer” and “Ritual” amongst others from their sole 2011 release. Frontman Papa Emeritus, robed in his anti-pope garments commanded the audience, as his haunting vocals echoed throughout the venue. While Ghost’s vocals seem to come off slightly tentative live, their stage show and frightfully fun songs more than make up for it.
Mastodon have always been one of my favourite bands to see, and after missing their last Toronto appearance, I was more than eager to catch some of The Hunter material live. In this sense, they didn’t disappoint, playing practically the entire album (aside from “The Creature Lives” disappointingly) mixed up with past favourites such as “Crack the Skye”, “Blood and Thunder” and “Crystal Skull”. Drummer Brann Dailor takes on an increased role in the vocals department, and really shines, providing a second strong vocal presence to the group (Brent Hinds still seems to be the weak link in this area). The technical aspects of the band really shone through on this evening, as the sound was probably the best that they’ve had in their many visits to Canada, while it seemed that a walking cast on Hinds seemed to hold him back from too lively of a performance.
This would be Opeth’s second time playing a seated venue in Toronto – the first being for their all acoustic Damnation tour with Porcupine Tree – but with the band plugged back in, the energy would be much different this time around. Starting with Heritageopener “The Devil’s Orchard”, Opeth quickly had the entire audience standing as if the seats had never existed. The next hour and fifteen minute set seemed to fly by, as the band performed mostly new material (5 tracks from Heritage, nothing before Damnation) while frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt went through his usual standup routine between songs (referring to Sweden as the superior hockey country in the world, himself as a genius who sings from Ghost, Mastodon and the creator of the first Volvo automobile).
While the Opeth set seemed to fly by, the band never sounded better live. Mikael’s vocals were masterful, accentuated by the wonderful sound system of the venue. Their mix was perfect – even from the far left side of the stage, every instrument was audible, crisp and clear. There is no doubt that a venue of this calibre played a large hand into the best sounding Opeth performance this city has ever seen and the new material really shined. While I don’t expect to see Watain playing on such a prestigious stage anytime soon, I hope that having some of metal’s best play at refined locations such as this is more than just a one time event.