Review by Laura Wiebe; Photos by Adam Wills
When you’re into foreign underground bands who are often slotted into short opening slots because they’re not widely known… well, you get used to enjoying one of your favs for about half an hour before the higher profile but sometimes less interesting headliners take to the stage. In the case of Katatonia and Cult of Luna’s co-headlining tour stop at the Opera House in Toronto this September, ‘interestingness’ wasn’t the issue. Nevertheless, openers Tesseract were the highlight of the night.
Tesseract have an almost uncanny mastery of technical skill – performing music as complex as it is heavy – but also of combining that skill with a visceral physicality. The whole band was intense to watch and hear, but despite singing little the bassist took centre stage (literally and metaphorically), even jumping down into the photo pit at one point to get closer to the crowd – an action their singer repeated near the end of their set. Tesseract’s fans are ardent, fervent and vocal, and seeing myself surrounded by a sea of bobbing and banging heads, of mouths articulating every lyric, I couldn’t help but feel like the band’s combination of chaos and melody is somehow tapping into the rhythm of life for a particular generation.
Intronaut’s bassist also took centre stage, and though they were good, and they had an impressive light show, their performance was less exciting – anti-climactic after Tesseract’s intensity. The live delivery of especially recent material captured the aesthetics of Intronaut on record but didn’t add a whole lot, though people around me on the floor seemed to appreciate what they were hearing and seeing. There were moments of transcendence – like the beautifully heavy drums and tension at the beginning of the third song in their set, and the extra tom playing the guitarist threw in during one of their heaviest songs, leading to a dual drum solo. But it felt like some of the vitality that had begun the night was draining away.
Somewhat later, Cult of Luna got off to a very moody and atmospheric start. During their first song I fluctuated between excited, disappointed, intrigued, and persuaded until their performance (and the improving sound mix) eventually won me over. There was a constrained physicality to their live delivery – lots of drooping, flailing, bending forward and phallic guitar and bass deployment – and their frontman was especially lively. Having two drum sets but no drum riser made for an interesting live dynamic as well. It all seemed like an expert demonstration of how to post-rock out. Flashing and vibrantly coloured lights, music that was often repetitive, doomy and intense, even a break into actual singing and harmony, weird keyboard intrusions, and shifts between the mellow and the bronto/phallosaurusly heavy… it was all incredibly powerful and a little opaque. Cult of Luna further emphasized how much the bands so far relied on the strength of their instrumental passages, subordinating the vocalists’ contributions to just one element in the overall production.
Katatonia took to the stage last, beginning first with a backing track, then drums, and much sound adjusting that never settled into a solid and appropriate mix. Their vocal harmonies were as delicious as ever in terms of recent performances but nothing else really seemed to click, making it difficult to appreciate the atypical set list. Familiar live tracks like “My Twin” and “Forsaker” were intermingled with several more obscure tracks (including “Quiet World” from the Saw You Drown ep and “Unfurl” from the July ep). The audience was on board enough to sing along loudly during “Ghost of the Sun” but I found it hard to be anything but disappointed. Having been utterly captivated by the band’s set opening for Opeth last spring, and charmed by their recent Dethroned & Uncrowned experimentation, I’d arrived with high hopes and ended up simply confused by how ‘not quite right’ the whole thing sounded.
As we made our way outside and back to the car it was still Tesseract’s killer opening set that flashed in my mind and my ears, a half hour that blew the rest of the night away.