Shining, Revenge, Wolvhammer @ The Garrison, Toronto ON, May 9, 2017

Tonight’s stop on the so-called No Safe Space Tour may be an attempt to take a swipe at the increasingly politicized climate the modern world exists in these days, but the line up, by black metal standards, is diverse: Wolvhammer’s sludge-tinged black metal, Revenge’s black/death cacophony and Shining’s progressive melancholia. Toronto’s black metal loyalists darken the doorways of The Garrison to indulge in some Tuesday night blasphemies.

Wolvhammer from Minneapolis/Olympia south of the border kick off the proceedings. Appearing on record label Profound Lore’s roster is an indication that the listener will be treated to something less common on the extreme metal spectrum. Their black metal is chameleonic in nature, shifting tones and touching atmospheric, punchy punk rhythms, mechanical drones, doomy introversion and utterances comparable to later Enslaved’s black metal passages. The music these Americans brew is deceptively multi-faceted and demands repeat listens to capture all the nuances. Unfortunately, some of these details are lost in the live setting but the musicians’ performances themselves are robust and certainly enough to pique the interest of punters present who have no prior exposure to them.

Increasing the level of brutality are Edmonton favourites Revenge with their breakneck war metal. The drum pummeling of James Read is the spine of such chaotic music, generous with calamitous blast beats. While Read handles the vocals on record, this duty is assigned in concert to guitarist Vermin, whose voice is more guttural but no less belligerent. His guitar work is a particular highlight with signature guitar slides usually prefacing an aural assault and creating a dimension that positions them a grand distance from war metal’s less creative artists. The speedy black metal incorporates plenty of death/grind armoury to forge songs including “Traitor Crucifixion”, “Pride Ruination (Division Collapse)” and “Altar of Triumph”. The trio’s stage presence is austere yet, surprisingly, only two brief mosh pits explode in the venue for this battle-hardened set. The curtain-calling song is a Revenge staple, namely “Blood of My Blood” from debut Triumph.Genocide.Antichrist, and storms through the venue summoning a final pit, rendering the audience beer-stained but satisfied.

So much can be said about Sweden’s Shining, particularly professional provocateur Nikolas Kvarforth. His unusual (for a black metal band) behaviour over the years has detracted attention from Shining’s music, which like the aforementioned frontman cannot be considered dull or generic. This is the Swedes’ first headlining conquest to North America and while The Garrison is not packed, it is certainly busy. The headliners storm through a set that focuses on the later, more progressive elements of their gloomy career. “Vilja & Dröm”, “Submit to Self Destruction”, “Framtidsutsikter” and “Yttligare ett steg närmare total jävla utfrysning” broadcast eternal hopelessness and despair in a suicidal black metal vessel. Occasionally the guitarists Peter Huss and Euge Valovirta crawl into melodic sorrow or rock and roll rhythms, among some of the best moments in the music. Sadly, the sound is muddy tonight and the guitars do not strike with the same pronounced conviction as their recorded counterparts.

Attendees expecting a wild spectacle from Kvarfoth do not get what they want. The vocalist does not engage in the audience provocation or self-harm that earns his live notoriety, allowing his music to do the speaking. But as the set weaves on, the dull sound takes its toll on the performance and the audience slowly thins out. When the five piece finish their set and leave the stage, it feels about right. Following Revenge’s speedy rampage, Shining paradoxically feel too laid back – something the Swedes are not supposed to be perceived as – and the diversity of the bill works violently against them. Perhaps next time, they will have a support that proves to whet the crowds’ appetite for them successfully.