Despite Wednesday night’s beastly prog metal show at Montreal’s Club Soda getting off to a rocky start for me and my companion, The Contortionist had a magical introduction to their set full of lights, music, and wonder. Then, their only stage prop, a large faux stained glass orb which was being lit by the house lights, began to fall on drummer Joey Baca, forcing them to interrupt their first song for a solid ten minutes while Baca and the band’s stage crew tried to fix the problem. Frontman Mike Lessard did an adequate job of keeping the crowd entertained during this unexpected debacle. He even sang a short semi-acoustic tune backed by guitarist Robby Baca. Once their prop was fixed and their stage looked magical again, their blend of jazz and djent took over, and they began to look like they were actually having some fun. Not unlike Tesseract, they make use of space and atmosphere to keep their music heavy, and were probably the softest act of the night. Though they’ve had quite a few member changes during their short career, their music hasn’t suffered and they are a good example of the direction metal is heading.
Tosin Abasi and his band Animals as Leaders are the undisputed kings of modern instrumental metal, and the size of the crowd they attract is a testament to just how far their reach actually extends. When they took the stage, Club Soda was as packed as I’ve ever seen it, and everyone was calm. There was no moshing and there was very little head banging. Instead, it was mostly just a calm consideration of what we were all witnessing: guitar and drum mastery of the type which is almost unheard of elsewhere in original music. There is no bassist in Animals as Leaders; Abasi and his partner in crime Javier Reyes wield eight-string acoustic and electric guitars which simultaneously double the low end and the high end. Watching the two provide synchronized chicken picking, before one of them would launch into a melodically driven solo, is mesmerizing in and of itself. Add in Matt Gartska playing near-machine-level drum beats, and you have a truly stunning showcase of talent. (All of Animals as Leaders’ debut album was recording using a drum machine, and Gartska recreates it perfectly in their live set.) Unfortunately, these guys put next to no effort into any sort of visual accompaniment to their stage show, not even going so far as to provide a backdrop with their band name on it.
The total opposite can be said about North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me. Their musical and visual philosophy can pretty much be summed up as, “Because we can.” Opening their set with “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” from the monster third album Alaska was a great way to push the already extremely excited crowd over the edge. The familiar synth line washed over the eager concert goers like the sight of Santa and his reindeer over a quiet snowy village on Christmas eve. What followed was a set full of huge progressive thrashers spanning nearly the entirety of BTBAM’s impressive 15+ year career, set to an awesome light show and moving photographs of whichever album cover the band happened to be playing from. At one point, during a rousing chant of “BTBAM! BTBAM! BTBAM!” from the crowd, drummer Blake Richardson decided to have some fun, and started a jam to the beat of the chant, which bassist Dan Briggs happily joined in. This band’s crazy mix of death metal, jazz, pop, and everything else under the sun means that any of their originals would have made for a killer encore, but the band chose instead to regale the crowd with a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a closing number; Freddie Mercury’s memory was truly honored as everyone sang and danced and screamed along to the classic ballad.
Written by Syd Ghan
Photography by Hugues Bouchard
*edited by Kate Erickson