It was freaks on parade at Rivoli on the night of Friday, February 23rd as the third round of Toronto’s Wacken Metal Battle got underway. Events like these always feel communal, and it was great to see scene’s old guard come out to witness what felt like a showcasing of Toronto’s metal underground.
Coming straight from the early 1990s, openers The Blackcloud Syndicate served up some classic, feel-good thrash. The band checked off all the right influences, like Exodus, Anthrax and Testament. The result was fun, but so familiar that it only produced a few head bobs and toe taps, probably not what the band was going for. Still, with the debut of a newer, heavier song called “Head Full of Hornets” and the announcement that this is their first show with a new guitarist, it’s entirely possible that The Blackcloud Syndicate are on the verge of a creative breakthrough.
With an electric Chapman Stick, no bassist, and a frontman who looked like he just stepped out of a heavy metal modeling catalogue, it was clear that My Frost would be something entirely different. Their mix of epic doom, prog, and melodic metal leaned heavily on the Scandinavian scene, particularly bands like Katatonia and Tryptikon. But with unexpected djent riffs on “Saints for Hire” and a killer rhythm section, My Frost managed to make this sound their own. The band’s professionalism showed as singer Ady switched from eerie Gregorian chant to black metal rasp with ease. The crowd responded, chanting back when Ady commanded them to, and by the end it was clear that My Frost are a band to keep an eye on. Expect big things!
Having opened for Goatwhore, Aura Noir and Origin, it’s fair to say that Astaroth Incarnate have been generating a bit of buzz. The band had one major trick up their sleeves: singer Sam Astaroth, whose demonic outfit and makeup would make even the most over-the-top Final Fantasy villain feel underdressed. As the heaviest band on the bill by several degrees, Astaroth Incarnate owned the stage from the first note. This was straight-up extreme metal in the best way possible, with all the frenzy and passion of a young Marduk or Behemoth. The crowd was ecstatic, furiously screaming the band’s name back at them and eventually devolving into the night’s first mosh pit. The band was impeccably tight, even through the toughest technical moments, and by the time “Curse of the Black Plague” dropped (while Sam uncoiled a blood-red noose), the moshers had threatened to engulf the whole floor. Astaroth Incarnate are a band on the rise, and it would take a pretty big cynic not to see that something special is going on here.
Black Eve scored several points by coming out bedecked in leather armour and brandishing Viking shields. It certainly drew the attention of judge Ryan Hofing, whose similar band Crimson Shadows won the Wacken Metal Battle back in 2013. Black Eve certainly have passion, but a slightly muted mix didn’t let their epic Viking metal take off the way it should have. The performance felt a little muted too, never reaching the speed or power that a genre like this usually demands. Synchronized guitar swings came across as over-choreographed and slightly lame, as did the singer’s pronouncement that, “We are a horde of the mightiest people on Earth.” There’s still potential here, though. Black Eve have their image nailed down, and the folksy moments in their music, coupled with the obvious musical chemistry of the two guitarists, show that they do have songwriting chops. All it could take is a few more bangers to set Black Eve on their way.
After taking a long time to set up, the crowd had noticeably thinned out for closers Meitreya. It’s a shame, because those who did stick around were treated to one of the night’s best sets. Meitreya stood out immediately by being the only metalcore band on the night’s bill. Singer Matt Cutrara was a treat to watch, effortlessly charismatic as he channeled Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach to scream and sing like his life depended on it. His powerful baritone was a welcome addition to the show, as was the song “Remnants” (earworm alert!!!). The band’s sound was perfect, letting clean guitar notes ring out over the nasty breakdowns that peppered their material. Meitreya have good tracks to spare, and their new album is now one of my most anticipated of 2018.
In the end, one band must win, and at this show it was Astaroth Incarnate. The win was well deserved, but really, this wasn’t about winning. Wacken Metal Battle is a space for the metal scene to come together and show what it truly is: a huge group of friends, all interested in the same thing. Tonight was a triumph, and most of the acts will go home with dozens of new fans each.
Written by Max Morin
*edited by Kate Erickson