I arrived at the Phoenix Concert Theatre early for this show and waited in line; I was immediately glad I did, because before seven p.m., the line stretched almost around the block. From the moment I finally shuffled into the venue, squeezing past the merch and vegan propaganda tables and into the main room, the place was packed. Nothing heralds a good show like a full, excited room, and this was certainly no exception.
Chthonic, from Taiwan, opened with a high-energy set. Their aesthetic is located somewhere between symphonic black metal and melodic death metal, borrowing some of the heaviness of both genres while always erring on the side of being sleek and entertaining. The band’s name is actually Greek in origin, meaning: “pertaining to spirits of the underworld.” They have just a hint of Asian influence in their music, as they incorporate an erhu (a traditional Asian string instrument). Live, their sound translates extremely well. In particular, “Ocean Quake” had a great rhythm, deeper and lower than the rest of the set. Chthonic remind me of clattering knives, very sharp and striking, with a great deal of flash. They really got the crowd going and by the end of their set, the Phoenix had gone from pretty full to absolutely packed, crowded even at the back bars and balconies.
Consummate touring band Skeletonwitch performed next. They’re a group that have had a ton of practice with their live show and clearly love performing for an audience. They’ve always struck me as much more a live than studio band, and this performance only furthered my belief that they must be seen to truly be appreciated. Their new album, Forever Abomination, is being released October 11, and they played some new material, including “Reduced to the Failure of Prayer.” Their set also included some great renditions of “Beyond the Permafrost” and “Strangled by Unseen Hands.”
Skeletonwitch clearly love their audience, and the audience returned the affection. A large, active pit raged throughout their set, reacting to every song with no instruction from the band, who appreciated and acknowledged that enthusiasm. Lead vocalist Chance Garnette clearly loved the response he got and yelled: “This goes out to anyone that likes it rough!” to encourage even more violence. Their set ended with “Within My Blood” and was unquestionably fun and satisfying.
Much to my chagrin, I missed Devildriver the last time they passed through Toronto, and so was extra pumped to see them perform as direct support. It was great to see them open up in front of a crowd this large and hungry. They immediately set a hard, driving rhythm and the floor went absolutely wild. “Hold Back the Day” stood out as a great live rendition; it was a tiny bit wistful, which took on an ominous tone when paired with Devildriver’s heaviness. I also really loved “Pray for Villains.”
Even with a touring line-up as strong as this, Arch Enemy were the undisputed headliners. The energy at the Phoenix had been incredibly high all night, but went up to another level when they played their intro video. It felt like the introduction to a television show and served to explain the concept element of their most recent album, Khaos Legions.
These songs for a dystopian future, filled with revolutionary impulses, rang pointedly in a post-G20/Rob Ford Toronto. Their set was heavily weighted with new material; it’s clear they’re pushing the new record hard. I had to wait until the (extended) encore to hear personal favourite “We Will Rise.” The ravenous crowd would have been happier with a few more from the back catalogue, but Arch Enemy put on a showy, impressive, entertaining performance.