At the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday, May 3
The Vancouver semifinals of the Wacken Metal Battle Canada proved that in contemporary metal, darkness has a better chance of winning than light—though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Five unsigned bands competed to see who would be sent to the national finals in Toronto on June 7 for a chance to play the Wacken Open Air metal festival, which will be held later this summer in Germany.
Wild-card contender Unleash the Archers went on at the thankless, unmetal hour of 6:45 p.m., playing to a Rickshaw still three-quarters empty. Their rousing variety of melodic, fantasy-themed power metal can actually raise your spirits, but that may be a disadvantage in a scene that favours aggression, catharsis, and flat-out evil.
Still, singer Brittney Hayes came on-stage in a cape and light armour, a wind machine blowing back her hair, and gamely launched into an untitled anthem dedicated to Canadian metal fans. Guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley traded solos and teamed with Hayes and bassist Kyle Sheppard to windmill their hair while drummer Scott Buchanan provided a relentless double-kick undercurrent. They won nothing Saturday besides a few new fans, but Unleash the Archers was the only band whose CDs I bought when the evening drew to a close.
Having East Vancouver’s Neck of the Woods go on immediately after demonstrated how different two bands can be and still be slotted in the same genre. Dark and foreboding, the group offered spidery, unconventional chord changes, and a menacing but slightly unclassifiable approach to metal; when I asked at their merch table for help identifying the style they played, no one seemed sure what to call it (“maybe American metal?”). Their 25-minute set saw guitarists Dave Carr and Travis Hein veer between chugging riffage and dense, involuted solos, while singer Jeff “Spicoli” Radomsky climbed risers, growling and pacing like a caged, angry animal while exhorting the moshers to “fuckin’ move!”
The vocalist for the next band, the thrash/death-metal Over the Coals, one-upped Radomsky in intensity even though her biology is not predisposed toward producing guttural growls. A small blond powerhouse named Susie Myers, she stalked the stage in a tough “Not Saved” tank top, and could be seen afterward hugging and joking with headbangers at the merch table, clearly having gotten a rush out of performing.
When last reviewed by the Straight, at a Funky’s Halloween bash, Witch of the Waste’s singer Ryan Fitzgerald sported long hair and a Jeff Lebowski housecoat. These days, he looks more like a slightly debauched Varg Vikernes, but he still sings like he’s going to chew your face off. Witch of the Waste’s fierce cacophony, with accompanying strobe effects, best satisfied the need for catharsis, and the band members had memorable stage presence; it was particularly fun to watch bassist Mike Holme as he thrashed about with his six-string Ibanez, looking rather like Flea at the Super Bowl, except, um, plugged in. (He later explained, “Some people might not know our songs, so I want to show them how to dance to them!”)
The next act, OmnisighT, was the evening’s anomaly, with its guitarists doing unexpected things like smiling blissfully as they jammed out deliciously retro, Zappa-meets-Malmsteen solos with at least one toe in the land of jazzy improv. Their positive vibe was infectious, though their actual songs, when they got around to them, veered too close to lesser Soundgarden. They were definitely not typical of the Vancouver scene, but guitar fiends here should still rush to check them out.
The competition ended around 10 p.m., with the judges, including event organizer Abelardo Mayoral, taking the stage to say that there was a “clear winner” who would be announced on Facebook the next day. It was by no means as clear to the audience, since every band was striking in different ways. After ample speechifying from all judges, Mayoral announced that Neck of the Woods would be the ones advancing. The band certainly offered one of the most original approaches to metal Saturday night and is amply qualified to represent the Vancouver scene. And they had the best T-shirts!
A good portion of the crowd thinned out before guest headliners Dire Omen (from Edmonton) and Mitochondrion went on; there’s really only so much low-frequency double-kick drum rumbling that a body can take before you feel like you’re being beaten up. Still, Dire Omen deserves special mention for being the only band Saturday to achieve evil in trio format and for having the most intimidating presence and the most metal name.