Two of the most important bands in the history of Nordic metal turned up the heat this weekend in Toronto with their unparalleled music and hypnotic performances.
OPENING ACT: Black Anvil
There’s nothing better than uniting two Nordic bands in Toronto (and we all know how Finland, Norway and Canada can get really, really cold) to celebrate the end of another freakin’ winter, and that’s exactly what hundreds of fans were able to witness at the always cozy The Opera House this Saturday when INSOMNIUM and ENSLAVED, with the support of BLACK ANVIL, kicked some serious ass with their very melodic, folk, and obviously heavy-as-hell music. The weather was good enough (for Canadian standards) for several people to only wear T-shirts, including myself, and I must say that was a wise decision as things started to get pretty warm inside the venue right after the doors opened. And on a side note, if you’re attending any concert at The Opera House or just visiting the neighborhood, a new Slayer Burger location (and I still think they should be called “SLAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEERRRRR Burger” for obvious reasons) opened on February 12 right beside the venue, offering a great option to fill up your personal tank before heading into any mosh pits.
It was 7:30pm when the opening act, New York, United States-based Black/Thrash Metal act BLACK ANVIL kicked off the night with their vicious music, with vocalist and bassist P.D. and drummer R.G. stealing the spotlight with another blasphemous performance, and I say “another” because I already had the pleasure of seeing them opening for the mighty Cannibal Corpse in November also here in Toronto. Still promoting their 2022 opus Regenesis, the quartet did a very solid job on stage, with their newest song NYC Nightmares being the highlight of their performance for me. Perhaps the only “issue” with their show was the fact that their music is considerably different from the main attractions, and at least I felt there was a lack of circle pits during their entire set. The fans still raised their horns for the band and clapped their hands in approval after each song was played, but as I said maybe the night was too eclectic for a band like Black Anvil.
Then after a quick break, more specifically at around 8:30pm, Finland’s own Melodic Death Metal institution INSOMNIUM hit the stage with a flawless performance, blending songs from all of their previous albums with the stunning creations form their brand new opus Anno 1696. Spearheaded by the iconic vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevänen, the band started their show with five superb songs in a row, those being 1696, White Christ, While We Sleep, Godforsaken and Lilian, embellishing the airwaves and putting the entire crowd in a metallic trance and showing how strong their newest album is. Insomnium have always been one of the pillars of Nordic Melodic Death Metal since their inception back in 1997, always releasing amazing albums, but it feels like they’ve perfect their sound even more with Anno 1696, and the reactions of the fans in Toronto to their new songs was the ultimate proof of that.
One thing I must say about Insomnium, in special when talking about their live performances, is how awesome their guitars are nowadays with Markus Vanhala (the heart and soul of another Finnish Melodic Death Metal beast, the excellent Omnium Gatherum) and Jani Liimatainen, who’s in a much better position these days compared to his time with Sonata Arctica or Altaria, sounding sharp, crisp and extremely melodious for the absolute delight of all fans who were at The Opera House. I have no idea why their third guitarist Ville Friman missed the show, and I’m sure it would have been even more amazing if he had played as well, but Markus and Jani nailed it from start to finish even without their bandmate. Another new song that sounded thrilling live was The Witch Hunter, again proving their latest release is a beast of an album, and closing their performance with the not-so-old song Heart Like a Grave was one more attestation those Finnish metallers are always moving forward in their career. It was my first time seeing Insomnium live despite being a fan of the band for a long time, and I’ll make sure I don’t miss any of their future shows in Toronto from now on after such pleasant night in the city.
While We Sleep
And Bells They Toll
The Witch Hunter
Heart Like a Grave
Niilo Sevänen – lead vocals, bass
Markus Vanhala – guitars
Jani Liimatainen – guitars, clean vocals
Markus Hirvonen – drums
It was a little past 10pm when the main attraction of the night, Norway’s Progressive Black/Viking Metal horde ENSLAVED, took the city of Toronto by storm led by their charismatic vocalist and bassist Grutle Kjellson, putting a huge smile on the faces of everyone at The Opera House, and inspiring part of the crowd to head into the battlefield (aka mosh pits) for the delight of the band. The start of their performance with the songs Jettegryta and Homebound, from their 2020 album Utgard, plus the fact they played Kingdom, Forest Dweller and Heimdal, from their 2023 album Heimdal, therefore making for half of their setlist, also shows that Enslanved, just like Insomnium, are forward-thinking musicians who respect their past but are not trapped in it, and their diehard fans more than love that based on their reaction to their entire performance.
Enslaved were also one man down, as their guitarist Ivar Bjørnson was absent from the concert in Toronto (and from their entire North American tour “due to immediate family issues that needed to be taken care of” as per a statement from the band on their official Facebook page), but Grutle made sure Ivar received some positive vibes from us Torontonians who screamed his name when prompted by the band. Furthermore, their other guitarist Arve Isdal was on fire, shredding his guitar nonstop and filling all empty spaces left by Ivar, in special in the amazing tune Return to Yggdrasil. Add to that the intense, multi-layered background sounds by Håkon Vinje and Iver Sandøy, and there you have the perfect recipe for a fulminating Norwegian attack. When they closed the night with Allfǫðr Oðinn, everyone at The Opera House was beyond happy and mesmerized, and I’m sure that will inspired Enslaved to return to the city sooner than we can say any of the names of their songs in Norwegian. Ad of course, thanks a lot to Noel Peters from Inertia Entertainment for putting together such enjoyable night of first-class metal music, and thanks once again to my friend Keith Ibbitson of Lower Eastside Photography for the amazing shots! SKÅL!
Return to Yggdrasil
The Dead Stare
Grutle Kjellson – vocals, bass
Arve Isdal – lead guitars
Håkon Vinje – keyboards, clean vocals
Iver Sandøy – drums, clean vocals