Folk metal often gets the reputation for being one of the lightest sub-genres of aggressive music. Between the folk instruments, traditional melodies and often upbeat atmosphere that folk metal most often relies on, some critics dismiss the genre for being too much style and not enough substance. This sold-out show at the Opera House, featuring three excellent bands who all have ties to the folk and pagan metal genres to one degree or another, served as a perfect antidote to such criticism.
The night began with an incredibly strong showing by German pagan metal warriors Varg. With the band's faces covered in lurid red and black warpaint, the power of their songs and their commanding stage presence proved they could easily do justice to a headlining spot. Varg's set was dominated by tracks from their excellent new album Guten Tag, though they also played some old favourites, including "Blutaar" from the album of the same name. The sound was thick and vast, and Freki's booming vocals led the charge of each song like a war horn. It was a vital, powerful set, and one that ensured Varg will be more than welcome any time they choose to return to Canadian soil.
From the moment that the banner rose above the stage, the crowd was chanting for Wintersun. It has been many years since the Helsinki-based extreme metal band went on tour; for years, they've languished in the studio, their latest album delayed by calamities large and small. Now that Time I is officially out in the world, they have returned triumphant, and have clearly channelled their frustration into a stunning live show. Vocalist and mastermind Jari Mäenpää was manic, almost delirious with joy to be performing, his soaring and supple voice the focal point of their sound as the rest of the complex instrumentation spiralled out. While Time I is excellent, it is also a complex record drenched in endless layers of instrumentation and production; live, the songs were slightly more stylized, painted with broader brushstrokes — the trade off of intricacy for power was a productive one. "Land of Snow and Fire" was a triumph, and "Starchild" brought the house down.
A less dramatic headliner would have been in trouble, but Eluveitie have both the theatricality and the substance to follow such great supporting bands. On this tour, the Swiss folk metal band are playing their latest record, Helvetios, a chronicle of the Gaulish wars from the Helvetian perspective, from start to finish. A historical album full of moments of heroics, grand narratives and even the odd rousing military speech, Helvetios played out extraordinarily well in a live setting. Eluveitie, whose vast lineup currently numbers no less than eight active members, had the confidence, charisma and chemistry to pull off the huge narrative with not only conviction but genuine joy. Every instrument was valued and deployed properly, to the booming drums and insistent guitars, to the nimble violin and hurdy gurdy. They are an excellent folk metal band at the height of their power, and it was a pleasure to see them perform.