There were essentially two shows taking place at the Opera House on Halloween night. There were the acts on stage, of course, with bands who represented various permutations of folk and symphonic metal, and there was also the audience, which became a performance unto itself.
At least half of the room was in costume, and most of those who dressed up came as pirates, with eye patches and striped pants, tri-corner hats, and foam cutlasses as far as the eye could see. There were also Legend of Zelda characters, demons and devils aplenty, a woman in a full-body shark suit and another who dressed up as an undead unicorn, complete with incredibly detailed and sculptured head.
On stage, though, System Divide performed under potentially difficult circumstances: one of their two singers, Miri Millman, was forced to leave the tour a few days ago due to a family emergency. Vocal duties were handled entirely by Sven Du Caluwé (Aborted), who did an excellent job. They played a strong, engaging set, perhaps the most straightforwardly melodic death metal band of the night. They dedicated the final song of their set, "Vagaries of Perceptions," to "all the ladies, and your lovely genitalia!"
It took no fewer than five people and 20 minutes to set up Insomnium's drum kit, but they repaid the crowd's patience. The Finnish melodic death metallers played a set list heavily drawn from their latest release, 2011's One for Sorrow, closing with the titular track. They played with perhaps more gravity and seriousness than any of their tourmates, entertaining but stoic.
Then Alestorm came on stage and blew any sense of composure out of the water. Each of the members of the pirate-themed band was dressed as a different Batman character, with frontman and keytar player Christopher Bowes clad as the caped crusader himself (their drummer, dressed as Bane, definitely had the coolest costume). The band announced that they would be known as Christian Balestorm for the evening, and changed their song titles (and a few lyrics) around to fit the theme — for example, "Keelhauled" became "Batmobiled." They played a riotous, high-energy set composed of their hits, like "Pirate Song," "The Sunken Norwegian" and "Rum." The capacity crowd rewarded their efforts with a gigantic pit that turned the floor into a sea of sweaty, puffy-shirt-clad bodies.
Headliners Epica went for something more classically theatrical, even operatic, with their performance, with a much more spare set-up dominated by intense blue and white lighting and a dramatic, serpentine pic stand for frontwoman and mezzo-soprano Simone Simons. Their set drew from older records, as well as new material, but was definitely focussed on material from this year's Requiem for the Indifferent. The band's live sound was supplemented by choral and orchestral recordings, and between the disorienting lighting and the interplay between Simons's soaring vocals and Mark Jansen's rough growls, the effect was hallucinatory, almost dream-like.