​Napalm Death / Voivod / Exhumed / Iron Reagan / Black Crown Initiate Opera House, Toronto ON, February 4

​Napalm Death / Voivod / Exhumed / Iron Reagan / Black Crown Initiate Opera House, Toronto ON, February 4
Photo: Adam Wills
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The "Through Space and Grind" tour kicked off with a band leaning toward the former, spacey side of things. Perpetual openers Black Crown Initiate — seriously, these guys manage to get on every tour — kicked things off to a sparse crowd. Their alternatingly airy and abominable progressive death metal band were nothing if not tight, though the softer singing often felt out of place. Even funnier, it was committed by a guitarist wearing an ushanka, you know, those furry hats with earflaps, and a beard that was so long it reached his instrument. In a way, it was the perfect encapsulation of how the band balanced brutality and cheesiness.
 
In stark contrast, Iron Reagan took the stage with their tongue-in-cheek crossover thrash about, among other things, stabbing someone in their eyeballs and kids being "assholes," which vocalist Tony Foresta directed at parents who take small children on planes before explaining, "Iron Reagan do not hate children, we just hate your kids." They continued to preface "Your Kid's an Asshole" by begging the crowd to please wear a condom or pull out. Eventually, the group got to an instrumental number, which seemed a bit sparse given that the catchy riffs were not topped with shouting. However, Foresta was relieved that this gave him the opportunity to "take a nap" — a very short one, given the short bursts of fun that Iron Reagan call songs; they're undoubtedly good outlets for the pent-up rage garnered from spending over four hours at the border (with "so many orifices touched"). It was at this early announcement of frustration that anticipation began building for the next band, Exhumed, who according to Foresta had made it across into Canada after the last scheduled Toronto appearance was cancelled.
 
An issue with Exhumed drummer Michael Hamilton's monitors offered a calm before the storm, which was eased into with an orchestral introduction that slowly descended into ominous chaos before the band's signature grinding death metal took hold. Undeniably old school, their approach was complemented by a mix that thankfully didn't boost the mechanical-sounding bass drum at the expense of the rest of the instruments, an approach that seems all too common in deathly music these days. The band busted into "Decrepit Crescendo" and (the even older) "The Naked and the Dead." A blood-soaked surgeon came out — think the cover character from Aborted's Goremageddon if the cretin in question wasn't just wielding a manual saw, but rather a mechanical chainsaw, which was alternatingly pointed at the crowd and triumphantly held above their heads. After exiting the stage (and leaving the venue bathed in the stench of burned gasoline), the band proceeded to blast through choice cuts such as "Limb From Limb," "Sickened" and "Open the Abscess," with the doctor occasionally returning to the stage, ending his sporadic performance with the unveiling of a guillotine and beheading of guitarist Bud Burke, Alice Cooper style.
 
Next up, the (comparatively tame) Canadian heroes in Voivod took the stage with the glee of a kid on Christmas. Seriously, the fact that they can get up there in their 33rd year and still have a great time is both impressive and heart-warming. Guitarist Chewy smiled and made goofy faces the whole set, often jumping up on an angle as if to click his heels but instead landing in a powerful stance and bringing his axe down. Meanwhile, eccentric singer Snake waved his arms around, struck bizarre poses and jerkily moved to the music, looking at times like a mad conductor, at times just plain mad, but never angry. The energy was infectious as they thrashed through "Ripping Headaches," "Tribal Convictions," "The Prow" and new single "We Are Connected," amongst others. Ahead of their titular track, Snake informed the crowd they had only one word to remember, and that word was "Voivod," something attendees likely won't forget any time soon. They ended their set by dedicating a cover of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" to late guitarist Piggy.
 
Napalm Death, also celebrating over 30 years as a band, came in from Birmingham, UK for this tour minus one member: long-time guitarist Mitch Harris. Fortunately, fill-in Erik Burke (ex-Brutal Truth, currently Sulaco) grinded along in fine form, actually vibrating his cranium like a headbanging hummingbird to the relentlessly fast sonic assault. The crushing cacophony was juxtaposed by the charming banter of vocalist Barney Greenway, which made even titles like Apex Predator ­— Easy Meat sound pleasant.
 
"Walls of Confinement," "The Kill," "Suffer the Children" and Guinness Book of World Records' shortest song "You Suffer" showed off some of the band's early efforts, while their 2015 material made appearances in the form of "Cesspits," "How the Years Condemn" and the closing one-two punch of "Adversarial / Copulating Snakes." Earlier in the set, Greenway expressed his disgust with the indignity caused by people being treated like a number in the name of productivity in 2015 — proving the band has a message more meaningful than many of their similarly musically savage peers — before leading into new track "Smash a Single Digit." Fortunately, Napalm Death are anything but a number in the thousands of aggressive bands; they're fucking Napalm Death, and they showed on this night that they're worthy of the weight that name carries.