Described in many circles as the future of hard rock — heir apparent to legends like Black Sabbath and Metallica — Avenged Sevenfold enlisted a couple of other heavy acts and brought their smouldering show to rain riffs upon a rabid crowd at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
Opening the night were Welsh four-piece rock outfit Bullet for My Valentine, and the band got right to business, storming onto the stage amid flashing strobes and white light, unleashing the pounding opening riffs of "Your Betrayal" down onto fans pumping their fists and chanting "Bullet! Bullet!"
Standing in front of a large "BFMV" banner, the band blazed through an eight-pack of their best tracks from the last dozen years. A standout performance, "Waking the Demon" from 2008's Scream Aim Fire was tight, and provided some of the heaviest riffs of the entire evening.
When the lights fell for Breaking Benjamin to take the stage, the arena erupted into a chorus of whistling and shrieking. Opening strong, the band crept onto the stage to deliver the groovy, Tool-sounding hit "So Cold" from their 2004 album We Are Not Alone. Anchored by the impressive drumming of Shaun Foist, the band stood in front of a large draped banner, displaying a close-up of an eye peering down onto the band, as they performed a diverse array of material reaching as far back as 2004.
One of the coolest moments had to be an entertaining cover song montage that Breaking Benjamin put together mid-set. Crawling out onto the walkway that jutted into the crowd, frontman Benjamin Burnley confessed his love for all things geeky before drawing out a red light sabre, spinning and thrusting it over the crowd below him. With that the band broke into a very fun and impressively heavy version of Star Wars' "The Imperial March" that bled into a sturdy cover of "Schism" by Tool before meandering into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and finally "Walk" by Pantera.
The Breaking Benjamin performance was very tight was and enveloped in some very impressive drumming, and while there were some exceptions, the music was usually executed a lot more heavily than their studio versions.
With a chorus of "Seven-Fold! Seven-Fold!" bellowing throughout the arena, flashing lights illuminated the large on-screen bat skull logos of Avenged Sevenfold, while the dark, sci-fi synth riffs of the band's 2016 hit "The Stage" — title track from their polarizing 2016 album — pulsated into the crowd. Then the band exploded onto the stage, riffs flying to leap into what would be close to two hours of music.
The band chose to unleash most of their biggest hits and the frenzied crowd devoured every note of songs like "Beast and the Harlot" and "Hail to the King" and went "bat-shit crazy" for "Bat Country." The 2010 title track "Nightmare" proved to be a standout of the night, with the powerful opening guitar riffs tantalizing the crowd while a spooky animated montage of snakes, goat skulls, pentagrams and bird-headed reapers danced on screens behind them.
The production got more bizarre for newer track "God Damn," with these creepy, animated dancing eyeballs floating atop what seemed like tendrils of nerve endings, before showing retro-looking footage of kids walking and cycling in the streets, all with giant eyeballs as heads. For audience members who may have been particularly toasted, this was either the coolest or most horrifying concert production ever.
Vocalist M. Shadows took several opportunities to interact with the crowd, gushing about Canada, making fun of MTV and vocalizing his poutine support. After the exploding cosmos production that accompanied their performance of "Higher," there seemed to be a technical malfunction with a large animatronic on-stage spaceman, who disappeared near the start of the song. "Spaceman is fired," declared Shadows at the end of the song.
Delving into a cover song of their own, Avenged Sevenfold performed Pink Floyd's timeless classic "Wish you Were Here." While the instrumentation was impressive, the vocal delivery style and range does not seem well-suited to the song. While the majority of fans probably thought the performance was mind-blowing, those who hold the song dear to their hearts may have deemed it an atrocity.
While the set did have its share of impressive songs from the "A7X" catalogue (although "Almost Easy" was markedly absent), there were gaps, where several other songs didn't feel up to the standards that Avenged Sevenfold have set for themselves, and at times felt like less inspired filler. So if the band are to be the future of hard rock, one of the few newer heavy bands that can fill an arena, let's hope they have a couple of career-defining new albums in their future. They really could use some better material to elevate a performance of this magnitude.