Dimmu Borgir / Enslaved / Blood Red Throne / Dawn of Ashes Sound Academy, Toronto ON December 12

Dimmu Borgir / Enslaved / Blood Red Throne / Dawn of Ashes Sound Academy, Toronto ON December 12

Down by the docks in a well-packed Sound Academy, Dawn of Ashes opened for an already-sizable crowd. Costumed and masked, the (only) American band on the "Darkness Reborn" tour conveyed more image than substance. Their set emphasized their recent black metal direction, but the symphonic combination of riffs and melodies dominating their latest recording, Genocide Chapters, had a hard time bursting through the horror-themed theatrics.

Blood Red Throne came out next as a nearly opposite extreme, offering their Norwegian interpretation of American death metal with a white trash/redneck vibe. They played a solid set but slightly less than the sum of its parts, leaving a group of impressions more than a coherent memory: speed and groove, a Pantera riff thrown in, street clothes and spikes, raised middle fingers, appreciative shouts.

Enslaved followed, still looking like Vikings without even trying, though their set showcased the more progressive version of the band. Opening with two long tracks off 2010's Axioma Ethica Odini, the Norwegians kept the focus recent. Every song came across with clarity and precision, but with vitality too. Enslaved bristled with live energy, even when they were nearly standing still. The whole was virtually flawless, but the guitar leads were especially persuasive, singing out from a complex framework of sound. Clean vocals were compellingly powerful too, both in delivery and the mix.

After what might as well have been Enslaved's show-stopping 45 minutes, Dimmu Borgir's fog and flashy lights looked embarrassingly like smoke and mirrors. But that didn't stop a room full of fans from enjoying the high-test theatrics -- full circle from the B-movie version that opened the night. The aesthetic (barbarian haute couture?) was in line with Dimmu's latest image and sound, but the bombast was comfortably familiar, thick backing tracks and grandiose melodies filling out around a still somewhat blackened skeleton.