Ghost / Blood Ceremony / Ancient VVisdom Mod Club, Toronto ON January 22

Ghost / Blood Ceremony / Ancient VVisdom Mod Club, Toronto ON January 22
Nostalgia reigned at the Mod Club for this three-act show, though what exactly people were nostalgic for wasn't that clear. Retro metal sounds pillaged influences from the late '60s to mid-'90s and the fashion (on-stage and especially off) was even more diverse. But whatever the draw, people packed into the club, their collective body heat offsetting the wintery air outside. And despite recurring references to human sacrifice coming from the stage, the mood was reasonably laid-back and peaceful.

Acoustic guitar provided the catalyst for the night's performances, dominating the slow, melodic groove of Ancient VVisdom. Visually, these Texans were full-on backwoods with a hint of crustiness -- complete with animal bones, antlers and fur, plus some dingy denim and studs. Their hooded frontman was a sight and sound on his own, pounding on floor toms and cymbals while he sang. The band's whole set easily found Ancient VVisdom more raw and aggressive live than on record.

Before long, Toronto four-piece Blood Ceremony took over, amping up the intensity by many degrees while reaching further back in musical time. All four members are dynamic performers, with a touch of eccentricity (the barefoot bassist being a case in point). But most eyes (and ears) had to be glued to Alia O'Brien -- master of voice, organ and metal flute -- as she thrashed around centre stage with slow dramatic poise and a captivating wild-eyed stare. They opened with "The Great God Pan," lead track from last year's Living with the Ancients, and led the crowd through roughly 45 minutes of '70s-flavoured occult metal "tales." As the final notes of closer "Oliver Haddo" began to fade, shouts of "encore!" registered the band's impressive impact.

With the enigmatic Ghost up next, occult atmospheres shifted to Satanic religious parody. Hints of fog seeping from behind tall red curtains signalled the band's imminent appearance and soon they came into view -- black hoods and masks for the instrumentalists and anti-pope garb and ornaments for their anonymous vocalist. In terms of spectacle, Ghost's repertoire doesn't reach much beyond costumes and hand gestures so the initial thrill raised by their theatricality doesn't last. But the classic metal sounds underneath are solid and performed live with a similar strength. With only one full album, Opus Eponymous, Ghost played a short set, drawing out the drama with an instrumental interlude and their increasingly familiar cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" -- perhaps their eeriest "ritual" of all.