The Canadian bands are intrinsically connected at this point — the two Ottawa-area bands, Chariots of the Gods and Ominous Eclipse, will slug it out this weekend in Wacken Open Air Metal Battle 2016, which means an Ottawa-area metal band will advance in a nationwide battle of the bands for a chance to play at the iconic metal festival in Germany this summer. Toronto-based Vesperia, on the other hand, were the winners of the 2015 battle of the bands, and were on hand to flex their chops and hopefully impart to their counterparts what it takes to make it to the top.
The crowd was stellar at Mavericks, where each of the four bands were well represented by their fan bases. Opening on the night were Ominous Eclipse, whose chunky, frantic thrash metal din was led by their howling frontman. Largely drawing from their 2015 album End of Days, the four-piece pounded through six songs, tackling tracks like "Pestilence," Abandoned" and the album's particularly solid title track. Helping to limber the crowd for the chaos to come, they called for a "wall of death" in the confines of the club and the fans delivered, clearing the centre of the floor before the opposing sides barrelled into one another, bodies flying everywhere.
Next up were local melodic death metal stalwarts Chariots of the Gods. Inspired by bands like In Flames, the six songs they performed flew by in what felt like mere minutes. Well-honed, razor-sharp technical riffs flung from the crowded stage, soaring over a sturdy base of blast beats and bubbling bass riffs. The band have welcomed in two new members since 2013's Tides of War, and as if to flex their revitalized lineup, which includes new frontman Christian Therien and riff-master Rock Déziel, they played five tracks from the new album they're currently recording, including the particularly strong "Ages Unsung" and "War of the Gods."
The new material was excellent — extremely uptempo, and balanced with well-placed melodies to really accentuate the emotion of each song — and was well received by the voracious crowd. All five members were given an opportunity to shine, and Therien's towering vocals wove it all together. Besides the new material, the standout track "Tides of War" was exceptional. These guys wield some extremely strong musical and songwriting chops, all the while emanating a positive vibe and calm stage presence, suggesting that the future's bright for Ottawa-area metal.
Storming onto the stage next, and accompanied by a vibrant bath of colourful lighting were Toronto's very own Vesperia. Self-described as "epic death metal from the frozen north," the band were absolutely incredible, pounding double-bass drums and incessant, punchy bass lines providing a foundational springboard for the soaring lead guitar sweeps and crunchy rhythms hurtling from the stage. Their sound evoked a sensation like running down a hill straight into battle, all but consumed by frantic chaos but being able to barely hold it together with mesmerizing dexterity.
The vocals of frontman Morgan Rider were thick and powerful, a growly intense narrative for the music backing him. The band opened with "The Western Tempests" from their 2015 EP The Iron Tempests, and chased that with a sonic whirlwind of standout tracks like "Polar Vortex," "Liegelord" and "Iron Saga." The inspired performance and excellent sound had the crowd swirling and thrashing in bliss.
Then, much anticipated headliners Kalmah wrestled control of the stage. Having not invaded Canadian shores since 2010, the melodic death metal/"swamp metal" outfit hit the stage with ferocity, raining their sound down upon the ravenous fans below. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Pekka Kokko stood towering at the centre of the stage through most the night, leading a steady charge of extremely heavy and extremely terrific songs, very reminiscent of their Finnish counterparts Children of Bodom's older and stronger material. Veli-Matti Kananen's keyboards from the back right of the stage provided an urgent and dangerous-sounding overtone to the wall of guitar and drums.
The band leveraged their very ample music catalogue, selecting tracks that spanned a period of 12 years, including "Seventh Swamphony," "Hook the Monster," "Pikemaster" and "12 Gauge," and while the names of these songs certainly convey some sort of zany Finnish swamp adventures, somehow the music did too. The band's musical prowess, combined with the excellent sound mix, made for a fantastic performance, best exemplified by the highlight of the night, "Heroes to Us," from the band's 2003 Swampsong.