The problems that would come to plague the second incarnation of Spread the Metal festival (last year, the event took place in Halifax and was headlined by Morbid Angel; this year the fest came to both Halifax and Toronto). First, a few weeks before the event, the two-day festival was cut down to a single day, shedding about half of its line-up in the process (including Montreal-based the Agonist). Both of the headlining bands, London, Ontario's Kittie and Long Island death metal legends Suffocation, became co-headliners, many local bands disappeared from the roster entirely, and the event became a ten-hour marathon that saw the first band take the stage at 2 p.m.
Even as a two-day festival with a more reasonable schedule, the Opera House was a poor choice of venue, with its policy of refusing in-and-outs and rather grim facilities. By early evening, only a single stall in the women's bathroom was not clogged and overflowing, and the very limited food and water options meant that a lot of concertgoers drank too much too fast, and had no option but to be messily ill or leave.
This combination of factors conspired to make attendance very slim, especially for opening bands Answer with Metal, Wretchedpain and Deathpoint. The host of the Governor's Ball Mighty Metal & Comedy podcast injected some levity serving as MC while wearing Arnold-Schwarzenegger-as-the-Terminator makeup. By the time proggy metalcore band Beheading of a King began their set, a small but subdued audience had gathered. The sedateness seemed to bewilder the band; they spent most of their set trying to incite their audience to move, pleading for enthusiasm, and this nervousness clotted their usually high-energy and confident style. Toronto-based Viking metal quartet Vesperia fared better, their galloping rhythms and the epic scope of their songs finally getting some fists in the air, especially during the stirring, battle-scarred "To Time's End We Ride."
Vesperia's drummer Cory Hofing pulled double duty, as the next band up was his other project, Crimson Shadows, showing no sign of fatigue. Crimson Shadows recently won Wacken Metal Battle Canada, a battle of the bands with a prize of performing at the Wacken Metal Festival in Germany, which also netted them a contract with Nuclear Blast Records. Their growling, gruff interpretation of power metal brought more stomping energy to the pit, and their locally beloved drinking song "Kingdom of Ale" raised flagons.
Perhaps the best set of the night was given by technical death metal wizards Augury, who also seemed like the odd band out on their bill with their dizzyingly progressive style and dry humour. A more subdued and cerebral set, Augury challenged as much as they entertained, though the moments when guitarist and vocalist Patrick Loisel dedicated "...Ever Know Peace Again" to Stephen Harper and self-deprecatingly referred to a lot of their lyrics as conspiracy theories were wickedly funny. Their set stood in sharp contrast to the next, performed by Toronto retro-thrash and classic heavy metal band Skull Fist, who dedicated their song "Get Fisted" to "the ladies." All high energy, high tops and leather pants, Skull Fist are infectiously fun, with band members riding on each other's shoulders and vocalist Jackie Slaughter diving into the crowd, playing right in the face of anyone who happened to be standing still or sitting down.
Co-headliners Kittie unquestionably brought the largest fan base with them to this show; the crown swelled visibly just before their set, suddenly making the Opera House feel respectably full, and the audience response was by far and away the most passionate. Their first show in a year and a half, and only live performance of 2013, began slightly tentatively but quickly cohered as the four women found their deep natural chemistry. They drew from all over their catalogue, from the snarling "Spit" of their very first record of the same title to "We Are The Lamb" from 2011's I've Failed You. Singer Morgan Lander was gracious in her praise and seemed genuinely moved by the audience response.
During Kittie' set, a near-battle broke out in front of the stage: a photographer, who was inexplicably using both a tripod and a massive telephoto lens in the pit, was unsurprisingly jostled by a fan; his response was to draw his tripod, extend it as far as it would go and threaten the fan as you would with a sword. Another fan leapt in and talked the tripod ninja down, but the moment was simultaneously intense and hilarious.
After a 50/50 draw that saw the winner walk away with a donated bong, Suffocation stormed the Opera House stage. Playing with a thunderous, almost regal weight and the easy confidence of scene veterans, they exuded power and authority. Though the crowd thinned markedly after Kittie's set, Suffocation weren't phased by the space in the room, powering through their set with the inexorable force of a locomotive. Vocalist Frank Mullen had an easy, casual rapport with the audience, noting that between screaming in his band and screaming at his daughter, "I must have 85 years worth of throat damage." Their set drew heavily from this year's Pinnacle of Bedlam, peppered with older tracks. Their deep, pounding rhythms and extremely bottom-heavy guitar style came across well, and for the fans who were able to stick it out to the end, they put on a hell of a show.