Virgin Black / Heaven Ablaze The Embassy, London ON June 18

In the dozen or so years Australia’s Virgin Black has been releasing material the band have only made it to North America once before (in 2003) so their arrival in Canada was long overdue — and nearly delayed even further by booking problems. This Embassy show was the first of two Ontario performances, though far from an illustrious setting for sounds so resonant with artistry and atmosphere. Despite the sketchy environment, Virgin Black didn’t just overcome their surroundings — they obliterated them, playing for the very small but passionate audience as if to a massive crowd. With heavy use of orchestration and choral arrangements on their recordings — especially latest album, Requiem–Mezzo Forte — it came as a slight surprise to hear how easily the songs (a set powered by some of their heaviest material) translated to a live setting. The backing tracks blended with the pulse, flow, and raging tempest of the full band, the dark seamless whole wrenching a momentary tear in the fabric of space and time and transforming the dingy room into a distant blur. Selections from each album — from newer songs like "Domine: to classic fan favourites like "Walk Without Limbs” — highlighted every member’s talent, professional and polished but also powerfully emotional and raw. Virgin Black could have held their mesmerised captives for hours but set us free yearning for more. Local openers Heaven Ablaze weren’t the most logical match-up, with their fusion of American and European death metal, but they played a catchy and high-energy set by way of introduction, warming up the ears and the speakers for the inter-dimensional phenomenon that followed.