As a wailing winter storm settled into the city, metal fans sought warmth in the belly of Ritual Nightclub in Ottawa. They were to be greeted by four face-melting bands, and a steamy, thrashing mosh pit.
American technical thrash/death metal riff-masters Exmortus opened the night, touring in support of their recently released Ride Forth album. These guys provide some of the fastest, catchiest and most accessible riffs on the metal airwaves today, and they brought that energy and prowess onto the stage with them. The galloping double bass drumming was relentless, while soaring riffs provided a layer of controlled chaos to help ground the towering, savage vocals. These guys have an easily recognizable signature sound that they really take to the next level live. Their performance of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)" demonstrated their extremely impressive technical chops, while "Metal is King," from their acclaimed 2014 release Slave to the Sword, was one of the highlight performances of the entire night.
Toronto's Cauldron had strong fan representation in the audience. Easily the most diverse act of the night, the limber three-piece shifted mood and styles during their set. At times, their sound flirted with a mellow eeriness reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult or even Ghost; at other times they emanated a sludgy, doomy groove. The extremely catchy "Nitebreaker" and "End of Time," from their album Tomorrow's Lost, were standouts.
Sweden's Enforcer were up next, and they were incredible. Their mission is apparently to bring back that classic throwback sound of '80s speed and power metal with maybe just a sprinkle of parody thrown into the mix. The time capsule live experience they present feels vibrant and fresh, and playing Spot the Musical Reference — recognizing little inflections from so many vintage bands — was fun. There were echoes and shades of the likes of Iron Maiden, Dokken, Scorpions, Metal Church and Killer Dwarfs. Songs like "Mesmerized by Fire" and "Scream of the Savage" stood tall and flexed the broad vocal range of frontman Olof Wikstrand.
Warbringer closed out the night with a nuclear shockwave. Their ferocious performance whipped the crowd into a frenzy, inciting a few very respectable circle pits, especially given the club's small size. Exmortus frontman Conan Gonzalez did double duty by joining Warbringer on lead guitar, and his high-speed, high-accuracy riffs made an excellent foil to the punchy, primal vocals of animated vocalist John Kevill. The high velocity drumming and pounding bass riffs provided mesmerizing low-end companions, resonating through every body in attendance.