Amon Amarth / Ensiferum / Belphegor / The Absence The Phoenix, Toronto ON October 15

Amon Amarth pulled in a zealous crowd for their latest Toronto show, moving up one venue size from their last headlining gig. Glowing smoke and an enlarged-album-cover backdrop embellished the stage with a hint of the epic but the Swedes’ set was more professional and high-spirited than heroic, from synchronized wind-milling and head-banging to interactive sing-alongs and repeat assurances that Toronto has the best metal audience in Canada (I suspect a day later Montreal was declared Canada’s "metal capital” too).

Pulling songs from several albums, Amon Amarth played just over an hour of Viking metal fun, apparently subscribing to the "leave ’em wanting more” (and salute them with drinking horns) philosophy. Judging by the loud and visibly enthusiastic reactions the ploy worked, despite some sonic imperfections — a muffled blurring in the low end and buried guitar leads, plus the higher-register growls disappearing into the mix.

Ensiferum inspired fervent enthusiasm as well, helped by a more flattering mix (and maybe the oh-so-stylish kilts, if not the bared chests). Their adreno-gland assault came across in a tight, focused performance, but unless you’re already a believer, individual songs risk merging into a multi-part Finnish metal hunting jig with too little dynamic range.

Numbing factors aside (the Absence’s Florida-ized melodic death/thrash also lacked colour), professionalism was the theme of the night, and the proto-hordes already milling about for the openers responded with appropriate exuberance. The Absence were more keg party and Belphegor more grim sabbat, but both proved their musical precision and power, overcoming too-quiet guitars with solid sets. The former pulled off a Testament cover, while the latter had sardonic misfit status on the bill and questionable head gear.

The line-up was too strong all around for anyone to steal the show, which bodes well for all four acts next time they head this way.