Lacuna Coil / The Gathering / In This Moment / Stolen Babies Opera House, Toronto ON May 16

With no line-up snaking around the corner, it was a surprise to find the Opera House well filled so early for the (laughably and demeaningly named) Hottest Chicks in Metal Tour. Playing to a densely populated room, openers Stolen Babies had less than half an hour and crappy sound (too little guitar) to overcome. Even so, the white-faced quintet seemed unphased. Between the accordion, upright bass and carnival-esque atmosphere, the band’s performance intensified the glorious freakishness that glimmers in their recordings. Next up, In This Moment had plenty of fans in the audience, however their formulaic melodic metalcore was more stultifying than exhilarating. The mix had improved incrementally by this time, but it wasn’t enough to offset the bland familiarity of what came through. The Gathering, in contrast, used their too-short window to mesmerise. Their music transmitted with much more clarity but their success relied on sheer musical prowess (excellent instrumental work and incredible vocal mastery), a set list reaching back as far as 1995’s Mandylion, and the irresistible charisma of front-woman Anneke van Giersbergen. Less trance-inducing and much heavier than on their last Toronto visit, the Gathering could (should) have played far longer. In consolation they surprised us with a legitimate encore, "Liberty Bell.” For many of the (numerous) Lacuna Coil-ites, the high point may have been yet to come, but for others the rest of the show was anti-climactic. Karmacode dominated Lacuna Coil’s headlining set, not just in song choice but in aesthetics as well: clothing, groove, guitar tones. The update suited some material but not many of the older tracks. Even though the band was lively and on their game, sound again became an issue — by the time the final encore rolled around the mix was a booming, distorted mess. The night belonged to Stolen Babies and, especially, the Gathering, which was enough to make it more than all right.