By Troy Hasselman, March 26 2019 —
On March 23, the Palace Theatre was transformed into a cavern of dark, pummeling guitar riffs and machine-gun fire drums from some of the best metal bands working today with a stacked triple-bill from Zeal and Ardor, Deafheaven and Baroness.
The show opened with Zeal and Ardor, the musical project of Swiss-born Manuel Gagneux that has grown from his bedroom recording project into a sprawling six-piece band with two backing vocalists. The band played for a considerably fuller-than-usual venue for an opening band, speaking to the sizable audience and reputation the project has managed to gain in its young existence.
The set stuck mostly to a mix between last year’s Stranger Fruit and 2016’s Devil is Fine. The material from Devil is Fine sounded considerably more expansive with the massive band setup as the energy of the songs was matched by the enthusiastic crowd that made its way into the theatre early to catch the band’s set. The band’s soulful take on black metal is highly unique within a genre that has gotten increasingly experimental in recent years, biting back against the puritanism that so often weighs down metal.
After Zeal and Ardor’s set came Deafheaven, a band that has crossed over into non-metal audiences with some of the crowd filtering out after their set. They showed a remarkable amount of confidence and stage presence as frontman George Clarke fully commanded the transfixed audience for the duration of their set, managing to equal if not surpass their already legendary 2016 Sled Island performance at Royal Canadian Legion #1.
The band opened with “Brought to the Water” from 2015’s New Bermuda and followed it with recent single “Black Brick”, which might be the heaviest track that Deafheaven has ever released. The pit fully opened up during this track as the crowd tried to match the band’s intensity for the its seven-minute running time. After this cathartic track, the band got into their most recent release and my favourite album of last year, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. The audience sat hypnotized for this portion of the set as time seemed to lose all form and the 10-minute-plus tracks flew by in what felt like seconds.
The set ended with the modern classic “Dream House,” in which the audience fully let loose into a cathartic mob of moshing, headbanging and even singing along to Clark’s demon-shreek vocals. The set brought forth the band’s shoegaze and post-rock influences while remaining firmly rooted in metal, showing their unique space as the black metal band most willing to allow shafts of light into their music.
Baroness was given the impossible task of following up Deafheaven. The crowd was nonetheless enthusiastic and receptive to their set with moshing, singing-along and loud cheering throughout. The band brought their own unique take on metal, letting psychedelic and post-rock influences shine through in their set that emphasized the band’s virtuosic musicianship. Frontman John Baizley resembles a classic-metal frontman much more than Clarke and held his own during the set, showing a communal relationship with the crowd and the rest of the band.
The band’s setlist drew heavily from 2015’s Purple and 2012’s Yellow & Green showing the band’s foray into prog-metal, with jaw-dropping solos and a heavy emphasis on instrumentation being trademarks of their set.
Zeal and Ardor, Deafheaven and Baroness all provided remarkable sets that emphasized their strengths as bands. The three bands are all unique in their own right and firmly showed themselves to be some of the most forward-thinking groups working in any genre.