Watain / Goatwhore / Black Anvil / Panzerfaust / Empyrean Plague Opera House, Toronto ON December 4

Watain / Goatwhore / Black Anvil / Panzerfaust / Empyrean Plague Opera House, Toronto ON December 4
Watain's headlining show in Toronto was a sense- and mind-numbing experience. Between the ceremonial aesthetics and a miasmic stench, the Swedes maintained an eerie presence long before their grand entrance. Instead of succumbing to the strength of Watain's oppressive aura, tourmates and Canadian openers seemed to embrace the vile atmosphere. But in the end, it proved impossible to upstage a band so willing to mesmerize and disgust.

Empyrean Plague were a logical choice to open the anti-festivities, their folky black metal suiting the murky environment and setting the stage for the sounds to come. Panzerfaust followed with a commanding stage presence (it's especially hard to miss their huge singer towering over the crowd), keeping the metal black and the mood martial. The weight of their eviscerating violence carried even to the back of the room.

Before Toronto was treated to a direct (if not full) dose of Watain's theatrics, Black Anvil and Goatwhore offered a more stripped-down deviation in style. Steady and solid in both cases (at varying speeds), they brought a relative lightness into the gloom. In a less dramatic setting, either band might have given off a no-nonsense street-level vibe. They delivered powerful sets, laced with veins of rock and punk, yet with Watain's candelabras enshrouded behind them, it was impossible to see either band as more than a prelude to the main event.

And then Watain took over, turning everything before them into a smelly blackened sludge. The persistent red glow evoked an appropriately hellish setting, but the candlelit stage was more black mass than hell, strictly speaking -- especially the pair of pig hindquarters thrusting into the air. The set included material off the latest album, Lawless Darkness ("Reaping Death," for instance), which translated well, but at times the music blurred into a relentlessly vicious barrage of sound where individual songs seemed irrelevant.

Watain's sound man was enthusiastic centrepiece and there was a large contingent of enthusiastic fans as well, all night long. Others held themselves back a little, relishing most of the experience, if not the rotting aroma that went along with it.