Toronto’s BriefcaseFest calls itself a celebration of extreme music in Ontario, with a bill loaded with some of the province’s most intriguing heavy acts, with some friends from Quebec and even further afield calling in for a visit. The diversity across the two nights is quite staggering too, from math to black metal and doom to noise. Sometimes a bill as mixed as this can feel a little forced, but not here, as despite the disparate themes and styles on display, BriefcaseFest flows just right.
Kicking off on a Friday night in The Silver Dollar Room, noise mongrels Catamites are playing their first show for the lucky few that have made the trek in early. The duo offers up a caustic serving of noise rock with grinding guitars and utterly frantic drumming complemented by maniacal shrill vocals.
Meanwhile, Blastronaut deliver a similar sort of meandering chaos but from a different approach. Their mathy post hardcore is a little like Britain’s Alright The Captain filtered through a few hardcore records, with their largely instrumental pieces complemented by the occasional gang vocal.
Pretty Mouth totally up the intensity though with a breed of experimental grinding dissonance that grows and grows in barbarity throughout the set, as the crowd in the venue begins to grow with it. Special note must be made of the employment of an eight string guitar that adds thick, devastating layers to the assault.
Moving on, Akroid return us to plains similar to those explored by Blastronaut, with their angular post hardcore tinged with erratic melody that’s short and sweet. Next, things take another turn for Ayahuasca, in the best possible sense. Their psychedelic-imbued sludgy rock is a real grower with its unabashed melodies and sleek lead guitar work.
Altarus flip things over though once again with trudging doom metal that’s rife with Electric Wizard and Sleep worshipping riffs but the energy and vitality discharged is all them. Their doom is mostly instrumental causing a hypnotic swirl of riffs only for the reverie to be disrupted by bellowing vocals from the abyss – definitely a band not to be missed.
Nothing can really prepare anyone for the crushing dirge of Hammerhands though. Crafting earth shattering slabs of sludgy doom, the four-piece are a sound to behold as they lay waste to the venue. Their latest record, Glaciers, is an aptly titled one as their slow, brain crushing doom moves at a glacial and overpowering pace for the most part but with flourishes of celerity mixed in for good measure. In a live setting, these threnodies of wreckage take on a whole new life force that’s utterly pulverising. Hammerhands are easily the band of the night.
However, don’t let that take anything away from the pairing of Lullabye Arkestra. Equipped with just drums, bass and vocals, the husband and wife team serve up a ridiculously rocking malaise of energising space rock-influenced psychedelic riffs that’s easy to get lost in. Also, their drummer sets fire to his snare drum for a couple seconds. Hey, why not?
Vilipend bring night one to a close, and do so on short notice after original headliners Dopethrone were forced to cancel due to injury, mere hours before the show started. As expected, they’re a treat. Their gaunt and provocative hardcore has grown in quality with each release, more than evidenced by last year’s Inamorata LP, and somehow their energy and vitriol is magnified in a live setting.
On Saturday night, we take a trip a few doors down to The Comfort Zone for night two of BriefcaseFest that’s mostly dominated by black metal acts but also hints of noise and death metal. The dark ambient act Cetacea, the solo project of Gates’ Bryan W Bray, opens things up as he sits forlorn with guitar in hand before a table of electronics, crafting droning hypnotic noise that’s totally enveloping.
Meanwhile, Ischemic are a totally different beast with their unbridled primitive black-death hybrid with an affinity for doom metal’s slower shades. It’s quite interesting as the band appear a bit so and so to begin but once they find their groove and start growing in momentum, their set is utterly pummelling. Murky dense riffs dominate their sound while piercing lead guitars slice through sporadically in each track, all complemented by the scathing vocals and special note must be made to the devastating drumming.
Ottawa’s Occult Burial then take us back in time a little bit through the medium of old school black/thrash with horns firmly pointed towards Bathory. They may only have one demo tape under their belts right now, but they’ve more riffs than you’d care to count. Things then take major swerve for Ride At Dawn. The trio employ a drum machine alongside guitars, bass and vocals for a dissonant grinding cacophony tinted with black metal that’s quite repetitive but relentless, imagine Mysticum colliding with Bologna Violenta.
Nyodene D are next and plummet us further into the void. The man behind the power electronics and HNW project is kind of the odd one out of the bill, being the only non-Canadian act on this night’s line-up, but he more than makes his presence felt. Harsh electronic acts like this can be hit or miss live but make no mistake that Nyodene D hit… repeatedly… to your temple with molesting electronics reverberating throughout the venue, with the use of non-instruments like chains and sheet metal and our protagonist’s unnerving vocals that submerge spectators and as if the wave of noise engulfing the venue wasn’t enough, Column of Heaven’s Andrew Nolan joins Nyodene D adding his own caustic vocals to the fray – an invigorating and bracing, and at times bizarre, set from start to finish.
As previously mentioned, black metal is a big part of the second night’s bill and the final four bands are ones loyal to BM’s dark beating heart. First is Toronto’s Sortilegia. A small pulpit is erected in the middle of the stage, illuminated by candles as incense burns through The Comfort Zone creating an otherworldly atmosphere as the pairing of guitarist/vocalist Koldovstvo and drummer Haereticus slowly enter the stage, garbed in black robes and unfurl their old school black metal. Raw buzzsaw riffs and harrowing ambience are the order of the day with Sortilegia, and Koldovstvo’s vocals are simply on form as she shrieks her bitter diatribes over hellfire and brimstone. It reminds us that they only have two demos out and an album couldn’t come sooner.
Speaking of bands that have sparse recorded output, Thantifaxath are outright enthralling. The three figures come dressed in similar dark robes to unleash their hail of chimerical black metal. For the most part it’s scything and unrelenting stuff but every so often, the trio will throw a spanner in the works like the mesmeric and twisting vibes of ‘Violently Expanding Nothing’. This is another band that needs to get a new release out soon and strike while the iron is hot.
Fellow Torontonians Sylvus are up next. They’re celebrating the completion of their new record, due for release sometime soon, so the set is rife with new material. Their brand of black metal is much more au fait with the snow covered forests of Norway, being focused on old school frosty atmosphere and searing vocals. A few amp issues almost impede the band’s momentum at first but after a couple of songs, things clear up and Sylvus return to their destructive ways.
Finally, Quebec City’s Forteresse are tasked with capping off this lengthy jaunt that has surely left some ears and necks weary but ultimately satisfied. The Quebecois black metal band have become seasoned veterans in the last couple of years, a status bolstered by the quality of their last two records, Par Hauts Bois et Vastes Plaines and Crépuscule d’Octobre, in particular.
In a live setting, they’re just as impressive delivering hammering, soul destroying black metal that’s equally hypnotic as it is devastating across their extensive headlining set that only means certain victory for the Quebecois band and BriefcaseFest.