Concert Review – Boonsdale Fest 2018 & Wacken Metal Battle Canada Final (The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 06/09/2018)

After a year of silence, Wacken Metal Battle Canada returned in full force in a unique partnership with Boonsdale Fest to decide which underground band would raise the flag of Canadian metal high on “The Holy Land” of heavy music.

INTRODUCTION: BOONSDALE FEST AND WACKEN METAL BATTLE CANADA UNITED

There’s nothing better than a night of ass-kicking heavy music in the always fun month of June in the city of Toronto, and to make things even better how about uniting at The Opera House the 2nd annual Boonsdale Fest, organized by Boonsdale Records and featuring the bands MokomokaiOperus and Borealis, with the 2018 edition of Wacken Metal Battle Canada, where the Best from the West Hammerdrone battled the Best from the East Centuries of Decay for a place alongside the greatest names in the history heavy music at Wacken Open Air later this year. As there was no Wacken Metal Battle Canada in 2017 (each year Wacken allocates 28 slots at W.O.A. for the Metal Battle winners from 28 different countries, and due to the increasing number of countries some are asked to pause for a year to give the chance to others to participate, which was what happened to Canada last year), this year several Canadian independent and underground bands were more than eager to participate in the competition again, with qualifying rounds happening all over the country starting January 12,  until Calgary’s Hammerdrone and Toronto’s Centuries of Decay reached the desired final round in Toronto this Saturday.

In 2016, Wacken Metal Battle Canada crowned Death/Thrash Metal band Profaner as champions, who then by the way advanced to be 2nd place at the international Metal Battle at W.O.A. that same year, so who would be granted the chance to represent Canada at the biggest metal festival in the world in 2018? Well, it’s time to rumble to the heavy music by Centuries of Decay, Hammerdrone, Mokomokai, Operus and Borealis, and wait for guest judges Gustavo Valderrama (Navaja Music, Electric Flow), Tim Henderson (Bravewords.com), Andrew Epstein (Zombitrol Productions, Alan Cross’ A Journal of Musical Things), Chris Gonda (PureGrainAudio.com), Charlie Felix (Sound & Noise, Live Talent), Oscar Rangel (Operus, Ex-Annihilator), Wojtek Sokolowski (Operus) and Luc Lainé (CFLX 95,5 FM) to decide which band would rule them all!

CENTURIES OF DECAY

Centuries of Decay @ The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 06/09/2018

Precisely at 9pm Toronto’s own Progressive/Atmospheric Death Metal act Centuries of Decay hit the stage at The Opera House showing why they were chosen Eastern Canadian Metal Battle champions, led by the deep and very melodic growls by vocalist and guitarist Devin Doucette. Formed in 2014, the quartet released in 2017 their debut self-titled album, available for a listen (and obviously for purchase) at their own BandCamp page, and that album was basically what the metalheads at the venue had the pleasure to witness them playing live. With songs getting close to or even breaking the 10-minute mark, something unimaginable for any artist or band from most non-metal styles that are in pursuit of stardom, Centuries of Decay inspired everyone in the crowd to bang their heads nonstop and feel embraced by their atmospheric music, generating a very nice and interesting feeling in all of us. That’s how exciting progressive and atmospheric heavy music can be, and if these are just the initial steps in the promising career of Centuries of Decay, I can’t wait to see what those four metallers will bring next.

Band members
Devin Doucette – vocals, rhythm guitar
Rob McAllister – lead guitar, backing vocals
Matt Hems – bass
Derrick Doucette – drums

HAMMERDRONE

Hammerdrone @ The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 06/09/2018

After a quick bathroom/beer break, it was time for the winners of the West Hammerdrone to make a lot of noise and crush us with their unrelenting Melodic Death Metal, opening their performance with the violent Dark Harvest, the title-track from their 2017 opus Dark Harvest, which you can buy directly from their BandCamp page, a concept album inspired by the real life but obscure tale of the Scottish terrorist organization the Dark Harvest Commando. Frontman Grahma Harris was on fire during the entire concert, growling and roaring (and also making faces) like a beast, while his bandmates Rick Cardellini (lead guitars), Curtis Beardy (rhythm guitars), Teran Wyer (bass) and Vince Cardellini (drums) delivered a well-balanced fusion of the more harmonious lines from Melodic Death Metal with the sheer heaviness and aggressiveness of old school Death Metal. As a matter of fact, you can download for free a live EP by Hammerdrone titled Rituals of Battle from their BandCamp page, just to give you an idea of how awesome their music sounds live. And after Hammerdrone’s concert was over, I knew the judges were going to have a very difficult time deciding who should be crowned the 2018 champions. Well, at least they had a few more excellent concerts to go until then.

Band members
Graham Harris – vocals
Rick Cardellini – lead guitars
Curtis Beardy – rhythm guitars, backing vocals
Teran Wyer – bass, vocals
Vince Cardellini – drums

MOKOMOKAI

Mokomokai @ The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 06/09/2018

When Peterborough-based four-piece band Mokomokai began blasting their electrifying blend of old school Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, I guess we could say it was the “official” start of Boonsdale Fest, and let me tell you it looked like their Rock N’ Roll party had no time to end. Formed in 2011, and having a distinct name inspired by the preserved heads of Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, the quartet formed by John Ellis on vocals and guitar, Bobby Deuce on the guitar, Jeremy Pastic on bass and J J Tartaglia on drums put everyone at the venue to dance with their flammable music, playing songs from their 2017 album The Poison Whiptail, like the excellent Heavy Metal Sky, as well as a cover version for the classic The Wizard, by Black Sabbath (check out the original version HERE), taken from their 1970 masterpiece Black Sabbath, with John even playing the song’s traditional harmonica. After such high level of adrenaline, I have only one thing to say about Mokomokai: if they visit your hometown, don’t miss the chance to see them kicking some serious ass live.

Band members
John Ellis – vocals, guitar
Bobby Deuce – lead & rhythm guitar
Jeremy Pastic – bass
J.J. Tartaglia – drums 

OPERUS

Operus @ The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 06/09/2018

Perhaps the performance by the following band of the night, Toronto-based Epic Symphonic Metal squad Operus, was the most peculiar of the entire event due to all the unique elements found during their concert (and one of them was definitely not on purpose). Formed in 2005, this six-piece act put on an extremely entertaining and atmospheric show still promoting their 2017 album Cenotaph, featuring Oscar Rangel (ex-Annihilator) on the guitar, cellist Robin Howe adding an extra touch of epicness to the band’s music, masked-frontman David Michael Moote with his passionate and theatrical performance, J.J. Tartaglia back on drums to play a completely different style from Mokomokai, and an injured bassist Wojtek Sokolowski who twisted his ankle right at the beginning of the show, but who refused to stop and managed to play their full set before going to ER (and that’s what I call a true metalhead!). That’s another band I highly recommend you go watch live if they’re scheduled to play at a venue near you, and you can find their latest album available on different platforms such as iTunes if epic and symphonic music is your cup of tea.

Band members
David Michael Moote – lead vocals
Rob Holden – guitar
Oscar Rangel – guitar, backing vocals, growls
Robin Howe – cello, backing vocals
Wojtek Sokolowski – bass, backing vocals
J.J. Tartaglia – drums 

BOREALIS

Borealis @ The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 06/09/2018

Last but not least, the festival ended with another very progressive and melodic band named Borealis, formed in 2005 in the Ontarian city of Orangeville, who also delivered a solid and delightful performance playing songs from all of their five full-length albums, such as Revelation, from their 2015 album Purgatory, and The Awakening, from their brand new opus The Offering, released earlier this year. Comprised of lead singer and guitarist Matt Marinelli (who had his bottle of water wisely placed on his mic stand looking like he was going to deliver some “wah wah’s” with his guitar when he was actually just thirsty as hell), guitarist Ken Fobert, bassist Trevor McBride, keyboardist Sean Werlick and drummer Sean Dowell, Borealis did not disappoint their fans, filling all empty spaces in the air with their classy Melodic and Power Metal and keeping everyone pumped up even with the clock getting close to 2am. That’s another band I highly recommend you go check them live as well as go after their discography, because it’s not only top-tier metal music, but the overall production of their albums is also outstanding.

Band members
Matt Marinelli – vocals, guitars
Ken Fobert – guitars
Trevor McBride – bass
Sean Werlick – keyboards
Sean Dowell – drums

AND THE WINNER IS…

Centuries of Decay – 2018 Wacken Metal Battle Canada Winner

…Toronto’s own Progressive/Atmospheric Death Metal squad CENTURIES OF DECAY! It was indeed an amazing concert, and I’m sure they will proudly carry the flag of Canadian metal high during their journey through the holy land of Wacken. Actually, I really wish Wacken Metal Battle Canada could send two bands to the festival, because Hammerdrone were just as demolishing and professional as the Metal Battle winners. At least now more people will get to know Hammerdrone and all other bands of the night, which in the end is the ultimate goal of the Metal Battle and of festivals like Boonsdale Fest, keeping the fire of metal alive by always presenting to us fans new incredible bands from the underground scene. For instance, there was this old school, diehard metalhead (drinking beer at an insane speed of “two tall boys every five minutes”, but who was still able to walk, talk and headbang as if he was having just water) who asked me right after Operus if there was still more to come, and when I said there was still one more band he showed a huge and honest smile and said “this is great, eh?”, and if independent bands can still extract that type of reaction from a veteran like that guy, well, that’s another proof that metal music will never die. Now let’s wait until next year to see which new name will represent Canada at W.O.A. 2019, and if you already have your tickets for the festival this year, don’t forget to go say “hi” and raise your horns to the guys from Centuries of Decay.

Album Review – Hammerdrone / Dark Harvest (2017)

Mixing up intense aggression, a dark atmosphere and elegant melodies, this Canadian quintet brings forth a concept album inspired by the real life but obscure tale of the Scottish terrorist organization known as the Dark Harvest Commando.

Formed back in 2010 in the city of Calgary, known as the center of Canada’s oil industry, Melodic Death Metal act Hammerdrone mixes up intense aggression, a dark atmosphere and elegant melodies to deliver songs that are both epic and catchy, being highly recommended for admirers of the musical creations by bands such as Amon Amarth, Dark Tranquility and early Soilwork. After receiving an enthusiastic response from the metal press in countries across the world with the release of their debut EP A Demon Rising in 2012 and the full-length Clone of Europa in 2014, this Canadian quintet returns with their second full-length installment, entitled Dark Harvest, a concept album inspired by the real life but obscure tale of the Scottish terrorist organization the Dark Harvest Commando.

The Dark Harvest Commando of the Scottish Citizen Army was a militant group which in 1981 demanded that the British government decontaminate Gruinard Island, a site which had been used for anthrax weapon testing during World War II, by distributing potentially anthrax-laden soil on the mainland. Enfolded by a menacing artwork by Brazilian artist Caio Caldas of CadiesArt (DragonForce, Raven Lord, Soulspell), Dark Harvest has all the elements needed to effectively portray the ominous actions of such terrorist organization, including demented vocals, blazing riffs and frantic drumming, therefore enhancing the impact of the music (and also of the story being told) on the listener.

The atmospheric intro Echoes prepares the listener for the carnivorous but very melodic Karakoram, with its lyrics explain “who” the savage mountain Karakoram is (“I am the slate of lost emotion, I am the face of blank despair / That which crushes your spirit and body / In this cold and rarified air.”). Not only the lyrics are meaningful, but the amazing job done by both Rick Cardellini and Curtis Beardy on guitars provides lead singer Graham Harris the exact ambience needed for his deep guttural vocals to thrive. In Ancestral Weight, which begins with a soulful solo by Rick while drummer Vince Cardellini blasts pure heaviness through his beats (sounding like a machine gun), we’re treated to modern and versatile Melodic Death Metal the likes of Arch Enemy and Amon Amarth.

The title-track Dark Harvest takes you to the secret lair of the Dark Harvest Commando, with the band’s Melodic Death Metal presenting a warlike vibe. The overall violence emanating from their riffs and drums is insanely high, while Graham works as the “leader” of such vile terrorist organization with his deranged growls. And continuing his momentum, Graham canalizes the size and strength of a bison on his deep vocals in the excellent Black Bison, boosting the song’s hostile lyrics even more (“I see my God as he floods the plains of destiny / With the bile of intent. / I see my God and his hooves are stained with mortal men, / Malice hangs in the fog of his breath. / No lunar eclipse is half this dark – / It crushes your will and seeps into your heart.”). Showcasing elements from Thrash Metal, in special in its drums, this full-bodied, menacing and powerful composition is tailored for admirers of the heaviest form of Melodic Death Metal, being perfect for cracking your spine headbanging; whereas in The Wasting Throne, another pounding tune by Hammerdrone, both guitars dictate the rhythm together with the lowering bass by Teran Wyer, resulting in a robust song where all spaces are filled with heavy sounds and melodic touches, while its second part offers more of the band’s neck-breaking metal music.

After the album’s intro, Harvest The Void is the first (and only) serene moment you’ll find in Dark Harvest, working as a gentle bridge to the deep and melodic Collapse Of Reality, with highlights to the dynamic guitars by Rick and Curtis and the intricate beats by Vince, while Graham keeps growling like a beast. It’s a good quality tune despite going on for too long, losing a bit of its punch after a while. However, in the last of all tracks, titled Lost In An Instant, the whole band is fuckin’ roaring, with Graham and his bandmates delivering high-end Melodic Death Metal through their beautiful guitar solos, solid beats and endless stamina.

You can listen to Dark Harvest in its entirety HERE, and also show your support to Hammerdrone (and consequently to independent metal in general) by grabbing your copy of this excellent concept album at their BandCamp page. Hammerdone, who can be found on Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud and ReverbNation, not only bring us metalheads high-end underground heavy music made in Canada, as melodic and catchy as it can be, but they also tell a sinister and noteworthy story in Dark Harvest that will show you that many (if not all) terrorist attacks do not come out of nowhere, but that they’re always connected to classified actions taken by all governments worldwide. We obviously do not condone any of those actions and reactions by governments or terrorist groups, but it’s clear that when metal bands like Hammedrone are inspired by such controversial topics, the final result is always amazing musically speaking.

Best moments of the album: Ancestral Weight, Black Bison and The Wasting Throne.

Worst moments of the album: Collapse Of Reality.

Released in 2017 Independent

Track listing
1. Echoes (Intro) 1:09
2. Karakoram 4:37
3. Ancestral Weight 3:51
4. Dark Harvest 6:17
5. Black Bison 7:48
6. The Wasting Throne 6:07
7. Harvest The Void 3:32
8. Collapse Of Reality 5:34
9. Lost In An Instant 5:35

Band members
Graham Harris – vocals
Rick Cardellini – lead guitars
Curtis Beardy – rhythm guitars, backing vocals
Teran Wyer – bass, vocals
Vince Cardellini – drums