Beyond drummer Adrian Erlandsson who joined in 2009, the other four members of England’s Paradise Lost have been playing together for nearly a quarter century. That kind of commitment alone is worthy of praise, as is the role the band has played in the doom and gothic metal scenes throughout those years. Their latest work, 2012’s Tragic Idol, is a solid piece of metal that I encourage uninformed and curious music listeners to check out.
Paradise Lost’s predominantly slow-banging gothic metal is well crafted and convincingly moody without being overbearing or cheesy. I couldn’t help but chuckle as vocalist Nick Holmes tried to incite the Commodore crowd to be more active; you don’t exactly feel like yelling your head off and going bananas after you’ve been serenaded by these mossy, melancholic dirges. There was certainly some sarcasm as Holmes thanked the Vancouver crowd for its enthusiasm.
I don’t have much to say about Sweden’s Katatonia. While I know they have a respectable catalogue that spans two decades that has garnered them a devoted following – of which a large faction was in attendance this night – nothing about their performance or music hooked me in the slightest. You could have easily convinced me that their set consisted of different versions of the same song. Yes, this is partially due to the fact that I’m not familiar with their music, but if you can’t keep my attention for a full song or make something stand out for me as a new listener, I think that speaks volumes. My lack of appreciation for Katatonia’s brand of formulaic and predictable black/gothic/doom metal clearly was not echoed by many, as the growing crowd shouted their approval song after song. Different strokes…
The moment finally came for the members of The Devin Townsend Project to exit their alien containment tanks (which they keep hidden backstage of course…) and melt some face. Townsend didn’t waste any time, as he walked out with a demented grin, surveyed the puny humans gathered before him, shouted “Shit yeah!” and promptly kicked into “More!” from his upcoming album Epicloud. He quickly followed it up with the kick-ass “Kingdom”, which should really only be performed from the peak of a mountain during a lightning storm, but I’ll settle for the Commodore. The track was first unleashed on Physicist (2000), but has been buffed, waxed and supercharged for inclusion on Epicloud.
Wednesday was a Devin Townsend fan’s wet dream, with razor-sharp, surgically precise and fun-as-all-hell performances of material spanning almost his entire career including 1997’s Ocean Machine as well as 2011’s Deconstruction. There was no Strapping Young Lad to be heard, however; maybe someday… sigh. But let’s not dwell on that minor footnote.
“Planet of the Apes” off Deconstruction put to rest any possible skepticism about the heaviness of Townsend’s solo stuff. The machine-like, assaulting riffs in “Planet”, accompanied by a mad genius and his loyal cult fist-pumping and shouting “I say have it your way / I stayed heavy for my god” is nothing if not Heavy. This furrowed-brow chant is soon followed by Townsend singing “While we all have lots of bands who influence still / We all rip off Meshuggah!” You gotta love it.
Honestly, I’ve laughed less at comedy clubs. I had trouble getting myself back together as Townsend introduced “The invisible choir!” in “Grace”. In case you didn’t realize there wasn’t a choir present and this was pre-recorded, Townsend’s more than happy to point it out for you. Hilarious. That’s the beauty with this guy – his self-effacing humour and over-the-top “metal” posing and behaviour ties everything together, reminding you that this is just a concert and you shouldn’t take yourself so damn seriously. This humour, combined with the group’s tightness, undeniable musicianship, and heavy-as-fuck metal (no matter how funny it looks as it’s happening), makes for a musical entertainment package that’s impossible not to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, you really must be a miserable, lifeless shmuck, and we don’t want you anyway.
“Grace” proved to be a fantastically positive anthem, joyously proclaiming “Laugh / Love / Live / Learn” as the words flashed on the backdrop, fifteen feet tall, prompting the crowd to join in and believe. The feeling was further elevated by a second mantra “Never fear love!”, which hammered in the heavy positivity even more, eventually culminating in the blaring, cautious reminder that “We all fall down if we all fear love!” The boys wrapped things up with the psycho-demon-boogie that is “Bad Devil”, which is basically swing music for the infinitely energetic and mildly insane.
I walked out of the Commodore on a happy cloud and it’s stuck with me for days. “See?! It’s fun right?!” Townsend asked the crowd after he’d successfully roped us into some cheesy (his words) over-the-head, arena rock clapping. He knew he had us by then. No matter how much of an evil, Satan-worshipping, goat-sacrificing metalhead you think you are, at some point on Wednesday night, you were pumping your fist shouting “Love!”, and that’s okay. And you know what? He’s right – it is fun.
Epicloud comes out September 18 on HevyDevy Records and InsideOut Music.