The unfortunate reality for those metal fans living in North America is that there are a ton of astonishing bands that simply don’t play shows on our shores. Whether it be due to limited exposure, the ridiculous cost of work permits, high touring expenses, or quite simply having a large enough audience elsewhere making the need to tour over here redundant, the bottom line is that it just plain stinks for the fans. This writer has a very long list of bands of which are desired to be seen – most of which simply won’t happen unless it involves traveling over to Europe to do so.
What’s the point, you ask? Well, when one such band surprisingly makes their way within driving distance, don’t hesitate to get your sorry self to said show. The band in question is Finland’s own Kalmah. A personal favorite – and one of the most consistent and talent bands the world over – ever since their debut album Swamplord was unleashed a little over a decade ago, the opportunity to see them live had never realistically presented itself until now. True that the band had toured Canada a few years back, but that date couldn’t be made. This one, however, could. The band made the announcement in October of 2010, in which setting up a short ten date tour throughout a good portion of Eastern Canada in March of 2011, and sights were immediately set on the Toronto stop.
After much anticipation and whatnot, the day came very quickly. The plan was to drive to Toronto from Pittsburgh – which is a little over a five-hour trek – and stay the night of the show, and head back the following day. My fiancé and I were the only two that made the trip, and many regrets are certain to be had with those that chose not to go [don't push it, pal - ed.]. Also, a few discoveries were made while visiting our neighbor to the north. Firstly, they have Cadbury Cream snack cakes, and they’re outright delicious! And the big one – they sell the German variety of Fanta there. Needless to say, multiple bottles of it were purchased, and more will be in a future trip.
The drive was smooth, and after checking into our hotel and getting some much needed food – Boston Pizza rules – and rest time, we headed to The Mod Club – the venue hosting this amazing event.
The area of which the venue was located was quite easy to locate, and in an interesting part of the city, with many kinds of different shops and whatnot to visit. We arrived about a half hour before doors, and there was a somewhat significant line already formed. Doors were only about ten minutes or so late – it usually is more than that at most shows – and we immediately went to the merchandise table upon entry. There, we each picked up a shirt and a hoodie a piece, and found ourselves a perfect spot to the left of the stage with an amazing sightline. We then waited for the show to begin.
Native Ontario band Bolero opened the show, and they served their purpose and then some. Playing a style of pagan/folk with a dosing of black and melodic death metal, these guys played an energetic set that got things off on the right foot. Bolero really knows how to perform, with their sound being very tight and being quite entertaining to watch. There’s a very fast heaviness to their sound, which is intermixed with a nice amount of melody and well-placed keyboard lines. Their debut album, Voyage from Vinland came out in January of this year, and certainly is worth giving a shot. If their live show is any marker, the album should be fantastic.
Next up was Woods of Ypres, a band of which much has been heard about, but having never gotten around to listening to any of their tunes, was an unknown quantity. Upon hearing a few days prior that they were added to the show, a point was made to not get any of their stuff and leave what is heard at the show to be a surprise. The surprise ended up being a very pleasant one, as Woods of Ypres styling of black metal with a lot of folk and melodic tendencies was very uniquely crafted, and an utter delight to witness. Playing a good portion of material from their new record, IV: The Green Album. Woods of Ypres received a wonderful – and much deserved – reception to each song. Most definitely need to investigate this band further.
The main support came from WarCall, a melodic death/thrash band from Montreal. Having one full-length release of which to draw from, the band played a good portion of their material on the night. These guys proved to be quite sharp in their offerings, as their music is well written and to the point. There’s nothing really new here, but they do well by their combination of thrash riffage combined with a smattering of melodic qualities and high level of energy and aggression. Enjoyable, for sure, and worth a look.
Of course, the anticipation was at a ridiculous height for the headliner all night, and the closer it got – especially after WarCall finished up – the whole crowd seemed to be becoming delightfully antsy. And rightfully so, as Kalmah was mere minutes away! When their intro hit, there was a cohesive roar, and like a flash, the band kicked into “Rust Never Sleeps,” the opening track from their latest 12 Gauge and a very fitting opener. “One of Fail,” immediately followed, with much delight. Then a big bombshell hit – yes, they played “Swamphell.” At that moment, it really kicked into the brain of yours truly that this show was going to forever be a memorable event not ever to be forgotten.
Other highlights included “Dance of the Water,” “Bullets Are Blind,” “They Will Return,” “For the Revolution,” “The Black Waltz,” “Heroes to Us,” along with an encore of “Heritance of Berjia” and “Hades.” Well, honestly, the entire 80-minute set was a highlight in itself. They played material from every album, and delightfully, played a number of tracks from their first album. A perfect set list from a band that has never made a song that could be described as even mediocre. Personally, a show titled “Kalmahfest” with the band playing every album front to back would be fantastic, albeit tiring for them, but so amazing for those watching! Ah, dreams, dreams.
The band’s presentation is unmatched, with an insanely energetic stage show, and spot on technicality throughout each and every song. The inclusion of somebody dressed up as The Swamplord – who is displayed on the cover of The Black Waltz – made an appearance on stage. It was a fun and very cool touch that was unexpected.
The Kokko brothers are truly one of the best guitar duos in all of metal, and this impressive showing did nothing but solidify that fact further. Seeing Antti Kokko almost effortlessly ripping off solo after solo was awe-inspiring. Both brothers are such underrated axe men, of which more people need to become aware of. This is a band that knows what they’re doing in every facet, and they proudly displayed how good they are ten fold.
Pekka Kokko’s vocal attack was brilliant, as well. He possesses a high intensity level on every album, and that carried over nicely to the stage. Pekka is also quite the amusing fellow, joking with the crowd on more than one occasion between songs, and displaying a huge smile on his face for most of the concert. A noteworthy example was when he stated his fondness of fishing, mentioning a fish he was determined to catch at home in Finland, which precluded their performance of “Hook the Monster.”
The band seemed to have a blast, and so did the crowd. Nice to see such a well-spirited show, and it’s always infectious when it’s easily evident that a band is thoroughly enjoying what they’re doing as much as those watching them. Most assuredly, a good time was had by all.
Kalmah proved to be beyond worth the over ten hours of round trip driving, and it would definitely be done again without thinking twice. What an amazing time, and an example of what a great band is. If only more would follow in Kalmah’s extraordinary example – a fresh, inspired approach to music and a second to none live show to boot. Much thanks to Kalmah for an unforgettable evening, and next time, hopefully these guys can make their way across the border to the U.S.A. and make their live debut here. There’s plenty who are desperate to see this band in this country, and if it somehow happens, Kalmah would be most welcomed. Nevertheless, if next time is another Canadian exclusive, rest assured this writer will be in attendance. Thanks much, Kalmah, for a show that will certainly stand up as one of the best this humble human will ever experience.