Canadian Speed Prevails at TraXide

Ottawa speed freaks Occult Burial headlined another successful celebration of the Canadian underground metal scene this past Friday night. Hosted by the infamous TraXide, the bill also featured three supporting Montreal acts in the form of Skumstrike, Vespéral, and Conifère.

If you’ve never heard of TraXide, I don’t blame you. The best description of the hole-in-the-wall venue I can offer is in the form of an exchange sparked by an eager concert-goer on the event’s Facebook page. “L’adresse SVP” writes a fan. The only response came from none other than Vespéral frontman Sovannak: “nope.” Gotta be in the know, I guess.

While Occult Burial and Skumstrike play music to the beat of something akin to an amphetamine-fueled metronome, Vespéral and Conifère offered a little more ambiance with their performances. As expected in the numbers drought that tends to create incestuous but high quality local black metal scenes, Vespéral and Conifère share multiple members and play in a similar style. Seeing the same musicians come back on-stage after a Skumstrike speed-break interim was quite comical, as Vespéral put on new costumes, stage-right went to stage-left, and they became Conifère. My favourite of the two was definitely the latter, as the group played a straighter 2nd-wave black metal style, but also featured a slew of heavy and borderline groovy segments to their songs that got the crowd pushing and shoving again. A black metal band that can get people moving is a big accomplishment.

Skumstrike were also a blast. I knew we were in for a wild trip when the guitarist took the stage adorned with an AC/DC t-shirt and mirrored Top Gun aviators. “Emperor sunglasses!” shouted somebody in the crowd - which was almost an insult; Skumstrike would never dare play as slow as Emperor. Blastbeats and sleazeball punk were the name of the game for these speed dealers, surging the packed room into a maelstrom of spikes and body odour. My lower back became well-acquainted with the sharp edge of the shelf behind me, punk after punk bouncing off me like some kind of perverse speed dating event.

Headliners Occult Burial broke into their set with true underground fury. Good on them for driving all the way from Ottawa for this basher. To be fair though, I’m sure the band enjoyed being in a fun city for once.

The best part of Occult Burial’s sound is frontman/bassist Joël Thomas’ manic shrieking vocal style, which brings these fan-favourites leagues above any other neighbourhood blackened speed act. Batterie-master Dan Lee is also a maniac on the kit and personally looks like he’s always ready to star as a zombie in an impromptu b-movie horror flick (and I say that as a compliment). In true punk fashion, Occult Burial also don’t feature a rhythm guitarist, which allowed for lead Dan McLoud (could have gotten more creative with the fake handle - two Dans?) to soar during bassy guitar solo breaks that always hit like a brick.

Three songs in, somebody ripped the band’s paper setlist off the floor, as it disappeared into the mass of contraband this is a TraXide audience. “Hey, uhhh, who stole our setlist?” gawked the frontman, staring back at his kitmaster with uncertainty, telepathically communicating the message “What do we do now?” I can only assume the rest of their set was somewhat impromptu, as that sweaty piece of paper never resurfaced. The opportune thief will make a cool $5 selling that on Kijiji in a few years.

Occult Burial played through rippers like they were mainlining adrenaline, blasting out cuts like “Jackal Head,” “A Witch Shall Be Born (Daughter of Darkness),” and “Ancient Returns.” Audience members (and the frontman, who was panting and sweating bullets the whole time) were allowed to come down during the slower, groovier “Highway Through Borderland” off the band’s most recent LP.

Occult Burial’s varied set and the dynamic range of their sound strengthened their status as one of the champions of the underground Canadian metal music scene. With the strong accompanying performances from Skumstrike, Vespéral, and Conifère, the event was truly a successful celebration of the Canadian music scene, proving that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.