Top 10 Concerts of 2017

2017 was my most prolific year to date for concerts, as I hit 33 shows. While there wasn’t necessarily anything truly outrageous as in some prior years (those trips are saved for 2018), I was once again fortunate to see some great acts. Below, I’ve ranked my top 10 concerts of the year, as separating individual bands would be an impossible task!

10. Sabaton, Battle Beast, Leaves’ Eyes – April 27
Venue: The Opera House, Toronto, Ontario

This show marked my 4th time seeing Sabaton, and it was incredible to see how the group went from playing to 100 people in a bar in Toronto in 2012 to practically selling out a 1000-person venue just 5 years later. Truthfully, the other bands on the bill were of little interest to me. Leaves’ Eyes’ brand of symphonic metal is largely unappealing unless executed to perfection (ala Nightwish). Battle Beast is certainly a more enthralling band, but without knowing the songs, it was mostly empty pop music.

Unsurprisingly, however, this made Sabaton that much better. The Swedish historians delivered yet another inspired performance to a packed crowd. Other power metal bands should take note: the way to build a crowd in North America is slow, and might require getting on some strange bills (Sabaton previously toured with Amon Amarth), but there is a payoff if you can convince a few more people to come out. Overall, Sabaton’s show didn’t differ significantly from the previous times I’d seen them, but was well worth the money.

9. The Decibel Tour (Kreator, Obituary, Midnight, Horrendous) – April 19
Venue: The Opera House, Toronto, Ontario

There was a time when metal shows consisted almost exclusively of lineups with one good band. The 2017 edition of the Decibel tour proved that doesn’t have to be the case, as this lineup was a solid 4/4 on featuring only good bands. This show marked experience number 3 for Kreator, 1 for Obituary, and 2 for both Midnight and Horrendous. Unsurprisingly, all bands performed up to their standard. There’s nothing like seeing a man who hides his face destroy someone else’s guitar on stage (Midnight)!

Obituary’s set proved that even though the majority of their catalogue is slow and groovy, they can still crush everything in their path live. Obvious highlights were any time that songs from “Slowly We Rot” were unleashed, but the entire set was pure carnage. Much to my surprise, there was a strong contingent of fans who seemed more interested in Obituary than Kreator, but as a thrasher, that will never be the case for me. Unsurprisingly, this meant that Kreator’s set was the best of the night. Both new and old Kreator are top-tier thrash, but the pure carnage that occurred during “Pleasure to Kill”, “Under The Guillotine”, and “Flag of Hate” (despite the band’s amalgamations of some of these songs) cannot be overstated. I would see Kreator every night for the rest of my life if my neck could withstand the pain.

8. Destruction, Jungle Rot, Warbringer, Demons Within – May 30
Venue: The Mod Club, Toronto, Ontario

Despite Destruction’s repeated claims that each North America tour will be their last, the German thrashing force once again found themselves in the Great White North. And once again, they brought Warbringer along with them. The younger group’s set was a brutal experience, made more extreme by the fact that I was right up front (despite my small frame) and took some damage. John Kevill was extremely sick, and the band was trying to see if any fans could pull off vocals before their set started, but he ultimately weathered his sickness and sounded every bit as good as he always does.

If you’ve never seen Destruction before, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve never seen a band who sounds infinitely better playing their old material live compared to the new stuff. When playing anything recorded between 1984-1988 live, Destruction might be a top 3 live band ever. Everything else (other than “Nailed to the Cross”) falls largely flat. Regardless of this discrepancy, Destruction packs their sets with so much old material that they will easily be one of your favourites. Their 2012 set in particular seemed to have the most old material of any time that I’ve seen them, but every performance has been great. Show count for each band: Destruction – 3; Jungle Rot – 1; Warbringer –  4; Demons Within – 1.

7. Atrophy, Canceric, Speed Terror – November 9
Venue: Coalition, Toronto, Ontario

“Violent By Nature” was one of the first underground thrash albums I ever owned, and has been in constant rotation for over a decade. I never imagined Atrophy would ever reunite, or even come to Canada, so the chance to see them live was definitely something special. There were a few speed/thrash metal bands on the bill for this show, and I missed the first one. Speed Terror and Canceric played admirably (with the latter band even footing the bill for Atrophy’s Canada tour), but neither were any match for the legendary Atrophy.

The band’s set contained an excellent mix of tracks from both records. While the crowd seemed to favour songs from “Socialized Hate”, the highlights for me were “Puppies and Friends”, “Violent By Nature”, and “In Their Eyes”. There are a couple of newer members in the band, but everyone was in excellent form. As with many bands in this style, Atrophy continually showed their appreciation for the small legion of devoted fans. It’s crazy to think that in a city of nearly 3 million people, a band that of this magnitude can barely draw 100 people, but every single person was losing their mind at this show, and that’s an indication that this music is truly something special.

6. Havok, Exmortus, Extinction A.D. – February 10
The Rockpile, Etobicoke, Ontario

It always surprised me that despite thrash’s slight popularity from 2008-2012ish, there weren’t more tours headlined by younger bands. I still recall hearing that the Warbringer/Lazarus AD/Landmine Marathon/Diamond Plate tour in 2011 barely brought in any crowds, which might be an indication of why these bands so rarely headlined shows. Fortunately, Havok is big enough to be headlining with a couple of similar sounding bands in 2017. This was my 2nd time seeing Havok, 3rd time for Exmortus, and 1st for Extinction A.D.

This show was a bit of a trek in the winter that I unfortunately went solo to, but did it ever pay off! Extinction A.D. was a nice warmup for an evening of thrash, but things quickly picked up when Exmortus hit the stage. The second the band appeared, they unleashed an exercise in guitar acrobatics that I’ve rarely seen matched. The band ripped through tunes from their latest two records, which are where they’ve truly found their identity.

Havok’s set was equally potent. This show was just before the release of “Conformicide”, so they didn’t play too much from the new record, but the band did recognize that “Time Is Up” is what people want to hear, and they played plenty from that record. The political ranting wasn’t too absurd, so all that was left was to enjoy the thrash mayhem they delivered!

5. Screamer, Possessed Steel, Loaded – August 17
Venue: Coalition, Toronto, Ontario

The first time I saw Screamer live was almost a religious experience. Knowing almost nothing about the band, I still remember walking into a bar and having the promoter ask me if I was here for the show. That’s how poorly promoted their 2012 venture with Alcoholator was! Not only that, but I’d never heard of the venue (The Devil’s Cellar) before or after that show, and was probably one of only 10 people at that show who wasn’t in a band or dating someone in a band. Nevertheless, Screamer rocked so incredibly hard that they instantly became one of my favourite bands.

The band actually made it back to Canada one time before this, but I was unable to attend. In 2017, they returned for just 4 shows, and there was no question I had to be at one of them. This show demonstrated one thing I’ve always hated about local/underground shows: they go too late. This was on a Thursday night, and Screamer didn’t hit the stage until after midnight. As much as I wanted to see Possessed Steel after years of missing them, I was only there for Screamer, and wasn’t the only one visibly frustrated with how poorly planned the show was.

Once Screamer hit the stage, even serious tech problems with one of their amps couldn’t stop the band, as they delivered one of the most passionate sets that easily demonstrated their unmatched songwriting skills. Much like with the Atrophy show, this was one of those small experiences unique to heavy metal that was just something magical. I have no idea how this tour was financially feasible, but I’m eternally grateful to the band for coming back to Canada once again.

4. The Book of Souls World Tour (Iron Maiden, Ghost) – July 15
Venue: Budweiser Stage, Toronto, Ontario

If there’s any band on this list that doesn’t need an extensive writeup, it would be Iron Maiden. Fortunately, they chose an excellent opener in Ghost, who provided a fantastic occultish experience that set the mood for the world’s most legendary heavy metal band. I’d seen both bands once before, and was glad to get to experience them again, though I still have not heard “Hallowed Be Thy Name” live (which is quite possibly my favourite song ever). Other than the thrill of seeing Maiden, this show was notable because I saw two different guys get knocked out (and it wasn’t from a pit). Be warned: the bigger the crowd, the less concert-savvy they tend to be.

3. Built To Tour (HammerFall / HammerFall / HammerFall) – April 19 / April 20 / April 21
Venues: The Opera House, Toronto Ontario / Imperial Bell, Quebec City, Quebec / FouFounes Electroniques, Montreal, Quebec

HammerFall (alongside Alice Cooper) has been my favourite band since I was 14. In 2010, they did a full North America tour (for the first time since I became a fan in 2006) that was somewhat disastrous financially. And though I was fortunate to see them at Wacken 2012, the band swore off North America for a long time. They opted to give our continent one last shot after the brilliant “Built to Last” album by co-headlining with Delain. Though I’m not a Delain fan, this was a great move. In 2010, the band was coming off of their weakest album to date (“No Sacrifice, No Victory”), had barely played North America in years, and brought a totally irrelevant opener (Powerglove) that wouldn’t generate any interest. In 2017, they swallowed their pride and brought along a band of slightly bigger stature that was similar enough musically to draw in their fans, but different enough to get a new crowd out to HammerFall shows. This, combined with the fact that HammerFall had released two consecutive albums that fans were excited about again, meant that attendance would surely be better on this tour.

I did my part, as I hit the first three shows of the tour by following the band to Quebec City and Montreal after seeing them in my hometown. As much as I loved them, my two prior experiences with HammerFall did not indicate they were a top-tier live band. In 2010, the band messed up the intro to “Life Is Now” and had to restart the song, while in 2012, Oscar messed up part of “Hearts On Fire” (a song which he wrote and plays every night on tour; you can still find the video of this on YouTube). Truthfully, there were similar outbreaks on this tour, as Oscar had trouble with his guitar during “Dethrone and Defy” in Toronto, and Joacim messed up one of the verses to “Hector’s Hymn” in Montreal. These aren’t things you often see from established touring bands.

In 2017, however, these missteps are easier to overlook because the band is absolutely on fire as a live unit now. They’re more energetic than ever, and continue to headbang in synchronicity. The setlist is naturally stronger as they’re drawing on more recent (and better) material than in 2010 and 2012. The closest I’ve ever come to fully losing my voice at a show was in Montreal after the third consecutive night of singing along to “Let The Hammer Fall”.

A few quick words about the rest of the bands: Delain was serviceable in Toronto. It was nothing special, but would be worth catching as an opener on another tour. I skipped out on them in Quebec City and Montreal because nothing can beat the high of seeing HammerFall. The local openers in each city weren’t too thrilling, with the exception of Instanzia in Montreal. This is a band I’ve listened to for a long time, and could not believe my luck when they were announced to open in Montreal. They played their songs faithfully, and added a bit of new material. It’s unclear if “The Spinning Maze” is coming anytime soon, but that performance got me excited about Instanzia again!

The success of this tour resulted in HammerFall announcing a return to North American shores in 2018. This time, they are getting a full headlining set, and having Flotsam & Jetsam open for them. I believe this will work out for them: I think they’re striking while the iron is hot by returning so soon. They gained a lot of Delain fans in 2017, and the slight crossover with Flotsam & Jetsam should earn them a few more. Seeing this band 3 times in a row seemed like a crazy idea, but it was easily one of the best I’ve ever had. So much so, that I’m doing it again in 2018 and once again seeing them in Toronto, Quebec City, and Montreal!

2. Vile Records Open Air (Morbid Saint, Condition Critical, Hellcannon, Resthaven, Cain, Sadistic Ritual, Nemesis, Order Of The Dead) – August 19
Ryan’s House, Buffalo, New York

When I heard that the guitarist of Hellcannon was putting on an open-air camping festival in his backyard featuring several of my favourite thrash bands, my first thought was: what could go wrong? Seriously, nothing about this seemed like a good idea, but there was no question I’d be there. A buddy and I attended this show as a mini-Bachelor party since I couldn’t attend his actual Bachelor party, and it definitely was a great way to mark such a significant occasion!

Every single thing about this show was exceptional. Although it was outdoors, there was a tent that proved helpful when it rained early on. The lineup was killer from top to bottom. The only bands that weren’t top-tier for me were Order Of The Dead and Cain, but 6/8 is still an unbelievable ratio for a festival. Nemesis was a new discovery for me, but they proved to be the thrashiest of the bunch. Once I saw their frontman rocking a “Power and Pain” shirt, I knew I was in the right place.

One might think that Morbid Saint would be the highlight, but it was actually Condition Critical (the only band I’d seen before on this lineup) that provided the most intense performance. Fortunately, moshing wasn’t too intense, so I was right up front for their set and it was just pure unmatched brutality. They might not be Demolition Hammer, but they come very close. It helps that the new Condition Critical record is one of the heaviest records in existence, and they played plenty of songs from it.

As my complaint above in the Screamer show alluded to, I’m not a fan of late shows. But because this was an outdoor show in a residential area (Ryan’s neighbours must hate him), it was over by 11PM, and rather than camp with a bunch of crazy rowdy people who had been drinking all day, we actually managed to hit the road and get home before 2AM! This was truly one of the best experiences of my life, and I can’t foresee a situation where I missed a Vile Records Open Air in the future as long as the lineup is as thrashy as it was this year!

1. WorldWired North America Tour (Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold, Volbeat) – July 16
Venue: Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario

The observant reader might notice that this event fell the day after Iron Maiden. It also fell on a Sunday, meaning that Toronto experienced the single greatest heavy metal weekend imaginable: Iron Maiden on one day and Metallica on the next day (and I was lucky enough to have floor tickets for both). It was such a monolithic event that I took the preceding Friday and following Monday off of work.

The openers of Volbeat and Avenged Sevenfold weren’t particularly inspiring. I’d seen the former band once before, and they were equally bad in 2017. It was my first time seeing Avenged Sevenfold, but they were only marginally better. Let’s be real, it’s Metallica. It doesn’t matter who is opening. Metallica is the band that got me into metal, and the band that is ultimately responsible for my obsession with thrash. Sure, they’re nothing like they were in 1989, but they still play a ton of old songs and know what people want to hear.

Unlike at the Iron Maiden show the previous night, I was surprised to find the crowd to be a little better behaved. There were a ton of pits and they seemed to pop up sporadically (mostly whenever old songs were played). The setlist definitely left something to be desired, as we lost the nightly “Fuel” / “Creeping Death” battle. I genuinely enjoy “Death Magnetic” a lot, but “Hardwired… To Self Destruct” was less enthralling, so hearing so many new songs wasn’t ideal. Nevertheless, Metallica still played so many of my favourite songs, and experiencing them live for the first time was unreal. “Blackened” proved to be the single most brutal experience of my life. To limit the rambling, I’ll end by saying that it’s absolutely worth it to see Metallica no matter the cost. Restrain your reservations and go back to a time when you were 13 and thought “Battery” was the most insane song ever written. The show will 100% be worth it!

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