November 16, 2022 – TD Studio, Montreal, Quebec
On the first snow fall of the season in Montreal, the cold sounds of the wonderfully grim Katatonia swept in, like sea winds off the coast, blanketing the city as the snow had done in the hours leading up to the gig. Conditions that probably made these Swedes feel right at home – and the perfect conditions under which music of this ilk should be played. In the moments leading up to this gig, everything felt perfectly in place, and balanced. As if something whimsical was about to transpire.
With them, the incredible powerhouse that is a German progressive metal band named The Ocean Collective – sometimes referred to as The Ocean, and Switzerland’s Cellar Darling, which features three former longtime members of Eluveitie whom all left the former band at the same time, to form this current project.
See Also: Testament at London Music Hall, London
Yet, what should have been a great night of heavy music, from three very talented and capable acts, sadly soon fell victim to terrible sound and lighting issues.
Featuring a trio of musicians that split from Eluveitie in 2016, Cellar Darling began the show to an unusually packed room – and despite the cramped stage that was littered with gear from the three bands set to perform on the night, did well to rile up the packed TD Studio. The trio of Anna Murphy, Merlin Sutter and Ivo Henzi played a unique style of folk meets metal, complete with Murphy playing her flute and the Hurdy Gurdy, that surely was only visible from the first few rows.
With but two albums to their name so far, Cellar Darling would play five songs, including Black Moon which was played live for the first time on this current tour. I was stunned by how poorly lit the venue was as soon as I entered, and that would be a familiar theme throughout their set and one I hoped would improve by the time Katatonia took the stage.
The Ocean Collective
Sometimes, the opening act on a tour gets treated rough, and gets sat in darkness for the duration of their set. That was certainly the conditions under which Cellar Darling had played – yet I expected the lighting and sound would improve for The Ocean Collective, given their stature in the metal scene. Their most recent studio release, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic, is a gem of an album and deserves to be better known than what it is. An album ripe with pure genius level song writing and execution. If you have yet to hear it – let me just say, you need to. The lighting and sound didn’t improve one iota, however, in a venue that I know full well has the capacity for both solid sound and lighting.
None the less, these shadowy German figures stormed through a great set, while looking as if they were emerging from the set of John Carpenter’s The Fog. Speaking French to a crowd in this city, is a sure fire way to win over a large portion of this bilingual town, as frontman Loïc Rossetti was quick to learn. To then follow that up with a ferocious set means that anybody that wasn’t already a fan of the band in this room, now was. The Ocean Collective were as sublime live, despite the ridiculous bass levels in the sound mix, as they are on their studio releases.
At times, the piss poor lighting created an accidental ambiance that fit what the band were playing – but it would have been nice to see the members instead of just their silhouettes.
Of the six songs The Ocean Collective would churn out, two came from Palaeozoic, two from Phanerozoic I : Palaeozoic, and two from Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic – all great albums names that I have no fucking clue how to pronounce. I guess I should have spent more time in school. Their renditions of these tracks, especially Jurassic | Cretaceous, was spot on. Glorious; and despite the technical issues, made the night worthwhile.
By the time Katatonia, the evenings headlining act, took to the stage – the lighting had become a complete and utter joke. The huge spotlights that sat upon the stage blinded those trying to see the band on stage, while the musicians remained in a shroud of mysticism. Enough fog to lose a ship filled the room, leaving very little to be seen but the migraine causing flood lights aimed at the audience. I didn’t think it was possible for the lighting to get worse, but I was soon proven wrong. Well wrong. Meanwhile, I thought I would stand behind the head of house and see if his view of the stage was any clearer – alas, to my dismay, the guy in charge of the lights was far too busy sat on his phone for the entirety of Kataonia’s set to notice the atrocious job he was doing.
At one point late in the set, a roadie appeared and an unpleasant discussion seemed to take place, leaving the light tech waving his arms about in disarray – and for the final moments of the final song, he began to adjust dials and change the atrocious lighting. Far too little, far too late. I am not sure if this is a touring member of Katatonia’s crew, or an employee of the venue – but in whichever case, his employment should be reconsidered.
Sadly, the sound was as terrible as the lighting. Katatonia’s music relies heavily on the incredible vocal work of Jonas Renkse, yet the vocals were so low in the mix, that he was barely legible for much of their set. The guitars too, were too low, while the bass was way, way too high in the mix. Perhaps this style of mixing would work well for a hip hop artist, yet hip hop this is not. As was the case with the lighting tech, the sound tech too sat there, reclined in his chair and too deeply ensconced in his phone to realize how shit his work was. People paid good money for this – and should be outraged.
Katatonia deserved better. Katatonia’s fans deserved better.
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The majority of the material played came from their three most recent albums, The Great Cold Distance, City Burials and my personal favorite, Dead End Kings – with some older tracks dating back to the turn of the decade, like Teargas, off of Last Fair Deal Gone Down. As always, the more doom and black metal oriented beginnings of the troupe were ignored, although I would have loved to see them through in an old jam for the hell of it. That’s probably just wishful thinking on my part, though. Those days are a fragment of the past now.
Katatonia are a band that I absolutely adore, but tonight was a set to forget. When you can’t enjoy the sound, nor the visuals; there is very little reason to actually be at the event – and that was the case here on this evening. I hope, for the artists sake, that this was a one-off – a bad night, as from what I witnessed tonight, I can not, in good faith, compelle people to shell out the ticket price to see this show in other cities.