Windhand / Olde / Familiars The Garrison, Toronto ON, July 31

Windhand / Olde / Familiars The Garrison, Toronto ON, July 31
Photo: Shane Parent
It's always delightful to be surprised by an opening band, and the heavy stoner rock outfit Familiars did an excellent job catching their audience off-guard and impressing the hell out of them. Based in "Small Towns, Ontario," the quartet's perfectly mismatched visual aesthetics gives off the vibe of a rag-tag group of burgeoning superheroes (or maybe villains). Their songs have something of a rural Ontario gothic to them — "Fire in the Sky" is about being abducted by aliens, for instance — and they capture the creeping horror and beauty of that landscape exceptionally well. Their set was weird, thick as smoke and exhaust with just a hint of twinkling fireflies; they have something special going on.

If Familiar's set was somewhere between horror and love story, then Olde's performance was a screwball comedy. Just as the band were about to start, one of the guitar players (who had been having a terse, quieter conversation with his bandmates) suddenly announced loudly, "look, when you gotta go, you gotta go!" and ran off to piss while everyone else strummed impatiently. Then as they were starting, vocalist Doug McLarty announced that this performance was "probably their last show." From the first few chords, everyone on stage was openly sweating, and the set seemed like a colossal physical struggle just to get through. Their performance was for all the world like watching someone go through the aural equivalent of power lifting; Olde's tracks are at once damningly heavy and weirdly precise for doom, tidy tracks that are nonetheless positively crushing. All of the members fixtures in the scene (the lineup includes members of Cunter, Sons of Otis and Moneen) and together have come together to make some delicious heaviness that is delivered like the blow of a sledgehammer from a expert in demolitions. If this is indeed their last show, Toronto will be a little less noisy and poorer for it.

For a band who only released their first full-length in 2012, Richmond, VA's Windhand have already made a deep impression, and their forthcoming record Grief's Infernal Flower is a highly-anticipated early-fall doom release. Their set was thick, muscular and ferocious equal parts luscious smoke and shearing talons. There is something about Dorthia Cottrell's vocal performance that is always mesmerizing: her voice is urgent and powerful, with a bleeding edge that never breaks, and she throws herself into her performance with a kind of far-away, enraptures expression, as though the song she is channelling has possessed her. While their stage show itself had almost none of the more theatrical set pieces of metal's more ritualistic performances, save some incense burning on stage, Windhand's set was the kind of immersive sensory experience that seemed ceremonial. A perfect set for a full moon.