Canada’s gotten lucky, getting the first string of shows on Children Of Bodom’s North American Hexed tour. There’s a lot of excitement in the air as fans swarm into Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre, and the venue is already packed by the time the first opening act, Summoner’s Circle (8) takes the stage. The six-piece theatrical group take their half-hour set as far as it will go, getting the ball rolling and the bar set for the evening, and likely winning over some new fans in the process. Closing with the epic Leviathan: Lord Of The Labyrinth, they get a thunderous crowd reaction and even some shouts for an encore. It would be nice to see them play a full-length headline set, and it would be a smart move to come back around soon. This is a band that could go far—they play with a level of confidence that indicates they would be comfortable headlining on a stage this size in the future. They’re absolutely stand-up guys as well, taking the time after their set to hang at their merch booth and meet the fans.
Next up is Wolfheart (7) with another energetic and stellar set. They’re on top form, also delivering a set that leaves no doubt they’re eyeing up to that coveted headliner slot. They’ve got a decent number of fans out tonight, and get a nice mosh pit going, as well as a bunch of crowd surfers. It would make sense for Bodom’s set to follow theirs, bringing a culmination to the rising intensity here. Unfortunately, Swallow The Sun’s (6) mellow doom unfortunately stalls the momentum the first two bands did a great job establishing and building. The guys in the band just don’t seem anywhere near as excited to be here. They’ve got great tunes, no doubt, but the slow, gloomy vibe is out of place. They’ve still got fans who have turned up to see them, but their performance just doesn’t really fit well on this bill.
The anticipation for Children Of Bodom (8) outweighs this little dampener, though, and the headlining act delivers almost in full. Aside from a sloppy transition here and there, Bodom’s set is incredibly tight, and the three songs they play from new album Hexed earn audience reactions nearly as hefty as the classics like In Your Face and Angels Don’t Kill. The pit is gigantic and absolutely insane, and the venue security guards look like they’re having the time of their lives catching a wild crowd surfer every 10 seconds. A thin and frail-looking Alexi Laiho starts out delivering his vocals with power and conviction, but seems to wear down throughout the 70-minute set. The encore of fan favourites Hate Me! and Downfall should be the show’s peak, but this point the frontman seems beaten down and ready to head home, even speaking through most of the verses on the former tune rather than screaming. It’s a little worrying to see Laiho in this shape only four dates into the tour. Still, it’s a really fun show, and the band have even thrown a few deeper cuts into the setlist, like main set closer If You Want Peace… Prepare For War. It’s not clear what’s going with Laiho’s health these days, but here’s hoping he’s able to be back on top form soon.