It seemed like the band moved swiftly from setting up on stage to producing orchestrated aural chaos. Eye contact with my friend was broken by the sound waves themselves. Conversation time, over: it was time to tune in and embrace the noise — we’d bought tickets, after all. There was no way in hell I was moving any further back in this crowd.
March 7 saw three metal bands, ranging from horror punk to doom metal, play at the Coalition venue in Kensington Market to a writhing core group of fans from the scene — and me. Exes, High Priest, and Old Witch brought an energy to the rough-around-the-edges Coalition that had the flippers flopping in the pinball machines lining the back wall of the venue.
Full disclosure: one of my roommates plays the drums in Exes, and, to be completely honest, that was the only reason I went to the show. Heavy metal isn’t exactly my cup of tea — I’d be embarrassed to detail the ins and outs of my own tastes — but I had a dude to support. I was more than happy to sip on a can of Newkie Brown in front of a stage cranking noise at an eye-popping level of righteous barrage.
Exes was the first up: four guys, six feet of hair, and a whole lot of sound. The Uxbridge-based group were a full-bodied presence on the Coalition platform, and brought such tightness to their performance that I almost forgot that their music was supposed to terrify me.
Frontman and guitarist Jake Ballah’s raw talent and guttural vocals — which I think this is a very good thing in this genre — complemented what I can only assume were well-rehearsed and accordingly-timed head bangs that sent a whiplash of energy from the roots of his long hair to the back of the crowd.
Much of Exes’ repertoire relies on sampling from horror movies and sounds, and Ballah’s booted feet expertly navigated the foot pedals to bring in samples amid the instrumental anarchy. Aidan Garrard, my roommate, was visibly in the zone and out of control behind his kit, thrashing out heart-stomping beats with a cannibalistic ferocity belying his day job as a software developer and amateur vegan chef. I was impressed.
I won’t pretend to be able to wax smartly on the musical nuances of the night, because when descriptors like “sludge” and “doom” start getting thrown around, I begin to realize just how out of my element I am. High Priest and Old Witch were strong follows to Exes, and it seemed to make excellent sense for all of these bands to share the venue for the night.
These three bands felt an urgency to play at Coalition because the notorious venue will be closing this April, and it remains to be seen whether it will find a new home. This comes on the heels of last month’s closure of staple local scene shop and underground venue Faith/Void. There are fewer and fewer spaces for local underground heavy bands to reach an audience these days, which means there are fewer and fewer opportunities for geeks like me to get our socks blown off, whether we’re out there supporting a roommate or not. And that would be a real shame because I, for one, want to do this again.
It may seem counterintuitive to a complete outsider to the scene, but metal and punk are far more welcoming and open than they seem. No one even commented on my friend who wore khakis — khakis! — to the show. Though there are exceptions as we move toward Nazi metal on the extreme end of the spectrum, the genres as a whole are overwhelmingly progressive, environmentally-conscious, and LGBTQ+-friendly spaces. There’s even a subgroup of “straight edge” punks, many of whom keep vegan and abstain from all drug use, and sometimes even sex. But this is all probably a story for another article and another, more informed, writer.
There’s a certain beauty in the aesthetic and aura of local metal and punk, which I’ve only been lightly exposed to through my roommate in the past year. Sometimes it manifests in anachronisms, such as the widespread use of cassette tapes for the distribution and consumption of local music. Sometimes it’s a conscious laissez-faire attitude in production: one time, my roommate spent hours designing a poster for his band, which he then photocopied a photocopy of before putting it up. That’s a poster that screams a massive ‘fuck you’ to anyone who thinks that the sound quality is a bit mangled, or that the venue is gritty, or that the toilets aren’t clean. The poster says we’re grunge, baby, and you better believe it.