Noctis 666: Lucifer Rex Metal Festival Calgary AB, September 19 and 20

Noctis 666: Lucifer Rex Metal Festival Calgary AB, September 19 and 20
The latest of Scarab Production's annual Noctis events (six festivals and four conferences) began with a night of simultaneous live performances in two of Calgary's more intimate metal venues, as well as a free public session on women in metal: "Is This Representation Accurate?," featuring journalist/scholar Sarah Kitteringham and author Laina Dawes. So while air guitar battles and a handful of bands drew some folks to Lord Nelson's (including Edmonton's Striker and Vancouver's Stryker), a solid contingent of fest-goers settled in down the street at Dickens and stayed there.

Calgary's Doberman were the first to perform, followed soon after by a strong set of Manitoba black metal from Wilt — a dark and cold combination of melody and drone. Other local-ish bands included Savage Streets (high-adrenaline death metal) and the Cadavor Dog (catchy punk/thrash fusion from High River with an endearing stage presence), while others like Satan's Satyrs from Virginia (noisily nostalgic heavy rock) came from further afield. Things ran to a pleasantly tight schedule, though some of the bands seemed to struggle with between-song tuning and on-stage sound, causing a few minor atmospheric disruptions.

Despite being one of those bands, Switzerland's Bölzer delivered the night's most powerful set, incredibly and irresistibly primal, whether the guitar/drums two-piece was laying down grooves, speed or ominous doom. Headliners Exciter were the event's other key highlight, demonstrating the kind of expertise you'd hope to hear from one of Canada's underground metal pioneers. Frontman Kenny "Metal Mouth" Winter has a killer set of pipes and, when not singing, delivers an entertaining stream of cursing, so he inevitably demanded a lot of attention (sample: "you wanna show me how fucking untired you are?!"). But playing classics like "Heavy Metal Maniac" all the way to encore track "Victims of Sacrifice," it was founding guitarist John Ricci who was, undeniably, the band's centre and focus, delivering a performance that did his legacy proud.

The music events of night two moved to University of Calgary's Mac Hall Ballroom. The venue lacked some of the character and resonance of the smaller clubs, but was able to contain (if barely) the numbers out to see an impressive list of underground and extreme bands.

Friday night had a definite blackened tinge, starting with relative newcomers Dire Omen. Fest-goers could also experience the controversial "terrorist metal" of Villainizer, as well as Barbatos (Abigail's Yasuyuki Suzuki performing with members of Savage Streets and Fornication) before indulging in the stripped-down doomy sounds of vintage act Pagan Altar. Guitarist Alan Jones and frontman Terry Jones are the core of the band, with roots in the '70s, and on stage this was readily apparent. Terry, in particular, is a spectacle unto himself and his gestures carry a Shakespearean actor flavour of drama. The songs they performed (rich in dark themes) are among some of the catchiest in the occult rock style but the band seemed a little off — Terry Jones attributed it to jet lag and partying neighbours in the hotel the night before.

The black metal hordes had to wait for the final two sets of the night for things to become ferociously grim once again. But for the less cult it was Gorguts' mid-evening performance that made it all worthwhile. Back with a brand new album already garnering a wealth of praise, founder Luc Lemay and latest bandmates Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia), Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia/Krallice), and drummer John Longstreth delivered an impeccable set of complex and soulful death metal. In suspended moments and interludes an eerie atmospheric background served to underline the intensity of the songs themselves, while Gorguts' new material went over particularly well. Their time on stage seemed far too short but deliciously satisfying.

For anyone not fully sated by this point, the fest still had lots to offer, including a rare and vicious Canadian appearance from Revenge before headliners Blasphemy brought the main event to a creepily evil close. The sum total was, above all, a reminder of the vitality, vibrant history, and importance of Canadian extreme metal.