Last night I went to the Opera House in Toronto to see Therion. I had no idea who the opening bands would be, but they turned out to be Aesma Daeva and Beyond the Embrace.
Aesma Daeva came out first. They play essentially epic doom-ish metal with female vocals and occasional flute solos. Some of the songs are slower, like true doom, but they also play some faster-paced songs. One of the pieces they played was a section from a Mozart opera; it was also clearly their most complex piece of the night in terms of the guitar work. The female vocals are really superb, right up there with the best that metal has seen (maybe even better than Tarja of Nightwish). The lead singer also carried herself well on stage. I thought that, again, the guitar work could be a little more complex. The band has an intriguing approach, but I'd like to see a little more creativity with the metal parts, not just the "symphonic" parts.
Beyond the Embrace came out next and played energetic, thrashy, no-frills melodic death metal, rather similar to early Soilwork. Vocals were both clean and growled. The band features THREE guitarists, which allows them to play live dual guitar harmonies over a crunchy riff. The guitar harmonies seem very much indebted to In Flames, but the songs are in general faster and, again, thrashier. They had a few true guitar solos, and I really enjoyed them and wanted to hear more. By the end of the set most of the fans really seemed to get into their music. Irrelevant factoid: all the guys in the band are below about 5'7".
When Therion came out, I at first had to stifle a little disappointment. They didn't bring along any orchestral instruments or even a keyboardist, so all the orchestral parts were played off a dub. However, they did bring a four-person backing choir and a lead female vocalist. I guess it makes sense that they couldn't bring more, since I imagine a transatlantic tour gets expensive pretty quick. The venue's acoustics weren't great, and there was too much bass reverb, making the lead guitars and vocals difficult to hear. Christofer Johansson and the other Therion musicians were very energetic on stage, doing lots of headbanging and crowd interaction (I was in the second row). All in all, it was a very enjoyable set, and the crowd really got into it. They played about eight songs for their regular set, one from Lepaca Kliffoth, "Wine of Aluqah" from Vovin, "Invincible" from Deggial, a couple of songs from Secret of the Runes, and three (I think) from Lemuria/Sirius B. For their first curtain call they did "Cult of the Shadow" and closed with "To Mega Therion," which got the whole crowd singing along and jumping around. That alone was worth the experience. They came back for a second curtain call and did covers of Mercyful Fate, "Black Funeral" and Motorhead, "Iron Fist." A small mosh pit got going for those last two.
The club wasn't full, which surprised me. But the people who were there were enthusiastic, and everyone seemed to go away satisfied. By the way, I finally got comments on my Haggard shirt - three, in fact. I guess that would make sense at a Therion concert.