Monday, September 15, 2014

Concert Review - Sonata Arctica, Delain, Xandria, Omnislash - 9/13/14 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

I think after the last time I saw Sonata Arctica, I might have sworn off seeing them ever again. They were fresh off Stones Grow Her Name and played a lot of disappointing songs from that album, and made disappointing choices from their other albums. (I believe "Draw Me" was the choice from Winterheart's Guild. Not a terrible song, but why pass up "The Ruins of My Life" or "Victoria's Secret" or for god's sake, "The Cage"???)

Pariah's Child changed my mind. While by no means as epic as Winterheart's Guild, it was definitely a return to form, with lots of fast melodic goodness that was missing from Stones Grow Her Name. I decided to give Sonata one more chance. They were, after all, one of the two bands that got me into metal in the first place.

I was excited to see that Xandria would be touring with them. While I don't know this band super well, they are one of the top bands in the female-fronted gothic-symphonic metal niche, and as far as I know have never been to the States before, so I highly anticipated the chance to see them. Delain I had seen on tour with Kamelot, and liked them well enough, but didn't feel any special need to see them again. Still, they'd be at least decent, I figured.

The Star-Spangled Spectacular was going on in Baltimore that weekend, and so parking was a bit crazy. (I can't blame the event too much, though, cause it brought a bunch of tall ships to town! My daughter and I returned the next day to see the ships.) Most of the garages were doing reserved parking, and being very risk averse I decided we should do that rather than try our luck hunting for parking - but the closest thing still available was in Fell's Point. Still, that was not really such a bad walk. We walked along the harbor hoping to see some ships, but it turned out there weren't any on that side of Pier 5, so all we got to see were good ole Taney, and an enormous battleship-gray cat-hull thing that was moored behind her. (USNS Choctaw County, I later found out.)

With the walk (as well as second dinner at my brother's place), we missed the first band, locals Omnislash. My friend T., who did see them, said they were old-school heavy metal (with power metal vibes, I think?) and were worth a $5 CD, at least.

My brother and I arrived well in time for Xandria, though, of which I was glad. They were epic - I was headbanging as soon as the first choir-backed riffs hit us. I should stop being surprised how loud and heavy gothic-symphonic bands can be live. My brother and I were standing at the back bar on an unsuccessful quest for Jaeger when they started, and it sounded thundering back there. I imagined it was deafening on the floor, although later experience showed that maybe that wasn't the case. With the volume and epic sound, I couldn't help headbanging while waiting for (and then sipping) my shot of Sambuca (a pretty good second best to Jaeger!). After drinking, we moved a little closer and I headbanged some more. My neck hurt already after Xandria's set - either they were that epic or my neck was that out of shape. The only song I could say I knew for sure was "Forevermore." The syncopated guitars in that song sounded a little odd, but the vocals and melody were lovely. Overall, I really enjoyed their thundering epic sound with the operatic vocals soaring over it, and regretted they had such a short set (5 songs). I hope they come back another time, higher on the bill.

After a rather long break (I had time to search the whole place for a friend, and then to have a decent conversation with her when I finally found her), Delain came on. They were less epic than Xandria, but still energetic, with a decent bit of heaviness and a lot of groove. My brother is such an enabler - I said they made me want to dance and he said, "Do ittt." So I danced. While headbanging. Cause that's what I do. Their riffs and melodies were very driving in a danceable way. And I appreciated Charlotte Wessel's vocals more this time than last time. There seemed less operatic pretension about them this time, just regular vocals with a gothic emotional edge and sometimes a little metal snarl. I'm not too familiar with their discography, but perhaps their recent songs are more in this vein. But my favorite song was their old classic "The Gathering," which is actually more in the epic, operatic gothic-symphonic vein. In any case, I enjoyed them wholeheartedly this time.

Another long break, and then it was time for Sonata Arctica. They delivered. They started out strong with the wolf song from their latest album, "The Wolves Die Young," and just got better from there. (Well, mostly.) They played a bunch of epic old songs like "Black Sheep," "Replica," "Kingdom for a Heart," "FullMoon" and "San Sebastian," which got me throwing my hair everywhere. Of newer material they mostly picked the stuff that's fairly epic and catchy like "Flag in the Ground" and "I Have a Right." Thankfully, they avoided most of the horrible stuff from Stones Grow Her Name. But I wasn't too fond of their picks from Pariah's Child. "X Marks the Spot" is just weird with the born-again rock star voiceover (though I guess it does have some decent parts), "What Did You Do in the War, Dad?" is not that interesting, and "Love" is just an inane song (note: I already though this before my recent breakup. I like sappy songs, but "Love" is beyond sappy; it's so generic it's pretty much meaningless). I was surprised they didn't play "Cloud Factory," which is much catchier. Still, I enjoyed myself enough that I didn't realize till writing this review that they pretty much skipped Winterheart's Guild and Reckoning Night.

For the encore, I made my way into the crowd to hang out with T., and discovered that even without earplugs, it was not painfully loud just a few rows from the stage (but it's probably good that I was standing at the back for most of the set - I think my tresses clear a circle a couple feet wide when I get my windmill going). The encore started with "Blood," which is another new song I haven't really gotten into. But they followed that with their long-lost classic, "Wolf and Raven"! The crowd went wild - though not quite wild enough for me; I kept looking around for the pit, but there was none, and I had no one to start one with :( As last time, they closed with "Don't Say a Word," a great jump and sing along song.

I had an awesome time. The two opening bands on the tour did not disappoint, and Sonata Arctica pretty well redeemed themselves with this epic set and performance. And hey - they played "Wolf and Raven" this time; perhaps it's not beyond hope that someday they will also play "The Cage" again??! :D

Next show: Eluveitie/ Tyr/ Metsatöll, this Friday!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Concert Review - Agalloch, Vex, Cladonia Rangiferina - 6/28/14 at Empire, West Springfield, VA

Last month (actually, month before last by now) I got to see Agalloch at Maryland Deathfest. I mean that quite literally - even from where I was standing, toward the back of the crowd, I could see the stage quite clearly. I could hear them, too, in a general sense - but there was so much chatter around me, it was impossible to get into their ethereal atmospheric sound. My main impression of their set at MDF was the stage bathed in blue-green light, and how fitting that was.

So I was pretty excited when plans were made and it seemed I'd have the chance to see them again - and hopefully actually hear them this time - at Empire. Unfortunately, plans changed, I had to stay home till after the kid's bedtime, bedtime ran late, and I got to the venue after Agalloch had already started. So I completely missed Vex and local band Cladonia Rangiferina.

The ticket price was totally worth it for Agalloch alone though. I spent most of the set leaning on T's shoulder and letting the music wash over me - dreamy, gentle melodic passages or cascades of blastbeats and tremolo guitar. We were standing near the front - about the fourth row - which isn't normal for me, since I don't like earplugs. They tend to deaden the sound, and if that had been the case for Agalloch I would definitely have moved back, but it turned out to be all right. I can really only recognize one Agalloch song - the haunting and lovely (and somewhat gruesome, if you read the lyrics) song "Limbs" - and that was the second song they played after I came in (I think I only missed one song). It was a transcendental experience to hear that song live, although some of the melodic, beautiful parts were lost in the rumble of bass and drums up near the front. I worried that other songs, where I couldn't fill in the softer bits from memory, would sound like just a blur, but that turned out not to be the case. I even enjoyed the intensity of the drums in some spots where their thunder was quite impressive.

The whole stage was so wreathed in smoke that even just a few rows back from the stage, the musicians were indistinct at times. It made for a cool effect, but unfortunately made me cough - and the cough continued into the next day, which was unsettling. I thought I caught a whiff of incense, too, which was a nice touch. Adding to the atmosphere, as the band left the stage before the encore, one of the guitarists left his guitar on, so that the room was filled with a buzz of distorted sound, like auditory fog to go along with the visual. They ended the set the same way, with drawn-out waves of distorted guitar; it was quite the performance. T commented that the one guitarist seemed "vaguely worshipful" of his guitar, holding it reverentially aloft and holding it out the audience - that added to the spiritual feel of the performance.

As with Alcest last fall, there were definitely several songs where, as the final chord faded out and the crowd broke into cheers and applause, I felt like I was waking from a peaceful dream. Which just goes to show that Agalloch was doing their job, since that's exactly how one should feel at such a show <3

I'm not sure what/when the next show will be. At the moment noveling is up and concerts have slipped a bit down my list of priorities..

Monday, June 9, 2014

Concert Review - A Sound of Thunder, MindMaze, Iris Divine, Metanium - 6/6/14 at The Pinch, Washington, DC

My readers and friends will probably know that A Sound Of Thunder is hands down my favorite local band (although I've done my share of whining about them, too). But somehow I hadn't seen them in quite a while. Especially since I missed their "throwback" set opening for Ashes Of Ares in May (I'm one of the complainers who wishes they would play their old songs more), I was determined to get out and see their headline show.

I wasn't sure of the starting time, since the FB event said 7pm but the poster said show at 8 (I guess set times were posted day of, but that day was too hectic at work for me to check). And the first band was Hispanic heavy metal band Metanium, whom I really hadn't seen in a long time (just about a year), so I wanted to get there in time to see them. T and I ended up getting there around 7:20, which turned out to be way early. I'm pretty sure most of the other people there at that point were in bands :p We sat down in the corner upstairs and got some food (bbq duck smothered waffle fries once again), chatted a bit with Bobbie and talked about nerdy things until Metanium started a little after 8.

If I remember correctly, they started off with "Veneno Mortal" ("Deadly Venom"), which is a catchy song with some thundering fast parts. They played mainly from last year's album Alma de Guerrero (Soul of a Warrior) - "La Marcha Vikinga" ("The Viking March"), which unfortunately sounds like "The Ants Go Marching" to me; the English version of their album's title track, which is a motivating song but I think the Spanish lyrics are better, and "Sangra el Corazon" ("Bleed the Heart") which has a fun polka-ish rhythm. As before, they played a cover of Helloween's "I Want Out" which sounded great to me, and T, who's more familiar with that band/song, said the singer nailed it. In general, Marvin Serrano's vocals were amazing, from aggressive heavy metal delivery to soaring power metal screams. The band also covered Manowar's "Warriors of the World" and Dio's "Holy Diver," both excellently done and pleasing to the crowd. Overall their sound was great - the vocals were clear, and the guitars and drums were loud and thundering without being too distorted or too loud. The only thing was that the keyboards were totally drowned out save for one intro - but this is the case on their album, too; I usually forget they have a keyboardist at all. I was really glad we got to see them, because they sounded great (surprisingly great for this venue) and got the night off to an energetic start.

Next up was Iris Divine. I saw them once before at Bobbie's Face-Melting Friday series, but there was some personal drama going on at that show which prevented me from really paying attention, and so my only impression of them was that they're rather proggy and have long, kind of wandering songs. That impression was borne out, although I had forgotten about the hard rock vibes in their guitars and the angsty vocals. That seemed to be the main thrust of their music although well sprinkled with atmospheric, churning or riffy guitar passages. They had more than a few cool moments but couldn't seem to hold my attention long, and I felt tired after their set. They played their upcoming album in its entirety, which was cool to hear, even if I probably won't seek it out again.

Luckily they were followed by the inspiring heavy/power metal group MindMaze (from Allentown, PA - I'm very glad they made the trip down). The crowd was probably biggest for Iris Divine and MindMaze, and definitely very energized by the latter. There was moshing for several songs, started by guys who I guessed were Metanium fans (and at least one member of Metanium, if I'm not mistaken). It's not surprising; the rampaging heavy metal energy made me want to push people around, too, and I got in the pit once. They may have played one slower song, but the rest of their set was irresistible power metal riffs underlaid with heavy metal energy, with Sarah Teets's vocals soaring over it and some nice melodic guitar solos from Jeff Teets. Toward the end of their set, they did a cover of Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" with Nina Osegueda of A Sound of Thunder joining Sarah on vocals, which was awesome. MindMaze also played a joke on the audience by playing the signature riff from ASOT's "Time's Arrow" at one point XD I was a bit dazed from exhaustion and headbanging after their set, but much more awake.

MindMaze seemed a hard act for even A Sound Of Thunder to follow - but they did and delivered a fantastic set that was definitely worth staying up till 2 AM for. They started off thundering with "Queen of Hell," a charging heavy metal song that shakes the walls and shows off Nina's powerful voice, especially as she splits your eardrums screaming, "I am the queen of hell!" The band was so on top of their game that even a song I don't like as much, "Just Another Fool" (from their first album Metal Renaissance) got me amped with its charging energy. Given almost a two hour set, they played a variety of songs from all their albums, even reaching into their demo for "Walls." Unfortunately, although that song is one of my favorite songs to hear live and usually does shake the walls, it seemed a little weak this time; maybe they were getting tired, as it was near the end of their set. Another rare song was the epic-length, ominous "My Name is Doom." The sound quality was so excellent that during the tragic "I'll Walk With You," we could make out every word of the vocals. Being able to hear the words fully brought home the intensity of that song.

The crowd was a bit thin when A Sound Of Thunder started, but filled out a bit as they went on, and people seemed very into the set. There was a dedicated circle of excited fans at the front and there was quite a bit of moshing at first. I joined in for "Out of the Darkness" - I had forgotten how fast that song was! But by the time they played songs I really wanted to mosh to, like "Fight Until the End" and "Blood Vomit," most of the moshers had disappeared. Guitarist Josh Schwartz actually ran out into the audience to find me at the start of "Blood Vomit" (don't worry, I was paying attention, I just had to hang back cause I don't wear earplugs :P), and I tried to start a pit, but no one else seemed to be feeling it. But since the band put out a "Blood Vomit" T-shirt, I have hope that they're bringing this song back into regular rotation! They ended the set with their theme song "A Sound of Thunder," another wall-shaking heavy metal song that lives up to its and the band's name. Then they played an encore of sorts, featuring "Kill That Bitch," their cover of Black Sabbath's "Trashed" and maybe one other song. They sounded good, but I think the high point was the last three songs before that ("Walls," "Blood Vomit," "A Sound of Thunder"). I was also very tired, and wanted to go home and...sleep. ;)

I'll punch out all your blood! J/k, more likely I'll just give you a friendly shove.

But honestly, until the very end I hardly noticed the late hour, it was such an amazing show. I was so impressed and gratified that the sound quality was so excellent! It really made the experience not just good, but awesome. I just couldn't get into Iris Divine, but the other three bands were fantastic - so full of energy, and delivered killer performances that kept me moving all night.

Next show: Not sure :( Thinking about trying to make the SepticFlesh/Fleshgod Apocalypse show at Empire on 6/22, but I dunno :/ This month is complicated..

Friday, June 6, 2014

Concert Review - Maryland Deathfest XII, Edison Lot, Friday, May 23, 2014 - Baltimore, MD

I've waffled about going to Maryland Deathfest for a couple years now - I mean, it's right here in my home state, yet somehow I've never been interested enough in enough of the bands to justify the ticket price. But this year, the stars aligned and almost all the MDF bands I would have wanted to see ended up playing the same venue on the same day. How could I not go??

One of the bands I most wanted to see, Mgła, was fairly early in the running order (3:45) so I headed up right after lunch, aiming to get there with an hour to wait in line, if necessary. I probably got there in about that timeframe. For someone reasonably familiar with Baltimore, finding the Edison Lot was not difficult - but finding the gate to the parking lot was a pain >.< At the entrance to the venue, the street to the lot was closed, and knowing Baltimore, trying to go around meant making a bunch of weird turns, but finally I found the parking lot by sheer luck. Only to discover they had increased the price from $10 to $15 (perhaps because there were ball games in town that day, too, but still that was irritating, since I thought I was going to have to come back the next day and drop another $15 into parking >.<)

The line was actually not that bad. It had only just started to wrap around the venue when I got in it, and it also started moving (slowly, but steadily) almost as soon as I got in line. Besides, there was an entertaining European guy nearby complaining about various things, like not being able to drink beer on the street ("It's the land of the free! Liberate the beer!") And New York math metal or black metal band Castevet started up as well ("This is good for the soul," someone near me commented), and they sounded pretty good. Their live sound had more of an intense black metal sound than I expected from their kind of light, atmospheric/prog rock type songs I'd heard ahead of time.

I'd say it was about 3:30 when I actually got into the venue. I really needed to find the portapotties, but not seeing them, I decided to go pick up my pre-ordered MDF shirt first, since I did see the tent for that. There was barely a line and it took just a couple minutes for me to obtain my shirt (maybe a photo tomorrow, cause I'm gonna wear it to tomorrow's show :) ) Then since there were a bunch of merch tents, I wandered on looking at the stuff - lots of CDs, shirts, patches and some books. Didn't find anything I wanted on first glance, but then again I was going kind of quickly since I knew Mgła would be on soon.

The merch tents formed a sort of aisle immediately to the left when one came into the venue, dead-ending inside a tent, which was where the books were. Past that corridor of merch was a big open blacktop with a stage facing the entrance (Stage A) and another stage at the far left by the highway overpass (Stage B). The lot extended under the overpass and there were a few tables in the shade there; I guess that was the shady area for any overheated metalheads to recover. Although I hadn't been following any debate that may have happened, I did notice that MDF announced there was supposed to be a "shaded" stage where the black metal bands that had to perform in daytime (oh, the horror) would play, but neither of the stages was actually in the shade. However, there was a difference, as the photos will show. (I brought my crappy digital camera which is literally ten years old and snapped some pictures, just because I could..)

At this point I was a little flummoxed as to where the portapotties could be, so I headed back toward the entrance, and there I finally found them, tucked away in a nook to the right of the entrance (when coming in) where it had been pretty much impossible to see them on the way in. I suppose it was an ok spot for them, but they could have had a sign or something making the location more obvious.

That quest completed, it was time for the fun to begin, starting with the second band of the day, Mgła.

Polish black band Mgła was the band that convinced me to attend MDF - when I reviewed them for DC Heavy Metal, I knew I had to hear this band if I had a chance. That was what led me to look at the MDF running order at all, and to realize that Friday in the Edison Lot was absolutely perfect. As soon as I'd gotten the day off work, I bought my ticket. It was a great decision. Unfortunately Mgła's performance wasn't the shining highlight I'd hoped. They're heavy on atmospheric guitar work that tends toward groovy or even climbs to soaring, but at MDF, the guitars were somewhat drowned by reverberating bass and hollow-sounding drums. (Mind, I was standing kind of toward the back of the crowd, since I feared my earplug-less ears couldn't handle the sound closer - but perhaps I should have tried.) Fortunately, the vocals were nice and clear at least, and the groovy melodic guitars were so headbangable, if a bit hard to hear when the drums and bass were going. My favorites were "With Hearts Towards None III" ("And you shall know perdition / And it will set you free... With hearts towards none"), with its long waves of atmospheric and mostly audible guitar riffs, and "With Hearts Towards None VII" ("Always downwards - and towards / the farthest sides of the north"), with its furious, relentless tremolo riffs.

Mgla performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Mgła. This is pretty much all they did during their whole set. They must have been roasting - in hoodies and leather jackets. Also, I never noticed before that they also perform with their faces covered. Every now and then a fog machine would waft a cloud of fog across the stage but unfortunately I could never get my camera out quick enough to capture it..

They were followed up by another atmospheric black metal band, Germany's The Ruins of Beverast. I'm not terribly familiar with this band - they're a little weird for my tastes - but I find them intriguing all the same. When they're not freaking me out (or even when they are), they can be very good at building an eerie atmosphere, with churning, slightly discordant guitars, usually laced with some creepy whispers or anguished cries along with the snarls and demonic rumblings of the vocalist. Unfortunately, they started out with same problems as Mgła, the drums and bass drowning out the guitars. At several points, the guitarists must have been doing something awesome cause they were headbanging wildly, but I couldn't hear the guitar part at all (so it was even worse than Mgła). As their set went on, the sound got a little better and I started being able to hear the guitars, although I still felt that perhaps both this band and Mgła might have sounded better indoors. A dark, enclosed space would have been more atmospheric, too. But then, that wouldn't have been much different from a regular concert; being outside in a festival environment was somehow more exciting.

The Ruins of Beverast performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
The Ruins of Beverast. It is noticeably lighter on Stage A.

Germany's Necros Christos was up next, and they sounded pretty good, but I wanted to look at the merch again, so I went and pored over patches and CDs while they thundered on the other side of the tents. I mostly got stupid stuff that I didn't really need, so I'm not going to talk about it (oops), and a present for someone.

After that was another of the bands that I really wanted to see, Sólstafir from Iceland. Considering how Mgła and Ruins of Beverast sounded, I was bit worried how Sólstafir's subtle and dreamy guitar work was going to come across in the festival setting. But to my great joy, their sound was perfect - you could hear every note of their delicately layered sound. They only played 4 songs (not counting the intro), but I guess that's what happens when your songs are all 10+ minutes long. After the intro ("Náttfari"), they started off with the opening track of Svartir Sandar, "Ljós í Stormi." Hearing the haunting guitar passages live quite literally gave me chills. They followed that up with the title track "Svartir Sandar," which has the same dreamy atmosphere but a little more momentum in the guitars, and a pretty melodious segment toward the end, and then the song I was dying to hear, "Fjara." I was afraid I might weep during this song, but honestly it wasn't quite as intense live as it is listening to it on the album - although it was still intense. They finished with "Goddess of the Ages," a song I was not familiar with, but it fit with the feel of the songs from Svartir Sandar in terms of atmosphere and emotion. Their set was over far too soon, although I was satisfied to have heard "Ljós í Stormi" and "Fjara." Seeing as their headline show in this area was cancelled, I can only hope they'll make it over here on another headline tour sometime soon!

Solstafir performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Sólstafir. I got pretty close for these guys and somehow it didn't hurt my ears.

Solstafir at Maryland Deathfest XII
Showin off his boots?

As soon as they finished, everyone headed over to Stage B for Norwegian black metal band Taake; I hung back for a bit but eventually joined the crowd in front of the stage, since someone told me this band was good. They sounded like Mgła should have sounded, their first song anyway - the atmospheric guitars nice and clear, the drums crisp but not overwhelming. The next song was thundering, and the one after that had quite a rock vibe. They seemed to play for a long time, much longer than Sólstafir. Overall they were very groovy and headbangable, and I enjoyed them more than I expected.

Taake performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Taake. Wish I'd gotten better pictures, but you can kind of see the band's corpsepaint and the singer's cloak.

After that it was time for a dinner break during Cancer's set. I honestly didn't pay much attention to Cancer at all; I was busy chowing down on delicious barbeque and texting people about a big interview, Drudkh albums, and the fact that someone gave me passes to a strip club XD And then I went and grabbed a Drudkh CD just before Agalloch came on.

Oregon's atmospheric, blackish post-metal act Agalloch was every bit as amazing as I hoped, but I had trouble getting into them at first, because I was standing at the back waiting for someone and people around me were talking, which made it hard to get into the atmosphere of the music. Gradually I moved up closer and managed to sink into the lovely and melancholy cascades of guitar a bit more. It was also starting to get cold, which was a little distracting.

Agalloch performing at Maryland Deathfest XII
Agalloch. This was the least blurry photo I had. My camera just sucks for night photos. I didn't even try for At The Gates. Agalloch's lighting was very nice though - a lot of this bluish green stuff, very fitting for their chill music.

After Agalloch finished there was a bit of a break before the headliner, Sweden's melodic death metal legends At The Gates, took the stage. They started off just decent - heavy, agressive, but not very melodic. I was standing next to expert metalhead Metal Chris (of DC Heavy Metal) and he commented the lead guitar was just about inaudible. "There's supposed to be a solo here, but you can't hear it." The band noticed, too, because they paused after the first song to correct the technical difficulties - Metal Chris was of the opinion that the lead and rhythm guitar were switched somewhere. It probably took them a good ten minutes to fix that, but it paid off as the rest of the set sounded great. The largest proportion of songs seemed to be from their last album, Slaughter of the Soul, and these, along with songs from the previous album Terminal Spirit Disease, were full of raging melodies that made me want to push people around (but I was hardly going to go in the pit at MDF; I'd get squished like a bug!). Older songs like "Windows" and "All Life Ends" were face-smashingly brutal, but I preferred the more melodic ones. For being pretty new to actually listening to At The Gates (they're one of those bands that I just always assumed had to be good, since they're so legendary) I enjoyed the set a lot more than I thought I would. I'm sure there was a pit somewhere, but from my place near the back I couldn't really see people moving that much - but me, I was throwing my hair around like crazy to their furious melodic riffs. I didn't come to a metal festival to not headbang!

After they finished, I hung back away from the gates (I know, I am the worst) letting most of the mass exodus get out of the way. Getting lost leaving the parking lot, lane closures on 95 and needing to stop for coffee meant it was nearly 1am when I got home, even though ATG finished playing before 11 (this in spite of the time spent on technical problems, but they didn't play an encore, so maybe part of their set got cut off due to curfew or something..) I didn't mind too much though. For my first Maryland Deathfest, and my second ever metal festival experience, I thought it was just awesome. Being surrounded by metal people and metal music and metal things was just amazing, the atmosphere was so charged and full of energy. Although going with people would have been nice, in a way I'm also glad I got to go alone, because I experience things so much more profoundly that way, and this was an experience worth soaking up without missing a second. I can only hope next year's MDF features a similarly awesome line-up so I can go again!

Next show: A Sound of Thunder, Iris Divine, MindMaze and Metanium at The Pinch - tomorrow! (Or is it today by now? :P The show is Friday, June 6.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Concert Review - Primal Fear, Arctic Flame, Flag of the White Rose, MindMaze - 4/29/14 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

I had this show on my calendar months ahead of time, and then a bunch of other shows were scheduled at the end of April - things I couldn't miss like Sabaton and Paganfest - so that kind of botched my plans. I wasn't gonna go, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to miss this chance to see one of the heavyweights of the power metal scene - so I finally decided to head out after my kid went to bed, just to catch Primal Fear.

I hoped I'd catch at least a bit of the locals, but I had a long, busy day and then bedtime went slowly, so I didn't get to the venue till about 10:15. Primal Fear had just launched into "Nuclear Fire," which turned out to be three or four songs into their set, according to S. Still, I got to hear "Metal is Forever" (I knew they'd play that near the end anyway), "Bad Guys Wear Black," "When Death Comes Knocking," and a litany of other good songs.

A rather small crowd had turned out on this rainy Tuesday night, so small that I had to wear earplugs even standing near the back of the crowd. The crowd was not very energetic either; people cheered at the end of each song, but hardly anyone was really headbanging or moving. There was one guy right in front of us who was super amped, bouncing around, making faces and gesturing and trying to rouse the crowd. He did not succeed, unfortunately. The place felt rather empty with the small crowd in the large space, and it didn't help that they kept shining the lights on the crowd and showing just how small it really was. It might have been better at a place like Empire where a small crowd wouldn't feel quite so weird.

I also should have stood further back, because where I was standing the sound was a bit distorted, and also muffled by the earplugs. I could hear Ralf Scheepers's vocals clearly, and the thunder of the bass and drums, but the guitar leads were sometimes lost. Also, due to a combination of the sound and the crowd, I felt like most of the songs were not very intense, even great ones like "Bad Guys Wear Black," though there were a few with more oomph to them.

Still, I was glad I got out to see these guys. Just to hear Ralf Scheepers shriek "Metal is forever!" made it worth it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paganfest America V - Korpiklaani, Turisas, ChthoniC, Varg, Winterhymn - 4/25/14 at Empire, Springfield, VA and 4/26/14 at Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

So for some reason, Paganfest had two shows in my area this year - and as it's folk metal's biggest party of the year and I had to party with my best folk metal pit buds, and some were going to one show and some to the other...I had no choice but to go to both XD In order to make that happen, I had to take my kid along to avoid asking for two nights of babysitting, and thus, she accompanied me to the show at Empire :) (If someone has a pic of us, pls send, cause I didn't manage to get one! We were both wearing Turisas warpaint and my daughter got so many compliments for it :) )

Anyway, I'm just going to write both shows up together, cause no way I have time to write two separate reviews.

Unfortunately, both nights I missed the locals due to traffic. Cause of some silly sportsing event it took me twice as long as normal to get to Baltimore >.< So unfortunately, I missed Demiz who are awesome but did not even want to open for Paganfest XD And also Yesterday's Saints and March to Victory. Grrr!

But at least I got there in time for the first touring band. This year's US band on the tour was Winterhymn from Cinncinnati, Ohio. I didn't have a chance to listen to them before the show, so I was pleasantly surprised to find they had a solid sound, with a fiddle prominent in their sound, gruff vocals done by the portly rhythm guitarist and energetic guitars (including some galloping basslines). They started out sounding more Vikingy, but got more folky as they went on, peaking with the drinking and dancing song "Ale Song." They were a good start to the night both nights, with a decent pit going.

Next up was Varg from Germany (no relation to Varg Vikernes; the word means "wolf" in Old Norse and these guys just like wolves, apparently; the frontman kept calling their music "wolf metal"). I saw a song or two of them when they supported Eluveitie a couple years back, but didn't really get into them then. However, I was quite impressed this time. Especially at tiny Ottobar, they filled the venue with their racing drums, heavy guitars and the singer's harsh vocals, somewhere between a bark and a death growl, and some outright hellish roars in "Nagelfar." It was mostly dark, headbangable stuff with a few folkier moments in "Rotkäppchen" and "Guten Tag." My kid got into them and danced and jumped around a little.

I was perhaps most excited to see blackened-death-metal-with-folk-tidbits band ChthoniC (閃靈)  from Taiwan. I feel like they're one of the most original things lately in the international metal scene and the broad spectrum of metal-that-involves-folksy-bits. At Empire, I went up close with my kid, but she didn't let me concentrate much on staring at Doris, or at Freddy playing the erhu (Chinese fiddle). Besides, the sound up at the front was all distorted. In general, the kid did not like them much - I guess they were a bit dark and heavy for a five-year-old, more brutality than fun. It was disappointing, too, that Freddy played the erhu very little; most of the erhu and other folk instruments were piped in.

At Ottobar I got to headbang to my heart's content and hear them clearly from a bit further back (and I think I went in the pit for "Takao"). They seemed more confident and professional this time than when I saw them touring with Arch Enemy and Freddy's English seemed better, too. At both shows he proudly announced that the band was from "the country where the people have occupied Congress!" and interacted with the crowd a bit more than at the last show. They played mostly from their 2013 album Bu-tík, with just "Oceanquake" and "Takao" from (the previous album) Takasago Army, and nothing earlier. It would have been nice to hear something older, but I wasn't terribly disappointed since I'm more familiar with their newer stuff anyway, and it has a more polished, epic sound. Perhaps if they get up to a headline tour, they'll be able to play a greater variety, as well as some hidden gems like "Resurrection Pyre" from Bu-tík, which starts off with such an awesome guitar riff! After their set I talked to Doris and Freddy for a few moments by their merch table, and like every Taiwanese person, Doris told me I should go to Taiwan for the snacks! XD It's totally why I want to go, too. I almost got to pick up the Taiwanese version of Bu-tík for just $10 but I waited too long and they sold out! :(

ChthoniC's Freddy and Doris
Turisas-painted me with Doris and Freddy of ChthoniC!

After that great performance, the night was only half over; next was Turisas from Finland, second band of the night in red and black face paint and inventors of "battle metal." (Just kidding, I totally don't think that's an actual genre.) At Empire my kid and I enjoyed them from the counter at the side while finishing off some chicken fingers (her bedtime snack, as she fell asleep several songs from the end of the set); I couldn't wait to push people around to them at Ottobar! They came out to "Ten More Miles" ("Tu-REE-sas! You can count on us!") dressed in their new barbarian-biker-punk attire. I'm one of those old fans who is gonna complain that I preferred their old songs and their old barbarian look. But the new songs actually sounded ok live - epic choruses and some folksy bits courtesy of (fiddler) Olli - except "For Your Own Good" which was rather bland. (Song has a pretty good message, though; go read the lyrics.) And they actually played a great mix, with some epic old songs thrown in - "Rex Regi Rebellis" and "Miklagard Overture" - as well as the crowd-pleasers like "Battle Metal" and "Stand Up and Fight." Not only that, but, by popular demand as explained by Mathias, they played "Rasputin" both nights! Not unlike the last time, I got the crowd chanting at second show, cause damn if they were not going to play it when I could actually be in the pit. They actually went off and came back on to play that and "Stand Up and Fight," one of the few times I've seen a second slot band do an encore. At Empire, Mathias said they would play a different set at Ottobar, but this was not the case - they played the same songs in a different order, and there was perhaps one more song at Empire but I forget what it was. I was totally satisfied after their set, cause they played so many good songs, the pit was great, and the new songs didn't suck so that wasn't too bad.

I do wonder what they think of the fact that the song everyone wants to hear them play (and their most played song on Spotify, too) is "Rasputin," which is a cover XD

We left the Empire show after Turisas cause my kid was literally asleep. I wasn't too bummed, as I'd seen the bands I really wanted to see, and I would see Korpiklaani the next night anyway.

At Ottobar, I was worried that Korpiklaani wouldn't be very inspiring after Turisas - great respect for them, but they just don't get me as amped. After a little ginger beer, though, things were great, and Korpiklaani's set was a lot of fun, in spite of it being surely after midnight by the time they started (I left my watch and phone in the car to keep them safe from the pit). I think they played a lot from their latest album Manala - a lot of very folky, mythology-steeped songs with some joik vocals thrown in (yes!), and it seemed like less of the drink-themed songs than usual. They did play "Vodka," "Ievan Polkka," "Wooden Pints" and "Happy Little Boozer" to get party going, though. At Ottobar, they played "Pellonpekko" as the first song of the encore because D.P. kept shouting for it. In spite of recognizing hardly any of the songs, I had a great time dancing to the folky parts, and pushing people around a little for the heavy parts. (In general, the pits were a little fast and brutal for me, so I tried to stay near the edge.) There was a good mix of moshing and dancing in the pit, which has been a little harder to find recently around here. I was not quite as dead afterward as at Finntroll, though, so I must have been holding back a little XD

Personally, I thought this was the best Paganfest so far. Winterhymn started things off great, Varg and ChthoniC blasted our faces off, Turisas played an epic selection of songs and Korpiklaani's set was so much fun. I can hardly remember another show where I've had such a solid night of enjoyment. I know some people came especially for this band or that band but I was lucky enough to find something to enjoy in each of them \m/

Next show: Primal Fear, tonight! And then Negura Bunget, on 5/10.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Concert Review - Iced Earth, Sabaton, Revamp, A Sound of Thunder - 4/21/14 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Sabaton is one of my top bands to see live - the energy is just amazing, everyone gets so pumped. And to see them touring with the mighty Iced Earth, with Floor Jansen's band Revamp and my local favorite A Sound of Thunder in support, was a lineup hard to beat. Most amazing of all, before the show I interviewed Joakim of Sabaton for Shockwave Magazine! :D (I'll post links and/or info once the interview is published :) )

Needless to say I was not missing any of this lineup (besides, I had to be there early for the interview). So I was there when A Sound of Thunder came out to the chant "Hail, Queen of Hell." They were loud, thundering, just how I like my heavy metal. The drums seemed a bit too loud at times, though, but the vocals were clearer than usual. They played a lot from their newer releases, Time's Arrow ("Time's Arrow," "I Will Not Break," "Power Play") and the Queen of Hell EP ("Queen of Hell"), not necessarily my favorite songs to hear live, but the songs were all upbeat and energetic. We got to hear them play a new song, "Udoroth," from their upcoming album for the first time ever live. It was a charging heavy metal song, with some shouted vocals thrown in. They closed with my fave song of theirs, their anthem, "A Sound of Thunder." The other songs were good but this one was great - it was much more intense, really bringing the thunder. Overall, they sounded nice, but I wish they'd played more older songs ;) This show had the biggest crowd I've ever seen for A Sound of Thunder - the floor was pretty full and people on the sides and at the bar seemed to be paying attention, too. Nina's guerilla marketing seems to be working ;) Anyway, good for the band, the crowd seemed very pleased with them.

Next up was the Netherlands' Revamp, which features Floor Jansen (now the singer of Nightwish, too). I don't think I'd heard anything of theirs before the show. They were heavier than I expected, and I know I keep saying that about gothic-symphonic bands, but these guys really were astoundingly heavy. Most of the songs started with rampaging heavy metal riffs - the last song with churning riffs you'd expect from a much more brutal band. Then they'd launch into a melodic segment that melded perfectly with Floor's soaring vocals. I was surprised to hear her doing harsh vocals as well. My friends were disgruntled by this band - there seemed to be something wrong with the sound. I guess the melodic parts could have been a bit clearer, but I was pleased and entertained. And Floor announced that she will be back with Nightwish, although when was unclear - it sounded like she said "this time of year."

Next up were Sweden's power metal warriors, Sabaton, which was the band I came to see. They sounded great, and from what I could see, the band was as amped as the crowd and having the time of their lives. Great to see, considering 2/3 of the lineup left two years ago, and a new drummer (Hannes Van Dahl of Evergrey) was just added last fall. Although they have a new album coming out next month, they only played one song from it, the single "To Hell and Back" (catchy song - it was stuck in my head earlier today). I was surprised but not displeased since of course, I wanted to jump around to the Sabaton songs I knew. They played a set of classic after classic, closing with the amazingly fun "Metal Crue." The only song I thought a little weak was "Poltava," which is a good song, but I thought a better choice from Carolus Rex would have been "Lifetime of War." (They had a little extra time, so I think they played some three extra songs, one of which was the Swedish version of "Poltava.") The crowd was ecstatic - the floor was full, easily twice as many people on the floor as for Sabaton's headline shows, a furious pit for most songs, and so much Sabaton name-chanting between songs that Joakim had to tell us to shut up so he could talk.

After that, seeing Iced Earth was just icing. In fact, they seemed a bit lacking in energy after Sabaton, and it took me a while to get into them. They did sound good - Stu can really scream and the guitars were clear - but perhaps the song selection was a little lackluster. I enjoyed "V," "Burning Times" and a couple other songs, but the rest of the songs didn't really grab me and I didn't really get into it until the encore of "Dystopia," "Watching Over Me," and "Iced Earth." Those two fast songs brought the energy finally, and "Watching Over Me" was touching. I did enjoy that they played "A Question of Heaven" since that was in the soundtrack of a novel I wrote last year :) It was not a bad way to end the night, but Sabaton was definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Next show: Paganfest! Planning to attend both Friday and Saturday :D