Thursday, January 8, 2015

Concert Review: Dark Tranquillity, Insomnium, Aurelian, Oberris, Within Our Gates, Tortile - 1/5/15 at Empire, Springfield, VA

First review of the year! Although this wasn't the first show of the year - I went to Monthly Metal at Guido's in Frederick on Saturday, so that was the first show of the year, but I felt like crap at that show and could barely pay attention to the one band we saw (Day of the Beast) never mind trying to review them. I was kind of worried that the same thing would happen at this show - ok, maybe a lot worried, since Insomnium is one of my favorite bands and I would hate to zone out at their show due to my issues. But for various reasons, I felt much more comfortable at this show, and barely thought about my issues at all.

I got there pretty early, around 6:50. A band was playing, and after excluding the bands I saw later and finding out March to Victory dropped off the show, I conclude it was probably Tortile. They had screamy harsh vocals, and melodic and atmospheric tremolo-y guitar. They seemed like they might be good, but they stopped playing right as I got into the main room.

I spotted my buddy M.C. in the crowd and went to chat with him. We watched the next local opener, Within Our Gates, setting up, and got worried because most of them had short hair, and at least one had gauges in his ears... I wish it weren't so, but you can generally judge the style of music of a band by the length of their hair, and these haircuts screamed metalcore or screamo. But then they started out with a choral intro highly reminiscent of Caladan Brood. And then they launched into energetic, melodic guitaring that sounded kinda like Blackguard on an off day. The reason for the short hair became apparent with the chorus, though - clean, angsty emo vocals. But either that emo sound is growing on me or the angst wasn't at an unbearable level, because I didn't find it annoying - though the singer did occasionally seem a little off key. They did have a lot of good stuff going on in their music, like In Flames-esque melodic riffs. I headbanged a bit and I wasn't the only one showing my appreciation with my hair. They got a lot of applause, too, and even got the crowd to clap along at one point (that's how I know the Euro metal influence is strong with this one XD ). Unfortunately, the sound wasn't great; when the drums and bass got going, they drowned everything else out. There was a short solo in second song, but I could only judge its virtuosity based on the guitarist's hands; it was practically inaudible through the bass and drums. But they were loud and shook the floor, which I guess is a good sign. I kept expecting a pit to break out for the fast, heavy parts (I might have started one if I had a moshing buddy with me) but nothing happened. I figured that presaged a quiet night - maybe people who listen to DT don't mosh? - but I turned out to be wrong about that :) Overall I probably enjoyed Within Our Gates most (emo vocals and all) out of the local openers I saw due to their energy and their fast, melodic guitaring. They have potential to really go somewhere, especially with how popular emo-y metalcore is now; and I hope they do, cause they'd be one of those metalcore bands that are actually good.

Next up was Oberris. I didn't really dig them at first - their sound consisted of noisy jackhammer guitars with weird vocals (I'm not quite sure how to describe them, perhaps a sort of wet shriek with a little of the reptilian flavor of Inquisition, sometimes descending into a rumbling growl that was surprising for the vocalist's small frame). But then they covered a Gojira song and the pounding guitars got my attention. After that they played a thundering song with a bit of groove to it, which I enjoyed all right. The floor was full for them and people seemed to be enjoying it - I saw a couple people in the middle headbanging to the rumbling death metal parts.

Last local band of the night and direct support to the touring bands was my friend Mike's band Aurelian. They only played three songs, but I guess that's what you get when you're a doom band with ten minute songs. The middle song was mostly slow with, I felt, overly strident female vocals. The third song was more a mix of slow and fast, light and heavy. There were a couple awkward transitions, but mostly they did a nice job building up the atmosphere and then crushing us with heaviness. They really killed it at the end when there was a sudden explosion of heaviness and a blast of growl from Mike, then they launched into heavy riffs. Mike once said their main influences are Katatonia and Swallow The Sun, but I don't really hear the melancholy of those bands in Aurelian's music (at least judging from those three songs).

Then the band I came to see - Insomnium, masters of the melancholy and doomy end of the melodeath spectrum. There was something a little off in the first song or two, like things weren't quite in sync, but from there on out they were amazing. They were much louder and heavier than I remember them being at Howard Theatre with Epica. (Then again, I was also much closer to the front this time - in the third or fourth row or thereabouts. That was D.'s doing. I would have hung back - because no way was I going to listen to Insomnium through earplugs - but it actually wasn't painful to go up front without earplugs, just very, very loud.) And anyone who thinks Insomnium is a slow band hasn't heard them play "Where the Last Wave Broke" live. They really amped up the energy on that one, and I think that was when a pit started - right by where we were standing by the right speaker. I did my best to stay out of it cause I had a CD in my pants pocket (great idea, right?) and I didn't feel like moshing for Insomnium; I just wanted to windmill my hair. And I did, in spite of the dense crowd. Far too soon the set was over. To my great disappointment, they didn't play "Weather the Storm" - and they had Mikael Stanne with them, dammit! It's the song that got me into the band, and it's just amazing - the soaring riffs, the uplifting chorus, the way the guys all headbang together in the video.. :D Later, D. diplomatically asked the vocalist and bassist, Niilo Sevänen, about that song, and he said they need Mikael on stage with them or it wouldn't be right, so they can't do it every night. I'm not sure what that means. Maybe Mikael is fiercely protective of his before-stage time, or wants to conserve his voice? Anyway, I'm still bummed since it seems I'll never get to see this phenomenal song performed live.

With Niilo Sevänen of Insomnium

After Insomnium, I joked that I was done and D. gave me a look... XD Somehow, over the couple of years I've been into melodeath, I've only gotten moderately into Dark Tranquillity. I think it's because I really dig melancholy music, and they don't have as much of that flavor. Sure, they have some, but they also have a of just plain upbeat, melodic riffing a la other Gothenburg bands. Which is something that I enjoy a lot, but it doesn't dig into my soul the way that moody, mournful music does. That probably explains why the DT songs that actually stick in my head are songs like "Therein" ("I starve myself for energy..") and "Wonders at Your Feet," which have a strong melancholy component. And man, I thought my heart was going to break during "What Only You Know." They played a video of a dying bumblebee on the screen behind them, and combined with the thoughts going through my head, that just tore me up inside. Who'd have thought a dying insect could be so heartbreaking.. Most of the set was cheerful and upbeat, though, thanks to Mikael Stanne's unquenchable smile and enthusiasm and his dancing about the stage. While I wouldn't have gone up to the third row without D. dragging me there, I was certainly not sorry to be just five feet away from Mikael :3

For the first international tour I saw this year, this show certainly started things off right. Seeing one of my favorite bands, rocking out to our favorite music with people who are dear to me, phenomenal performances from DT and Insomnium and a solid lineup of locals - I couldn't have asked for more.

Next show: Flight of the Valkyries on Jan. 10!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Concert Review - Cab Ride Home, Trihexyn, Croatoan, Cammo Shorts - 10/10/14 at First Break Cafe, Sterling, VA

A couple weeks ago, I got to know Danica, the vocalist of Cab Ride Home, through a mutual friend. When she told me that the show at First Break Cafe would be her first show presenting as trans, I was determined to do everything in my power to get out and support her. Never mind that I somehow hadn't listened to Cab Ride Home before (despite having known about them for years) and didn't know any of the other bands on the line-up. The music, while sure to be entertaining, was secondary to supporting a friend and fellow LGBTQ person. Ok, and I was curious to finally find out how Cab Ride Home sounded. (With everything else going on, I didn't have a chance to check them out online before the show.)

Having spent all my babysitting cred on the Within Temptation show earlier in the week, I had to wait till after my kid went to bed to head out to the show, so I missed the first band in the lineup. Luckily, it was kind of a late show, so I did get to see two bands before Cab Ride Home, and actually enjoyed both of them.

Croatoan was playing when I got there. They were dully audible outside the building, and the growing noise reassured me I was on the right track as I headed up some well-lit stairs and down a rather normal-looking carpeted hallway, seeking the elusive First Break Cafe. Once inside I still had to follow the noise past pool tables and the bar until I finally found them playing in the corner of a small carpeted floor, with about ten people standing around in front of them (though a bunch more were listening, I guess, while sitting at the bar or playing pool). They were loud and their sound was surprisingly clear for the sort of venue where the band just sets up in a corner. Pretty soon their fast, thundering sound made me want to push people around, but I felt self-conscious with the small number of people on the floor. No one else was moving much. There was a groovy guitar solo at some point that was cool.

After they finished, I decided to try to get rid of a persistent stomachache by ordering some food, and ended up with a huge plate of chicken nachos. They were tasty and kind of helped, but I think I was more being gnawed to death by social anxiety than hunger.

I was still sitting at the bar finishing my nachos when Trihexyn started. I was surprised to hear clean vocals wafting up from the floor over a barrage of guitars. The clean vocals had notes of Russell Allen (Symphony X), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and maybe even a bit of Falconer's singer. Power metal vocals and guitars alternated with growls and jackhammer death metal guitars, even some breakdowns. Early in the set (while I was still at the bar, sadly) they covered Metallica's "Battery." If you ever wondered what "Battery" would sound like with power metal vocals, well, that's what it was. That finally got the crowd moving, though from where I was sitting I wasn't sure if they were just throwing their hair around, or actually pushing each other around. Damn my need for food :( But I did have a chance to see a few songs from the floor. The band had a pretty cool set-up, with a mini light show going on by means of boxes that the guitarists were standing on. If I remember correctly, the vocalist introduced their last song, "All For You" as "a slow one" - it turned out to be the most predominantly rumbling death metal song that they played. There's video of it here if you want to see (well, mainly hear, and get a glimpse of their light show) for yourself.

And then, well after midnight, Cab Ride Home started. I should have been in the front row but I was trying not to completely destroy my ears, so I hung back. (And I didn't want to ruin the sound with earplugs, obviously!) The crowd seemed a bit small, but then again this show was competing with Suffocation/ Kataklysm/ Jungle Rot at Empire the same night. The only thing I knew about Cab Ride Home was "thrash" so I was pleasantly surprised to find their music featured plenty of At The Gates-esque melodic groove as well as thrash thunder, and sometimes both at once. (I've got to say I headbanged most to the melodic parts.) The song "21 Drops of Rain" had a cool guitar part that was atmospheric but speeded up to death metal pace. The song right before that was extra melodic. Unfortunately the vocals were a bit buried in the guitars so it was impossible to make out most of the words - but then again harsh vocals are pretty hard to understand live anyway. Danica's stage presence, though, seized my attention. She delivered growls and screams uncompromisingly, all the while bringing audience participation to the max,  taking advantage of the fact that the stage was just a corner of the room to run into the audience and throw her arm around people, and even trying to start a pit at one point. (I should have moshed for her, but I was still feeling stupidly self-conscious.)

Danica made a few references to the fact that she's now female - saying something about not being that cisgendered person early in the set, and later saying, "You've probably noticed something different - it's sort of sticking out..." following that up with a comment that someone was missing (I think they were short a guitarist that night). But for the most part it seemed to be a non-issue - both the band and the crowd were more focused on having a good, brutal time. I'm guessing most of the crowd knew already anyway if they knew the band personally. Her presentation wasn't over the top obvious - pants, a girlie shirt - but with a tight, feminine shirt there was no hiding it either. She did say after the show that she had kind of wanted to go "all the way" and wear a skirt, but she didn't have the boots to go with it. Her demeanor on stage meanwhile was commanding, dynamic, bad-ass - she's a girl you wouldn't want to mess with. It took guts to come out like that, in front of everyone at a metal show, but if anyone can handle it, she can.

The best moment of the set was probably the song "Crash the Gate." I couldn't really make out the lyrics, but I got the point from Danica's intro. I wish I would remember some actual words she said, but it was basically a big middle finger to all the people who would tell you what to do or how to live your life. It was something I needed to hear. And since Danica kept pointing at me during the song, I knew she was singing it as much for me as for herself.

There were just a few more songs after that, and for the last song, Danica invited everyone to share the "stage" with the band. So we all kind of stood around awkwardly and tried not to get in the way of the musicians.  Danica got two people to lift her up, and later jumped on someone's back, while singing. She was going wild for all of us. I guess we were a bit of a mild crowd for a thrash show. All the crazies must have been at Empire pushing each other around to Suffocation.

It was a fun time though. The three bands I saw were excellent; I'm now a converted fan, especially of Trihexyn and Cab Ride Home (what can I say, I'm just more drawn to metal with melodic elements). And things seemed to go well as far as Danica's coming out - at least, I didn't notice anything overwhelmingly negative. It seemed like the band and the audience were having the same good time they'd always had. Which is what it's all about really - no matter who you are, you should be able to come to a metal show and have a great time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Concert Review - Within Temptation, Amaranthe - 10/7/14 at Ram's Head, Baltimore, MD

It was hard to say which band I was looking forward to more. I'd never seen Within Temptation before, but had liked them almost as long as Nightwish and Sonata Arctica - and they had special meaning to me, to boot, because a funny Dutch friend in Hong Kong introduced me to them. Yeah, I wasn't as huge a fan of their 2011 album, The Unforgiving, because I felt like it was too hard rock. And I hadn't followed the band for a number of years so I completely missed their transformation from gothic metal to symphonic metal. But I enjoyed this year's Hydra - very symphonic, with some gothic touches to boot. Not only that, but that album turned out to make a great soundtrack for the transition that's happening in my personal life, especially the songs "Dangerous" and "The Whole World is Watching," and even "And We Run," in spite of - actually especially because of - the rap part.

As for Amaranthe, they're pretty unique in the metal scene with their music that combines electronic dance beats with death growls and metal riffs, and they were stellar when I saw them in Philly last year. It promised to be a night of dancing and emotional release.

Unfortunately, a poor route choice left me on the road for about two hours (blagh!) and so I (and my pal J, sorry man :( ) missed most of Amaranthe's set. They were just ending "Amaranthine" as we got into the venue. We spent the next couple songs ("Call Out My Name," "Drop Dead Cynical") trying to get drinks, looking at merch and looking for people. Well, that was what J was doing; I just followed him around. My friend D found me by Amaranthe's merch table right before the band launched into "The Nexus," and we stood between the bar and the crowd where we could just barely see the band, and headbanged a bit. That was their last song, sadly. At least S informed me later that they didn't play "Electroheart"; I'd have hated myself for missing that song, unabashed electro-metal dance song that it is. 

Then D dragged me into the crowd, so I ended up in the middle of the floor and quite close up for Within Temptation. How am I going to headbang and dance? I wondered. But I managed. They started off with their radio hit (I mean, it gets played on XM radio) from their latest album, "Paradise (What About Us?)," which was recorded as a duet with Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), but Sharon pulled it off all on her own, and sounded damn good. They played mainly from Hydra (yay!) and The Unforgiving (all right..) with just a few older songs thrown in here and there. While I barely expected that I might hear my favorite song, "The Dance" (too old and obscure :( ), I did hope they'd play "The Howling," but no luck. However, "Ice Queen" and "Mother Earth" were plenty amazing, full of gothic goodness that got me dancing. I also was really looking forward to hearing "The Whole World is Watching" from Hydra and was sad when the end of the set arrived without it. I found a lot of songs from Hydra personally meaningful, but that was the one that would probably have reduced me to tears. But they played all the other songs I hoped to hear from Hydra, most especially "Dangerous," which is like the theme song for my life at the moment. Unfortunately, the rap part that was piped in during "And We Run" was almost inaudible; too bad, because those words had a lot of meaning for me, too. But the most amazing moment was probably Sharon's little speech before "Stand My Ground," where she talked about how things are changing in the world and people should be whoever they wanna be, "gay or straight or whatever you are, whatever religion..." Wow, from a band of their standing, that meant a lot, and made the song even more powerful. I might have screamed "Stand your ground!" totally off key the first time the chorus came around XD I may have tuned out a little for some of the slower songs from The Unforgiving, but overall it was a good set, and they sounded great. Mostly. Sharon flubbed the vocals at the start of "Angels," but the crowd was not unforgiving (heh, heh). Actually, her vocals seemed a little bit weak throughout - but it is nearing the end of the tour, so she might be getting tired. If I'm not mistaken though, she pulled off Tarja's parts of "Paradise (What About Us?)" pretty well, which is a feat.

While I was pretty disappointed that I missed most of Amaranthe (and so much dancing that could have gone with them!), Within Temptation did not disappoint. Yeah, maybe I caught them ten years too late to hear most of their gothic songs, but the songs from Hydra completely made up for it.

Next show: Going to see Cab Ride Home tonight :D

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Concert Review - Eluveitie, Tyr, Metsatöll - 9/19/14 at SoundStage, Baltimore, MD

My readers will know that there are few things I love more than a good folk pit. And Switzerland's Eluveitie makes some damn good folk pit music. Estonia's Metsatöll, meanwhile, is among my favorite folk metal bands for another reason - their music has a very authentic feel, in large part due to the solemn singing style that reminds me of actual Baltic folk songs. And they play the kannel (Estonian zither) live on stage! What other metal band does that? Tyr meanwhile.. tons of my friends love them to death. I like 'em all right. I didn't mind seeing them but wasn't super excited about them, either. But anyway, I was looking forward to this show for most of the summer, just for the kick-ass folk pits for Eluveitie.

I don't know how good this review will be, though, because I found it a bit hard to actually pay attention to the music that night. For one thing, I had a lot of personal stuff on my mind, which was taking up a lot of my attention, even during sets sometimes. And then there's the fact that I always have a frickin blast at folk metal shows, and spend all my energy dancing and going crazy instead of thinking about what to write in some damn review. But I'll give it a shot anyway, for the record if nothing else.

We arrived about quarter or ten of eight, for an 8:00 show time -- and found that the line to get into SoundStage wrapped around the corner, from Market Pl onto Lombard St. Needless to say, K and I started to get antsy about whether we'd get in in time to see Metsatöll. Then we were told if we needed to buy tickets or pick up will call tickets, to go to another line, which seemed shorter, but in fact moved slower than the first line we were in. I heard some guys in line discussing my, uh, appearance, but didn't hear what conclusion they came to, but did hear an unfortunate slur :( It was not an omen of things to come though, as the evening went great for me in my new persona :)

We did get in in time for Metsatöll -- they started just as we were purchasing/picking up tickets. K and I watched from the back for a song or two. I linked arms with a guy who was dancing nearby. Then I saw that a pit had formed, so I ran to it, but it was rather brutal for me. They played a lot from their new album (so not a lot of stuff I recognized), which does indeed have a rather thrashy vibe under the the folk instruments and the solemn vocals. The singer even introduced one of the songs as a thrash song and told the audience to go crazy in the pit - which they did. The only song I can remember for sure was "Kivine Maa," although I think there were a couple of other older songs. I'm sure they played "Küü," for instance. I was stoked to hear/see Lauri play the kannel on stage (and also to hear people chanting his name..cause I recently changed my own first name to Lauri, so it was like people were chanting my name XD). From the new album, I believe they played "See On See Maa" and "Must Hunt," and perhaps "Tôrrede Kôhtudes," which, if I have the song right, they introduced as a "love song," and I went and danced around in the pit for it. They ended with something they introduced as "Together," which was another of the fast, thrashy ones.

It was to be a night of missed beginnings. When Tyr started, I was wandering around the venue looking for someone. I hurried into the crowd, and found some friends. (I can't remember if this was the point when I picked out S by his white Rainbow shirt. I do recall I was standing beside Im. for the first couple songs of Tyr.) Of course they started out with "Blood of Heroes" - I knew it from the opening riff that sounds so much like Amon Amarth's "Twilight of the Thunder God." It's a fairly catchy song, and the crowd was amped to hear it. They followed that up with an oldie, "Tróndur í Gøtu," one of my favorite Tyr songs for its epic melody. A few songs after that was the classic "Hold the Heathen Hammer High," and I think I ran to the pit at that point, because who could resist jumping around in the pit to that song? Besides, I wanted to mosh a little with my friend L, and he had said he was going to get destroyed in the pit for Tyr and be no good for Eluveitie, so I had to seize my chance during Tyr's set. But the pit was still so brutal I hardly dared go in. While I'm not super familiar with Tyr's discography, it seems like they played a pretty good mix of songs from their latest album Valkyrja ("Blood of Heroes," "Mare of my Night," "Lady of the Slain") and older songs, including the ones mentioned above, "By the Sword in My Hand," and "Shadow of the Swastika" (ok, just slightly older). Besides one slow song - which I liked for the vibes of old songs like "Ormurin Langi," my fave Tyr song - the songs were quite energetic, which made the pit fun, if even just to watch.

And then when Eluveitie started, I was outside, and had to abandon people who were slow getting back in the venue. I think they were in middle of something from their new album, Origins, when I made my way into the crowd and eventually to the pit. Of course, it was still big and crazy. This is the first pit in a while that's been so crowded that my hair was getting stuck between people (which is incredibly painful, and made the pit a lot less fun than it could be). They played largely from Origins, with one of their older (or newer) classics thrown in every 3 or 4 songs. Many of the new songs are quite speedy and heavy, which really got the pit going, but there were fun folk-melody moments as well, where I, and a couple others, tried to get the dancing started. Every now and then we were successful in getting a jig line or circle going, or at least in getting a bit of dancing in before the shoving started. There were a couple guys who insisted on shoving people around even during the slower, quieter or more danceable parts of songs. I mean, come on, "Slania's Song" and "Rose for Epona" are not really moshing songs. There are plenty of other Eluveitie songs for that. I was psyched that they played "Luxtos," which is probably my favorite Eluveitie song, or least their best folk pit song in my opinion. It has this chorus that makes you wanna jump, sing along, dance and push people around all that the same time, and I'm pretty sure I did all four at some point during the song. They would follow that up with the classic "Inis Mona" and then the highly danceable "Vianna," so I was too exhausted to do much besides watch for the rest of the set after that. But I got energized again during the encore, which started with their theme song, "Helvetios" (including the album intro track) and then another classic, "Omnos." I was stoked to get in a jig circle for them one more time, and then hung back while the crazies brutalized each other to the last song of the evening, "King." I'd be surprised if they hadn't played every song from Origins by the time the set was done.

I limped out of the pit with massive bruises on one leg (from someone falling over my leg while I was just standing by the pit), some scratches oddly enough, and my waist-length hair matted into one big tangle (yay!). It was worth every battle scar and all the time it will take this week to untangle my hair. Folk metal shows are the best - all the best people are there, the pits are the most fun, and the energy is amazing. The pits were certainly more brutal than I really like at a folk metal show (cause it makes it hard to dance), but I still had an awesome time, and the bands definitely did not disappoint.

Next show: Within Temptation & Amaranthe, Oct. 7

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..