Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sonata Arctica, Arsis, Yesterday's Saints, Fallen Martyr, Trihexyn, Radamanthys - 12/9/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

We missed all the local bands at this show, which was too bad, because some of them were decent, one had a cool name and one used to be my friend's brother's band (I'll leave it up to you all to figure out which one's which :P) We actually got there right around the time Yesterday's Saints was supposed to go on, but one of their guitars got stolen and they didn't play.

Eventually, Arsis came out instead. They were much faster and heavier-hitting than I expected. The only song of theirs that I had any previous impression of was "Forced to Rock," and the impression I got from that was an old school medium paced heavy metal band, not this whirlwind of pummeling guitars and undecipherable lyrics. Some pits formed, especially later in the set, but I was kinda tipsy and not wearing very secure shoes, so I didn't go in :( I just stood there and headbanged instead. I enjoyed their set; the music was energetic and the rolling sound of the guitars was great for headbanging. (S. said they were better the last time he saw them, so they must have been fantastic.) I talked to one of the guitarists later (the one with amazing long curly hair :D ) and he said that they play everything faster live. A great plan, in my opinion.

I didn't enjoy Sonata Arctica's set as much. They used to be one of my favorite bands, but I don't particularly like their new stuff. It's not horrible, it's just not the melodic epicness that they used to put out. (I know, I just trolled In Flames fans in my last review for similar attitudes, but I guess I'm more open-minded about In Flames since I only recently started listening to them.) Sonata still sounded good, and the few old songs they played (ex. "Black Sheep," "Full Moon," "Don't Say a Word") were awesome, every bit as fast and melodic as ten years ago.  I spent most of the set in suspense to see which (if any) song from Winterheart's Guild they would play; I won't spoil it, but I will say that sadly, I was disappointed with their choice from that album (so many other epic songs!). There was a clump of people in the middle who pretty much only moved when they played the old songs, and a bunch of people on the right who were jumping and waving the horns for every song - somehow the old and new fans self-segregated :P I guess Sonata did play a decent mix of old and new, and the new songs sounded all right, with some catchy choruses - with the exception of "Cinderblox," which sounded messy and terrible. I liked that they ended with one of their best old songs, "Don't Say a Word." There was an honest to god pit for this song, with 6 or 8 people in it. I hoped the band wouldn't ruin the vibe with an encore of newer songs, and they didn't.

Whee. Hope he's singing something good. (Photo by Steve Wass)
I had a pretty good time at the show, but mainly because Arsis was good, and I got to hang out with some friends and family. Old Sonata fans will have to weigh whether you can stand through half a set of new songs for a few of the oldies. If you really need to hear "Don't Say a Word" live one last time, then go - the rest of the set won't be (too) terrible. If you would rather stay home and listen to all the epic songs on Winterheart's Guild that they won't play, I can't really argue with you.

Next show: Heading up to Pittsburgh to see WINTERSUN with Eluveitie and Varg (not in that order) on 12/19!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Birthday Massacre, William Control, Aesthetic Perfection, Creature Feature, My Enemy Complete, etc. - 11/29/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

I didn't realize I could go to this show until the last minute, because I thought my daughter's daycare would be closed on the 30th (the last day of NaNoWriMo) and that I would therefore need this evening for writing. By the time I found out that daycare would actually be open, it was past time to get ready, and so I arrived late and only heard the last 5 seconds of local industrial-hard rock band My Enemy Complete. This was unfortunate for a few reasons - they have started to sound heavier this year, and I thought they were supposed to play a new song which Bilal said would be heavier. (I keep telling him they need to keep up the heavy industrial sound that most of their songs start with, not get all soft once the vocals begin!) Also, I pretty much went to the show just to see MEC and Aesthetic Perfection, so giving up writing time only to miss one of the bands I actually wanted to see was annoying.

The next band on was Creature Feature. They were loud and energetic, but not my type of music - they had a sort of carnival or Nightmare Before Christmas-like sound, with gothically ghastly lyrics when I could understand them (they said one of their songs was based on Poe, and another was an alphabet of different ways to die). It was sort of interesting, but not really worth the lost writing time ;)

Aesthetic Perfection, however, was totally worth it. Heavy, mostly faced paced, with a pounding bass that made me want to stomp all over the floor (although it was pretty crowded, so I could only stomp in place). S, K and I shoved each other around a bit, and there was an actual tiny, 30-second pit during their last song. It was a fun time; I only wish they had been higher on the bill so they could have played longer.

The second slot band, William Control, struck me as a band whose songs (if played at our favorite local goth party Midnight) would be the ones that I danced half-heartedly to while waiting for a faster and heavier song, or danced half-heartedly through the slow uninteresting parts just to be on the floor for the catchy chorus. As in, their songs were mildly interesting and had some good, heavy or catchy parts that made me want to dance, but were overall too slow and soft for my taste. The crowd did not seem to be feeling them nearly as much as Aesthetic Perfection and the vocalist seemed to be getting a bit irritated about it. Near the end of the first song, he suddenly screamed into the mic, making us grimace, and I wondered if that part was supposed to be there or he was just letting off his frustration. He had a very metal looking guitarist who headbanged a lot; the vocalist himself had a poofed up 50's hairdo which made him look rather pompous. Still, they were better than I expected - as I said, something half decent to fill the time between the good stuff ;)

After AP finished, I had waffled a bit about leaving then or staying till the end, but I couldn't resist the temptation of seeing at least a little of The Birthday Massacre. I was not very familiar with them; at some point S had sent me a song, and they seemed good. As it turned out they were, and they were more metal than any of the other bands that played that night. They were also the only act that I saw (besides MEC) that was a full band - the other acts on the tour were two person shows. They use catchy, heavy guitar riffs, which unfortunately disappear during most of the vocals, but the synth and vocals are also quite catchy and upbeat, and most of the choruses include guitars and even some harsh vocals, making them very headbangable. I was enjoying their set, but unfortunately the vocalist injured her knee a few songs in. She tried to keep going, but after a few more songs, the band took a break to assess the severity of the injury and then announced that they could not continue because she needed to go to the hospital.

Even though there were some lame moments - missing almost all of MEC, having to wait through two not as good bands when I could have been writing - I'm still glad I went. I supported the local goth/industrial scene and got to see a few people I haven't seen in a while, and I had a good time dancing to AP and hearing more of The Birthday Massacre. And I did reach 50K (and bake two cakes) on the 30th, so it's all good.

Next show: Sonata Arctica and Arsis, 12/9

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lamb of God, In Flames, Hatebreed, Sylosis - 11/17/12 at Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD

I was really looking forward to this show. Three great bands, what could go wrong?

We got to the venue just as Sylosis was finishing up. I heard their last song; S went to get a drink. They were pretty listenable, with some energetic and melodic segments, but didn't especially catch my interest.

Hatebreed came out to "America, F**k Yeah" from Team America and immediately got everyone pumped. Pretty much the whole floor was jumping and singing along with Jamey Jasta. I'm surprised I wasn't hoarse after their set cause I sang along to most of the choruses in a low growl, which I didn't even know I could sustain that long. They had a very simple stage show - just the guys playing and Jamey moving around the stage - but they really brought the hardcore energy and got everyone moving with their anthemic and sing/shout-alongable songs (singing along was encouraged by Jamey on just about every song).

They were followed by Swedish melodeath band In Flames, who started with a mellow song and sort of sounded like an 80's rock band compared to Hatebreed. I know In Flames gets a bad rap for not being metal anymore or something, and for not playing some song that everybody really likes, but I thought they sounded all right. They were heavier than I expected, and as they went "back in time" playing older songs, they started to sound more energetic and thunderous. They still had some slow mellow segments in each song, though, and ended with a slow song. There some surprisingly large pits during their set, though, so perhaps they still have some metal cred.

Lamb of God was excellent, and to date the only band I've seen that could share a stage with Hatebreed and outshine them (granted, I've only seen Hatebreed once before). They were loud, fast and heavy, filling the hall with a thunderous barrage of sound, and had lights, spouts of smoke and videos augmenting their performance (no fire for In Flames at the Fillmore - just some banks of lights that blinded the audience). The bass was very loud and the vocals pretty low, so much so that I could hardly hear Randy at first, but I noticed it less as the show went on. The fast but rhythmic music was great for headbanging, and luckily not all of the floor turned into the pit, but we did get shoved a bit.

The show turned out just as good as I hoped. I would recommend it to any metalhead - these are bands you should definitely see if you're into heavy music at all, and you won't be disappointed (unless you expect In Flames to be something that they're not anymore *shrug*)

Next show: I think it's Sonata Arctica and Arsis on 12/9, unless I'm forgetting about something. And after that, Eluveitie and WINTERSUN on 12/19.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Six Feet Under, Cattle Decapitation, Wretched and others - 11/3/12 at Cafe 611, Frederick, MD

I went to this show partly because the one Six Feet Under song I'd heard before sounded great for headbanging, and partly because I wanted to see what Cattle Decapitation was like after all the hype about their recent gory video. And the show was only twenty minutes away, so why not.

I'd never been to Cafe 611, although I'd heard of one or two shows there. It's located on Market Street in downtown Frederick, which seemed like an odd place for a metal show. There was a good sized crowd there, though, and a noticeably different crowd than at Baltimore or DC area shows. The floor was about the same size as at Empire (formerly Jaxx), but without the side areas. There was a small and crowded bar area behind, and a sit-down area that we didn't really explore. On the right of the floor was the office-desk-sized sound booth and on the left was another bar area that was being used to hold the bands' gear. Merch was in another back room, one of the few times I've seen merch somewhere well-lit where you don't have to shout to be heard. The stage itself was tiny, just barely big enough to hold a band and their stuff, and hardly raised or separated from the floor - just like at Krug's Place, it's a wonder no one crashed into the band when things got wild.

Wretched was on when we got there. There were three or four opening acts, but I couldn't escape the house till my daughter had gone to bed, so we missed them. Wretched sounded very muddy and raw - but I suppose that's how underground death metal is supposed to sound. They also had a bit of a black metal sound. I managed to pick out a few headbangable guitar parts and some basslines that moved along with a nice rolling rhythm, but overall found them not that impressive. The singer's pants kept slipping down, and at one point he stepped down from the tiny stage onto the floor, but spent most of that time turned around facing the stage, which I thought was a little odd.

The next act was Cattle Decapitation, who, as I said before, I was curious to see after hearing about their gory new video. I'd heard the band name before, maybe even heard a song or two, but this was the first time I really paid attention to them, because I realized they weren't just using shocking imagery just for shock value, but because they were using their extreme music and visuals to promote (somewhat) extreme progressive views. I hoped I would like them, but that was not to be. There were snippets of strong riffs or bass rhythms in their music and some cool grind and black-metal-like segments, but mostly it just sounded like noise, too much stuff going on at once that wasn't connected. The singer had a very active stage presence, though, so they were decently interesting to see live, but I probably wouldn't want to listen to a recording. There was a lot of drama from the singer about his mic volume - up, down, up.. and a mic that apparently smelled bad.

Luckily, the night wasn't a complete waste of time because Six Feet Under was amazing. Most of my previous knowledge of them consisted of one song, which with its very rhythmic riffs sounded great for headbanging. I hoped this song wasn't an anomaly, and I wasn't disappointed - all their songs (except one suspected to be a Cannibal Corpse cover) had that same slowish and very rhythmic sound. Most songs had some variety in them, though - slower instrumental bridges between intense verses or choruses, some screamed vocals thrown in - with just a few less interesting songs that seemed to have the same riffs and rhythms all the way through. The best song was early in the set, one that sounded like a cover of an old school metal band, maybe Motorhead. I think they also played at least one Cannibal Corpse cover (honestly, not very familiar with the discography of either band), which sounded a lot more chaotic than their usual sound.

It was totally worth it just to get to headbang to Six Feet Under for an hour, and also to see that the people in Cattle Decapitation really are just ordinary dudes (the singer looks like someone's dad).

Next show: Lamb of God, In Flames, Hatebreed, Sylosis, Nov. 17

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dethklok, All That Remains, Machine Head, Black Dahlia Murder - 11/2/2012 at the Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD

The reviews for November will probably be a little abbreviated, because NaNoWriMo has taken over my usual method of note-taking at concerts (texting to email) and the back-up method I discovered (my phone's notepad) is pretty limited. But at least I can give you a general idea.

Anyway, I was looking forward to most of this line-up - except All That Remains. They didn't impress me last year, and the new song they've been playing on the radio seemed wimpy to me. The other bands all seemed like they'd put on a good show, though. Black Dahlia Murder's music is fast and intense, while Dethklok has some of the epic melodic feel of European metal (never mind the hilarious characters). I thought the highlight would be Machine Head, though. They were great when I saw them earlier this year, and I really respect Rob Flynn's songwriting and guitar skills. (On a halfway related note, Suicide Silence opened for them then, and I'm really glad I had a chance to see them, cause they were great as well.)

We were very lucky that this show wasn't earlier, because the first couple of shows on the tour had been canceled due to Hurricane Sandy. So this was actually the first show of the tour.

We got to the venue just as Black Dahlia Murder was starting. (It was exactly 6:30, the time the show was supposed to start, and the rest of the night continued just as precisely, with all the bands going on within ten minutes of their scheduled times.) As expected, they were loud and fast, an intense barrage of sound. They play something like a fusion of fast thrashy riffs with vocals that go from low death growl to black metal shriek in the space of one word - great energetic music. The singer looked like he was having a great time, grinning and jumping about, and the crowd did too - there were only a few small pits, but during several songs pretty much everyone in the front half of the floor started jumping up and down. I had too much stuff with me to jump, but I headbanged pretty happily, especially when they played my favorite song, "Stirring the Seas of Salted Blood." S. said he hoped the singer wouldn't take off his shirt - but he did just before the last song.

Machine Head played the third slot, which came as a little of a surprise and disappointment. I thought they were much more qualified for the second slot than ATR, and I wanted to hear more of their music. Since they were amazing last time I saw them, I had my standards set pretty high, and was disappointed at first - they sounded muddy and the vocals were too low, barely audible at times. (Also, the floor, which had seemed pretty full for BDM, had filled up even more, and Rob Flynn being a little short, I couldn't see him much of the time.) They hit their stride in their third song, however - "Aesthetics of Hate," which they dedicated to the late Mitch Lucker of Suicide Silence, and also included a Dimebag Darrell tribute in their visuals. (Right before their set, we were standing by the merch area when a kid in a Suicide Silence t-shirt came up, and one of the merch guys asked if he would let Rob wear his shirt on stage. The kid happily agreed, but apparently Rob didn't have time to put on the shirt, because it was just hanging off the drum kit.) Finally, in this song the guitars began blasting and Rob's vocals sounded stronger, and they killed for the remainder of the set. They played "Locust" a bit faster than they do on the album, making a cool song even better. Their set was soon over, though; it was only five or six songs. I was rather disappointed at the short set, and that we didn't get to hear "Darkness Within," which is my favorite off their newest album.

As a result I felt a little bitter toward All That Remains, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised by them. With the longer set, I was able to hear them play a wider range of songs, and got a better appreciation for their sound. They're also much heavier and intense live than on their recordings - "Down Through the Ages" sounds so much better live than on the radio. During this show, I noticed their guitar work for the first time - I'd never noticed before that their songs had such powerful and melodic guitars. They moved through a range of styles, from anthemic hard rock/classic metal-style songs, to metalcore shouted verses/clean choruses, to the unintelligible death growls at the end of "Some of the People, All of the Time" (is that why it's my favorite ATR song?), and even some grindingly heavy segments. I don't know if this makes me any more likely to listen to their albums (might still find them wimpy) but I was definitely satisfied with their live performance.

After all this, Dethklok was just icing on the cake, but they easily carried the night. They sounded great, with flawless speedy guitar playing and growled vocals delivered by Brendon Small and co. (He had Gene Hoglan on drums; I didn't recognize any other names.) They played several songs off the newest album ("I Ejaculate Fire," "Andromeda," "The Galaxy," "Crush the Industry") as well as classics like "Murmaider" and "Awaken." I wasn't sure what to expect as I'd never seen Dethklok live and wondered how exactly an animated band was going to perform live. Without spoiling too much, they basically showed the music videos for the songs on a large screen, with the stage darkened so that one wouldn't pay too much attention to the live musicians below. There were a few recorded interludes including talking-to's from Facebones and the Dethklok manager, Dr. Rockzo calling for crowd participation, a plot by the Tribunal and some "backstage" antics by the band. The best part, though, had to be the part before the last song of the encore, when all the lights went off except one red one shining straight into the audience and entirely obscuring the stage, and (presumably) Brendon Small proceeded to banter with the audience in the voices of all the band members. (And he talked about Hurricane Sandy, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't entirely scripted - maybe prepared earlier that day, but not a script for the whole tour.) At that moment, it felt almost like the Dethklok band from the show was actually there in the hall (of course, we're probably lucky that they weren't, because that wouldn't have ended well for half or more of the audience). They picked a sort of lackluster song to end on - good, but not as great as the others - but the second to last song (first song of the encore) was "Go Into the Water" and it was absolutely epic.

This was a great show, even with the disappointment about playing order and the first half of Machine Head's performance - Dethklok more than made up for the that, and the rest was pretty enjoyable too.

Next show: was Six Feet Under, Cattle Decapitation and Wretched, 11/3 - the review for this will go up soon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Epica, Alestorm, Insomnium, System Divide, Blackguard - 10/23/12 at Howard Theatre, Washington, DC

Never mind my previous paeans to Alestorm and Blackguard - the band I was most excited to see at this show was Finnish melodic death metal band Insomnium. I've been smitten with them ever since first hearing the song "Weather the Storm" with its sweeping melodic riffs that make my soul ache with their tragic power, and once I read the poetic lyrics, so full of melancholy determination, my love for them was cemented. I didn't think they were well enough known to leave Finland anytime soon, though, so I was thrilled to hear that they were touring. (Around the same time I found out that another favorite unknown band from Finland, Swallow the Sun, would also be touring, but through a lack of planning I missed their show :( S went though.) And of course, getting to see awesome bands like Blackguard, Alestorm and Epica along with Insomnium only made the deal even better.

Actually, Blackguard wasn't originally on this tour; a band called Destiny Potato was on the original bill, but at the last moment I suppose they canceled, and Blackguard was added instead for six shows before they head off to Europe to support Kamelot. They sounded good, with the same energetic stage presence and sound that they brought to their headline show two weeks ago. There was a technical issue at first, making them sound way too quiet, but that was quickly corrected and their epically fast guitars and vocals blasted into the crowd. In the second or third song, Paul, the vocalist, called for a pit and four or five people (including me) enthusiastically obliged. They played their new song, "In Dreams," and it sounded a bit more polished than last time; the folk melodies were less evident, but the riffs were stronger. Otherwise, they only played songs from Firefight (nothing from their folk metal days), and they didn't play my favorite song from that album, "Sarissas." Still, it was a fun time - a good warm-up for a night of epic metal.

Luckily for such a crowded evening, the show moved along smartly right on schedule, and Blackguard was soon followed by System Divide, a band that's hard to shove into a genre box. I had never heard them before, having been too busy listening to the other four bands the week before. One of the singers introduced them as being "from everywhere" and the other vocalist later explained that they came from Israel, Holland, Belgium, Washington DC and New York. (And when we spoke with her later at the merch table, she said several of the members were new to the band, and they only got together for three days to rehearse before the tour O.o) They had a very strong bass, to the point that its drone and/or thunder sometimes drowned out the vocals, guitars and even drums. The male vocalist provided harsh screaming extreme metal style vocals, while the female vocalist did clean vocals. Her vocals sounded a little weak to start, barely audible, but got better as the set went on. They had some poundingly heavy grindcore moments - this is the first time I've heard grindcore with clean female vocals, so that was something fun to hear - and a distorted industrial-like intro to one song. They were interesting to listen to; I particularly enjoyed the grind segments. It's a great type of music to hear live, although hard to listen to properly at home. There were a few pits for them - I think I got pushed into the circle pit by a certain someone, but there were too few people and so we were full out running around the pit, and I was afraid I was going to slip on the drink-slippery wooden floor.

 Me and Miri Milman, vocalist of System Divide. 
I know, I look truly ugly in this pic, but also truly metal methinks \m/

We hardly had time to chat and take some pics with Miri before Insomnium took the stage. They were quite a change of pace from the other bands - not as loud, hardly moving on the stage other than to headbang (shoegaze melodeath? Actually my favorite moment in the "Weather the Storm" video is when they all headbang together), and with a much calmer vibe (no moshing). They sounded good, their beautiful melodies and soul-filling riffs moving everyone on the floor, but I kept waiting for them to play "Weather the Storm" and was ultimately disappointed. Perhaps to my detriment, I possibly worship this one song too much and don't pay enough attention to their other songs. They also only played five songs, which seemed surprisingly few, less than System Divide. Still, I was satisfied to have seen them, and to meet their vocalist and tell him how much I love that song. (I talked to him while waiting for Epica's encore, and trolled him a bit, asking if they would come back some other time and play "Weather the Storm" :P He commented on my Swallow the Sun shirt, saying that they are great friends with "those guys" :) )

Then the pace picked up again as pirate metal band Alestorm took the stage. Their songs are full of salty dancing or drinking melodies with piratey lyrics, and they're my favorite band to mosh to, thanks to the jig-filled folk pits. The singer looked pretty rough as he wandered around the stage before set, but he seemed to rally - he looked much more energetic once they started, and his voice and keyboard sounded great. They played some songs they don't usually play live, like "Leviathan" and "Death Throes of the Terror Squid" (the vocalist said they were no longer a pirate metal band, but a "squid metal band"). I particularly enjoyed the "Terror Squid" due to its black metal sound - I was right in front of the stage for that segment, and the fast rumbling guitars were shaking the floor. There was a large TV screen on either side of the stage, which I thought just showed the band playing, but S reported that during "Leviathan," they also showed shots from a Pirates of the Caribbean fan video, and during "Terror Squid" I spotted segments of the official video for that song, which does feature the band playing on a snowy mountain in true black metal style. In the vein of less played songs, they also played "Pirate Song," which I didn't think was a good choice - the melody isn't that catchy and the riffs aren't very inspiring. I'd rather they had played "You are a Pirate" or "Wolves of the Sea." They did play their classic "Captain Morgan's Revenge," which was great since they didn't play it last time we saw them, and we had twenty or more people with their arms over each other's shoulders doing a jig - I was in the center cause I started it. Overall though, I was a little disappointed in the experience, because there was less dancing and arms-over-shoulders-headbanging than at previous Alestorm shows, and more of just a brutal mosh pit. It was still fun, though.

Oh that's why he was feeling better.

I could probably have gone home after Alestorm and been happy (and exhausted), but since we were already there and an amazing band just happened to be coming up next, we stuck around. I do like Epica, but for whatever reason I can't seem to get into them as much as I should - perhaps it's just that I'm not often in the mood for gothic/symphonic metal these days. They do (and did) put on a great show, though. They were loud and heavy, and Simone's vocals were clear and lovely. I thought they'd play a lot of songs from their new album, but there were actually only a few - still, they only played one song that I know really well ("Unleashed"). There were a couple pits toward end of the set, but I was way too tired to take part. Other people seemed tired too - the pits were small and short, and the crowd thinned considerably before the encore. Once again, they showed snippets of music videos on the TV screens - official videos for "Unleashed" and a couple other songs, and a least one fan video. I had feminist thoughts in mind and noticed that Simone was very conservatively dressed for a gothic female vocalist, and wasn't sure what to make of that. In spite of being tired, I did enjoy their set - they sounded good, and their songs are so epic that even though my head was starting to hurt, I was headbanging right up until the end.

 Epica. Hey look, Mark has a wind machine.

This was a solid show, with the great performances that I expected from the four bands that I knew, and a nice surprise in System Divide. It was an eclectic mix of bands, but I for one didn't mind as I liked most of them. I thought it was nice to have some variety, and also a chance to rest from the more energy-requiring bands.

Photos by Steve Wass

Next show: Probably Dethklok with All That Remains, Machine Head, Black Dahlia Murder, Nov. 2 - although I may go to a show next week with a friend, we shall see.

PS. This was my first visit to the Howard Theatre, and it seemed like a super swanky place to have a metal show - high ceilings and marble in the foyer, impeccably dressed hosts/hostesses (I think I gave a weird look to two hostesses who greeted us as we went into the bar area, because I'm not used to people welcoming me to a metal show, and I hope they didn't get a poor impression of the metal scene from other surprised people like me), tables and sit-down food service near the bar, posh bathrooms, a WATER FOUNTAIN (every venue should have one of those). The only poor thing about it was the location - near Howard University, so a horrible trek by metro or an infuriating drive through DC to very limited parking. Still, I would go there again. Just for the water fountain.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Blackguard, Not-Liable - 10/10/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Blackguard hasn't been around much this year (whereas last year we saw them 4 or 5 times), so I was pretty excited to find out they were doing a headlining show. Only downside is that crowd turnout tends not to be so great for their headline shows, but that didn't stop the band from putting on a great show.

Blackguard vocalist Paul Ablaze. Awesome energy

At the last minute, local opener Not-Liable was announced. They were pretty energetic and catchy, with fast, heavy songs, and surprisingly loud for a three person band. Most of their songs had a very punk rock sound, with racing guitars and shouted vocals. They did have some slow and heavy metal interludes, and their last song featured some more complicated guitar work. They were interesting to listen to, though punk rock isn't my favorite style of music (I like riffs and guitar solos). The frontman (vocalist/guitarist) had a very interesting outfit, with shiny shorts, a scarf hanging from his belt, and hat.

After Not-Liable's set, Blackguard came out to hang out at the merch table and bar, possibly waiting to see if more people would turn up (it was still early, maybe around 9pm). Around 9:20 they decided to get things rolling and got on stage. They sounded amazing, full of energy and with a great dynamic, probably the best I've ever heard them. They definitely gave it their all even for a crowd of about 20 people. They started with some songs from Firefight ("The Path" and "Firefight") and then gave us a few of their old folk metal songs from Profugus Mortis ("Cinder," "The Sword" and "Allegiance") before going back to songs from Firefight. Paul invited the guitarist from local band Cab Ride Home, who once filled in for Paul when he had to mysteriously disappear from a show, on stage to sing some vocals for "Allegiance." At this show, I finally started to see connections between the band's older and newer work. The songs from Firefight are more melodic in the vein of Amon Amarth rather than folk metal, but the fierce vocals and epic energy are the same. At the very end of the set, after numerous disclaimers that they might completely bomb it, they played a brand new song, "In Dreams," which they had apparently composed that very same day. It sounded good - it started off with a folk melody, and then transformed into the thunderingly heavy sound they used on Firefight. If that was their draft, the final version is sure to be amazing. The set seemed short - they played for about an hour, but there was a lot of talk too - but then again they were just playing for 20 people after all. S. mentioned that they may not be used to playing so long since they don't usually headline. I thought perhaps their new guitarist didn't know enough songs yet.

I spent the whole set jumping around and headbanging like mad; I figured if the band is giving their all for this tiny crowd, then the crowd had damn better give the energy right back. S, J and I shoved each other around a bit but couldn't really get a pit started. For one song, Paul called for a "passive aggressive wall of death" where everyone would calmly walk back to their places, and threatened to stop the show if there was any violence. (They didn't stop playing when I started shoving S and J though XD) Most of the crowd seemed content to lean on the rail and headbang.

Hanging out at the merch table before the show, we met their new guitarist, Louis Jacques. He mentioned that he comes from a power metal background, and said that the next Blackguard album will be like a mix of Profugus Mortis and Firefight, incorporating some of their earlier folk metal sound, and also with more orchestration. During the set, he sounded good, but I think he needs to work on his stage presence - to smile and interact more with the audience, like the other band members did. But then again, he may have had to focus more on playing since he'd be less familiar with the songs.

 Blackguard guitarists Terry Roadcase and Louis Jacques

Blackguard is doing a few more headline shows and then 6 dates with Epica, and then they head to Europe to support Kamelot! I'm so excited for them. I've been following this band for a while and to see them go across the pond to tour with such a top level band makes me very happy for them. These guys work their butts off, touring like mad, and it's great to see it paying off. I hope all goes well and they have a great time in Europe.

And before then I get to see them one more time, because our next show is...
Epica, Alestorm, INSOMNIUM, System Divide, Blackguard on 10/23

(That is, unless a miracle happens and I do get to see my two favorite local bands A Sound of Thunder and My Enemy Complete on Monday at 98Rock's Noise in the Basement...)

Photos by Steve Wass

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Tyr, Metsatöll (Manala North America Tour), Yesterday's Saints, Burning Shadows - 9/21/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

I couldn't believe it when I first heard about this line-up - some of my favorite folk metal bands on the same night (the only better combination so far has been Ensiferum and Finntroll). I looked up Metsatöll a few days before the show, and got pretty stoked to see them too - they have a very heroic folk metal sound.

I hoped to see Burning Shadows open for them all as well, since I've heard about Burning Shadows (BSMetal on Facebook XD) for ages, but there was no way I could make the 5:40 start time.

As it was, I got there just as Metsatöll started, during their first song. Surprisingly, the place was already full - both the floor and the bar and merch area - and the crowd responded enthusiastically to Metsatöll. There was a pit for almost every song - a folk pit no less - even though their tempo was a little slow for moshing. (Still, I went into the pit for "Vaid Vaprust" - favorite song largely due to the video.) Their sound combined aggressive guitars with a slow, solemn singing style which I think is typical of folk songs from the Baltic area. The bag pipes could be heard loud and clear. They only played five songs; it would have been nice to hear more, but I guess the schedule was a little crowded.

Set changes happened fast that night - it wasn't long before Tyr came out. Unfortunately, their first song, a newer one, was pretty weak - the vocals weren't strong and the guitars weren't very loud. The second song was better, and at the third one, "Hall of Freedom," they hit their stride. Their newer songs sounded a bit like power metal or Manowar, with the clean vocals and fast guitars and keyboards. "Hall of Freedom" and some others also had a polka-like melody, but there was no folk pit :( Their best songs were the slightly older songs like "Tróndur Í Gøtu" and "Hold the Heathen Hammer High," fast-paced, anthemic songs which led to energetic pits. They also played a ballad which slowed their energy way down without being exceptionally epic. They would have been better off playing more of their classics like "Hail to the Hammer."

Moonsorrow was quite a change in pace, and only about half the crowd stuck around on the floor for them. They play a slower, darker vein of folk metal, with melancholy melodies interspersed with fierce guitars and growled vocals of black metal intensity. Unlike the other bands of the night, it's not music best enjoyed by jumping and dancing around, but heavy and intense enough to slowly headbang while they lead you on a musical journey through bloodsoaked battlefields and the desolation of the land of the dead. They sounded excellent, as good if not better than they did a year ago at Tuska - perhaps because they could fill the small, dark room with their sound more easily than a gigantic tent. Their third song, "Taistelu Pohjolasta," which they introduced as "a demo song from 1998," was probably the fastest Moonsorrow song I've ever heard, and there was even a pit for a bit in the beginning. To my surprise, I noticed a large part of the crowd singing along for the last song, "Kuolleiden Maa," even though the lyrics are in Finnish.

After Moonsorrow I tried to get a quick bite to eat in order to be fueled up for the folk pit madness of Korpiklaani's set. Unfortunately, Empire's new menu does not feature anything quick to prepare and digest - the dishes sounded like something you'd get at a classy restaurant, not a bar. The quickest thing we could get was hummus and pita, and even that took ten minutes, in part thanks to the bartender's obliviousness. We got the food just before Korpiklaani came on; I stuffed as much hummus and pita in my face as I could and then hurried out to the floor. If any Empire staff are reading this: bring the old menu back! When I'm about to go into the pit, I want chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks, not fine dining, dammit.

Korpiklaani was great, in spite of the stomach cramp from moshing right after gobbling food. They started with several newer songs, which were heavier and more serious than their usual jovial drinking songs, and seemed based on older Finnish folk songs (ie. melancholy songs about how much life sucks, or eerie shaman-like spell-chants). They also had a song a bit heavier than the usual Korpiklaani, with a pop-song-like chorus. Their drinking songs as well as their version of "Ievan Polkka" made up the second half of their set (although they did play "Juodaan Viinaa" as their third song). There was an almost constant folk pit/communal jig going on, including people who didn't look like they'd usually be found in a folk pit. (Alestorm still holds the title for best folk pits though.) As a special treat, in the middle of their set the violinist played a solo from the band's days as Shaman, when they made songs based on Sami folk music.

This was probably the best show of the year for me (unless Wintersun upstages them). It was everything that I had hoped Paganfest would be - great performances, and great folk pits.

Next show: Blackguard, 10/10

Kamelot, A Sound of Thunder, Cassandra Syndrome, Fallen Martyr - 9/14/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

For this show, I was equal parts excited to see Kamelot, one of the best power metal acts in existence, and to see local band A Sound of Thunder in the second slot, where I thought they would have plenty of time to play. I turned out to be disappointed on one of these counts, but not the other.

I headed out a bit late, picked up a friend on the way and then had to grab some food, so we got to the venue just before A Sound of Thunder came on. They had a great sound, loud, heavy and clear, and a bigger crowd than I've ever seen for them - about 3/4 of the floor. Like last time I saw them, they played songs from Out of the Darkness and new songs. They didn't play anything from Metal Renaissance (no "Blood Vomit"???). They seemed to be running short on time - Nina's explanatory spiels were cut short several times, and they were about to play my favorite song, "A Sound of Thunder" when they got cut off at the end of their set. I thought this was unfortunate, since their vocals are pretty difficult to decipher live, so any new listeners in the audience probably missed out on the meaning of the songs.

Kamelot also sounded excellent. Their new singer, Tommy Karevik, sounded a lot like Roy Khan for the songs I was familiar enough with to judge. He was very energetic and well received by the crowd. I think I enjoyed their set more this year than last year since I was more familiar with their songs. S. tried to start a pit for "Center of the Universe," and we jumped around a bit - I think we were some of the most enthusiastic fans there. Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist provided female vocals, including harsh vocals in the new song "Sacrimony." The new song sounded good, with a catchy chorus, which makes me optimistic about their new album.

This show was a good warm-up to the next, even more epic show...Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Tyr and Metsatoll on 9/21!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Primordial, While Heaven Wept, Cormorant - 9/12/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

I saw Primordial last summer in Finland, and thought they were great. They're one of the longest running pagan metal bands, and while they do have some Celtic influence in their music, they have a slower and darker sound overall than some of the more upbeat, folk-heavy pagan bands. It's an intense experience, but rewarding if you like heavy music.

They did a short US tour before heading to ProgPower USA this weekend (a bit odd destination for them, but if it brought them to the US, who am I to complain?), accompanied by While Heaven Wept and Cormorant, two US bands that are rather outside the genre box.

Cormorant, a band from California, has a dark, churning black metal sound in their heavier moments, combined or interspersed with melodies that sound synth or even pop-like. One of their songs, "Blood on the Cornfields," literally sounded like a pop song speeded up and blasted full of metal riffs. The vocals were mostly harsh, with an intonation and rasp that I associate with pirate voices. (Perhaps this is purposeful, as the band apparently takes their name from the Latin corvus marinus, sea raven.) In spite of sudden changes in tempo and mood, there were only a few instances where I found the shifts jarring, such as the several sudden tempo changes in quick succession in the second song.

While Heaven Wept, originally from Virginia, has a background in doom, but their current sound is far too uplifting for me to comfortably put them in that box. Their vocalist, who joined the band in 2008, sings to the heavens in an unabashed clear and high power metal style, and the chord progressions on their newer songs have a very hymnal sound. They did play an older song, "Soul Sadness," which sounded darker and more textured. Overall, they had a much more polished and unified sound than Cormorant, with melodies that flowed seamlessly into and over the heavy segments. They ended with their best song, "Vessel"; during the chorus I noticed some "super-fans" rocking out near the front, and then realized that it was the members of Cormorant, swaying and singing along.

Primordial's performance was quite a change in tone - a pagan metal band from Ireland, they have a strong black metal vibe in their slowish, dark sound and their choice of themes - the persecution of their people, the fall of civilizations, the evil nature of man. Not to mention the singer's corpse paint and Irish miner outfit that looked like it was stained with grave dirt, and the way he gazed at the crowd with demonic intensity and pointed and gestured as though commanding a swarm of ghouls. They gave a solid performance, very heavy, with some Celtic influences in the guitars and drums. The instruments often struck a faster pace while the vocalist used a slower tempo, an angry lament if you will. I thought they sounded as good, if not better than when I saw them last summer in Finland.

Metal Chris from DCHeavyMetal.com posted some videos from the show:
Cormorant - "Two Brothers" (This was one of their most consistently heavy songs)
While Heaven Wept - "Saturn and Sacrifice"
Primordial - "Bloodied Yet Unbowed"

So, if you're headed to ProgPower and wondering what the heck this Primordial band is all about, now you know. They probably won't sound a bit like anyone else there, but isn't that the whole point?

Next concert: Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Tyr and Metsätoll, 9/21. FOLK PIT!!!!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Kataklysm, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Vital Remains, Rose Funeral, others - 8/31/12 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Before this show, I had heard just enough of Kataklysm and Fleshgod Apocalypse to know that I'd probably enjoy seeing them - they're both fast-paced death metal bands with melodic elements. I got hooked on Fleshgod Apocalypse during the week before the show and listened to them over and over on Youtube - their masterful combination of classical keyboard with brutal riffs and vocals was irresistible. I was pretty excited to see them by the time the show came around.

Joining them on the Iron Will tour were Rose Funeral, a deathcore band from Cincinatti, and Vital Remains,a long-standing death metal band from Rhode Island. When we arrived at Empire, Rose Funeral was just starting their last song. They were skullcrushingly loud and heavy even from the back of the room, with a hammering bass. There were about twenty people on the floor, fairly enthusiastic fans it seemed - during the breakdown, people started jumping around and 4 to 6 people were having a small pit. I thought to myself, if the opener is this loud from the merch area, how am I going to survive the headliners?

Vital Remains was also loud, but in contrast to Rose Funeral's hammering sound, their sound had a rumbling or rolling feel to it - a sound that made you want to move, bang your head, or perhaps run into the pit (although I didn't, for whatever reason). They referred to themselves as "old school death metal" and urged us to "keep it underground!" The singer called for a Wall of Death for the song "Hammer Down the Nails," and the ensuing pit took up almost the whole floor (we were still hanging out on the railing near the merch area; I was tempted to go take part in the wall of death but the number of bulky guys was a little intimidating). The singer also jumped down into the crowd a couple times to direct the pit, and crowd surfed at one point - very involved with the crowd and determined to make sure they were enjoying it to the max. I enjoyed their set (from my vantage point headbanging at the side) but didn't find them really remarkable. I think I may be too spoiled by melodic death metal to fully appreciate regular death metal.

Or perhaps I was just too busy looking forward to Fleshgod Apocalypse's amazing melodic and brutal sound. They're a technical death metal band from Italy, with a lot of symphonic and classical elements in their music, especially classical keyboards. That's what drew me to them when I first heard them - the combination of brutal riffs and vocals with the ethereal piano/keyboard floating over it. Unfortunately, their first song didn't sound great - the vocals and keyboard were totally drowned out. The rest of the songs sounded better, though - I'm not sure if it was because I moved to the center of the floor (to run around in the pit) or they changed the mix. Going along with their symphonic and slightly gothic edge, the band came out in tuxedos and some sort of gray or brown face paint (if I had realized they were going to wear face paint, I would have worn face paint!). Overall, their tempo was slower than the bands before them, but they did play some fast songs. They were not as loud, either, but still very heavy, with sweeping melodies and melancholy riffs. The crowd (including myself) really enjoyed them; there was a pit for every song, even the slower ones, and people waving fists and singing along at the front.

After Fleshgod Apocalypse, I felt exhausted and didn't know if I could fully bring it for Kataklysm. But once they came on stage, I got my energy back. They're a death metal band from Canada, with epic and melodic riffs, a little reminiscent of Amon Amarth's sound. Their sound was thunderous - heavy, loud and very headbangable. The bass was slamming, especially early in the set. Unfortunately, the floor seemed rather empty - only about half filled up, and there was hardly any moshing. I ran to the pit whenever it appeared, to do my part, but it usually lasted just 30 seconds or so. There was a solid group of headbangers near the stage, though, and most of the time I just stood and headbanged, too, since the riffs were so epic. They played a sort of short set and didn't play an encore - perhaps Empire has tightened its curfew? The band did say they would drink at the bar, but we were too tired to stick around.

All of the bands in the show gave a solid performance, and I enjoyed the whole evening. No matter what kind of death metal you're into, from melodic to brutal, this is a good way to spend an evening.

Photos from concert (by Steve Wass)

Next show: Not sure what I'll be able to make. Icon of Coil, Primordial, Kamelot w/ A Sound of Thunder and Korpiklaani w/ Moonsorrow and Tyr are on my wishlist for September.

Concert Recap

So, life was pretty crazy over the summer - I changed jobs and moved suddenly, and then spent two months on a boat sailing off New England. Somehow, I squeezed some concerts in there too, and when I looked over S's list, I realized there were a couple shows in the spring that I somehow didn't review either. So here are some summaries of shows I've been to.

Iron Cross Band, Aug. 11, 2012, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, UMD: The "IC Band" is Burma's biggest rock band, and now they're finally free from the fetters of government censorship. They played for over 3 hours, and would have played more but were stopped because the audience was so rowdy. The Clarice Smith Center was an odd choice of venue for such a heavy act - about half their songs were heavy enough for headbanging, and the audience was pretty excited. People were going to the front, standing up and jumping around. The police were called in and took someone away for not going back to their seat. The band featured four singers and guest vocalist D Lun. Lay Phyu was definitely the best of the vocalists; the whole band sounded worlds better when he was on stage. They played a variety of songs - heavy metal, pop, even country, with a fair number of covers redone with Burmese lyrics, including an Yngwie Malmsteen song. Their lead guitarist, Chit San Maung, is probably one of the best in the world; he played a ten minute solo which included playing the guitar on someone's head. There were a few other solos including a keytar solo that sounded like a guitar solo. It was a neat experience but for someone not familiar with IC's music, it went on far too long.

My Enemy Complete, July 21, 2012, Zero (The Meeting Place): My friend's band played at a weekly goth/industrial club that I like to attend. They sounded louder and heavier than I've ever heard them. I love the instrumental segments of their songs - they're heavy and headbangable, or industrial and danceable. The songs seem to lose momentum during the vocals, though; I wish they would keep up the heaviness. Still, they sounded good and had a nice crowd.

Scorpions, Night Ranger, Jul. 12, 2012, Merriweather Post Pavilion: Scorpions are one of S's favorite bands. They were good, and I had fun at the show. "Winds of Change," the only Scorpions song I know, sounded just like the recording. It's amazing that they sound so good after all this time.

Marduk, 1349, Withered, Weapon, A Strong Intention(?), Jun. 2, 2012, Sonar

Corpse paint for free drinks. And also just cause it's fun.

We actually got there just as Weapon finished. A lady at the merch area scolded us for missing their set :(
Withered was good. They sounded loud and heavy - until I heard the other bands. They had some fast segments, and some slow trance-inducing atmospheric segments. Thanks to the quickly downed free drink, I was rather tipsy and couldn't go in the pit.1349 was faster and riffier than Withered. Marduk was even more intense, with a solid, heavy sound. Their old songs had a distinctly thrashy or rock-and-roll sound. We left before the end of the set, around 1am, cause we were just too tired - I had probably worked overnight the night before or something.

Sabaton, A Sound of Thunder, Amphibious Apes, May 21, 2012, Empire (formerly Jaxx): I was looking forward enormously to this show; Sabaton and A Sound of Thunder are two of my favorite bands, so putting the two of them together promised to be a night of awesome. Not only that, but in the second slot A Sound of Thunder was able to play much longer than a local opener typically would. We did hear a bit of Amphibious Apes on our way in, but didn't listen too closely (sorry, guys, just not a fan of the experimental stuff). A Sound of Thunder played for nearly an hour, almost entirely songs from their new album, except one from their EP. I tried a couple times to start pit, especially for "Fight Till the End," but could not get anyone else to participate. Sabaton was awesome; they were pumped (even with 3 new band members) and so was the audience. The songs sounded perfect even with the new recruits. They played most of the favorites, as well as new song "Carolus Rex," plus some more obscure songs, like "Swedish Pagans" (which I've always heard other people demand at shows but am not too familiar with myself). I never thought I'd mosh for Sabaton (I did spend about a third of the time jumping up and down and shouting along) but I did this time; I even started a pit when I didn't know lyrics (that was "Into the Fire"). Some silly stuff happened like a stuffed animal being tossed around, and a guy with a sombrero wandering onto the stage. S. got a shout out from Joakim (vocalist) for his Rainbow shirt.

Rammstein, Apr. 25, 2012, 1st Mariner Arena: I had just gotten off a sail on Pride of Baltimore II, and was kind of tired. Before the show, Joe Letz from Combichrist was DJ'ing, and I was amused by the stuffed unicorns on his table. Rammstein put on a great show. There were lots of pyrotechnics and other stunts - roasting the keyboardist in a giant pot, crossing a catwalk (most of the band on all fours with leashes on held on to by the drummer) to a small stage in the middle of the crowd, the keyboardist crowd-surfing in an inflatable raft. We could feel the heat from the pyro even way up on the second level; it must have been roasting on the floor.

Iced Earth, Warbringer Mar. 13, 2012, 930 Club: Crowd was rather small for this show. Warbringer was pretty good for a thrash band. Even after the singer called for a pit, only a few people took part; I wanted to help out but I was wearing a skirt :( Iced Earth gave a solid performance, and Stu, their new singer, sounded good. He pulled out a mask for "V" which was kind of fun.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

M3 Fest (Day 2) - May 12, 2012 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD

Wait, what happened? I went to M3 Fest, a big hair band festival, because S. was going. It was actually pretty fun. I didn't really know any of the bands well, and some not at all. The two bands that I wanted to see most were the ones that were least - perhaps not at all - hair band-like: Loudness and Queensryche. It might have been more fun if I knew the bands better, but I would also have gotten more hot and tired from jumping around if that were the case. For a relaxed day off when I didn't want to do much, it was a good choice.

When we got there, L.A. Guns were on. They were all right; they didn't especially stand out in my mind. After they finished we commenced a constant running back and forth between the main stage and the second stage, since the bands went on one right after the other, even overlapping sometimes. Bang Tango, on the second stage, was a little more energetic, loud and heavy enough to get me bobbing my head. Then it was back to the main stage for Dokken. The songs sounded decent but the singer was not into it at all. After that, Loudness was great - loud, fast and heavy. I didn't know any of the songs but they were heavy enough that I took my hair down to headbang. Warrant, back on the main stage, sounded really good too. In sharp contrast to Dokken, the singer was very into it, delivering the lyrics emphatically and waving the mic stand around. He wasn't the original singer of the band, though, as apparently that guy is no longer with us. During their set, S's pal T. kept telling me to sing along, but I didn't know the words. S. did manage to teach me the chorus to "Heaven." Last band I heard before having to leave to do work was Lynch Mob who were also pretty good. I can't remember if it was their singer who jumped down into the crowd or if that was Bang Tango. 

After I left, I later heard a bit of Queensryche and Skid Row while making copies at a place across the street. thought to myself, dangit they must be having so much fun. Indeed they were - when I picked up S and T later, S was completely hoarse from singing along to Skid Row.

Next concert - Sabaton and A Sound of Thunder!!! 5/21/12

S. wrote a more detailed review and setlists.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Behemoth, Watain, The Devil's Blood, In Solitude, Evoken - 5/5/12 at Ram's Head Live, Baltimore, MD

Actually, we missed Evoken, In Solitude, and The Devil's Blood entirely, due to travel time, slow service at a restaurant and the need for corpse paint.

Our excuse for arriving late. From left, K., S. and I in corpse paint.

We got there just as a band was leaving the stage, which we figured was The Devil's Blood. I wasn't too disappointed, because I'm not that into the whole resurgence of 70's-esque slow and gloomy metal, of which they are an example. I might have changed my mind about them after seeing them live (just a glimpse of Ghost at Tuska Festival improved my opinion of that band immensely) but oh well.

As the next band set up, we guessed from the array of candles that it was Watain, setting up for their Satanic ritual. (As far as I know, they could have sold all our souls to Satan and we have no idea..) Their set had a great atmosphere - the candles and minimal lighting creating a spooky feeling that enhanced the music. They were not very heavy, but had a bewitching sound - sad melodies or melancholy riffs over pummeling bass and drums, alternating with slow and dark segments, the vocalist conducting it all with his growled incantations. I was not sure if there would be moshing, since it was black metal, but there was. "Total Funeral" was a crowd favorite - it starts with rocking riffs that got everyone jumping, and then a huge pit appeared. They ended with "Waters of Ain," a masterpiece of black metal - you could just about feel the cold dripping of evil.

Behemoth also evoked the ultimate evil but in a different way - whereas Watain was dark and gloomy, Behemoth was powerful and dominating. They lived up to my expectations - that they would be amazing. As with Watain, lighting and staging added to the effect. They began with lights directly behind them, which was painful if you were at an angle but pretty dramatic. They didn't move much - only switching between center, left and right positions a few times - but seemed to tower over audience like some sort of evil statues. Nergal looked even more sinister with short hair, and the other guys looked a bit like Klingons. Their sound was my favorite kind - the thunderous kind that shakes the building. It was like some sort dark god rising roaring out of hell..except that for Behemoth that god is probably humanity itself.

The crowd was energetic, and the pit was pretty crazy. At some point (perhaps during "Conquer All"?) a huge wave of moshers knocked down the people in front of us and pushed us back to the back corner of the floor. A guy in a wheel chair was spotted in the pit and crowdsurfing. I suspect it was the same guy we saw at Arch Enemy (I talked to him afterward but didn't get a chance to ask about that show).

Nergal, recovered from the brink of death, seemed to be doing fine. Some vocals appeared to be recorded but that may have been for effects - the lower, more ominous vocals. S thought the set was a litte short though. Neither band talked very much, they just played their songs with a few dramatic proclamations here and there.

Overall it was a great show, recommended for anyone who's into the darker side of metal, or into heavy music.

Next concert: Sabaton, 5/20 or 5/21

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Map of Time (El mapa del tiempo) by Felix J. Palma, trans. Nick Caistor

Mr. Palma is apparently an accomplished writer in Spain, but The Map
of Time
is his first book translated into English. It's a mind-bending
story set in Victorian London, which seems to be about time travel,
but will likely completely scramble your notions of time and time travel.

I generally don't like time travel - the paradoxes and parallel
universes bore me, and besides that I find the whole notion
implausible. But there were slim pickings in science fiction books on
the new books shelf at the library, so I spared this a second glance.
Also, the fact that it was translated intrigued me, and the
exaggerated "dear reader" introduction was different from norm. This
impression was borne out by reading - the book's style is one of a
kind, at least in modern science fiction. (As the back cover states,
it harks back to the pioneers of science fiction, Jules Verne and HG
Wells.) The style also seems distinctly Spanish to me - there is a
rhythmic flow to the sentences, and the word choice is more direct
than writers in English would normally use. The narration, however, is
anything but - in a Victorian way, Mr. Palma takes his time getting to
the point. But it's an enjoyable ride because of his jovial tone and
humorous choice of images and analogies. I quickly realized the novel
is laughing at itself the whole time. By the end I understood why -
this isn't an adventure story, but a novel about writing and about
time travel through reading, storytelling, and illusion.

So about the time travel (and the plot). Another reason I didn't mind
reading about time travel is because nothing is as it seems in this
book. Mr. Palma surprises you once and you think you have it figured
out, but he pulls the carpet out from under you again, and again.
Additionally, the plausibility of the various time travel methods
quickly becomes irrelevant, because at their core, the three connected
stories that form the novel are not about grand historical events that
have to be averted or preserved - although the novel does touch on a
few - but about the human bonds that span the abyss of time and are
perhaps our truest measurement of time.

As a writer, I enjoyed the book immensely, mostly due to its humorous,
self-referential style and the commentary on writing through the medium of
HG Wells, who features as a major character. People looking for an
epic adventure may be disappointed, but if you don't mind a change of
pace for the sake of some laughs and mind-bending twists in your
perception of time, this is a gem.

Amazon has a letter from author about the novel, which I have not yet
read, as I don't have a pdf reader on this computer:

The author has another book titled El mapa del cielo; I'm wondering if
this is the sequel and whether it might be translated sometime
soon..hope so.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Black Dahlia Murder, Nile, Skeletonwitch, Hour of Penance - 4/17/12 at Ram's Head Live, Baltimore, MD

A night of heavy-hitting metal with three different flavors of death
metal (broadly speaking). It was an enjoyable show, although not as
mind-blowingly heavy as I had hoped. Like with the Amon Amarth show, I
had the feeling that I was really at a metal show - a very "metal"
crowd (long hair, death metal shirts), lots of headbanging. Besides my
friend K. and I, there were only maybe 3 or 4 other girls there.

We missed Hour of Penance altogether. In fact we were late for
Skeletonwitch - we got there during their first song. S. calls them
blackened thrash, but to me they sound more like thrashy melodic death
metal. The sound quality was excellent - I heard some melodic bits in
their songs that I never noticed before, which along with their fast
and furious tempo, made for a fun experience. In recordings, the
singer's barking singing style turns me off, but during the live show
it was all right; it fit with the ferocity of their music. They
seemed to play a very short set - only 25 minutes or so.

Nile was next, and of this lineup I was looking forward to them the most. They play slow-ish, dark and heavy technical death metal based on ancient
Egyptian history and religion. I expected earth-shaking heaviness from
them, and they were pretty heavy, but I feel like I've heard heavier.
There were a few boring spots where they decided to show off their
technical prowess, without necessarily doing anything melodic or epic.
Mostly though they dominated with heavy riffs and demonically low
vocals. The crowd was kind of weak though - their "death metal voice"
was pretty thin and the pit was empty much of the time. I think I
should have gone in the pit for Nile rather than Black Dahlia Murder -
that would have been a better contribution to the atmosphere.

I was not sure what to expect from the headliner, Black Dahlia Murder since I had only listened closely to a few of their songs. I thought they'd be
fast and crazy and I wasn't wrong. They play extreme metal -
fast-paced, with harsh and/or screamed vocals, and some grindcore
moments. In truth, they were the best performance of the night
actually, with fast and catchy riffs, furious vocals and a lively
crowd. At least, the fast and crazy parts were great, but I felt that
the slow heavy parts were not quite heavy enough (compared say to when
I saw Suicide Silence). "Stirring the Seas of Salted Blood," which
they introduced as a "slow and low" song for "head-banging from the
waist," was great though. The pit was wild, with a couple of vendettas
going on. I went in once or twice near the beginning and got dragged
into one of circle pits, but toward the end I stayed out because it
started to get too brutal and seemed like some fights were about to
break out.

Overall this was a good show. These are three great bands and they put
on a good performance, although it wasn't as overpoweringly awesome as
I'd expected. Still recommended though just for the death metal experience.

Next concert: Rammstein, 4/25/12

Friday, March 30, 2012

PAGANFEST - Turisas, Alestorm, Arkona, Huntress, Deranged Theory, Yesterday's Saints, Fallen Martyr - 3/29/12 at Sonar, Baltimore, MD

Ok, finally touched this up - as in, finally wrote it in complete sentences.

This was probably the biggest show of the year for me - three awesome folk metal bands in one night. It was a lot of fun, although there were a few points where I was disappointed. Mostly organizational things; the actual performances were great and I had a good time.

We got there during the second band's set - just after 8pm. We had judged that getting there around 8 would get us there just in time for Huntress (the fourth band and the first of the official Paganfest bands). It turned out the show was running way late. For a show with seven bands, that definitely cut my enthusiasm a lot - it meant sitting through several not as interesting bands hoping I wouldn't get hungry before the fun started, and a really, really late night on a week when I have no days off.

But anyway, enough of the whining, in spite of the annoying lateness, I did have fun, so here's my review of the bands:

We missed Fallen Martyr entirely. S thought they had cool shirts though.  (As I go to post I realize we have indeed seen these guys before since I already have a tag for them, so if you want to know about them, click on the tag at the bottom of the post.)

We arrived in the middle of Yesterday's Saints' set. They were loud, but not every interesting. The singer had a nice voice though.

Deranged Theory was the last of the openers (we perhaps cheered a little too heartily when they finally cleared the stage, no offense to the band, we were just getting a little impatient). They had some headbang worthy melodies and riffs, reminiscent of Iron Maiden at one point. S disapproved of the singer's vocals, but I thought he sounded all right. Perhaps a slightly deeper growl would have been better. But still, I enjoyed their songs, and S was amused that many of them were about video games, like Castlevania.

Huntress had a strong metal sound, but I find the vocals kind of bland - at least, that was my initial impression of them. "Eight of Swords," their single, is not a good representation of singer's vocal range - she can growl like Masha (of Arkona) and also has a lovely clear high singing voice. S compared her to Doro. She had an..eye-catching outfit that helped to keep attention on her for the whole set.

Arkona came out blasting with "Pokrovy Nebesnogo Startsa", which I have always considered a great moshing song and was really looking forward to hearing and moshing to. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the pit, because I was too far back; the pit was right in front of stage. I got in on the second song though. The pit was big and brutal, with a lot of big lumbering drunk guys, so I didn't go in as much as would otherwise. They played a really short set, about 5 songs, with no time wasted on talking. They sounded good and heavy to me, but S thought they didn't sound as good as on their recordings. Perhaps the sound could have been clearer, I dunno, I was mostly thinking about the pit, and wishing that the pit was better. Masha called for a Wall of Death for Stenku Na Stenku but the moshers ignored her or didn't hear (but at least they were folking). I didn't quite feel like being pit boss and making it happen. Maybe next time.

Alestorm sounded great, and the pit was a blast - besides the usual shoving, there was lots of jigging and headbanging circles. I sort of got my right side abraded off by a guy in chain mail. In contrast to Arkona, Alestorm got a really long set - the singer kept saying how no one was telling them to stop so they would just keep playing. They didn't play Captain Morgan's Revenge, which was disappointing, but on the other hand, we got to hear a bunch of other songs that aren't played as much.

Turisas came out strong with "March of the Varangian Guard." They followed it with "Take the Day," the second song from new album, and I wondered if they were going to play the whole album. But that was not to be. The third song was "To Holmgard and Beyond", and I started looking for pit. On the next song ("Dnieper Rapids") I started a pit. People did not seem to realize that one could mosh to Turisas. (Someone called me a warrior maiden for starting /constantly being in the pit.) Then, the music slowed way down, with slow paced solos from Olli and some slow paced songs. A lot of the crowd drifted away, dunno if it was because of the late hour (well after midnight) or because of the slow songs. Netta (accordion player) is not with band anymore, and I noticed that some parts sounded a little odd, so I wondered if they replaced the accordion parts with keyboard. I missed the accordion sound. Toward the end, the set picked up again; Turisas saved the best for last, with "Stand Up and Fight" and "Battle Metal" at the end.

I had fun, although besides for Alestorm, I didn't have the epic folk pit experience I was hoping for. I also expected more of the pirate/Viking (Varangian) rivalry, and perhaps more songs from Turisas. It would have been great for if they could have pulled out "Rasputin" or "Those Were the Days." If not at Paganfest, where else? But still, for folk metal fans, these 3 bands in one place is not a show to miss.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Leviathan Wakes by "James S. A. Corey"

The quote marks will be explained in a bit.

This was an enjoyable and well crafted read.As the cover promised, it is "a really kickass space opera."

Unfortunately, the book has a slightly weak start, after a very suspenseful prologue. In fact, at first I kept reading simply because I wanted to know what had happened to the character in the prologue. The characters it switched to in the first chapter seemed flat and stereotypical - the old fashioned XO, the tough female EO. (At one point, I actually said to someone that if another tough female officer appeared, I was going to put the book down. But luckily that didn't happen till much later, when I had gotten sucked back into the story, and forgotten about my silly declaration.)

As soon as the action started up again, things got better. The XO kept making mistakes, which transformed his character from an archetype to a much more rounded character. The space-based "world" was gritty and full of nuanced detail, just the way I like it. I was very impressed that some Chinese words were used in the slang of the Belters (people that grew up in the asteroid belt) and they were actually the right words. Just enough other details were dropped about space station- and ship-board life to feel the differentness of life in space. And very impressively, when minor characters died they were named AND their sacrifices were remembered.

Still, and although I know space opera is not hard science fiction and therefore not thoroughly grounded in hard, plausible science, the vague descriptions and improbable powers of an alien molecule that plays a huge role in the plot bothered me a little. But I was willing to overlook it for all the other excellent things I mentioned above.

I was pretty impressed that one new and unknown author managed to turn out such a well-crafted, almost ingenious novel. Then I found out that "James S. A. Corey" wasn't a person at all, but the pen name of two writers - one of whom is George R.R. Martin's assistant. And that the two of them were helped along by an all star team of other authors. Well no wonder! The book is still a good read, but less impressive an achievement. Still, I'd highly recommend it, and am looking forward  to finding the sequel.

Children of Bodom, Eluveitie, Revocation, Threat Signal - 3/4/12 at Ram's Head Live, Baltimore, MD

We completely missed Threat Signal. I had worked for 38 of the 48 hours before the concert, so I did not feel like rushing back to Baltimore.

Revocation was in the middle of their set when we got there. I thought they sounded better - heavier, more interesting - than on their Youtube videos (my primary way of researching bands I don't know), but S. thought the opposite. They were loud and heavy with some cool riffs, but fell short of awesome. The singer said something silly about Skyrim which I had already read on Youtube. We wondered if he said the song was about Vikings just to play to the folk metal crowd.

I may be biased, but Eluveitie was awesome. They were much heavier than I expected for a folk metal band that actually uses a lot of folk instruments. I started to wonder whether they made their sound heavier and/or picked their heavier songs for the set just because they were touring with three death metal bands.


S. said that Eluveitie's drums were too loud, but I did not really notice during the show. In the first song ("Everything Remains..") the drums sounded like an army marching and banging their swords, which I thought was pretty cool. From the front, I could hear the acoustic instruments like the tinwhistle, but I guess they were a little overpowered by guitars and drums.

At first people did not seem to know it was ok to mosh for folk metal (most of crowd seemed to be death metal fans although there were a few definite folk metal fans). I tried to start pit during the second song ("Nil") but did not quite dare run into the really big guys. But when the singer called for a circle pit for the 3rd song ("Kingdom come undone") they sure got into it. (I was standing right near "Primordial shirt guy" when the singer picked him but I think you can only see the top of my head in the video. The circle pit was pretty big though you can't really see it since it's dark.) There was not much of a folk pit at any point, though there were a few moments of jigging (I owned the pit with a jig at one point). There was also a girl pit at one point; sadly I can't find any youtube videos of it. If anyone has one, please post and tell me!

I don't really do the setlist thing - that's usually S's forte - but Eluveitie did play one new song which they said they hadn't played before on the tour: "The Siege." Otherwise they seemed to play the same setlist as their other shows on this tour.

Other fun videos:
Intro and first 2 songs
"Inis Mona" (last song they played)
None of the videos are mine. Much gratitude to the metal people who take vids and post on youtube, so that those of us who are too busy moshing and headbanging can enjoy later XD

Children of Bodom were amazing, of course. I couldn't hear as much of their awesome melodies as I would have liked (too loud and heavy, the melodies were drowned out), but the heaviness made up for it. Now I can really see them as a death metal band (and understand why there were so many death metal fans there. Nothing against death metal or its fans, but I was hoping for a good folk crowd for Eluveitie). I wondered what the death metal fans thought of the more (very much more) melodic segments in COB's music, like the parts that sound somewhat like Nightwish.

Children of Bodom, RAR

You all know my highest compliment to a band is that they sound like thunder (ex Medeia and A Sound of Thunder) but COB did one better. Not just thunder, they sounded like a thundering war machine, like some alien battleship pounding the earth, it was so intense. The pits were massive and crazy. We were all the way in the back (I was wiped out after Eluveitie and didn't think I could handle the giant pits anyway) and we still got jostled around.

I would have gone to see either Eluveitie or COB on their own, so it was great to see them together kind of like a "package deal." Next time though, I hope Eluveitie tours with folk metal bands for more folk metal fun in the pit!

Next concert: Iced Earth, Warbringer - 3/13/12. I kind of forgot about this one, augh!

The photos are by Steve Wass. More photos

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Machine Head, Suicide Silence, Darkest Hour - 2/1/12 at Ram's Head Live, Baltimore, MD

This was the first concert in a good six months that I was actually
excited to attend. Maybe it was just that I was less tired and
stressed out than usual, maybe that there was no hassle involved in
getting there (Ram's Head is a couple blocks from my place of
employment..). It was also the first in a while where I wasn't bored
and tired and feeling like
can't-wait-till-this-is-over-so-I-can-go-home in a good while. Again
maybe because I actually wasn't tired for once. But anyway..it was
nice to actually enjoy a concert again.

So now for the actual reviewing..

Darkest Hour was good, although not as excellent as I thought it would be
from my very quick pre-listening the day before. They had some melodic
bits and heavy bits and some bits that were both melodic and
heavy, but I kept wishing they would make the guitars a little heavier
and give the vocals more punch to make it into true melodic death
metal (but this may just be because I wish everything was death
metal..). Also, metalcore kids don't know how to mosh. During one
insanely heavy song, there was NO ONE in the pit. At one point the
singer called for a circle pit, and one guy pushed another around the
floor, and that was it. I had come straight from work and had a bunch
of "luggage" with me, otherwise I would definitely have had to teach
those kids a lesson.

Suicide Silence was great. Ultra heavy, just an all out assault
on the senses (being a bit ADHD, I like music that overwhelms all
distractions in my brain). But it wasn't just the usual grinding-bass
grindcore band; the vocals were more of a black metal shriek, and they
mixed in some other unusual sounds as well.
They varied the tempo, too, with some fast riffs and some slow,
soul-shakingly heavy segments. Overall it was just all-consuming
nonstop heaviness (the singer didn't waste a lot of time talking
either) and it never got boring either. There was better moshing for
these guys but some grindcore silliness too - a few guys doing moves
that reminded me of kung fu drills in the pit.

I thought that with their nonstop delivery of heaviness, Suicide
Silence would blow Machine Head out of the water, but I was
wrong. They weren't as heavy as Suicide Silence, but definitely heavy
enough. Also, they had great riffs and guitar solos, as well as
powerful lyrics and melodies that took the place of overwhelming
heaviness in holding my interest and making me headbang. I didn't
really like their old stuff much before this concert - although I
thought their new album was amazing and that was why I went to the
concert at all - but after seeing them live I have new enjoyment of
their music. The singer delivered a short speech before the first
encore, and usually I'm the jerk that shouts "Play some damn music"
when the band gets speechy, but it seemed like he was really speaking
from his heart, thanking the band's fans and talking about how music
got him through tough spots, as well as high points, in his life, so I
actually listened and was touched by what he said, even though I'm a
relatively new fan of the band. Then the first encore, "Darkness
Within," which starts with a long acoustic segment, convinced me for
certain of the guy's amazing songwriting abilities. That's right, I
said first encore. I think they played three encores. They played for
about 2 hours overall. I was so exhausted by the end, I was leaning on
the barrier in front of the sound tech area thing, but still the music
moved me to headbang till the end.

Overall it was an excellent experience, well worth the exhaustion. It
was also neat to see three bands of such different styles on one
night. You could definitely see the change in the crowd as the bands
changed - but I for one enjoyed all three.

Concert Recap

I'm going to post a review of Machine Head et al pretty soon (I know, my first review in what, five months? So exciting!). First though I thought I should recap what I've been doing since September. It's not that I took time off concerts, just that I was too tired/stressed/busy/lacking-in-internets, etc. to post reviews. Since my next concert is early March, we'll see if the renewed vigor lasts.

So here's what I've been doing since September:

Sabaton, A Sound of Thunder, Oct. 2011, Jaxx: Sabaton = awesome, so Sabaton live = overpowering amounts of awesome. Jumping, headbanging, shouting and singing along. Sabaton is a power metal band that focuses on historical and heroic themes, so they manage to create some seriously inspiring songs. "Uprising" was definitely the highlight of the night. Even more excellently, the amazing local band Sound of Thunder opened for them and got to play an extra long set (for a local band) so we got to hear a lot of their new music.

Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel, Nov. 2011, Ram's Head Live (Baltimore): It was great to see a legendary act like Anthrax in such a small venue. We were behind the pit but it still felt like up close and personal with metal history. Great show and massive pit. Was not a big fan of Testament before but I appreciate them more after seeing them live. We missed most of Death Angel but the song and a half that we did hear sounded good as well. (Thank goodness we didn't hear "Truce," it's an ok song but horribly overplayed on a certain xm radio station.)

Five Finger Death Punch, Hatebreed, All That Remains, Nov. 2011, Ram's Head Live (Baltimore): Hatebreed was the highlight of this show and restored my faith in metal (well, hardcore, so, um, music in general I guess) at a kind of low time in my life. Their music is so in-your-face yet also has a positive spin, I can't help but feel inspired by it (I mean, even their most famously brutal song, "Destroy Everything" goes, "Destroy everything...so a new life can begin"). Five Finger Death Punch and All that Remains were probably better than all right, but I wasn't feeling too great and don't really have a clear memory of how they sounded. Except I think this was the show where one of the singers said, "Let me hear all the ladies," and I went ROARRR and several people turned to look at me in surprise.

Korpiklaani, Arkona, Polkadot Cadaver, Dec. 15, 2011, Jaxx: I couldn't remember who the third band on this line-up was and when I googled it I realized why. I don't really care for Polkadot Cadaver at all, I think their music just sounds bad. No epic riffs, powerful vocals, or stellar guitars. We sat out their set. Arkona and Korpiklaani were great, though, of course. I spent most of Arkona's set in the pit, and most of Korpiklaani watching two bigheaded guys ruining the pit for everyone else (by the time it occurred to me to just get in their way and mess up their turning the pit into their personal duel, the set was winding down). And I got S injured in the pit when I dragged him in - oops :( Anyway, it was fun times but not quite as good as Alestorm or Blackguard, I think.