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