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 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.