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