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