Sunday, December 29, 2013

Concert Review - Finntroll, Blackguard, Metsatöll, March to Victory, Demiz, Burning Shadows - 12/9/13 at Cafe 611, Frederick, MD

Finally getting around to posting this. December has been rather weird - I managed to make myself feel overworked even though I didn't really have much on my plate, and as a result got almost nothing done. Going to have to plan better for January! Anyway, here's my review of the Finntroll show near the beginning of the month. Luckily I made some notes a few days after the show, otherwise I would have no idea what to say by this point.

So we already caught Finntroll and the other touring bands (as well as more awesome locals) on the first tour stop, but when we found out they were going to be hitting Cafe 611 in Frederick, we had to be there as well, cause Finntroll was sure to tear that place apart! And I'm sure glad we went, cause I had a much better time at this show than at the first one.

We tried to be there early, because like at the first show, a great line-up of local bands was opening. We got there about 7:30, and I went inside just in time to catch the last half, or third, or something of Burning Shadows's last song. I was just getting my layers off (it had snowed the day before) and was just getting into their thundering power metal riffs when they finished and bade the crowd good night :(

As soon as I got inside, I saw that band wasn't set up on the usual tiny stage, but on the left side of floor, spreading into the room back where the second (rarely open) bar is. We had wondered how Finntroll was going to fit on that tiny stage. Now it turned out that apparently they were going to share the floor with us instead :D

The next local band to come on was Demiz, a death metal band from Baltimore. I saw them open for The Agonist over the summer and had been trying to catch them again since then. They got me headbanging with their fast blackened death metal sound. The vocals were indecipherable, and I didn't catch any song titles. My favorite song of the set was "Last Stand" with its melodic, Amon Amarthy lead. That was the only song with much melody to it, but  I picked up their cd afterward (way afterward, just as they were trying to leave), and they sound much more melodic on the cd, with pretty killer solos as well.

Next was another death metal band, March to Victory  from Pennsylvania. They played the same songs as all the other times we've seen them: "Deadly Venom," "Funeral Blizzard Beast" (I think I finally got the title right!), "Consumption," "Soulless" and a cover of Death's "The Philosopher." They were not as fast and furious as Demiz but had more of a rumbling groove. My favorite song of the set was "Consumption" with its very headbangable grooves. Unfortunately they didn't have any merch, otherwise I would have gotten a cd.

Like last time, I was most looking forward to Estonian folk metal band Metsatöll - but I missed their first song (I think it was "Küü") because there was drama and I was talking to my brother in the bathroom. (And yeah, that works.) When we came out, they were playing "Kivine Maa." We started out very close to speakers on the left side. It didn't seem that loud, but later my left ear hurt - oops, now I may have destroyed both ears (the other one was already destroyed by listening to an earbud all day at work). Then they played a song about enslaving women or something, which was insidiously catchy. I started jostling H, and a guy in a kilt said, "We can make it that kind of show!" He became the pit boss for the night and kept things nice and folky. After that I think they played "Vaid Vaprust," which is a great song but too slow for moshing, but after that I got in pit. From the middle of the floor, I got to glimpse Lauri "Varulven" Õunapuu playing the kannel, which is a type of zither. (I shook hands with him later and babbled in a pit-drunk way, and got told for calling it "kantele" - "It's kannel. It's Estonian, not Finnish."). Again they ended the set with "Metsaviha Part 2" and it was even more intense this time - maybe because it was a more intimate setting, and I was in the middle of crowd, clapping along and getting mesmerized by the rhythm. Most of Blackguard came onstage to do backing vocals with them, then they went off, then Paul came back on and stayed for the rest of the song. Then they went off. It seemed like a shorter set than at Empire - we couldn't figure out the setlist afterward to compare (even though someone picked up the actual setlist, I don't think they played those songs in that order). For that reason I was a little disappointed, since I had been looking forward to another long set from Metsatöll.

Canadian symphonic/melodic death metal band (and erstwhile folk metal band) Blackguard was on next, and they sounded way better than at Empire. I think they played the same songs as at the first show, but in a slightly different order - I know there was "Wastelands," "Scarlet to Snow," "Northern Storm," "This Round's on Me," "Firefight," and they ended with another new one, "Dying Season." S hurt his nose headbanging in the pit during "Wastelands" - I think he bashed his head right into someone. It was pretty fun to hear a few of their old folk metal songs and get a bit of a folk pit going.

Finally Finntroll came out, in elf ears as at Empire, and with much more ridiculous face paint - the singer had huge swathes of black paint like Abbath of Immortal. I had so much fun during their set, dancing in the pit and pushing people around, but mainly dancing. Empire used to be the place for folk pits, but I think Cafe 611 may be taking over that title; pits at Empire are getting too brutal. People were pretty rowdy at this show, too, but there were a lot more jig circles than crazy melees. The singer of Finntroll commented that we weren't very good at moshing, but we were dancing our butts off :P He called for a wall of death for one song, that was probably the biggest and most brutal pit, but pretty short lived. I still don't recognize many Finntroll songs, but they sounded good. They had less the look of trolls partying in the forest, and more of trolls partying in a small club, probably due to the fact that they were not really on a stage at all, just sort of in a corner of the room. And we found out that the guy who looked kind of un-Finnish was Brandon Ellis of Arsis, filling in on guitar.

So, it was definitely worth it to go see this tour a second time. Besides the fact that we were celebrating my brother's birthday, it was way more fun than the first show. Definitely hope more folk metal acts will hit up Cafe 611 if this is the kind of crowd we can expect.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Concert Review - Alestorm, TrollfesT, Gypsyhawk, Fallen Martyr - 12/4/13 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

Alestorm is one of my favorite bands to see live, so I was pretty stoked to see them doing a headline North American tour. The show was the night before my brother's birthday, so it was supposed to be a birthday celebration for him, too, but he ended up not being able to make it.

At first I was disappointed about the line-up - compared to Finntroll's stellar line-up, Alestorm's seemed especially lame. I had seen TrollfesT at this year's Paganfest, and while they were decent live, I still can't get into their chaotic, brassy sound. I wasn't too familiar with Gypsyhawk but what I'd heard about them - slow, stonerish - didn't make me want to find out more. But the uninteresting openers turned out to be a boon - it meant I didn't have to change my work hours at the library. After working at the library and getting changed at S's place (and scarfing down a burger) we headed to Baltimore.

We got there just as the rotund singer was setting up a wall of death for "Rundt Bålet." The floor wasn't that full, but a solid number of people lined up and the ensuing pit was actually pretty intense. The song itself featured a catchy polka melody played at a wild pace, which I have to admit got me bobbing my head and looking a little enviously at the pit. We saw the singer of Alestorm on floor taking part in a jig, and I felt happy knowing this crowd knew how to do a proper folk pit. Then TrollfesT ended their set with "Helvetes Hund GARM," where they had everyone bark like dogs. There were about a zillion people on stage - including people playing with a vacuum cleaner and a broom, a girl twirling an umbrella, Alestorm's singer with a tambourine, and other band members with maracas. Like last time, TrollfesT ended up being bearable, even kind of catchy, live; I didn't mind being there for their last two songs.

Not too long afterward, Alestorm came out. They didn't seem very loud, yet they seemed to be overwhelming the speaker system - they sounded fuzzy and feedbacky for the more intense parts, such as in "The Quest" and in "Death Throes of the Terrorsquid." The melodies and vocals were nice and clear though. Th pit was energetic, even a little too rowdy - the headbanging line was stumbling about during "Nancy the Tavern Wench," and there was moshing during the chorus of "Captain Morgan's Revenge."

They started out with "The Quest," which is not a song that I'm super familiar with, so I hung back. Then they launched into "The Sunk'n Norwegian" and I had to go jump around in the pit for the chorus. They played a new song, "Surf Squid Warfare," which was all right, with some fun melodies and a kind of slow chorus. I thought it might end up like "Leviathan," another song with a slowish chorus that I didn't dig too much at first, but ending up being one of my favorites. They did play the "In the Navy" cover as expected, which was fun. During "Terrorsquid," local Ethan Looney ("Admiral Derek") got onstage to do black metal vocals, which sounded great. There were a couple instrumental interludes. Besides the volume issues, Alestorm sounded great and delivered a great time. At the end of "Rum" (the last song of the encore), the singer jumped onto crowd declaring "Take me to the bar!" He got as far as pit, the crowd wavered, and then they pushed him back to stage.

Overall it was a fun time. I had been worried about the pit, because the pits at folk metal shows seem to be getting more brutal and less folky recently, but this one was pretty good. There was a guy trying to run the pit who did a pretty good job at getting people to mosh and jig in the right places. The pit was rather more open than I like, since in a pit with a lot of open space it's easy for a small person like me to get knocked down, so I didn't go in as much as I would have liked. Still, it was certainly fun enough, and Alestorm sounded great and had good energy.

Afterward we managed to spot the singer of Alestorm on the floor again, shook hands and took a photo.

Next show: Finntroll, Blackguard, Metsatöll, take 2, on Monday in Frederick (also my brother's birthday fiesta, take 2). With local openers Burning Shadows, Demiz, and March to Victory! Looking forward to an awesome night.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Concert Review - Rob Zombie, Scar the Martyr - 11/27/13 at 930 Club, Washington, DC

We were lucky enough to get a one-off show of just Rob Zombie and Scar the Martyr at 930 Club, right after they ended their tour with Korn. I mainly wanted to go to this show to see Scar the Martyr. They're surprisingly metal, considering they consist of the drummer from Slipknot, guitarists from Darkest Hour and (formerly) Strapping Young Lads, a guy from Nine Inch Nails on keyboards and an unknown singer. Now I don't hate Slipknot like some metalheads, but they're not metal, so I was pretty shocked to find that the drummer's side project is so guitar-heavy and headbangable. Add to that the fact that most new bands coming into the mainstream "metal" scene aren't nearly this metal, and so I was quite impressed with this band's sound. And then of course, I figured this was probably my one chance to see this group live, since most of the members are in other bands and so they might not tour again.

Since I'm a superstar at the library who always gets her work done quickly, I got to take the day off, which allowed me (and S) to get to the venue well in time to see Scar the Martyr's set. I was not a superstar at keeping up with my National Novel Writing Month word count goals, though (hey, 4,000 words a day when you have two jobs and a kid is hard!) so I had to spend the metro ride and all the down time between sets writing on my phone. Thank goodness I have a phone with email now!

Not too long after we got there, Scar the Martyr came out to a surprising amount of applause from the crowd (and it was already quite crowded, too). I guess they had more fans than one would expect for a new band, maybe because of their famous members. I would have been more excited if I hadn't been so worried about my word count, and if I had actually been able to hear them. All we could hear was bass, and it was way too loud, causing feedback. The resulting effect was something like the heavily distorted bass thunder of harsh industrial music - I don't know if that was intentional, to make them fit more with Zombie's industrial sound. It was rather disappointing, though - not to mention a little bland - not to be able to hear the guitars except for a short solo. The vocals were pretty clear, and reminded me at times of Marilyn Manson, HIM and Mr. Lordi, further emphasizing the goth/industrial vibe. Their single, "Blood Host," sounded decent, but the guitars were still too low. They played it faster than on the album, and the guitarists seemed to have trouble doing the back-up vocals at that pace. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed that during what may have been my only chance to see this group, I didn't really get to hear about half of the band.

Between sets, S may have had an exchange with Zombie's bassist Piggy D - a guy with uneven shoulder-length hair and a punkish outfit walked by, and S remarked that he looked like Nikki Sixx. The guy heard him and said no way, he was better looking. S agreed and they exchanged a few more words and took a photo. The guy had a badge, but at the time we couldn't figure out who he was - only later by looking at photos did S figure out he might have been Piggy D.

After a few hundred more words, Rob Zombie (and his band) emerged. I was not too excited about seeing them, and had even considered leaving early to write, since we just saw them at Mayhem Fest and I'm not really a huge Zombie fan. (They're good, but for whatever reason don't get me as pumped as KMFDM or VNV Nation, among other goth/industrial acts.) But just like at Mayhem Fest, the energetic music, costume changes and stage props kept me amused. In contrast to Scar the Martyr, their sound was perfect. There weren't as many (or as enormous) props as at Mayhem Fest (Rob Zombie remarked that they didn't even know how to play club shows anymore and would probably hurt themselves if they tried to do the things they usually do) but Zombie did have a couple different microphones and threw giant balloons into the crowd for one song. A pit broke out right in front of us for the first song (which was surprising since we were on the side and a little toward the back) then moved to the center of the floor. There was a little more moshing after that, and the crowd also jumped energetically on a few songs. Without his giant props to ride around on, Rob Zombie pulled out his dance moves instead; they weren't really impressive. Also, during the guitar solo, he came out into the crowd and stood on the bar shining a flashlight over the crowd, drawing the crowd's attention to him, which I thought was a kind of jerkish move, when the guitarist was supposed to be enjoying the crowd's attention during his solo. Overall, though, I enjoyed the set much more than I expected, and did not mind staying till the end.

Surprisingly, I felt pretty good about the night, in spite of the fact that Scar the Martyr, the band I had really wanted to see, was less than great, and my word count was also hopelessly lacking (I ended the night about 800 words short). What can I say, I guess Rob Zombie really does put on a stupendous show!

Next concert: Alestorm on Weds for my brother's birthday!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Concert Review - Slayer, Gojira, 4Arm - 11/19/13 at the Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD

So, everyone I knew was really excited about this concert. I was not, because going to this meant missing the Overkill/ Kreator/ A Sound of Thunder show on Friday, which had been on my calendar for months, and for which I had already promised to start a pit for ASOT's "Blood Vomit." So ever since realizing this conflict, I had been cursing "F**king Slayer" all over the place. Because I had never seen Slayer, and figured I needed to before my chance is gone.

Add to that the scheduling nightmare that is my three-job-single-parent life, and I was not a happy camper long before the day of the show.

Day of I actually started to feel better - the sheer excitement of just getting to leave normal life behind for a few hours and go to a show got me feeling a bit amped as I was driving from my second work shift of the day to the venue. But I had hardly gotten inside before my mood turned down again. The place was already packed and it was only the middle of 4Arm's set. With all my energy having been channeled into the two demanding intellectual projects that loom over the rest of my workload, I had nothing to offer anyone around me - I didn't want to see, hear or talk to anyone, not even people I knew. I just wanted to get my food from the bar, see Gojira's set and go take a nap.

I glanced at 4Arm as I waited to place an order for chicken in waffles (yes, that's what it was actually called, and yes, the chicken was literally in the waffle dough itself). 4Arm was fast, thundering thrash that made the bar shake, a pretty good distraction from hunger and from the annoyance of being surrounded by people.

After they stopped shaking the walls, I was able to place my order and then some obligatory hellos were said. S talked to people and I watched the sign that displays the numbers for food orders. I finally got my food...right as Gojira took the stage, of course. They were louder and heavier than I expected - perhaps a side effect of the place being tuned for thundering thrash metal that night - and also had a much stronger groove than you get from listening to their recordings. Their performance of "Flying Whales" turned out to be possibly the heaviest thing I've ever heard (and I'm comparing this to bands like Suicide Silence). To my disappointment, the weird guitaring at the beginning that sounds like whalesong wasn't audible, but in the bridge near the end, I could just pick them out, like a whale struggling in a net of riffs, and then something that I can only refer to as a bass drop flattened the place. It was the heaviest matter in the universe, for sure. Next or shortly thereafter they played "L'Enfant Sauvage," a song from their new album that gets a lot of radio play, but that I never really got into. Live it sounded pretty cool, though - the whimsical little melodies and the tribal rhythm of the drums definitely gave it the feeling of a "wild child" running free. Later on I heard someone talking about them and saying they had sounded better somewhere else, and that's probably true - at this venue, the subtleties of their music were drowned out in the loudness and heaviness. Still, having never seen them before, I enjoyed this taste of their live sound.

After their set, people started surging off the floor toward the bars and bathrooms, and my frayed nerves found the constant contact incredibly irritating, so I tried to stake out a spot by a pillar at the back where no would need to brush past me, but as the floor filled up again it started to be so crowded that even there people were pushing past me. By the time Slayer started, I was so fed up with I thought I might punch anyone (besides S) who spoke to or touched me. Perhaps I should have gone in the pit to vent my frustration - but I probably wouldn't have emerged in one piece, considering the number of football-player types at the show and the intensity of the music. Besides, as I've said before, it's not right to be angry in the pit.

Slayer finally started, and they were, from an objective standpoint, amazing. I don't listen to Slayer enough to really judge, but as far as I could tell they were spot on musically; they were loud and intense, and augmented the effect with blistering strobe light effects that might as well have been machine gun fire. I swear they played even faster than their recordings - amazing that after over 30 years they can still produce that kind of ferocity. The effect of the upside down crosses hanging at angle, which made it look as though they were diving toward the ground, was pretty cool, too. In a better mood, I might have had a great time. As it was, I bobbed my head to some particularly catchy moments, but mostly stood there waiting for it to be over. With the crowd and the lights and the moshing, it was like standing in a sauna. Finally I excused myself to the bathroom, and sat downstairs for most of the second half of the set. Then, I heard the opening chords of "Raining Blood," and S texted me about the same, and I knew I couldn't miss this - so I went upstairs and stood just back from the door - away from the crowd - and caught the last part of the song. I joined S on the floor for the encore - "South of Heaven" and "Angel of Death." I don't get "South of Heaven"; it sounds like the wimpy cousin of "Raining Blood." But "Angel of Death" was intense.

Even though I hated being there, I'm glad I went, and not just because now I can check seeing Slayer off my bucket list. They were phenomenal; of the three of the Big Four that I've seen (Megadeth and Anthrax being the others) they by far put on the most vicious and merciless show. I'm a little disappointed actually that my bad mood prevented me from enjoying them. But at least I enjoyed Gojira, so the evening wasn't a total downer.

Next show: Rob Zombie and Scar the Martyr on 11/27, I hope!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Concert Review - Finntroll, Blackguard, Metsatöll, Yesterday's Saints, Sekengard - 11/4/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Finally getting around to this :/ Work has been pretty much eating me alive this month, never mind trying to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month. Mix in a devastating cold, and you get me, too busy to even check email and so singleminded about work that I forgot to make my daughter do her homework all last week. Oops.

Anyway, so this being the second show of this epic fall of folk metal (kicked off the week before with Arkona) and featuring a pretty kick-ass line-up, I was looking forward to this evening greatly. While there were a few disappointing moments, the show actually exceeded my expectations in many key ways, and I'm still super excited about seeing the whole touring line-up again in December at Cafe 611!

First of all (and irrelevant to most of my readers, sorry) there were tons of people I knew, and not just that but so many close friends or people I want to be close friends with, that it was hard to decide who to talk to between sets! I find being a social butterfly pretty damn exhausting so please pardon me if I did not give you, dear reader, the attention you felt you deserved. Even if you only got a hug, I was super stoked to see you :)

We were planning to get there early to catch the first local opener, Maryland's own folk metal band Sekengard for their first ever show. The need to acquire healthful nourishment from a certain store across the way, rather than eating Empire's heavy pub fare, infringed slightly on that - fellow Dove crewmember L and I got into Empire during Sekengard's first song. They sounded very on top of things for their first show, with pretty good sound quality and no obvious goofs to the untrained ear. They also got a great reaction from crowd. Granted, everyone on the floor at that point probably knew at least one person in the band, but still, you don't get that excited about your friend's band unless they actually do sound really good. The violin was pretty dominant in their sound, and I couldn't hear the mandolin except for a brief "solo." Guitars don't seem to be their strong point - there was not much of interest going on there. Sarah (also the fiddler) provided strong vocals - not the prettiest, but powerful. My favorite of theirs was undoubtedly the polka - it showed off Sarah's virtuosic fiddling, especially as they kept increasing and increasing the pace.

Next up were Yesterday's Saints, who I had just seen for the first time opening for Arkona. They sounded much better than at Cafe 611. My impression was that they're kind of like Arsis, melodic but brutal, and rather groovy. Among the guttural growls, the vocalist threw in some clean vocals, which sounded a little strained. Their last song, "Cain something" (I kept thinking Cain's Offering but no, that's a band) brought the epic - like Amon Amarth meets Arsis. I definitely should have gotten into these guys a lot sooner.

I had been looking forward to seeing North Carolina Viking metal outfit Aether Realm bring their epic melodic riffs to Empire for the first time in ages, but apparently they cancelled at the last minute. (I think Sekengard even did a shoutout for them, unaware they weren't coming, and I wasn't sure until after a chat with Paul of Blackguard.)

Estonian folk metal band Metsatöll quickly erased any disappointment about the missing band. I first became acquainted with them when they opened for Korpiklaani last year, and admired the solemn vocals, which are distinctly similar to what I know of actual Baltic folk singing. With this show, my appreciation of them deepened. I've been telling everyone recently that I'm really digging metal with prominent, authentic folk elements, and Metsatöll has that - they even had an actual kantele (a zither used in the Baltic region, called kandled in Estonian) which is the first time I've seen one of those on a metal stage. They were much more impressive overall this time - they played a more inspiring set, and had a much stronger and heavier sound and stage presence. They played a surprisingly long set for a third slot band, but I wasn't complaining! They started out with faster songs, and I started a pit which got unexpectedly big and crazy - after getting pushed three people deep into the crowd I decided to stand aside. After a few fast songs, there was the obligatory sing-along segment, and then they launched into "Merehunt," which unfortunately sounded a mess in the beginning (it got better though). A bit after that, they began bringing in slower songs like "Kui meid sõtta sõrmitie" (I'm not great at naming their songs, but I recognize that one because one of the words sounds like "kalarätti," which would mean "fish-rag" in Finnish XD). I feel like they played a lot from Hiiekoda, but that may just be because that's the album I have. Further on in the set, they played a song with a lot of starts and stops, sudden changes in rhythm and sudden furious moments, which I think was "Alle-aa." I saw someone about to start a pit and then get confused by the rhythmic changes. Of course they played "Vaid Vaprust" and "Muhu Õud" (with uber-deep vocals done by the folk-instrument-player), and probably some other songs I should have recognized. They ended with "Metsaviha" (part 2, I believe) which had a really cool segment where three band members used their voices to create an effect like throat singing, with a low undulating undertone over which the lead singer sang the lyrics (or who knows, one of them may have been actually throat singing). Overall, I found the set extremely satisfying in both the folk and metal elements - the folk parts weren't just decoration, but permeated the band's whole sound and essence, and yet there were also thundering headbang- and moshable parts. They were definitely my favorite band of the night.

They were followed by Blackguard, usually one of my favorite bands since they taught me to mosh and were pretty awesome the last couple times we saw them. It seemed like they played a shorter set than Metsatöll, only seven or eight songs (also, Metsatöll's set seemed extremely long, almost like a headlining set). The mix for Blackguard was totally off in the beginning - I couldn't hear the lead guitar or symphonics, and vocals were pretty low too. It was so bad that S and I couldn't even recognize the first song. It took them a couple more songs to fix the sound, and by then they had already played "Wastelands" (one of our favorite songs) and were halfway through "Scarlet to Snow." The poor sound and their song choices from Profugus Mortis (besides "Scarlet," they played "In Time" and "This Round's on Me") dampened my excitement. They played two new songs which sounded pretty good, though not as great as the one we heard before. They ended with "Firefight," which finally got me excited enough to push some people around. They had two substitute musicians - bass and lead guitar (because the bassist left and Louis Jacques, their "new" lead guitarist, was sick). The lead guitar sounded a little different, maybe a little uncoordinated - but then again it was that fill-in guitarist's first show with the band (I can't remember whether he's the one who's Paul's brother). L pointed out they've played here a ton, so they may have been trying to give fans something they hadn't heard live before (or in a while). Still, I think I would have preferred to hear "Allegiance" or "The Sword," again.  

And then finally to round out the night, Finntroll. They sounded great.  I realized that their sound is more jazzy or a  dark carnival sound than the polka one expects based on "Trollhammaren" (my first and deepest impression of the band). Still, the energetic, heavy, mischievous sound combined with their pointy ears and pale, black-streaked make-up made them look and sound just like a bunch of trolls having a party in the woods. They seemed to play a lot from Blodsvept, at least at the beginning. I was surprised how few Finntroll songs I can recognize - "Solsagan," "Under Bergets Rot" and "Trollhammaren" were the only ones I could pick out for sure. They also played my favorite song, "Jakten's Tid," but there were no joik vocals, which are my favorite part (or they were on backing track which was lost in the rest of the sound). L planned on instigating a wall of death for "Trollhammaren," but the singer called for one for "Skövlarens Död," I think, and also goaded the moshers. There was a little bit of jigging but mostly a rather brutal pit, for folk metal, and people linking arms in long rows and swinging around the pit - it was much too dangerous for me. I was rather disappointed about that, since the folk pit is usually one of the best parts of a folk metal show. I had so much more fun at Arkona.

In fact, that was the feeling I left with - it was a good night, with good music and fun people, but I definitely enjoyed Arkona more. The best part was probably getting to see a long, awesome set from Metsatöll, and the worst, being disappointed with Blackguard. Hopefully the show at Cafe 611 will only improve on this one!

Next show: Fucking Slayer, with Gojira, at that place in Silver Spring.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Concert Review - Arkona, Fallen Martyr, Yesterday's Saints, Burning Shadows, Vitality, Divine Conspiracy - 10/28/13 at Cafe 611, Frederick, MD

This was the first stop of Russian folk metal band Arkona's headline world tour. I was super excited to see them play a whole set. We've seen them open for bigger folk metal acts, but their set has always been short and rushed. Not only that, but since they were playing at Cafe 611, a tiny venue with a stage barely raised off the floor and barely big enough to hold a band, I knew we would be up close and personal with the band - especially Masha, the singer, who is one of my metal idols.

There was a pretty strong line-up of local bands warming up the crowd - the downside to that being that the show ran about an hour late, and so an already late start time for Arkona was pushed back to about midnight. We planned to get there sometime during Vitality's set in order to make sure to see Burning Shadows, but when we arrived sometime after 8, the first band was just going on >.<

The set-up was also interesting, because Arkona's drum kit had already been set up and was taking up about half the stage, which meant that for most of the opening bands, their drum kit took up the other half of the stage, the guitarists stood on the sides, and the singer was on the floor with the crowd - sometimes in the crowd. In fact, the first band had all their equipment set up right on the floor.

The first band was Divine Conspiracy, a three piece outfit. I heard people saying that it was their first show, and I believe the singer backed up when I talked to him later. Just as we came in, they launched into something very punk rock sounding. Then they did a System of a Down cover, which I didn't really listen to. I believe their third song was an original, and it sounded pretty energetic, although I couldn't hear much other than the bass. When I could hear it, the lead guitar (played by the singer) sounded pretty great. They ended with a Slayer-paced cover of Pantera's "Fucking Hostile"; the singer/guitarist's speedy playing was a little more audible in this song. He definitely has skills, but they need to work on their sound mixing.

Next was Vitality, whom I had somehow mentally confused with Vital Remains. Once they took the stage, though, it was immediately clear that they look and sound completely different from that band. As soon as they launched into fast melodic riffs and aggressive vocals alternating between a high rasp and guttural growl, I wondered how come I never heard of them before. I was also amazed at the low growls emerging from the rather diminutive and normal-looking singer - although I really should know better than to judge by appearances! S kept comparing them to Black Dahlia Murder, and I can see the comparison in terms of style, but their pace was more moderate than BDM's frenzy. They only played three songs. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of them.

Then came Burning Shadows, a power metal band that I've been trying to see for years. We always seemed to arrive too late to shows they were playing, but this time we finally made it. They started off with something from their latest album, Gather Darkness - I think it may have been "A New Dark Age." They played three songs total, and they all seemed rather long. When listening to the album Gather Darkness, I found the vocals a bit overly pompous, but this effect was diminished in the live setting, and they had some headbang-inspiring thundering power metal bridges. There was a headbanging section on the left side of the floor that was pretty into their music; I might have been up there too if I hadn't been hanging out with people. They exceeded my expectations, so I hope it's not years before I see them again.

After that was Yesterday's Saints, another band we've been trying to see for a while. During their set, we moved to the floor and I tried out wearing earplugs, since S insisted I would need them if I wanted to go up close for Arkona. The earplugs were a terrible experience - as I expected, everything sounded muffled, the singer's voice sounded distant, the bass was just a blur of low noise and I couldn't hear the guitar at all. By the end of the set I decided I wasn't going to waste my time not hearing the music and took them out. Even without earplugs, though, the bass and guitar sounded like a confused roar, and the singer's vocals were so low, he might as well have been singing without a mic. I heard him complaining about the sound afterward and I don't blame him. Fortunately he had a powerful voice, both for growls and clean vocals, so I was able to hear him, but the vocals didn't quite have the bad-ass or soaring effect, respectively, that they would have if the volume matched the instruments. They played three songs total, including a new song that the singer warned might not be quite polished, but at the least it didn't sound any worse than the rest of the set. The singer got into the crowd a couple times, and even tried to start a pit at one point, but people didn't seem to be having it. It was kind of a disappointing experience with the earplugs and the sound issues, since it seemed like some cool heavy stuff was going on. I guess we have to continue our quest and try to see Yesterday's Saints again, without sound problems.

The last local band was Fallen Martyr, which, ironically in contrast to the previous two elusive bands, is a band that I have seen several times and have never been able to get into. This time, though, I was actually able to enjoy their set a little. I'm not sure if it was that I got drunk during their set, that I'm finally getting used to the agonized vocals or that said vocals were being halfway drowned out by the guitars (which, by the way, are excellent and are Fallen Martyr's saving grace). I think they played four songs; the first was "Soul Left Bare" (whose chorus is among the more bearable of their songs and always makes me think of Paradise Lost's "Faith Divides Us...Death Unites Us" just because of the lyrics) and the last was "Body of Light" (whose repetition of the words "I rise" led me to troll S with talk of the Batman).

During Fallen Martyr's set, a guy came up to me and asked me, in all seriousness, if I was Masha and said I looked just like her. Best compliment I've ever gotten :D \m/

And then at last Arkona. As soon as the sweeping intro started, I totally forgot the lateness of the hour. I had worried that the folk instruments or melodies might be drowned out on Cafe 611's sound system, which is usually tuned to rumble as though made for bass-heavy death metal bands, but in fact they sounded perfectly clear, at least from the center of the floor, front to back. I spent some time getting as close to the stage (and Masha) as possible, but much more starting mosh pits and jigs. There was a core of three or four guys and three other girls who could be relied on to get moving when the music got fast or polka-y. Most of the crowd pressed up to the front of the floor, leaving the pit in the back; I never did get all the way up to front like I hoped.

They started off fast and heavy with "Arkaim" and I couldn't resist pushing a friend around and starting a pit. That song has some great headbanging grooves, too, and Masha got everyone clapping for the more melodic parts. While the crowd wasn't the loudest, they were very willing to clap, fistpump and shout "Hey!" (and the band had us doing a lot of all three, so much my arms are still sore) and the crowd even sang along and jumped along with the band for some parts. The floor was about half full, but people were packed pretty tightly up at the front. The sound was perhaps not quite as rich as their recent live album Decade of Glory with its backing choir and orchestra, but this was a tiny venue in Frederick after all. The guitars were heavy, thundering in the fast parts; the bagpipes and recorder melodies floated over them nice and clear; and Masha's vocals were commanding or naturally beautiful, depending on the circumstance. It is pretty amazing how the band can go from flowing folk singing and wind melodies to black-metal-like furious guitars and drums and dark, harsh vocals; I think the variety, along with the earthy feel of the folk parts and the intensity of the harsh parts, is one of the reasons I like Arkona so much. They played most of the "classics" people would expect like "Goi, Rode Goi," "Slavsia, Rus," "Arkona," "Yarilo," and "Stenka na Stenku" as well as "Maslenitsa," "Po Syroi Zemle," and "Slovo," with "Rus" and "Kupala i Kostroma" as the encore, and also some other songs I can't name off the top of my head. (Someone has posted a setlist.) About two thirds through the set, the rest of band took a break for a bagpipe solo. As at Paganfest last year, Masha called for a wall of death for "Stenka na Stenku"; unlike at Paganfest, this time she had time to make herself understood and so it actually happened. Even though I said beforehand that I didn't think I could orchestrate a wall of death, I did have to goad people to line up for it, and then finally took part in my first honest to god wall of death. A lot of people got into and fell down in the crazy pit right after that. I hope we did Masha proud :P

Masha was getting pretty pink by the end of the set, and on the last song ("Kupala i Kostroma") she sounded a bit weak - that was probably the only weak point in the whole set. It's got to be difficult performing under those lights in furs. I was a tiny bit disappointed that they didn't play "Pokrovy Nebesnogo Startsa" (a great moshing song) or "Vyidu ya na Volushku" (which has a lovely folksy melody) but I had such a great time with the songs they did play, I could hardly complain about missing songs. Actually, it seems like all the songs they played are on their Decade of Glory live album, which would make sense, if they consider those songs their "hits."

I realized it was a long time since the last folk metal show - even this year's Paganfest doesn't really count, since most of the bands were more epic-riff Viking metal rather than folk metal chock full of folk instruments and melodies - so it was a while since I'd experienced a good folk pit. Arkona was an awesome cure to that! The band put on a great show, and the crowd made it really fun too. Like the last show at Cafe 611, the local line-up was also solid, keeping me well entertained till the headliner finally came on. Now, I just wish I wasn't operating on 3 hours of sleep, still..

Next show: Next Monday - Finntroll, Blackguard, Metsatöll and more awesome locals! Another chance at Yesterday's Saints, as well as North Carolina vikings Aether Realm and a new folk metal band from Maryland, Sekengard.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Concert Review - Obituary, Strong Intention, Survive the Demise, Krass Judgment, March to Victory etc - 10/19/13 at Cafe 611, Frederick, MD

Finally getting around to posting this. Luckily I made notes the day after the show, but I have so much work now that I didn't get to type this up properly till now.

Not being otherwise occupied on a Saturday night, we decided to pop up to Frederick to see Obituary. We left rather late, after the kid's bedtime, so I didn't have much hope of catching any of the local bands opening for them. But as it turned out, we caught four of them...because there were no less than twelve bands performing. Yes, that's right, a solid 6+ hours of music before the headliner even came on. Needless to say, I didn't include everyone in the title, only the bands we actually saw, and I wasn't even able to tag everyone since blogger limits the tag field pretty severely >.<

I was glad we got there in time for Lancaster, PA death metal band March to Victory. We've seen them several times now and I enjoy their music. They sounded good - loud and groovy. They played the same songs as before, including the cover of Death's "Crystal Mountain." Having heard them play several times now, I was able to devote some attention to individual songs. I especially enjoyed "Funeral of Lizard Beast" (or is it "Funeral Blizzard Beast"? Not sure..) and "Consumption" for their groovy guitars. The vocals on "Consumption" were different from the others. On the other songs, Danielle, the vocalist, used a semi-intelligible growl, but for this song she alternated deeper guttural vocals and higher raspy vocals. "Soulless," meanwhile, was the song I enjoyed least; it was a bit slower and had some weird rhythms. I wonder if next time we'll get to hear some new material from these guys.

Based on the event's facebook page, we thought that Strong Intention would be on next, and then Obituary, but it turned out to be Krass Judgment who took the stage. They started out thrashy, then went into more of a rumbling death metal vibe with growled vocals. I thought they were pretty good - energetic and aggressive enough that I wondered no one started a pit - but S said they sounded better last time he saw them. I thought "Demon Bitch" was their best song. It had a frenetic hardcore pace, but with groove.

The next surprise was Survive the Demise from Western Maryland. I really enjoyed them. They seemed to play death metal with some clean vocals, and some melodic leads. There was one song I particularly liked, but totally can't remember the title, it was something Rotten, or something of that sort. After their set, I got really tired, which unfortunately wiped my memory of a lot of details about them.

Then finally Strong Intention came on. By then I was fed up with how the show kept going on and on, and also was totally not in the mood for hardcore. It was loud and fast and heavy, but didn't hold my interest at all. (I can see how people might mistake hardcore for metal now - they're both heavy and aggressive. But the guitars and vocals are so repetitive, I just can't get interested in the genre.) Strong Intention did have a few riffy, headbang-worthy moments, but mostly I zoned out, as much from tiredness and irritation as from not being to get into the music.

Obituary finally started sound checking a little before midnight (my phone had gone off, so I don't know the exact time). They were better than I expected. I had expected hardcore vocals with bland guitars (based on some album that S lent me a while ago..) but actually the vocals were more of a wet low growl. The guitars weren't amazing, but they changed pace frequently, from rumbling groove, to blast-beat-led frenzy, to oozing slow heaviness, so they held my interest pretty well. I was having a good time in spite of my tiredness, so we could have stayed later, but for the sake of making the next day's plans something like on time, we decided to leave around 12:40.

Despite the lateness and the mixed up line-up, I enjoyed most of the night. I got to hear March to Victory as well as some other local bands I hadn't heard before. Survive the Demise in particular I'll be following closely; hopefully they come back to play sometime soon. I'm really liking that Frederick is getting more strong shows like this, cause it means I can go out for a night of metal on the drop of a hat. In fact, my next show is also at Cafe 611: Arkona (Rus) there tomorrow! I can't wait to see Masha up close <3

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Concert Review - Primitivity - 10/16/13 at The Mansion (Strathmore), Bethesda, MD

I was not sure about going to this show, but after listening to Primitivity's new songs on their website, I made up my mind. I was mainly amazed by how closely they were able to mimic the sounds of electric guitar riffs and shredding on the cello, and the parts that actually sounded like cellos added a symphonic element, which I always love to hear in metal. I didn't want to miss seeing them live.

They played at the Mansion at Strathmore, which in case you don't know is not a usual metal venue ;) It's a small concert hall in what seems to be an old mansion, with ancient wood paneling and a fireplace behind the stage. There were about 100 chairs set up, and most of them were occupied when we got there right around 7:30 (advertised start time).

The band came out a few minutes after 7:30, and after a bit of tuning and fidgeting, launched into the first song of their new album. They announced at the start of the set that they would play the new album from start to finish, all original songs, no covers. It was nice that we got to hear all the new songs but "Symphony of Destruction" would have been cool as an encore! ;)

Live, they did not sound as much like electric guitars as on their recordings, perhaps because in a live environment, the textured sound of the cello is unavoidable. Quick staccato notes on the lowest string did sound like bass guitar riffs, there was a pizzicato part that was a bit guitar-like and some of the higher bowed notes did sound electronic, but not really like electronic guitar, but more like some other spacier instrument. For the most part it sounded like cellos played in a rock or metal style, which was still pretty cool.

I most enjoyed "Convergence" with its beautiful melody over a heavy background. "Pyscho Logic" was very riffy and got me nodding vigorously, almost really headbanging. "Emergence" also got very wild near the end. There were a few discordant moments during the set, and I was not sure if that was how it was supposed to be, or someone messed up. The musicians also hesitated a bit at the start of each song, as though not sure who should start - I suppose they might not be used to playing live, since I haven't heard of their shows before. At the end of the set, they played a "surprise" last song, "Prayer," the last track off their album, which was introduced as "acoustic." That didn't make sense until I realized they were playing without amplification, straight up chamber music style. All pretense at rock, metal or imitating electric guitars was gone; it was simply a cello triad, with the drummer beating on something that I couldn't see. "Prayer" was a very calming and mesmerizing piece - at first I thought I was getting sleepy, but what ended up happening is that I got sucked into the music.

Overall, I enjoyed the show. It was cool to see the dynamic between the band members - there seemed to be some competition between Loren and Devree (hope I'm getting the names right) in the fiercer moments -  and how they alternated leads - it seemed that Loren had most of the melodic leads, while a lot of the fierce ones and also a lot of the "bass guitar" like parts went to Devree. The drums seemed too loud at first, but when the cellos really got going it was fine. No one else was really moving. I saw a couple people slightly bobbing their heads, but I couldn't help bobbing energetically and even threw the horns a couple times (I mean, I'm sure the band wants us to show our appreciation, right?) and jostled Steve a few times. Everyone else seemed cowed by the proportion of old people and the formal surroundings. Still, it was a good turnout and very appreciative crowd, with vigorous clapping and cheering after each song and two standing ovations. I hope it encourages the band to perform more and keep going with original, metal compositions - hopefully next time to be aired somewhere we can move around a bit more ;)

I was also fortunate to have the chance to review the new album that they played at this show for DC Heavy Metal, so if you want to know more about what their songs sound like, go check it out!

Next show: Coheed and Cambria, for S's birthday, Monday

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Stitched Up Heart, Serpent Witch, Flag of the White Rose, Decimate the Tyrant, Transitshop, Valdesa - 10/12/13 at Cafe 611, Frederick, MD

I love shows in Frederick. I can roll out after my kid goes to bed and still get there in time for most of the bands, no guilt, no hassle, no long drive in traffic (not to mention Sheetz snacks after the show!). Case in point, on Saturday I caught a show at Cafe 611 that I probably wouldn't have been able to get to anywhere else.

One of my friends had been talking up local band Flag of the White Rose for some time, but I hadn't managed to see them. (Last time I tried, when I took my kid to a show called Face-Melting Friday at Sidebar, she got tired and we had to go home before they came on.) This time, S and I got to Cafe 611 in time for their last 4-5 songs - we came in to see a tall woman with a four or five inch mohawk stomping about the stage, belting out vocals while the guitars and drums galloped and thundered. I thought I had seen them described as melodic, but they actually had more of a heavy metal sound, with several galloping Iron Maiden moments. Kerri's vocals were powerful, with an old school vibe, and they were very refreshing compared to the simpering singing style (usually with insipid lyrics) that's popular now (I've been spending too much time lately in coffeeshops where bland pop is blasted so loud I'd have to destroy my ears to drown it out with good music on my headphones). Anyway, Flag of the White Rose covered a Judas Priest song, "Heading Out to the Highway," and it was quite obvious that Kerri follows in Halford's footsteps, with her brash, high-pitched vocals. (Someone knowledgeable about the band later confirmed that Halford is Kerri's biggest influence.) I enjoyed the Halford-style clean vocals, but their set did also have some moments of punkish shrieking that made my ears cringe. Kerri's look was also quite punk with the mohawk, a tight leather outfit, multiple metal-covered belts, and high boots draped in more metal. (Overall, I saw more mohawks in one place that night than at any other metal show.) The bassist was also dressed up with a police cap and studded belt, with the rest of the band appropriately, though less flamboyantly, dressed in black and bands shirts. I liked their look, and their overall stage presence was very energetic and cohesive. I was surprised to hear they've only been playing for a few months; they look and sound very together.

Later on, we met and talked with Kerri, and she was actually very jovial and friendly. 

After Flag of the White Rose was another local band, Serpent Witch. I saw them, for a few songs, at Face Melting Friday, where I was not too impressed with them - slow and with a stonerish vibe, which is one of the few metal genres I can't seem to get into. Indeed, they started out their set with a slow doomy vibe. They sounded much better and clearer than at Sidebar, but S and I both thought they should have a thicker, heavier sound to enhance the doom atmosphere. The (small, female) singer's vocals were also very strong and clear, rather strident for a doom band, and she was moving about vigorously. As the set went on, though, they picked up the pace and the doom vibe lessened until they were playing something more like heavy metal. S compared them to Pentagram - read his review for his full analysis of which old school bands each band sounded like. By the end of the set, I was actually enjoying their music since the whole band seemed to have picked up on the energy of the singer. Also, they had an old guy drummer whose delicate movements in the slower segments were amusing to watch.

The headliner was a band I had never heard of, Stitched Up Heart. As were all the bands in the venue that night, they were hanging out with the crowd in the back bar room, which was open this time (the front bar was closed). Unlike the other bands, they were attempting to smear everyone with the black face paint that they had daubed all over themselves. From their look - streaks of black paint, mohawks both stiffened and floppy, (old school) Hot Topic-esque outfits - I guessed they were going to play some sort of angsty music for teens. The drummer telling us about his adventures with Butcher Babies (and the fact he was wearing a Butcher Babies t-shirt) made me further uncertain about how much I would enjoy their set.

But they were actually a lot of fun. Perhaps not the way a band that courts darkness wants to be described, but that was my overwhelming impression: fun. They were catchy and dynamic, with perfect delivery and stage presence - lots of jumping and dramatic guitar swinging. At the start of the set, the bassist (and perhaps also the guitarist?) somehow flung baby powder into the air, maybe from his hair, which created a cool effect, like he was emanating smoke, though the smell lingered for a bit. The band's sound was heavy with an insistent beat - suitable for dancing or headbanging - but not very audible guitar, save for a few solos and bridges. S critiqued the guitar; personally, I thought it was passable, especially since it was obviously not a prominent part of their sound. They turned out to basically be screamo but with bearable vocals - clear soulful pop vocals with occasional harsh screams, and not an overload of whininess. When she addressed the audience, the singer used a sing-song, mechanical, doll-like voice as did the singer of One-Eyed Doll when we saw them. They played a somewhat short set, and at the end, the singer sprinted to bathroom while the rest of band hid behind their merch table as the crowd chanted "encore!" There was no encore, however; that was the end of the show.

I was very glad I went. I finally got to hear (and be impressed with) Flag of the White Rose, I improved my opinion of Serpent Witch, and had a great time during Stitched Up Heart's highly energetic set. I can't say I've become a converted fan of any except the first band, but at least it was fun.

Next show: Tomorrow! Primitivity. Playing Megadeth on four cellos.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Concert Review - My Enemy Complete, Rites of Ash, Technophobia, Stars and the Sea - 9/27/13 at Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

So this is the second show in a row where I just made it for the headliner. I had hoped to make it for Technophobia, since they are supposed to be some sort of industrial (I think), but I couldn't get out of the house on time. As it was, we got to Ottobar about ten minutes before My Enemy Complete went on.

My Enemy Complete plays a blend of industrial and metal (my favorite parts) with anguished clean vocals and more recently, lots of synth. Ever since finding out about them when I met the vocalist, Bilaal, at an industrial club a couple years ago, I've been bugging  him to make the music heavier and harder hitting. Their songs have always had great industrial/metal intros, but quieted down significantly once the vocals kicked in.

Still, the band seems to keep getting better each time I see them. Last time I saw them, at the goth/industrial club Zero, I thought they sounded significantly louder and heavier before, and I thought so this time as well. This time even the quieter segments and songs held my interest (mostly - I was pretty tired, too). Not only that, but for a streak of two or three songs in the beginning, the instrumentals were especially heavy. It quickly became clear to me that songs were Bilaal plays guitar along with Carlo tended to be heavier. The song "Memory Cell" stood out as the end of this streak, but even though it was not very heavy, it had a catchy synthpop vibe that kept things interesting. There were more heavy songs as the set went on, including one with an especially groovy and headbangeable intro. (I wish I was better at identifying their songs - now that I finally have an MEC cd, I might improve.)

As far as I can tell, they played all or most of their new album - they certainly played "Defragment," "Silent Compromise," "Fifteenth Night," "Memory Cell," and "Where Are You Now." Just before their set I managed to catch Bilaal and exchange a few words; he said something like, "We're playing a long set - twelve songs." He seemed a little worried about the band's stamina for such a marathon, but they seemed to do fine, sounding just as strong on the last song as the first.

They had a deal where if you bought two tickets ahead of time, you got their new album for free, so I did that - got a ticket for my friend K and got the cd. It's good - I might write more about it later.

Next show: Probably Coheed and Cambria on S's birthday :)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Concert Review - Vektor, Earthling, Borracho, Midnight Eye, Asthma Castle - 9/26/13 at Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD

I headed over to DC Heavy Metal's 4th Anniversary Party after a meeting in Edgewater, and got there just in time to see the headliner, science fiction themed thrash band Vektor. (But I like to tag everyone for future reference - "I coulda seen those guys, but...")  And I'm sure glad I made the effort - it was worth the long night and the frantic change of clothes at a friend's house, and a great start to a three night streak of concerts.

 I wouldn't call myself a giant thrash fan, but I definitely appreciate a good thrash show for the intense aggressive energy that the band and the audience put out - and Vektor was one of the best thrash shows I've seen. They started off with a pensive quiet melody that reminded me of old Metallica, then launched into thundering thrash riffs that sounded great on Fillmore's superb sound system. Immediately a good sized pit broke out, and even with fries in hand it was impossible not to headbang to the earthshaking riffs. The wall of sounded subsided a bit for a great solo. Vektor's thrash has a fair bit of melody, and the science fiction themes and spacey moments also give it a unique flavor. The lighting - battle stations red, deep space blue, mystical white - also helped create the sf mood. And the singer brought the 80's into the house with his cloud of curly hair, cut into bangs in the front, and his tank top and tight jeans. (I can't see skinny jeans on guys and not think of 80's thrash metal.) My favorite song was probably the third or fourth song, "Hunger for Violence." It started off sounding like battleships pulverizing each other, or giant war machines marching over the earth - and then it got really crazy, like the mecha pilots had been knocked off their proverbial horses and were locked in melee combat.

Metal Chris uploaded a video of "Hunger for Violence." If you crank the volume to 11 you can get some idea of how it sounded!

 Toward the end of the set, they had a slow, spacey segment that evoked the reaches of the deep ocean - or deep space - with its extended, wavering notes. The lighting, with its myriad beams of light, and even the sound as they picked up the pace again reminded me of Alcest! Too weird! They ended with a final thundering segment that set the crowd churning one last time. Especially since I just found out that they're not from around here, but from Tempe Arizona, I'm so glad I made it out to see these guys - a new addition to my list of top "local" bands!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Concert Review - Anathema, Alcest, Mamiffer - 9/13/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

I've wanted to see Alcest for a long time - ever since I missed them last time they came around. Being someone that likes fast, heavy, harsh music, it might seem surprising that I like Alcest a lot - but a little contradiction makes everything more interesting. Alcest does have fast and heavy remnants of black metal buried in the atmospheric flow of their music, but I love them more for the soft, dreamy parts. Anathema - recommended to me by a friend this summer shortly before the tour was announced - seemed to fall into the same camp, although less heavy and complex. I wound up enjoying their latest few albums (the atmospheric rock ones) a lot, and got excited about seeing Anathema as well.

Alcest bathed in rays of light
Alcest bathed in rays of light. (photo by Steve Wass)

The experimental rock project Mamiffer, meanwhile, sounded like it might be an interesting experience, but didn't really hook me right away. Granted, I listened to one of their albums while working on other things, which is not necessarily the best way to enjoy atmospheric or experimental music. I thought they might be more intense live, but sadly arrived at the venue late and only caught the last five minutes of their set. I had to go down to the floor because the people near the bar were too noisy, and this seemed like something that I had to get into the zone to really enjoy. The sound was very sparse, with little in the way of melody or beat, more like a continuous wave of sound that varied in intensity and tone. Faith Coloccia, the mastermind of the project, was singing some repetitive syllables in a lamenting tone (she does use actual words occasionally - I thought I even caught some Finnish words on the album I listened to) while Aaron Turner strummed the guitar, and something electronic may have been going an as well. They were both somewhat obscured by smoke, lit up by fixed red lights. They built up to a consuming crescendo of distorted sound, and then walked off to applause from the decent sized crowd. I felt disappointed about getting there so late - as I had predicted, it was a mesmerizing and meditative experience live, and I would have wanted to experience more of it.

Mamiffer: red light and fog
Mamiffer: red light and fog. (photo by Steve Wass)

The atmospheric magic of Alcest wiped away my disappointment. I expected them to be incredible, and was still blown away. At first we were standing  by the steps leading down to the floor, then managed to snag a spot on the railing at the back of the floor, from where we could see the whole stage and floor, and from there I was transported into Neige's fairy world. The wistful, beautiful music, with just a touch of heaviness giving it intensity, and occasional harsh vocals but usually dreamy cleans floating over the guitars like a glimpse of another world, was just as enchanting as I expected. The lighting enhanced the mood - most amazing were the spotlights that looked like rays of sun scattered by leaves, or a gentle shower of rain, but turned out to be forming the shape of a rose, I realized, when a break in the crowd let the light fall on the floor.

Although it didn't detract from my enjoyment much, the sound seemed a little muddy at first, the vocals in particular barely distinguishable, but that seemed to clear up once we moved closer to the center. "Sur L'Océan Couleur de Feu" sounded crystal clear as it should, while with other songs like "Percées de Lumiere," a fuzzier atmospheric sound was expected. More annoying were the people talking - during quiet moments, people were even talking on the floor, which regrettably pulled me out of my trance a bit. Neige was not as shoegazey as I expected - he spoke to the crowd and even looked at - or at least looked out over - the crowd, including one moment where he bobbed his head inviting some clapping along. They played heavily from their most recent album, Voyages de l'Ame, and also graced us with two new songs. If I remember correctly, the first new song, "Opale," was gentle and melodic, with a repetitive motif, while the second one, "Delivrance," was a bit more layered, showing some of their black metal roots with a sort of heavy, sort of distorted passage near the ending. At the end they walked off with a backing track of soothing guitars and vocals still going, which seemed a little odd.

I had not realized they were co-headlining with Anathema, so the long set was a pleasant surprise. I enjoy most shows, but usually at some point I start looking forward to going home at the end - but this time, I wished that Alcest would never stop playing, that I could be immersed in their sound forever. The rest of the crowd was also quite appreciative, and the crowd had grown very large by the latter part of their set.

I think I was not quite recovered when British atmospheric rock act Anathema appeared on stage. Their demeanor was a sharp deviation from the minimalistic, mysterious aura that the previous two acts had presented with their soft lighting and quiet stage presence. They - particularly the vocalist, Vincent Cavanagh - were much more energetic and talkative, which broke the atmospheric vibe for me. Their sound was also much crisper, with more of a straightforward rock sound, and the drums seemed jarringly sharp and loud at the beginning. At the same time, their songs start out very, very minimal, with maybe just some clean vocals and a little guitar or piano, so after the intense experience of Alcest, it was a little hard to get into. Still, they sounded good, and I got more into them as the set went on.

I got distracted near the end when I saw Neige near Alcest's merch table, and had go say hi and shake hands. I was too shy to say much else and he was pretty quiet himself, so I left it at that. Overall I was a little disappointed with Anathema, but I think that probably had as much to do with my expectations and mental state after Alcest as with their performance. It was funny - early in the set, Vincent called on the crowd to "go wild" for the upbeat part of a song, and...a few people bobbed their heads. I guess that's what passes for going wild at an atmospheric rock show XD But nearer the end of the set, most of the crowd did start to jump for one song. At the very end, actually, they played something rather intense, heavy and distorted, and that was probably my favorite song of the set.

I wish I had been able to get into Anathema more - what I had thought would be an amazing night was a little less so. But only in quantity, for in regard to quality, Alcest was unbelievable and unforgettable. I was still relishing the experience the next morning, and should my memories start to fade, I only need listen to a song or two to fall back into that trance and relive them again.

Next show: possibly Death Ray Vision this week; going to try to catch Vektor at the DC Heavy Metal 4th Anniversary Party and My Enemy Complete at their album release party next week.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Concert Review - Kamelot, Delain, Eklipse - 8/3/2013 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

Kamelot is a show not to be missed in my book, not only because they're one of the best power metal bands still playing power metal nowadays, but because they're a special band to me and S. For whatever reason, we connect deeply over their music - probably for the same reasons they're one of the best power metal bands - they're melodic, epic, have powerful storytelling lyrics and fantastic delivery. They've always been great when we've seen them live. This time, we were worried about the sound, though. Soundstage has been plagued with sound problems the past two times we've been there - there were complaints both for Wintersun and parts of Paganfest. So, we had our metal horns crossed hoping Kamelot would prove the exception.

As we were walking up to the venue, we saw our friend D standing outside talking to a tall lady with bright blue hair. She shook hands with us and introduced herself as "Alyssa," and then she and D went into the venue. As we walked off toward a nearby beer garden to wait out the line, I turned to S and said, "Was that really her? Did we just shake hands with Alyssa White-Gluz?!" And he said, "Yeah, I think so. I guess we know who Kamelot's back-up singer is now!" :D

In contrast to previous shows, I was not very familiar with the openers this time. Kamelot's huge discography along with internet problems at work colluded to keep me from having a chance to listen to Eklipse or Delain in the weeks leading up to the show. Prior to the show, all I knew about Eklipse was that S called them "the female Apocalyptica," so I was imagining something with cellos, and metal song covers played with such intensity that it would look like the strings were in danger of being torn from the instruments. They weren't quite that - they were more of an electric string quartet, clad in gothic outfits - black lace, masks, a jaunty hat - playing sweeping or catchy music with panache, but not quite the violence of Apocalyptica. They started out with a few original compositions, and then played covers, which included "You Spin Me Round" and "Sweet Dreams." Although the covers were more welcomed by most of the audience - honestly, their whole set was exceedingly well received, with cheers even for their original songs - I preferred their original compositions. Perhaps I would have felt differently if they had covered metal songs rather than pop and rock songs. I also wondered what they would sound like without their backing track of drums and, I believe, some symphonics. The backing track certainly added to the intensity of their most sweeping moments, but surely the aching beauty of string instruments can achieve intensity all on its own?

All I knew of Delain, meanwhile, was their genre (female-fronted gothic-symphonic metal) and that I had a song or two of theirs in my novel's soundtrack. As far as all those female-fronted bands, they never really stood out to me - so I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were live. In particular, the guitar was much stronger than I'd expected - the first song started off with a raging riff, and there were more of those to follow, as well as spectacular solos. Charlotte Wessels's vocals, meanwhile, were just average, but what they lacked in virtuosity, they made up for in variety - ranging from a rocking alto, to a soaring soprano, and of course, the occasional piercing operatic vocals. I cut my teeth on Nightwish, so I have pretty high standards for operatic vocals in metal - Ms. Wessels's weren't exceptional, but they were good enough, and she only pulled them out for a few choruses. Overall, their performance was marked by variety - from sweeping symphonic metal numbers with forceful riffs and powerful vocals, to more rock or electropop-like songs that cut the intensity back a notch. Still, I enjoyed their set - things were energetic and catchy enough to get me headbanging and jumping along with the rest of the crowd.

Finally, the long-awaited Kamelot emerged. They began with a song from Silverthorn, which I'm not as familiar with, and then they launched into "Ghost Opera," one of my favorites. The crowd was really moving for the first couple songs - I believe there was a pit for both songs. A real pit, for Kamelot! That's the first time I've seen that. At first, something was wrong with the sound - the drums were way too loud, so that it sounded like just drums and vocals, the guitars barely audible. Luckily, that problem was fixed by the second song, and they sounded amazing for the rest of the night. As we were expecting, Alyssa White-Gluz of The Agonist emerged to provide female vocals, as well as harsh vocals in "Sacrimony" and "March of Mephisto," and Tommy Karevik's vocals were spot on.

Last time we saw Kamelot, Tommy was brand new to the band, and S and I were both happy with his performance. I think he fills Roy's shoes pretty well - he is able to emulate Roy's sound, and he even looks a bit similar. Of course it's good for a performer to have their own personal sound and style, but for a band of Kamelot's standing, some continuity is good - in order to be able to keep playing all their awesome older songs, for example. The audience seemed to like Tommy as well - chanting his name at one point, which he said gave him goosebumps, and then added that he was glad he'd taken English classes XD

Speaking of old songs, they didn't pull out any real deep cuts, but pretty much alternated songs from their latest release, Silverthorn, with their classics like "Ghost Opera," "Center of the Universe," and "Karma." Although S griped about the lack of deep cuts, I was content with their setlist since they played the three songs I really wanted to hear: "Center of the Universe" (which inspired the third and last pit of the set, and also the biggest and craziest one, started by none other than my dear S), "Eden Echo" and "Forever." I always forget what a fast and intense song "Forever" is, considering the romantic lyrics. I was least thrilled with the choice to include "Song for Jolee," which I find one of the weakest songs on Silverthorn, but it did showcase Tommy's vocal chops quite nicely.

So when we stumbled out of the venue, sweaty and tired, I was quite satisfied. Kamelot had put on yet another magnificent show, which had (for the most part) not been ruined by sound problems, and the openers had been more entertaining than I'd expected. A good night, and a highly recommended show for anyone who likes their metal on the melodic or symphonic side of the continuum.

Next show: Anathema and Alcest, 9/13. So a, you know, quiet and peaceful way.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Concert Review - Dread Crew of Oddwood - 8/28/13 at Piratz Tavern, Silver Spring, MD

With a tagline like "A pirate themed band that blends Heavy Metal, Celtic Folk and progressive rock" and this salty-looking poster, how could I resist the Dread Crew of Oddwood? Although I was in class until 9:30, I hurried down to Piratz Tavern afterward, and got there not long after the scurvy rascals started up.

I was a bit flummoxed at first, though - turns out in my excitement, I forgot to read the end of the tagline, or look closely at the poster, and so when I got to Piratz and squeezed into the back bar area where the rain had forced the event to retreat, I wondered where exactly the "heavy" and "metal" elements were. I could hear the pirate and folk influences quite clearly, but there was not an electric guitar or amp in sight - I could see a guy playing a "grandpa's guitar" and the top half of a double bass, could hear some snappy drums, and eventually caught sight of an accordion, a mandolin and what seemed to be a tiny piano in a wooden box, strapped on the musician like a concession seller's tray of snacks.

At first I thought it was something like Sabaton's acoustic promotional performances - or just that they couldn't use their amps at Piratz or something. Come to realize I missed some crucial information: "a unique acoustic instrumentation...Heavy Mahogany!" Which sounds impossible, you must be thinking - I mean, they're called grandpa's guitars for a reason. Most acoustic versions of metal songs suck. But these guys actually managed to capture the spirit of metal in spite of not actually being heavy at all.

It sounded weird at first, with the aggressive drums very prominent in the sound, the weak and soft grandpa's guitar struggling to compete. But the more of the wooden instruments got in the fray, the more it came together, and the more it started to make sense why a couple familiar metalheads were headbanging at the front and why something slightly resembling a folk pit erupted toward the end. These guys aren't trying to make soft, artistic, expressive versions of metal songs that ruin their inherent visceral power. They're bringing that same visceral power to a new medium, riffing and shredding on the acoustic guitar, harnessing the old-fashioned booming reverberation of the double bass, keeping it lively with jaunty melodies on the accordion and the piano (a toy piano, according to the band's website). While the vocals scream "pirate" (or "sea chanty" or "drunken rabble") rather than any particular metal genre, they're also in no way weak or soft.

So was the room full of the overpowering thunder of modern electronic instrumentation? No, not really. Was it thick with energy intense enough to headbang, jig, and push people around? Hell yes.

The band played two sets of about half an hour each, with a highly varied repertoire - fiendishly fast and aggressive folkish songs that could have been Alestorm without amps, more moderately paced tales of glory or musings on mortality, a humorous account of bawdy deeds around the world. Their best received song was a Flogging Molly cover that had half the room singing along to the chanty-like choruses. (They also played a rendition of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and a snip of tin whistle from Eluveitie's "Inis Mona.")

While not what I expected, the piratical assault of grandpa's strings turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Without any of the sonic qualities usually associated with heaviness - shaking the walls with bass thunder and pummeling your soul with distorted riffs - the Dread Crew of Oddwood managed to bring the energy of heavy metal to a small pirate bar without any sort of sound system to begin with. I really should have been at the front headbanging and jigging, but I was feeling unsociable. Too bad, cause this was probably a once in a lifetime chance to experience such heavy folk music made on such lightweight instruments.

Next concert: Kamelot on Tuesday - can't believe how soon it is!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Concert Review - Midnight Eye, Exar Kun, Thrain - 8/8/13 at The Pinch, Washington, DC

Although I'd already been to two concerts in the past seven days (and I was only supposed to go to two per month), I wanted to get out to support Midnight Eye, so I waited till my kid was in bed and headed out. By that time, I thought I'd be lucky to get to The Pinch before Midnight Eye started - certainly not in time to have some of the restaurant's insane duck bacon BBQ cheese loaded waffle fries. Well, the intent was to go for the music anyway, right?

After the quest for parking (we passed several good spots, but got greedy and went on thinking we could get closer to the venue, but no such luck, we had to turn around and go back up 14th Street almost to where we were before) we got to the venue right around 10pm. It turned out that only the first band, experimental/black metal band Thrain, had played so far. I was thrilled, cause that meant we could get the awesome fries; I didn't really think about the implications for timing. I do want to see Thrain sometime - their demo is quite heavy and technically proficient for a local band, and combines some plodding doomy segments, cleaner vocals and melancholy melodic moments with the base black metal sound.

A few minutes after we got to the venue Exar Kun started up in the basement, so we headed down. They are, as a friend put it, two bassists and a computer. They provided some heavy background music, but did not really catch my interest. The two high points were when they did start to play something almost riffy; and when they sampled Lordi's "Would You Love a Monsterman."

After they finished, I went to look at Midnight Eye's merch and acquired a turquoise shirt (first ever turquoise metal shirt?), and then our amazing fries arrived.
 Yes, we ate all that between the two of us. Someone was hungry.

It was after 11pm when Midnight Eye finally came on, and they were immediately plagued by sound problems, for at least the first two songs of their set. They played (not necessarily in this order) the three songs from their new EP, Nightmonger (which you can still stream here); a cover of something I didn't recognize, but which they said was by a DC band; "Virtuous" and maybe one other song from their first album, Sign; and a new song with the working title "Weed Helmet." Their guitars were excellent as I expected. The thrashy and black metal parts sounded best on the spartan sound system, but the heavy metal riffs and solos sounded good, too. The vocals were very rough, though; scratchy and little off compared to the albums. I tried to start a pit for the frenzied thrash part near the end of the first song, "Alarm," but no one seemed interested in moshing except for Grimy Grant. The black metal segments of "Outsider" were amazing, so thick and heavy, although the melody was a little lost in the low noise. The new song also sounded very promising, starting off with energetic heavy metal riffs, just thrashy enough to mosh to - I pushed Grant and this time three or four other people joined in, yes! - with another thick, atmospheric black metal segment in the middle of the song, followed by some very heavy noodling that slowed down into a droning segment at the end. It was cool, but would have been more impressive on a better sound system where the low distorted notes would have made the building and everyone in it tremble. Needless to say, hoping to see these guys again soon and looking forward to more releases from them.

Next show: Not sure. There a couple local metal shows in Baltimore on Saturday, but I don't think I will be able to go so far from home. So the next thing might be Face Melting Friday at the end of August. In the meantime, there will be some book reviews!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wintersun, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arsis, Starkill, Fallen Martyr, March to Victory - 8/6/2013 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

This was probably my most anticipated show of the summer. As a fan of all sorts of melodic metal, Wintersun is of course one of my top bands - Jari Mäenpää is the king of epic, sweeping guitar riffs. Their tour in support of Eluveitie last winter - their first North American tour - skipped the DC area. We did go see them in Pittsburgh, but it was still exciting to see them come back and headline. And what a line-up they brought! Fleshgod Apocalypse, with their classical piano woven into fast and brutal death metal, is one of my favorite melodic/symphonic acts, and Arsis, another speedy and melodic band, are also highly enjoyable. And I was super stoked to see Starkill on the bill. When I first heard them, I could not believe something so epic and melodic was made in the USA (although, I guess we do have Dethklok). I figured they would tour sooner or later. My hopes were raised and then dashed when they toured with Krisiun - but not in my area. And then I heard that they were going to tour with no less than Wintersun. It was like a dream come true.

We got to Soundstage early - on time, rather - to catch the first opener, but it turned out the show was running about 15 minutes late - unfortunate for such a long line-up, but not the worst delay we've experienced. So we had time to check out the merch. There were plenty of Wintersun shirts and other items such as shorts, underwear, cap, koozie, patch, button...Fleshgod Apocalypse had shirts and their new album Labyrinth which doesn't come out till August 20 in the US (!!), Starkill was selling shirts and CD's, and Arsis had...donuts. Their merch was delayed, again.

Lancaster, PA death metal band March to Victory started the night with a solid set. Most of their songs were full of nice headbangable grooves, also the second song, "Soulless," had some pounding jackhammer moments, and the unusually named song "Funeral of the Lizard Beast" (did I hear that right?) was rather complex. Like last time we saw them, they covered Death's "Crystal Mountain," quite well - Danielle does high-pitched Chuck Schuldiner well. She mostly sings in a high rasp, but can produce some nice low growls, too. They were going to play a cover of "The Philosopher" as well, but got cut off. Danielle did not talk to crowd much besides to tell us what each song was - she's new to the band, so perhaps she's still finding her feet onstage. I wish she had called for a mosh pit, though, cause I would have loved to push people around to the thundering fast parts, but was too shy to start a pit in such a large venue.
Setlist: Deadly Venom. Soulless. Funeral of the Lizard Beast. Crystal Mountain (Death cover). Consumption. The Philosopher (Death cover, cut off before they played it).

The next local opener was Fallen Martyr, a sort of melodic fusion of different things. We've seen them a couple times before, but this was the first time I saw them with a good sound system. (Cafe 611 does have a decent system, but it's usually tuned to rumble, which means some of the higher tones get drowned out.) So this was the first time I really got to appreciate their guitar work in a live setting. The guitars are really good - some groovy death metal moments, some blasting black metal moments, some nice solos. The vocals..well, during the first song, I thought I might finally be getting used to them. There were moments when the singer's vocals meshed nicely with the music, and altogether they painted an image of desperate yearning - I imagined a drowning person struggling for air. But as the set went on, the whininess started to get to me again. They're not overly whiny - they're kind of like Muse's vocals, just whiny enough to be a little irritating. And his screams took it right out of the ballpark for me. Some people may like screamo, but it's not for me. Frankly, the singer ranting, "You will all bow" at the end of the set was kind of ridiculous. I've seen him do that before, and it always sounds and looks like a petulant teenager. So, I've given them several tries and still can't get into the vocals. But hey, I did really enjoy listening to their guitars.

An then it was time for Starkill. They take melodic death metal to a new level epic power metal solos and film score-based symphonics, besides throwing in some black metal or other influences at times. I was really looking forward to these guys, so I was disappointed that they started out weak. At first, they were too quiet - then the vocals were too loud and lead guitar so low that I could hardly hear it - not all whenever Parker was singing. It was frustrating to the point that I thought of shouting, "Turn up the lead guitar!" but I didn't, for fear it might throw the band off. Fortunately, the sound was corrected during the solo of their second song, "Immortal Hunt." After that, they sounded much better, although still a bit quiet compared retrospectively to the acts that followed. Their sound has a strong resemblance to Dethklok at times, especially the song "Below the Darkest Depths." There was a decent pit for most songs - if there wasn't, I might have felt compelled to help out, but as it was I decided to just headbang to their epic grooves. They played a good selection of songs from their new album, Fires of Life, although I didn't think "Wash Away the Blood with Rain" was a good choice to end on, not being one of their stronger songs. I would have preferred to hear "Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire" or "This is Our Battle, This is Our Day." But oh well - that leaves something to look forward to when they come around again.
Setlist: New Infernal Rebirth. Immortal Hunt. Fires of Life. Below the Darkest Depths. Wash Away the Blood with Rain.

Starkill used be known as Massakren and released a self-titled EP under that name, so after the show I screwed my courage to the sticking plate and asked one of the band members about their name change. He said they changed the name, as well as cleaned off their corpse paint, in order to better represent their sound. Apparently Massakren kept getting labeled as a black metal band, even though there is so much to their sound than that, so they wanted to get away from that - to have a fresh start, I suppose.

Their image is a bit mixed, though. Their clean-cut looks fits with the epic, melodic metal vibe, but the skinny jeans they wear make me think of the throwback thrash scene - and thrash is one thing that doesn't appear in their sound at all. (I dunno, maybe that's just the way people dress these days, though.) Their album cover with its warrior on a mountaintop and lightning or lasers flying everywhere, makes me think of Manowar, while their T-shirt designs are rather dark and ghoulish, in the vein of death metal or deathcore bands. But hey, it's their band. They can do pretty much anything, as long as they keep making that sweet epic melodic metal goodness.

After Starkill were Virginia natives Arsis. While not one of my top bands, I can get behind their very fast and melodic style of technical death metal. Their songs all sound rather similar to me; I can't really tell them apart (aside from a few singles like "Forced to Rock" or "We Are The Nightmare"), but there's enough variation within the songs that I don't get bored. We were very near the front for their set, perhaps in the fifth row, but off to the left of the stage. Yet the sound level was bearable without earplugs, so perhaps they weren't very loud either. They sounded great even way off to the side, a barrage of furious riffs punctuated by the James Malone's raspy vocals. I was trying to headbang with a drink in my hand and wondering whether or not I'd be too drunk to go in the pit for Fleshgod Apocalypse. They played a short set, but a fun one.
Setlist: Handbook for the Recently Deceased. A Diamond For Disease (first few minutes). Seven Whispers Fell Silent. Unwelcome. Carve My Cross. Face of My Innocence. (Thanks to XcKyle93 on M-A for filling in my gaps :) )

Fleshgod Apocalypse had the second slot, of which I was glad, since after Wintersun and Starkill, I most wanted to see more of them and go crazy to their fast, brutal sound with its tidbits of classical piano. Actually, it seems the piano plays a larger role than I thought, because they had an actual piano on stage during this show, with a guy playing constantly - I don't remember if they had that last time. I still couldn't hear it much of the time, though, and I feel like their symphonic backing track was pretty low, too. Their sound was much bigger this time; I don't know whether that has to do with the difference between Soundstage and Empire's sound equipment, or their own gear/sound guy. They played a couple songs from their new album: "Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon)" and "The Elegy," both of which had a good death metal groove going on and utilized more operatic backing vocals, compared to the sporadic line or two of agonized cries on most songs on the previous album, Agony. They had a female singer in a feathered mask standing at the back right, doing the operatic vocals. Besides the new songs, they only played songs from Agony. That was all right with me since that's the album of theirs I know best, and I got to hear some of my favorite songs. I wanted to go in the pit for "The Violation," the pit was too fast and brutal; I thought I'd better stay out. They were good - solid, headbangable guitars and crushing vocals - but when am I going to get to hear the symphonics and piano live, hm?
Setlist: The Temptation (intro). The Hypocrisy. Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon). The Deceit. The Violation. The Egoism. Elegy. The Forsaking. (Thanks to Dave_o_rama on M-A for id'ing the first song.)

And then, it didn't seem long at all before the ethereal strains of "Time Fades Away" wafted over the audience, and we grabbed a spot and waited for Wintersun to come out. They emerged at the climax of the intro, Jari second after the drummer, and launched right into "Sons of Winter and Stars." There is nothing quite like belting out that chorus along with a hundred odd other metalheads while the epic strains of Jari and co surround you. It was an awesome experience all the way through. The sound seemed fuller than when we saw them supporting Eluveitie, but that's probably because this was a bigger venue than the "metal church" where we saw them before. Fantastically epic riffs contrasted with heartwrenching sorrowful moments - I actually teared up at end of "Land of Snow and Sorrow" and "Time" (although maybe just because I associate them with the sad moments of a certain novel). I was stoked to hear "Beautiful Death," a charging fast song that made up for the lack of a certain other fast song. There was an enormous pit for "Beyond the Dark Sun" - I've only seen pits that large at thrash shows. Their "new" song, "The Way of the Fire," was another fast one, though with slower choruses. At some point there was a solo from Teemu, showing that he's a great guitarist in his own right (I mean, he was in Imperanon after all). They finished the set with the epic "Starchild."

There was all sorts of talk beforehand about what they were and weren't going to play - well, they played all of Time I (though in separate chunks), the new song, and all but three songs from Wintersun. I know several people were upset that they dropped "Battle Against Time," but I was pretty happy with their set. They played a solid set - an hour and a half - and didn't take up much time talking (come to think of it, none of the bands did).
Setlist: When Time Fades Away. Sons of Winter and Stars. Land of Snow and Sorrow. Beautiful Death. Darkness and Frost (Time intro). Time. Death and the Healing. Winter Madness. Beyond the Dark Sun. The Way of the Fire. Starchild.

All in all, it was an epic night, well worth being up till nearly 2 in the morning.

Next show: Midnight Eye's release party - tonight! Check out my review of their new EP, and stream all 3 songs from it, here. :)