Thursday, February 21, 2013

Marduk, Moonspell, Inquisition, The Foreshadowing, Deathwolf, Helgardh - 2/20/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

February has been so crazy, with a concert every week along with meetings and social and volunteer commitments, that if Moonspell hadn't been on this line-up, I probably wouldn't have gone. Marduk is great, but I've already seen them, and they aren't one of the five or so bands that I feel I MUST see every time they come around. I had never seen Moonspell before, though, and was very curious about them, so I went mostly to see them.

There was a local opener, Helgardh, but by the time I realized I should have headed to Empire early to see them, they were already playing or done. I stopped at Panera to eat, write and wait for S, and finally checked out the bands at the start of the line-up. The songs I heard by Helgardh sounded pretty good, solid quality black metal. I met two of the band members at the show and got a CD with a rough mix of three new songs, and they said the songs they have online are old, and these new ones are much better. The CD certainly sounded good - they had those nonstop black metal guitars, but sometimes more death metal like vocals and some other interesting things going on in the background.

When we got to Empire, Deathwolf was on, and we heard their last song. One of Marduk's guitarists is in this band. The one song I'd listened to (at Panera) sounded more rock-like, without the intensity of metal. They did sound heavier than I expected, but still had more of rock vibe; I wasn't really drawn to them.

I had heard of The Foreshadowing before, because they have in fact played them a couple times on XM radio, but I couldn't really recall what they sounded like. They started off with very heavy, metalcore breakdown-like guitars, but after that were mostly slow and doomy, with a few faster segments when the guitars and drums suddenly revved up. They had clean doomy vocals from a rather gothic looking guy. I wondered why two of the guys are bald, that's not metal. I liked them - I thought they had nice melodies and pretty good guitars.

I didn't know what to expect from Inquisition, besides having this vague hunch that it was a black metal band based on the logo. It was in fact a two person black metal band - a drummer and guitarist/vocalist. Their sound was fast paced and would have made me want to rush around or headbang frantically if I had had more energy. The guitar was weak at first, just a droning overwhelmed by the drums. The drums were actually interesting - they must have been using a variety of different sounds instead of just banging away like some bands do. After a few songs, the frontman called for the guitar to be made louder, and after that we could hear more of it - a dark low undertone with some pretty fast melodies over it, considering the guy was also singing at the same time. The vocals were unusual, with this croaking quality that reminded me of the lower tone of Mongolian throat singing. A great new find in my very limited knowledge of black metal.

Cutting back on the black metal intensity for a bit, the second to last band and the act that I really wanted to see was Moonspell, a gothic metal band from Portugal. At first, they were much heavier and more warlike than I expected, with fierce, battering guitars and drums. The singer wore a Roman-like helm for the first song, which made me think of Ex Deo. Despite the surprisingly intense guitars, there was a dark, gothic quality to vocals - a little harsh, but not brutal, very like the vocals of Deathstars - and often melancholy keyboard melodies were wafting over the heavier guitars. There was a lot of variation in their songs - some were slower and more gothic, others heavy and thundering, and still some full of racing black metal intensity. There was a pit for some songs, but overall the crowd was not as enthusiastic as for Inquisition.

On a side note, I spent about half of Moonspell's set staring at the bassist's hair. My daughter is mixed and will have hair just like that one day \m/

Sadly, by the time Marduk came on, I had run out of steam. I'm not sure if it was sleep deprivation, illness or depression (all of which have been affecting me lately) but by the time they started, I could hardly sit up on a stool. They were intense and fast, and I should have enjoyed them more, but I just couldn't. We left about 2/3 of the way through their set :(

Next show: unknown. It may be Wimme at the Kennedy Center :) I was planning on going to Nile, but I'm not a fan of Cannabis Corpse. Due to stress in my personal life, I've decided to limit myself to two concerts a month, so a show where I only like the headliner is probably not worth it compared to others where I like more of the bands :/

Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Dying Fetus, etc. - 2/14/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

This will be a pretty short review cause it's now been a week since this show :/ But I want to have something on record saying that I went, something to look back on in a couple years when I'm like, didn't I once see Hatebreed on Valentine's Day? Yeah, I did...

So yeah, S and I had our Valentine's Day date at Hatebreed, and before that at BGR with friend J. Who is not part of our threesome. Really.

Due to the V-day dinner at the burger joint (or perhaps just due to not caring), we missed the first band, The Contortionist.

I can't recall if we saw all of Dying Fetus's set, but what we did see, I liked. They are a death metal band with a very groovy feel, a bit like Six Feet Under but maybe more complicated, and their music is very headbangable (my number one criterion for judging metal music!). I enjoyed their set.

I was looking forward to seeing the quasi-melodic Shadows Fall, but unfortunately I was pretty disappointed with their set. The first half of their set sounded very messy - riffs, vocals, melodies all seemed out of sync. "Weight of the World," the only song I know well enough to judge, sounded terrible. They got better as the set went on, the vocals and guitars getting clearer, so we could actually hear the melodies and riffs. They were still not as melodic as I would have liked, though (possibly my second or third criterion for good metal).

There was a mom with a young child (3 years?) at the show. I'm all for introducing kids to metal - after all, I foist it on my daughter every day - but her behavior during Shadows Fall's set was questionable. I'm sure S says more about it in his review.

Hatebreed, however, was great like always. Jamey Jasta and the crowd were both very energetic. I got to hear most of the songs I wanted to hear like "This is Now," "I Will be Heard," "In Ashes they Shall Reap" and of course "Destroy Everything." They didn't play too much from the new album, which was fine with me as I don't know the songs too well yet (and the whole point of being at a Hatebreed show is to jump around shouting along to the lyrics).

For a Valentine's Day date, the only better show I can think of would have been Kamelot. That would have been a little more romantic. But this was pretty awesome, too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Turisas, Firewind, Stolen Babies, Aether Realm - 2/5/13 at Empire, Springfield, VA

February is a busy month with a concert every week except the last! S has even more - this week alone he intends to go to five concerts, and has already been to three of them. But seeing as I can only get away about once a week, I had to choose between Gojira and Turisas this week. A little of a tough choice - I've never seen Gojira, and was stoked to see they were touring after the Lamb of God tour they were on didn't happen. But TURISAS! They're one of my top five bands, and also a sort of up-and-coming band in the US, so I felt had to go support them. Besides...moshing to "Battle Metal"??! Need I say more?

We were distracted by a Viking Metal lady on the way into the venue, and so we missed most of Aether Realm's set, which was too bad. What I caught of their last song sounded pretty awesome - epic guitar riffs rather like Amon Amarth, except even more melodic. They looked and acted the part of a full scale folk metal band - the singer was shirtless with a bear pelt biting his shoulder, and the band members all windmilled their (very long) hair on the guitar parts. My only issue with them was that something - bass and/or drums, I think - was too loud and dominated their sound with this indistinct roar, obscuring a lot of the melodic guitar parts. Still, if they come around next time, I would try harder to be there in time for their set - they're from North Carolina, so I hope they decide to make the trip again!

I didn't know what to expect from Stolen Babies, since I was too busy listening to Enslaved and then Turisas in the weeks before the show to have time to check them out. They were interesting, although not really my type of music. They seemed to combine the dark edge of goth (with some industrial moments as well), the loudness and heaviness of metal (including some harsh vocals) and the musical and vocal stylings of punk, especially cabaret and gypsy punk. The vocalist played an accordion, was made up on the sparkly side of goth and wore her (greenish?) hair in two pigtails with a ragged scarf on top. They had melodic moments that reminded me of pirate metal, harsh noises and a few screamed vocals that were reminiscent of the harsher industrial genres, and some pretty heavy guitar parts, although the riffs were generally pretty simple. They were fun to listen to, and perhaps something I'd foist on friends in the punk scene :P

Firewind was as I expected or perhaps a little better. They're not one of my favorite power metal bands, but on the good side of tolerable, I guess. They were also on the heavier side of power metal bands I've seen live, especially on the song "Few Against Many." S said they have a new singer; I thought he sounded good. If I hadn't known, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell the difference; he sounded fairly similar to their previous singer (although that's the judgment of someone who doesn't really follow Firewind much). I think possibly I have a grudge against them because when the song "World on Fire" came out, they started playing that on the radio and stopped playing Symphony X's "Set the World on Fire," and I really, really like "Set the World on Fire" and its cheesy video.

I was mostly just waiting for their set to go by so that Turisas would come out. I was really just there to see them, as was probably obvious from my face paint XD I've seen them twice before, and this time was the best yet. First of all, they sounded much louder and heavier in the small confines of Empire than in the larger venues where I saw them before (The Quarter and Sonar). Also, the crowd at Empire was so much better than in Baltimore, and since a folk metal show is a highly interactive experience, it made all the difference.

Their set started out similar to last year's Paganfest - they started with "March of the Varangian Guard," "Take the Day" and "To Holmgard and Beyond." (I started the first pit during "Take the Day," and I think I started the first jig, too, but I didn't have to work nearly as hard as at Paganfest. This crowd was rambunctious; someone even started a pit during Stolen Babies, and there were pits during Firewind, too. I didn't participate in those, but I was glad to see all the energy and hoped it would last for Turisas, and it did!) After that they mixed it up a bit - they played a lot from The Varangian Way, which was awesome. Most amazingly of all, they played (pretty much) every Turisas fan's favorite song, "Rasputin," which they don't seem to normally play live in the US. After the encore, the crowd started to chant "Rasputin" - and they actually came back out and played it! It was a fantastic end to the show. That, and the fact that I got to shake hands with Mathias and got some of his face paint on my hand XD I joked, "I'm never going to wash this hand again!" But in fact, that paint on my hand got wiped off during the pit for "Rasputin" :/

Other random fun things: There were quite a few girls in pit. There was a super fan who grabbed me after "Rasputin" and lifted me in the air. (That was in addition to my friend L lifting me up judo-style and holding me on his hip for several minutes in between Firewind and Turisas's sets.) I petted the Aether Realm singer's bear pelt. I didn't have to pay for water. Overall, an awesome night!

Next concert: Hatebreed and Shadows Fall on Valentine's Day - how sweet!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Enslaved, Pallbearer, Royal Thunder, Ancient VVisdom - 1/31/2013 at Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

I'm very glad I went to this show. I had some doubts, but I wound up enjoying it, most especially Enslaved's set.

This was my first visit to Ottobar, and so far it's the most underground (or at least underground-seeming) music venue I've been to in this area. I liked the posters and stickers plastered all over the walls, even if the only band I had heard of was Fallen Martyr. The bathroom was very tiny, though, and there was no quiet place to hang out and talk during an "off" set (not much seating at all in the bar area).

We got there during the local opener's set; honestly, I didn't pay much attention to them, other than noting that it was so loud, I couldn't talk to Enslaved's merch person until they finished playing. I was very tired, so I was kind of out it for much of this show :P

The first of the touring bands to come on was Ancient VVisdom (note that's spelled with two V's; Ancient Wisdom is a different band). Their sound is difficult to define. I've seen it called "occult rock" and "dark rock"; it's pretty heavy and kind of doomy, but not quite powerful enough to be metal. They were pretty intense, though - the drummer pounded on the drums and cymbals with mallets and the two electric guitars provided some background heaviness. At the same time, they had an acoustic (acoustic electric?) guitar, whose clean sound drifted over the pounding drums and churning guitars. The vocals were unremarkable, but being clean and little bit high, provided more contrast with the drums and heavy guitars. During one song, the singer brought out an actual chain and banged it on what looked like a wrought iron table; I found this DIY sound effect pretty entertaining. Overall, their sound was interesting and moving, although not really heavy or fast enough for headbanging. I liked them; it's always good to be exposed to something new and little different.

Ancient VVisdom

Royal Thunder was a little too different, though. To me, they seemed to be a bit all over the place; their guitars sounded messy and without direction, and the vocals had an irritating edge to them. I was also getting even more tired and having trouble paying attention.

Unfortunately, my sleepiness worsened during Pallbearer's set. I had listened to them a bit beforehand and was not terribly interested - their brand of doom metal is extremely slow without a lot of melody or development. But seeing them live was actually enjoyable (maybe partly because one of the guitarists was rather handsome!). They were slow, but extremely heavy. The guitars almost drowned out the vocals, which receded to just some vague harsh noises. I especially enjoyed them when I closed my eyes and let the slow, heavy riffs wash over me - which is usually the best way to listen to doom metal anyway XD Surprisingly (since I don't usually think of doom metal being something that appeals to a wide sector of metalheads) the crowd seemed really into them too - we were standing on a raised step or bench thing to the side and could see the whole crowd, and the floor was pretty full and most people were slowly bobbing their heads in time to the guitars.


I took a nap on S's shoulder after Pallbearer finished, which turned out to be a great idea, as it left me feeling much revived when Enslaved came on. All the guys in this band of Norwegian Vikings are very tall, which made them seem to tower over the audience, especially when we went down to the floor near the end of the set. I was excited to see Enslaved, because they put on a great show when I saw them two years ago at Tuska Fest, but I wasn't initially thrilled with their latest album Riitiir, although it began to grow on me the more I listened to it. It turned out that what I observed about Enslaved two years ago after Tuska is still true now - their recordings don't come close to capturing the power they put out performing live.

Blurry photo of Enslaved where you totally can't see the shirtless lead guitarist's cool leather pants

Their riffs straddle the continuum between black metal melancholy and melodeath epicness, and filled the venue with energy whether the song was fast or slower, accompanied by death growls or clean vocals (clean vocals provided by the keyboardist, I learned). I was surprised not to see the crowd moving much in the first half of the set, but during "Ethica Odini" a pit finally broke out. I was happy to stand on the side and headbang. Although "Ethica Odini" and "Allfadr Odinn" have some of the greatest riffs ever, my favorite song of the night was "The Watcher," because it was so unexpectedly, intensely fast. They played a good mix of songs old and new, with only about one quarter of the setlist being from the latest album.

There were some technical difficulties partway through the set - something with the second guitar's amps, I think - and the lead vocalist and second guitarist tried to play it off by telling some truly terrible jokes (ok, well the one about festivals was decent).

After this show, Enslaved has now firmly established themselves in my mind as The Best Viking Metal Band - right up there with Amon Amarth, which isn't really a Viking metal band. Although the openers may not appeal to everyone, it's worth going just to see Enslaved, who should satisfy anyone that likes the most vital component of metal - heavy, powerful guitars!

Photos by Steve Wass (though the super blurry photo of Enslaved is courtesy of my phone!)

Next show: Turisas and Firewind - TOMORROW!