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!

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