Sunday, April 28, 2013

Concert Review - Death to All, Exhumed, Anciients - 4/26/13 at Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD

Death is one of those groundbreaking bands I thought I'd never get to see live, on account of coming to the metal scene so late. So I was pretty stoked to hear that original members of Death were doing this charity benefit tour as Death to All. Funny though, before hearing about Death to All, I actually hadn't listened to Death that much, for whatever reason. I may or may not have streamed some full albums on youtube the week before the show, and then got really, really stoked about seeing them, cause I realized that they were absolutely amazing. When you think about the fact that at the time, nobody else was really doing what they were doing, it's even more amazing.

I was so busy listening to Death that I didn't look into the openers. The first band to come on was Anciients, from Vancouver, Canada, a band whose sound varies from meandering stoner guitars to much more energetic and headbangable riffs with a black metal feel. They started out a bit soft and slow - most of their songs began with stoner-ish intros - but then quickly got loud and heavy, once the jackhammer bass and drums kicked in. They used mostly clean mellow vocals, some growled harsh vocals. Their style of mixing clean and harsh vocals in songs such as "Overthrone" reminds me of Enslaved, right down to the vocal tone. This song features some of the their fastest and most prominent guitar work; usually the guitars stayed pretty mellow and were drowned out by the pounding bass and drums when things got heavy. This meant that although they were nice and heavy, the heavy parts were a little repetitive. I still enjoyed their set much more than I might have predicted from the first five seconds, though, and even discovered that I liked listening to "Overthrone" again later.

I didn't know what to expect from Exhumed, either, except that based on the name, I figured they would be a typical death metal band. They were fast, a whirlwind of sound with machine gun fast drums, and surprisingly technical guitar solos. There was just a small pit for most of their songs, which was surprising considering the intensity of the music, but perhaps the "Absolutely no moshing or crowd surfing" signs of the venue were having some effect (ironically, the pillars where the signs were posted had been covered in padding, as though we were fully expected to break the rule in a violent way). Their screamed vocals and intricate guitar work gave their music a bit of a black metal flavor, especially in their newest songs (they played a couple of brand new songs that had only been played on their concurrent tour with Suffocation), while a really old song they played (the singer said it was old and crusty like his mom) had a more thrashy sound. S. saw them the night before with Suffocation and said they sounded much better here at the Fillmore, probably due to their superior sound system.

Exhumed had some interesting stage antics - an "evil doctor" in a blood spattered apron came out with a chainsaw (S. said it was a real chainsaw, because at Empire one could smell the gas), which he waved over the crowd and even jumped down into the crowd with; then later during a guitar solo, he used a defibrillator to try to the revive the guitarist, who I guess had been overcome by his own awesomeness, to no success, heaving finally to resort to beer; he also stage-dived and crowd-surfed, and finally brought out a severed head and squirted green goo onto some hapless fan in the pit.

When Death to All finally came out, I was feeling pretty tired, and so got a bit distracted during their set. They seemed to put on a solid performance, although not being terribly familiar with their songs or having ever seen them live with Chuck Shuldiner, I can't say how true to the original they sounded. The line-up was guitarist Paul Masvidal, bassist Steve DiGiorgio, and drummer Sean Reinert who were once members of Death, and vocalist Max Phelps, the touring vocalist for Cynic; at least that's the line-up according to Metal Injection, I can't say if they were the ones who actually appeared. Halfway through the set, they switched drummers, so I'm not sure who that was.

As would be expected, they had a thundering thrashy sound, with vocals that seemed a bit more growled than what I remembered hearing on my youtube spree. They were also masters, in the way of Sabbath and Celtic Frost, of using the guitars to make haunting sounds that created a sort of weird, creepy atmosphere in the intros of some songs.

In the middle of the set, there was a photo and video tribute to Chuck Shuldiner, which was cool to see. The crowd was very appreciative. The venue was not filled - the upstairs and side areas were closed, but there seemed to be several hundred people there at least.

As a tribute to a pioneering musician and a chance to see a band from another era, I thought this was a great show, definitely a worthwhile evening for any fan of death metal.

S. also wrote a review with setlists and posted photos.

Next show: Arsis, 4/30. Not sure what happened to my two concerts a month pledge :/ Gonna work on that in May, really.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Concert Review - PAGANFEST IV - Ensiferum, Tyr, Heidevolk, Trollfest, Helsott, Yesterday's Saints, Fallen Martyr, Demiz - 4/15/13 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

I'm pretty sure Paganfest (America) will be my favorite show of the year - and it's only April! I have a real soft spot for folk/pagan metal, mainly because it is so fun to mosh to, and this show delivered a nonstop blast of rampaging folk metal with a great reaction from the crowd. This will also be a really long concert review, cause it was an immense show with eight bands. That's a mini festival right there.

Needless to say, what with the massive line-up causing things to start super early, we missed the first two bands, and only caught the last song of Yesterday's Saints. Although they've been on the line-up of several shows we've been to (including one where one of their guitars got stolen) this was the first time I actually got to see them. They were good, with kind of melodic riffs.

I was really looking forward to seeing Helsott, a folk metal band from California (yes, I was spreading lies when I mistakenly said they were from Texas). Their music has a heavy (ha,ha) thrash and death metal influence, and the songs I listened to ahead of time sounded full of intense, heavy energy. I thought it would be great to mosh to them, but I can't remember if I actually did (some social things were stressing me out and made it hard to pay attention at times during the show). I really enjoyed their set, though; their guitars were great. The vocals were too low, so I couldn't make them out most of the time (except the female vocals, provided by the keyboardist, which were a nice touch), but the guitars were amazing. I think at some point they even sounded a bit like hurdy gurdies, although that could just have been my imagination/being too obsessed with Eluveitie.

The next band was Trollfest, from Norway, who I was not looking forward to seeing at all. (It is almost impossible for me to dislike a European metal band, but this is one out of two that I outright dislike, the other being Vildhjarta.) I forced myself to listen to them ahead of time, and they sounded messy and discordant, something that does not appeal to me, being a fan of melodies and riffs. But they were better than I expected - they sounded much better live. Their sound was still very chaotic, and I was not a fan of the blaring saxophone, but the polka beat and melodies were difficult to resist. I would definitely have been in the pit if I had not been drinking. Actually, I did start a mini drunken jig with my friend K and crashed into some people. They came out all wearing bee antenna, and the singer was actually in an entire bee costume. As if their music wasn't silly enough.

I was also really looking forward to seeing Heidevolk, a Dutch folk metal band that I had fallen in love with while doing my pre-concert homework (that is, making a giant youtube playlist of all the bands that I then foist on my friends). Heidevolk sounded excellent. They started with "Nehalennia" and "Ostara," two songs I really wanted to hear. I fell in love with this band because of the rich, deep clean vocals, and Mark Bockting's voice sounded just as amazing live (though friends reported difficulty hearing it further back). At one point I was up in the second row, right in front of Mark Bockting - ahhh, it was amazing. Besides the vocals, the songs are kind of moderately paced with riffs that are all right, but not spectacular - just sort of generic metal riffs - but there was still a pretty good pit. I think I went in it a bit - definitely for "Vulgaris Magistralis."

Heidevolk with their two vocalists. Photo by Steve Wass

I was not really looking forward to Tyr, in spite of their awesome reputation, because they were kind of lackluster the last time we saw them. But they were so much better this time - much more energetic, and with much better sound. They mainly played the faster paced fan favorites. I do enjoy their older, slightly doomy songs with chant-like vocals like "Ormurin Langi," but the newer slow song they played last time, "Evening Star," totally sucked the energy out the set. This time they kept the energy going. I was not feeling great during their set, but ran into the pit for the second song, "Tróndur í Gøtu," since it's my favorite Tyr song. They finished with "Hold the Heathen Hammer High," and I really regret that I was sort of having an anxiety attack and couldn't go in the pit.

Finally, Ensiferum topped off the night with a great performance. The riffs were epic and the harsh vocals commanding. They started with "In My Sword I Trust" from Unsung Heroes, which is a pretty catchy song. I was rather angry at the beginning of the set and as a consequence kind of aggressive in the pit at first (not cool, really :( ). There was lots of jigging, even to the more death metal like parts of their songs, and some really furious pits for the faster, more intense songs like "Ahti." They sounded very good. While doing my homework, I had watched a live Wacken video where the singer's voice started to give out, but there no such issues that night. I did wonder why the spoken parts, such as in "From Afar," were piped in - no one in the band could do those parts? And I guess the Finnish vocals on "Lai Lai Hei" were not as nice as on the album, but acceptable. I was terribly disappointed that they didn't play "Into Battle" -  I was really looking forward to the pit for that song. They did play a good mix of old and new, though, including songs like "Retribution Shall be Mine" that I don't think get much live play. Even if they are not innovative as they used to be, I'm glad to see they can still put on a great live show and play the old songs flawlessly.

Out of two Paganfests I've been to, this one was far the better. Every band sounded great and the crowd was energetic and folky for each band. A really solid evening.

S also wrote a review (although he falsely alleges that Ensiferum played "Treacherous Gods," which they most definitely did not - I would have had to be carried out of the venue after tearing up the pit if they had played that song!). He also posted a ton of photos.

Next concert: Death To All (Death tribute/charity benefit tour), tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Concert Review - Ripper Owens, Ghost of War, March to Victory - 4/6/13 at Cafe 611, Frederick, MD

Finally, a concert review. I've been pretty busy this month - busy relaxing and taking care of myself, mostly, and spending time with people who are important to me. Life is complicated. But I did go to a couple shows already in April, so it's time to get some reviews up.. First off, Ripper Owens, practically in my hometown.

I'm not a super fan of Ripper Owens, although I do admire his talent (having seen him with Dio Disciples), but S. is a bit of a super fan and the show was right in my backyard (well, almost..I live 20 min from Frederick, as opposed to nearly an hour from most other places that have shows). So we headed on up for a night out after I put my kid to bed.

We got there during the last song of March to Victory, which had a heavy death metal sound. I think I would have enjoyed them, so I hope we'll see them open for someone else.

A bartender made me an amazing drink (it was some sort of Finlandia grapefruit vodka Sprite lemon and lime delicious and so strong. Finlandia is second only to Jaegermeister, mmmm) and I'm very much a lightweight, so I was pretty drunk when Ghost of War, a metal band from Gettysburg, PA, came on. They seem to be classic heavy metal band in the style of Judas Priest, and they sounded good. The singer was a bit..heavy, but he could really wail.

Ripper Owens was good, of course - although I don't know his material well, so I'm not really a good judge of his performance. The song I knew best was "Painkiller," and that sounded great. The Beyond Fear songs were very heavy, and besides the Priest hits, I think I enjoyed those the best. I started to get tired toward the end, and then Ripper passed the mic to other people in the band and started playing guitar while they sang covers of songs I didn't know, and I started to get reaaaally impatient and wanted to go home. Overall it was a good night, though, and it's always fun to see one of metal's superstars up close and personal.