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 :)