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.