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.


  1. Watch how you use "Dark Carnival"

    better enjoy Slayer for $45 goddamn bones!

    1. Yeah..I deleted that part about not enjoying Slayer, it was in poor taste really. Or perhaps my mood is just better in the morning, when there is still hope that the day will go well.

      As for "dark carnival," I'll use it however I want - no one owns those words. I find it rather fitting for heavy music that uses a sinister carnival sound.