Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Concert Review - Primal Fear, Arctic Flame, Flag of the White Rose, MindMaze - 4/29/14 at Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

I had this show on my calendar months ahead of time, and then a bunch of other shows were scheduled at the end of April - things I couldn't miss like Sabaton and Paganfest - so that kind of botched my plans. I wasn't gonna go, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to miss this chance to see one of the heavyweights of the power metal scene - so I finally decided to head out after my kid went to bed, just to catch Primal Fear.

I hoped I'd catch at least a bit of the locals, but I had a long, busy day and then bedtime went slowly, so I didn't get to the venue till about 10:15. Primal Fear had just launched into "Nuclear Fire," which turned out to be three or four songs into their set, according to S. Still, I got to hear "Metal is Forever" (I knew they'd play that near the end anyway), "Bad Guys Wear Black," "When Death Comes Knocking," and a litany of other good songs.

A rather small crowd had turned out on this rainy Tuesday night, so small that I had to wear earplugs even standing near the back of the crowd. The crowd was not very energetic either; people cheered at the end of each song, but hardly anyone was really headbanging or moving. There was one guy right in front of us who was super amped, bouncing around, making faces and gesturing and trying to rouse the crowd. He did not succeed, unfortunately. The place felt rather empty with the small crowd in the large space, and it didn't help that they kept shining the lights on the crowd and showing just how small it really was. It might have been better at a place like Empire where a small crowd wouldn't feel quite so weird.

I also should have stood further back, because where I was standing the sound was a bit distorted, and also muffled by the earplugs. I could hear Ralf Scheepers's vocals clearly, and the thunder of the bass and drums, but the guitar leads were sometimes lost. Also, due to a combination of the sound and the crowd, I felt like most of the songs were not very intense, even great ones like "Bad Guys Wear Black," though there were a few with more oomph to them.

Still, I was glad I got out to see these guys. Just to hear Ralf Scheepers shriek "Metal is forever!" made it worth it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paganfest America V - Korpiklaani, Turisas, ChthoniC, Varg, Winterhymn - 4/25/14 at Empire, Springfield, VA and 4/26/14 at Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

So for some reason, Paganfest had two shows in my area this year - and as it's folk metal's biggest party of the year and I had to party with my best folk metal pit buds, and some were going to one show and some to the other...I had no choice but to go to both XD In order to make that happen, I had to take my kid along to avoid asking for two nights of babysitting, and thus, she accompanied me to the show at Empire :) (If someone has a pic of us, pls send, cause I didn't manage to get one! We were both wearing Turisas warpaint and my daughter got so many compliments for it :) )

Anyway, I'm just going to write both shows up together, cause no way I have time to write two separate reviews.

Unfortunately, both nights I missed the locals due to traffic. Cause of some silly sportsing event it took me twice as long as normal to get to Baltimore >.< So unfortunately, I missed Demiz who are awesome but did not even want to open for Paganfest XD And also Yesterday's Saints and March to Victory. Grrr!

But at least I got there in time for the first touring band. This year's US band on the tour was Winterhymn from Cinncinnati, Ohio. I didn't have a chance to listen to them before the show, so I was pleasantly surprised to find they had a solid sound, with a fiddle prominent in their sound, gruff vocals done by the portly rhythm guitarist and energetic guitars (including some galloping basslines). They started out sounding more Vikingy, but got more folky as they went on, peaking with the drinking and dancing song "Ale Song." They were a good start to the night both nights, with a decent pit going.

Next up was Varg from Germany (no relation to Varg Vikernes; the word means "wolf" in Old Norse and these guys just like wolves, apparently; the frontman kept calling their music "wolf metal"). I saw a song or two of them when they supported Eluveitie a couple years back, but didn't really get into them then. However, I was quite impressed this time. Especially at tiny Ottobar, they filled the venue with their racing drums, heavy guitars and the singer's harsh vocals, somewhere between a bark and a death growl, and some outright hellish roars in "Nagelfar." It was mostly dark, headbangable stuff with a few folkier moments in "Rotkäppchen" and "Guten Tag." My kid got into them and danced and jumped around a little.

I was perhaps most excited to see blackened-death-metal-with-folk-tidbits band ChthoniC (閃靈)  from Taiwan. I feel like they're one of the most original things lately in the international metal scene and the broad spectrum of metal-that-involves-folksy-bits. At Empire, I went up close with my kid, but she didn't let me concentrate much on staring at Doris, or at Freddy playing the erhu (Chinese fiddle). Besides, the sound up at the front was all distorted. In general, the kid did not like them much - I guess they were a bit dark and heavy for a five-year-old, more brutality than fun. It was disappointing, too, that Freddy played the erhu very little; most of the erhu and other folk instruments were piped in.

At Ottobar I got to headbang to my heart's content and hear them clearly from a bit further back (and I think I went in the pit for "Takao"). They seemed more confident and professional this time than when I saw them touring with Arch Enemy and Freddy's English seemed better, too. At both shows he proudly announced that the band was from "the country where the people have occupied Congress!" and interacted with the crowd a bit more than at the last show. They played mostly from their 2013 album Bu-tík, with just "Oceanquake" and "Takao" from (the previous album) Takasago Army, and nothing earlier. It would have been nice to hear something older, but I wasn't terribly disappointed since I'm more familiar with their newer stuff anyway, and it has a more polished, epic sound. Perhaps if they get up to a headline tour, they'll be able to play a greater variety, as well as some hidden gems like "Resurrection Pyre" from Bu-tík, which starts off with such an awesome guitar riff! After their set I talked to Doris and Freddy for a few moments by their merch table, and like every Taiwanese person, Doris told me I should go to Taiwan for the snacks! XD It's totally why I want to go, too. I almost got to pick up the Taiwanese version of Bu-tík for just $10 but I waited too long and they sold out! :(

ChthoniC's Freddy and Doris
Turisas-painted me with Doris and Freddy of ChthoniC!

After that great performance, the night was only half over; next was Turisas from Finland, second band of the night in red and black face paint and inventors of "battle metal." (Just kidding, I totally don't think that's an actual genre.) At Empire my kid and I enjoyed them from the counter at the side while finishing off some chicken fingers (her bedtime snack, as she fell asleep several songs from the end of the set); I couldn't wait to push people around to them at Ottobar! They came out to "Ten More Miles" ("Tu-REE-sas! You can count on us!") dressed in their new barbarian-biker-punk attire. I'm one of those old fans who is gonna complain that I preferred their old songs and their old barbarian look. But the new songs actually sounded ok live - epic choruses and some folksy bits courtesy of (fiddler) Olli - except "For Your Own Good" which was rather bland. (Song has a pretty good message, though; go read the lyrics.) And they actually played a great mix, with some epic old songs thrown in - "Rex Regi Rebellis" and "Miklagard Overture" - as well as the crowd-pleasers like "Battle Metal" and "Stand Up and Fight." Not only that, but, by popular demand as explained by Mathias, they played "Rasputin" both nights! Not unlike the last time, I got the crowd chanting at second show, cause damn if they were not going to play it when I could actually be in the pit. They actually went off and came back on to play that and "Stand Up and Fight," one of the few times I've seen a second slot band do an encore. At Empire, Mathias said they would play a different set at Ottobar, but this was not the case - they played the same songs in a different order, and there was perhaps one more song at Empire but I forget what it was. I was totally satisfied after their set, cause they played so many good songs, the pit was great, and the new songs didn't suck so that wasn't too bad.

I do wonder what they think of the fact that the song everyone wants to hear them play (and their most played song on Spotify, too) is "Rasputin," which is a cover XD

We left the Empire show after Turisas cause my kid was literally asleep. I wasn't too bummed, as I'd seen the bands I really wanted to see, and I would see Korpiklaani the next night anyway.

At Ottobar, I was worried that Korpiklaani wouldn't be very inspiring after Turisas - great respect for them, but they just don't get me as amped. After a little ginger beer, though, things were great, and Korpiklaani's set was a lot of fun, in spite of it being surely after midnight by the time they started (I left my watch and phone in the car to keep them safe from the pit). I think they played a lot from their latest album Manala - a lot of very folky, mythology-steeped songs with some joik vocals thrown in (yes!), and it seemed like less of the drink-themed songs than usual. They did play "Vodka," "Ievan Polkka," "Wooden Pints" and "Happy Little Boozer" to get party going, though. At Ottobar, they played "Pellonpekko" as the first song of the encore because D.P. kept shouting for it. In spite of recognizing hardly any of the songs, I had a great time dancing to the folky parts, and pushing people around a little for the heavy parts. (In general, the pits were a little fast and brutal for me, so I tried to stay near the edge.) There was a good mix of moshing and dancing in the pit, which has been a little harder to find recently around here. I was not quite as dead afterward as at Finntroll, though, so I must have been holding back a little XD

Personally, I thought this was the best Paganfest so far. Winterhymn started things off great, Varg and ChthoniC blasted our faces off, Turisas played an epic selection of songs and Korpiklaani's set was so much fun. I can hardly remember another show where I've had such a solid night of enjoyment. I know some people came especially for this band or that band but I was lucky enough to find something to enjoy in each of them \m/

Next show: Primal Fear, tonight! And then Negura Bunget, on 5/10.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Concert Review - Iced Earth, Sabaton, Revamp, A Sound of Thunder - 4/21/14 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Sabaton is one of my top bands to see live - the energy is just amazing, everyone gets so pumped. And to see them touring with the mighty Iced Earth, with Floor Jansen's band Revamp and my local favorite A Sound of Thunder in support, was a lineup hard to beat. Most amazing of all, before the show I interviewed Joakim of Sabaton for Shockwave Magazine! :D (I'll post links and/or info once the interview is published :) )

Needless to say I was not missing any of this lineup (besides, I had to be there early for the interview). So I was there when A Sound of Thunder came out to the chant "Hail, Queen of Hell." They were loud, thundering, just how I like my heavy metal. The drums seemed a bit too loud at times, though, but the vocals were clearer than usual. They played a lot from their newer releases, Time's Arrow ("Time's Arrow," "I Will Not Break," "Power Play") and the Queen of Hell EP ("Queen of Hell"), not necessarily my favorite songs to hear live, but the songs were all upbeat and energetic. We got to hear them play a new song, "Udoroth," from their upcoming album for the first time ever live. It was a charging heavy metal song, with some shouted vocals thrown in. They closed with my fave song of theirs, their anthem, "A Sound of Thunder." The other songs were good but this one was great - it was much more intense, really bringing the thunder. Overall, they sounded nice, but I wish they'd played more older songs ;) This show had the biggest crowd I've ever seen for A Sound of Thunder - the floor was pretty full and people on the sides and at the bar seemed to be paying attention, too. Nina's guerilla marketing seems to be working ;) Anyway, good for the band, the crowd seemed very pleased with them.

Next up was the Netherlands' Revamp, which features Floor Jansen (now the singer of Nightwish, too). I don't think I'd heard anything of theirs before the show. They were heavier than I expected, and I know I keep saying that about gothic-symphonic bands, but these guys really were astoundingly heavy. Most of the songs started with rampaging heavy metal riffs - the last song with churning riffs you'd expect from a much more brutal band. Then they'd launch into a melodic segment that melded perfectly with Floor's soaring vocals. I was surprised to hear her doing harsh vocals as well. My friends were disgruntled by this band - there seemed to be something wrong with the sound. I guess the melodic parts could have been a bit clearer, but I was pleased and entertained. And Floor announced that she will be back with Nightwish, although when was unclear - it sounded like she said "this time of year."

Next up were Sweden's power metal warriors, Sabaton, which was the band I came to see. They sounded great, and from what I could see, the band was as amped as the crowd and having the time of their lives. Great to see, considering 2/3 of the lineup left two years ago, and a new drummer (Hannes Van Dahl of Evergrey) was just added last fall. Although they have a new album coming out next month, they only played one song from it, the single "To Hell and Back" (catchy song - it was stuck in my head earlier today). I was surprised but not displeased since of course, I wanted to jump around to the Sabaton songs I knew. They played a set of classic after classic, closing with the amazingly fun "Metal Crue." The only song I thought a little weak was "Poltava," which is a good song, but I thought a better choice from Carolus Rex would have been "Lifetime of War." (They had a little extra time, so I think they played some three extra songs, one of which was the Swedish version of "Poltava.") The crowd was ecstatic - the floor was full, easily twice as many people on the floor as for Sabaton's headline shows, a furious pit for most songs, and so much Sabaton name-chanting between songs that Joakim had to tell us to shut up so he could talk.

After that, seeing Iced Earth was just icing. In fact, they seemed a bit lacking in energy after Sabaton, and it took me a while to get into them. They did sound good - Stu can really scream and the guitars were clear - but perhaps the song selection was a little lackluster. I enjoyed "V," "Burning Times" and a couple other songs, but the rest of the songs didn't really grab me and I didn't really get into it until the encore of "Dystopia," "Watching Over Me," and "Iced Earth." Those two fast songs brought the energy finally, and "Watching Over Me" was touching. I did enjoy that they played "A Question of Heaven" since that was in the soundtrack of a novel I wrote last year :) It was not a bad way to end the night, but Sabaton was definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Next show: Paganfest! Planning to attend both Friday and Saturday :D

Monday, April 7, 2014

Concert Review - Combichrist, William Control, New Year's Day - 4/4/14 at Empire, Springfield, VA

Combichrist first introduced me to industrial music almost ten years ago - my first time at (DC goth club) Midnight in my senior year of college, the DJ played "This Shit Will Fuck You Up," and my friend J and I turned to each other like, "That was amazing! What was that?!" Back then youtube wasn't what it is now, and the only version I found of that track was a video someone had made of their friends running around in the woods (possibly with swords) to part of that song. But I was hooked - Combichrist instantly became my favorite band to dance to at goth/industrial clubs.

Somehow, though, my bumpy journey through metal and industrial since then never managed to put me at a Combichrist live show. So you could say I'd been waiting ten years for this show.

I was less than excited about the opening bands, having seen William Control opening for The Birthday Massacre and not being impressed, and never having heard of the other one. So I wasn't terribly concerned when I wasn't able to leave until after my daughter's bedtime and arrived at Empire around 10pm. Besides, I walked into the venue about five steps behind Combichrist, so it was worth it, even if being in line prevented me from actually interacting with them. (And also met up with my pal L in line, what a surprise!)

When I got inside, it was the middle of William Control's set. They sounded much better this time than last time, and the singer seemed like less of a jerk as well (he actually thanked the audience at the end of the set!). There were more heavy driving beats and danceable synthpop melodies, most noticeably in the songs from their new album (which came out that day). I felt their sound, especially in the new songs, was rather similar to Terminal Choice, although the vocals were a little less gritty and in English, of course. I actually enjoyed the set this time and moved a little bit.

Between sets I found out a bit about New Year's Day from S. He compared them to Stitched Up Heart but said they were not as good - they were energetic, but the songs were missing something. (Read his review for more on them.)

Finally, after teasing us with a seemingly interminable and unusally movie-soundtrack-epic-sounding intro, Combichrist at last came out to the title track of their new album, "We Were Made to Love You." This track, while nice and heavy, and rather discordant, in the ear-drowningly harsh vein of Psyclon Nine (my fave industrial act), was also hard to dance to in limited space, due to its unusual, drawn out rhythm. So I didn't move much for that first song, but as they moved on into other songs with those signature danceable Combichrist riffs, I danced to pretty much every song, and finally rushed into the moshpit, I think for "What the Fuck is Wrong With You," as well as "Get Your Body Beat." I tried to start the pit during "Sent to Destroy," but the guys just looked at me like I was crazy. That was the last song; I (and others) expected "This Shit Will Fuck You Up" as the closer, but we were disappointed :( I had an excellent time, dancing and moshing for most of the show, or headbanging for the songs that had more of a groovy or racing metal vibe (such as "Maggots at the Party" and "Love is a Razorblade," respectively). They did play a slow song ("The Evil in Me"?) which was not really danceable, but maybe it was good to have a break. Certainly, I'm used to having to put up with a lot of slow songs whenever I go out for goth/industrial music and dancing ;) The vocals sounded a little different - perhaps a little more natural and less like some evil electronic overlord, but that didn't affect my enjoyment much - I was mostly there for the rad harsh-industrial dance beats anyway.

Andy LaPlegua (vocalist, band mainman) made some interesting comments about the band "not belonging to a scene anymore" and fans being afraid to like the new album because it's not in their usual scene, but he was met with cheers when he proclaimed the crowd to be the band's scene. Although the new album strays quite a bit from the charging, harsh energy of Combichrist's dancefloor standards, with some VNV Nation-like flowing waves of synth in one track, Daft Punk-like electronic noise in another, and some songs with more a metal than dance vibe to them, it's good music, and there are floorkillers like "Every Day is War" (which sounds quite similar to "This Shit Will Fuck You Up," down to the electronic squeals). I'm definitely not disappointed; I mean, a song of dancefloor hits in the all the same style would be boring, honestly. The album makes an interesting, varied listen; I only need one or two songs from it to request on the dance floor.

So anyway, after my ten years' wait, I was very satisfied with live Combichrist. (Only dancing to "This Shit Will Fuck You Up" could have made it better, but at least they played my other favorite songs!) Considering I couldn't get there till late, and one hour of nonstop industrial dance party was probably the most my body could handle anyway, I wasn't bothered by the less than stellar support. Really I just wanted to see (and dance to) Combichrist, and they delivered.