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! :(
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.