I think after the last time I saw Sonata Arctica, I might have sworn off seeing them ever again. They were fresh off Stones Grow Her Name and played a lot of disappointing songs from that album, and made disappointing choices from their other albums. (I believe "Draw Me" was the choice from Winterheart's Guild. Not a terrible song, but why pass up "The Ruins of My Life" or "Victoria's Secret" or for god's sake, "The Cage"???)
Pariah's Child changed my mind. While by no means as epic as Winterheart's Guild, it was definitely a return to form, with lots of fast melodic goodness that was missing from Stones Grow Her Name. I decided to give Sonata one more chance. They were, after all, one of the two bands that got me into metal in the first place.
I was excited to see that Xandria would be touring with them. While I don't know this band super well, they are one of the top bands in the female-fronted gothic-symphonic metal niche, and as far as I know have never been to the States before, so I highly anticipated the chance to see them. Delain I had seen on tour with Kamelot, and liked them well enough, but didn't feel any special need to see them again. Still, they'd be at least decent, I figured.
The Star-Spangled Spectacular was going on in Baltimore that weekend, and so parking was a bit crazy. (I can't blame the event too much, though, cause it brought a bunch of tall ships to town! My daughter and I returned the next day to see the ships.) Most of the garages were doing reserved parking, and being very risk averse I decided we should do that rather than try our luck hunting for parking - but the closest thing still available was in Fell's Point. Still, that was not really such a bad walk. We walked along the harbor hoping to see some ships, but it turned out there weren't any on that side of Pier 5, so all we got to see were good ole Taney, and an enormous battleship-gray cat-hull thing that was moored behind her. (USNS Choctaw County, I later found out.)
With the walk (as well as second dinner at my brother's place), we missed the first band, locals Omnislash. My friend T., who did see them, said they were old-school heavy metal (with power metal vibes, I think?) and were worth a $5 CD, at least.
My brother and I arrived well in time for Xandria, though, of which I was glad. They were epic - I was headbanging as soon as the first choir-backed riffs hit us. I should stop being surprised how loud and heavy gothic-symphonic bands can be live. My brother and I were standing at the back bar on an unsuccessful quest for Jaeger when they started, and it sounded thundering back there. I imagined it was deafening on the floor, although later experience showed that maybe that wasn't the case. With the volume and epic sound, I couldn't help headbanging while waiting for (and then sipping) my shot of Sambuca (a pretty good second best to Jaeger!). After drinking, we moved a little closer and I headbanged some more. My neck hurt already after Xandria's set - either they were that epic or my neck was that out of shape. The only song I could say I knew for sure was "Forevermore." The syncopated guitars in that song sounded a little odd, but the vocals and melody were lovely. Overall, I really enjoyed their thundering epic sound with the operatic vocals soaring over it, and regretted they had such a short set (5 songs). I hope they come back another time, higher on the bill.
After a rather long break (I had time to search the whole place for a friend, and then to have a decent conversation with her when I finally found her), Delain came on. They were less epic than Xandria, but still energetic, with a decent bit of heaviness and a lot of groove. My brother is such an enabler - I said they made me want to dance and he said, "Do ittt." So I danced. While headbanging. Cause that's what I do. Their riffs and melodies were very driving in a danceable way. And I appreciated Charlotte Wessel's vocals more this time than last time. There seemed less operatic pretension about them this time, just regular vocals with a gothic emotional edge and sometimes a little metal snarl. I'm not too familiar with their discography, but perhaps their recent songs are more in this vein. But my favorite song was their old classic "The Gathering," which is actually more in the epic, operatic gothic-symphonic vein. In any case, I enjoyed them wholeheartedly this time.
Another long break, and then it was time for Sonata Arctica. They delivered. They started out strong with the wolf song from their latest album, "The Wolves Die Young," and just got better from there. (Well, mostly.) They played a bunch of epic old songs like "Black Sheep," "Replica," "Kingdom for a Heart," "FullMoon" and "San Sebastian," which got me throwing my hair everywhere. Of newer material they mostly picked the stuff that's fairly epic and catchy like "Flag in the Ground" and "I Have a Right." Thankfully, they avoided most of the horrible stuff from Stones Grow Her Name. But I wasn't too fond of their picks from Pariah's Child. "X Marks the Spot" is just weird with the born-again rock star voiceover (though I guess it does have some decent parts), "What Did You Do in the War, Dad?" is not that interesting, and "Love" is just an inane song (note: I already though this before my recent breakup. I like sappy songs, but "Love" is beyond sappy; it's so generic it's pretty much meaningless). I was surprised they didn't play "Cloud Factory," which is much catchier. Still, I enjoyed myself enough that I didn't realize till writing this review that they pretty much skipped Winterheart's Guild and Reckoning Night.
For the encore, I made my way into the crowd to hang out with T., and discovered that even without earplugs, it was not painfully loud just a few rows from the stage (but it's probably good that I was standing at the back for most of the set - I think my tresses
clear a circle a couple feet wide when I get my windmill going). The encore started with "Blood," which is another new song I haven't really gotten into. But they followed that with their long-lost classic, "Wolf and Raven"! The crowd went wild - though not quite wild enough for me; I kept looking around for the pit, but there was none, and I had no one to start one with :( As last time, they closed with "Don't Say a Word," a great jump and sing along song.
I had an awesome time. The two opening bands on the tour did not disappoint, and Sonata Arctica pretty well redeemed themselves with this epic set and performance. And hey - they played "Wolf and Raven" this time; perhaps it's not beyond hope that someday they will also play "The Cage" again??! :D
Next show: Eluveitie/ Tyr/ Metsatöll, this Friday!