Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review of Maryland Folk Fest on DC Heavy Metal

It's been a little while since my last review again. I have been to a couple shows, but other writing commitments and ridiculous real-life stresses have gotten in the way of keeping up with this blog. I have a review of Evergrey/ Voyager/ Borealis/ Oceans of Slumber that I've been working on for almost two weeks. It's almost done..but I haven't had a free evening to work on it since I almost finished it on Monday of last week :/

In the interim, in case you haven't read it yet, you can read the review of Maryland Folk Fest (US east coast folk metal fest featuring Aether Realm, Sekengard, Yonder Realm, Isenmor, Dogs And Day Drinkers and Heimdall) that I wrote for DC Heavy Metal (which is one of those other writing gigs that's distracting from this one ;) ).

Not included in the DCHM review is this photo of the pit for Isenmor. I'm in there :D

Photo by Tigran Kapinos

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Concert Review - Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, TrollfesT - May 27, 2015 at Baltimore Soundstage, Baltimore, MD

Sooo...I haven't reviewed anything on here for a while.

It's been largely a question of motivation, more than time or anything else, because I've managed to find time to write constantly for my another blog o' mine, sometimes even two posts a week. I have some attention issues which make me leap to do the things I find fun, interesting or obsessing (and make it hard to anything else till those things are done) while also making me adverse to doing anything that seems hard or boring. And unfortunately, for quite a while now this blog has felt like a chore. And so, as my writing projects (metal and otherwise) have piled up, this one has kind of fallen by the wayside.

But I'm not ready to give up on this blog yet. I've made a lot of friends and connections in the local scene because of this blog. And people are still visiting the site, even though I haven't updated in months. Most of all, I feel like reviewing local bands is still an important contribution I can make to the local scene. And so, I'm going to try to keep it going. Sometimes, we have to do things that are hard, cause they may be worthwhile even if they don't feel like fun at the time.

I'm also going to try to get back into doing book reviews, particularly of local and/or self-publishing authors.

Anyway, to get back into the swing of things, here's a review I drafted back in May the night after the show, but never got around to finalizing and posting. It actually doesn't include any locals, but after this I think I have the notes for an entirely local show, Isenmor's CD release party show in June. I actually typed a loooong thing about MDF, as well, but I'm not going to post it because it ended up being way more about personal stuff than about the music. I might still write a summary of the music, just to have an entry in my "concert diary" that, oh yeah, I went to MDF this year.

Anyway. Enough of that - here's my review of Ensiferum and Korpiklaani at Soundstage in May:

Seeing as this show was three days after Maryland Deathfest, I wasn't all that sure I'd have the babysitting cred, or social energy, to go. But then there was a two-for-one ticket deal, and I felt obliged to ask my brother if he'd like to go, and to my surprise he said yes, and so I bought the tickets and had to go. Turned out to be a good decision despite the potential guilting from my daughter's grandparents, cause I had an awesome time.

There was some sort of delay on the way up, and so we got there right as Korpiklaani starting. I had been aiming to get there sometime during or toward the end of TrollfesT's set, cause I don't much care for them, but we overshot it and missed some of Korpi instead :/

Korpiklaani played a lot of songs I didn't recognize - but then I don't listen to them, or folk metal in general, much anymore. (It's fun live, but at home I prefer the doomy end of the melodeath spectrum.) I hadn't listened to Korpi's new album, Noita, before the show, but I'm pretty sure they started with "Viinamäen Mies" from the new album. The first song I recognized was "Sumussa Hämärän Aamun" (one of my favorite Korpi songs) and that was maybe the 6th song in. After listening to Noita, I'm pretty sure they also played "Pilli on Pajusta Tehty," "Lempo" and I know they played "Ammanhauta" because Jonne introduced that song. There was an enormous pit on their first song, and I wondered if I would be able to go in the pit at all. But a couple songs later there was dancing, so I went in. The moshing to dancing ratio was still higher than I'd have liked, but it was still fun. I also had to spend time with my brother (who just wanted to stand in the back - concerts aren't actually really his thing), so I couldn't be in the pit all the time anyway. There were very few songs I recognized overall - besides "Sumussa Hämärän Aamun," there was "Vodka" (of course), "Wooden Pints" (of course), "Juodaan Viinaa," "Rauta," and maybe something else. But just about all the songs were in Finnish, so that was cool - there seemed to be less of the generic silly songs about alcohol, and more really folky stuff. And it was a fun time in the pit - I was literally soaked in sweat head to toe by the end of their set.

A little while later, Ensiferum came out to the intro and a song from their new album One Man Army, I believe. They played a second new one - and then the singer announced we were going to "ride INTO BATTLE." "Hold this," I said, pushing my ice water into my brother's hands, and made my way to the pit as that epic intro wafted over the crowd. As I expected, the pit was crazy, but I'd been waiting years to mosh to this song, so I toughed through it and kept moving the whole time. I even got to dance a little. After that song ended, I rested my head on my buddy L's shoulder and said, "I'm done." He wasn't gonna let me leave the pit so I had to tell him I had to retrieve my "drink" from my brother. The rest of the set consisted of a lot more songs from One Man Army, as well as a few other classics ("Ahti," "Victory Song"), and "Unsung Heroes" and "Burning Leaves" from their previous album. The songs from One Man Army were good - they were fast and interesting, though not quite like old Ensiferum. The singer encouraged the moshers, especially for "One Man Army," which was quite thrashy. (There were sound problems during that song though - I couldn't hear the lead guitar at first, just thundering drums and bass.) The songs from Unsung Heroes, meanwhile, sounded like "Ensiferum plays generic folk metal" - though they did have some redeeming parts. [I didn't write down what they were at the time, and by now I've forgotten :/ ] Their keyboard player was "left behind," but instead they had Netta Skog (formerly of Turisas) on accordion, which seemed to adequately complete their sound.

At the start of their encore, everyone switched instruments, and with Netta singing (and wearing a shiny police cap), they performed a silly cover of "Breaking the Law." Then they played "From Afar" and "Token of Time" with a sing-along, and closed with "Iron." I actually enjoyed their set a lot. The new songs were good, and they worked in a decent number of old songs, though I did wonder that they didn't play "Lai Lai Hei" or "Deathbringer From the Sky." I guess with a new album to promote, they had to leave something out.

Dare I say it - I think I actually had more fun at this show than at MDF. The pit was a little more brutal than I usually like, but still fun. It was totally worth winding up soaked in sweat and getting cracked in the jaw. Never mind all the hassle with getting to the show - that was all forgotten by the end of the night, subsumed by all the fun memories.

Next show - Well, tonight I'm going to see Iris Divine, MindMaze and Dogs & Day Drinkers, should be good!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Concert Review - Shell Fest 2015 - Vitality, Aether Realm, Condemn the Infected, Frostclad - 5/9/15 at Nyumburu Cultural Center, University of MD, College Park, MD

So, this is my first review in months! I have actually been to a few shows in the meantime, but didn't review them for various reasons. Alestorm, Swashbuckle and Sekengard on January 29, but that was the night before my family's dog was to be put down, so I was in no mood to enjoy the show, much less review it. Sekengard and Isenmor the following Monday, February 2, which I started to review but never finished writing; I was still kind of out of it. And then later in February, I saw my girlfriend's band, but I can't review them if I wish to be taken seriously. I'm still trying to live down the review I wrote before she and I started dating, heh.

And then somehow a few months went by without me going to any concerts at all. Oh, I was supposed to see Kamelot and DragonForce on April 27, and wanted to see Apocalyptica on April 29, but I couldn't get away for either one. And then the Baltimore Uprising happened and that Kamelot show was canceled/ rescheduled anyway. I'm going to see them when they come around again in the fall. And I was going to go to Empire's Last Show Ever featuring A Sound of Thunder, Yesterday's Saints and Iris Divine (and some headlining band I'd never heard of) but again, couldn't get away.

So it'd been about two months since I'd even been to a concert. May was originally shaping up to be crazy with concerts, but Empire's closing wiped out several of those, and prioritizing my life removed a few others, so now the only things remaining on my calendar are NIGHTWISH, MARYLAND DEATHFEST and a folk metal show. Yes, those things are supposed to be shouted. No, I don't give a fuck if you hate me for liking COB Nightwish - they're the band that got me started on metal.

So anyway - to ease myself back into the metal life and the metal writing, a fun and free show at the University of Maryland - the UMD Metal Club's annual Shell Fest, this year featuring Vitality, Aether Realm, Condemn the Infected and Frostclad. Aether Realm is one my of favorite "local" bands - as a band from a few states away who hasn't quite hit it big yet. They're folky melodeath, or melodeath style folk/Viking metal, or something, in the vein of Ensiferum, with tones of Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom at times too. They were supposed to play at the Finntroll show at Empire in November 2013 but couldn't make it; before that, the last time (and also the first time, I think?) that I saw them was opening for Turisas that spring. So it'd been a while and more than anything else about this show, I was looking forward to seeing them again. I also recalled liking Vitality, so I figured at least half the show should be good.

Unfortunately, everything took way too long on Saturday, including finding the visitor parking on the UMD campus, and so my friend B. and I got there well after the first band, the UM Metal Club's black metal band Frostclad, finished playing. In fact, the second band, Condemn the Infected, was already playing when we got there. As soon as we stumbled upon the well-hidden Nyumburu Cultural Center, our discovery was confirmed by the sound blasting out the open doors. I immediately bumped into my buddy M and spent the rest of Condemn the Infected's set standing around in the lobby chatting with him. I had meant to watch at least a little of their set, but catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in a long time was more fun. (Sorry, folks, it seems I'm getting old and lazy..)

Speaking of people I hadn't seen in a while, Vincent of Aether Realm actually recognized me and said hi. When they were getting ready to play is when M. and B. and I finally abandoned our barricade of the water fountain and went into the room where the bands were playing. It was like a large, high-ceilinged classroom, with a hard tiled floor and a low stage at the far end. There were about forty people on the floor for the two bands I watched, loosely filling the front half of the room, a nice turnout for a hard-to-find venue on a night when two other local shows were happening. The sound was actually pretty good, too; no complaints there.

After numerous false starts/ sound checks, and jokes about being done and leaving the stage, Aether Realm finally got started. The first two songs  ("The Magician" and "One Chosen By The Gods") sounded all right, but I thought they really hit their stride with their third song, "Swamp Witch," and the fourth song, their new single "The Chariot," sounded exceedingly good and tight. Epic riffs warred with tremolo black metal guitars, and the vocals reminded at times of Alestorm and at times of Alexi Laiho. They like to joke around and act silly saying things like, "This a song," but once they actually start playing you can tell they take the music seriously, at least. Surprisingly they only played five songs, when it had seemed like Condemn the Infected played for an hour. It was fun though - there was a strong pit, ten to fifteen people, for almost every song, as well as some headbanging lines that stretched almost across the whole floor.

Last band of the night was Vitality from Frederick, MD. I had seen them a year and a half ago at Cafe 611 opening for Arkona. Perhaps the sound there was poor, for this time they were much more brutal and less melodic than I remembered. There were more battering drums and hammering guitars than I recalled, and the vocals were that sort of low roar that sounds almost wordless, it's so incomprehensible. They did have some groovy parts, which were fun. Also, I kept getting distracted by how closely their guitarist Chris resembles by friend S. Chris is taller with longer hair and able to play guitar, but his face, facial hair and hair type are so much like S, and the expressions he makes while playing guitar are spot on like S's expressions (when not playing guitar), that I couldn't help giggling whenever I saw his face (which wasn't often as there was usually a curtain of hair in front of it). I talked to him after their set (and up close, sporting a man bun and with a distinct voice, he's not so reminiscent of S) and it turns out he actually knows S! Go figure, haha.

Being that it was a college campus, the show was over around 10:30, but we hung out till about 11, chatting and pestering Aether Realm about merch. Between meeting up with friends, seeing the long-lost Aether Realm, and hanging out in a chill metal atmosphere, it was a really fun night.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Concert Review: Dark Tranquillity, Insomnium, Aurelian, Oberris, Within Our Gates, Tortile - 1/5/15 at Empire, Springfield, VA

First review of the year! Although this wasn't the first show of the year - I went to Monthly Metal at Guido's in Frederick on Saturday, so that was the first show of the year, but I felt like crap at that show and could barely pay attention to the one band we saw (Day of the Beast) never mind trying to review them. I was kind of worried that the same thing would happen at this show - ok, maybe a lot worried, since Insomnium is one of my favorite bands and I would hate to zone out at their show due to my issues. But for various reasons, I felt much more comfortable at this show, and barely thought about my issues at all.

I got there pretty early, around 6:50. A band was playing, and after excluding the bands I saw later and finding out March to Victory dropped off the show, I conclude it was probably Tortile. They had screamy harsh vocals, and melodic and atmospheric tremolo-y guitar. They seemed like they might be good, but they stopped playing right as I got into the main room.

I spotted my buddy M.C. in the crowd and went to chat with him. We watched the next local opener, Within Our Gates, setting up, and got worried because most of them had short hair, and at least one had gauges in his ears... I wish it weren't so, but you can generally judge the style of music of a band by the length of their hair, and these haircuts screamed metalcore or screamo. But then they started out with a choral intro highly reminiscent of Caladan Brood. And then they launched into energetic, melodic guitaring that sounded kinda like Blackguard on an off day. The reason for the short hair became apparent with the chorus, though - clean, angsty emo vocals. But either that emo sound is growing on me or the angst wasn't at an unbearable level, because I didn't find it annoying - though the singer did occasionally seem a little off key. They did have a lot of good stuff going on in their music, like In Flames-esque melodic riffs. I headbanged a bit and I wasn't the only one showing my appreciation with my hair. They got a lot of applause, too, and even got the crowd to clap along at one point (that's how I know the Euro metal influence is strong with this one XD ). Unfortunately, the sound wasn't great; when the drums and bass got going, they drowned everything else out. There was a short solo in second song, but I could only judge its virtuosity based on the guitarist's hands; it was practically inaudible through the bass and drums. But they were loud and shook the floor, which I guess is a good sign. I kept expecting a pit to break out for the fast, heavy parts (I might have started one if I had a moshing buddy with me) but nothing happened. I figured that presaged a quiet night - maybe people who listen to DT don't mosh? - but I turned out to be wrong about that :) Overall I probably enjoyed Within Our Gates most (emo vocals and all) out of the local openers I saw due to their energy and their fast, melodic guitaring. They have potential to really go somewhere, especially with how popular emo-y metalcore is now; and I hope they do, cause they'd be one of those metalcore bands that are actually good.

Next up was Oberris. I didn't really dig them at first - their sound consisted of noisy jackhammer guitars with weird vocals (I'm not quite sure how to describe them, perhaps a sort of wet shriek with a little of the reptilian flavor of Inquisition, sometimes descending into a rumbling growl that was surprising for the vocalist's small frame). But then they covered a Gojira song and the pounding guitars got my attention. After that they played a thundering song with a bit of groove to it, which I enjoyed all right. The floor was full for them and people seemed to be enjoying it - I saw a couple people in the middle headbanging to the rumbling death metal parts.

Last local band of the night and direct support to the touring bands was my friend Mike's band Aurelian. They only played three songs, but I guess that's what you get when you're a doom band with ten minute songs. The middle song was mostly slow with, I felt, overly strident female vocals. The third song was more a mix of slow and fast, light and heavy. There were a couple awkward transitions, but mostly they did a nice job building up the atmosphere and then crushing us with heaviness. They really killed it at the end when there was a sudden explosion of heaviness and a blast of growl from Mike, then they launched into heavy riffs. Mike once said their main influences are Katatonia and Swallow The Sun, but I don't really hear the melancholy of those bands in Aurelian's music (at least judging from those three songs).

Then the band I came to see - Insomnium, masters of the melancholy and doomy end of the melodeath spectrum. There was something a little off in the first song or two, like things weren't quite in sync, but from there on out they were amazing. They were much louder and heavier than I remember them being at Howard Theatre with Epica. (Then again, I was also much closer to the front this time - in the third or fourth row or thereabouts. That was D.'s doing. I would have hung back - because no way was I going to listen to Insomnium through earplugs - but it actually wasn't painful to go up front without earplugs, just very, very loud.) And anyone who thinks Insomnium is a slow band hasn't heard them play "Where the Last Wave Broke" live. They really amped up the energy on that one, and I think that was when a pit started - right by where we were standing by the right speaker. I did my best to stay out of it cause I had a CD in my pants pocket (great idea, right?) and I didn't feel like moshing for Insomnium; I just wanted to windmill my hair. And I did, in spite of the dense crowd. Far too soon the set was over. To my great disappointment, they didn't play "Weather the Storm" - and they had Mikael Stanne with them, dammit! It's the song that got me into the band, and it's just amazing - the soaring riffs, the uplifting chorus, the way the guys all headbang together in the video.. :D Later, D. diplomatically asked the vocalist and bassist, Niilo Sevänen, about that song, and he said they need Mikael on stage with them or it wouldn't be right, so they can't do it every night. I'm not sure what that means. Maybe Mikael is fiercely protective of his before-stage time, or wants to conserve his voice? Anyway, I'm still bummed since it seems I'll never get to see this phenomenal song performed live.

With Niilo Sevänen of Insomnium

After Insomnium, I joked that I was done and D. gave me a look... XD Somehow, over the couple of years I've been into melodeath, I've only gotten moderately into Dark Tranquillity. I think it's because I really dig melancholy music, and they don't have as much of that flavor. Sure, they have some, but they also have a of just plain upbeat, melodic riffing a la other Gothenburg bands. Which is something that I enjoy a lot, but it doesn't dig into my soul the way that moody, mournful music does. That probably explains why the DT songs that actually stick in my head are songs like "Therein" ("I starve myself for energy..") and "Wonders at Your Feet," which have a strong melancholy component. And man, I thought my heart was going to break during "What Only You Know." They played a video of a dying bumblebee on the screen behind them, and combined with the thoughts going through my head, that just tore me up inside. Who'd have thought a dying insect could be so heartbreaking.. Most of the set was cheerful and upbeat, though, thanks to Mikael Stanne's unquenchable smile and enthusiasm and his dancing about the stage. While I wouldn't have gone up to the third row without D. dragging me there, I was certainly not sorry to be just five feet away from Mikael :3

For the first international tour I saw this year, this show certainly started things off right. Seeing one of my favorite bands, rocking out to our favorite music with people who are dear to me, phenomenal performances from DT and Insomnium and a solid lineup of locals - I couldn't have asked for more.

Next show: Flight of the Valkyries on Jan. 10!