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!