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!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Concert Review - Cab Ride Home, Trihexyn, Croatoan, Cammo Shorts - 10/10/14 at First Break Cafe, Sterling, VA

A couple weeks ago, I got to know Danica, the vocalist of Cab Ride Home, through a mutual friend. When she told me that the show at First Break Cafe would be her first show presenting as trans, I was determined to do everything in my power to get out and support her. Never mind that I somehow hadn't listened to Cab Ride Home before (despite having known about them for years) and didn't know any of the other bands on the line-up. The music, while sure to be entertaining, was secondary to supporting a friend and fellow LGBTQ person. Ok, and I was curious to finally find out how Cab Ride Home sounded. (With everything else going on, I didn't have a chance to check them out online before the show.)

Having spent all my babysitting cred on the Within Temptation show earlier in the week, I had to wait till after my kid went to bed to head out to the show, so I missed the first band in the lineup. Luckily, it was kind of a late show, so I did get to see two bands before Cab Ride Home, and actually enjoyed both of them.

Croatoan was playing when I got there. They were dully audible outside the building, and the growing noise reassured me I was on the right track as I headed up some well-lit stairs and down a rather normal-looking carpeted hallway, seeking the elusive First Break Cafe. Once inside I still had to follow the noise past pool tables and the bar until I finally found them playing in the corner of a small carpeted floor, with about ten people standing around in front of them (though a bunch more were listening, I guess, while sitting at the bar or playing pool). They were loud and their sound was surprisingly clear for the sort of venue where the band just sets up in a corner. Pretty soon their fast, thundering sound made me want to push people around, but I felt self-conscious with the small number of people on the floor. No one else was moving much. There was a groovy guitar solo at some point that was cool.

After they finished, I decided to try to get rid of a persistent stomachache by ordering some food, and ended up with a huge plate of chicken nachos. They were tasty and kind of helped, but I think I was more being gnawed to death by social anxiety than hunger.

I was still sitting at the bar finishing my nachos when Trihexyn started. I was surprised to hear clean vocals wafting up from the floor over a barrage of guitars. The clean vocals had notes of Russell Allen (Symphony X), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and maybe even a bit of Falconer's singer. Power metal vocals and guitars alternated with growls and jackhammer death metal guitars, even some breakdowns. Early in the set (while I was still at the bar, sadly) they covered Metallica's "Battery." If you ever wondered what "Battery" would sound like with power metal vocals, well, that's what it was. That finally got the crowd moving, though from where I was sitting I wasn't sure if they were just throwing their hair around, or actually pushing each other around. Damn my need for food :( But I did have a chance to see a few songs from the floor. The band had a pretty cool set-up, with a mini light show going on by means of boxes that the guitarists were standing on. If I remember correctly, the vocalist introduced their last song, "All For You" as "a slow one" - it turned out to be the most predominantly rumbling death metal song that they played. There's video of it here if you want to see (well, mainly hear, and get a glimpse of their light show) for yourself.

And then, well after midnight, Cab Ride Home started. I should have been in the front row but I was trying not to completely destroy my ears, so I hung back. (And I didn't want to ruin the sound with earplugs, obviously!) The crowd seemed a bit small, but then again this show was competing with Suffocation/ Kataklysm/ Jungle Rot at Empire the same night. The only thing I knew about Cab Ride Home was "thrash" so I was pleasantly surprised to find their music featured plenty of At The Gates-esque melodic groove as well as thrash thunder, and sometimes both at once. (I've got to say I headbanged most to the melodic parts.) The song "21 Drops of Rain" had a cool guitar part that was atmospheric but speeded up to death metal pace. The song right before that was extra melodic. Unfortunately the vocals were a bit buried in the guitars so it was impossible to make out most of the words - but then again harsh vocals are pretty hard to understand live anyway. Danica's stage presence, though, seized my attention. She delivered growls and screams uncompromisingly, all the while bringing audience participation to the max,  taking advantage of the fact that the stage was just a corner of the room to run into the audience and throw her arm around people, and even trying to start a pit at one point. (I should have moshed for her, but I was still feeling stupidly self-conscious.)

Danica made a few references to the fact that she's now female - saying something about not being that cisgendered person early in the set, and later saying, "You've probably noticed something different - it's sort of sticking out..." following that up with a comment that someone was missing (I think they were short a guitarist that night). But for the most part it seemed to be a non-issue - both the band and the crowd were more focused on having a good, brutal time. I'm guessing most of the crowd knew already anyway if they knew the band personally. Her presentation wasn't over the top obvious - pants, a girlie shirt - but with a tight, feminine shirt there was no hiding it either. She did say after the show that she had kind of wanted to go "all the way" and wear a skirt, but she didn't have the boots to go with it. Her demeanor on stage meanwhile was commanding, dynamic, bad-ass - she's a girl you wouldn't want to mess with. It took guts to come out like that, in front of everyone at a metal show, but if anyone can handle it, she can.

The best moment of the set was probably the song "Crash the Gate." I couldn't really make out the lyrics, but I got the point from Danica's intro. I wish I would remember some actual words she said, but it was basically a big middle finger to all the people who would tell you what to do or how to live your life. It was something I needed to hear. And since Danica kept pointing at me during the song, I knew she was singing it as much for me as for herself.

There were just a few more songs after that, and for the last song, Danica invited everyone to share the "stage" with the band. So we all kind of stood around awkwardly and tried not to get in the way of the musicians.  Danica got two people to lift her up, and later jumped on someone's back, while singing. She was going wild for all of us. I guess we were a bit of a mild crowd for a thrash show. All the crazies must have been at Empire pushing each other around to Suffocation.

It was a fun time though. The three bands I saw were excellent; I'm now a converted fan, especially of Trihexyn and Cab Ride Home (what can I say, I'm just more drawn to metal with melodic elements). And things seemed to go well as far as Danica's coming out - at least, I didn't notice anything overwhelmingly negative. It seemed like the band and the audience were having the same good time they'd always had. Which is what it's all about really - no matter who you are, you should be able to come to a metal show and have a great time.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Concert Review - Within Temptation, Amaranthe - 10/7/14 at Ram's Head, Baltimore, MD

It was hard to say which band I was looking forward to more. I'd never seen Within Temptation before, but had liked them almost as long as Nightwish and Sonata Arctica - and they had special meaning to me, to boot, because a funny Dutch friend in Hong Kong introduced me to them. Yeah, I wasn't as huge a fan of their 2011 album, The Unforgiving, because I felt like it was too hard rock. And I hadn't followed the band for a number of years so I completely missed their transformation from gothic metal to symphonic metal. But I enjoyed this year's Hydra - very symphonic, with some gothic touches to boot. Not only that, but that album turned out to make a great soundtrack for the transition that's happening in my personal life, especially the songs "Dangerous" and "The Whole World is Watching," and even "And We Run," in spite of - actually especially because of - the rap part.

As for Amaranthe, they're pretty unique in the metal scene with their music that combines electronic dance beats with death growls and metal riffs, and they were stellar when I saw them in Philly last year. It promised to be a night of dancing and emotional release.

Unfortunately, a poor route choice left me on the road for about two hours (blagh!) and so I (and my pal J, sorry man :( ) missed most of Amaranthe's set. They were just ending "Amaranthine" as we got into the venue. We spent the next couple songs ("Call Out My Name," "Drop Dead Cynical") trying to get drinks, looking at merch and looking for people. Well, that was what J was doing; I just followed him around. My friend D found me by Amaranthe's merch table right before the band launched into "The Nexus," and we stood between the bar and the crowd where we could just barely see the band, and headbanged a bit. That was their last song, sadly. At least S informed me later that they didn't play "Electroheart"; I'd have hated myself for missing that song, unabashed electro-metal dance song that it is. 

Then D dragged me into the crowd, so I ended up in the middle of the floor and quite close up for Within Temptation. How am I going to headbang and dance? I wondered. But I managed. They started off with their radio hit (I mean, it gets played on XM radio) from their latest album, "Paradise (What About Us?)," which was recorded as a duet with Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), but Sharon pulled it off all on her own, and sounded damn good. They played mainly from Hydra (yay!) and The Unforgiving (all right..) with just a few older songs thrown in here and there. While I barely expected that I might hear my favorite song, "The Dance" (too old and obscure :( ), I did hope they'd play "The Howling," but no luck. However, "Ice Queen" and "Mother Earth" were plenty amazing, full of gothic goodness that got me dancing. I also was really looking forward to hearing "The Whole World is Watching" from Hydra and was sad when the end of the set arrived without it. I found a lot of songs from Hydra personally meaningful, but that was the one that would probably have reduced me to tears. But they played all the other songs I hoped to hear from Hydra, most especially "Dangerous," which is like the theme song for my life at the moment. Unfortunately, the rap part that was piped in during "And We Run" was almost inaudible; too bad, because those words had a lot of meaning for me, too. But the most amazing moment was probably Sharon's little speech before "Stand My Ground," where she talked about how things are changing in the world and people should be whoever they wanna be, "gay or straight or whatever you are, whatever religion..." Wow, from a band of their standing, that meant a lot, and made the song even more powerful. I might have screamed "Stand your ground!" totally off key the first time the chorus came around XD I may have tuned out a little for some of the slower songs from The Unforgiving, but overall it was a good set, and they sounded great. Mostly. Sharon flubbed the vocals at the start of "Angels," but the crowd was not unforgiving (heh, heh). Actually, her vocals seemed a little bit weak throughout - but it is nearing the end of the tour, so she might be getting tired. If I'm not mistaken though, she pulled off Tarja's parts of "Paradise (What About Us?)" pretty well, which is a feat.

While I was pretty disappointed that I missed most of Amaranthe (and so much dancing that could have gone with them!), Within Temptation did not disappoint. Yeah, maybe I caught them ten years too late to hear most of their gothic songs, but the songs from Hydra completely made up for it.

Next show: Going to see Cab Ride Home tonight :D

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Concert Review - Eluveitie, Tyr, Metsatöll - 9/19/14 at SoundStage, Baltimore, MD

My readers will know that there are few things I love more than a good folk pit. And Switzerland's Eluveitie makes some damn good folk pit music. Estonia's Metsatöll, meanwhile, is among my favorite folk metal bands for another reason - their music has a very authentic feel, in large part due to the solemn singing style that reminds me of actual Baltic folk songs. And they play the kannel (Estonian zither) live on stage! What other metal band does that? Tyr meanwhile.. tons of my friends love them to death. I like 'em all right. I didn't mind seeing them but wasn't super excited about them, either. But anyway, I was looking forward to this show for most of the summer, just for the kick-ass folk pits for Eluveitie.

I don't know how good this review will be, though, because I found it a bit hard to actually pay attention to the music that night. For one thing, I had a lot of personal stuff on my mind, which was taking up a lot of my attention, even during sets sometimes. And then there's the fact that I always have a frickin blast at folk metal shows, and spend all my energy dancing and going crazy instead of thinking about what to write in some damn review. But I'll give it a shot anyway, for the record if nothing else.

We arrived about quarter or ten of eight, for an 8:00 show time -- and found that the line to get into SoundStage wrapped around the corner, from Market Pl onto Lombard St. Needless to say, K and I started to get antsy about whether we'd get in in time to see Metsatöll. Then we were told if we needed to buy tickets or pick up will call tickets, to go to another line, which seemed shorter, but in fact moved slower than the first line we were in. I heard some guys in line discussing my, uh, appearance, but didn't hear what conclusion they came to, but did hear an unfortunate slur :( It was not an omen of things to come though, as the evening went great for me in my new persona :)

We did get in in time for Metsatöll -- they started just as we were purchasing/picking up tickets. K and I watched from the back for a song or two. I linked arms with a guy who was dancing nearby. Then I saw that a pit had formed, so I ran to it, but it was rather brutal for me. They played a lot from their new album (so not a lot of stuff I recognized), which does indeed have a rather thrashy vibe under the the folk instruments and the solemn vocals. The singer even introduced one of the songs as a thrash song and told the audience to go crazy in the pit - which they did. The only song I can remember for sure was "Kivine Maa," although I think there were a couple of other older songs. I'm sure they played "Küü," for instance. I was stoked to hear/see Lauri play the kannel on stage (and also to hear people chanting his name..cause I recently changed my own first name to Lauri, so it was like people were chanting my name XD). From the new album, I believe they played "See On See Maa" and "Must Hunt," and perhaps "Tôrrede Kôhtudes," which, if I have the song right, they introduced as a "love song," and I went and danced around in the pit for it. They ended with something they introduced as "Together," which was another of the fast, thrashy ones.

It was to be a night of missed beginnings. When Tyr started, I was wandering around the venue looking for someone. I hurried into the crowd, and found some friends. (I can't remember if this was the point when I picked out S by his white Rainbow shirt. I do recall I was standing beside Im. for the first couple songs of Tyr.) Of course they started out with "Blood of Heroes" - I knew it from the opening riff that sounds so much like Amon Amarth's "Twilight of the Thunder God." It's a fairly catchy song, and the crowd was amped to hear it. They followed that up with an oldie, "Tróndur í Gøtu," one of my favorite Tyr songs for its epic melody. A few songs after that was the classic "Hold the Heathen Hammer High," and I think I ran to the pit at that point, because who could resist jumping around in the pit to that song? Besides, I wanted to mosh a little with my friend L, and he had said he was going to get destroyed in the pit for Tyr and be no good for Eluveitie, so I had to seize my chance during Tyr's set. But the pit was still so brutal I hardly dared go in. While I'm not super familiar with Tyr's discography, it seems like they played a pretty good mix of songs from their latest album Valkyrja ("Blood of Heroes," "Mare of my Night," "Lady of the Slain") and older songs, including the ones mentioned above, "By the Sword in My Hand," and "Shadow of the Swastika" (ok, just slightly older). Besides one slow song - which I liked for the vibes of old songs like "Ormurin Langi," my fave Tyr song - the songs were quite energetic, which made the pit fun, if even just to watch.

And then when Eluveitie started, I was outside, and had to abandon people who were slow getting back in the venue. I think they were in middle of something from their new album, Origins, when I made my way into the crowd and eventually to the pit. Of course, it was still big and crazy. This is the first pit in a while that's been so crowded that my hair was getting stuck between people (which is incredibly painful, and made the pit a lot less fun than it could be). They played largely from Origins, with one of their older (or newer) classics thrown in every 3 or 4 songs. Many of the new songs are quite speedy and heavy, which really got the pit going, but there were fun folk-melody moments as well, where I, and a couple others, tried to get the dancing started. Every now and then we were successful in getting a jig line or circle going, or at least in getting a bit of dancing in before the shoving started. There were a couple guys who insisted on shoving people around even during the slower, quieter or more danceable parts of songs. I mean, come on, "Slania's Song" and "Rose for Epona" are not really moshing songs. There are plenty of other Eluveitie songs for that. I was psyched that they played "Luxtos," which is probably my favorite Eluveitie song, or least their best folk pit song in my opinion. It has this chorus that makes you wanna jump, sing along, dance and push people around all that the same time, and I'm pretty sure I did all four at some point during the song. They would follow that up with the classic "Inis Mona" and then the highly danceable "Vianna," so I was too exhausted to do much besides watch for the rest of the set after that. But I got energized again during the encore, which started with their theme song, "Helvetios" (including the album intro track) and then another classic, "Omnos." I was stoked to get in a jig circle for them one more time, and then hung back while the crazies brutalized each other to the last song of the evening, "King." I'd be surprised if they hadn't played every song from Origins by the time the set was done.

I limped out of the pit with massive bruises on one leg (from someone falling over my leg while I was just standing by the pit), some scratches oddly enough, and my waist-length hair matted into one big tangle (yay!). It was worth every battle scar and all the time it will take this week to untangle my hair. Folk metal shows are the best - all the best people are there, the pits are the most fun, and the energy is amazing. The pits were certainly more brutal than I really like at a folk metal show (cause it makes it hard to dance), but I still had an awesome time, and the bands definitely did not disappoint.

Next show: Within Temptation & Amaranthe, Oct. 7