Heathen Crusade II – Day Two

January 21st, 2007

Ok, Day Two. Ready….Go!

Manetheren
Top-notch atmospheric hypnotic black metal. Sure, the style has been done before, but they executed it perfectly, had a perfect sense of melody, and since Drudkh wasn’t anywhere to be found, this was the next best thing. They deserved way better than the 1pm slot with 20 people watching them.

Withering Soul
Withering SoulI missed them opening for Enslaved earlier in the week in Chicago, and then only caught about half their set here. Competent if unspectacular melodic black metal. I’d have to listen to them closer to figure out if their one guitarist is actually as awesome as he makes himself look by the motions of his fingers.

Dark Forest
Dark ForestSome more competent if unspectacular black metal. Or, maybe they were spectacular, but c’mon, I saw 18 bands, so I can’t quite remember everything! (Really, it’s a credit to the festival that all the bands had as much individual identity as they did.) Actually given their name/logo/origin, the music was actually a lot more militant and ‘viking’ than I was expecting.

Gwynbleidd
GwynbleiddI totally understand why these guys have a pretty good buzz going. They sound completely “pro”, and sounding like Opeth these days doesn’t hurt either. Perhaps a little too much like Opeth for my liking. That’s why it was nice when they brought out the acoustic fun in their last song, it gave a bit more connection to the earth, if you’re feelin’ me. Subtract two points for the guitarist with his hair tied back! If you’re onstage, performing in a *metal* band, and you still don’t let your hair loose, why the heck do you even have it? For your second job as a romance-novel model?

Earthen
EarthenLet’s see if I can remember the eight people onstage: singer (girl), violinist (girl), drummer (girl!), bass (12-year old boy with a wedding ring, seated), 2 acoustic guitars, electric guitar, and keyboards. It sounds like it was basically their first performance, and it kinda showed, but I really like the concept, so hopefully they can keep this orchestra together and develop it more. Ooh, and they played a “Tolkien” song! (Pippin’s depressing-as-fuck lament from “Return of the King”)

Shroud of Bereavement
Shroud of BereavementMost memorable moment was the singer/guitarist chugging from a half-gallon of milk between songs. They probably would have been a lot more memorable if their sound was better. They had two keyboardists, but I could only hear about half of one. And their female vocalist sounded incredible during the soundcheck (especially compared to the Earthen singer), so it was unfortunate that I could hardly hear her either. It was definitely good to have a doom-ish band like this on the bill though. I left a bit early to grab some dinner.

Hordes of Yore
Hordes of YoreAnother good band playing “Heathen Crusade metal”, but I was hoping for a bit more ethnic instrumentation.

Mael Mordha
Mael MordhaHoly crap, these guys easily won the whole festival. They came storming on stage in their Irish war-paint and never let up. Every member of the band was great to watch, with the singer in his Jesus-robe being the obvious focal point. He was climbing all over the stage, roaming out in the crowd, playing some flute and a big-ol’ horn, and was fookin’ funny too. Oh, and their songs completely slayed. Stomping, melodic, headbanging folk metal. It’s simply a crime that the first time I heard about these guys was when the HC lineup was announced. With a performance like that, they could be headlining Wacken.

Obtest
ObtestThese guys were the ‘Slough Feg’ of the night, though a slightly more intense version. Almost speed-metal with tons of guitar harmonies. The “singer” was a bit unfortunate, but a lively performer if nothing else. Lots of fun, and perhaps a hint of what it would be like if a real power metal band ended up playing.

Rudra
RudraDamn, did these guys bring it. Powerful death metal that just sounded great. For some reason, I was thinking “eh, they’re from the other side of the world, I’ll understand if they don’t have their shit together. They probably don’t have ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ to encourage them to raise their game”. But they were one of the most pro-sounding bands of the whole fest. Their frontman has the skinniest fingers I’ve ever seen on a (male) bass player, but he played some awesome stuff. They also win the award for Most Genuinely Heartfelt ‘Thank You’ Speech.

Skyforger
SkyforgerOk, so you’ve got a singer/guitarist fronting your band who may very well be Rasputin. Yeah, the mad fucking monk, still alive and kicking after all these years. Then, you’ve got a singer/bassist *also* fronting your band, and he just happens to be King Of All Vikings. With that, how the hell can you lose? So yeah, they pretty much slayed. And that doesn’t even include the third singer and all his wacky instruments (flutes, bagpipes, some sort of strap-on zither-type thing). Probably second-best band of the fest for me.

Bal-Sagoth
Bal-SagothThe narrations and between-song banter was awesome. Unfortunately they had to play some music too, and that didn’t do a whole lot for me. Beyond the masked singer, there wasn’t much to watch either. So after 12 hours of watching bands, I checked out about halfway through their set. Seemed like lots of big Bal Sagoth fans stuck it out ’til the end and were having a great time though.

For the festival, they actually were running 10 minutes ahead for much of the day, and the lights were doing stuff, so that was nice. Only other thing I could have asked for was for the place to not reek of Sloppy Fuckin’ Joes the whole day!

Heathen Crusade II – Day One

January 20th, 2007

Ok, I really shouldn’t be the one here posting the first Heathen Crusade comments, but I’m a boring old man who wasn’t drinking last night, so I think the job probably falls to me by default. Here’s my comments from Day One:

Bronnson

I caught their last two songs. They were a local band brought in as a last-minute replacement, and that’s basically what they sounded like.

Will of the Ancients
Pretty damn good for the second band of the night. I’d say they basically play “Heathen Crusade metal”: blackish metal with lots of melody and headbanging groove. While they were almost exclusively growling, their song about pirates had their bass player doing some epic melodic yelling which was quite awesome.

Vesperian Sorrow
Wall-of-sound blackdeath metal. The parts where they’d just blast away could be a bit boring, but luckily they included enough kickass headbanging riffs to keep me interested. In what I think is a first for me, the normally-growling singer would exhort the crowd *during* the songs, using a normal clean voice. That just struck me as funny.

Slough Feg
Easily the best band of the night for me. I’m not even that much of a fan of them on record (it all seems pretty one-dimensional), but I’ll never miss a chance to see them live. They had their shit so together they started 10 minutes early, which gave Mike Scalzi time during the set to work his stand-up act: “So who here got a ride from Gary Gygax?” “How many women are here who aren’t somebody’s mother?” Even without the awesome jokes, the band had perfect sound, is tight as hell, and had the most impressive drummer of the night. Add in nearly constant dual-guitar harmonies played along to head-chunking rhythms, and what more could someone with good taste ask for?

Vreid
VreidWell, the Windir song was the best thing that they played, but only by a small margin, so that’s pretty impressive. Somehow they find the perfect proportions for the mix of black, thrash, epic, and rock-n-roll groove to generate what was probably the most energized crowd of the night.

MÃ¥negarm
MÃ¥negarmFinally, the first non-standard instruments of the night (violin and a bit of recorder)! Oddly, they were played not by a Viking, but by the guy who works in the A/V department of your college library. Some of their songs were total ass-kickers, but then they had some that were just kind of there. Still, they kept me interested for their whole set, which means I was kept interested for the entire day, which is pretty unbelievable.

As for the festival, scheduled times were hit dead on the nose for the entire night. Sound was generally good, lighting was about the worst ever, and I cannot comment on the beer!

An Evening of Black Metal on MLK Day

January 16th, 2007

No, not *that* kind of black metal, silly! Although actually the holiday was rather helpful; due to the light traffic, it meant that my hour-long drive down to Mokena through light snow wasn’t a complete nightmare like it could have been.

I strategically arrived just before Enslaved began, missing Abigail Williams, as well as two local openers, Liche and Withering Soul (who I can see this weekend at Heathen Crusade).

The last (and only) time I’d seen Enslaved was when they played the Milwaukee Metalfest several years back and played about four songs. So it was nice to see a mostly-full set from them, although it was heavily skewed towards new stuff. Beyond one song from ‘Monumension’ and one from ‘Frost’ (which Grutle oddly referred to as their first album), everything else was from ‘Ruun’ and ‘Isa’. They had a projector going the whole time with (kinda amateur) trippy visuals, which contrasted heavily with their quite “metal” appearance, but perfectly matched the psychadelic/metal mix within their music. Some creative promoter really needs to get these guys and Isis on a tour together. It was funny to see that on their ‘Isis’ song (‘Ruun’), the keyboardist/backup-clean-singer strapped on a 3rd guitar, just like Isis.

I’d never even heard any Dark Funeral before I checked out a few songs when I heard about this tour. They sounded a fair bit less shitty than I expected, and since I paid $30 to get in, I figured I’d stick around to see at least some of their set. Their full-on Black Metal getup strongly reinforced the “Enslaved needs to tour with a band like Isis” idea. The guys in the band were all wearing leather armor and full makeup, which made them look just like Peter Jackson’s orcs. The singer was Lurtz, Saruman’s Uruk-hai captain, while the long-faced guitarists were Mordor orcs. Haha, I realize just now that black metal personalities like Shagrath and Count Grishnakh originally took their names from Tolkien’s orcs, so I guess the whole thing has come full-circle!

Musically they weren’t too bad. They easily had the best sound I’ve ever heard out of a traditional black metal band; everything was very treble-y and cold and grim just like I’m sure their albums sound, but also clear and not buzzy. Given their look, it was quite shocking when the singer spoke between songs in a normal (and quite smooth) voice, especially considering how raw his ‘singing’ voice is. At one point he said something like “I’ve been ripping my throat for 20 years, and the reason I keep doing it is for you guys!” I thought I detected an undercurrent in their that said “I’m getting too fucking old for this clown shit and really wish I didn’t have to do it anymore, but I gotta make a living!” Anyway, despite their surprising goodness, I was coming down with a cold so I checked out after 6 or 7 songs.