Under Eden: Almost-melodic death metal from the Twin Cities. Nothing especially Heathen about them, but they were a solid local opener. Seems like there is a much better local talent pool here than in Chicago, or the HC guys just do a good job of not booking shit. The drummer’s girlfriend wandering around the stage taking photos of him was a little odd; I know he’s wearing an Arcturus shirt, but you’re killin’ the vibe! The vocalist should try out some more of those low clean vocals, they add a nice new dimension.
Velnias: OK, scratch that, Chicago can more than hold her own. I saw this trio open for Wolves in the Throne Room a few months back, and they were good, but not nearly as good as this. I’m not sure what the difference was, maybe it was the fact that they were backlit only in blue and candlelight. Stringing all the songs together without a break also helped build that powerful atmosphere. So yeah, why couldn’t Opeth have made music like this after their first two albums, instead of getting all prog and dorky?
Chaos Moon: The first real amateur-feeling band of the fest. Falsetto screams of evil, blast beats, and grrrrr! They were ok when they stopped blasting and grooved for a bit, but they didn’t do that nearly often enough.
Oakhelm: A pretty straight Viking metal band from the PacNW. Fairly aggressive, but still with some ale-swinging moments. Good (particularly the bass-playing frontman), but not quite major league. They had recently suffered another Heathen casualty, and thus had a replacement-guitarist who had only two rehearsals under his belt. He did a darn good job considering that, but did lose his place a couple times, so I’d want to see them again at full-strength before passing judgment.
Nechochwen: Solo acoustic guitarist from Appalachia who did 3 mini-sets over in the bar. He did an amazing job persevering under nearly impossible conditions (competing with sound checks in the main room and drunken revelers in the bar), and those who made the effort to listen were justly rewarded. In contrast to the Scots from Ohio or the Norse from Mexico, Nechochwen fits the ethos of Heathen Crusade perhaps better than anyone. Though the songs are purely instrumental, his introductions revealed that they are inspired by his own geographical and cultural heritage: Native American and early European-American history are frequent themes. Who would’ve thought I’d learn about the Gnadenhutten Massacre at a metal festival? It’s too bad we couldn’t hear these songs played outside around a campfire, but it was still a great addition to the fest.
Wolven Ancestry: By their name and Canadian origins, I was expecting a more natural and organic form of black metal rather than the keyboard-heavy sound they presented. They did have a big presence, particularly the vocalist who donned a fur cape and a horned wolf’s-head headpiece, and they were musically competent if not especially remarkable. Another between-song growler, but unlike the Grand Demise of Civilization guy, this guy was more comical because he was growling about such evil things as their merch sales.
Metsatoll: This is the kind of band that I go to Heathen Crusade to see; in a 40-minute tour de force, they defined what the festival is all about. They were HCIII’s Mael Mordha: a little-known band dug up by the HC guys from a small European country (Estonia in this case) who come out with such energy, power, and joy that they had the crowd eating out of their hand halfway through the first song. In addition to that HC spirit, they also had their unique folk instrumentation (bagpipe-thing, flute-thing, zither-thing (kantele?), and drum-thing), and multi-part vocals, but really the key to their music is the incredible rhythmic punch they have in their sound. It also helped that the lead-singer/bass-player had both the look and charm of “Wolf” from American Gladiators, and he had us singing “Hey-Ya!” in a way that would put Andre 3000 to shame. Best band of the fest.
Woods of Ypres: A special set consisting of “Your Ontario Town Is A Burial Ground” (the awesome standout track from their new album), followed with the complete 5 songs of “Against the Seasons”, their first release. I actually like “Pursuit of the Sun…” the most, so it was too bad not to get anything from that, but it was still a good intense set. For such a DIY-band, their presentation is surprisingly professional, but not in a plastic way. For some reason I kept being reminded of Isis. Maybe it’s because mainman David Gold has a vague aura of Aaron Turner about him, or maybe it’s the sexy Milo Ventiglimia bass-player, or maybe it’s just the three guitars.
Moonsorrow: Finally for the headliner, the crew unbolted the band members’ legs from the stage. Although Metsatoll and Woods of Ypres had started some movement, the Moonsorrow guys ran around more than every previous band combined. That, in addition to their barely-seen banner and privileged use of the 3 green lights made it obvious that these guys were the real pros. Though again, that surprised me a bit, because I had assumed their unconventional songs would have kept them from quite developing that Wacken-circuit level of polish. Unfortunately they didn’t play any 30-minute songs, but I’m probably the only one who would have been made happy by that. Beyond that, their set wasn’t quite as familiar or catchy as I was expecting, though it came on strong towards the end. And it’s always good to see the whole band (even the drummer) chipping in on vocals. So, a worthy closer, but I think among the headliners I’d take Ancient Rites, which I wouldn’t have guessed going in.
Overall: The lights, never Station 4’s strong point, were especially poor on the second day for the early bands; as I said, I don’t think we even saw a green one light up until Moonsorrow (unless this was a requirement of theirs?) In contrast (and much more importantly), the sound was top-notch for the whole fest. Only occasionally would there be a low guitar or something, but by-and-large, every single band sounded excellent. And the schedule was hit nearly to the minute. After the success of the Pagan Fest tour earlier in the year, I had wondered whether the rising tide would lift all Viking boats. I think the answer must be no, since attendance seemed similar to HCII, meaning 300 attendees would be pushing it. But I think attendance was stronger throughout all bands this time, though that was surely helped by the later start-time on Saturday. Anyhow, another great festival, and if there is a IVth Crusade, I’m pretty sure I’ll be there.