The Scandanavian Invasion of the U.S. began on Friday night in Chicago. The massive tour of Emperor, Borknagar, Witchery, Peccatum, and Divine Empire (plus four local acts) rolled into the Congress Theater and played to a crowd of what I’d estimate as 300 to 400 black-clad dark metal fans. The crowd was much more like what you’d see at the Milwaukee Metalfest than at an Iced Earth or Iron Maiden show or something like that (except that there were a lot fewer CoF shirts than you’d see at the Metalfest!) The Congress Theater was a nice, big, airy place, but as a general rule, the sound sucked ass. Then again, I don’t imagine that black metal bands are the easiest thing to reproduce correctly in a live environment.
Anyway, on to the bands:
The local acts: I missed the first two bands, and got there in time to see the end of a curious black-ish metal band led by a diminutive, corpse-painted singer wearing a hooded jogging suit. He drew one of the most enthusiastic rounds of applause of the night when he proclaimed that he was going to kill himself soon. Next up was some brutal death band with some blackish tendanices. They had some cool riffs, and the singer did a lot of pretty impressive alternating between the low death grunt and the high black scream. Nothing I need to even know the names of though.
Divine Empire: Ah, my favorite, brutal Florida death metal. Why do bands like this still exist? There must be bands out there that are doing new and innovative things with the style, but Divine Empire isn’t one of them, as far as I could tell.
Peccatum: If you thought their CD was weird and/or silly, seeing them live takes it to a whole new level. The band consisted of Ihsahn on guitar/vocals, Ihriel and Lord PZ on vocals, some a fatter version of Ihsahn on second guitar. They covered up the drum kit with a Peccatum banner for their set, I guess so that people wouldn’t think that Peccatum had an invisible drummer. Thus, the drum, bass, keys, and maybe even another guitar track were provided off a DAT, or maybe even the Peccatum Karaoke CD. Ihsahn was dressed like a first-rate dork in a plain white Peccatum t-shirt, primly tucked into his pants. Lord PZ, on the other hand, was a black-metal badass, with the long hair, corpsepaint, and weird leather skirt/pants outfit. Ihriel was looking like you’d expect, in a multi-layered goth-ish outfit, complete with the swirling cloak. The sound for Peccatum was overall very good, maybe because much of it wasn’t live. Ihsahn and Lord PZ actually both do a wide variety of vocals, it almost seems like one of them could cover all the styles. But it was really cool when the three would sing together. Ihsahn was pretty much normal, just playing his guitar and singing off to the side, but Lord PZ and Ihriel were doing their overly-dramatic strutting around and leaning on each other and stuff like that. Anyway, I’m sure Peccatum doesn’t intend their performance to be liked for its cheesiness (“Peccatum is Art” after all…), but I definitely had a good time watching them, and the music was cool too. My second favorite act of the show.
Witchery – I like their CD, it’s pretty fun to listen to, but they didn’t impress me too much live. Their sound was rather bad, everthing kind of ran together, and the vocals were really quiet. They put on a good show, definitely way more interesting than brutal death metal, but it just seems like there would be bands doing the same thing that live a lot closer than Sweden.
Borknagar – The band I had the highest hopes for, and they didn’t disappoint. Their sound actually ended up being rather good, the unique Borknagar guitar sound which sounds like nothing else was quite recognizable and clear. Nick Barker was of course a badass on the drums (which didn’t have a riser, for some reason), Oystien was clearly into it on guitar on one side, while Jens handled the other side, and
the really tall Simen was front and center singing and playing bass. Notably absent, however, was a keyboard player. Keyboards are rather integral part of Borknagar’s sound, and with Emperor/Peccatum bringing over 8 people, it seems like Borknagar could have rustled up a keyboard player somewhere. Maybe CM just wasn’t willing to pay for one to come over. So there were points in the music where something was clearly missing, but I think in some points they might have replaced the keyboard melody with a guitar to fill things in. Also, Simen didn’t seem to be the most comfortable singing and playing bass at the same time, occasionally he’d look down at his bass and forget to continue singing. Anyway, the songs were great, they split things pretty evenly between The Olden Domain and The Archaic Course. I know that they played A Tale of Pagan Tongue and The Dawn of the End (including the excellent “…and I close my eyes” part I love so much) off the former, and Oceans Rise, Nocturnal Vision, and Ad Noctum off the latter, and probably something else too. Simen did a good job of Garm’s parts, and of course a very good job of his own parts. Definitely the highlight of the show for me.
Emperor: Finally, Emperor came on. Let me say first that I rather dislike the earlier Emperor releases, and have a lukewarm appreciation for IX Equilibrium. So I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, although I really enjoyed their performance at the Milwaukee Metalfest last year, even without their keyboards. This time they had the keyboards, but not even that was enough to save them from the terrible sound (and annoying music too, I suppose). There were a few slowed down parts where Ihsahn sang with clean vocals that sounded really good, and occasionally the keyboard would throw out a recognizable melody, but for the most part, Emperor just put forth a solid wall of unrecognizable cacophony, which, after prolonged exposure, my overstimulated brain just converted into buzzing white noise. It was actually difficult for me to sit there and listen. Anyway, Ihsahn was looking a lot cooler with Emperor (even though he didn’t bring his spiked shoulder pads with him), TYR (of Beyond Death fame) was a monster on his six-string bass, doing some backup vocals as well, and the keyboard player was yet another Ihsahn look-alike (although he was skinnier this time) who also did backup vocals. I guess most of the fans like the show enough though, because they brought the band back out for an encore with a rather loud “Emperor!” chant. The whole time Ihsahn was apologizing profusely for the sound problems, and was clearly unhappy with the situation, which is an attitude and professionalism I don’t think you’d really see out of a “true” black metal band. “You deserve better than this, so we’ll try to give you the best we can!” (said with a Norwegian accent)
Overall, it definitely wasn’t the greatest show I’ve ever been to, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. It was kind of like the Metalfest, just a thing to see for the sake of seeing it. It’s definitely not every day that such a package plays in the U.S. Hopefully this tour will do well and open the doors for still more bands to make the journey across the ocean. Actually, things are already looking up, since Century Media’s page mentions a Dimmu Borgir/Samael tour in the fall, and Cradle of Filth/Rotting Christ is going to be coming around soon, and at the Nevermore show (which was AFTER the 9-band Emperor show, if you can belive that), Warrel Dane said that they’d be back touring again in the fall with no less than Arch Enemy!