Venue: Gramercy Theatre (New York, NY)
Opener: Ex Deo, Blackguard, Martyrd
Label: Candlelight Records
See if you can stick with me on this. Ensiferum announced the “Heathen Crusade” a few months ago and this would be the bands first US headlining go round since they commanded the stage during the first Paganfest in 2008. The show was going to find them joined by Hypocrisy, ExDeo and Blackguard and it was sure to be something to remember. However, the wonderful and often problematic Visa situation found Hypocrisy pulling off the tour and this disappointed many because the band was going to have Children Of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho as a part of their lineup for the tour. The show was also originally set for The Fillmore NY but as it drew closer to happening the Metal faithful found it moved to the Gramercy Theatre a few blocks away. If you have visited both venues you will know full well that Gramercy is a bit smaller in terms of bodies that it can fit inside. Are you still with me? Good because this gets a little more interesting. Given the fact that a show was already happening at Gramercy that night with Winds Of Plague, the Ensiferum show would begin immediately after the Winds show ended. This would make a very late night for the Viking Metal fans of NYC who were coming to the show. My plan was to try and photograph some of Winds since I would be in the same space but my timing was off and instead I went to a showing of the Black Metal documentary “Until The Light Takes Us”. With Hypocrisy off the bill, ExDeo and Blackguard were moved up a notch on the event roster and to guarantee a little extra attention local boys Martyrd would start off the now very late show. Here is how the night went down.
Martyrd: Since the earlier show was for Winds Of Plague the venue fit the Ensiferum show in by moving up the Winds show a couple of hours and then starting off the Viking experience at 10:30pm. I am sure the parents of the very young fan base that Winds has were happy to find their sons and daughters coming home earlier for a change, unless they opted to buy a ticket for this show as well. Martyrd are a good bunch of guys and they deliver traditional Thrash Metal. I like them and have come to appreciate their input to the scene but since they would find me receiving the Ensiferum set at 12:30 “hopefully” by their inclusion to the fun, I was pretty much like hurry up and finish guys. I give them credit for being interested in the audience as well and doing their best to entertain with their sound. They have a self-titled CD which has a lot of songs to enjoy on it for a reasonable price. The down side to their playing this kind of Metal is that it seems to be overrun by bands that are already signed such as Warbringer, Mantic Ritual, Black Tide and Age Of Evil. When one adds to the mix the existing giants of Testament, Exodus and Overkill who are all finding renewed support based on their legendary status, one is hard pressed to find where these up and comers will even fit in going forward. We wish them luck based on their efforts. Now for some Blackguard.
Blackguard: Tonight marks the third time that I would be seeing Blackguard and while this was over the course of a relatively short time, I was not yet finding myself bored with them based on just how lively they are to deliver their Metal message. As expected they would hit the ground running and these Montreal residents formerly known as Profugis Mortis are absolutely pleased to be on the live stage whenever I catch site of them. It’s like an explosion when they hit the boards and this transfers onto the audience with every note. They are fronted by Paul Ablaze who is a great presence up there and he regularly challenges the audience to give him just a little more and they often do. Guitars are handled by Kim and Terry who are on lead and rhythm respectively while bass comes care of Etienne. The drums are by Justine and yes that is a girl and she kicks some serious ass and gives a lot of guys a run for their money on the kit. This kind of Metal is tied together by the keyboard wizardry of Jonathan. Since their sole label release is “Profugis Mortis” on Sumerian Records, the band did a lot of songs from this and are proving that they are capable of being a strong direct support act as opposed to being one of many openers. They are a fun band to watch and they leave you with a sense of exhilaration. I’m sure that it will not be long before we see them returning based on the response that they keep getting.
ExDeo: I had only heard a couple of songs from ExDeo and had to say that it was interesting because it was a totally different vibe from what the bands front man did in his other role. You see the band is spearheaded by Maurizio Iacona who many know from the crushing Thrash/Death Metal band Kataklysm. He formed ExDeo as a side project and its musical focus would be on the life of a Roman Gladiator and have music whose words spoke of the regions fantastic history. Iacona gets into character completely and the presentation is nothing less than dramatic when it comes down to it. I liked that aspect of the show because it brought something very different to the table and would be something that the audience remembered for a lot longer than some of the other bands we get to see again and again. The singer dresses like a Gladiator as he delivers the music from the bands Nuclear Blast Records debut “Romulus” and believe me when he wants your attention he gets it based on just how sound his delivery was. They would play songs from that album exclusively and this was because to do any Kataklysm would obviously take away from the atmosphere that this project is trying to deliver. I liked that just fine and found the Metal history lesson to be something very fascinating. My thoughts are how this might even be able to take the singer a little farther than he goes with Kataklysm because it offers a wider appeal. I would see this band again and hope that he brings this around soon with another solid batch of artists. Now at long last it was time for Ensiferum and it was very, very late.
Ensiferum: I think that it was about 12:30 or so when Ensiferum finally hit the stage and as I had mentioned with the last minute shuffle and venue switch they should have just left the show with the three label acts. Either way, now it was time for the main attraction and I was curious as to what they would do having just seen them on the Summer Slaughter tour a few months ago. Since that show the band had released their newest album entitled “From Afar” and thankfully they would choose to deliver material from that for us all to enjoy. When it was all added up the band did seven full tunes from the release and if you were unaware of this, it’s only one song less than Rush did with their “Snakes and Arrows” release when they toured for that album. Of course Rush plays a three hour show while we would only get a little over an hour from Ensiferum. The lateness of the show didn’t seem to affect anyone anymore and the band were true to their Viking Metal spirit and attacked us all with some crushing melodies. The band was very animated this evening as well as bassist and guitarist Sami and Markus ran back and forth across the stage to better rile up their fans. Lead singer/guitarist Petri would not remain stationary of course, but did need to frequently get back to the microphone to sing and rally us all into battle as the set list progressed. I had to say that the new album was interesting and held up strong against “Victory Songs” which came before it. We wouldn’t get the mass amount of tunes from that album which for me was a good thing having seen the band four times including tonight. The new album allowed the band to execute a fresher set than before. I think the audience appreciated the difference to be quite honest and it made me happy to see the band again instead of rolling my eyes at the same exact tunes being played. As the band closed our their performance they were joined by the guitarists of Blackguard who all added to the fun by offering up additional Metal chords and their signature synchronized hair spinning.
In the end this was a really good show and everyone performed commendably but I will surely say that if they move an event to a late hour like this again that I will likely pass. It was now just after 1am, and I had the Twisted Sister Christmas show later on tonight to attend. I say tonight because we were already in Sunday and I had a long journey to the homeland in Brooklyn, but at least I had a head full of Viking Metal to keep my spirits up and at the ready. Hails!
ExDeo Set List:
1- Cry havoc
2- Storm the gates of Alesia
3- The final war
4- Legio XIII
Ensiferum Set List:
1. From The Dividing Stream (intro)
2. From Afar
3. Twilight Tavern
4. Little Dreamer
5. Elusive Reaches
7. Stone Cold Metal
8. Guardians Of Fate
9. Tale Of Revenge
10. Smoking Ruins
11. Slayer Of Light
12. One More Magic Potion
13. The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II)
14. Treacherous Gods
15. Battle Song
While taking photos of Ensiferum I caught sight of Terry who plays rhythm guitar in Blackguard. Here we see him tossing the horns while enjoying some Viking Metal and a cold giant can of Budweiser beer.