Venue: Blender Theater at Gramercy (New York, NY)
Opener: Primordial, Moonsorrow, Blackguard, Swashbuckle
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Last September the Big Apple played host to the first-ever “Pagan Fest” and this exciting show featured the might of Ensiferum, Turisas, Tyr and Eluveitie all on one stage. To my knowledge none of those bands had ever appeared in New York before much less did a proper US tour so it was good fun for all around who made their way into the packed B.B. King Blues Club. Many were impressed at how good the draw was that night especially since both Dream Theatre and Opeth were playing a little further uptown. The success of the first Pagan Fest was bound to merit a second go at it and lucky for us this turn of the Metal page would continue the practice of bringing over bands that were not regular faces to the concert goers of the region. Headlining the show would be Polka-Metal fanatics from Finland Korpiklaani who had direct support from Ireland’s Primordial. The appeal of these two acts alone could have made for a solid tour but we would also get the likes of Moonsorrow, Blackguard and Swashbuckle. Moonsorrow are also Finnish while Blackguard from Canada. Swashbuckle hail from that distant land known only as New Jersey and they would be the first band up for the show. Here is how the night went down for those who missed out on the show.
Swashbuckle: The first band up would be Swashbuckle, and they are Pirate Metal from the legendary and distant lands of New Jersey; yes I am being slightly sarcastic here especially since all of the other bands came to this festival show from so far away. The guys dress as pirates, and there are three members to the group who do come off as very authentic in their garb. They had the ruffled shirts and big hats and there were even a couple of desert island palm trees on the stage with them. I don’t recall seeing a parrot or peg leg anywhere which would have added to the effect just a little bit more. They are a newly signed band to Nuclear Blast Records and their debut is to be called “Back To The Noose”. Thematically they were Pirate Metal more in title alone as far as I was concerned because the music that they were delivering was clearly more of a blend of Thrashing Death or Black Metal. They did have some fans behind them, but after seeing Alestorm deliver what they coined as “True Scottish Pirate Metal” a few short weeks ago and being a force of nature on the stage and with the crowd, I was not as impressed as I would have hoped to be. They played the Pagan Knights tour and were insane when it came down to it. Perhaps I need to see Swashbuckle again in a different setting and also hear the album before I can make a final judgment. For me the jury is still out on this band but I do wish them well as they work their own magic for one of my very favorite Metal labels. Blackguard was up next and I had a little bit of background on them coming into the room.
Blackguard: Hailing from Montreal, the band formerly known as Profugus Mortis was finally playing New York City. They changed their name to Blackguard recently and I am not sure why but I have to admit that it is a little bit catchier than Profugus Mortis. The original name means “Glorious Death” if I am translating it properly and their sound is just a little bit more Folk based than the band that had just left the stage. The large lineup is primarily guys who handle the vocals, bass, guitars, and keyboards but up there on the drums is a young lady who was absolutely driving the band forward with some kick ass technique. I had learned about the band from another journalist friend and also the lead singer from The Agonist who recommended that they were right up my musical alley and both of them were correct in this assumption. I had no real advance musical background on them so I was happy to find their CD available to be able to get a copy before the night was out. They performed commendably and I am pretty sure that there is a wider audience base just waiting to learn about them. Some of their stuff sounds a little bit like Children Of Bodom during that bands earlier days but as I stressed before there is a strong Folk vibe to it. Their debut release is called “Profugus Mortis” and comes care of Sumerian Records. They had some cool shirts for sale as well and were giving those who had interest some stickers with the bands logo on it. The set was far too short if you asked me but there were still three bands to go. It would be safe to assume that all the material played came from the album that they were selling tonight. Now it was time for Moonsorrow.
Moonsorrow: Finland’s own Moonsorrow came out with a very crushing set and I had to say that it was loaded with a very brooding vibe. The band is often lumped into the description of Viking Metal but they correct those who say it and inform us that this is “Epic Heathen Metal” and I say whatever works for you then run with it. The dramatic lighting during their set added to the level of atmosphere and since I had never really followed them in the past the entire night was a treat for me when it came to their set. They sounded intense and were going over rather well with what they were playing, a couple of the guys had blood splattered on them which was a great visual effect. Its probably not going to be long before we find them returning in some fashion as either direct support or on a smaller venue headliner gig of their own soon. The crowd seemed to be at the most the venue was going to see this evening and I had to say while a decent showing that the last go round was far better in terms of overall numbers. Tonight the band would play about six numbers and since I only had the one release from them in “Vides Luku-Havitetty”, I was not too certain that we were enjoying anything from this particular album. My rationale in this is based on the release being two epic tracks of some twenty five minutes apiece and the band would play just around forty five minutes when it came down to it. In any event their set was rock solid and they sure made some fans tonight that had been among the curious as to how things were done by this band. It was nice to see them on a proper tour as opposed to just some one off appearance. Now it was time for Primordial and these guys I had some better background on.
Primordial: Hailing from the Republic of Ireland came Primordial, who was in truth another band whose time getting here was long overdue for the fans of their music. Someone told me that they had been here once before and they meant in the states and it was again one of those one off appearances as opposed to a full tour. Some wondered why they were not the headlining act for the Paganfest but I think the music of Korpiklaani has managed to reach a few more people based on their consistent festival appearances. From beginning to end this was nothing less than a smoldering set of Celtic themed Black Metal and the band’s enigmatic lead singer Alan Avarill was as intense as could be. On his face was white makeup that had black around his eyes but this was not the typical corpse paint and yet had some similarity to it. I had to say that it added a little bit more to his presentation. He was right up in the audiences face during the show and spoke to them regularly. He said how glad he was to be playing pieces of their culture for them during the Paganfest and if you have not heard their last two releases “The Gathering Wilderness” and “To The Nameless Dead” you really have some shopping to do so you can catch up. These albums are incredible displays of an Atmospheric Black Metal that is nothing less than infectious with power. They were by far the heaviest band playing this evening and perhaps even the most intensely serious. Let’s face it the subject matter of their tunes is not really all that happy when it plays and it is often loaded with grim despair. They informed us about all of their earliest releases coming out on special editions from their label Metal Blade Records and when they asked if there were any Irish in the room, they told them and the rest of the crowd that this was living history in the room. The band is clearly proud of and stands by their convictions and are really one of the most impressive Black Metal styled bands out there because there is something beyond the typical depiction of the format to them. There is no way that Primordial cannot successfully return to the region and not do a headlining tour. Clearly the amount of people in the venue were as excited about the Primordial set as they were for the soon to be on the stage Korpiklaani. The guys would only play six tunes as well but they are longer tracks so no one felt cheated out of any numbers when they finally said their goodnights. I had to say that I enjoyed them very, very much and was so impressed that I will be sure to see them again should they return.
Korpiklaani: Now that all the serious and intense stuff had finished its duties for the night, the time was ripe to have a little bit of fun in the way that only a band like Korpiklaani can deliver it. In the event that you don’t already know about these guys, well, they are the Kings of Folk Metal in many people’s eyes and deliver a rousing good time experience with their sound. Hailing from Finland like Moonsorrow who played a little while ago, the guys in Korpiklaani had been releasing album after album on an almost yearly basis on their previous label Napalm Records. Now signed to Nuclear Blast Records, they appeared to be following suit with their latest release “Korven Kuningas”. Musically the band is a lot of fun and not too be taken too seriously and instead be something that you let loose of the daily worries, get a cold drink and just repeat the process while shouting and dancing to some lively Metal music. In Finnish, the bands name means “Forest Clan” and as a result there is a lot of this kind of thing going on in their music. They are fronted by lead singer/guitarist Jonne Jarvela who stands in front of some kind of deer skull and horns. Its very imposing on the stage to observe but in truth this is about as serious as the guys get. There are many songs about drinking and since they use both a violin and an accordion in the lineup of musicians there is a festive nature to a lot of the goings on. The crowd was eating the band up as soon as they came on and it was incredible to behold because the circle pit was a little bit different and actually working in time to the kinds of melodies being put forth from the stage. I loved it and made sure to crack open a couple of beers to be able to toast when the singer suggested that this be done and I was happy to find that they sounded as good in the live sense as they had on the albums I had owned.
The band does not always sing in English but instead in their native Finnish which does make singing along a little rough every now and again unless you are someone who is either a native or speaks it. If you are inclined to do so and be better prepared you can always pick up a book to help you along so you can assist the rest of us when the band comes around the next time. So far I am only aware of how to say “cheers” or “kippis” which in truth is very valuable knowledge when it comes to a band like Korpiklaani. From the audience one could see that the band was also enjoying themselves greatly and probably pretty surprised at this reaction since this was their first official tour of the states. The Napalm Records stuff could be found if one looked for it, but only with the recent Nuclear Blast album could you find the bands material on more shelves. I loved the set and felt my favorites fell to the opening “Journey Man”, and stuff like “Wooden Pints” and “Happy Little Boozer”. For the last one the floor was a dizzying circle pit and while it might seem physically possible, I encourage all to finish their drinks before getting into a swirling Folk Metal circle pit because its just common sense.
They played a lot of songs and every moment was electric. It was a band that had gone over so well that you knew people would come back whenever they manage to return and I surely will be there with them. I didn’t want to compare the two Pagan Fests against each other since they both offered the fans of the genre something special but I had to say that this one closed up with more of a fun head than the last one did based on the style of the bands. Good luck to you Korpiklaani, we hope to see you again sometime soon….“Kippis”!
Primordial Set List:
1. Empire Falls
2. Gods To The Godless
3. As Rome Burns
4. Sons Of The Morrigan
5. The Coffin Ships
6. Heathen Tribes
Korpiklaani Set List:
1. Journey Man
3. Cottages & Saunas
5. Tuli Kokko
9. Paljon On Koskessa Kivia
10. Wooden Pints
11. Happy Little Boozer
12. Hunting Song
13. Beer, Beer
14. Let’s Drink
15. Eramaan Arjyt
17. Il Lea Voibmi
Official Web Site: www.korpiklaani.com
Official Web Site: www.primordialweb.com
Official Web Site: www.moonsorrow.com
Official Web Site: www.myspace.com/blackguard
Official Web Site: www.myspace.com/swashbuckle