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Live Show Review: Ne Obliviscaris

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Venue: O’Shecky’s LIVE
Date: February 6, 2016

Ticket cost: $10/$12 door

By: Kris Kotlarik

This show represented a number of firsts for me. The most important of those firsts, by a wide margin, was seeing Ne Obliviscaris live. Following their release of Citadel, anticipation was at a fever pitch, so my reaction to them performing a 90-minute set in my city included a dropped jaw followed by a bunch of overly excited obscenities.

This is also the first time I have ever been to O’Shecky’s, a relatively small venue off the highway on the north side of Columbus. After last night’s show, I have mixed feelings about the venue; I was tempted to deduct a half a point from each band because all of them had to deal with crackling vocal mics (and I believe Ne Obliviscaris was also having a crackling snare mic, in addition to the drummer constantly asking for lighting). But beverage prices are very reasonable, and they have two stages that otherwise sounded great and expedited tonight’s five-band lineup.

As always, I’ll be going down the line from the opening band to the headliner to discuss their performances. Let’s begin!
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Kyrmzon (Mansfield, Ohio)
Rating: 2.0*

This being my first exposure to Krymzon, I didn’t come away from this show with a particularly favorable (or unfavorable) impression of them. Their blend of thrash and death metal wore me out fairly quickly, due in large part to vocalist Ron Wise’s constant screaming and the band’s gratuitous use of breakdowns towards the end of their set. Wise was constantly urging the crowd to come closer and to fuck shit up with little to no success. Also, Ryan Arter was remarkably stoic for a man laying down some heavy blast beats on the drums; he would go several minutes at a time without changing his facial expression, which appeared to look like either boredom or annoyance (my guess between the two options is the latter given the occasional technical difficulties, although for all I know, that’s just his game face).

That’s not to say that I hated their performance; Wise, along with guitarist Joey VanDine and bassist Adam Anderson, all played with a lot of energy. Perhaps Krymzon just isn’t my style. And that’s okay.

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Others By No One (Dayton, Ohio)
Rating: 3.5*

These guys surprised me. This is a very young progressive metal band with touches of avant-garde (and the occasional splash of Maximum The Hormone). Just about the only technical flaw I can point out in their performance came from lead vocalist Max Mobarry, who frequently sang away from the microphone and was occasionally inaudible as a result.

With that out of the way…wow. I can’t think of any other opening act, save for some droning black metal band or something like that, to play a 15+ minute song when they are allotted just 30 minutes. That kind of behavior has the potential to piss off approximately 90% of the audience. It only makes sense, then, that Others By No One is undoubtedly influenced by Devin Townsend (as evidenced by drummer Sam Ruff wearing a Z2 shirt). The opening lick of that marathon track featured a riff that was eerily similar to the melodic part of Devin’s “Color Your World” (or the title track of Ki, if you prefer that album). Later on, they slowed down the track so that Mobarry could sing the lyrics “let’s go down to the beach,” similar to “Two Weeks” by Strapping Young Lad or “Disruptr” from Ki.

The most unique attribute about this band, however, is that this is not just a Devin Townsend worship band (that already exists in the form of The Omega Experiment); they played “Gravity of the Bulls,” a track that has elements of modern hardcore. Their music also contents elements from other prog acts like Animals As Leaders or Scale The Summit. As an added bonus, there is no question that out of all the bands that were playing tonight, Others By No One was having the most fun. Bassist Quique Bocio, in particular, reminded me of the performance For The Imperium put on at the 2012 Finnish Metal Meeting; he was all over the place and jumping around the stage as if nobody was watching, and that was extremely fun to watch.

Make no mistake: Others By No One is still raw to the bone, but they are dripping with potential and will make Ohio proud in short order. Please bring merch the next time you come here.

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The Conquering (Columbus, Ohio)
Rating: 3.0*

I’ve seen The Conquering more than enough times to know that their brand of black metal will most likely never appeal to me. But this performance was immensely better than the last time I saw them perform; they got their drummer back after he was forced to ride the pine due to a fractured foot, and the band was markedly better as a result. Plus, Dan Rivera is still rocking that big jug of water in addition to his bass. Needless to say, their chemistry is back.

Completely unrelated to the music of this band, Christopher Wiford on the vocals is starting to pull off the Devin Townsend skullet circa 2004. My advice? Keep it.

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Mithridium (Columbus, Ohio)
Rating: 2.5*

Like The Conquering, I’ve seen Mithridium a number of times opening for other touring acts. They’ve got a fun deathrash style that makes for solid entertainment, although arguably the most entertaining aspect of this band’s performance was the band’s banter with the sound guy. Out of these first four bands, there is little question that Mithridium was the most polished group. They put on a good performance, albeit not necessarily one that stands out on a nightly basis.

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Ne Obliviscaris (Melbourne, Australia)
Rating: 4.5*

My advice for anyone seeing another show at O’Shecky’s would be to get to about the third row. I started off right up in front and quickly took note of just how engaging all six members of Ne Obliviscaris is with the audience, but from up front I couldn’t hear the violin worth salt and the guitars were virtually buried. So I had to move back a little bit and the sound quality was significantly better, and I didn’t miss any of the band’s craziness. Of course, I got greedy, grabbed a chair, and parked it right next to the sound booth for the rest of the show. What I got was exactly what I wanted: One thousand ounces of pure audio gold.

It will never cease to amaze me how talented this progressive death metal group is. Tim Charles is a wizard on the violin and even jumped off the stage to get better acquainted with the crowd while playing. Xenoyr’s growled vocals were relentless through the duration of the set, and Daniel Presland was an absolute monster on the drums. But this review isn’t about individual performances; this is about a band coming all the way from Australia to play in a bar with a maximum capacity of 400 people and playing as if they were back at home playing at the Soundwave Festival (rest in peace, Soundwave!).

The fact that they were able to put together an 80-minute set with just two full albums, and only for a handful of headlining shows, is a stunning feat. They also stayed after the show to talk to fans without dealing with any VIP nonsense. It’s quite clear that not only is Ne Obliviscaris passionate about their music; they also take great pride in their fans. This ranks just behind Devin Townsend’s 2011 show at the House of Rock in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on the list of best small-venue shows I have ever seen.

Ne Obliviscaris is easily among the best modern metal bands going today and they were overdue for some recognition in the United States. With any luck, we will be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

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The Black Dahlia Murder - Abysmal (Deluxe Ed.) Front

Review: The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal (Deluxe Edition)

Location: Waterford, Michigan
Genre: Melodeath
Released: September 18, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC

By: Kris Kotlarik

For many years, I was unimpressed with The Black Dahlia Murder’s output. I tended to write them off as some Hot Topic butt metal band. But when they were in Columbus during the Decibel Magazine tour featuring Noisem, Carcass and Gorguts, they more than held their own as a live band in a lineup full of impressive performers. So I decided to look into their output further and I found that for me, their music has a niche. And that niche is workout music. Their seventh full album, Abysmal, fits that same mold.

This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. If I’m running a 5/10K, this is exactly the kind of album I would want to play. It doesn’t let up at any point in time from start to finish, which is fantastic. But at some point, when you dig deeper into the album’s sound, you start to realize that all the tracks kind of sound eerily similar to each other.

After the third track, I drifted into daydream mode because nothing was standing out as anything different from what I had already heard. So I had to go back again several times and listen to it, and each time, I had the same thing happen: I would zone out with Abysmal playing in the background.

You’re probably thinking I have ADD or something like that, and you’re probably right. My brain loves music that goes in a bunch of different directions throughout an album. But to be fair, this is a marked upgrade over similar albums by Arch Enemy and In Flames. In this case, being consistent and not letting up is to the album’s benefit. And although it’s difficult to remember standout tracks, there are plenty of standout moments, such as the fun dual-channel guitar interlude towards the end of “Vlad, Son of the Dragon,” and the impressive title track’s unrelenting blasts.

There aren’t any bad tracks, but there are very few that stand out among the others. The vocals remind me somewhat of The Dillinger Escape Plan mixed with a metalcore element. The production is also crisp, in line with their previous works. But the bonus tracks merely feel like an extension of the record itself. They don’t add much substance, but like the rest of the record, they are fun. And that’s what counts, right?

The last thing I want to point out here is that the run time (under 43 minutes counting the bonus tracks) is just about perfect for an album like this. If it were any longer, listener fatigue would set in. The band and label know that they don’t need to put 70 minutes of material on an album in order for it to succeed, and they got the run time here exactly right.

Overall: If you’re looking for a constant rush of energy, look here.

Rating: 3.0*

Buy the album here.

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Review: The Gathering – Souvenirs

Location: Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Genre: Alternative rock, trip-hop
Released: February 24, 2003
Format Reviewed: FLAC

By: Kris Kotlarik

Allen Enigma of Metalbite: Obviously the sound of The Gathering has changed greatly since it even began, before you joined and after. What where some of the influences of The Gathering circa 1995 and “Mandylion,” and what influences The Gathering of present day?

Anneke van Giersbergen: Music-wise, we are very much influenced by this new dark pop music. You might call it like Radiohead, Massive Attack, and bands like that. They really influence us because we like the catchiness of this music but also the dark side of this music. But other than that, there is an infinite choice of inspiration. You can find inspiration in just about anything, books and movies and friends, and just leading your life, you know? I think that’s a big change from what we did in 95-96, because then the world was just a little bit more black and white because you’re younger then. But now this whole gray area seems to be an influence on our music these days.

As I had mentioned in my review of their previous album, If_Then_Else, I was already a big fan of The Gathering’s early work, especially Mandylion and How To Measure A Planet? The contrast between those two albums is stark; the former leaned on its doom metal aspects with vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen soaring above it all, while Planet marked their excursion into more electronic-laced alternative rock.

For a while, I thought I wouldn’t like their later albums. But then I gave If_Then_Else several spins and really liked it for its variety. Souvenirs may not have as many different styles on display as that album, but I think it’s actually better. I would go so far as to say that it’s right up there with Planet for their second-best album.

What it lacks in variety, it more than makes up for in coherence and a far more clear sound. Opener “These Good People” has a simple yet chilling bass line that builds up over the first 50 seconds before Anneke’s vocals kick in. That intro is symbolic of this album; it’s not afraid to be led by electronics and enhances the material. Speaking of Anneke, her work on this album shows a vastly improved sense of control over her vocals; whereas Mandylion was a display of her raw power, Souvenirs showcases her range, often in the form of high-low harmonies that are haunting and beautiful at the same time.

Much of the album carries on in this fashion: Various electronic effects that add to Anneke’s vocals. These effects are scattered all over the place, from the breakdown towards the end of “Even The Spirits Are Afraid;” to the distorted intro and outro of “Broken Glass;” and just about all of “We Just Stopped Breathing,” especially its choppy, trumpet-laden instrumental outro that stretches over several minutes. Under most circumstances, I would consider such an extensive usage of these elements to be a copout, but this is the kind of art that should be embraced with this instrumentation.

Souvenirs has two tracks that I would consider to be closer to the traditional “rock” structure: The title track, and “Monsters.” The former features some of Anneke’s best vocals on the album, reminding me somewhat of an evolved Adele at times during the middle of the track. “Monsters” is catchy, looping together a crawling bassline with lyrics that portray a person who is frustrated with life’s shortcomings and just wants to be left alone.

Much like how “Analog Park” served as the “climax” of If_Then_Else, “Monsters” is the heaviest point of Souvenirs. And like its predecessor, the final songs here drag on a little bit too long. While still good, the pacing is too slow, further brought down by the four-minute gap of silence between “Jelena” and closer “A Life All Mine,” a surprisingly interesting track that features Trickster G (Ulver, Arcturus, Borknagar) as a duet counterpart. It’s a highly experimental track with all-electronic instrumentation, and is the kind of track I would expect to sneak onto local alternative rock radio stations if the intro is shortened for the edit.

My pick for the best songs here are “These Good People” and “You Learn About It,” the latter mostly because Anneke’s voice teters on the edge of angelic as she is singing. This is true across the album, but there’s something special about Anneke’s high-end vocals, even when they’re not being belted at full lung capacity.

Out of all of The Gathering’s albums, this is the one I have been listening to the most recently. It’s not their best album, but what it does for me is become the soundtrack to my day; I can take this album and listen to it anywhere. Mandylion doesn’t hold that distinction, as amazing as it is.

Maelstrom: You don’t play with your hi-hat open on the new record. The result is that it’s a lot quieter.

Hans Rutten: It is. It’s all to achieve a crystal clear sound. The bombast is gone. At first we had massive guitars. Those are gone. With an open hi-hat, you fill the entire high spectrum. I come from a doom metal band: Always, our first record, has doom oriented drums. There’s more in life than doom metal. I still love doom metal, but you want to grow and do new things.

Overall: Souvenirs has that perfect balance of being experimental and accessible at the same time.

Rating: 4.0*

Buy physical CDs from The Gathering here. Digital albums can be purchased here.

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Black To The Future Tour: Ghost w/ Purson

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 23, 2015
Ticket cost: $27.60 ($40.30 with Ticketmaster’s asshole-ish convenience fees)
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

I think it’s about time for a pre-review rant about concert ticket prices. Shows that are at Alrosa Villa or Ace of Cups and/or promoted by Columbus Events Group are very reasonable in terms of cost with minimal advance fees. But then there’s Promowest Live and Ticketmaster. How do they think that adding a 50% markup on ticket fees is acceptable? Why even bother working with the evil empire that is Ticket[ass]master in the first place? There are plenty of good shows both at the Newport and the LC Pavillion, but these fees price me (and probably others) out of their shows.

That didn’t stop the Newport from nearly selling out last night, easily eclipsing the Decibel Magazine 2014 tour stop for the largest crowd I have seen at this venue, approaching upwards of 1,700 strong. With more than a handful of audience members dressing up in their Papa Emeritus garb, Ghost put on a stellar show that engaged the entire crowd. But was their performance worthy of an all-time favorite designation? What about Purson? Read on, together as one.

Purson: 3.0*
Set length: 40 minutes

This might be one of the few occasions where I can say with a straight face that the opening band sounded better than the headliner. …why are you chasing me with pitchforks? At least give me a chance to explain.

Perhaps it was because they had one less member to work with; they had pretty much the same makeup as Ghost, running two guitars (with founder Rosalie Cunningham handling the lead vocals), one bass, the drums, and a set of keys. Having even one less person to mix can make all the difference in terms of sound quality; I took my usual perch on the balcony towards the center of the venue*, and their take on 70’s style psychedelic progressive rock sounded pristine. It was like I was watching them play in their practice space. The only issue I had with their sound was with the somewhat soft backing vocals, and half the time, it just looked like the person who would be singing backing vocals just had their mouth up towards the mic while playing his instrument, which brings me to my next point:

While that kind of intimate feeling in a large venue can be a good thing, the drawback here is that Purson lacked any semblance of stage presence, spending less than a minute talking to the audience over the length of their set. The band didn’t move around on stage and, with a few exceptions, showed little visible energy. The lighting was consistently dark and brooding, and their song selection was also puzzling; their last song, even with a brief uptempo section, was easily their slowest of the night. All of that adds to listener fatigue, at least from my perspective.

Two audience members who were more familiar with Purson than I was told me that they heard the band’s full studio releases and felt indifferently about them, but said they sounded significantly better live than on tape. After taking another whack at their music, I can’t help but agree. Their latest EP, In The Meantime, is solid, but the sound on stage is vastly superior. Even so, I’ll be looking forward to their next release, Desire’s Magic Theatre, when it drops in the near future.

They could also stand to lower t-shirt prices. I have a hard time paying $35 for a t-shirt for any reason, but that goes double for a band that I’m not especially blown away by. They’re good, but not “$35 for a t-shirt” good.

All that said, Ghost picked an ideal touring mate for their jaunt around North America, as Purson is a great complementary counterpart to Ghost.

Ghost: 4.0*
Set length: 110 minutes

Ghost has the art of stage presence down to a science. With Papa Emeritus leading the five Nameless Ghouls, the band’s performance took on a life of its own. Even before the set started, anyone who was, for whatever reason, unfamiliar with Ghost quickly got their answer as to what they got themselves into; with a large satanic alternate cover art banner in full display and church choir music blasting on the speakers, everyone knew they were in for a night of occult counter-culture shenanigans. And for those still confused, the crowd was chanting “Satan! Satan! Satan” shortly before they started.

Once the band took the stage and roared into the spooky “Spirit,” it was all smiles from the audience, and rightfully so. And while I greatly enjoyed their set, I had a few nitpicks with it. The obvious first complaint is that the band was a little bit too loud across the board. One of my favorite features of Ghost’s studio albums is the subtle mix of the drums, but that is nixed here in favor of a straightforward drum blasting. This was especially noticeable on “Con Clavi Con Dio,” arguably my favorite Ghost song.

Papa Emeritus III, meanwhile, was somewhat flat on his lower notes on occasion. And while all of the new tracks they played (the only one that wasn’t played was “Deus In Absentia”) sounded great, I was shocked at the largely ignored Kansas-esque keyboard riff in “Absolution,” and further puzzled by the use of a keytar on “Mummy Dust” instead of the former.

There was also the small issue of Papa Emeritus taking off his anti-papal cloak during “Cirice” midway through the show and leaving it off for the rest of the show. I’m not sure if that’s normal, as this was my first time seeing Ghost live, but it was baffling to see him perform without that garb. But that doesn’t take away from how great of a live song “Cirice” is.

Minor shortcomings and/or question marks aside, this was a pretty special show; most notable was the debut acoustic performance of “Jigolo Har Migiddo,” adeptly showing off the skills of the Nameless Ghouls. Papa Emeritus III also gave several small percussion instruments to fans for them to play during this song.

Watching “Year Zero” was a spectacle in and of itself, and I was thoroughly pleased with “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a song that I was already highly fond of and is currently stuck in my head. “Ritual,” “He Is,” “Stand By Him,” “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and “Mummy Dust” also stood out among their best songs as tracks that translate extremely well into a live setting.

Closing out the show with “Monstrance Clock” was simply masterful; it seems like an odd choice until you realize that there are few things better in a concert setting than having a huge crowd singing along with a backing track choir as the band exits the stage: “Come together; together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.” Fucking genius.

Above all else, Ghost is right up there with Devin Townsend in terms of personally engaging with fans during the set. I counted at least ten instances where Papa Emeritus singled out a specific fan who said something to him, and there were nothing but smiles coming from those fans. It was a high-energy set that should be considered a must-see for any metal fan.

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*If you go to the Newport and are looking for the best possible sound quality, stand as close to the sound booth as possible, located behind the main concert floor and next to the bar. 

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Review: Strapping Young Lad – The New Black

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Groove Metal, Hard Rock
Released: July 11, 2006
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Imperiumi: Is the the gap between SYL and your solo material becoming closer?

Devin: “It feels like I’m less and less angry all the time. Even THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND will put out softer stuff in the future, so the SYL material feels even harder now compared to my solo material. My next recordings will probably be something like this (points out the beautiful nature of Finland’s Provinssirock festival), something [representing] beautiful scenery. Beautiful things. I don’t have to be hard/tough (heavy) anymore. I’m 34 years old, I’m already old.”

This is actually pretty mild in comparison to some of the other things that Devin said about Strapping Young Lad in this interview with Finnish publication Imperiumi; he further explains that he no longer has the motivation or emotion that Strapping Young Lad relied upon to continue the project, and that he no longer had anything to say through this band.

Contractually obligated to release a fifth SYL album, The New Black was released during a time when Devin was reevaluating his priorities after his wife became pregnant with their first child. As a result, this album sounds little like the albums that SYL was known for, namely City and Alien.

But that raises the question: Did Strapping Young Lad’s fan base really want to see Devin try to top those two albums? If they did, they’re delusional. Alien is the kind of album that can only happen in the most extreme mental conditions (going off one’s bipolar disorder medication, for example), which proved to be very unhealthy for Devin. City, meanwhile, fits the mold of his other solo albums in that it perfectly captured his mood at the time: Pissed off and existential.

The New Black fits the latter condition; as he was no longer massively pissed off, Devin’s material began shifting into a more positive direction that would culminate in 2012’s Epicloud release. This release feels like the wedge in between Synchestra, which was released six months before this album, and Addicted, released in 2009. While there are some explosive moments, they are overshadowed by excursions into utter silliness.

That silliness is best captured on the track “You Suck,” a self-deprecating number in which Devin yells “Hell yeah, we fuckin’ suck!” while also saying that your band, girlfriend, and a number of other people just fucking suck. It’s utter nonsense, and it’s hilarious, but it’s hard to take this album seriously with tracks like that and “Far Beyond Metal,” a long-time live staple that was adapted into a studio recording. The lyrics to this track are basically “The Metal” by Tenacious D with a nonsensical chorus that doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the song. It also features a fun cameo appearance from Oderus Urungus (GWAR). Then there’s “Fucker,” a bouncy pop-rock type of track that has a fun instrumental that was later released on Devin Townsend’s “Contain Us” box set but doesn’t have much else going for it.

Those three tracks are on one extreme; on the other end are some of Strapping Young Lad’s best songs, most notably “Almost Again,” a song that showcases the band’s dynamic range in a flawless fashion. The closing two tracks, “Polyphony” and the title track, combine to form a marching metal anthem that works on a far better level than “Far Beyond Metal.” The former track, in particular, feels quite emotional while building into “The New Black,” which maintains its intensity throughout and commands you to turn up the volume. But it eventually collapses on itself towards the end.

Meanwhile, “Wrong Side,” released as the album’s lead single, is probably the closest to being a traditional Strapping Young Lad song in terms of its heaviness and boasts some remarkable high clean notes from Devin in the chorus.

The rest of the songs are even more inconsistent than the highlights and lowlights of this release. “Hope,” for instance, starts as a slow and uninteresting plodder that morphs into a chaotic blaster, a la “Critic” from Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing. That section is utterly fantastic, and there’s nothing else like it on this album, but I’ll stick with “Critic,” which is strong from start to finish.

I can’t help but think that the lyrics to “Monument” were at least partially inspired by Weezer’s pop-rock gem, “My Name Is Jonas.” Unlike that song, however, “Monument” doesn’t really go anywhere. “Decimator” is decent enough but pales in comparison to every single Strapping Young Lad album opener by a considerable margin. And then there’s “Antiproduct,” a song that fancies itself as something more interesting than it is by featuring spoken word samples and a brass interlude to cover up repetitive lyrics.

The short version of this review is that there’s some good material on here, but it’s inconsistent and generally just average. What confounds my feelings about this album even more is the existence of the C:enter:### EP which contains two amazing songs: The title track instrumental that slots in with their best tracks, and a fucking perfect cover of The Melvins’ “Zodiac.” This EP was recorded at around the same time as The New Black, and it beats down anything on the actual album.

To call this album bad would be an overreaction, but it’s uneven and lacks the elements that comprise the best Strapping Young Lad releases (pure, unadulterated rage) and Devin Townsend’s best solo work (cohesiveness and auditory aesthetics). One could also argue that this album is among his most important works; what looks like a throwaway release on the surface helped spawn better releases down the line.

Overall: The New Black is to Devin’s solo work as Physicist is to Strapping Young Lad. Make of that what you will.

Rating: 2.0*

Buy the album here.

Masha Scream belts one for the ages. Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Pagan Rebellion Columbus: Arkona, Heidevolk, et al.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 12, 2015
Ticket cost: $14/$17
Merch purchased: Arkona hoodie ($45); Heidevolk flag ($15)

By: Kris Kotlarik
Feature photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Coincidentally falling on my birthday, I can think of very few things I would rather be doing on such a day than watching a show like this; essentially, this is a quasi-Paganfest, and although I don’t carry a drinking horn around with me, I still have a great deal of fun at these shows. Everyone is in a great mood and ready to have a good time, without the threat of butt metal pit ninjas. With six bands, we got a good look at the local pagan-influenced metal scene, as well as some national touring acts and a couple of global folk metal titans. How did everyone fare?

The Conquering: 1.0*
0.5-point deduction for using backing drum tracks for any reason (even if that reason involves a broken foot)

Watching this band perform, you wouldn’t think they have been together for 15 years; everything from their style (the guitarists were shirtless and wearing corpse paint while the lead singer was dressed in generic black) and their performance were both out of sync. Their brand of black metal just wasn’t working.

The band displayed a good sense of humor, and it was interesting to see their bassist chugging a gallon of water between songs. From a musicianship standpoint, their best track was easily “The Veracity in Our Blood,” which showcases a good midpace riff and some of the vocalist’s harshest vocals. Unfortunately, they were noticeably out of sync during the thrashing instrumental section in the middle of the track, which was disappointing. Get well soon, great drummer! Conquering should be less of a challenge upon your return.

Kingsblood: 2.0*

The group displays a solid stage presence and presents a fairly standard deathrash (how is this not an officially recognized subgenre yet?), but they don’t stand out, especially in this billing. Plus the singer seems to be influenced a little too much by Max Cavalera, a man I have never been a fan of.

Winterhymn: 3.0*

The first “trve” folk metal group of the night, Winterhymn continues to prove that they belong on the national folk metal circuit. Featuring a prominent violinist, the band’s sound was full of energy and generally much clearer than the previous two groups. Virtually the only complaint I had was the sound of their keyboards; they were either virtually inaudible, or way too loud (most notably on “Stand Your Ground”). I also wasn’t overly enthralled with their lead vocalist, whose harsh screams generally sound out of place and occasionally wavered during the back end of their set. But their energy and enthusiasm were more than enough to hold their own on this bill.

Helsott: 3.5*

This group surprised me more than anyone else on this bill. The star of this group is flautist/singer/Simone Simons doppelganger Bri Steiner, who was all over the stage playing various wind instruments and laying down some impressive vocal melodies. Occasionally, however, feedback came from her microphones.

One qualm I had (one that you’re probably noticing a pattern of by now) was with the male lead singer, who was absolutely hammered and also wearing a Dimebag Darrell shirt. I get that the Dimebag shirt was probably a tribute to the late Pantera guitarist who was killed at Alrosa, but he came off as a drunken meathead during their set and that sort of took me out of the mood a bit.

With that said, the rest of the band was fun to watch, the sound was (nearly) flawless, and Steiner could frequently be seen getting into the mosh pit with the audience during the final two bands’ sets. In short, this is a fun folk metal group to watch.

Heidevolk: 3.5*

What other bands have two members, neither of whom are playing any instruments, serving as co-lead vocalists? I can’t think of any. That alone made this an engaging set; Lars Vogel and Mark Bochting complement each other very well with their own performance styles onstage. Their traditional heavy metal sound with pagan influences generally sounded a bit too loud, but was otherwise well-balanced among each member.

Joost Westdijk was highly entertaining to watch on drums; with his stick twirling and other showboating antics behind the kit, one would think that he was back at home in the Netherlands in the band’s practice studio. If there was one drawback to be had from their set, it would have to be the lack of live folk instrumentation; all of it was pumped into the crowd. It’s not the biggest liability, but a live folk presence goes a long way.

Heidevolk goes down as a band whose live performances far exceed the quality of their studio output, which isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. Watching them live is a showcase of why folk metal makes so much sense in a live setting, especially when they’re as on top of their game with regards to stage presence as they were at this show.

Arkona: 4.5*

I had the pleasure of seeing Arkona at Kilkim Zaibu 2012 in Lithuania. This is the kind of festival that Arkona is perfect for; picture, if you will, a typical American Renaissance Faire. But instead of fucking hypnotists and acapella groups that are trying to turn shitass pop songs into “folk” arrangements (the same Renaissance Faire had a “glee” club that attempted to sing Lady Gaga songs. They failed spectacularly), the entertainment is some gritty, in-your-face pagan metal. To this day, that festival was one of the best concert experiences I have ever had. The people, the beer, the authentic display of old Baltic artifacts…if every Renaissance faire was like this, I would hit all of them.

Anyway, enter Russia’s Arkona, a blackened folk metal outfit with an amazingly talented vocalist who goes by the name of Masha Scream. Her clean vocals are enchanting and perfect for this style of metal, and she adds versatility with her growls and uncanny stage presence. In addition to the standard cadre of drums, guitars, and bass, Vladimir “Volk” Reshetnikov handles a number of different instruments, including bagpipes and various flutes.

Let’s cut to the chase here: What Arkona accomplished in Columbus wasn’t good. It wasn’t awesome. It wasn’t superb. It was superior. For one thing, Masha’s live voice has immensely improved since the last time I saw Arkona. It was already great; now it’s on another level entirely. The band’s sound has clearly evolved. Many people criticized their newest release, Yav, because it didn’t fit their expectations for Arkona’s sound. I think Yav was a remarkable stepping stone for the group, as it represents a more evolved sound and a renewed state of purpose, and that was in full effect at Alrosa Villa. Especially memorable was the glorious riff fest from Yav, “Na Strazhe Novyh Let” (On Guard of New Aeons).

Everything about Arkona’s performance was stellar; the sound was fantastic, the lighting fit wonderfully with the music, and each band member fully looked engrossed in their performance. Looking into the crowd, two things were visibly clear:
1: Arkona drew the biggest and most consistent mosh pits of the night by a wide margin. That’s not just a reflection of the amount of booze being consumed; that’s the amount of energy the band was displaying.
2: Outside the mosh pits, I couldn’t find a single person in the audience that wasn’t into their performance. Never mind the fact that 99% of the people in the crowd don’t speak Russian and therefore can’t understand the lyrics; in any direction, you could see shit-eating grins the size of Texas on people’s faces.

By all metrics, Arkona’s display of musicianship and showmanship was a rousing success. Plus their hoodie has amazing back art. Arkona was one of the pioneers of folk metal, and now they’re innovating it, both in the studio and on tour.

Overall: While most of the bands were solid and are worth a look, Arkona should be selling out festival grounds all over the planet. Their performance here is among the top ten I have ever seen, and a top-five show in this country.

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Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Arkona’s setlist in Columbus. Photo credit: Mike Ritchie, Covering The Scene

Ghost - Meliora-cover

Review: Ghost – Meliora

Location: Linkoping, Sweden
Genre: Psychedelic Doom
Released: August 21, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

This being Ghost’s third album, I could make some cliché statement about this one being the charm if not for the fact that they already had me at their debut, Opus Eponymous. The combination of “Deus Culpa” and “Con Clavi Con Dio,” organ and all, is high on my fictitious list of memorable album openers and the rest of the album was generally pretty good.

Their follow-up, Infestissumam, took some of that sparkle out of their sound. “Year Zero” is a rare distinction in that it serves as a single for the album and is actually the best track on it. So after some legalese regarding their name and the “death” of Papa Emeritus II, the anonymous band created Papa Emeritus III and undertook a slightly different direction under producer Klas Ahlund (who has run the gamut of all kinds of pop music since 1998 ranging from Eagle Eye Cherry to Ke$ha). The easy assumption would be to declare that some shadow writer would come in and fuck everything up for the band and its image, but that assumption would be incorrect.

The production on Meliora is stellar, and the poppy elements of the production lend to some catchy music. What we have here is an album that is fun and has plenty of replay value, but to say that it is a truly great album would be a stretch.

“He Is,” and “Spirit” are both fantastic songs. The former comes across as an extremely well-done parody of a church hymn, while “Spirit” is another solid album opener for the band with a haunted house feel permeating the song, even during the heavier, Black Sabbath-y portions.

The rest of the songs are generally good, but have their flaws. “From The Pinnacle To The Pit” and especially “Mummy Dust” have a solid premise but are repetitive. “Absolution” has an amazing chorus and the most Kansas­-sounding bridge not played by Kansas, but the verses are forgettable. The ballad, “Cirice,” meanwhile, is too long for its own good. One feature that I really like about Meliora is its interludes, “Devil Church” and “Spoksonat.” I normally do not care for interludes, but they flow together well with the album’s main tracks.

Album closer “Deus In Absentia” is another haunting track; the echoing effect at the end of each chorus, as well as the choir section at the end of the song, really hit home. Surprisingly, Ghost’s Satanist lyrics are noticeably tamer this time around, and I think it’s a good look for them. Infestissumam came off as trying too hard with the shock factor, which was a hindrance to the overall package.

Adding some more progressive elements will help on future releases. For those who aren’t particularly obsessed with changing rhythms and melodies, Meliora will be a solid spin many times over with its doomy psychedelia.

Overall: Entertaining, but occasionally repetitive.

Rating: 3.5*

Listen to the official full-album stream with links to purchase Meliora here