So this past week I saw three Swedish bands headline concerts in a row. I saw In Flames play on Saturday 14 January 2012, Graveyard play on Monday the 16th and Ghost play on Thursday the 19th. This was total coincidence as these bands aren’t label mates or anything like that, they just all happened to hit the area at once. So which of these bands kicked the most ass during this mini-Swedish invasion? Read on and you’ll find out.
Saturday the 14th saw me heading up to Baltimore for the first big metal show of the year in this area, In Flames playing at Rams Head Live! In Flames is probably the most famous of the Gothenburg, Sweden based melodic death metal bands from the 90s (other acts include At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity, among others). In Flames is also sort of like Metallica in that their first few albums grabbed them a devoted fan base that was then completely turned off to the band when they changed their sound and found commercial success. Their 2002 release Reroute To Remain is akin to Metallica’s self-titled album (or the “black album” as most people call it) in that it greatly expanded their fan base but completely alienated most older fans with the simplified songs and flashy production. The band has been very successful though, and the reason they are playing Rams Head Live instead of smaller venues like Sonar or Empire (formerly Jaxx) is due to that change in sound. In 2010 the band’s founder, Jesper Strömblad, left In Flames which now has no original members. This didn’t deter them as the summer of 2011 saw them release their first album without Jesper, Sounds Of A Playground Fading, the album which this tour was promoting.
The audience at the show was a bit rowdy; they are the kind of band that draws metal heads as well as non-metal heads to see them. This often means that some people in attendance see the show as “the rare concert I go to that I can get crazy at cause it’s a metal show” which is cool to a certain extent but I wasn’t loving that as In Flames started their first song, Sounds Of A Playground Fading, and I was hit in the back of the head with a drink someone had thrown from the balcony. Got my camera wet and if I wasn’t so focused on getting some decent shots of the band I’d have been much more pissed about that. I saw drinks being thrown throughout the show, so it wasn’t just me either. Anyways, their set list was heavy on material from the new album, the first three songs were the first three tracks off of it. People who are fans of only their pre-Reroute To Remain material didn’t miss much, the only songs they played from before that were Swim from Clayman and The Hive from Whoracle (I shot video of them playing both of these songs, as well as The Quiet Place, that you can watch at the end of this post). I’ve also posted a photo of the entire set list here. The sound mix at the venue wasn’t great. The volume was very low for a metal show and the bass seemed to drown out a lot. It’s like the guy mixing it thought all metal bands want to sound like Korn or something, haha. Seriously though, the guitars, and particularly the keyboards, were hard to pick out of the mix at times because the bass drown them out. The stage lighting was really awesome though! The band was heavily backlit with lots of big lights and enshrouded in a lot of fog which had a cool looking effect. The band’s performance was alright. Nothing too wild or phenomenal really but not bad. Vocalist Anders Fridén made sure to high five and fist bump most of the crowd surfers though he does this thing where he bends over and screams into the mic like ten times per song. It was fine at first but after a while you’re sort of thinking, c’mon man get another move or two. Between two songs he made a comment about how it is hard making money on music sales now and he was glad so many people came out to the show to support the band. The band did well and seemed to enjoy performing, and the new guitarist, Niclas Engelin, especially had a lot of energy up there almost like he was trying to be sure he won fans over to his replacement of Jesper. I sure think he did! They ended their set with Take This Life and they did not play an encore. Overall it was a decent show, for fans of the modern In Flames at least. Old school fans who are bitter would not have liked much about the show but that isn’t really a surprise. You got what you thought you were getting at this show, there were no big surprises, and that seemed to be good enough for most people in attendance.
Two nights later I found myself at DC9 to see the Swedish rock band Graveyard play. Between songs they said the show was sold out though I’m not sure if that’s true or not. It was pretty crowded so it might have been. The opening act was supposed to be Daniel Davies, the son of Dave Davies who is famous for being in the Kinks, but he canceled at the last minute and was replaced by a band called Black Cowgirl. I didn’t get to the show in time to see them though, but I did catch some of the set by the other support band, Radio Moscow. They were a bluesy rock band with some interesting guitar work. Just a few days prior a video went around on the internet (here) of the guitar player and vocalist, Parker Griggs, throwing his guitar into the drum kit in the middle of a song. The drummer got up and threw the guitar right back at Parker and it hit him in the face so hard he needed stitches. This was on the same tour that was in DC this night, and while both the drummer and bass player had been quickly replaced, you could still easily see the cut on Parker’s forehead. Their set wasn’t bad, a good opening act really. There was a delay at one point in their set when one of the amps blew. It took several minutes to find another one and get it up on the stage. They played some more afterwards though and while I enjoyed them I was ready for the headliner.
Graveyard, also from Gothenburg but not related to the melodic death metal scene there, is a throwback hard rock/metal band that sounds right out of the 70s, however they’re a newer band and have only put out two albums. In the spring of 2011 their sophomore album, Hisingen Blues, was released to much critical acclaim in the underground music press. Honestly it took me a few listens to really get into it, but it grew on me and I was excited that they were finally coming to the States to support the album. I’m glad I gave the album an extra chance because seeing these songs played live was simply awesome! The band was really on point this night and put on a great show. If you were there that night you didn’t just see a good band play some good songs, you got a rare chance to see a good band really coming into their own as they hit their stride. They stepped up to the plate and really hit it out of the park, even with Joakim Nilsson having problems with the strings on his guitars. He swapped them out quickly and didn’t take much away from the set by doing so. Since the band only has two albums they played most of both of them. As most tight bands do, they played their songs with quicker tempos even faster live really tearing through songs like Buying Truth and RSS. That’s not to say their slower songs didn’t stand out as well. Their performance on Uncomfortably Numb, a personal favorite of mine, was executed perfectly coming across with a lot of power for such a personal song in a room of so many people. Satan’s Finest also sounded great and got quite a reaction from the audience. Graveyard stopped at the end of their set but the crowd didn’t budge so they played a three song encore, finally ending their 80 minute set with the song Hisingen Blues. I’m sure there will be more good things coming from these guys and I’m betting they will be playing a larger venue next time they play the area. They’d be great on a tour with someone like The Sword. This was simply a great show and one of the best I’ve been to lately. It was a hell of a way to spend a Monday night!
Three days after Graveyard played it was time to head to the Rock & Roll Hotel to see Ghost, from Linköping, Sweden, play there on Thursday the 19th of January 2012. This show was definitely sold out as they had a big sign on the door saying so. The band was not allowing any cameras to be used, not even on phones, which, as a photographer, I find to be really annoying. There was a bit of a snafu with the label getting me my photo pass and while some of the venue’s staff knew I was OK’d to shoot there some of them didn’t and they told me part way thru to stop shooting, even though they let me in with my big camera. Whatever, miscommunication happens sometimes and I did still get a shot that I liked. I arrived in the middle of the set by one of the openers, Blood Ceremony. They’re a female fronted doom band from Toronto that some people were really getting into at the show. Vocalist Alia O’Brien busted out a flute during some songs and really it just wasn’t my thing, though I was never a Jethro Tull fan and they were definitely a big influence on Blood Ceremony. Ghost hit the stage around 10:30pm, which seemed a bit early to me for a show in DC. The band of course came out in full costumes including masks hiding their faces. Their main gimmick is that nobody really knows who is in the band Ghost as they always hide their identities and mask their voices in interviews. The lead vocalist, who goes by Papa Emeritus, comes out on stage wearing a mask with skull face paint and an elaborate evil cardinal costume. It’s all a bit over the top but whatever, they have some catchy tunes that are a bit of a throwback to old psychedelic bands and definitely Mercyful Fate as well. However even on the record Papa’s vocals are not nearly as high pitched as King Diamond. This night was no exception either, Papa was not hitting his high notes, he wasn’t even trying to. Instead he’d just replace them with a similar, but lower pitch, note which leads me to believe he was either sick or his voice wasn’t doing so well singing every night on tour. I had seen Ghost perform at Maryland Deathfest back in May and he was hitting his notes then, so I know he can do it. I guess this just wasn’t his night. The sound mix at the venue didn’t help much either, the keyboards were non-existent in the mix throughout most of the set and the vocals needed to be turned up several times as well. I could see one of the roadies giving signals to the guy at the sound board (I was standing in the part of the crowd directly between them) and they were having a lot of communication problems as well. At one point you jarringly heard the keyboards get pushed up to the mix way too high, it was almost like they didn’t sound check before the show and were just trying to figure it out as the show went on. Ghost stuck it out and instead of throwing a tantrum on stage they kept playing. They only have one album out so they don’t have a lot of material. They did perform their haunting rendition of Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles, a Japanese bonus track that they did not play at Deathfest. Towards the end of their set the sound did get better. Their closing song, Ritual, sounded pretty good actually, aside from Papa’s weak vocals. Luckily Ghost is the kind of band people love to sing along with and it helped cover some of the faults with his voice. Also, during the same song they brought out communion wafers and I guess wine or something and maybe five or so people in the front row ate them from Papa Emeritus’ hands. That was pretty corny and not as awesome as when Lord Worm would feed people live worms from the stage during Cryptopsy shows. Anyways, I was hoping Ghost might play some new material as I have heard the band has been working on a second album before they started this short 13 date tour. They didn’t play anything new and the set only lasted about 45 minutes, intros and all. That was rather short for a headlining band and left me feeling like it was a bit of a cash grab but what can ya do, they ran out of songs. The venue kept the lights down for a minute or two then suddenly turned them back on with house music over the speakers to end the night in a rather anticlimactic way. This show could have been a lot better, and the no photo policy forcing the venue’s bouncers to constantly be pushing through the sold out crowd, jarring your attention to let them pass every time you started to actually get lost in the show, didn’t help at all. They will be opening on a tour with Opeth and Mastodon in May that will hopefully come through this area and I really hope they put on the kind of performance I know they are capable of then. The metal fans in DC deserve it!
Well, that’s the three Swedish concerts I saw last week. Graveyard was certainly my favorite performance of the three Swedish bands but I’m glad I got to see all three of them play. Thanks for reading another long concert review post. As always you can see more of my concert photography on my Flickr page here or you can jump to the set of In Flames pics here or Graveyard pics here. Now check out the three videos of In Flames that I posted below. I didn’t shoot video at the other shows because the lighting was too poor, well that and Ghost had that crazy photo policy so I wasn’t going to push it. Stay metal DC and go out to a heavy concert!