Review of Tenebrosum by Windfaerer

Band: Windfaerer
Album: Tenebrosum
Release Date: 22 September 2015
Record Label: Hammerheart Records (will re-issue in January)
Buy on CD ($12) or digital ($7) from: Bandcamp

Tenebrosum by Windfaerer

At the end of every year I like to give my album review writers the chance to write about not their favorite album of the year but instead the one they think was the most overlooked and deserving of more attention. The albums don’t have to be from the local scene like most of the reviews on DCHM and the choice is totally up to them. Buzzo Jr’s was posted here yesterday but today is Tal’s pick for the 2015 album that deserves more attention.

For a while now I’ve preferred metal music that’s slower and sadder than the norm, and sometimes haunting or ethereal rather than heavy. But there’s still a part of me that longs for epic grandeur, as my 2013 review of Echoes Of Battle by Caladan Brood goes to show, and this year I found myself drawn to a similarly dark and epic album: Tenebrosum by New Jersey’s Windfaerer.

I first heard Windfaerer on Lightfox177’s Youtube channel, a treasure trove of ambient and atmospheric metal, so I expected something either ethereal or desolate. I could hardly believe my ears as the commanding riffs at the start of “Celestial Supremacy,” which is the first song on the album, thundered out of my headphones. It does have a cascading atmospheric guitar sound to it, but it also has energetic groove more like the melodeathy end of the folk/Viking metal spectrum. I would put this song on while working on my novel, but then end up headbanging too hard to get any writing done. And it only amps up more, as a minute and a half in, the drums go wild and the guitars become a white-noise wall of sound punctuated by distorted wah’s, and then roaring vocals summon the darkness. A keening violin cuts through the chaos. Then during the chorus the song expands to epic grandeur, as you can just make out the vocalist roaring, “This is the legend we have forged.”

Comparisons to Summoning and Caladan Brood are inevitable, and warranted, as far as the epic parts are concerned. In addition, the style of the violin melodies recalls Maryland folk metal band Isenmor, especially in the parts where the violin soars on flights of fancy over a frenzied black metal barrage. Could this be a distinctive flavor of U.S. East Coast folk metal? The band describes themselves as “an extreme aural entity inspired by black metal and folkloric atmospheres…an homage to ancestral travels and an essence beyond our grasp,” defying location in a single genre or tradition.

Drawn in by “Celestial Supremacy,” I went on to listen to the rest of the album. The second song, “Finisterra,” features an irresistibly groovy and headbangable riff, and an instrumental segment that starts as a dreamy clean passage with gently flowing violin, and then morphs into a soaring solo over tremolo-y atmospheric guitar.

The first two songs are so captivating that they overshadow the third song. “Tales of Oblivion” has a slower feel, in spite of its blast beats and buzzsaw riffage, due to the slow melody and drawn out vocals, though it does have a fast and then furious passage in the middle. There isn’t as much captivating groove or melody to this song though. “Santería,” meanwhile, is a wild dance of violin over hammering riffs and frenetic blasts of drumming. It’s a relatively short, fast and heavy instrumental. It segues smoothly into “The Everlasting,” which features sweeping violin over the now expected barrage of drums and guitar, while the vocalist roars grandly, “These wounds will last forever, like stars carved in the sky / The heavens bleed the sorrows of mankind.” Cascades of tremolo guitar are surmounted by an achingly beautiful violin melody, and then the song closes with a clean guitar passage, contrasting with the godlike wrath of the vocals in between.

“Morir en el olvido” begins with a catchy riff and then violin melody, which underpin the song even once the darker vocals, blast beats and buzzsaw guitar come in. It’s another groovy headbangable one with its abundance of melodic riffage. “The Outer Darkness,” the last song on the album, is a last assault of frenzied guitar, drums and violin all together, as though all the forces of darkness were battering at the gates. This is not the anthropomorphic darkness of a demonic figure, however, but the inanimate forces of nature and the cosmos around us:

I am the expansiveness of planets
I am the disinterested force of storms

This plane is hostile
Here there is nothingness
I am the outer darkness

After a more moderate section with a meandering, proggy violin solo, like a pleasant jaunt through the far reaches of the galaxy, our ultimate smallness catches up with us, as the song and album end with a last barrage of instruments and vocals that conjures up the howling of the void.

In contrast to most other epic bands, Windfaerer’s subject matter on Tenebrosum doesn’t include any heroes or mighty deeds. Instead they sing of “sagas of seclusion,” “bleak words that have failed me” and being “washed away like sand at shore, slowly erased from time.” Even “Celestial Supremacy” with its references to legends and quests seems to be more about the fruitlessness of such endeavors, and ends with the voyagers leaving earth behind, perhaps forever. Heroic epics are about remembering; Tenebrosum is about oblivion, being forgotten and disappearing. It is actually anti-epic – or perhaps an epic paean to the immense cosmos that overwhelms all human attempts to write our names in the sand, as it were.

But hey, at least we get to listen to something as soul-stirring as this album during the time we do have here.

Review of Maryland Folk Fest

Metal Chris here. In the past I’ve written all the concert reviews on DCHM and usually I shoot all of the live photos as well. For this post we’re trying something new as long time DCHM album reviewer Tal went to the first Maryland Folk Fest last weekend and put together this review. I wasn’t able to attend so I had to ask for photos from those who attended, so big thanks to Tigran Kapinos and the Dogs And Day Drinkers photographer Aubreii Dove for letting us use their images in this post. And as usual, you can read more of Tal’s writing on his blog In My Winter Castle. Now, on to this in depth review and recap of Maryland Folk Fest!

Earlier this year, Paganfest America announced that their gigantic folk metal tour would not be happening in 2015. Folk metal fans all over North America were distraught – and Sarah Stepanik, fiddler and vocalist of Sekengard, decided to do something about it. With the help of other local metalheads, she pulled together this mini-festival of East Coast folk metal (and folk metal-ish) bands at Metro Gallery in Baltimore on Saturday, August 22nd. And Maryland Folk Fest was phenomenal.

Maryland Folk Fest

Metro Gallery seemed like a small place to hold a festival, but then again maybe they weren’t expecting a huge turnout, and Metro Gallery’s capacity is 240 (which sounds like it’d be jam-packed!). At the peak of the festival, the place was comfortably full – there was enough room that you weren’t right up against your neighbor, but there wasn’t much empty space, either.

When I went in, I handed my ID to the guy at the door and said half-jokingly, “Don’t judge me” — because the name and photo on my ID don’t match my look nowadays (although this was the last time dealing with that because I received the legal document changing my name two days after the show). He said, “No judging here. This is a Safer Space.” And he pointed to a sign in the window (I think it was this one). So that was awesome. While I feel pretty comfortable as an LGBT person in the DC area metal scene, it was still nice to know that respect and decency are codified in the venue’s policy.

I got into the venue about 6:45; I thought I was late, but the show wasn’t actually starting till 7. There were maybe 30 or 40 people there then. I figured most of them were band members and their significant others.

Around 7, Heimdall, a band from Lynchburg, VA got started. I haven’t had any spare brain cells for months, so I didn’t have a chance to check out the bands I didn’t know ahead of time, and so I knew nothing about these guys before the show. They played a fast and furious mix of thrash and death metal, with vocals ranging from a Black Dahlia Murder-esque scream to low growls, some thundering thrash riffs and some groovy or churning death metal parts. They looked very young, and rather 80’s/thrashy, with battle vests and wavy chest length hair. There were maybe 50 people standing around during their set. This was definitely not a thrash crowd — the floor was practically still. There was no pit nor even any vigorous headbanging, just a few bobbing heads. Then again, the singer didn’t ask for a pit; based on later events, people might have obliged if he had. He didn’t really interact with the crowd at all, just growled the names of songs, but I have no idea what he said. The band seemed tight and professional though, and sounded good. If I were into thrash or traditional death metal, I would follow them. I was not sure why they were on the bill, though, since the only folk things about them seemed to be their band name and rune-ish looking logo.

Heimdall at Maryland Folk Fest

Heimdall at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

Heimdall at Maryland Folk Fest

Heimdall at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

Isenmor was the first of the four bands on the bill that I was familiar with ahead of time. Isenmor was just formed about a year ago in the lovely, tiny town of Savage, MD, and released an EP this past June, which I recently reviewed for DC Heavy Metal. At the fest, they played all the original songs from their EP (though not in order), a cover of Eluveitie‘s “Havoc,” and some new original songs. At least one of these new songs, “Furor Teutonicus,” I’d heard them play last month when they were supposed to open for California’s Helsott at Cafe 611 and unexpectedly got to play a long set when Helsott walked out. This time at Metro Gallery, the sound for Isenmor was clearer, so I was able to get a better feel for the song. It started with a furious barrage of buzzing notes on the two violins, and kept up the fast pace with a volley of harsh vocals. The song I enjoyed most, though, was my favorite from the EP, “So Willingly Deceived” — even though they seemed a little out of synch at first, and the violins sounded a bit out of tune at the end. It’s a slow song, but very grand and melodic. The crowd had grown, and there was a five-person pit during one of the new songs. But the fun was short-lived, because someone got hurt, possibly broke a leg and had be helped out of the pit (and I later found out she was taken away in an ambulance). That put a damper on the moshing for a while. Toward the end of the set, Nick called for a circle pit during “Death is a Fine Companion,” and one started up again, this time with a few more people – maybe seven :P Isenmor made a big finish, and the crowd cheered enthusiastically. They’d be a hard act to follow, I thought.

Isenmor at Maryland Folk Fest

Isenmor at Maryland Folk Fest by Luna Rose Photography

Isenmor at Maryland Folk Fest

Isenmor at Maryland Folk Fest by Luna Rose Photography

The next band on the bill was Dogs And Day Drinkers, hailing from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I’ve seen this band numerous times over the past few years, and they’ve really come far. They seem to have finally hit their stride and found their sound, maybe partly due to their new vocalist, who seems to have a stronger voice than their previous singer. At times the band sounds like early A Sound Of Thunder — the charging heavy metal riffs, the powerful female vocals. But Ashley Marie’s voice isn’t exactly same as that of Nina Osegueda of A Sound Of Thunder (of course); Ashley’s voice has more edge to it, and the band’s overall sound is more straight-ahead heavy metal than A Sound Of Thunder ever was. One thing they do share are blazing guitar solos, although Dan Wise’s are more shred and not bluesy like those by A Sound Of Thunder guitarist Josh Schwartz. The band played a new song that they’d never played before, which Ashley said that people wouldn’t like, but it was actually was one of their best songs. It started off with a very “Barracuda”-like riff and then got more creative. Another song was introduced as “that one folk metal song we wrote one time,” and it had a much more epic, Viking-metal sound. They closed with “Battle Hymn,” whose chorus (“We march, we die, leave the bodies where they lie”) has been getting stuck in my head the last few times I’ve seen the band. The floor emptied a bit during their set, with a lot of people sitting down, which was unfortunate since they’re getting pretty good.

Dogs And Day Drinkers at Maryland Folk Fest

Dogs And Day Drinkers at Maryland Folk Fest by Luna Rose Photography

Dogs And Day Drinkers at Maryland Folk Fest

Dogs And Day Drinkers at Maryland Folk Fest by Luna Rose Photography

Next up was another band I had never heard of before, Yonder Realm from Long Island. They reminded me of Eluveitie at first, with a strong death metal flavor to their sound under the folky touches of keyboard and violin and a similar style of harsh vocals, but they also sometimes used lower growls (surprisingly low for the willowy vocalist) or core-y choruses. Their recordings feature a flute as well, which adds to the Eluveitie vibe. Live, they were quite heavy on the guitars, and the keyboard (and I think also a backing track of other folky instruments) was drowned out by the guitars at first. This was fixed after the second song, but then the keyboard was kind of loud and overwhelmed the rest of the band, making the guitars just background noise. The whole band sounded their best when keyboardist Dana Lengel switched to the violin — at that point the acoustic violin balanced nicely with with the other, electric strings. In keeping with the two following bands, the vocalist/guitarist Jesse McGunnigle was a bit of a jokester — he said one song was about “eating all the bitches” (when actually it was called “Pillars of Creation”) and later joked about the fact that there were two “Realm” bands on the bill: “We’re thinking of changing our name to Yonder Aether, or maybe Realm Realm.” The last song they played, “Moonbeam Road,” was very cool, with a dreamy atmospheric beginning before going into epic melodic riffs and then a frenzied fast section in the middle. I was very impressed with the band, and picked up both their album and EP.

Yonder Realm at Maryland Folk Fest

Yonder Realm at Maryland Folk Fest by Luna Rose Photography

Yonder Realm at Maryland Folk Fest

Yonder Realm at Maryland Folk Fest by Luna Rose Photography

Sekengard was in the second slot, but probably played the longest, and liveliest, set of the night. They started off with a polka and invited the crowd to dance — so we obliged! They had the most energetic crowd, with lots of dancing and moshing, and about tied with Isenmor for size of crowd. I believe they also played everything from their recent EP, again not in order though. In addition, vocalist/violinist Sarah Stepanik sang “Where did You Sleep Last Night,” which she introduced as an Appalachian folk song that was covered by Nirvana, and I realized that she can really sing! She started out with a sweet voice, but pretty soon she was belting and snarling the words, giving the song quite a creepy feel. The instruments gradually built up while she was singing, and the band launched right into “Striped Paladin” after the Appalachian song. In between other songs, mandolin and guitar player Dan Paytas made us groan with bad jokes. Sekengard ended with their “two craziest songs,” inviting the crowd to mosh. First was “Howling of the Fen,” so I guessed that “Time Flies When You’re Having Rum,” a song originally performed by Dan and Sarah’s other band Pirates For Sail, was going to be the last one, and so I saved myself for that one (I had already taken a blow to the ribs that knocked the wind out of me early in the set, so I didn’t want to push myself too hard). I was right, and the floor went wild with dancing, spinning and moshing for this rousing and fast-paced song. I think we ended the song with a jig line, and the crowd was wildly appreciative when the band finished.

Sekengard at Maryland Folk Fest

Sekengard at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

Sekengard at Maryland Folk Fest

Sekengard at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

Sekengard at Maryland Folk Fest

Sekengard at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

I can’t remember if this happened before or after Sekengard’s set, but in further silliness that night, Sarah introduced us to the Maryland folk scene’s signature drink: When you combine Sekengard and Isenmor, you get — Isengard. And Sekengard sells shot glasses and Isenmor sells pint glasses, so if you fill one with spiced rum and the other with dark beer, and drop the first into the second, you get — “Taking the Hobbit to Isengard.”

Closing out the night was the other “Realm” band, Aether Realm from North Carolina. Like Yonder Realm, they have a melodeath-ish sound, but theirs is somewhere between Ensiferum and Amon Amarth. I think their time might have been shorter than planned, as they only played about five songs. They were heavy and brutal to rival the first band, and unlike the other bands, turned off the stage lights so they were in darkness, lit only by colorful flashes of light like constant rainbow lightning, which heightened the atmosphere. They started with the single they released this spring, “The Chariot,” which has a catchy melody and chorus. For “Swamp Witch,” they had a guest vocalist, Stormblood of Distoriam, who did even more extreme harsh vocals – lower and growlier – making it even more brutal (video footage of that song is posted here). Aether Realm vocalist/bassist Vincent “Jake” Jones opined that Distoriam ought to have been on the lineup. Another impressive song was “One Chosen By the Gods,” which was very dramatic. It was a massively heavy show, but didn’t show off their melodic side well since it was so loud and distorted that the melodies were mostly lost. The crowd thinned considerably during their set (it was after midnight), but there were still a solid fifty or so people for them, including the other bands. They had Jon Teachey from Wilderun filling in on drums because their drummer had family obligations, but with the noisy sound, I couldn’t hear any difference. Jake said that after a show in September, they were going to take a break from performing for a while since they want to concentrate on writing another album.

Aether Realm at Maryland Folk Fest

Aether Realm at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

Aether Realm at Maryland Folk Fest

Aether Realm at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

Aether Realm at Maryland Folk Fest

Aether Realm at Maryland Folk Fest by Tigran Kapinos

With six bands including two unknowns, I had worried there might be some duds or dull moments during the evening, but such a thing never happened. Some sound issues aside, every band delivered an excellent, captivating performance. Before Aether Realm’s set, Sarah gave a little speech thanking everyone, especially the rest of her band and local promoter Bobbie Dickerson, and promised that this will possibly, no, definitely happen again next year. If folk fest were to become a Maryland tradition (à la our other yearly metal festival), this was an awesome start. At least from a fan’s perspective, this first Maryland Folk Fest was an unequivocal success. There is very little I would change — maybe only things I would add, like a food vendor (although that’s perhaps not necessary with all the excellent options outside, and it’s good to support local businesses), and vendors selling folk related stuff. The biggest question of course is, what will next year’s line-up be?

Review of Land Of The Setting Sun by Isenmor

Band: Isenmor
Album: Land of the Setting Sun
Release Date: 21 June 2015
Buy CD ($7) or digital ($5) from: Bandcamp

Land of the Setting Sun by Isenmor

Folk metal is starting to get a foothold in our area. European folk bands have been coming through on their tours for years but we’re starting to see some local folk metal bands pop up. DCHM writer Tal has put together this thorough review of the debut release by one of these bands, Isenmor. You can stream a few tracks at the bottom of this post and listen while you read. You can also check out Tal’s blog In My Winter Castle for more of his writing.

Isenmor, of Savage, Maryland, is the second folk metal band to spring up in the greater DC area in recent years (after Baltimore’s Sekengard). On June 21, Isenmor released a surprisingly mature debut EP (considering that the band was formed a little over a year prior) titled Land of the Setting Sun.

The album title refers to the band’s “Vinlandic” identity. What grounds could a band in the “New World” have for performing European folk music? Well, the Vikings once sailed west into the setting sun and explored the place we now call North America; they called it Vinland. Isenmor takes their inspiration from this to perform Old World music mixed with modern metal, using Viking and Germanic themes. The band’s name, Isenmor, means “iron wasteland” in Old English, and according to vocalist and violinist Nick Schneider, refers to the aftermath of battle, with broken and discarded weapons strewn all about. And I guess that’s fitting since the first two songs on the EP are about the results of battle – death, and the funeral pyre. The lyrics draw on a mix of Germanic and Norse inspirations — while they sing about Wodan and Donar instead of their Norse counterparts Odin and Thor, they also quote from the Viking poem Hávamál (“cattle die, kinsmen die…”). Their sound, meanwhile, is dominated by the two violins (and a viola, according to the credits), which weave folky melodies with English and Celtic inspirations.

The violin-playing is probably the most proficient and appealing part of the EP. The rest of it is enthusiastic and interesting enough, but can’t help sounding a bit amateurish — there’s an unpolished feel to the clean vocals, and a kind of fuzzy sound to the guitars. Of course, this is the self-produced first release of a new band, so an unrefined sound can be forgiven. And some of the roughness may also be purposeful, such as the sawing and scraping of the violin in many parts – a sound which I actually find not unpleasant. Korpiklaani has a similarly scratchy sound to the violin on their first album, Spirit of the Forest, and it gives that album a coarse, earthy feel, which seems fitting for the genre. It makes it really feel like folk, the music of the people.

It took me a few listens to get into Isenmor’s album, possibly partly due to the unpolished sound, but now I love this release. Beneath the violins, there’s a good deal of black metal sound and influence — waves of atmospheric, tremolo-y guitar, screamed vocals delivered at high speed by Nick Schneider. That isn’t all, though; there are also chugging death metal riffs in “Land of the Setting Sun,” thick, heavy-hearted doomy guitar in “So Willingly Deceived,” and furious riffage à la Swedish melodeath in “The Old Mead Hall.” The vocals on the album are also highly varied — besides the screamed vocals, there are also clean vocals by several different band members, grandiose choruses sung by almost the whole band together, and raspy harsh vocals done by Tim Regan (who is also the guitarist). The album begins aggressively, with an energetic violin melody, blastbeats, and an extended scream starting the furious first song, “Death is a Fine Companion,” but most of the album goes at a much slower pace.

My favorite song is one of the slow ones, actually: “So Willingly Deceived,” which is about the conversion of the heathens to Christianity. I have to admit, I probably connected to this song so strongly because it reminded me of the Saxon Stories books by Bernard Cornwell, whose protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, is a Saxon lord in 9th century England who resists being converted to Christianity. That connection made the sorrowful keyboard and violin melody especially poignant, the verses praising the pagan gods more grandiose, and the anguish of the verses about those who were “willingly deceived” more real. The melody and vocals are underpinned by doomy guitar, long distorted tones during the verses and disconsolate chugging during the violin bridges, which heightens the sense of nostalgia. I really like the clean vocals in this song, which are performed by Nick — while he sounds untrained, he has a commanding voice which further reminds me of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. The lyrics of the song take surprisingly pointed (for folk metal) jabs at Christianity with lines like “You gladly pledge yourselves/ to a tyrant’s bastard son” and “a poorly conceived lie/ of a coward’s paradise.” Along with the first two songs, this song gives the album a decidedly serious feel, so much so that the drinking song that follows it, “The Old Mead Hall,” sounds a bit silly (it is a fun song, though).

After the five original songs on Land of the Setting Sun are two covers drawn from among the best international folk metal bands out there. The first one, a cover of Eluveitie’s “Havoc,” is enjoyable if not novel – it basically sounds like a rough-hewn version of the original. The warmer and simpler sound of the violins in Isenmor’s version, as opposed to the violin, tin whistle, and hurdy-gurdy that Eluveitie use for the furious folk barrages of the song, gives the cover a homelier sound than the tight, clear sound of the original.

The second cover is Ensiferum’s “In My Sword I Trust.” I was initially disappointed in this choice of cover song. It’s not that Isenmor did a bad job; but I don’t like this song or the album it’s from, 2012’s Unsung Heroes, in general. It’s just not up to the high standard and unique style of previous Ensiferum. (This year’s One Man Army redeemed Ensiferum, in my opinion, but I digress…) While “In My Sword I Trust” isn’t a good song for Ensiferum, it is pretty decent as a generic folk metal song, and Isenmor actually sounds really good playing it. Like the rest of the album, it took me a few listens to get into, but now I actually enjoy their rendition of it, certainly more than the original. Isenmor’s violin sounds much more strident playing the melody than the keyboard in the original – especially when both Nick and Miles are playing. The vocals are a bit gruffer, and after the solo (which is carried by the violin rather than the guitar in Isenmor’s cover), when the guitar and growled vocals hammer down on us, the band actually sounds pretty brutal. While not as polished in technique or recording quality, Isenmor’s cover is a lot more interesting than when Ensiferum plays this song.

And that’s not all. You get more than your money’s worth and then some with this EP, as the two covers are followed by acoustic versions of “Pyre” and “So Willingly Deceived.” I won’t deceive you; when I first picked up this album, I groaned inwardly upon seeing two acoustic versions, figuring they wouldn’t hold my interest. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They’re not boring, seeing as the violin melodies, which are a key element of the music, are still there, and with acoustic guitar, bass, and drums added to that, the acoustic songs are even a bit heavy in their own right. The acoustic songs give us more of a chance to appreciate the violins and hear the lyrics a bit better, and so they actually enhanced my appreciation of the metal versions. My opinion here is helped, of course, by the fact that I enjoy just plain folk music as well as folk metal, but I’m pretty sure that most folk metal fans are in the same Viking longship with me there.

Last but not least, the album is further enhanced by the artwork. The cover, showing a small silhouette of a helmeted man with a spear standing on a crag before the sea, in front of a turbulent dark orange sky that dominates the picture, is an oil painting by 19th century Norwegian painter Knud Andreassen Baade, “Scene from the era of Norwegian Sagas.” The CD is printed with “The Ride of the Valkyrs,” an illustration by John Charles Dollman from an early 20th century book of Norse mythology, showing Valkyries in their winged helmets riding horses that seem to leap over the viewer, the gray color and muscular figures making them look like statues. It was pretty clever of the band to use some great public domain artwork for their album – it looks very professional, and really cool to boot, and also fits the nostalgic, history-oriented tone of their album. They should put that cover image on a T-shirt, because I, for one, would give them money for it.

All in all, Isenmor is off to a very strong start with this EP. I’m excited to see where they go — at a live show in Frederick on July 11, they played some new songs which seem to indicate they’re charging full speed ahead with faster and heavier songs. This bodes very well for the folk metal scene in the DC area, as does the Maryland Folk Fest happening at Metro Gallery on August 22, featuring Isenmor, Sekengard, and other folk metal bands from up and down the east coast. We’re becoming a bastion for folk metal, and with Land of the Setting Sun, Isenmor joins the front ranks of this fledgling scene.

Primordial, While Heaven Wept and Cormorant at Empire

Primordial‘s tour came through town and Wednesday the 12th of September found me back at Empire in Springfield, Virginia just two days after seeing Obituary, Broken Hope and Decrepit Birth there (see my post on that show here). The first band I saw Wednesday was Cormorant, a sort of proggy, melodic metal band from San Francisco. They played a long set but since there were no local openers for this show I suppose they had the time to. They were pretty good live and I liked how they mentioned that one of their songs, Blood On The Cornfields, took place in Virginia as it was about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion and subsequent execution in 1831. Like the other bands on this tour their songs were long, but they kept it interesting and I wasn’t bored at all. The second band to play was While Heaven Wept, which is loosely based in the Northern Virginia, however some members live outside of the area. They drew the biggest crowd of the night probably due to their friends coming to see them play since this was their first area appearance in many years. I’m not sure how to describe their sound, it had some elements of power metal and prog and even some thrash and goth parts. I didn’t mind the music so much but frontman Rain Irving’s voice just didn’t do it for me. I’m sure there are some people that really like that style of clean singing but personally, it isn’t my thing. I’ve got a video of them from this show posted below so you can make up your own mind. It should also be noted that, according to the Metal Archives, While Heaven Wept’s guitar player Tom Phillips was once a member of the NSBM band (that stands for National Socialist Black Metal, aka Nazi black metal) Grand Belial’s Key. I refuse to cover or promote bigoted bands on this site and I don’t think While Heaven Wept are a bunch of racists but I thought it should be noted that at least one member of the band has ties to that nonsense. I don’t know the guy personally and maybe he has changed his ways, or perhaps the Metal Archives are simply incorrect but that’s the info I have.

UPDATE: Tom Phillips replied in the comments below, which I will quote here as well, to clarify his association with GBK and I’m inclined to believe him. I hope this makes things more clear for everyone.

Woah dude. Let’s get something clear immediately; yes, I was once involved with the first version of Grand Belial’s Key backing them up on keyboards…this was during the demo era, which was strictly LaVeyian/Anti-Christian Black Metal; that version of the band ended in the early 90′s when Lord Vlad left to join Ancient…the band was done/over/defunct. Fast forward several years and Gelal formed a new version of the band that had more extreme views and lyrical content. I personally had nothing to do with this 2nd incarnation, and it should be noted that While Heaven Wept is neither religious nor political in any way at all; all of our lyrics for the past 23 years are based upon real-life experiences and emotions – and it would be greatly appreciated if this were made clear. Metal Archives does not know or tell the whole story, and while I am proud to have been part of one of the first American Black Metal bands, neither myself nor anyone in WHW have anything to do with NSBM or fascism of any kind. – Tom Phillips

Anyways, let’s move on to talk of the headliner…

Primordial is an Irish folk/black metal band that has some truly epic songs that, to me at least, really separates them from the less serious mead chugging bands that seem to be dominating the folk metal genre these days. Primordial’s set list (see it here) featured a lot of material from their latest album, Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand, which was fine by me since I love that album. This was my first time seeing Primordial and the band’s frontman, A.A. Nemtheanga, was a true showman. He kept the audience constantly into the show and he seemed to always be up to something on stage, be it posing dramatically or walking right up to the audience and sharing the mic. Unfortunately the crowd thinned out considerably after While Heaven Wept finished playing when most of their local friends left. Sucks for them because they really missed a hell of a performance by a band that doesn’t tour the US very often. The show ended on a very high note with the entire crowd going crazy and singing along with the chorus line on their closing song, Empire Falls.

I’ve posted lots of photos and a few videos of each band that played the show below. Some of you might have noticed that Arkansas based doom metal band Pallbearer was playing at the Rock & Roll Hotel the same night Primordial was at Empire. I knew I couldn’t make it to both shows on the same night so I caught Pallbearer at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia last Saturday (the 8th). They were very heavy live but if you asked me which show was better now that I have seen both I would definitely have to say Primordial. September is a busy month full of some great metal concerts so be sure to check the upcoming concert calendar, get out to a show and support the scene you’re a part of!

Cormorant:

Nick Cohon of Cormorant

Matt Solis of Cormorant

Arthur von Nagel of Cormorant

Arthur von Nagel of Cormorant

While Heaven Wept:

Tom Phillips of While Heaven Wept

Rain Irving of While Heaven Wept

While Heaven Wept at Empire

Rain Irving of While Heaven Wept

Scott Loose of While Heaven Wept

Jim Hunter of While Heaven Wept

Primordial:

Primordial at Empire

A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial

Ciáran MacUiliam of Primordial

Primordial at Empire

A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial

Pól MacAmlaigh of Primordial

Primordial at Empire

A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial

A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial

A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial

A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial

Review of Agalloch at Sonar

So Monday the 21st of March 2011 saw the Portland based dark metal band Agalloch come to Sonar in Baltimore. They put out an album late last year, Marrow Of The Spirit, that as per their usual won a lot of critical accolades and was put on many best of 2010 album lists. I did like it a lot though I have to say I prefer some of their older material more. Still, it does have some really good songs on it and is another quality album in their back catalog. Agalloch has quite a devoted following and their fans tend to know every song, not just a few ‘hits’ or whatever. This show saw a lot of people in the local metal community come out. It’s always nice to see a strong turn out for underground metal bands. The smaller Talking Head Club stage was used for this concert though it was rather cramped in the room by the time Agalloch hit the stage and they probably could have put this show on the larger main stage.

When I first got to the show some band named Vindensång was playing. They were awful but I missed all but the last few songs of their set so it wasn’t that bad. The next band was Worm Ouroboros, a three piece with Agalloch drummer, Aesop Dekker, and two women playing guitar and bass who also both sing. Aesop has another non-Agalloch side project, named Ludicra, that is pretty good and since I hadn’t heard anything by Worm Ouroboros going into this show I was hoping for something that might be on par with that. Unfortunately, and contrary to what just about everyone else I spoke with about them thought, they were awful. Their sound was very slow, atmospheric and it sorta seemed like a lullaby trying to put me to sleep. That would be OK perhaps if it was the intro song to their set or something, but the music never picked up. The women’s voices were singing very softly and they didn’t seem very in tune with each other at any point where they were both singing simultaneously. There were a couple of times where it seemed the music was starting to pick up, but it was a trick, just more soft and slow music would follow. I realize headliner Agalloch isn’t the most brutal band in the world and their opening acts aren’t going to cover Napalm Death, but this was still a fucking metal concert! When Worm Ouroboros was playing I couldn’t help feeling that I was watching a band on the second stage at the Lilith Fair. I didn’t bother shooting video of them because I didn’t want that on my YouTube page so if you want to check them out you’ll have to do that somewhere else. When they finally finished (and took their Christmas lights with them) much to my bewilderment the audience gave them a great response. Am I some elitist narrow minded prick who only listens to metal, the more extreme the better? Hell no, I listen to a lot more than metal, of various levels of speed and all sorts of moods. This was just bad and made me wonder what everyone else saw in them. Perhaps I should have been drinking more?

I felt like I was waking up out of a coma before Agalloch’s set, so I really hoped they were going to keep it interesting. As if in an effort to wake everyone up, after the taped intro they opened the set with Into The Painted Grey which starts off with one of their faster riffs. They went right into Falling Snow and then played one of their new songs, The Watcher’s Monolith, which just happens to be my favorite on the new album. By this point I was pretty into the show with any thoughts of poor opening acts far from my mind. Agalloch’s very dramatic atmospherics and epic, well polished riffs have always been present in their sound. It’s the details that seem to change the most from album to album. More acoustic guitars used on one, female back up singing on another. They are very good at writing songs that go through a lot of changes in tempo but always seem to feel like they flow perfectly from the highs to the lows and back again. This was even more apparent live where the faster parts had more energy and the grand build ups to those great riffs just seemed more powerful. Their set list was a good mix of tunes spanning their career, three songs from Marrow Of The Spirit, three from Ashes Against The Grain and a song each from their older full lengths and they even played what vocalist John Haughm identified as the fourth song they had ever written, Of Stone, Wind And Pillor. I was hoping they would play my favorite song of theirs, Hallways Of Enchanted Ebony but they didn’t. People were calling out for the band to perform that song’s album, Pale Folklore, in its entirety as an encore but they only played two songs (I have video of the entire encore posted below). The band didn’t seem too cramped on the small stage, at least not from where I was. They used the fog machine a lot and the lighting was pretty low the entire set, and they had members of Worm Ouroboros going around the crowd telling people to stop using the flash on their cameras (that was annoying) but whatever, the songs are good enough that they made this show excellent regardless. I, and the rest of the audience, probably could have stood there and listened to them play their entire back catalog if the band had wanted to. After the set guitarist Don Anderson got on the mic and asked who had stolen one of their three cauldrons from the stage. I have no idea who did, but that’s kinda metal that it had to be asked. Agalloch does not tour a lot out here on the east coast so I’m glad I got the chance to see them as they came through the area. This is a band highly recommended by critics and my opinion is the same, see them live if you have the chance, just get there late to miss the openers. Now, check out my videos of Agalloch at this concert below and feel free to look at the rest of the pics I shot of them that night on my Flickr page here.