By Jason Williams
May 13th 2014, House Of Blues Sunset Strip, West Hollywood CA: Drinking, dancing, jigs, laughs and loud music. When you think of this, the first thing that probably comes to mind is an Irish bar. However, all that I described commonly takes place at many folk metal shows. Tonight’s folk metal event would be this year’s Paganfest, a US festival we’re lucky to get that usually offers some of the best live folk metal music out there. Finland’s very own Korpiklaani and Turisas were set to co-headline this year, along with Taiwan’s unique blend of metal ChthoniC, Germany’s Varg and from the United States itself, Winterhymn. This evening’s event at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip would be my first time seeing all of these bands, except ChthoniC years ago, and also be my very first attendance for the Paganfest festival, so I was genuinely excited for what would be in store for tonight.
Because of tonight’s event being a weekday show, doors were at 6 PM and Winterhymn started their set at exactly 6:30 PM. By this time, the GA floor was already full while the rest of the venue was still light. Weekday shows starting early usually have the crowds come in a little later after their work/school schedule is out of the way. I would expect more people to show up somewhat later in the evening.
Hailing from the state of Ohio, six-piece outfit Winterhymn were definitely good in their craft of viking/folk metal. Generally, I prefer a fitting blend of folk and enough metal when it comes to these bands. Some, like Arkona, are a little more folk than what I would prefer, although I do enjoy them. Winterhymn met that criteria for me that had enough of both worlds. I must commend them on their lethal guitar tone. Their crunch enabled the rhythm to be powerful and absolutely accented the violinist Umbriel and keyboardist Exura as well. Speaking of, the volume of their instruments was at a perfect setting. Not too low in the mix or too high to drown out the rest of the band. At times, it’s difficult to have a proper setting on keyboards and especially violins when they’re used. Guitarist/vocalist Draug, dressed in a large amount of viking clothing as well as warpaint on his face, engaged with the crowd often as he pummled away a mixed blend of powerful folk metal. Although the size of the crowd was still on the smaller side at this point, the music was enough for the pit to be opened as well as horns to be raised in the air. By the time they played the Skyrim cover of “The Dragonborn Comes”, the audience was cheering with beers in their hands already. Their 25-minute set came to a close fast. They proved to be a wonderful addition to Paganfest and hopefully will play more shows here in the near future.
One very positive note that many other venues or tours can learn from, the setup time between bands was absurdly quick. Only 10 minutes after Winterhymn’s set and Varg was ready to start. I can’t tell you how many times I see things lagging when it comes to setting up the next band at many other shows. It can disrupt the flow of the show and can leave the audience with less than wanted energy levels after the previous band. Germany’s Varg came out to a big ovation. I was supposed to see them when they opened in late 2012 for Wintersun’s first time in the US and with Eluveitie, but unfortunately, the show was incredibly packed and the line to get in was absolute madness. This four-piece (without a bassist, which seems to be a theme lately in the metal scene around here) blasted the audience right away with a powerful yet stripped down style of viking metal. It wasn’t too harsh to call them a death metal band or too soft to label them as folk either. Frontman Freki had the crowd in his hands with his menancing vocals and dynamic stage presence. When introducing “Blutaar”, Freki was giving the fans “German lessons”, and going as far as to say, “We come all this way from Germany and learn your language and you don’t know any German?” It had the audience in laughter and cheers. Towards the end of their set, the venue was very packed, especially for a Tuesday night. I absolutely enjoyed their mid-paced material as the lead guitar was brilliant in creating a haunting effect to the marching-to-war riffs. “Guten Tag”, which translates to “Hello” in German, filled the floor with the first monstrous pit of the night. Cheers of “Varg!” roamed around the House of Blues. They were even offering to be outside after their set at the merch table to take pictures and sign autographs, something that’s always a plus for a band to do. Varg was definitely worth their spot on the bill but a longer set sometime soon would do them greater justice.
Between bands leaving and the next band setting up, it was still all smooth sailing. A little under 15 minutes later, Taiwan’s Chthonic took the stage. Many in attendance had Chthonic shirts, and for a metal show, I did notice a larger than normal number of Asian fans in the venue, which told me many were anticipating this band’s set. I actually saw them play with Nile in 2007, and it was their first time in the US. The audience was blown away by their costumes, vast number of brass and original Taiwanese instruments on stage and their unique folkish yet haunting sound of metal. Sadly, this was my first time seeing them in about 7 years and almost none of what I described was to be them this evening. It seemed over the years they became more of a traditional symphonic and folk metal band. The sound was simpler and somewhat blended with other bands I’ve heard before. Not to take anything away from them as their set was still solid and the crowd absolutely loved them, giving them the biggest reaction of the night at this point of the evening. Based on my memory of them long ago, I was just shocked at the direction they’ve gone to and was remembering a much different band before. “Next Republic” had the Los Angeles crowd in a rabid frenzy, opening the pit to nearly the entire floor side. Nevertheless, their sound was great and bassist Doris Yeh and vocalist (also playing the Erhu at times in the set) Freddy Lim had the crowd in the palm of their hands and made this evening very enjoyable for them. Chthonic, while much different and somewhat lacking as compared to how I remembered them before, still gave a solid performance and were the highlight of the show so far.
02. Supreme Pain for the Tyrant
03. Next Republic
04. Sail Into the Sunset’s Fire
05. Defenders of Bú-tik Palace
9 PM rolled on by and Finland’s Turisas bombastically took center stage. A number of fans were wearing the famous Turisas warpaint and gave a screaming ovation when the band started. “Ten More Miles” opened their 70-minute set to a ravaging crowd, starting from their latest and somewhat controversial release “Turisas2013”. I actually saw no problem with the later material. Perhaps the live setting made the songs more enjoyable, but the crowd had no problem with it as I saw. I was joyful to see my favorite song of theirs “To Holmgard and Beyond” making it to the set. It was actually the first song I had ever heard from them before and it made me a fan instantly. The crowd did enjoy the older material of the night more, but was still incredibly responsive to Turisas throughout the night. Vocalist Mathias Nygård was cheerful and active during the entire set, clapping along the music and even, rightfully so in my opinion, insulting PBR to us Americans but still drinking it because “All of you seem to enjoy quantity over quality, so fuck it!” I enjoy the unique instruments in folk metal music and violinist Olli Vänskä was in top form, screaming away on the mic while flawlessly playing the violin. “Battle Metal”, from their first album of the same name, was also met with a huge ovation. Despite their mid-paced and intense moments, I actually enjoyed their slower parts of the set. The clean singing/spoken word moments with the violin in center, beautifully flowing through the music, made a symbolic gesture to everyone witnessing. Their encore of “Stand Up and Fight” and the Boney M. cover of “Rasputin” ended their set with drinks and horns in the air. I enjoyed Turisas much more than I was expecting and they were actually my favorite band of the night.
01. Ten More Miles
02. Take the Day!
03. To Holmgard and Beyond
04. For Your Own Good
05. Battle Metal
06. No Good Story Ever Starts With Drinking Tea
07. Rex Regi Rebellis
08. Miklagard Overture
09. Together We Ride
10. Stand Up and Fight
11. Rasputin (Boney M. cover)
And for the final band of the evening, Korpiklaani was met with loud cheers as they hit the stage around 10:15 PM. I’ve been waiting a long time to finally see Korpiklaani, and with all of the fesitivies they bring on stage, the final band on Paganfest surely made it all worth it. With a huge presence on stage and long dreadlock hair to go with it, Jonne Järvelä was all smiles throughout the night. Feeding off this joyful, spirited and energetic bunch, crowd favorite Jarkko Aaltonen with his long grungy beard made comical faces on the crowd while keeping the rhythm in check with his surprisingly large bass sound. For a band that is just known for drinking and having fun on stage, their sound was quite dominant and further credentialed their professionalism and musicianship on stage. “Vodka” was one of the highlights of the set, as I’m sure many in the audience had one in their hands as well. “Levan Polkka” was also met with lots of praise and the crowd was active in the pit basically for the entire night. My highlight of their set was Tuomas Rounakari’s violin playing and Sami Perttula on accordian. The volume was set higher in the mix but because of how great the sound was in general for Korpiklaani, you could still hear everyone else. The style was very herky-jerky and so much fun to see. Tuomas and Sami were also very proficient in their playing as well. The accordian playing almost sounded like a keyboard and it blended beautifully throughout the set. Korpiklaani’s songs are almost always on the short side, so the tide of the show wasn’t boring in the least. The last song in the encore, “Happy Little Boozer” got the audience singing along the whole time and you can just tell how grateful the audience was for having a good time with Koriplaani. Although they didn’t quite impact me as much as Turisas did, they were still extremely fun to see live and I still definitely enjoyed their set.
But something worth noting really, was the crowd tonight, which was in very good numbers and absolutely fun to be a part of. Drinks to the left, laughs to the right. Especially during Korpiklaani, fans were very much paying attention to the band, but I noticed around the venue, lots of new friends were being made, guys and girls drinking and laughing together. It truly felt like a folk metal show. love seeing the brother and sister hood commence into a positive and fun matter. Crowd loving and involved with the bands, safely drinking, no ego based fights and lots of new people meeting others to become friends or at least friends at shows? I would love to see this more in all of the other genres of metal out there.
Overall, this year’s Paganfest was a delight and it was a beautiful show to see on this Tuesday evening. Any year of the Paganfest, specially this year’s lineup, is a must-attend.
Remaining Paganfest America dates:
5/15/2014 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO
5/16/2014 The Riot Room – Kansas City, MO
5/17/2014 Harpo’s – Detroit, MI
5/18/2014 The Palladium – Worcester, MA