Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Concert Calendar Is Up!

I finally figured out how to configure Google Calendar to sync with the blog! There's now a running list of metal and hard rock events in the right-hand column. This calendar will be continually updated as new shows are announced. Click on the link for an event to see additional details, including venue and ticket information. Since any aspect of these events is subject to change, it's always a good idea to call the venue before traveling to a show. The information posted is culled from multiple sources, and is as accurate as far as I know. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pagan's Mind, Avian Concert Review

Pagan’s Mind, Avian, Dimension, Fluxx, Stormlight, Leviathan
Monday, September 26, 2009
Station 4, St. Paul, MN

The Twin Cities had a special treat this night, with Norway’s progressive metal masters Pagan’s Mind appearing for only one of three headline shows on their first visit to North America. This was the final night of a short, 12 date tour that had Pagan’s Mind opening for Stratovarius on 8 of those dates. Unfortunately I missed the opening acts, and entered the din of Station 4 as local power metal heroes Avian were finishing their set with “Into The Other Side” and “Time And Space Part II: Unlock The Mystery” from the impressive Ashes And Madness release.

The club was well over half-full as a loud audience greeted Pagan’s Mind as they took the stage to “The Conception” entrance tape and launched right into “God’s Equation”. The God’s Equation album is two years old now, but they played a majority of the album with vigor and excitement. Pagan’s Mind is every bit as impressive live as they are on record, and an excellent sound enabled the guitar, keyboards, and vocals to all be distinctly heard. Other songs from God’s Equation were personal highlight “United Alliance”, “Hallo Spaceboy”, “Atomic Firelight”, and instrumental “Farewell”, dedicated to their late guitar player and a local fan. Short keyboard and guitar solos were interspersed in the set alongside a number of catalog tracks, including “Enigmatic Calling”, “Dimensions Of Fire”, and set-closer “Through Osiri’s Eyes”. Extensive thanks were issued to those who helped on the tour, and the crowd brought them back for an encore of “Alien Kamikaze” and surprise cover “2 Minutes To Midnight” to end the hour and 40 minute show. The band seemed surprised and overwhelmed by the warm reception tonight; let’s hope that this helps to encourage them to return to America again.

The Berzerker, Warbringer Concert Review

Goatwhore, The Berzerker, Warbringer, Sadistic Passage
Monday, September 21, 2009
Station 4, St. Paul, MN

I’ll be honest, it was The Berzerker that really brought me out to this show. Since their aborted 2004 U.S. tour saw the cancellation of their Minneapolis appearance, it has been a long since (if ever) The Berzerker has played here.

Ventura, California thrash mongers Warbringer had just started their set as I made my way into Station 4. While I enjoy their music and stage show, it’s hard for me to get excited about them. Warbringer is certainly near the top of the new wave of retro-thrash bands, but having grown up listening to Testament, Forbidden, Destruction, and the like back in the eighties I feel like I’ve heard this all before. In spirit and delivery, Warbringer reminds me of Overkill the most. The best thing going for Warbringer is vocalist John Kevill, who brings a strong presence and dramatic style to the stage. They played selection of songs from both full length albums, including “Living In A Whirlwind”, “Prey For Death”, and “Severed Reality” from their most recent, Waking Into Nightmares. Warbringer is quickly making a name for themselves, but a large dose of originality is needed to break through into wider metal circles.

Hailing from Australia, The Berzerker brought their massive wall of industrial/grind/death metal to the stage as the crowd came back in from outside. Witnessing this sonic destruction was certainly a sight to behold. The insane vocals, blinding guitar riffs, and frenetic, inhuman drumming fed through an electronic machine place The Berzerker in a league of their own. The audience seemed to divided between hardcore fans that get it, and stunned observers who had no idea how to react. A few songs from the self-released The Reawakening album were mixed in with selections from other albums, including the self-titled debut and Dissimulate. It’s hard to say that the band won the entire audience over by the end of the set, but love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Berzerker certainly made a lasting impression.

Not being a fan of Goatwhore, I picked up a copy of The Reawakening and called it a night. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring cameras with me so all I have are a couple crappy photos taken on my phone.

Urgehal, Spearhead, Eyes Of Noctum Concert Review

Urgehal, Spearhead, Eyes Of Noctum, Maledicere
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Big V’s, St. Paul, MN

For some reason, underground black metal bands from Europe have making rare appearances in the Twin Cities. Horna (Finland), Archgoat (Finland), and Frostmoon Eclipse (Italy) have all included us as part of short U.S. tours recently. This night it was Urgehal from Norway stepping into the hell hole of Big V’s as part of a virgin two-week run through the States. Having emerged from the nascent Norwegian black metal scene of the early nineties, Urgehal still plays a brutal, buzzsaw-style of raw black metal that more successful peers abandoned long ago. Forget progressive, symphonic, and technical experimentations. Urgehal proudly carries the flag for pure hatred.

Local duo Maledicere was wrapping up their set by the time I arrived, and they already had the stale air filled with the gruesome sights and smells of skinned animal heads and incense. Los Angeles’ Eyes Of Noctum seemed to take forever in setting up their gear, and their six members barely fit on the cramped, corner stage. Being led by Arcane (Weston Cage), son of actor Nicholas Cage, it could be easy to dismiss Eyes Of Noctum as a novelty act. Their 30 minute set of death/black metal certain had the crowd convinced that they are the real deal. Not having heard Eyes Of Noctum beforehand, I was certainly impressed by their professional stage presence and solid songs. Eyes Of Noctum certainly has a future ahead of them, and their self-released Inceptum album is a worthy purchase. Spearhead, hailing from England, stormed the stage next. The band plays straight-ahead death metal, but the constant barrage of snare drums and machine-like riffs left my mind numb and disinterested after a couple songs.

Urgehal was greeted with enthusiastic cheers as they took the stage armed for battle in corpsepaint, bullet-studded gear, and inverted crucifix necklaces. Their most recent album, Goatcraft Torment, has the band sounding better than ever with a clear production to match the step-up in songwriting and musicianship. The band wasted no time between songs and blitzed through a 45 minute set with blinding fury. Most of the set came from the two most recent albums, Goatcraft Torment (“Risus Sardonis”, “Antireligiøs”, “Goatcraft Torment”, “Dødsmarsj Til Helvete”) and Through Thick Fog Till Death (“Raise The Symbols Of Satan”, “Mirror Satan”, “Satanic Deathlust”). The set was rounded out by one song from each of their other albums, including “Stesolid Self-Destruction To Damnation” from the upcoming Ikonoklast record. The show was powerful demonstration of the capabilities of the band and left me wanting more. With Ikonoklast set to be released on Season of Mist later this year, Urgehal seems to be on the way towards raising their international profile.

Minnesota MetalFest Concert Review

Minnesota MetalFest: Primal Fear, Atheist, Novembers Doom, Destroy Destroy Destroy, Gnostic, Avian, Gracepoint, Grand Demise Of Civilization, Avalon
Monday, September 7, 2009
Station 4, St. Paul, MN

The Minnesota MetalFest was resurrected once again this year, featuring perhaps the most diverse lineup ever. Held on Labor Day, things got off to start early in the afternoon. I arrived late in the afternoon and caught the last couple songs from locals Gracepoint. They seem to straddle the line of aggressive technical metal and did a decent enough job of keeping the early crowd interested. The final local band up was Avian, easily the best and most professional area band going right now. Avian played a short selection of songs from both of their albums, From The Depths Of Time and Ashes And Madness, to rousing applause. This was the first show to feature their new guitarist, who stepped up and admirably replaced the big shoes left by Bill Hudson (ex-Cellador). Fans of Iron Maiden and Savatage would be well advised to check out this amazing band.

Atlanta’s Gnostic then took the stage and played with unbelievable intensity. Featuring three members of Athiest, Gnostic plays insane, jazz-fused technical hardcore that almost defies categorization. Fans of Athiest and Cynic may be put off by the screaming vocal style, but Gnostic is certainly forging their own musical style. I found it to be a little too much at times, but they’re certainly an interesting band. I was thrilled at the inclusion of Destroy Destroy Destroy on the bill, and they didn’t disappoint fans of their Children Of Bodom-influenced thrash metal. They blitzed onto stage looking like redneck Vikings, and received a huge response from the crowd as they stormed through songs from Battle Sluts and Devour The Power. Despite their keyboard player missing this tour, the band played along to tapes to replicate their massive sound. Destroy Destroy Destroy has huge potential, and a larger record label would be wise to discover this excellent band.

The biggest surprise of the day was Chicago’s Novembers Doom. I had never paid attention to this band after not liking their first album some years ago, but I was blown away at how great they sounded. The closest similarity I can draw is to the heavy, crushing doom of Swallow The Sun. Their hour-long set was quite different from all the other bands, and I hope that they can make to these parts for shows in the future. Athiest was a bit of a let down following Novembers Doom’s set. The band, especially vocalist Kelly Shaefer, came across as a bit too relaxed and lackadaisical. A selection from all three of their ground-breaking albums was performed with excellent delivery, but the band seemed to be having an off night. This was definitely better than the disappointing show from Cynic I saw earlier this year, but I still felt like I wasn’t seeing Athiest at their best.

Last up, after nearly an hour-long wait, was headliner Primal Fear, here from Germany on the opening night of their first American tour. The band had to be disappointed by the turnout, as it didn’t seem the size of crowd had grown since late afternoon. Despite this, Primal Fear churned out 90 minutes of power metal that left no one disappointed. Highlights from their new album, 16.6 – Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, were played (“Killbound”, “Six Time Dead (16.6)”, “Riding The Eagle”) alongside older fan favorites such as “Nuclear Fire”, “Fighting The Darkness”, and “Metal Is Forever”. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers is an imposing force on stage, both physically and sonically. He let loose screams with ease that showed why he nearly became the singer for Judas Priest. The entire band was tight, and seemed to be having fun on stage. Primal Fear was an exceptional end to a long day, and the entire audience stuck around to show their appreciation. All in all, the day was an enormous success with a diverse, unique bill. Let’s just hope that the promoter’s financials worked out to warrant continuation of a superb festival-style experience in a club.

Ross The Boss Concert Review

Ross The Boss
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Station 4, St. Paul, MN

The gods surely must have been aligned to make this show happen. Legendary Manowar guitarist Ross The Boss was flown into town for an exclusive one-off appearance to promote his recent solo album, New Metal Leader. The previous night had Ross The Boss teamed up with Raven for a show in New York City – too bad Raven couldn’t join this bill! This show was promoted as a mix of Ross’s new material as well as all of the early Manowar classics. Ross has recruited a young group of Germans into his band, having previously played gigs with the lot in a Manowar tribute band.

I rushed into the club late, having missed all the local openers and the first 3 or 4 songs from Ross The Boss. The crowd was small, but easily one of the most enthusiastic audiences I’ve ever witnessed. The atmosphere was that of a mini-Manowar concert. Many songs from New Metal Leader were featured, including “We Will Kill”, “Matador”, and “May The Gods Be With You”. Although great, early Manowar classics were what the rapid crowd wanted to hear, and the band delivered these triumphantly. This will be heresy to some, but even mere mortals are capable of delivering the goods as well as good as the current Manowar and Ross certainly has the right to play his songs. Mandatory Manowar cuts such as “Hail And Kill”, “Kill With Power”, and “Hail To England” were delivered with precision and conviction. The band was having fun on stage, and recreated the Manowar songs quite convincingly. No one in the crowd seemed to notice the difference. Although I missed the first part of the set, I still witnessed an hour of true, pure metal. This was only the second time Ross The Boss has played in the United States, and hopefully more extensive touring will come in the future.