Review and photos by Justin Richardson
Although I did see the inaugural version of Paganfest, I’ve missed the rest throughout the past few years due to whatever reason. Sometimes the tour date didn’t come quite close enough and sometimes it was a job issue. But with the lineup for this year’s show being pretty awesome and the measly one hour drive requirement to get to the show, I felt the only choice was to go and get my metal on. Over the past few years, Folk/Pagan oriented metal has gained a lot of traction similar to that of the late 90’s and early 2000’s power metal scene. With its popularity not quite at peak yet as best as I can tell, the turnout for the Charlotte show was solid. Tonight would be a glorious night full of warpaint and loincloths with the occasional beer. Plus, what better way to spend Easter than a journey to Paganfest?
The local openers for Paganfest were Æther Realm, a pagan themed band with an EP to their name at the moment. Vocalist/bassist Jake Jones was clad in bear-skin (looked legit). The band played songs from their EP Odin Will Provide along with a few new songs. It sounds promising and they’ll be a band to keep an eye out for in the future. Best part of their show was one of the snares and cymbals falling over into the drummer and the kid just kept on as if nothing happened. Drummer-man Tyler Gresham, my hat is off to you.
SoCal’s Huntress was next. While the band doesn’t really fit in with the Viking theme that most associate with Paganfest, they do fit in with the Witchcraft-esqueness of not only their lyrics but that of their singer Jill Janus as well. Huntress plays a traditional style of metal, akin to a band like Wolf. And on album it works pretty well. But I fear that in a live situation, the band relies too much on Jill as a sex symbol and provided the audience with very limited interaction on stage. And for a band that has a very traditional-tinged sound with a lot of energy in their music, the album just didn’t translate on stage from anyone other than Jill. There was no onstage chemistry between Jill and anyone else except for their drummer Carl Wierzbicky who shared a few moments together. I believe otherwise, the rest of the band seemed more hired guns, and because there was no interaction, Jill came off as cheesy, and I don’t think that was her intention at all. Their music is pretty good and their debut is a nice slab of traditional metal, but the band really needs to work on their live performances if they want to gain ground. Aside from some of the cheese, Jill was entertaining to watch and seemed into what she was doing. I just wish I could say the same for the rest of the band.
Russia’s black-metal-goes-folk Arkona (??????) were next and I’ve always enjoyed their material on disc and naturally I was interested in seeing how that translated onstage. I’ve seen a lot of high energy frontmen. I’d say Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén is probably the most energetic. The man has to work out a ton to maintain that kind of energy. But I’ll tell you what, Arkona’s Masha Arhipova would give him a run for his money. It’s possible she’s even more energetic than he is, but that’s a tough call. Going at 100% back and forth on the stage and flailing the mic stand around with reckless abandon, she managed to toss it down not once but four times towards me and each time I returned it upright. She was so into the show that I don’t even believe she knew that the stand had dropped at any point. The sound was a bit muffly from where I was standing. I’m not sure if there was an issue during sound check or if it was just a shitty spot, but as best as I could tell they did great. The crowd ate up the energy. A few points highlighted the set, most notably Masha’s banging on a drum and Vladmir’s flute/bagpipe playing. Sadly the latter was difficult to see as the band didn’t tend to move around much, possibly because Masha was so dominating on stage. Hopefully Paganfest will have garnered them a larger fanbase and the chances of them coming back to the States will be higher. Until then, check out their latest album Word (?????).
Alestorm, the fun-lovin’-ale-drinkin’-Scots-gone-pirate band, was well received at Tremont. Their multiple North American tours have no doubt helped them in building an audience. The audience ate up each and every song, singing along with each one, and definitely gave Turisas a run for their money in the end. I couldn’t tell if the audience was mostly there for Turisas or Alestorm due to how well they were going over with the crowd. Mainman Christopher Bowes enchanted the crowd with not only his keytar precision, but also with his infectious charisma. Infectious like scurvy. I admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the band, but their live performance was a lot of fun. Enough fun to convince me to listen to them more. I already owned their debut, but I still wasn’t super familiar with the material. The guys were out there to be jolly pirates and they nailed it without even having to wear pirate hats. They’ll be on tour again soon in North America as part of the Epica and Insomnium package and I’m really looking forward to seeing this again already!
Finally the stage was cleared, sound checks made, and props moved on to the stage. Turisas stormed the audience with their trademark red and black striped makeup. They’ve traded in the furs and instead went with a more Mad Maxian tone for their costumes. Their video for “Stand Up and Fight” harkens to that vibe as well. As with Alestorm, the audience was singing every line with the band. You can tell when you’ve got a headline band when they’re given a small stage and they make you believe they’re playing for thousands. During a brief pause in the set, Warlord Nygård had some banter with the crowd regarding Rolling Rock beer. Needless to say he wasn’t a fan. However, he did compliment the USA on excellent microbreweries and said that Turisas was good for the economy because “We play globally, but we drink locally.” And if you’ve ever met a Finn, you know how much they can drink. As the show came to a close, the band played their ever-popular Boney M. cover of “Rasputin” which was a single on their previous album, The Varangian Way, and then ended the show with “Battle Metal”. They’ve definitely honed their skills since their first Paganfest. And having seen them several times, I can honestly say they’re on their ‘A’ game this tour. If not the best, then the second best show I’ve seen by them. Hopefully these guys will be back around soon playing a larger stage. Stand Up and Fight!