Paganfest Destroys The Palladium: Vikings, Pirates And Witches....Oh My!
Band Photo: Alestorm (?)
There are few places I would rather see an event like Paganfest more than at The Palldium in Worcester. It is currently the venue in which I see the majority of great metal event pass through the Northeast. Needless to say, when I found out long ago that the great hall (which would have been more fitting the lineup here) would remain empty as Pirates and Vikings would be facing off in the dreaded upstairs portion, my heart was heavy. For one, the sweat soaked sardine fest that would come is not conducive to a man my size who generally enjoys a four foot warzone to avoid striking any of my metal brothers with lumbering limbs and no sense of balance. Secondly, even though I would witness my first live exposure to Alestorm and Turisas, two of many personal favorites, I would not actually hear OR see the event properly. The sound in the upstairs portion is absolutely unfixable no matter what the venue does and the stage is at least three feet lower. Unless you plow your way through the crowd of men, women and children leaving a trail of destruction behind to get to the front, photography with any camera is an epic fail. Even if you are that lucky, the frighteningly horrible house lighting rig showers the bands in merely blood red. So was the night that awaited me. But alas, the crowd was entertaining enough, the beer doth flow and above all the four main acts were there. For metal, we do most anything.
Huntress has been on the scene for some time now, finally attaining some well-deserved attention led by vocalist Jill Janus and scoring a worldwide deal with Napalm. The voice that comes from the white witch can only be described as unholy, especially since she is 60lbs soaking wet (the size of one of your author’s legs). When you meet Jill, who makes herself very accessible as do most of the acts on this tour, the shock is even worse. She is most soft spoken and "wickedly" kind woman you will ever meet. On stage, she is a beast, evoking one of her evil personalities and belting screeches that would make Dawn Crosby roll in her grave. They blazed through a set of tracks from the upcoming “Spell Eater” (out April 27, 2012 in Europe and May 8, 2012 in North America, MU review forthcoming), including the title track and the much played “Eight of Swords” (the video of which was released prior to the band’s signing). The band seemed blown away by the reaction of the crowd, who were not as lucky as I to have heard the material before the tour. A perfect start for what was to come.
After moving to a safer location to spare my wife, who was nailed in the expanding pit during Huntress' set, Arkona then hit the stage. Anyone who has not had the absolute pleasure of witnessing this Russian folk act needs to correct this right quick. Having the most recorded material of any act on the bill, Arkona stunned the crowd with an amazing set, including “Stenka na Stenku” (which led the polls on the band’s online set list request form) and live favorite “Yarilo.” Once again, the sacred feminine ruled divine with Masha “Scream” Archipova and her trademark clean and growls. The crowd – with an overwhelming amount of Viking clad/Turisas war painted individuals – engaged in the infectious folk metal chanting “hey, hey” and “yo, yo” for lack of Russian linguistics.
One of the highlights of this night was Alestorm. Now call me old-fashioned, but I remember the days when metal was mostly about being fun and less about being pissed off about gimmicks. Alestorm has its fair share of critics for the “sham,” but I challenge people to find a more entertaining and catchy band that can be near as humorous as Captain Bowes and his pirate crew. It was a bit anti-climactic to watch the band perform its own sound check and then immediately start playing, as I was wishing for a long slow intro with the fans chanting…then the band arriving to the stage. But so goes the dreaded “upstairs” at the Palladium. Then, of course, as with the rest of the acts on this stellar tour, Alestorm was a victim of terrible acoustics – none of which was the band’s doing. When you can hear your own horrible singing over the bands, it says a lot – especially since I had no intention of annoying my mates. I was half expecting the Scottish pirates to dole out some much needed trash talk to the Viking Finnish headliners (I was forced to start that myself two days later), but Alestorm was a bit subdued and vocalist/keyboardist Christopher Bowes was a much more soft spoken, mostly due to his microphone levels hitting rock bottom (see sound gripes throughout).
Bowes and crew broadsided the venue with an amazing set, including crowd favorites “Shipwrecked,” “Wenches & Mead,” “Keelhauled,” “Rum” and “Nancy the Tavern Wench.” It was the introduction at the start of “Back Through Time” which inspired my subsequent April Fool’s joke, but unlike the misquote written within, Bowes, of course, did not make any references to Turisas, but did test the crowd with “How many people here like Vikings?.” Despite the mixed reaction between the two factions, the crowd proved amazing, sounding very much like the adventure galleys of the pirates of Hollywood. Brothers of metal of all ilks and sizes surrounded me in the back of the hall singing Alestorm choruses while swinging cups and cans of alcoholic beverages of all types.
Turisas hit the stage in what can only be described as a mind blowing display of symphonic and cinematic metal talent. With banner flags at four corners of the tiny stage, the overwhelming presence of one of metal’s finest frontmen, Mathias Nygård, was felt with the power of 10,000 Vikings, plus one! Turisas compensated for the crappy sound system by rousing the crowd into a fervor of blood soaked hymns of battle. “March of the Varangian Guard” commenced a performance filled with enough heat, energy and power to suffocate the non-believers out of the hall. The band continued on with a set filled with epic anthems like “The Great Escape,” “To Holmgard and Beyond,” “Take the Day” and the crowd favorite encore “Battle Metal.”
Two of the major highlights of the set came via the thrilling “Sahti-Waari” (played in hyper speed fashion) with roars from the crowd chanting “Olli, Olli” (for violinist Olli Vänskä) and the highly entertaining lecture by Mathias Nygård about how crappy the choices of beer the band has been served with so far on the tour (which had only been one previous night). The later had me in stiches, as Nygård set up the insult by saying “It’s really nice here in America” just before regaling the crowd in a story about being served Pabst Blue Ribbon in Baltimore and the “Dutch piss” of Heineken and “shit Swedish vodka” here in Worcester. The crowd erupted in laughter and the one way discussion even had the security and barkeep chuckling.
Overall it was a night filled with expected sound issues due to the venue’s choice of stages, but was more than made up for with the drinking, debauchery, sin and battle hymns. This was a very special evening that I was proud to be a metalhead hopelessly addicted to a music that continues to persevere, thrive and prove the world wrong.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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