Pagan metal is huge in Chicago. I had the opportunity to attend Paganfest on April 5th 2012 at Reggie’s Rock Club, the best concert venue in the city, located at 2109 South State Street.
This genera of metal is largely unknown to me so like a total asshole I left for the concert late and arrived to find a crowd so large it was literally wrapped around the building! The turnout for this tour was larger than the Deicide show I attended at Reggie’s about a month ago; read my review of that concert here.
My friend cursed me out for suggesting we leave late and by the time we actually entered the building Arkona was just coming on stage.
I want to mention something about the enthusiasm and loyalty that these groups enjoy with their fans. I shared the venue that night with fans dressed as Turisas warriors, Vikings and of course Pirates. There was even a girl walking around with a huge ox horn filled with beer. It was a pagan atmosphere come to life.
I spoke to a couple of these folk fanatics and found they weren’t just representing one group but they were fans of all the bands, although I met quite a few that felt Arkona was the best. All of the fans spoke of a connection to the music that was stronger than just loving the sound of metal. They said this in such a respectful way. It made me want to see these bands for myself and be part of the experience.
Arkona (Аркона) is a pagan metal band from Russia. One of their songs was used in an episode of ‘The Office‘; aside from that, I didn’t know what to expect from them.
The second the band hit the stage they were on fire! The group said little between songs but still interacted with the audience through fist pumping hand gestures.
Arkona’s music is fascinating. The setup is a traditional band (drums, guitar, bass, and vocals) with the addition of flutes and bagpipes. The music and vocals varied from folkish wails to death metal grunts, it was unbelievable. I did a little research on each band prior to attending the show and I knew that Arkona was the project of vocalist Maria ‘Scream’ Arkhipova. The group has been active since 2002 and has released seven albums. The newest release is 2011’s ‘Slovo’.
Maria Arkhipova is the band. Dancing and swaying like a rabid beast. She moved around so much on stage I had difficulty keeping track of her. I thought her long sleeved clothing and animal furs would get the best of her, but if heat was a factor, you wouldn’t know it watching the rapid pace she kept up throughout the entire show.
Maria’s vocals are unique to metal and flow with the music on so many different levels. I understood immediately why many in attendance loved this band. They were like nothing I’ve heard before, it was passion and fury melded into one. If they ever play Chicago again, you will see me there. I tracked some people down who knew the songs well enough to provide a decent set list. Here are the songs that impressed me the most: ‘Arkaim’, ‘Zakliatie’, ‘Stenka na Stenku’ and ‘Yarlio’.
The second band up was pirate metallers Alestorm. They were originally the band that drew me to Paganfest. Alestorm has been around since 2008 but started back in 2004 as a group called Battleheart. Pirate metal is something relatively new to the metal scene. In my mind it’s a clever gimmick and the idea of a band singing about war on the high seas, sloppy wenches, and drinking mass quantities of wine appeals to me on so many levels. I just can’t help but love it and let’s be honest; Alestorm is a band that can really play.
After seeing Arkona rock out in animal furs and war paint I expected Alestorm to hit the stage dressed as pirates but sadly that was not the case. The band looked like ordinary dudes from Scotland but played their comedic brand of metal up to the hilt. At one point vocalist Christopher Bowes asked “Are there Vikings in the crowd tonight?” the crowd roared back in acknowledgement. Bowes responded with “Well, this next song is about chopping a Viking’s cock off”. He also tried unsuccessfully to entice a ‘Little Person’ up on stage for the song ‘Midget Saw’, the band was hilarious and the crowd was participating in nearly all of their songs. My favorites were: ‘Wenches and Mead’, ‘Black Sails at Midnight’ and ‘The Sunk’n Norwegian’, a fan favorite off the 2011 release ‘Back Through Time’.
Bowes and the other members of the group even mingled with the crowd before Turisas came on stage, shaking hands and taking pictures, they were a class act and I hope the Kracken allows them passage to Chicago again soon.
The final act of the evening was Turisas, a folk metal band from Finland. As soon as they hit the stage I was awed. The Turisas band members were covered in red and black war paint and wore black leather outfits that reminded me of the film The Road Warrior. They are a six-member group and their music is as intimidating as it is uplifting.
One glaring difference between Turisas and traditional metal bands is in the solos. Normally you’d expect an amazing guitar solo in music so powerful but Turisas gives you all that and more with an electric violin. I’ve seen violins used effectively like this one before by the doom metal group Earthen Grave but not with this frequency or in connection with music so intense.
Turisas were supporting their latest album 2011’s ‘Stand Up and Fight’. They had the crowd going from the start of the show and never let up. Singer Mathias ‘Warlord’ Nygård was praising the audience while at the same time punishing them with his booming vocals. My favorite songs were: Take the Day’, ‘The Great Escape’, ‘Stand Up and Fight’ and of course the final encore ‘Battle Metal’.
On a final note I wished Turisas had more stage room. I got the impression we only saw a shred of their full stage show. With so many members moving around so much, playing songs so powerful, you’ve got to believe there was more.
Nevertheless the connections each band made, branded their unique forms of metal forever into my brain. I think I’m a pagan now. \m/