|» Ensiferum 2009 11 30||
"Enough, or Too Much!", thus pondered the great William Blake in his famous - "Proverbs Of Hell". This statement can truly be applied to the Heathenish foray, and influx of Pagan Metal Fests in the US, over the last few years.
Thankfully, this was not the case for the highly anticipated Ensiferum headlining event, coming to Cleveland early winter. Unfortunately, this ultimate, all-star tour line-up was wrought with a series of many misfortunate events. First Ex Deo, were denied Visas, and missed most of their scheduled dates. Then, confirmed act Hypocrisy - who were to feature Alexi Laiho on lead guitars - had to cancel, altogether.
I am so grateful, that Ex Deo committed to play the last leg of the tour. When we saw them in Cleveland, last Monday, it was only their second US show, ever! Maurizio later commented to me, that he felt guided by his Roman Gods, and that it was more than just coincidence, that their first show would be in Chicago, at a venue dressed in Romanesque antiquities. Janus, Mars, and Jupiter truly shone their Olympian light among these centvrions of steel, as they crossed into our unknown boarders.
Ensiferum were also in full form this night, and these Finns from afar, treated us to an extended set of iron bound victory songs of the North, and Old West. This was my second time witnessing their sword chant. They were my sole reason for going to see Summer Of Slaughter. As headliners, these deathbringers of the sky fired on all cylinders with smoking guns, thereby ushering in a new dawn of ferrum aeternum.
Blackguard were invited on this tour by Ensiferum, after sharing the stage with them on the Summer Of Slaughter Tour. These refugees of death from Montréal, Québec - whom I first witnessed this spring on Pagan Fest II, as they turned the show to scarlet - were also ready to prove their majesty and allegiance.
Blackguard - the sextet formerly known as Profugus Mortis - hit the stage in a rage. By order of the Blackguard, they have named their debut release for Nuclear Blast (Sumerian Records, in America) - after their original namesake.
This was my third time seeing them, and I was even more impressed with their skill, attitude, and ability. The best way to describe their sound is if Children Of Bodom and Korpiklaani spawned a bastard. Like both of these Finnish bands, they like to sing songs about drinking, fighting, and all things metal.
I armed myself, as they opened with the punishing cut - "The Sword" - slicing right into the vein. "Cinder" proved that they would leave this place in a trail of blazing fire. The Ecclesiasticus, inspired "In Time", had the whole audience in a thrash frenzy, pitting and pounding the poseurs.
The keyboardist - Jonathan Lefrancois-Leduc - provides all the notes which sound like a flute, accordion, and violin. Guitar lords Terry "Roadcase" Deschenes and Kim Gosselin tore apart the stage with their fast and furious frenetic energy, waging war on the fallen.
As the beauty of this form of blackened thrash continued to drip out of my ears, I watched, as my son Stephen stood astonished, staring right at Justine Ethier as she pounded her drum kit with fierce frenzy and fiery fury. My son has an argosy of drumsticks given to him by many an accomplished musician. I stake my claim that he may play drums, professionally someday, too.
Justine's timing is superb, which is why she is an awesome thrash drummer, and damn cool chick to know, too. Hearing her tear apart the skins on " The Last We Wage", demonstrated to me that she is the leader of this band...well that, and her shirt which promptly stated, "I have the pussy, so I make all the rules!"
As the set was winding down, Stephen was asked by the energetic front man - Paul "Ablaze" Zinay - to stand up and bang the gong, but he was too timid, something that would soon change in time! Therefore, Paul proceeded to bang the huge gong behind him, and sweat all over the mic. and stage.
When he announced the closer "This Round's On Me", I was sad to see the performance coming to an abrupt close. I was so close to the stage that I was practically sitting on the PAs. I could hear so many guitar tones, and bass vibes from Étienne Mailloux, which I had never heard before, while playing my CD. If I had only removed my earplugs sooner, I might have heard Paul's howls, yawps, and bellows better. I chose to do this for the rest of the show, which proved a wise choice.
Before their final farewell, Paul informed us that they would return
in February to the US with Epica and Threat Signal. The new Epica album
is amazing, their best effort yet. My wife Wendy recently interviewed
Mark Jansen, so keep abreast for that engaging discussion coming to Metal
Covenant very soon.
7,5 chalices of 10
As much as I was anticipating seeing Ensiferum, after having thoroughly digested their new masterpiece album 'From Afar', I was equally excited to see Ex Deo. As the blood began to pump in my veins with excitement, I examined my courage and prepared to meet the God's that walk the earth.
I am a dedicated student of The Classics. I still read Latin, reflecting on Antiquity with a true richness, as concerns Roman History. I just checked out a four volume DVD set on Roman History from my local library. I am super excited about the new Starz show coming in 2010 - "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", which will run for two seasons.
After the show, when I was discussing Rome with Maurizio, before his interview with Allison, I wish I had asked him why he chose to use Vulgar Latin phrases in his song "Cruor Nostri Abbas (The Boodshed Of Our Patronage)", on an album acknowledging the majesty of the Roman Republic.
Nevertheless, Ex Deo would prevail, and when the sacred warriors from Kataklysm hit the stage, joined by touring bassist - Dano Apekian - I felt myself being transported back to the Golden Age. This was a wondrous era, before Christianity, when power, pleasure, and the pursuit of war reigned. A time when crucifixions adorned the Appian Way, when gladiators fought for their freedom in the arena, and when men were Men of Mettle!
A crimson Ex Deo tapestry draped, hung, and lunged over Max Duhamel as he beat the drums of doom. Meanwhile, two iconic pillars balanced the platform, with the militaristic SPQR (Senatus Pompulusque Romanus) banner boldly flailing forth.
As the incandescent arraignment of lights and shadows glistened, Maurizio emerged adorned in full Roman Centurion regalia. He looked like he had pilfered the wardrobe from the set of HBO's cancelled series - "Rome". His appearance and persona was so authentic with the boot sandles, shin guards, breastplate, royal robe, and helmut, that I bowed before his august presence.
Then the key musicians sallied forth with "XIII" inscribed in gold, on their charcoal breastplates; alluding to the Thundering XIII Legion, who valiantly served Julius Caesar on his Gallic campaigns. I am sure the fans were also reminded of the song "Legio XIII" from 'Romulus'.
With a flashback in time, as if we were all standing ready and strong during the siege of Alesia, the throng of thrashers formed a whirwind of a pit, which mirrored a circumvallation fortifying the concert hall, warding off any poser threat. Thus, did the mass headbangers watch vigilantly as the invincible menacing presence of Maurizio bred hate and fear into our hearts.
After a set of two album based anthem songs, the lights would dim, and the musicians would freeze in place, either to allow for the narration from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the movies "Spartacus" or Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" or background music, to cast aspersion upon our vacant souls.
As Ex Deo burst into "Storm The Gates Of Alesia" the vulgar crowd could instantly feel the force of battle and honor, as each epic riff ripped down their spine. "In Her Dark Embrace" sent my cold blood curdling, as if from the force of god herself, my spirit was being elevated.
Then when Maurizio began to cry havoc, he screamed, "Rom -u -lus!!!", and the whole floor erupted in an uproar. I just closed my eyes, envisioning the video of the same name, and picturing myself observing the twins being reared by their wolfmother, and then fighting amongst each other, until Romulus proved the triumphant victor.
Even though Blackguard's own Jonathan Lefrancois-Leduc played keyboards on the album, live he was replaced by an I-pod (talk about your fusion of horizons!). This sort of set the mystery, and exaggerated the majestic moments in time, but it also allowed for the music to flow accordingly.
After each perseveration of "Hail Caesar!", when Maurizio and his legions would blatantly pay homage with "Invictus", I would reflect on all that Caesar had done to rewrite history at that time, before making himself king. He established the Julian calender which we still use to this day. He was more of a tyrant, and the Republic came to an end, after his reign. After his violent death and betrayal, and the battle of Actium, Octavian would become the first emperor, in a boundless Roman world.
Shortly thereafter, Ex Deo's front man summoned my son on to the stage to pound his fist against his chest, and proclaim, "For the honor and glory of Rome! (ad honorem majorem et Romanum gloriam!). Stephen was a bit confused, as he has never seen the movie "Gladiator", nor heard the saying, "We who are about to die, salute you!" However, he did thrust his fist proudly in the air, taking center stage, alongside of Maurizio, before they honored the fallen in the arena with "Surrender The Sun".
After the show, Maurizio made sure my son was given an Ex Deo limited edition Tour shirt to proudly wear in honor of that sacred occasion. What a moment suspended in time it truly was, and will always be! My chest may have slightly ached from so much pounding pride; yet, I am so grateful for having been privy to serve at the feet of these savage hearts.
In retrospect, I was so caught up in the moment, that I completely forgot
to ask for the set list. With only the one album, Ex Deo proudly represented
the highlights of that masterpiece of epic and powerful evocation, with
a befitting salutation and sentiment to Maurizio's ancestral heritage.
8 chalices of 10
Ah the moment had finally arrived, as I perched myself immediately beneath Markus Toivonen's mic. In retrospect, I should have backed just a little further away, not because Markus was always stepping on my jacket, but because, after all he was wearing a kilt, and those sweaty bollocks hovered over my head, more times than I care to admit.
This of course, never interrupted my enjoyment, of the very band I have been so stoked to see; especially, after having spoken in depth with Sami Hinkka all about their incredible new album. I must admit, Sami's glow light bass, is quite an impressive instrument to behold, and it resonates and sounds so prominent in a live atmosphere. I strongly admire his enchanted vocal range, which offsets Petri's gruff growls.
There was a brief false start, as the lights shadowed and then dimmed, but no one came out, or appeared on the barren stage. It was not the eternal wait, but just a brief delay. My son began to get frustrated, but once we heard the sounds of "By The Dividing Stream" emanating from the speakers, we knew the magick moment was at hand, and we would soon be captivated by the warrior's quest of these guardians of fate.
They erupted with a sonic bang, as Petri Lindroos screamed, "Hello Cleveland...this is "From Afar"!. Instantly the place just exploded, as the dude next to my wife slammed down his tankard, spilling it all over Stephen, and the crowd went wild. Next up was my favourite cut from the new album - "Twilight Tavern". We also gleefully sang along to the chorus of this, as I noticed the drummer Janne Parviainen pounding the skins with what later proved to be a dishwashing wand...WTF!
Meanwhile, my eyes were fixed on the vivacious Emmi Silvennoinen as she spun her head frantically to and fro, like a windmill caught in a white storm. Her keyboards were on a prop designed like an oaken shield, with two swords crossing through, calling to arms the Finnish might of those summoned in battle.
Like a hero in a dream like reverie, I thoroughly relished in the moment of "Little Dreamer". I was in total bliss as they blistered into "Elusive Reaches", followed by "Wanderer", which even Stephen attempted to sing along, as the infectious chorus meandered into our sinews, chilling our bones.
I was very excited to see them play another killer cut off 'From Afar', namely, "Stone Cold Metal". For years now Ensiferum have expressed their affinity and fondness for Ennio Morricone and Spaghetti Westerns. This song epitomizes all that they have thus achieved, and it was incredible to witness live, even if there was no actual banjo solo!
The audience, and myself included were all too eager to sing along with "Smoking Ruins", and that track lingered in my head for days after its initial experience. I nearly died, sending my soul to Valhalla, when they ripped into the blazing "Slayer Of Light". Watching the guitarists shred on that speedy metal tirade, was truly a miraculous occasion; topped off by watching and hearing Sami's shrill scream at the end, in the true glorious '80s Slayer fashion.
Even though, Ensiferum were showing some degree of fatigue, this did not prevent Perti from declaring, "This one is a drinking song, and I am sure you all know it!". We sure did, and each and everyone of us did our best to chant along with their themed anthem - "One More Magic Potion".
Surprisingly, after this song abated, they burst right into the epic, and rather lengthy "The Longest Journey", the second part of "Heathen Throne". Here I could really envision the talent of the mullett headed drummer Janne juxtaposing himself around his kit. I was also quite entranced with Markus' fret board agility and alacrity.
I really feel the bookends to Ensiferum's existence are to be found in their Finnish heroes Amorphis, and their thrash - trapped under ice, iron lords - Metallica. I realize that they get linked with many Pagan and Viking Metal acts, but I feel they are so much better than most of their contemporaries, and they definitely write music which may appeal to us metalheads, stuck in the past.
After the enthralling performance from "The Longest Journey",
they burst out with - "Treacherous Gods" - from their debut.
This proved to be a real burner perfected by this new line-up, who handled
an older cut, as if it were recently penned. Then, they briefly exited
the stage, for some well-deserved refreshments.
The lights flashed again, and even though Ensiferum were prepared to
call it a night, the relentless crowd screamed manically for more. Finally,
Petri and his iron gang returned to the stage, promising to play one more
cut. He offered us a choice between "Iron", and "Battle
Now the pit was an absolute madhouse, and everyone was just hysterical. My head was hammering so fast that "Iron" railed by so acerbically, that I never even noticed it was over, until Petri announced the final song, clearly emphasizing that this was their last song to be played this evening.
After it was all over, and the music was still ringing in my ears, Sami approached Stephen and shook his hand, thanking him for agreeing to come all the way to Cleveland to see him. They had met this summer in the parking lot, after Summer Of Slaughter in Cincinnati. They instantly hit it off discussing episodes of "South Park" and "The Pick Of Destiny". I was hoping to chat with Sami and Markus, but I could tell they were well spent, and in dire need of rest, and a shower.
Later that evening they would willingly welcome us aboard their bus, but by this time we were all exhausted, dragging our heads, and we just wanted to return to our hotel room, for some much needed food and sleep.
I am ever grateful that I was able to see this show, and most of all spend it with the two closet and coolest mettlehearts in my life: Wendy and Stephen!
Hail to all the Gods: Roman, Viking, and Metal!!!!
8,5 chalices of 10
By The Dividing Stream (intro)