There’s nothing that will get you excited for a metal show quite like arriving at a Seattle venue in December twenty minutes after the doors are supposed to open, only to find that the doors haven’t opened and and that you get to stand in a cold, drizzling rain for 20 more minutes near the end of a motionless line of water-logged metalheads that snakes around the block.
I’m here to tell you: That will make you really eager to get inside. The poor motherfuckers who’d been standing near the front of the line for an hour must have really been stoked.
I wish I could say this is the first time such a thing has happened to me, but there seems to be an unwritten rule (at least at Seattle venues) that doors will not open until at least half an hour after the doors are supposed to open. I could understand this if the venues had their employees walking the lines selling hot dogs with cream cheese and grilled onions, but all El Corazon had for us on the night of December 2 was a dude with a megaphone repeatedly broadcasting to everyone that if you didn’t have everything removed from your pockets by the time you reached the door for the pat-down, you would be sent to the end of the line. This did not taste as good as a hot dog.
It did feel good to get inside, though I was already plenty excited to see Varg, Wintersun, and Eluveitie even before the bonus of a twenty-minute wait in the rain. Once inside, my friends and I made a bee-line to the bar, thinking that a shot of rye and a PBR would help un-freeze our guts. In the bar we came across members of two local bands (Blood and Thunder and The Devils of Loudon) and proceeded to drink and talk our way straight through most of Varg’s opening set. So I have no review of Varg’s show. I blame the rain. And the rye.
But the bar pretty well emptied out when Wintersun took the stage, and the performance room at El Corazon was packed solid for their set.
I was squeezed in on the right side of the stage and unable to maneuver closer to the center due to the crush of humanity separating me from where I wanted to be, but all was well anyway. Because . . . Wintersun.
I can’t think of any other metal band during the last decade who’ve experienced what these Finns have experienced. They put out one album — only one — that was ridiculously well-received (Wintersun), and then nothing for 8 years, and instead of being forgotten, their mystique somehow grew. It grew to the point that once their second album (Time I) finally became available, it had become one of 2012′s most anticipated releases for an immense legion of worldwide fans. Go figure.
Even though everyone knows we won’t even have to wait a year for the next Wintersun album (Time II), from the crowd’s reaction when Wintersun started playing you’d think someone announced it would be another 8 years before Wintersun would surface again. “Batshit boisterous” would be an understatement.
And all the way through the set, Wintersun’s members wore expressions of joy mixed with surprise, as if someone had failed to tell them that they had so many worshippers. They repaid the enthusiastic reception with a supremely tight, technically adept, high-energy performance that was both impressive and a shitload of fun. Kai Hahto is half beast, half machine behind the drum kit, Jari Mäenpää and Teemu Mäntysaari can really shred it up, and all three of the guys up front can really sing.
One more word about the vocals: So many times I’ve seen metal vocalists who mix clean and harsh vocals sing the clean parts off-key in a live show — to the point where I almost expect it. Jari Mäenpää’s clean vocals (which are very appealing) were spot-on, as close to pitch-perfect as my damaged ears are capable of appreciating.
Oddly, I found myself appreciating the live performances of the newer music more than the old. It’s still fun to hear the kind of super-charged, blazing-fast, riff-packed songs that populated much of the debut album, but in a way they also now seem like artifacts of their own time. And the Time I material, as performed without all the symphonic elements and layered tracking present on the album, came across well in more simplified form, rocking very hard while displaying the epic folk melodies in the music to very good effect.
In a nutshell, I really enjoyed Wintersun’s set. I assume they’ll be back in 2013 after Time II drops. When that happens, wild horses won’t keep me away. Here are some photos I took.
I wondered how many people in the audience had only come for Wintersun. I half-expected the herd would thin out considerably before Eluveitie took the stage, but it didn’t thin out by much at all. It was still a packed house, and the crowd reaction was, if anything, even more explosively boisterous than it had been for Wintersun.
This was the third time I’d seen Eluveitie live, but the first time seeing them in a relatively small, club-sized venue. It was by far their best show in my experience. Maybe the sound system and the proximity to the stage had something to do with it, but the music was powerful and irresistibly infectious. You couldn’t keep still to the music even if someone held a gun to your head and told you to freeze.
I was struck again by what an amazingly ferocious voice Chrigel Glanzmann possesses, like a murderous pride of lions who’ve just been uncaged. His roars were balanced on many songs by Anna Murphy, who has a great folk voice in addition to being a tantalizing hurdy-gurdyist.
Eluveitie is as much fun to watch as they are to hear. Seeing that small army of people playing fiddle, bagpipes, hurdy gurdy, whistles, and flutes, in addition to all the usual metal instruments, never gets old.
Though I enjoy a serving of folk metal now and then, it’s not at the top of my list of favorite metal genres. I’ve found that I enjoy it more live than I do on recordings. And seriously, if you get the chance to see Eluveitie live in a small setting, that’s an opportunity definitely not to be missed.
My camera work is half-assed at the best of times, but I just couldn’t accomplish much when Eluveitie was performing. The crowd was so dense and surging that I just couldn’t keep the camera still enough. Here’s the best I could do:
And here’s one more really out-of-focus pic that I still like for some reason, even though it’s a shitty photo.