(In this post, guest contributor The Uncool Guy Down the Hall gives us a show review with photos.)
I thought while Islander is off working on his Evil Super-Science project this would be the perfect opportunity to break the NCS rules and present an all clean singing review. And while I know Islander did provide a review (here) of Ancient VVisdom and Royal Thunder along with Pallbearer when they supported Enslaved, the focus of that review was (understandably) more on Enslaved. I’d like to put the focus on Royal Thunder and Ancient VVisdom for this review, as well as perhaps introduce Backwoods Payback to the NCS readers who may not have heard of them.
First off let me talk about the venue a little bit. The Fed Live is located in downtown Harrisburg, PA, a city well known around the Commonwealth not only for being the location of the state capital, but also for having filed for bankruptcy. This, combined with the fact they were hosting three metal acts, did not give me high expectations of the place.
Turns out, the bar/restaurant portion of venue (The Federal Taphouse) is a rather upscale place featuring a tap room of over 100 craft/micro brew beers and a respectable food menu. Getting there pretty early and having time to kill, I indulged in both the food and beer offerings, feeling a bit out of place mixed in with the after work suit and tie clad business types and/or legislators, but the food and beer were both excellent.
Closer to show time, I moved to where the live acts are held, which is upstairs in a room as well decorated and new feeling as the dining area. It was certainly not like the dank basement, backroom, or slightly beyond their prime theater venues I am used to for metal acts, but at least upstairs I felt more amongst my tribe so to speak.
All three members of Royal Thunder were moving about the room between the stage and merch table. I approached and spoke briefly with singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz to make sure the band wouldn’t mind me taking some pictures as they played and I offered to share them to their Facebook page, sounding like a beer-buzzed and star-struck babbling idiot. Mlny, soft-spoken and very sweet, said that would be fine and shook my hand.
I came to the show knowing nothing of Backwoods Payback (http://backwoodspayback.bandcamp.com/ https://www.facebook.com/backwoodspayback). They play an amalgamation of stoner rock/grunge/sludge/doom without sounding like a clone of their influences. Listening to the first two songs of their set, I tried to guess by their sound where they were from. At first I thought probably the Pacific Northwest, hearing similarities to bands like Red Fang and Melvins.
But then there was a sort of Southern fried sound as well, so I began to think maybe they were from NOLA or Atlanta (lead singer/guitarist Mike Cummings could easily pass for a brother or cousin of John Baizley). And then a little Desert Rock scene sound would slip in and out as well.
When Cummings introduced the band after the second song and said they were from West Chester, PA, my reaction was “wait…what?” PA normally doesn’t produce bands like this. We produce plenty of -core bands (and I will pretend we didn’t produce Poison), but normally not stoner/sludge, so that was a pleasant surprise.
Their set seemed to be very well received by the crowd, with their biggest fans being Royal Thunder. All three members were right up front amongst the crowd thoroughly enjoying the show (in fact, some of the pictures I look include the back of Mlny Parsonz’ head). I liked their set well enough that afterward I bought their first self-titled album and I’ll probably be sorry I didn’t buy their second album Momantha. If bands like Down, Corrosion of Conformity, Bison B.C., Kyuss, Red Fang, Black Tusk etc. are your thing, do yourself a favor and check out Backwoods Payback.
Ancient VVisdom I did know a little about, having read quite a bit of positive press for them across the metal blogosphere. I will admit that I have listened to some of their music casually but did not pursue it much further. My mistake being listening to them casually while doing other things that demand my attention. Ancient VVisdom’s unique semi-acoustic anthems to Satan demand your full attention as well as a proper place and time to listen to them. Without that, their essence becomes lost.
In a live setting, AVV invokes a tribal-like atmosphere. They started the set by asking the lights to be lowered, and incense was lit. Singer Nathan Opposition has a Jim Morrison-esque presence on stage and at most times sings with his eyes closed, completely absorbed by the music and atmosphere and appearing as if he is about to engage in astral projection at any moment. Then suddenly his eyes will snap open with such an intense gaze that it looks like he’s trying to bore a hole through the back wall, and perhaps time and space as well.
While I found AVV’s set to be very engrossing and it didn’t disappoint, I sort of felt it was somewhat stifled by the venue itself. The lights should have been even lower, the surrounding a little, well, less nice. AVV is an act probably best enjoyed in an outdoor festival setting at night, under a full moon. Or perhaps in an ancient ruin, in front of Viking funeral pyre, or in a druid grove.
Now this was the band I was most familiar with, as their album CVI was one of my favorite albums of 2012. While not the most metal of the distinctive acts hailing from the burgeoning Atlanta metal scene, Royal Thunder nonetheless captured the attention of many metal fans with their bluesy/doomy sophmore album.
Performing live, there is a power unleashed by this band that you don’t quite hear on the cleanly produced CVI. Playing as a three-piece, the rhythm section sounds like a pounding locomotive while Josh Weaver’s riffs and solos soar with soulfulness while creating a galaxy of sounds with his effects pedals. Mlny Parsonz vocals are, incredibly, even more powerful live than on record. Between songs, her speaking voice is unexpectedly soft, but she wailed on “Whispering World” as if her life depended on it.
Her vocal repertoire also includes sultry coos and plaintive cries, and for the middle part of “Blue” she stepped back a bit from the microphone and allowed her voice to become just another instrument providing a foundation underneath the guitar solo to create an almost magical effect. Most vocalists of this caliber probably would not have the lack of ego to be able to do that.
After seeing Royal Thunder live, I can understand now why they keep getting added to seemingly odd bill combinations (ie, the tour with Enslaved and the upcoming tour with Dillinger Escape Plan and The Faceless). The strength of their live show and their immense talent allows them to share a stage with just about anyone.