Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Among the Heathens

DJ Blanche and I journeyed over the river and through the woods to a metal festival the other night, mostly to see Swiss "pagan-metal" band Eluveitie, but partly just to check out the scene. "I'll be the one in the black t-shirt," she quipped as we made arrangements to get ourselves over to Heathenfest in St. Paul.

So, yes, I was throwing the horns and jumping up and down with all the youngsters for a while there, but I just have to say, (for about the millionth time) we are so spoiled by the Cedar's sound system. I don't know if the poor guy over at Station 4 had ever worked with instruments beyond the holy trinity of bass/guitar/drums or not, but the mix was so far down in the Murkwood quality range. Alas. I keep pulling out my earplugs hoping to hear a bit of the upper register instruments, but they were just buried by the onslaught 95% of the time.

Not what you want your sound system to reminds the audience of...

Too bad, because it's the fiddles, hurdy gurdy, bag pipes, whistles and mandola that make Eluveitie so much more interesting to me than the average metal band. I've blogged about this band in the past, so I won't dwell on their merits, but their recorded work harnesses the raw power of metal but juxtapositions it nicely with the acoustic instruments mentioned above. Fans of old Garmarna and Hedningarna stuff might dig it. The lyric cycles in Gaulish describing the rise and fall of the Helvitii tribe work with with this mix, although few people can translate the ancient language. You know me, I'm perfectly happy not to understand the lyrics; I'd rather have vocals be just another strand in the chord. Plus you gotta love a metal singer who uses adjectives like "sublime" to warn fans of a slower tune coming up. (Especially refreshing because the "black metal" band Belphegor earlier on the bill that night had about two words in their lyrical vocabulary, "Satan" and "F---ing.")

There was a great moment near the end of their set when Eluveitie front man Chrigel Glanzmann was pulling out all the stops, eyes rolled back in his head, flanked by fiddler Meri Tadic and hurdy player Anna Murphy, both their heads of long hair spinning in unison, the guitars and drums thundering behind. Wish I'd had a camera, that is the beauty in the power. But Glanzmann's mandola work, Tadic's fiddles...so lost in the mix that most of the time the band sounded like metal mush.
Eluveitie on the Paganfest-Europe tour last year.

I do have to plug Nathan, aka The Sword Lord, for organizing metal shows around town. (Sorry I did not get the last name.) The guy is a tireless promoter, and is part of the team that fills in Earl Root's mighty footprints on KFAI's Root of All Evil overnight metal show. (He does the "Dragon's Hall" segment.)

The Monday night crowd, about equal parts wide eyed high school kids in brand new Heathenfest shirts and oldsters in their pirate/buxom wench gear was friendly and really quite free of attitude. ( I think the pirates were fans of Scottish "Pirate Metal" band Alestorm. Gotta love those metal sub-genres!) Room was made for those who wanted to mosh, but hands were there to catch those who got out of bounds, rather than shoves. A rather welcoming community, if I can say that.

Good for Station 4 for providing a home for local metalheads, and for doing the 16 and over shows, but golly folks, please put some money into your sound system! And while you're at it, maybe a little pipe insulation for those exposed hot water pipes along the wall. Ouch! Or some kind of padding for those big pillars that run down the middle of the floor. Whine whine whine.

You know what I'm going to say now, don't you? Just makes me appreciate the Cedar clear sight lines, amazing sound system and skilled sound techs all the more. We love you, Chris, Eric and Ray! Ray's work on Tuneyards' set was great tonight, with some pretty tricky stuff.

Would love to see Tuneyards back here soon; nice folks, really fun to see them do their loops and samples live with Merrill's amazing vocals!