May 5, 2014 Paganfest America Part V Conquers New York City 4-28-14
On Monday, April 28th, 2014, Paganfest America Part V invaded Irving Plaza in New York City. Headlining the twenty-two date tour was Korpiklaani from Finland, with direct support coming from fellow countrymen Turisas. Both bands have featured on this tour in the past, but this edition of Paganfest sees them galloping for victory alongside the slick, hard-hitting Chthonic, who came all the way from Taiwan, as well as Varg from Germany and Winterhymn from Cincinnati, Ohio.
As Winterhymn took the stage a small but eager knot of fans made their way to the front. Cincinnati, Ohio might not be the first place that comes to mind when envisioning longships and mead, but this five piece band looked as if they appeared out of the cold northern marches of some far distant land. Guitarist and vocalist Draug sang his tales of war and woe in a robust, soulful tone offset by bassist Alvadar’s black metal screech, creating a nice trade-off which added to the songs’ excellent dynamics. The crowd immediately got into the heady mix of fist-in-the-air Manowar-esque power metal and strong, well-placed folk elements. Enchanting violinist Umbriel’s tuneful playing carried well amid the clamor and clash of the band’s powerful bottom end. Winterhymn has been in existence since 2010, but Umbriel had already been playing violin for around ten years at that point. Her obvious dedication to her craft shined through beautifully. Keyboardist Exura, lovely and tall, added to the overall texture of the band’s sound. Currently unsigned, Winterhymn had held a fundraiser in order to get themselves included on the tour. Their efforts paid off, as a set including songs such as “In the Troll Forest,” “Wolfshead,” “Alesong,” a metaled-up version of the Skyrim video game theme, as well as rousing closer “Stand Your Ground” left quite an impression on those gathered. The fantasy element is a huge aspect of this kind of music, and Winterhymn channeled this spirit with their uplifting, melody-driven brand of pagan metal anthems. As Draug bade his thanks and farewells to the appreciative crowd, one can only hope some of these metal labels will wake up and sign them yesterday.
When the spell of Winterhymn was lifted, a black and red banner depicting a snarling wolf descended at the rear of the stage. Adorned in red and black face paint, the German war-tribe known as Varg took the stage to a soundtrack of howling, ravening wolves. Theirs is a brand of pagan metal more closely associated with death metal, with harsh vocals and an onslaught of guitar underpinned by more subtle folk melodies. The extremely personable vocalist, Manegarm, seemed intent on teaching the crowd some German. Although, as he pointed out, it was Monday and no one really wants to learn anything on Monday. Nevertheless, the crowd roared its approval as Varg ripped through the mid-paced “Was Nicht Darf,’ the speedy, shout-a-long anthem “Guten Tag,” and the bouncy “Rotkappchen.” The band engaged the growing crowd, their energy and professionalism locking fans into a fervent grip of happiness and enthusiasm. A circle pit opened up, pulling many into its sweaty, beer-stained vortex. Wolves are restless creatures, though, and it wasn’t long before this pack had to move on to other hunting grounds. The crowd was well and truly stoked, and sent them off with a hearty ovation.
And so the table was set for the iconic metal export of Taiwan to take the stage. Chthonic has been at it for quite some time, and has only recently begun to forge a reputation in the States. It was evident by the rabid welcome they received that those in attendance were already under the spell. As Chthonic took the stage, vocalist Freddy could be seen dragging a bow across the strings of an erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument. The band’s style of orchestral speed metal may not seem like typical Paganfest fodder, but there is no doubt that the spirit and power within Chthonic come from the same place as anything from Scandinavia. The powerful chorus of “Next Republic” enchanted the audience, causing fists to be raised and pits to open. Bassist Doris Yeh, she of the FHM and GQ magazine covers, whipped her long black hair into a whirlwind as she played the hell out of a guitar adorned with glowing purple lights. Freddy screamed and bellowed with unwavering strength. In execution they came off live a bit like Cradle of Filth, but their template is one of folk melodies and traditional leanings rather than straight ahead gothic black metal. From the crowd’s reaction and fervent approval it was clear that Chthonic could just as easily have been headliners tonight, or any night for that matter. They finished up with “Defender of Bu-Tik Palace” and “Takao,” leaving the crowd breathless and euphoric in their wake.
Excitement was palpable as the lights came up for that special brand of madness better known as Turisas. Coming out like conquering kings, faces and bodies dyed with red paint slashed with black, the Finns promised to be there when skies turn gray with “Ten More Miles” off their latest album Turisas2013. The crowd welcomed them like a victorious army returned from war. They kept the spirit of triumph alive as the sound of horns heralded “Take the Day” off 2011’s Stand Up and Fight! Rousing indeed; the chorus and shout-a-long verses went down as a storm, causing the revelry to spike to super-heated levels. Their third song, the sterling “To Holmgard and Beyond,” raised the bar even further. Completing a trip down their four album discography, Turisas followed this with “Rex Regi Rebellis” off of Battle Metal (2004). Fiddle player Olli Vanska danced like a madman, five and a half feet of trollish energy that could not be stopped. Bouncing back to their latest album, the band played the more traditional arena rock anthem “For Your Own Good.” When they transitioned back to their debut with “Battle Metal,” the crowd went berserk. Many could be seen singing along and screaming out the eponymous chorus amid wild dancing, jumping, and moshing. The band had smiles on their faces, as singer Warlord Nygard thanked the raucous crowd for the amazing reception.
No good story ever begins with drinking tea. So proclaims the song of the same name off Turisas’ latest album. The fast paced, punk-rock shout-a-long tore the roof off of Irving Plaza. “Alcohol….All night long….one more song….!!” This mantra could have summed up their entire set. The more melodic “We Ride Together” gave way to closing opus “Miklagard Overture,” which ratcheted up the epic factor by a hundred bars. From partying and dancing the subject now turned to war and the telling of tales. Warlord’s deep, rich voice was that of a skald from centuries past, channeling tales of Holmgard . . . and beyond. The encore “Stand Up and Fight” was met with a huge ovation, and the band left us with the dance hall cover “Rasputin,” long a fan favorite. Turisas departed for good just like they came, with swagger, energy, and the love of the gathered masses cheering them on.
But the night was far from over. Fans ran for the bathrooms and the bar to recharge for what was coming next. Turisas had sailed proudly into Irving Plaza, but the next and final act would be emerging from the awesome forests of Karelia once more to send fans into a happy frenzy. Korpiklaani had a slightly new look, as new fiddle player Tuomas Rounakari took the stage with his bandmates to the tune of brooding, heavy romper “Tuonelan Tuvilla,” followed by “Ruumiinmultaa.” Both songs come from 2012 album Manala and the latter features the accordion play of another newcomer to the fold, Sami Perttula. As Korpiklaani blasted through a set spanning much of their crowded discography, the amount of dancing and sheer joy in the crowd was amazing to behold. Korpiklaani bring out a happy revelry every time they play and tonight was no different. Extremely personable singer Jonne Jarvela exuded joy and the crowd gave it back to him in spades.
Fan favorite “Vodka” was aired to the roaring approval of all gathered. An insane amount of rollicking and moshing accompanied this speedy tune, who’s popularity among the fan base knows no bounds. The accordion-led “Levan Polkka” followed, churning the crowd into a hot dancing mess of laughter and jumping. The traditional styling of “Rauta” came next. The walls of Irving Plaza at this point might as well have been a circle of trees in a Lapland forest clearing. But the band wasn’t finished yet. From the first album Spirit of the Forest they closed out their initial set with the iconic “Wooden Pints.” After a short wait, the encore fulfilled fans’ hopes of hearing another super popular ode to the joys of too much drinking. “Happy Little Boozer” sent the gathered crowd home delirious, thrilled, and completely spent.
Though the popularity of Paganfest has diminished a little bit from its height a few years back, the phenomenon of folk metal proves once again that it will not go away. Its dedicated fans showed up strong on this night, and the bands who played were every bit as happy as the sweaty masses who came to dance for them. The sheer joy and overarching energy exuded during Paganfest can be experienced almost nowhere else in the world of rock music. It is truly a joy to be a part of and for those of you who missed it, make sure you attend next year. This year’s addition had it all; the fantasy styling of Winterhymn, the bloody aggression of Varg, the slick storytelling of Chthonic, as well as the revelry and madness of fan favorites Turisas and Korpiklaani. Both visually appealing and aurally joyful, the show was a massive success and a spectacle not to be missed in the future.