Comfortable and Furious


Well it’s about darned time the Finns hoisted their flag of
shame here in the States. And what better way to do it than in the form of a
belligerent Paganfest? The Euro version of the festival was clearly a huge success
and not only did it prove that Finland is a metal powerhouse, but it allowed a
ton of local acts like Heol Telwen and Bornholm to join the fun in Paris and
Budapest. But European enthusiasm is to be expected and I honestly didn’t bank
on a huge reaction here in Los Angeles.
I mean, Suffocation and Immolation pulled a pretty meager crowd at the HOB last
year and Ensiferum, as big as they are in Mulletsville, Scandinavia, aren’t
exactly a household name in the U.S. So obviously I was pleasantly surprised
that the show was virtually sold out. Eluveitie must’ve brought a small Swiss
village with them because the crowd definitely had a Euro vibe, i.e. lots of shirtless,
bearded fat guys. On the other hand, we’re talking about an all-ages gig at a
place in Hollywood that rubs up
against the slippery rear end of the West Side,
otherwise known as Boy’s Town, so there were plenty of requisite scenesters and
rabbles of uppity children roaming around the venue as if they had somewhere
else to be.

There was also a large black man in attendance, which was totally
cool but, frankly, he might as well have been a fucking cave troll. In yellow
spandex. Hell, I was less conspicuous
when I sat down for ribs and grits at Beans
& Cornbread
in Detroit a
few years ago. I suppose it didn’t help that he was a punk rocker wearing a plaid
jacket over tourniquet-tight jeans at a Paganfest. Of course we all know that
Ensiferum, Turisas, and the rest of the ticket are not racist bands by any
means, but let’s be realistic here. This tour is a celebration of pre-Christian
Germanic/Scando culture and heritage that doesn’t include any bible-thumpers as
surely as it doesn’t include any blacks. Because it’s a lot like Larping, though,
as in it’s all a simulated event, the sole black dude and the three
well-dressed, and possibly homosexual, Latinos hanging out in the back provided
an interesting sort of post-historical humor to the whole ordeal. Sadly, there are followers and practitioners of this
type of music who remain deluded racists. Apparently one of the Paganfest shows
in Germany was
almost cancelled due to fears that Ensiferum were Nazis. These unfortunate
people come with the territory and only represent an insignificant and ugly
portion of metalheads. Other than, you know, the literal ugliness of metalheads
in general.

We got there just in time to catch Eluveitie from Switzerland.
I hadn’t heard anything from their latest album prior to seeing them live but
these guys seriously owned the show. Their immense stage presence is due mainly
to the fact that they’ve got eight
people jumping around, including two reasonably attractive females (a shocking
rarity in the metal world, I know), a gargantuan front man sporting a
dreadlock/male-pattern baldness combo who plays six different instruments, and
a pair of tattooed twin Viking brothers! They’ve got bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies,
fiddles, flutes, you name it, and they still manage to keep it totally metal. Even
with everything happening it sounded clear and concise, probably because these
people actually know how to competently play the array of instruments. Let me
talk about the beer-fueled Kirder twins, though, because they are simply
out-of-control awesome. Hopefully somebody in the movie industry was at the
show because they’d be a huge hit as Rexor and Thorgrim in the eventual remake
of Conan the Barbarian. How often do
you get to see a pair of kickass twins in the same band anyway?

Next up were Tyr, the sword-swinging quartet from the Faeroe
Islands charged with the difficult task of following Eluveitie’s impassioned
performance. They failed to achieve. Not because they are bums, weaklings, or
cowards, but because their primitive Viking hymns inspired few to rally in
heroic battle cries and many to retreat to the bathroom or bar. They also don’t
have any twins in the band. It’s not that they didn’t put on a decent show or
chant a few catchy choruses, they just lacked the liveliness that your average
barbarian horde needs to display in Hollywood.
But they are island dwellers after all, and therefore unable to achieve
on a level field of play.

If anything good emerged from Tyr’s performance it was Turisas, swathed in red
warpaint and assorted pelts, vigorously sweating through the set like proper
Vikings. You’d think it would get uncomfortable wearing all that shit on stage
but Turisas are unrelenting in the historical accuracy of their cause,
including a firm belief in slaying traitors. They also played a triumphant
chain of material from The Varangian Way and readied the crowd for
Ensiferum’s arrival. As far as I recall, the bands were using the same
equipment (Peavy 5150 heads through Randall cabinets, which sounds hard as
nails) so all Ensiferum had to do was string up their banner and go to war. I’m
a pretty big fan of Victory Songs and Iron which they covered
fairly well, but no “Slayer of Light?!!” It was a huge disappointment as it’s a
trademark track and I’d somehow convinced myself they would close with it. Battle
axes across the room were lowered in defeat. Swords were sheathed, arrows were
quivered, the blood ran dry and the women went unmolested. On that note, I
don’t think anyone would’ve minded if Ensiferum played a longer set seeing as
how they were the headliners of the
festival and all. They’re clearly the most aggressive and pillage-inducing band
in the lineup and it would have been nice to revel in the drunken chaos for a
bit longer. Aside from that I’ve got no real complaints. Turisas and Ensiferum
rip it up live and will apparently be back next year for Paganfest part 2!! Hopefully
Korpiklaani can stop herding reindeer long enough to come with them. Overall it
was a great show despite the merch booth charging $30 for shirts and $20 for
CDs. Thank Odin’s beard for eBay.