Heidenfest

support Twilight of the Gods + Ensiferum + Equilibrium + Swashbuckle + Heidevolk
author EW date 20/09/10 venue Islington Academy, London, UK

In these enlightened times the package tours put on by the likes of the Rock the Nation agency have turned out to be popular for the fans and bands alike, as we the fan get to see a collection of (usually) worthy bands playing together and from what I hear of the artists themselves, the chance to play an expansive and well-organised tour. This spring brought us the Paganfest tour and now autumn has brought forth Heidenfest, a similarly styled package headlined, however, by a tribute band. Alas it was no ordinary tribute band though...

Heidevolk

Dutch folk metal troop Heidevolk begun proceedings decidedly early at 6pm, meaning I missed their first song or two, but at least got to join the sizable audience for a band making (I believe) their UK debut. Some may remember I was not especially enamoured by their most recent album "Uit Oude Grond", but much the same as their performance at Metal Camp earlier this summer the live performance of songs from this album and their previous two was a vast improvement over the recorded versions. The clean vocal work, which is a defining aspect of Heidevolk's sound, simply comes alive on the stage in contrast the slight staleness of the albums as the dual-vocalist set up allows for both a choral variance in style and a stage presence not normally seen in the metal world, with their engaging demeanour and no little personal encouragement to embrace the singalongs and positive atmosphere of the music concluding a fine opener for a band who have carved out a small niche for themselves in the folk metal world.

Swashbuckle

Proving that, like even in the mainstream pop world, metal is prone to moments of valuing style over substance is the inclusion of American pirate-themed thrashers Swashbuckle. Dressed as pirates, opening with some bizarre dancing to a random trance track, a mid-song battle between a roadie dressed as a shark and another as a parrot...not 'attractions' to make a great show as the more naive in attendance might be inclined to believe, but distractions to bely the mediocrity of their poorly played thrash metal. That Swashbuckle don't actually play any kind of Viking/folk/pagan metal (used in the loosest of terms) demonstrates clearly their selection for the Heidenfest tour is based on choice of musical theme and attire, and that with the likes of Alestorm (with whom singer Admiral Nobeard makes a point of distancing themselves from) and others in existence proves how a younger generation of metal fan is placing greater emphasis on the gimmick rather than the real substance of the music. Sensing any similarities to the pop world, something metal should be the antithesis of?

Thankfully Swashbuckle inject their set with a strong dose of comedy to keep the general attention of the punters and exhibit how they don't take themselves at all seriously, a salient point given how their Kreator-tinged thrashings are C-league at best. The worst part of all this though? Swashbuckle are signed to Nuclear Blast records, the biggest metal label in the biz. Depressing stuff.

4

Equilibrium

Following that rant against Nuclear Blast came another one of their acts, Equilibrium. To level the same rhetoric at these Bavarians would be harsh and unjust, but there is too a certain dishonesty about their recorded music which sits uncomfortably with me. Despite a labelling as a 'folk/Viking' band, the complete denouncement of 'folk' or 'Viking' elements in their riffs or songwriting leaves all sense of atmosphere and 'epicness' to fall to keyboards, for which there is no member assigned in their live line-up despite it's importance in the Equilibrium sound. Real 'folk/Viking' metal it is not.

However, being a live concert review concentration should be turned to just that, for which Equilibrium's music feels considerably more suited (despite the aforementioned keyboards all being piped out automatically). The fast, melodic beatings and predominantly deep growled vocals make for surprisingly easy and quickly engaging music that while lacking any serious artistic depth is hard to disagree with when being played out in front of you. Too in the bands' stage presence, reinventing the wheel they do not but their passion and energy is undoubted, surely a major reason in explaining the position the band have now attained. Now, if Equilibrium just took the decision to perform their vital keyboard work live...

7

Ensiferum

Metal Camp, Bloodstock, now Heidenfest. Seems I can't avoid Finnish Viking metal lords Ensiferum this summer but that is not a problem, an Ensiferum performance is always an enjoyable one. Opening with the "From Afar" one-two of "By The Dividing Stream" and "From Afar" (as opposed to the one-two-three with "Twilight Tavern" having followed on previous shows) Ensiferum's 'heroism', though a little cheesy, is hard not to recognise in the determined strength and comradeship that their music champions, as their performance through the traditional bare-chested skirt-wearing style seeks to emphasise in visual terms. Though not in the same battle-rousing leagues as Turisas when it comes to live environment, Ensiferum rank highly up with Finntoll in the glory of their songs and as such are as reliably uplifting and reassuring as they come. If one band summed up the lighter end of folk metal these days, would Ensiferum surely not be it? It's hard to think of someone else suited to such a crown.

8

Twilight of the Gods

As an act with a level of influence comparable to Iron Maiden or Metallica yet not a single show performed before mainman Quorthon's death in 2004, it leaves the Swedish legend Bathory surely the only metal band in history for whom a full fledged tribute act would be worthy? Personal opinion would dictate yes but what is not in doubt, besides the long and well-told story of Bathory/Quorthon, is how vital a contribution his works, notably "Blood Fire Death" (1988), "Hammerheart" (1990) and "Twilight of the Gods" (1991) have been to the world(s) of Viking/pagan metal. After taking a lead role in the creation of black metal in the early-mid 1980's, Quorthon started painting with different colours, upping the classical influence and reigning in the extremity to create three works of art unparalleled to this day in this epic vastness, storytelling ability and awe-inspiring emotion; works for which the metal world will forever be in debt.

As organiser and frontman of the act, Alan Averill (singer of one of the true heirs to the Bathory throne, Primordial) himself stated in this performance Twilight of the Gods are neither Bathory nor aiming to replace them, merely honouring the man's music in a way noone has ever done before - by playing a full set of his finest works for audiences who've never witnessed such songs live. With members including Nick Barker (of countless acts) and Blasphemer (Mayhem, Aura Noir among others) TotG are comprised of seasoned names, experience which has doubtlessly aided such a wonderful and faithful rendition of Bathory classics as was witnessed in a set played out to a considerably reduced audience than which Ensiferum prospered. Clearly not only did a large number in attendance not conduct their heavy metal research but they also deemed it not worthy of staying to check out what the live reproduction of classic works might sound like. Their sizable loss; while "A Fine Day To Die", "Father To Son", "Shores In Flames" et al are stored immemorial in their dated production (a better production anyway...) it was this template loving adhered to by TotG, wisely deciding such respected songs were not in the need of any tinkering.

Expecting a typical headliner level of audience interaction did not seem suited to such an occasion, instead Averill's understated respect and dedication was the overriding factor and the icing on a cake that had the potential to tarnish an untouched legacy. Called me biased, but in all honesty this was a performance perfect for the moment and worthy of just one rating. Pity so many thought they'd be better served catching an early train home...

10

All photos courtesy of the lovely Jon Whittle.

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