Heidenfest

support Turisas + Finntroll + Alestorm
author EW date 11/10/11 venue Kentish Town Forum, London, UK

The sister tour package of Paganfest, Heidenfest promised more of the same from the multinational touring agency Rock the Nation - a mixture of big name bands and developing ones in a professional set-up and, as always, an early start on a weekday. Great if you're a student or unemployed, but for the rest of us a struggle to make the early acts. For this reason, apologies to Skalmold (who I heard put on a very good, fun show) and to Trollfest (of whom I gathered the opposite reaction) and after finally arriving it was with great disappointment to learn Arkona were no longer able to play, leaving Alestorm the middle of a 5-band bill…

Alestorm

Some readers here may well be aware of my less than favourable opinion of pirate-themed bands such as Alestorm and Swashbuckle (see last year's Heidenfest review for further info): the word 'gimmick' seems relevant, the phrase 'weekend warrior' comes to mind when describing their largely-teenage fanbase (note my review of Twilight of the Gods at Heidenfest 2010). No, I have not changed my stance on these matters but what I will say here is this: Alestorm sure know how to get the fans going in a live performance.

At the comparatively spacious Kentish Town Forum, the tiered viewing structure was heaving to the back for the Scottish reprobates and their fictional (one assumes…) tales of pirate and sea-going life: more Pirates of the Caribbean than Moby Dick, a considerable number in attendance had come dressed as if extras from the über--popular Disney film series. As no doubt the only metal band in existence to utilise both a keyboard and a keytar, their sound is, for the uninitiated, as cheesy and synthy as could reasonably be expected, and full of the kind of jolly rhythms the seemingly forgotten Korpiklaani used to thrive in. Frontman, and wielder of the aforementioned keytar, Christopher Bowes, has always had the kind of vocal qualities to match the lyrical depth of his band but he can undeniably work the audience into a frenzy of flailing swords and bobbing heads, with the result being a show comfortably entertaining enough to hold the interest for 45 mins. Closed by the bouncy "Keelhauled", I am still no convert but have at least begun to see some of what has had all the teenagers of the land releasing their inner pirate for some years now.

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Finntroll

Why has hating on Finntroll become the new favourite activity of the underground in recent times? To that question I can offer few answers based on latest album "Nifelvind" and previous live experiences (of which there have now been a number), but relegated to top-support for the only time on this tour the quirky Finns put in the kind of less-than-stellar performance which looks even worse when compared against the result of the preceding band and adds fuel to the fire of the non-believers. Between the muddy and unclear sound, muted crowd reaction and choice of covers, the evening did not work out for the folk maestros. As the only member to offer any movement and charisma beyond mere headbanging, vocalist Vreth had a lot to cover and could do with some help from his comrades in future, but the energy seemed to be lacking in his delivery, seemingly bringing down the whole feeling through the performance. Where once it had been hard to evade the darkened camaraderie that Finntroll's songs exude in the live setting, they instead now represent a bunch in need of a break and a fresh new album to hit us with.

Following odd and unrecognisable covers of "Insects" from Oingo Boingo and a difficult rendition of Metallica's "The God That Failed" notwithstanding, the usual treats of "Trollhammeren", "Solsagan" and "Nattfödd" remained the highlights from a band usually capable of giving a lot more to be cheerful about.

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Turisas

Turisas are a band who have never failed to disappoint, from this writer's early days of seeing them on their first UK show to a half-full Underworld in early 2005, to support slots for comedy act Lordi and at festivals in varying countries, but with a third album that has so far failed to grab me, was this the time the lustre of the rampaging Finns finally began to wear off?

The heavily-symphonic sound of "Stand Up and Fight" is not instantly recognisable as concert-friendly, especially in comparison to many of the more jovial and light-hearted tracks from "Battle Metal" and "The Varangian Way" but then Turisas have never been a band to give in without a fight. "The Great Escape", "Stand Up and Fight", and "Hunting Pirates" all mixed the onstage energy with the symphonic backing track to provide the visual spectacle missed during Finntroll, while "Battle Metal", "One More", "To Holmgard and Beyond" bring the metal and singsongs for the (relatively) more experienced in the crowd. "Rasputin" is more or less a Turisas classic by now while "End of an Empire" tried to hone a set-closing, triumphant feel that suggests it was birthed for that very purpose.

This may all look good on paper but that very special quality that made Turisas one of THE bands to watch 5 years ago feels absent - likely through a combination of less dynamic songs, new members and a sense of been there/done that. The warpaint is still strong and that wholly instantly recognisable je ne sais quo both lingers musically and visually, but it would seem the Finns have sailed into waters more choppy than the serene perfection they previously inhabited.

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All photos taken by Nikki Ryan. Full set available on her flickr page.

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