The club was dark, smoky, hot and sweaty; a nightmare for anyone but a metal fan. The bar was packed, and the line of people coming in at the door seemed ever long. This stop on the tour wasn’t sold out like its New York, Cambridge, Edmonton, Seattle, and San Francisco counterparts, but it absolutely felt like it. Wintersun’s 2013 North American tour was, without a doubt, one of the most anticipated tours of the year, appealing to fans across nearly every genre of metal. Apart from the headliner, the tour package included a few of metal’s most prominent and relevant artists in Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arsis, and Century Media up-and-comers, Starkill. The package was also graced by local openers, Color of Aum, who started things off beautifully and arguably had the best mix of the night. Tight transitions and skilled guitar work really punctuated their performance.
Starkill’s performance was surprisingly good, considering I had never heard them before and had no expectations whatsoever. Also surprising was the onslaught of orchestral synths and keyboards during their set, especially considering the band does not have a live keyboard player (keyboards and orchestral programming are all tracked by guitarist and front man, Parker Jameson). This has been a somewhat controversial feature in more contemporary metal circles—playing with tracks as opposed to hiring or recruiting a musician. However, Starkill pulled it off. They played with tremendous energy and exceptional skill, and connected with the crowd almost instantly. The only drawbacks were that their set was only about 20 minutes long, and the live mix was not very welcoming to the guitarists’ solo-heavy style. Most of the leads were drowned out by heavy bass and overwhelming synths.
Up next were American death metal pioneers, Arsis, who took the stage for an eager crowd. And despite a lengthy sound check with a broken microphone (which took way too long to replace), they kept the heavy momentum going. Arsis has never been a band to disappoint live, even though their fan base has been somewhat divided on studio album preference. (Their latest album however has received critical acclaim by, well, everyone). The band has been plagued in the past by revolving lineups, and I don’t want to be a jinx, but this one is solid. Since the addition of Shawn Priest on the drums and Brandon Ellis on guitar the band’s live show has tightened considerably. Their live sound has also gained a fullness that is difficult for any band to rival. In a show of class at the end of their set James Malone grabbed the mic, pointed out into the crowd and said, “we want to meet every single one of you,” and told the audience that they would all be hanging out at the merch table for the rest of the night. The band stayed true to their word, and spoke with every single person who approached them. And who says metal heads can’t be gentlemen?
Much of the buzz about this tour centered on one of Italy’s premier death metal acts, Fleshgod Apocalypse. Apart from their discography, which gets more impressive with each new release, Fleshgod has developed a reputation for being and band both worthy of massive circle pits, and of standing completely still, eyes wide and jaw dropped. Not only are they incredibly entertaining to watch since they started dressing like a group of orchestra conductors straight out of fight club, but they put on veritable clinics; a deaf person could enjoy the fury with which these guys play. Much like the bands before them, downsides included a short set, and a mix that was good but could have been better. The former presents a unique problem for bands like Fleshgod, who are young but still have a very impressive discography. They have to cram as much A-game material into their set as possible while still promoting new releases. This means that long-time fans sometimes miss out on hearing live the songs that sparked their love in the first place; in Fleshgod’s case, the song, “Thru Our Scars.”
I had never seen Wintersun before this tour, and neither had most of the audience since this was only the band’s second foray into North America. Their set was spectacular, and had everything a metal fan could wish for; intricate guitar solos, nasty growls AND smooth vocal harmonies (which cut through the mix perfectly), and drumming that was more akin to a machine than a human. There is no one word that can describe Wintersun’s live performance. Impressive comes to mind, but fails to really encapsulate the experience. And what’s more, they actually have a fantastic sense of humor. Near the end of their set, Jari Mäenpää (vocals/guitar) and Kai Hahto (drums) switched places, and invited Tommaso Riccardi of Fleshgod to join them for a silly-as-hell rendition of Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell.”
From start to Finnish (pun intended), this show was fast, heavy, and loud. Each band delivered in a big way, performing to the standards of average metal lovers and connoisseurs alike. Will I pay to see these bands on future tours? Absolutely. I am convinced that these bands are well worth the money, and hopefully after reading this, you are too.