The fifth annual Paganfest America made a stop in Irving Plaza in NYC on April 28, 2014 for a night of uncompromising folk metal.
This years edition isÂ being co-headlined by folk metal greats, Korpiklaani, and fellow Finnish countrymen, Turisas. Both bands have been a part of Paganfest in the past. The supporting bands include Winterhymn, from Cincinnati Ohio (this is their first Paganfest), and Varg from Germany (their 2nd US appearance). Their first appearance was the support for the Eluveitie and Wintersun tour back in 2012.
Chthonic, hailing from Taiwan, are also making their debut at the festival. They have toured the U.S. previously, as support for Arch Enemy, back in 2011. Â It was quite the multicultural event.Â Over the years the tour has been getting bigger and bigger and this year the shows are held in larger venues than ever before!
It was a Monday night and an early show. I was concerned that since it was a work night that there may be not many people attending the event or those that were able to make it would leave early. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised that even an hour before the doors opened there was already a crowded line of people waiting.Â Many people in that line had been waiting hours before, in hopes of seeing their favorite musicians.
As I waited to get in, I saw JonneÂ JÃ¤rvelÃ¤, the vocalist of Korpiklaani, hanging out. Many in the crowd, myself included, approached him for a photo and not only did he oblige, he even stayed out for a little bit despite the gathering crowd.
Undeterred by the Monday billing, Irving Plaza was packed! The minute the doors opened fans raced to the front of the stage to find a good spot. The balcony area was crowded too (for those that didn’t want to join in on the moshing and dancing). There were also large crowds congregated in the lobby near the merch area. This was the place to find your friends. Many of the musicians of the night were passing back and forth between the bar area and the merch area. It was nice to see bands and fans interacting well together.
The band members who were out and about gladly chatted and took photos with their fans. I also noticed that many people stood here the entire show enjoying it from that vantage point. This seemed like a pretty good spot to enjoy the show, since the actual concert area was crowded and it was a tight fit. But, regardless of where one stood, there wasn’t a dull face in sight and everyone had a great time.
One thing that stood out to me as I was making my way into the photo pit was a teenage girl with her mother. They were both wearing Turisas shirts. I had to ask if the mother is a fan of the music or was she there to watch over her daughter. I was surprised to know that her daughter introduced her to folk metal and they have been going to various concerts in this genre of music ever since. They attended the show in PA the previous night. So cool.
Another highlight of this event is seeing numerous people dressed in full costumes, be it viking or warrior, or adorned in face paint in the colors of their favorite bands. People dance together, drink together, head bang together, scream together, and raise their horns in the air together.
The best thing about attending Paganfest is that this is the only show where you can mosh in a crowded venue and dance along to the folk metal music, with those that might have pushed you, yet still enjoy a drink with them later. At the end of the night you walk away with new friends.
Wintehymn was the first band on. Again, I had been previously worried that many people would skip out on them since the show started so early. My doubts were definitely unfounded. As I made my way inside I over heard one fan tell his group that they needed to get inside quickly because this band is not worth missing! Winterhymn kicked off their set with power and cheers and applause from the audience ensued.
Cincinnati, Ohio may not be the first place one thinks of when they envision vikings and distant lands. Yet, this five-piece band, dressed in their elaborate costumes, looked like they were from some far off, cold, northern land.
No set list was provided, but they played selections from their album Songs For The Slain.Â Guitarist and vocalist, Draug, sang of tales of war and woe in a strong and soulful tone that was offset by the black-metal style of bassist Alvadar. This set the tone for the audience and was a nice dynamic. The crowd immediately got into it. Head banging and fists in the air were the norm.
Winterhymn formed in 2010.Â They are currently unsigned and raised a fundraising campaign in order to get themselves on the tour. Their efforts paid off well and after their performance there is no doubt that there are great things in store for this band.Â Some songs in their set included: Â In the Troll Forest, Wolfshead, and Alesong. The closer, Stand Your Ground, left quite an impression on those gathered.
The fantasy element is a huge aspect of folk metal and Winterhymn channeled this spirit in their music. As the band made their farewells the crowd cheered them on and yelled their name. We can only hope that after this tour is over they will get their record deal. However, for an unsigned band, a full tour of this scale is an impressive undertaking.
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Draug – Vocals, Guitars
Exura – Keyboards
Umbriel – Violin
Valthrun – Drums
Alvadar – Bass, Vocals
Varrik – Guitars
Next up was Varg, meaning wolf in Swedish and old Norwegian. They had an impressive stage set up which included a backdrop banner of the German flag with a wolf on it.Â The last time they toured through the States was two years ago. This time they came back even stronger than before.
Besides the new stage set up, they played a longer set, and their merch had much more variety. Varg took the stage adorned in their signature black and red face paint.Â Their brand of Pagan Folk Metal, which I closely associate with death metal,Â featured harsh vocals and an onslaught of heavy guitars combined with sublte folk melodies. They even sing in their native German! This is another highlight of seeing folk metal bands live. Paying homage to their roots is a highlight.
One example from their set wasÂ when vocalist, Manegarrm, was intent onÂ teaching the crowd some German, as an intro to their song, Guten Tag.Â Although, he appropriately pointed out, (it was) “Monday and no one really wants to learn anything on Monday.” However, he did go on to say that Guten Tag means good day and had the crowd chant those words and the crowd screamed in approval.
A circle pit opened up during their set as they ripped through songs likeÂ Was Nicht Darf and Rotkappchen. The band engaged the crowd really well and the vibe was harmonious and positive.
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Freki â€“ Vocals, Guitars
Managarm â€“ Bass, Backing Vocals, Guitars, Lead Guitars
Hati -Â Guitars
Fenrier â€“ Drums
Chthonic formed in 1995 in Taipei. They have released seven albums, the most recent Bu-tik was released in 2013. The band incorporates influences from traditional Taiwanese music. According to their bio, Chthonic’s goal is to use their music as an outlet to bring their history and mythology into the modern era. They strive with their music to build awareness of the myths and legends of Taiwan and also the tragic events that have occured in the country ( for example those of the Seediq people).
Chthonic’s members are not only acclaimed musicians, but renowned political activists. The band are advocates for the independence of Taiwan and self-determination for Tibetans and Uighurs. Singer Freddy Lim is currently the Chairman of the Taiwan chapter of Amnesty International.
As Chthonic entered the stage, vocalist Freddy Lim could be seen playing an erthu, the traditional two-string bowed Chinease instrument. As the lights went up and the music started to play, Freddy Lim screamed “WE ARE CHTHONIC FROM TAIWAN!” This immediatly roused the fans causing the crowd to shout and raise their fists in the air. The band appeared to be happy to be on stage and their attitude was reflected in their powerful performance.
After the beautiful intro, the band kicked off their set with the song Surpreme Pain for the Tyrant. It was almost impossible not to scream along, “Let me stand up like a Taiwanese! Only justice will bring you peace!”, powerful lyrics that made perfect sense for non-Taiwanese like myself.
Another highlight included the song Next Republic. The song’s powerful chorus, “Republic born of pain nation will rise again”, entranced the audience causing fists to be raised and mosh pits to form.
Through out the set, bassist Doris Yeh, who in the past graced the covers of magazines like FHM and GQ, and was voted one of the hottest chicks in metal by Relvolver Magazine, whipped her hair all over as she played the hell out of her bass adorned with glowing purple lights!
Most of the set was based on the Bu-Tik album, with exception of songs like Takao, a name of strength and valor, especially to those who fought on the battlefield for the Japanese Imperial Army.
As the set was coming to a close, Freddy Lim said that no matter where you’re from, what ethnicity or nationality you are, weâ€™re all united in metal. He thanked the audience for embracing the band and their message for a free and independent Taiwan. I love and admire Cthonic’s activism and the passion and commitment they put into what they stand for.
After the band left the stage, they gathered around the merch stands and happily conversed with their fans, took pictures, and even had a beer. The reaction was so strong both on stage and off, many fans including myself hope they return to the States as headliners.
Freddy Lim æž—æ˜¶ä½ – Vocals, Hena Violin
Jesse Liu åŠ‰ç¬™å½™ – Guitars
Doris Yeh è‘‰æ¹˜æ€¡ – Bass, Background Vocals
CJ Kao é«˜å˜‰å¶¸ – Synthesizers, Piano
Dani Wang æ±ªåé©¤ – Drums
Even before Turisas took the stage, crowd began to chant their name. The band entered the stage like warriors going into battle with their signature faces and bodies dyed with red paint slashed with black.
They opened with the song Ten More Miles off their current album Turisas 2013. As the chorus says, “Who will be there when the skies turn grey? Turisas! You can count on us. Who’s gonna push you through heavy days? Turisas! Rugged and robust.” This set the tone for the night as the band played on.
The fans in the audience were seen smiling and there was lots of dancing and moshing in their set. Many of them came to the show adorned in Turisas war paint colors.
Some of the highlights from the show included staple songs, such as Holmgard and Beyond, Stand Up and Fight, and Battle Metal. When the band played Battle Metal, the crowd went berzerk! Many in the crowd were seen singing dancing, jumping wildly, and moshing. The band had smiles on their faces and thanked the audience for such an amazing reception.
Some of their best songs relate to tales off battle, courage and loyalty. This is what makes folk metal so inspiring. It prompts people to face their fears and challenges. And I am sure that many fans in the audience (myself included) completely forgot about our grueling work week and were feeling much happier.
The looks on the fans smiling faces as they were singing along every word with Mathias Nygard with their fist in the air showed that. The band was on fire! Performing with energy and intensity. The band was in sync with with the crowd as they fed of each others energy. Nygard and violinist Olli Vanska did not stop head banging their heads for a single moment. The band closed the show with the fan favorite Rasputin, a cover of disco song performed by Boney M.
Mathias NygÃ¥rd – Vocals
Jussi WickstrÃ¶m – Guitar
Jaakko Jakku – Drums
Jesper Anastasiadis – Bass
Olli VÃ¤nskÃ¤ – Violin
Robert Engstrand – Keyboards
As Korpiklaani took the stage, folk dancing and circle pits were rampant throughout the crowd. I was impressed by frontman Jonne Jarvela’s charisma and stage presence, as well as Jarkko Aaltonen’s technique. Jonne is extremely personable and is able to keep the crowd engaged. Jarkko is a beast with his bass playing. This is especially appreciated in songs like Tuonelan Tuvilla and Levan Polkka. Korpiklaani ‘wilderness clan’ had new band member on stage, Toumas Rounakari. He played Tuonelan Tuvilla and Ruumiinmultaa from the band’s 2012 release, Manala.
The setlist was a mix of old and new songs. One of the highlights was the song Vodka, a fan favorite that had the crowd singing along and dancing into a hot mess. Korpiklaani knows how to please the crowd and they have a great time doing it. Their set was one hour and twenty minutes, and they played with consistency and energy.
From their first album, Spirit of the Forest (2003), they closed the set with the popular Wooden Pints. After a brief encore, the band played Happy Little Boozer, another ode to the joys of too much drinking. The crowd left satisfied and, if up to them, they would insist the band play on.
1. Tuonelan Tuvilla
4. Veriset Aparat
6. Juodaan Viinaa
7. Petoelaimen Kuola
8. Sumussa Hamaran Aamun
9. Spring Dance
12. Louhen Yndeksas Poika
15. Ievan Polkka
17. Wooden Pints
19. Happy Little Boozer
Jonne JÃ¤rvelÃ¤ – Vocals
Kalle â€œCaneâ€ SavijÃ¤rvi – Guitars
Matti â€œMatsonâ€ Johansson – Drums
Jarkko Aaltonen – Bass
Tuomas Rounakari – Violin
Sami Perttula – Accordion
All in all Pagan Fest was a huge success and I canâ€™t wait for next year! There are many folk metal bands in this genre of music. Have a band in mind that you want to see on next year’s bill? Make your voice heard and leave a post on the official facebook page for your vote!