Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vreid with Kampfar, Necronomicon and Scythia, Sept. 5 at the Rickshaw Theatre

This show felt a little “off” from the start. The advertised door time was 7:00, so I showed up at 7:20. I could hear Scythia soundchecking inside, and the doors were closed. I joined the half dozen fans behind the velvet rope gating the entrance to wait out the delay. It’s never dull outside the Rickshaw—there was a steady parade of lost souls on the Downtown Eastside that night, and one panhandler accused me of being “full of the devil”—but on the whole I’d rather have been getting my kicks inside the venue.

One thing’s for sure—Scythia aren’t shy. The second they took the stage, they were hell bent on putting on a proper show. Couple their motley medieval garb with some bold, galloping folk metal and you’ve got the complete Scythia package. Even their merch people looked like they came off the floor of an SF/fantasy convention. Musically they had a lot going on besides the requisite metal trappings, including prominent keyboard lines and Morgan Zentner’s "Oboe of Death." Soundman be praised, all the elements fared well in the unforgiving live environment. They were a good deal more loose than on their pristine new album ...of Exile, but in the go-for-the-gusto excitement of the live setting, it’s understandable that they might push the tempos a little. When the song called for it, they could back off the pace and execute mellow, mellifluous sections with grace.

After Scythia, it was time to stick on some frowns and get serious. Quebec trio Necronomicon were quite a spectacle as well, with their post-apocalyptic grey leather, corpsepaint and windmilling hair. I remember they released an Egyptian-themed album years ago, just as Nile was getting big, which was unfortunate. I hadn’t heard anything from them since. This time they reminded me of Behemoth, providing a satisfying mix of DM and BM. They were quite tight, powered by jackhammering snare blasts. Although they presented a fierce, professional image, they weren’t really my thing overall.

I’ll admit that Kampfar came out and killed it from the get-go. Presentation-wise the Norwegians were free of embellishments—no costumes, face paint, and not much hair either, save for the vocalist, who directed all his energy at the meagre, increasingly frenetic, crowd. Foot up on the monitors, he pounded his thigh with his fist while the other hand held the mic between his blond curtains of hair. They reminded me of a more straightlaced Impaled Nazarene. I prefer songs with “parts” and solos and stuff, but I couldn’t deny the impact that their set made.

Kyle Harcott pronounced that Kampfar would be a hard act to follow. I held out hope for Vreid, but he was right. The crowd tapered off and the Norwegian quartet couldn’t win them back, which was too bad because I felt they had some interesting things going on musically. The white noise that passed as tone coming out of their amps did them no favours. If you're going to play black 'n' roll, just plug straight into a Marshall and have done with it. It also didn’t help that they played their most immediately appealing song, the one that could have gotten everyone on board, last. It just wasn’t their night, but Vreid slogged it out, frustrated at trying to generate a frenzy amongst the 50 or fans that were left. The empty space stretching in front of them must have been a demoralizing sight.

I’ve noted before that the Vancouver scene has been surprisingly supportive of touring metal shows lately, but this show was a definite exception. Maybe these bands didn’t have the profile or the audience to warrant such a large venue, or perhaps the Rickshaw’s new (and hard-won) liquor license hurt the attendance, now that the under-19s are shut out. I never had any problem with shows being all-ages, and if it gets people into the building and buying merch to help the bands, all the better. Let’s hope more people come out when Enslaved and Napalm Death hit town next month.

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