Friday, March 20, 2009

Spinefeast at Sea: The Best and Worst Things About Going to Finland for a Metal Cruise

Between cheaper prices for European beer and, uh, three-dollar cups of coffee, traveling is usually full of highs and lows without much in between. As such, when I went to Helsinki, Finland, for the Spinefeast at Sea 2009 concert cruise (repping Revolver, for which I originally wrote this blog) from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia, the choppy waves in the Gulf of Finland weren’t the only ups and downs I experienced. Here’s his list of the best and worst things about taking a metal cruise:


Best Signs on the Way into Helsinki From the Airport: TECHNOPOLIS (which I can only imagine is the most badass set of music cops around or the worst Greek-named city in Europe) and BAUHAUS (not the Peter Murphy-fronted goth-rock band, but something similar to Home Depot)

Best Place to Buy Deep Purple CDs (in Probably the Whole World): Music Hunter in Helsinki. The store had an entire fixture dedicated to Deep Purple-related CDs. Who knew Joe Lynn Turner was so popular?

Coolest Roadside Fake Store: God’s Gas (brought to you by the Blood Covenant Brothers). OK!

Most Metal (and, Incidentally, the Most Famous) Painting in Atheneum, the Art Museum: The Wounded Angel, by Hugo Simberg. Whether you feel shame from it or something more voyeuristic, you’re not feeling good. And what’s more metal than a “wounded angel”?

Most Pagan Metal Painting in Atheneum, the Art Museum: Aino Myth, Triptych, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Yo, is that the Korpiklaani dude accosting that naked maiden?

Most Metal Finnish Tradition: Bear claws, not of the pastry variety. In pagan Finland, parents put bear claws under sleeping children’s pillows to keep them from crying in the night. And, if that wasn’t awesome enough, young girls kept bear claws in their pockets to become “more amorous,” according to a pamphlet at the Finnish National Museum.


Most amazing sight: Watching a couple thousand metalheads board a Titanic-sized sealiner.

Best Finnish Concert Custom: Gambling! At Dante’s Highlight, where I saw Amorphis perform, they had blackjack tables in the back… and teens played 21… while drinking beer. Less surprising was the blackjack tables in the cabaret on the boat, but the fact that people were gambling during the show then, too, was pretty cool by itself.

Weirdest MCs for a Metal Fest: A man in a moose suit and a man in a sailor suit. ’Nuff said.

Best Reason to Avoid Watching Prog-Metal Band Entwine: The 2002 Cuba-Gooding-Jr.-with-a-pack-of-huskies vehicle Snow Dogs, subtitled in Finnish, being broadcast upstairs on the lighting guy’s monitor. Hey, he seemed to like it.

Best T-Shirt on a Fan: Eternal Erection

Only Finnish (Curse) Word I Learned: “Baska,” which means “shit.” (Even though Abbath once told me never to drop names—cue rim shot—I have to credit Rotten Sound vocalist Keijo Niinimaa with teaching me this one.)

Best Bagpipers to Make You Forget Korn: Metsatöll. Thank God they don’t have nu-metal in Estonia.

Most Unpleasant Beverage Surprise: Gin in a can. Much to my surprise, this is not gin, the alcohol, but a Sparks-like fermented ginger ale, perfect for puking off the side of ships.

Most Pleasant Beverage Surprise: Vodka in a can. Sure, it tastes like shit, but it’s vodka! In a can!

Most Unpleasant “How Do You Do”: The light pouring into the cabaret the second day of the fest as Celesty and Kiuas play. Never have I seen so many hungover rock zombies.

Best Metal Trooper During Kiuas’ Sunlight-Drenched Set: Mikko Laime. This dude was not only wearing a crusted Manowar T-shirt and heavily spiked armbands, which he snuck in, but also pink furry handcuffs hanging from his rock belt. Why was he wearing pink furry handcuffs? “To piss these people off. It shows I’m soft on the inside.”

Best (Only?) Instance of Recognizable English Spoken by a Band Onstage: Kiuas’ singer as he introduces “Race With the Falcons”: “My money is on the falcons!”

Most Over-the-Top Performance by a Finnish Prog-Metal Band: Kiuas again. I’ve never seen more ball-grabbing, in-audience guitar solos, or audience-band chug contests in the middle of the afternoon on a boat in the Baltic before in my life.

Grossest Breakfast of the Trip: A ham sandwich and strawberry yogurt (not together). Still, it looked better than the green piece of pizza one of my metal-journo compatriots ingested.

Most Disgusting Canned Food: Is that fucking boar?!

Most Shocking Moment: The Finnish or Estonian or Whatever stewardess who burst in on me while I was changing in my cabin on the cruise. The relevant fact is that she didn’t speak English and she absolutely, without protest wanted me out of the room right then and there so she could change the sheets. I screamed, I gesticulated, I spoke slowly and she just continued to yell at me in her native tongue. Eventually she pulled out her cell phone, typed in “30”—which I took to mean “Get the hell out of the room in 30 minutes…or else!”—and left. I’ve never laced my belt and buckled it so quick. The room sure was clean, though, when I got back.

Best Way to Show Your Love for Mötley Crüe: Tattües!

Most Offensive Question a Finn Asked Me (While Very, Very Drunk): “Now that you have a black president, what are you going to do? Invade Finland?” Uhh…

Coolest Finnish National Concept: Sisu. The way the same drunk Finn explained it, it’s sort of like guts or balls: “Seeing someone assassinate your entire family right in front of you, and then when the killer points the gun at you, you flip him off.” Apparently years of being invaded by the Russians and the Swedes and the Germans can have that effect on a country.

Oddest Point of National Pride: Nokia is a Finnish company. Not Japanese. I don’t know how many people told me this, but now I know. Incidentally, the Nokia phone belonging to the one dude who told me this fact uncountable times didn’t work. Ouch.

Most Metal Way off the Ship in Case of Emergency: The VIKING Evacuation Chute.

Worst Disappointment About Taking a Metal Cruise From Helsinki to Estonia: The ship didn’t dock! Oh look, there’s Estonia. I’m still saying I made it to Tallinn, because my cell-phone company charged me Estonian rates ($1.99/min.!) for my calls on the boat.


Coolest Regular Nightclub Night That Should Be More Widespread in America: Heavy metal karaoke. At a bar called the Heavy Corner across the street from my hotel, every Saturday night, the Finns hold this ritual. They even have a Spinefarm-specific karaoke disc, which includes songs by Nightwish and Children of Bodom—which people choose to sing. Quite often. Best moment at heavy metal karaoke? The Finn shouting, “Scream or me, California,” midway through Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes to Midnight.”

Most Metal Metal Statue at the Heavy Corner: This flying demon completing the perfect trifecta: Holding a pitchfork, holding a flying-V guitar, and flipping you off!

Shop in Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport That I Wish Was in Every Airport: Wine & View. Basically, for only a few Euros, you can taste some of the finest, rarest wines in the world. Granted, they serve you the drink in a thimble, but with some Brie cheese it’s a pretty cool experience.

Coolest Art Installation at the Contemporary Art Museum: This book floating in water. If only the security there looked away long enough that I could have snuck a Revolver in the tank with it.

Spinefeast at Sea, 1/28/09 and 1/29/09

I just posted my review of Spinefeast at Sea 2009 on

The Baltic Princess cruise ship can carry roughly three quarters of the passengers who boarded the Titanic. Unlike on that fateful journey, though, the would-be mariners who held tickets for Spinefeast at Sea 2009—Finnish record label Spinefarm’s annual showcase, held on the Baltic Princess this year—can be thankful none of the eight metal bands providing the entertainment had to play their blast beats as the ship sank.

Traveling roundtrip from Helsinki, Finland, to Tallinn, Estonia’s harbor (the cruise didn’t dock) over two days in late January, the captive black-T-shirtted audience was lucky enough to have a diverse group of mostly Finnish bands to command its headbanging. With outside temperatures in the low 20s, the likes of pagan metallers Moonsorrow, grindcore group Rotten Sound, and suicide rockers Entwine, among others, provided warm respite from the frosty climate outside.

Read the rest here.

Rotten Sound Perform at Spinefeast at Sea 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Throwing Muses, 3/12/09

Tonight, after a great set by Screaming Females, Kristin Hersh performed twice at the Music Hall of Williamsburg: Once with 50 Foot Wave (whose music you can download, guilt-free, for free here) and then with the original screaming females, Throwing Muses. Even though there was a break, her bands were practically the same since bassist Bernard Georges plays in both bands (drummer Rob Ahlers, who harmonizes quiet well—on the higher parts—no less, is the personnel distinction with the punkier 50 Foot Wave).

Despite the anxious nature of her music, Hersh is relaxed all night, laughing and making jokes. When Throwing Muses came on—timekeeper David Narcizo being the distinguishing factor—she drolly said, “Now we’re marching to the beat of a different drummer.” The band’s set contained a lot of fan favorites (though I would have liked to have heard “Hate My Way”") including “Limbo,” “Vicky’s Box” and “Pearl.”

The room was pretty full and she and the band seemed genuinely surprised with the reception the audience gave them. “This is great,” Hersh said at one point. “We could have been playing Brooklyn for 100 shows.” I guess the one thing that surprised me somewhat about the show was how immobile Hersh was. Granted, she’s playing guitar and pulling off some pretty amazing vocal feats—and her voice still sounds great, especially when she growls—but I expected her to sway somewhat or emote some other way. The emotion came through in her delivery, though, that’s all I can really ask for.

Also, as I said before, I was entertained her charming demeanor. Before she played “Pearl,” the last song before two encores, she said, “Thanks to Screaming Females and [pauses, then laughs] 50 Foot Wave.” When she came out for her encore, she told the audience “Y’all are sweet as pie. Thank you.” Hey, I don’t think I’ve ever been called sweet as pie before. Maybe that’s why I left happy tonight.

Throwing MusesKristin Hersch
Kristin HerschThrowing Muses

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Satyricon, 2/27/09

Satyricon frontman Satyr remains one of the most perplexing old-school black-metal figures. This is mostly because lately he seems just so… normal. Honestly, a lot of this has to do with his new haircut (and the fact he’s, like, six-feet tall and wafer-thin). You have to admit, he looks a bit like the German guys in electro-gods Kraftwerk.

Is he a robot?

Throughout Satyricon’s performance at the Nokia Theater, a 50-minute slot sandwiched between Greek death-metal openers Septic Flesh and English boy-band Cradle of Filth, Satyr’s lanky, metrosexual visage made him stick out like a sore talon. Not that that’s a bad thing or even an unwelcome one; the black-metal community has been sorely missing some variety from the corpse-painted clichés that have been populating the scene. Just three years ago, I saw Satyricon play Norway’s Hole in the Sky festival, and Satyr seemed more like a rock star, with his long hair and cut-off shirt, holding out his fists in a way that made him look a bit like Danzig.

In great contrast, tonight at the Nokia he did a great job of visually contrasting the synchronized-headbanging champs playing in his band (including drummer Frost, who hasn’t toured the US previously due to legal snafus); whether it was Cradle’s crowd or simply a new audience interested in the band’s well-refined black-and-roll sound, he really connected with the audience. During songs, he even did the “yeah, yeah, yeah" thing where the concertgoers chanted along with him. It worked.

If anything, I think this is all part of some grand scheme Satyr has concocted so he can enjoy the best of both worlds. In a recent interview I did with him for Revolver, he said he had created a new routine for the road to keep the band from atrophying, literally and metaphorically. That means no alcohol in the dressing rooms and working out at the gym every day. Bands change their aesthetics all the time, to varying degrees of success (looking at you, Cryptopsy), but for Satyricon, it seems to have been working out for the better. Even his onstage banter was unusual for a black-metal band. In addition to saying how much he appreciated his fans (the usual), he said it was an “honor” to be playing New York City (most metal bands don’t care, unless they’re playing Madison Square Garden—or play it off as such). Satyr’s gregarious nature led to some of the best unplanned dialog of the night, though, was when he introduced the band’s drummer by saying, “From the mountainous cities of Norway… Frost!” Having been to Norway, I can assure you, New York has ’em beat for “mountainous” cities. (Maybe I’m just mincing words here.)

Playing the Nokia amplified these inconsistencies. The TV screens, which show the performers up-close to the fans too lazy or uninterested to stand in the pit, focused often on handheld cameras and phones snapping pics of the band. (No, none of mine made the big screen.) And after the band played “Mother North” (setlist at the bottom), the night’s most black-metal song, the big screen faded to a promo for an upcoming concert by “Red Red Wine” singers UB40.

Sometimes it’s painful to watch an artist you’ve followed for years (decades?) change so much. Satyr is not the same artist I saw in Norway at Hole in the Sky. But while I’m not totally used to his new look, I think it’s working out for Satyricon, the band. As a fan, I would have liked to hear (a lot) more old material but, honestly, I don’t have a problem passing the torch to a new set of fans either.

Behold, my trideent! Trident becomes fork
Kraftwerk robot dance
Frost is back there somewhere
Obligatory horns and clapping montage
Obligatory leaning and singing pose

Oh yeah, he jumped in the audience once. Don’t the kids just love it?

Obligatory jumping into the audience moment

Satyricon setlist:

1. Repined Bastard Nation
2. The Wolfpack
3. Now, Diabolical
4. Black Crow on a Tombstone
5. K.I.N.G.
6. Die by My Hand
7. The Pentagram Burns
8. Mother North