Melnás Buras

  

As an added bonus after the Battle of the Bays show at Manchester’s Academy 2 venue we get to indulge in a late night stumble up to the Rebellion Bar to catch some of the bands performing at the Viking Feast. This gig has now turned into an all night affair with five bands performing between 9pm and concluding at 2:30am Saturday. I’d imagine at some point it was going to be a regular timed show, but the lure of Exodus and Obituary would have had some impact. Before the bands those who paid a fiver extra for VIP get to indulge in an all you can eat hog roast. So tempted myself. 

The headliners Skyforger are due to hit the stage at 1am. What state their audience will be in and what numbers are going to be there will be very intriguing to witness. As far as I’m aware this will be only their second appearance in this country, their first being in London back in 2008 and to my knowledge the first Latvian band I’ve encountered! 

Yet another band I don’t know anything from, so a little research reveals that they are of the folk metal persuasion. If I’d have to have guessed a genre then that would of been it. They released their sixth album last year and as all the album titles and tracks are written in Latvian I’m guessing all the vocals are in their native tongue. 

Reading a bit more about the band they appear to have been steeped in controversy over the years. Their third album Pērkonkalve (Thunderforge) apparently featured some ancient symbols, one of those being the Latvian thunder cross, or Ugunskrusts. It’s a gammadion cross,or basically what we now refer to as a swastika. Even though that symbol has been in existence for over 11,000 years in the Hindi and Buddhist faiths and found in excavations of Neolithic sites, it has been hijacked by what it represented by the Nazi party from the 1920’s onwards. 

In its time the cross has had many uses all over the world. It was an aviation good luck charm and one was painted inside the nose cone of the Spirit of St. Louis monoplane. Author Rudyard Kipling used it as an emblem on his books. Denmark’s brewing company Carlsberg had it carved into stone elephants outside of their factory until it gained notoriety. It was the name and logo of two ice hockey teams along with a community in Ontario. Even on these shores the emblem has been used in a multitude of places. It was at one point during the First World War used by our own government on the stamps used for the British National War Savings Committee, and by the Boy Scouts as a badge of merit. 

Anyway back to Skyforger. Melnás Buras (or Black Sails) is about a plague that swept from central Asia via what we now call Turkey and into the Baltic states and Poland during the Great Northern War of 1700 to 1721. This twenty one year conflict was between a coalition force lead by eventual victors Russia against the Swedish Empire. One third of the Eastern Prussian population was killed off by plague or famine and lead to the demise of the Old Prussian nation and their traditions. 

One of the many things I’ve enjoyed from my love of music is discovering some fascinating historical events that I would never have looked into. As pointed out before, Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album got me hooked on Egyptology all those years ago. 

If you can understand the Latvian dialect and you’d like to hear more about Old Prussia track down the Senprūsija album from last year. It does what it says on the tin, Senprūsija – Old Prussia. 


  

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Strike!

  

In a change to today’s planned schedule I’m probably going to jump on a train and spend the majority of the day up in Manchester.

I’d much rather have been seeing Exumer and bands of a more thrash metal orientation, but alas that isn’t in the runes today. Alternatively I’m going to be indulging in some melodic death metal with some Japanese Samurai Bushido influences from a band based in Tampere, Finland, an odd combination if ever there was one. 

I caught the last half of their set on the second stage at Bloodstock a month or so ago and I went to see them on the strength of the Oriental and melodic death metal mash up. I’d checked out a couple of songs from their latest release Metsutan – Songs from the Void out of curiosity beforehand and was pretty impressed. The melodi-death sound of the band isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel within the genre, but the use of the Japanese folk instruments overlaid in the mix makes it stand out a bit more than your average Scandinavian band in the same vein. Even the imagery of the group performing live all clad in kimonos makes them something a little bit left field of the pack. 

I’m sure I read that last months appearance in the Bloodstock dōjō was their first time performing in this country (I also could have imagined that fact) so when this run of UK dates popped up it was one show I had to experience in full, especially as my weekend was now unexpectedly free. The gig is only going to cost a fiver to get in so a cheap night to be had under the Star & Garter roof yet again with a glass of saki held aloft. 

Strike! can be located on the aforementioned Metsutan release from May of this year. 

Arigatōgozaimashita.

  

Thinking Allowed

  

Rewind back to May 28th 2001 – a bank holiday Monday in the UK. There never seems to be much going on during bank holidays that doesn’t usually involve large traffic queues or masses of people filling town centres and frequenting pub beer gardens. 

Just over 15 years ago I was in Derby attending the inaugural Bloodstock Festival with about 700 other people. I don’t know what the organisers had in mind for the festival this far along the line, but I doubt they could have imagined it being as successful and as big as it is right now. By European festival standards and even near neighbours Download it is minuscule with its capacity around the 15,000 mark – on a par with an arena – but over the years they’ve dragged bands to the UK for their debut appearance and gone from strength to strength without seemingly loosing their family run integrity. 

  

For me, the later stages of the debut lineup was pretty hit and miss for me. I’m not the world’s greatest Saxon fan and had no idea who Glen Hughes was. I’ve never really been taken to Blaze’s post Wolfsbane output. A dose of German power metal in the form of Primal Fear on what I believe was their first time here was a draw, but I recall them getting boring very quickly.  I knew members of Freebase and Underule at the time which was an added bonus. I’d never seen Sabbat during their original run, so this was my first (and I though only) opportunity to see them live. Also around that time ex-Sabbat frontman Martin Walkyier was in one of my favourite bands of the moment namely Skyclad. 

Prior to this day in Derby I’d seen the band twice (I think) at the Wheatsheaf in Stoke and a year earlier at their tenth anniversary show held in the Mapperley Social Club in Nottingham. Even though the band are still a going concern they are without Walkyier and from the snippets I’ve heard they’re are less metal and much more folk. 

Before folk-metal became popular throughout Europe and, in comparison, household names like Turisas, Ensiferum and Týr were conceived, Skyclad were the archetypal folk metal band. Skyclad weren’t too dissimilar to what he was doing with Sabbat on their two albums, they just embraced the pagan aesthetics a bit more and eventually added a violin player to the rosta. 

Martin Walkyier has always been a superb wordsmith and many titles have been puns and a play on words. Good time drinking songs sat well on the early release and rubbed shoulders with environmental and social topics.

Thinking Allowed is the opening track to the bands third album Jonah’s Ark. I think it was this record that came with a voucher where you could send of fir a VHS video of live footage. I can remember sending off for it and it taking and absolute age to arrive. I know I still have it upstairs, but I actually don’t think I’ve watched it.  

Twilight Tavern

In a change to this evenings schedule I ended up in Manchester watching Helsinki folk metal band Ensiferum ably supported by Estonian’s Metsatöll.

The M6 to our original destination had become its usual Friday evening car park and catching the train south to Nuneaton would have been nearly £30 each. A quick look on Facebook and alternative plans were hastily arranged. The train to Manchester cost a bargain £7.50 each and it was a 10pm curfew. Two added bonuses

I’m not an ardent fan of the folk metal genre (a slice of the metal genre – whether it be death metal, power metal, black metal – mixed  with ethnic music from the bands homeland), but through festivals I’ve seen my fare share of one of Europe’s biggest musical exports. Folk metal, Viking metal or Battle metal as some magazines have dubbed it, appears to have a huge fan base and churns out numerous bands from Europes Northern reaches, especially Scandinavia, but variants can be found even from the Middle East.

Ensiferum have played the UK a couple of dozen times and twice at Bloodstock, but tonight was the first time I’ve witnessed them. To me this music sounds better when it is played in a venue with a roof and four walls. All the little intricacies come across better of the native instruments that get used. Tonight Ensiferum employed the use of an accordion and Metsatöll featured a type of bagpipe.

Taken from 2009’s From Afar album, it’s time to grab your drinking horn and head into the Twilight Tavern.