Arkona @ Reggies, Chicago (US)

ARKONA / METSATÖLL

Date: 23rd September, 2019
Venue: Reggies Rock Club
Ticket:
$18/€16 (in advance) - $22/€20 (day of)
Promoter: n/a


I think it is common knowledge that Pagan Metal in the US has a solid following and therefore shows with bands from that genre have strong attendance. If you add to this equation a band(s) with a solid reputation, then you have a must-see show, and this was the case with ARKONA. Although the lyrics in their songs are in Russian, they have managed to break the tough shell of the US market and have gotten well-deserved support. The only downside was that this show was part of a 3-concert streak, so we had to tap into our energy reserves to see this through. Although I have to admit that Pagan Metal does not require lots of effort to enjoy it, so here we go.

The Estonian band took over the stage 15 minutes before 9pm and started the set with some nice traditional multi-vocalisms. Oh yeah, this was best and fastest way to get into the Pagan atmosphere and connect with one’s primitive self. Like the headliners, METSATÖLL are using their native language for the lyrics but this did not stop them from securing a great connection with the US audience. Their extremely friendly faces and their onstage energy were more than enough to overcome the language boundaries, proving that music does unite if you let it. I mean, it is “easier” to get stuck into the inability to understand a couple of words instead of sharing with the bands and your fellow metalheads the passion for this music. And Pagan Metal is ideal for having a gathering around firepit, enjoy the food and the appropriate alcohol based drinks before letting your primitive instincts to feed from music’s energy. “Toona” did have this effect and although the heavier “Katk Kutsariks” was a bit more “serious”, did instigate the first attempts for moshing.

Lauri with his bagpipe set the dancing tempo with an attitude that could easily grant him the title of the most-friendly multi-instrumentalist in Pagan Metal. “Thank you, how are we doing tonight? We are METSATÖLL from Estonia”, said Markus sharing the same attitude and energy with his bandmate. Lauri had already taken a Jew’s Harp out of his leather bag (of tricks) and was ready to showcase how much of a difference make traditional musical instruments in Metal. In fact, finding the right way to embed all these “non-Metal” instruments is the definition of Pagan Metal. The mosh-pit had been already transformed into a “dancing pit” with metalheads moving along the addictive tempo of “Küü”.

Lauri took over speaking but he did so in his native language in such manner that it felt like he was sure everybody was able to understand what he was saying. Well, with such high spirits inside Reggie’s, it did not really matter because music (especially good music) is enough to bridge all the possible gaps humanity is so eager to create. For the introduction of “Tõrrede Kõhtudes”, Lauri used the English language to explain that this song would be about love... “All the Estonian songs about love talk about beer...” he said and set the stage for another dancing-along song, and this is exactly how the pit reacted. The least speaking bassist took over the singing for “Kurjajuur” and proved that he also shared the same mentality with his bandmates. After all, METSATÖLL would not be able to celebrate the 20th anniversary if the band members were not seeing eye-to-eye. “The next song will be about pure evil; you may think you know how evil looks but it is not disgusting, but beautiful”, explained Lauri introducing at the same time the mid-tempo “Ballaad Punastest Pärlitest”.

The dancing along did not stop throughout the METSATÖLL set and these lovely gentlemen gave us the proper send-off to enjoy ARKONA with the fast “Lööme Mesti” (Markus dedicated this to the Reggie’s audience) and the ritualistic “Metsaviha 2” with the multi-vocalisms and the primitive groove. It was fitting to see Masha appearing on stage with a tambourine doing an invocation dance, adding another layer of mysticism to this setlist closer. That was a killer set and also the best way to get us in the right mood for the ARKONA.

METSATÖLL setlist:

01. “Toona”
02. “Katk Kutsariks”
03. “Kange Kui Raud”
04. “Kivine Maa”
05. “Küü”
06. “Ebavere”
07. “Saaremaa Vägimees”
08. “Tõrrede Kõhtudes”
09. “Kurjajuur”
10. “Ballaad Punastest Pärlitest”
11. “Vaid Vaprust”
12. “See On See Maa”
13. “Lööme Mesti”
14. “Metsaviha 2”

METSATÖLL

Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)
Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Metsatoll @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)

(click to enlarge)


Was the audience ready for ARKONA (АРКОНА)? Hmm, let’s see; dancing mood? Check. Headbanging? Check. Singing-along? Let me get back to you on that... The short answer is a mighty ‘yes’ and the animal skull set at the center of the stage agreed. Well, to be honest, the big mic stand with the Russian tambourine looked too big for the Reggie’s stage but it added the right amount of Folk-ness, if you know what I mean. However, the set did not start in a happy mood because its first part was based on the band’s amazing album “Khram”. Hooded Masha appeared under minimum lights and started the primitive and repetitive mantra to invoke Mara (hopefully she did not succeed...). The visual aspect of this intro sent shivers down my spine capturing in the best way what this band is all about. The rest of the band joined in for the awesome “Шторм”. Still, the lights were kept low with cold colors, while Masha made sure that her face was rarely visible. I love that ARKONA are putting the new album at the beginning of the set playing in an almost back-to-back fashion three songs lasting almost 30 minutes. The blast beats breaks in “Целуя Жизнь” were the perfect opportunity for circle pitting, although one could easily stand still and watch the band being fully emerged in the mysticism this music is carrying. I love the direction ARKONA have chosen to follow with their latest excellent album, getting a strong footing in Black Metal without dismissing their Folk foundations. After all, Folk Metal is not only about getting drunk and dancing your arse off. Its dark and primitive face is more appealing and in times kind of scary, and that’s the way we like it. Another interesting aspect of these songs is the complexity of the music and the number of layers ARKONA have used to support Masha’s multi-character singing. By the way, I am sure the music would sound ten times softer if the lyrics were sung in English. That’s right; the Russian pronunciation fits this Metal genre like a tailored suit and I am sorry for you if you believe otherwise.

Masha was left alone onstage once more but not for long, with the rest of ARKONA showing up with their backs turned to us for the beginning of “В Погоне За Белой Тенью”. The BATHORY-esque guitar rhythm delivered by Sergei made a great pairing to Masha’s growling / clean singing and it did not take long for the audience to get into the pit during the faster part.

Seeing Masha behind the mic stand hitting the tambourine made me realize that the “Khram” suite had just ended making me wonder where did the last 30 minutes go? In fact, I would not mind at all if they had played the entire album back to back.

And then, the atmosphere changed along with the lights. Vladimir led the way with his bagpipe with the multi-vocalisms setting the set for the faster “Гой, Роде, Гой”. Oh yeah, the mosh-pit was in full swing and I think I saw a few metalheads trying to follow the vocalisms with notable success I have to add. After all, Folk Metal is all about tapping into your primitive self, so melodically singing is not a prerequisite. And speaking of vocalisms, how awesome did “Заклятье” sound even without the orchestrations of the studio version... The pushing and pulling intensified during the blast-beats of “Аркаим” while the dancing along was full on in “От Сердца К Небу” starting off with some nice flute melodies. The band members are not fluent in English, so talking was kept minimum but that meant more music, with the groovy and strong headbanger “Сквозь Туман Веков” ending the set, but not for long because there had to be an encore. The accordion melody carrying a Russian traditional tune (I think so) came at the right time for another dance explosion and was topped off by the “lai la la lai” part that was sung in one voice by the band and the audience alike. ARKONA kept the same mood with my favorite “Ярило” where dancing is a must no matter your age and music affiliation. I mean, if you are turned-off by the Russian lyrics, then you have to reconsider what music can do and one of the many things is tear down walls, language boundaries or whatever humanity has come up with to keep people separated.

This was the last show of the North US tour but it was also Sergei’s birthday as Masha said. Of course, the “happy birthday” song was sung with one voice by the crowd, giving the best send off to ARKONA whom I hope we will be seeing live soon.

АРКОНА setlist:

01. “Мантра” (intro)
02. “Шторм”
03. “Целуя Жизнь”
04. “В Погоне За Белой Тенью”
05. “Мантра” (outro)
06. “Гой, Роде, Гой”
07. “Заклятье”
08. “Аркона”
09. “Аркаим”
10. “От Сердца К Небу”
11. “Купалец”
12. “Сквозь Туман Веков”
13. “Стенка На Стенку”
14. “Ярило”

ARKONA

Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)
Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Arkona @ Reggies Rock Club (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)

(click to enlarge)