September 6th was scheduled to be a night of doomy & gloomy progressive metal at New York's BB King Blues Club, as some of Europe's finest bands made their way into town for a crushing evening of brutal sounds. Sweden's masters of melancholia Katatonia headlined, along with Finnish melodic doom/death metal bands Insomnium & Swallow the Sun, as well as a act that added a bit of variety to the evening, Sweden's hot upstarts, the progressive death/power metal outfit Scar Symmetry. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo was on hand for all the dark & heavy festivities, and brings his full show report.
On paper, this bill looked to be a little too heavy on the doomier side of metal, with Katatonia, Insomnium, and Swallow the Sun all sort of following similar patterns throughout their career. The addition of Scar Symmetry through ensured that there would be somewhat of a break in styles, and that's exactly as the evening turned out. Swallow the Sun came on first, the band in full support of their excellent new opus Hope, which is a pulverizing collection of doomy death metal dirges that also have a slight progressive edge. The band played for about a half hour, and featured mostly songs from the latest release. While their sound was not the greatest (an ongoing problem at this venue for the first band of the evening) their mix of Opeth/Katatonia/Edge of Sanity/November's Doom type metal, complete with effective vocal growls, mammoth riffing, pounding drum work, and long, epic songs, really worked well and managed to turn many of the folks in attendance into immediate fans. Being an admirer of Hope, I was pretty impressed by these guys in a live setting and look forward to them making their way back to these shores again in the near future.
The other Finnish band on the bill, Insomnium, were up next, and as with Scar Symmetry, really scored big with their slightly longer set. It was obvious from the opening notes of "The Gale" that the band had a good amount of fans in attendance at BB Kings, most of whom remained very enthusiastic throughout their set. Concentrating mostly on their last release Above the Weeping World, Insomnium showed the poise and power of a veteran band, with a style that owes as much to Katatonia and Opeth as it does to Dark Tranquility and early In Flames. Other tracks from the new album like "Killjoy", "Mortal Share", and "Drawn to Black" were also given royal treatment here, and the end result was a very strong set that gave indication that Insomnium are perhaps one of the rising stars on the extreme metal scene.
At this point, it was perhaps time for something a little uptempo and upbeat, and Sweden's Scar Symmetry did not disappoint one bit. Surprisingly, on a night of mostly doomier type bands, the crowd was WAY into the more progressive & commercial sounds of Scar Symmetry that I had thought possible. These guys mix catchy clean vocal hooks with monstrous death metal growls, crushing riffs, blistering, virtuoso guitar solos (mostly from the very talented Per Nilsson), and frantic rhythms, and the BB Kings faithful ate up every note of it, with many in the crowd singing along to every chorus. Lead singer Christian Älvestam led the band into such gems as "Slaves to the Subliminal", "Mind Machine", "The Illusionist", and "The Path Of Least Resistance" (all off the excellent sophomore release Pitch Black Progress), among many others, with his varied vocal attack that worked wonders on all fronts. In fact, they played a near headliner set length, was which great to see, and it was obvious that the band learned a lot on their inaugural US tour with Dark Tranquility just a short year before, as they seemed tighter than ever and had great stage presence. Scar Symmetry is going places folks, and if the results of the roar from the crowd after each song on this night were any indication, I see a headlining tour for them in the not-too-distant future.
Katatonia took the stage like conquering heroes. In many fans eyes, they stole the shows on their tour with Moonspell the last go round, and were totally deserving of their headline status here. Now, in support of their Live Consternation CD/DVD set, the band played a similar but expanded set list to what they ran through on the Moonspell tour. Popular tunes like "My Twin", the rampaging "Ghost of the Sun", "July", "Criminals", and of course the early track "Murder" delighted the crowd every step of the way. While they are not the most eye catching band live, their music lulls you into somewhat of a hypnotic state, heavy on riffs but with a slight psychedelic edge and plenty of groove. Lead singer Jonas Renske as always remains front and center, his long locks completely covering his face as he spews his melodic vocal lines with plenty of angst and melancholy. Just a pleasing set in every aspect, and you almost get the feel that with some luck Katatonia might someday catch on with a larger audience here in the US.
While all bands on this night were very strong and enjoyable, I'd have to say that the surprise hit and shining stars of the evening were definitely Scar Symmetry, whose rousing tempos, stellar virtuosity, and interaction with the audience helped them increase their game just ever so slightly above the other three bands, even the mighty Katatonia. In the end through, it was an all around winner of an evening for the 800 or so in attendance, simply a damn good night of metal for everyone.
Ken Pierce: It was great to find Katatonia performing a headlining set of music for the Metal heads of New York City when they came around for the second time with a tour of their own. When we first caught them they had been the direct support for Portugal's Moonspell and while this was a terrific show on its own there was quite a different dynamic happening between the Doom-laden Atmospherics that they possessed and the crushing Gothic Metal of the headliner. The show very clearly proved to the audience that Katatonia was a headlining band without question and immediately after they finished there was requests of them to return as soon as possible. The touring bill would find three opening slots which allowed Swallow The Sun, Insomnium and Scar Symmetry to join in and bring their own brands of Metal to hopefully quite a few new Metal hungry fans. Those who have been following the newer arrivals to the Metal scene would agree that this particular show would lean a little much to the Doom side and have a lot of similarity in the overall sound but with each band being interesting in their own right I don't think anyone in the club would mind. As expected, B.B. King Blues Club would be the scene of this "Doomfest" and with the crowd building rather early tonight it seemed that the trudging and solemn vibe of this kind of Metal was set to begin. Here is what the night held for those who made it down.
Swallow The Sun: These guys would be supporting their new release "Hope" which comes to the world care of Candlelight Records and it's a solid album loaded with Doom, Melancholy and a little bit of Death and Funeral styles mixed all together for good or shall I saw morose measure. I had only lightly listened to "Hope" a few months ago and remembered enjoying it, but I had to say that live this kind of music just has so much more in the way of power than you can catch when only listening to the CD. The band hails from Finland and even while they only got to perform for a half an hour they managed to show people that their stuff is not to be taken lightly. Being the first band up they didn't have the most effective of sound mixes and like others have noted to me as well this is often the problem when you have so many bands on one night and a limited time to swap them out. I think that STS offers fans of this genre a great amount of potential and it's my hope that they return soon and for a longer set than they were able to do tonight.
Insomnium: Another Finnish band was up next and lo and behold they were another Doom Metal band who had a lot in common with Swallow The Sun. You might wonder how much, well these guys were sharing the keyboardist tonight but I noticed that the audience seemed to know them just a bit more. The last album this band delivered to the hungry masses of Metal was "Above The Weeping World" and with a set that was allowed just a little more time than the previous band they would end up focusing on it. They held the stage like a band that had been doing this far longer than the ten years that they have been together. There is more of a Progressive element in this group and that offered up some difference and it went over quite well. Yes there are still the effective levels of despair and gloom to be found with them but the melancholy seemed all the more epic as opposed to the preceding band. I think that this group can appeal to a larger scope of listeners than have heard them and would hope that this show turned on enough new fans to what they are doing.
Scar Symmetry: If you saw Dark Tranquility and The Haunted a few months ago you should already know about the wonder that is Sweden's own Scar Symmetry. The band is a rocking display of Technical Death and Melodic Metal and so far from the Doom side that they offered the crowd that was present tonight a lively relief from the sorrow that was happening earlier. That last show was actually their first US tour and what stood out to me was the commanding manner in which they held the stage. If you didn't know any better you would have thought that they had been returning conquering heroes and not a band that was making their first appearance at many of these venues where we all congregate for the cause. Tonight would be no different and we would get a nice long set from them and this was on fire from the second they hit the stage. As result of the longer performance time the set was going to be able to get to material from each of their two releases but as you would expect the Nuclear Blast Records band would focus the night's music on their latest release "Pitch Black Progress". I had no problem with this, as it's an amazing record and one of my favorites from 2006. If you don't own a copy yet I suggest you grab one and join us. The band is led by singer Christian Alvestam who is definitely a force of nature on the boards. He commands your attention, and he gets it. Musically he handles both sides of the singing and delivers the higher, clean melodic style and then gets down and dirty to the depths of hell with his growls. Intense you might be thinking, and I tell you my friends that would be an understatement. It's also a very tight machine in terms of the compositions of their songs. Jonas and Per and technicians on the guitar while the rhythm section of Kenneth and Henrik (bass and drums respectively) don't let any of it fall off point. It was interesting to observe that tonight Scar Symmetry would show the audience that they are also a headlining capable band, as I had noted was done the first time Katatonia came around. The crowd was eating these guys up and many were sad when it had ended for their set. I know for a fact that this band is going places and that they make good on their word to bring out some intense Metal. Keep your eyes out for them as you just know they will be back after the response they got on this tour. Excellent job guys.
Katatonia: Now it was time to take a deep breath, relax and grab another drink and find a good spot in the club so you could focus on the task at hand. That task being the wonderful Atmospheric Melancholy that is Sweden's Katatonia. The first time they came around I enjoyed them most assuredly but I was quite new to what they were all about and sometimes the levels of Doom and Darkness takes another go round for me to enjoy it properly. My introduction to the group was with "The Great Cold Distance", and this is one of those albums that you let run from beginning to end when you play it. The band is led by singer Jonas Renske and he never seems to let you see his face during a performance. He simply stands there and his long black locks fall dramatically over his face as he sings and pleads his case during the Katatonia set. Its powerful stuff but rife with sadness for the most part and it can come off as overpowering if you are not in the proper mind set for it. The riffs are heavy and laden with that Melancholy we have spoken of much tonight, but when Katatonia is doing it they remind the fan that these are the masters of this genre and have built so many levels on the original foundation that was started in 1991. Renske has also moved on from the use of any guttural growls and now sings completely in a clean and clear voice and I think this adds to the bands maturity and overall progression. I do like the growls sometimes but lately there is so many groups doing them that it's nice to find some choosing to move on from that aspect of their talent. The crowd transforms during a Katatonia set and is largely motionless while much of the tune is being played. They come to life when the song completes and the need to applaud and yell overtakes them. The band has recently released a combination live CD/DVD entitled "Live Consternation" and it is here that the fan that didn't make it to a show is instructed to go to see exactly what I am talking about in a little clearer fashion. Having the same show on each medium allows you to sit and watch or take it with you in the car. Overall this tour was a success in my mind even if I felt that one more technical Metal band would have been a nice mix between each Doom act. I would and will go to see any of these bands in the future and I hope that it's not that far away.