On September 7th, Arkona (RU) began the North American leg of their “Pagan Rebellion Tour” to a sold out crowd at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, NY, with the help of Heidevolk (NL) and Helsott (USA). The relatively small venue was absolutely packed to the brim with fans decked out in leather armor, furs, and of course many, many Mjolnir, all anxiously awaiting a night of beer and Pagan metal.
Following a short opening set by Yonder Realm, a self described “Cosmic Folk Metal” group originating locally from Long Island, NY; Helsott took the stage. As the only American part of the touring package, I was admittedly excited to see how they’d fit in with the rest of the acts. After all, the concept of American Pagan metal is somewhat unusual. Despite some minor technical difficulties in the beginning of their set, the band clearly proved their prowess combining brutal death metal styled growls, shredding guitars, and the stunning soprano talent of Bri Steiner. Songs like “The Healer,” which was lovingly dedicated to a doctor-friend of the band whose wife is suffering from breast cancer, were especially captivating both on an emotional and technical level. Despite their set being cut short by time constraints, Helsott finished on a positive note playing “Honor Thy Valkyrie” to a room of singing fans, myself being one of them.
After a quick change over, Dutch folk-metallers Heidevolk began their musical-pillage of the crowd. The charged enthusiasm of the audience, with fans jumping and swaying arm in arm to favorites such as “Saksenland”, was only matched by the band themselves, who were clearly overjoyed to be beginning this tour. And why wouldn’t they be? Not only is this their first US venture in promotion of their newest album Velua, but it’s their first time performing with vocalist Lars Nachtbraeker in front of an American audience. There was a certain tribal fire to the room, truly harkening back to the armies of Northern brothers described in the bands lyrics. This energy swelled as the band introduced a series of drinking songs, including “Drankelag” and “Her Bier Zal Weer Vloeien” with the undisputable question of “Do you guys like beer?!” Heidevolk finished their set with “a promise to return” to the states in the form of their only English song of the night, “Vinland”; an oath that I cannot wait for them to make good on!
At last it was time for Arkona’s performance. From the moment the group began playing their opening number, the title track of their newest album Yav, lead vocalist Masha Scream’s immense power and versatility was evident. Not only were her growls room shaking, but the raw emotion of her clean singing in songs like “Serbia” left the crowd mesmerized. The setlist in itself held a healthy balance of serious tracks, like the previously mentioned, and more festive anthems such as their hit “Goi, Rode, Goi!” Not to mention the three songs specially selected by New York fans through a poll on the bands facebook page, “Slovo,” “Po Syroi Zemle” and “Vyjdu ya na volushku.” This was, however, by no means the limit of their fan interaction. Without a barrier between the audience and the stage, an almost ceremonious atmosphere is allowed to be created by the artist; a circumstance especially appropriate with Arkona’s almost arcane brand of Pagan metal. The night ended on a high note, and the group closed with “Yarillo” to a kinetic room of chanting fans.
One thing is absolutely certain: The Pagan Rebellion Tour is off to a fantastic start. With a winning combination of talented musicians and the fun, energetic fans of folk metal. Even the most elitist metalhead is in for a night to remember… although with so many drinking songs I won’t blame you if you don’t!