Live Report: Tyr, Orphaned Land, Ghost Ship Octavius & Aeternam
Reading is located about 90 minutes west of Philadelphia but it feels more like the vast central part of the state that Obama famously and not incorrectly said clings to their guns and religion. The Reverb is a cavernous warehouse space with all the charm of a parking garage. The most adventurous beer choice is LandShark Lager. It felt like a trip back in time, especially as they pumped out vintage Pantera, White Zombie and Alice in Chains in between bands.
This isn’t meant to be disrespectful. On the contrary, the sound was solid for all of the bands and the Wednesday crowd was enthusiastic, all you can ever ask for.
It’s a toss-up as to what is more surprising: that a supergroup featuring members from the likes of God Forbid, Nevermore, and the late Warrel Dane’s solo project would be unsigned, or that, without the benefit of label support, Ghost Ship Octavius would land a national tour. The group does a nice job of showcasing terrific technical ecstasy, especially from the interplay between guitarists Matt Wicklund and Adon Fanion. Fortunately, they never forget that the most important part of power metal is the power.
Aeternam also self-released their last album, last year’s Ruins of Empires, after teaming up with Metal Blade and Galy Records for previous releases. It must be a sign of the times (more accurately, unsigned of the times). There is a mystical undercurrent of exotic rhythms that runs through most of the Quebecois band’s material, augmented by a healthy amount of prerecorded synths and backing vocals -- while soundchecking, some of it blasted out of the PA without accompaniment and, no kidding, it sounded like Depeche Mode! Fortunately, once it was layered underneath the live performance, it made what otherwise could be well-played groove-laden lunk metal more dynamic and accentuated the prog elements.
It felt like a soccer match, seeing a fan at the front of the stage waving a small Israeli flag. To be sure, Orphaned Land came a long way to be here. The crowd -- even those without patriotic props -- appreciated a band that sounded like, as vocalist Kobi Farhi said from the stage, “Vikings riding on camels.”
He sounds a little like Serj Tankian from System of a Down, as both prefer powerful vibratos set to heavy guitars. Armenia and Israel are 850 miles apart, but even with different accents, the passion is still palpable. The addition of Middle Eastern textures to epic metal works even better in a live setting than on the many albums the band have released over nearly a quarter century.
Political pontification was limited to the short introduction of their closing song, one where they totally misread the room. “If you think it’s bad with Trump, you should see where we’re from,” he said, unaware that Berks County went for Trump by ten points and is the kind of place reporters go to see what Trump supporters are up to. In this case, they kind of shrugged.
Otherwise, Orphaned Land stuck to letting their folk-infused metal do the talking and it said loudly and clearly, give peace a chance. Maybe it’s an overly simplistic take on a complicated problem, but it beats the alternative.
There’s nothing controversial about Týr, save for a few keyboard warriors who still troll their Facebook events to unironically save the whales (the controversy over frontman Heri Joensen participating in whaling ended in 2016 for everyone else). There were no protesters at the venue, and Heri Joensen introduced “Grindavisan” as “about meat production the old way” to ensure it stayed that way.
It was thrilling to see one of the best bands to emerge from the so-called pagan metal scene to tour the States without being part of some gimmicky package tour. Those are fun and all, but it’s like imbibing mead: the casual drinker might enjoy a glass at the Renaissance Faire, however, a true connoisseur can down a tankard of mead without pairing it with a turkey leg at the joust (and remembers to always get a designated driver when pillaging.)
Týr is among the second tier of Viking Metal bands: lumped together behind Amon Amarth, better known than their other peers because of longevity and their unique Faroe Islands homeland, but also songs like “Regin Smidur.” Unbelievably fifteen years old, it is a masterpiece of the genre, and not just for the best video outside of Bathory’s “One Rode to Asa Bay” which started it all. The pristine vocal harmonies, the NWOBHM feel to riffs that kick off each section of the song a little heavier than the section before, the tandem battle cry that bridges it all together… Even Odin would have been impressed. Seeing Týr play this song is no less potent than seeing Metallica play “Fade to Black” or Judas Priest perform “Victim of Changes.” It is the yardstick against which all should be measured.
Almost as astounding was how it was innocuously inserted in the middle of a sprawling set culled from the band’s entire history, at least one song from each of their seven albums. Hell, they did two songs about hammers -- “Hail to the Hammer” from their debut and “Hold the Hammer High” from By the Light of the Northern Star.
Being the last night of the tour, there was a loose feeling. Various members of the support acts joined the band when they played “Blood of Heroes,” a unique and whimsical treat at the beginning of the set. Later they played a snippet of “Born in the USA” and a whole verse and chorus of 1980s AOR schlock-rock classic “Turn Me Loose” as comic relief -- imagine Loverboy in pelts and warpaint (or maybe don’t). For an encore, they invited “the Jews” (Orphaned Land) onto the stage for a rousing team-take on the anti-Nazi paean “Shadow of the Swastika” with Orphaned Land. It was not heavy-handed despite the song’s lyrics -- the bands celebrated their last moments of the tour together laughing and hamming it up with each other.
The only negative to this tour seems to be that it has delayed Týr from recording a very long overdue album -- it’s been nearly five years since Valkyrja came out. Otherwise, it showed that they need to be reckoned as more than just a Viking Metal band, even more than one of the best bands to wear the label. They’re anthemic, stirring and plenty heavy, traits universal to the building blocks that created heavy metal as we know it, and there’s no good reason to separate Týr from them. In every way they typify everything great about metal, no qualifiers necessary.
photos by Tashina Byrd