PAGANFEST AMERICA V - 2014
Journalist: The Augurian
Photos: Navneet Johal
Published: May 26, 2014
The Opera House
Thursday May 1st
Presented by: Inertia Entertainment
There it is, that determined streak of sunshine trying to break through the impenetrable cloud monster that has hovered over this city for eight months now. I open the blinds and watch it struggle to find an opening in that curdled blanket of grey, but no luck,...once again it gives up and retreats like a coward back into the sky. And then the clouds begin to spit and the umbrellas begin to open and the little creatures scurry about. Horns honk and seagulls scream for food, while the garbage trucks roar like dinosaurs with indigestion. Yes, life in Utopia and a Xerox copy of day that should be forgettable and eventually fade its own ink. Taster’s Choice coffee and a bowl of Count Chocula later, and the day of the week begins to register in the data base. Thursday. Time to check the corkboard of greater knowledge and scan the tiny fonts of flyers and tickets. And there, right below the Mothers of Invention embroidered crest and slightly to the right of Ming's House of a Thousand Gourmets menu, is the directive of hope and salvation for an overcast April night.
Ahhh yes, tis' the day the Pagan metal tribes converge on Toronto for what is known as ‘Paganfest’, and as many good pagans know, ‘yoik’ singing and shamanic drumming is the most ancient cure-all for the dystopian blues. I check for unobstructed news items on the radio, but as usual, can detect nothing that has slipped through the hands of the puppet masters. No matter, I'm running late for work, but quickly grab the ticket and top up a nearby flask, scrambling to make the streetcar that I do not desire, the one packed with H&M mannequins devoid of any shred of humanity as they stare at their glowing rectangles of technology. I shift my gaze from the hazy window down to my black lunch box with the faded Saint Vitus sticker on the lid, and wonder if the 8 hour day will move like a snail gorged on lettuce. With that thought, I open my lunch bucket to see if it contained anything more than an echo, and luckily find a left-over bottom-feeder special from Merciless Ming's, which managed to alert the olfactory senses of Lord Sconesworth sitting beside me, prompting him to raise his noble head and sniff about, before realizing that he was neglecting his very important Tweets. Geezuz, what do these people eat, air?...Now that I think about it, I never really see them with food,...perhaps there is an app for that, and one for scratching your ass.
And then work. The eight hour crawl punctuated by the merciless lunch and vapid small talk about the Leafs. The fact that these millionaires seem to play all year, renders it meaningless to me. Paganfest plays one night of the year in Toronto and achieves a bliss that a flying hockey puck simply cannot aspire to. Bands are not teams, they do not congregate to win trophies that sit on dusty shelves. They gather together to celebrate and ritualize a shared goal. Not a goal where one individual lords it over all the others. Shit no, that's for children. Today the Pagan metalheads are in town. Five clans joined together in the shared purpose of awakening the slumbering gods. The Korpiklaani and Turisas from Finland. The Chthonic from Asia. Varg from Germany, and the Winterhymn from the American heartland.
Yee who know about these bands, know what they do and how well they do it, but for those unfamiliar, the story goes as follows;
Winterhymn emerge from the pines and slowly light fires under the audience, as they are the most un-heralded of the tribes and require some scrutinizing, but you can sense a momentum here, and the town square is taking notice of this strange entity from the agrarian plains. The authenticity of their performance is irreproachable, they could easily be the modern blood descendants of the ancient Varangians themselves. Their music stacks up a powerful and lyrical journey for the early arrivers to the show. It is doubtful that they will remain an unsigned band for long, as they are far too visionary and committed to be ignored. This was the dream state.
The Bavarian Varg bring the audience into the Black Forest with guitars loaded and cocked, and the hunt is on. Led on by the prowling energy of their frontman, they invite us into a beer hall for a unified chorus of the *Gutentag* song, which somehow took on entirely new meaning by the 10th round. The ground troops are now awake, and the Folk Metal spirit has become firmly established.
And then the Asiatic Chthonic, the most conventional of the metal bands, foregoing the acoustic presence, and charging the air with pure black elements as they unleashed their trademark political anger, somehow serving as a pivot point and perfect intermission to the remainder of the evening. Purpose has been established; overthrow the tyrants.
I survey the floor level for familiar faces, spotting several pit brothers, eyes a-glow, charged and stirring up the newly ignited mosh pit. Along the rail, a hobbled man in patched denim vest leans on a tall oak staff and tilts his head back as though to drink in the siren-like violins. He is in fact one of the high priests of the local Wiccan tribe merrily presiding over the gathering. Below, security behemoths pace the perimeter with quizzical looks on their face as they watch the horde of primal front-rowers, some as corpse painted as the bands. Above, at balcony level, a few take note of the mysterious apparition disappearing and reappearing in time with the acoustic portions of the songs. Was this the Finn väki that some had spoken about? Near the stage, a man bodysurfs his way into a close-up photo opportunity, and manages to succeed. All around, a flow of Middle Earth citizenry.
And now the battle: Turisas arrive. A Toronto favorite. The crowd surges from the back, and I am dominoed forward into a large woman clad in tanned leather, that looks like she stepped out of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. She doesn't flinch, and I rebound to my original position. The ancient walls of the Opera House attempt to contain the symphonic anomaly, as the band bellows and gnashes like firebrick Dioskilos. Their metalized version of ‘rah-rah Rasputin’, rouses the crowd into modified Cossack dancing, the imperfections adding to the fun. One more time they rally the horde with their epic *Battle Metal* theme, and at its finale, a man in the crowd raises a Horchdorfian rams horn to toast the victory. Tattered horse hair and war banners are scattered about the stage.
Exhilarated, the crowd regain their breath in time for the thundering shamanic drum entrance of Korpiklaani, which is soon pierced by electric bolts of wired energy. Quickly, everyone is raised into a celebratory mode. Korpiklaani represent the return from battle and the beginning of the feast. We are back on home ground and the lager and ale is now flowing in abundance. Everyone joins in the song, as heavy and powerful as what preceded, but now infused with camaraderie and joy. The melodies swirl around and within the menacing chants of Jonne Järvelä, as valves and keys pump droned sub-noise. A shaking wave of primal technology is upon us, and these strange gnomes from Finland captivate our imaginations. Song after song we are led into world of the Kalevala, where the legend of this day will soon be transcribed for history.
Triumph is heralded, and when the final drop of sweat has hit the floor, the tribe leaders bid farewell with kindly benedictions to a grateful throng.
Once entered, the Pagan metal world is difficult to depart from, for it is as close as we get to the illuminated Dark Ages in a world quickly falling prey to the Borg. However, all good things must end and the night cannot last forever.
Back into the evening air, the people look about and around themselves with a sense of valued unity. No talk of tiresome hockey scores or formulaic reality TV. No unnecessary tweets or texting. For a few short hours we were thrust back into the past, just long enough to forget about the unrestrained vulgarity of the modern world. True, the money weasels lurk in the background of every cultural movement, but nothing can diminish the collective unconscious of how things once were.
Again I board the streetcar, but this time with fellow souls rather than automatons. If I had a giant lunch bucket of Ming's glorious swill to share, I would do so now, for these are people worth sharing a meal with.
As for the sophisticated, let them eat air.
Many thanks to the bands of Paganfest 2014 for sharing their skills and passion with us common folk. Until we gather once again.
Draug - Vocals, Guitar
Exura - Keyboards
Umbriel - Violin
Valthrun - Drums
Alvadar - Bass, Vocals
Varrik - Guitar
We apologize, for not having Winterhymn show photos. Our team members were in the process of interviewing Korpiklaani when Winterhymn were on stage.
Click here for our Winterhymn interview!!
Freddy Lim 林昶佐 - Vocal, hena violin
Jesse Liu 劉笙彙 - Guitar
Doris Yeh 葉湘怡 - Bass, Background Vocal
CJ Kao 高嘉嶸 - Synthesizer, Piano
Dani Wang 汪子驤 - Drums
Label: Spinefarm / Universal Music
Mathias Nygård - Vocals
Jussi Wickström - Guitar
Jaakko Jakku - Drums
Jesper Anastasiadis - Bass
Olli Vänskä - Violin
Robert Engstrand - Keyboards
Label: Century Media Records