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Opening Paganfest are Napalm signings Tır from the Faroe Islands. Having only recently heard their latest release, 2006's excellent 'Ragnarok' album, I'd been impressed with their progressive and original take on the currently booming folk metal genre. With the Koko already half-full, the Faroese metal warriors play a short set of five songs amounting to only around 25 minutes, though do a fine job of warming up the crowd. Musically, I cannot fault Tır, and their unique brand of prog-folk metal translates well to the live stage, with particularly impressive vocal harmonies, although their overall delivery of the material is a little lacklustre. Frontman Heri Joensen is a lively performer, and effective at working the crowd into their first movement of the day, although his fellow bandmates are comparatively more subdued on stage and far less animated. Overall though, Tır are a solid opening act, and are well received by the Koko audience.
Sunday 6th April 2008
Koko in London, UK
Up next are Swiss eight-piece Eluveitie. I'd only heard a few tracks by the band before today, and while impressed by the death-folk fusion inherent in their compositions, nothing had quite prepared me for the intensity and raw energy of their live performance. Although Eluveitie are fairly original in their overall sound, they do, at times, remind me of a cross between In Extremo and the early Gothenburg melo-death of In Flames and Dark Tranquillity. A couple of minutes into their set, and it is evident from crowd reactions that the band have the audience within their folk-death grasp as a huge pit erupts in the middle of a now very busy Koko. One of the liveliest bands I've seen for while, I momentarily believe to be seeing double with brothers Rafi and Sevan Kirder, distinguished only by disparate tattoos, and of course the former playing bass, and the latter a variety of instruments including a Galician Bagpipe (or 'gaita galega') adorned with a goat's skull. Frontman Chrigel Glanzmann, bearing a vague physical resemblance to iconic metal nutter Devin Townsend, is interesting to watch as he delivers growled death vocals with effective ferocity, contrastingly interposed with a more laid-back demeanor when he stands behind the microphone to play a tin whistle. And special mention must also go to Anna Murphy - the sight of her headbanging energetically while playing a hurdy gurdy is captivating to behold and an alluring vision! Overall, Eluveitie, comparable in their carnivalesque performance to Finnish nutters Turisas, are an incredibly entertaining live act, and are a band that I shall now be eagerly anticipating at Bloodstock Open Air later this year. And full credit to the sound engineer too, whether it be the band's own I am unsure, though to mix so many disparate instruments and lead/backing vocals into such a pleasingly coherent whole is a major accomplishment in itself!
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Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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Generally described by the media as folk metal, Finnish band Moonsorrow perhaps loosely fit that label, although also combine elements of what could be construed as black metal, with an overall progressive Primordial-esque aesthetic. With a steady rise in popularity in the UK over the last few years, this is evidenced today by the enthusiastic crowd response as the band appear on stage. Opening with 'Sankarihauta' from 2001 release 'Voimasta Ja Kunniasta', the audience indulge in some casual moshing to the mainly mid-tempo groove of the Finns' melodically engaging music. The more up tempo passages in their compositions are also well received such as the blast-beat led outro of second track 'Ukkosenjumalan Poika', and the quasi-black metal cacophony during the mid-section of third song 'Pakanajuhla'. With a rich gigging history behind them, including numerous appearances at several prestigious European festivals, Moonsorrow are accomplished live performers, and are comparatively a prime example of what was lacking in Tır's performance. With a well balanced mix and intensely resonant sound through the PA, closing number 'Jotunheim' sounds truly epic with its richly layered guitars and simple, though grandiosely captivating, melodies providing a fitting climax to Moonsorrow's impressive set. My only complaint? They play nothing from 2007's mightily epic 'Vides Luku Hävitetty', but I guess with a mid-Paganfest 40-45 minute slot, one of said album's 2 lengthy tracks would encroach on too much set time!
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Up next, the Finnish 'Forest Clan', Korpiklaani, and judging by the air of anticipation in the Koko just prior to their appearance on stage, a band that most people are looking forward to seeing. Having been a fan of the Finns since 2005's 'Voice of the Wilderness', I'd not managed to catch them live until last year's Bloodstock Open Air. That day, nothing had quite prepared me for the wildly energetic crowd reactions that ensued and, in the photo pit for the first 3 songs with many other photographers, it quickly became a game of dodging people's feet and protecting expensive camera gear as fans were constantly being haphazardly lifted from the crowd by security over the barrier. It was this situation that prompted security to limit the number of photographers in the pit at any one time for all bands thereafter (ironically including Epica who followed Korpiklaani where, from memory, there was virtually no crowd moshing at all!). I was looking forward to Korpiklaani's set today to see if such a scenario would arise again, particularly considering the significantly smaller photo pit! And I was not disappointed! As the Finns launch into 'Wooden Pints' followed by 'Cottages and Saunas', the crowd erupt into a pit frenzy, though full credit to security - in a venue that is not renowned for metal gigs of this nature and such boisterous crowd reactions, they handle the situation perfectly, and seem to lift out 1 person every 2 bars of music, though are happy for the photographers to get on with their job. This is albeit a slightly harder job now, as Paganfest being an 18+ event, some of the punters hoisted from the pit are large in proportions, including one guy dressed from head to foot in chainmail! Anyway, onto the music! Perhaps a little livelier on stage tonight than their awesome Bloodstock performance last year, Korpiklaani work their way through a set of fan favourites including drinking anthems 'Happy Little Boozer' and set closer 'Beer Beer', though also incorporate material from recent release 'Korven Kuningas' in the form of 'Paljon on Koskessa Kiviä' and 'Kipumylly'. For the latter, frontman Jonne Järvelä sits on a tree trunk while playing a Djembe drum, a slower paced song which provides the crowd an opportunity to catch their breath before pit madness ensues once more. There is perhaps little original in Korpiklaani's compositions which are, in essence, a progression from the godfathers of folk metal, Skyclad, to incorporate elements of more traditional Finnish folk music, although it is an indisputable fact that they are one of the best live acts currently on the circuit. If every Korpiklaani performance on the Paganfest tour is as good as tonight, then Ensiferum will have their work cut out following such a wildly entertaining band. Stunning!
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With impressively quick change over times between bands, it is unfortunate that Ensiferum delay proceedings for the first time today. It is also unfortunate that with such a long wait for the band to appear after Korpiklaani finish their set they experience drastic sound problems when they eventually begin to play. Guitars are not audible through the PA for the first 3 songs, prompting ubiquitous chanting from the crowd of "turn it up, turn it up..." (which most certainly is audible!). From my position in the photopit - ie. effectively in front of the PA speakers, this lack in the band's sound is not as noticeable, as I can clearly hear guitars from the onstage amps/speaker cabs although, judging by the vociferous protests from most of the audience, this is evidently not heard throughout the venue. Frontman Petri Lindroos, seemingly ignoring the crowd's chants at first, eventually acknowledges the sound deficiency, and temporarily disappears from the stage, and can be seen having a brief discussion with a couple of guys, then returns to inform punters that he's requested the sound engineer sorts it out, which prompts huge cheers. However, the sound is still far from perfect, and although louder with the guitars now audible, Ensiferum receive a very muddy mix, the worst for any band today, which abates the overall effectiveness of the material. This is a shame, as having seen the Finns live before, I know they are capable of so much more. Having said that, the audience don't let extant sound problems dampen their enjoyment and perpetuate huge, intense pits in the middle of the Koko as Ensiferum work their way through a set of crowd pleasers including 'Guardians of Fate', 'Lai Lai Hei', and 'Victory Song'. As much as I like Ensiferum, I remember being more impressed with Lindroos' other band, Norther, during their main support slot for Turisas in Peterborough last month. Ensiferum are still entertaining tonight, though sound problems combined with following the exhaustive entertainment of Korpiklaani's live show, perhaps work against them tonight.
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A touring mini-festival, or an Ensiferum headline tour with a particularly strong support bill? Whatever the case, Sunday 6th April 2008 signifies the arrival of the inaugural Paganfest in the UK. With a rigorous 21 consecutive date schedule taking in 9 different countries around Europe, the tour includes not one day off, and with half the venues sold out, Paganfest is obviously a hugely popular event on the 2008 metal calendar. 6th April also sees the Olympic torch arrive in London with pro-Tibetan protesters marching against China and Beijing's current policy in Tibet. I witness part of the march earlier in the day, and also of a political nature, waiting for the Koko to open, I observe George Galloway and only 3-4 fellow campaigners on an open top bus that passes by, shouting through a microphone in an attempt to drum up support ahead of the 1st May elections. It is interesting to observe most people either ignoring Galloway entirely, or staring at the bus with curious amusement.

On an uncharacteristically cold day, compared to last year's soaring temperatures for early April, the Koko opens on time, and I enter through the guest list entrance, pick up my photopass in the foyer, then venture into the main part of the venue. Having never been to the Koko before, I am immediately impressed by the grandeur of the interior, with three tiers of balconies, theatre style boxes, and ornately carved walls. I struggle to think where I've seen a metal gig in a more aesthetically attractive venue, perhaps the Paradiso in Amsterdam is comparable, though certainly nowhere else in the UK. Unsure what to expect in terms of ticket sales, and the unpredictable, often apathetic, UK live scene, it is pleasing to see the 1500 capacity Koko nearly full to capacity after an hour or so. Folk metal in its various guises, has never been this popular in the UK, and with 5 disparate representations of the subgenre on offer today, Paganfest's first UK date promised to be a memorable event...