Due to a combination of early doors and meeting up with people, for once I completely broke my own rule of trying to make sure I covered all the support bands by walking in just as the second of them finished; apologies to Sound Storm and Coma. One band I was definitely not going to miss was Arkona having caught the Russian lot a couple of times in the past and loving everything I have heard by them. They really created an atmosphere in the busy venue before they came on by playing some traditional sounding music that sounded like it had come from the dark ages with a classical and folky feel about it. Although it was sombre in tone things quickly changed as the band led by the warrior front-woman Masha “Scream” Arkhipova invaded the stage and proceeded to kick up a storm. There was lots of activity on the stage with her taking the centre draped in a fox skin (which I have to admit was one stage prop I could have done without) a mad pipe player adding some traditional parts as well as the more metallic likes of big bearded guitarist and bassist. Things flew by in a giddy blur with the likes of newer songs like ‘Arkaim’ wowing the crowd who were very quick to get into the rich atmosphere and stormy charge of it all.
The band worked the crowd like they were playing a European festival and got the reaction they deserved with fists pumping the air and rallying cries of hoy, hoy, hoy to the likes of the rumbustious ‘Goi Ride Goi’ There was lots to watch on the stage and it was pretty manic both on and off it as the infectious weave spilled into the audience. There was not much time for talking between songs which Masha partly explained due to the fact that she speaks hardly any English. Her beaming smile however spoke many a word and it was obvious she were overjoyed to be here. Moving from a manic jig to the instantly recognisable and gorgeous ‘Slav’sja Rus’ was a particularly poignant point and the slower passion of this one particularly shone through magnificently. Next they announced their title song and ‘Arkona’ itself built into a flurry of pipe trills and folkish parts mixed with some storming almost death metal parts which caused a really bouncy party mood. We were knocked through the wall by the accordion dervish fuelled ‘Stenka na Stenku’ which was another giddying highlight and Arkona really played the show like they were headlining it. Hopefully perhaps one day they will get the chance to do just that with a full stage show.
Therion certainly had the place near packed and many sounded like they were gathered from all over Europe judging by accents and languages overheard. The stage was used to full capacity as they trooped out and the instant the stirring strings of ‘The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah’ reached us we knew that this was going to be both a spectacle and spectacular and were certainly not proven wrong. Part of the mystery was taken away as we knew what was going to occur for most of the set as the band were taking us back to 1998 and playing the entire ‘Vovin’ album from start to finish for us. The album playback gig seems to be something that has become more popular over the last few years and I tend to try and avoid these sorts of shows but tonight it really worked, perhaps as Vovin is such a brilliant album and maybe personally, as until digging it out prior to the show, I had not played it for a while. It was difficult working out what to fixate on the stage as the players leading us through the drama were constantly changing position. A top hatted Christofer Johnsson rocked out on guitar not taking centre attention at all and in fact nobody really was I realised as things progressed. Thomas Vikström was providing quite a lot of the male vocals sticking towards the back of the stage a fair bit and the gorgeous siren operatics of Linnea Vikström and Lori Lewis saw them centre of stage at times and also towards the back at others caught in illuminating white spot light. Over on our right was the constant presence of Nalle Påhlsson who hit the fiery guitar parts and really rocked away. The operatic chant of ‘Wine For Aluqah’ proved pretty intoxicating and dramatic and this was as metallic a pantomime as anyone could wish for, pretty much a perfect show to end a year off on. Naturally there are favourites and one of mine was coming up ‘The Wild Hunt’ which sees ‘Vovin’ at its most shredding and with the fiery guitar parts and Maidenesque lead vocals it pretty much brought the roof down (perhaps a poor turn of phrase considering recent theatrical events but). I was actually right by the roof later as I went to watch the show from above for a while and can contest with another cliché that Linnea’s voice in particularly did a fine job of hitting the rafters.
The mellower parts of the album soothed and flowed rocking us in a much gentler fashion before we got knocked for six and swept away as the barraging tumult breezed off the stage and swept us away. The sound was spot on and sounded brilliant but it still was not the perfect venue and if the band were as big here as they are in Europe they should really deserve a show somewhere a bit more prestigious. However that’s just an observation as there was nothing at all to fault about what we got from the piano cantata of ‘Black Sun’ through to the finale of ‘Raven Of Dispersion’ Once the album finished I had noted that the band were playing more and picking different numbers as they had been travelling across on tour adding a certain amount of mystery to things. In fact we got over and above things with the band continuing beyond even what I had seen on the stage set-list.
They firstly went into a bit of a rock opera segment with some new numbers some of which like ‘End Of Dynasty’ I have to admit to being a bit too much for me in the pompous vocal stakes. Female vocals took over on Who’s Your God and were equally pitched a bit too high for comfort. It’s difficult to gauge brand new material on first encounter and perhaps coming back to it on release may make me understand it better. I also picked up ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ at the show that they were kindly selling for just £5 signed and have yet to hear that. Therion are certainly showing their versatile side of late though. For the moment I needed more comfortable ground and gladly got that with the metal on overkill with the rock out of ‘Flesh Of The Gods,’ which picked things up and had everyone clapping along. We had to get dipped into ‘Theli’ and for many the storming ‘Invocation Of Naamah’ and ‘To Mega Therion’ were no doubt highlights of the show. Having well and truly given their all and delivered a set beyond expectations they finally had to finish on the cusp of the venue curfew with an unexpected ‘Lemuria.’ One got the feeling that if they could the band would have continued playing even longer but it was a suitable finale, finishing for me 2013’s gigs on a high.
(Review and photos © Pete Woods)