Don’t you feel right at home and among your kind in the dodgy atmosphere of an underground club? With the stickers, the graffiti, and the smell of yesterday’s spilled beer? I do. I had never been to the Arena in Vienna before, but as soon as I got there, and saw the familiar look of every independent cultural centre in central Europe, I got a warm feeling around the heart.

I had come to see Sanhedrin and Gatekeeper, two traditional metal outfits. One from the US, Brooklyn, NYC, to be precise, and the other from Vancouver, Canada. Sanhedrin, I knew pretty well having reviewed both of their two albums. Of Gatekeeper I knew only the last EP we covered here. Their epic metal it a bit too theatrical for my taste, but I was curious to see what it would look like live.

By nine o’clock in the evening, a nice crowd had gathered, and Sanhedrin opened with a song from their new album The Poisoner. Meditation, mid-tempo and melodic, was met with appreciative enthusiasm by the audience. Heads started bobbing and bodies were moving to the music. What was already a good start got even better with the next song, Demoness, speeding things up and bringing a whiff of Motörhead. The mood got better and better with every passing moment, aided by the fact that the band played with gusto and heart, obviously enjoying themselves. When Riding On The Dawn came on, the crowd was already sufficiently infected by the positive energy to lose inhibition. Three gentlemen to my right in the first row enthusiastically sang along with raised beer cups, and a guy to my left was playing air guitar for his own personal enjoyment. What probably was the highlight of the show was followed by a short classical interlude (Mozart?) and by Ashes to Ashes, a slower number, turning the atmosphere a bit contemplative. Then my personal favourite regarding lyrics and subject was on, No Religion, giving the audience yet another chance to see the band at its best: Erica Stoltz is a great frontwoman, with a strong facial expression who lives her songs, Jeremy Soville an outstanding guitarist, and Nathan Honor an honest and skilled drummer. The band’s final song for the night was Die Trying.

Sanhedrin played for 45 minutes, and, if you ask me, the show was over far to soon. I could have listened to them playing for double the amount of time, and from my impression, the rest of the audience felt the same way.

After some sound fine tuning, Gatekeeper were on. The first thing that becomes obvious when you see the five-piece is that apart from musicianship having long hair is apparently a prerequisite for being in the band. All members have quite impressive lengths, except for the drummer, but it looks like he’s working on it. The show started with a folky, somewhat Irish-sounding tune, after which we were introduced to the band’s epic metal with Grey Maiden, the title track from their most recent release. Gatekeeper’s show and music, in general, were characterized by what I would call a story-telling approach. The songs’ lyrics mostly circle around old literature (for example Beowulf) and legends, and were often preceded by an explanation regarding their subjects. The band’s sound was marked by mid-tempo marching and galloping rhythms in guitar and drums, accompanied by piercing screams, and theatrics, including a lot of gesticulation by the singer and hair flying. Towards the end of the show each individual band member was introduced to the audience with a drum roll, which was in accordance with the overall old-school feel. The crowd was maybe a little bit less numerous than during the Sanhedrin show, but not necessarily less enthusiastic, a few of its members even knew some of the lyrics and sang along.

I enjoyed the show and you can, too. Both bands are playing soon in a town near you. The show in London at The Dev on the 21st of March is free entry. Go out, have a drink, buy some merch and support the metal underground.

(Review and Photos Slavica)