VREID / KAMPFAR / NECRONOMICON/ SCYTHIA @ Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, September 5, 2011

By Kyle Harcott; Photos by Ted Reckoning

What better way to celebrate the death of summer/onset of glorious autumn’s chill on a fine Labour Day Monday than with a couple of touring Nordic black metal bands? Never mind that the day in question was hotter than any previous summer day Vancouver had seen, I just chalked it up to the flames of hell being stoked for the arrival of the Black Path of America Tour.

What’s a real shame is that not many others felt like ushering in autumn the same way; turnout for this show (two –count ‘em!- touring Norwegian black metal bands!) was absolutely dismal. At the night’s peak, the crowd could not have been bigger than 70 people, and I’m being generous there. Granted, there’s been some backlash with the kids now that the Rickshaw’s received its newly-minted liquor license from the City (rendering all shows 19+). Or maybe it was because it was Labor Day. Or maybe there was something on TV. Regardless – pretty lame, Vancouver. Pretty lame.

I entered the Rickshaw too late to catch local openers Scythia’s set. They play an energetic brand of folk-metal, not far removed from the likes of Eluveitie or Ensiferum. And while I can’t attest to their performance personally, they sure look like they put on one hell of a show – if the various tunics, capes, warpaint and are-those-fur-loincloths the various band members wore off stage is anything to go by. While I may not be the biggest proponent of folk-metal, I can surely appreciate any band who strives to put on a great show, and I am told Scythia does just that.

It has to be asked – who was the joker playing DJ at the Rickshaw this night, anyway? Between bands, those of us who came out were subjected to some serious vibekill, by way of lousy schlockabilly, John Parr’s ‘St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)’, Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’, and before Vreid’s set, most of the latest fucking Steel Panther record! I don’t know about you, but when I am gearing up to rage along to some Norse black metal, nothing gets me pumped up like the theme from St. Elmo’s Fire. Seriously.

Oh, but there’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Soon enough, corpsepainted Montreal veterans Necronomicon took to the stage and proceeded to treat the sparse crowd to their blackened death metal attack. The trio managed to (hair)whip up quite a froth onstage, with loads of synchro-windmilling by Rob the Witch and recent addition Armaros on bass. Sure, at times their stage moves looked a little ‘rehearsed’ but it sure got the four or five diehards down front going. ‘The Sacred Medicines’ was a standout in the set, with its sampled First-Nations chants interspersed throughout the song. All in all, Necronomicon were well-received and put on a great show. But it was black metal I came for: Raw and ugly and loud and fast and mean. And while I don’t begrudge Necronomicon their style one bit, their blackened death metal just didn’t do much for me.

Luckily, it was Kampfar who delivered that adrenaline-shot of what I needed. Taking to the stage with ‘Mare’, from their most recent album of the same name, the band proceeded to blow the doors off with an unrelenting set that not only roared far louder and rawer than they do on record, but also proceeded to garner them the largest crowd of the night. The pagan and folk influences I’d read so much about were barely there, foregone in favor of a very straight-to-the-jugular approach. Frontman Dolk, when he wasn’t raging, was highly engaging, graciously thanking the crowd at every turn, and reminding us all that we’re part of one big metal ‘family’. It was his -and in turn, the rest of the band’s- energy that was what kept the crowd so enraptured throughout. Kampfar played to the scattershot Rickshaw crowd as though they were a 20,000-deep Euro-festival throng, and the crowd fed off it too. Reaching across their catalog for the set list, highlights included the incendiary ‘Inferno’, the intricate and yes, majestic ‘Norse’, and the bring-the-house-down finale of ‘Ravenheart’, for which nary a fist was left unraised, or a goat left unthrown. Kampfar delivered one hell of a show this night, and won over a lot of Vancouver metalheads. So much so, unfortunately, that a large chunk of that crowd appeared to evaporate immediately after Kampfar’s blazing set. I figured they’d be a tough act to follow; I didn’t realize how tough.

Not long after, Vreid took to the stage with a virulent ‘Arche’ – drummer Steingrim pounding the song’s intro to life as the other members joined him on stage. Clad in matching military-styled uniforms, Vreid proceeded to hammer out a thunderous set of war-themed black’n’roll, most of which was culled from this year’s V and 2009’s Milorg. But while the songs were executed with due precision and force, it did seem like there was something missing. Perhaps some of the wind had been knocked from Vreid’s sails by their opener’s high-energy set, especially as the headliners found themselves in the unenviable position of performing to a sparsely-filled floor. Intentionally or not, Vreid came as across infinitely more subdued than the previous band, which translated to me like they were having a hard time getting into it. As a result, I had a hard time getting into their set myself. Nevertheless, I immensely enjoyed the frantic ‘Blücher’, and ‘Speak Goddamnit’ was another highlight, but I split before Vreid’s set finished and missed out on seeing closer ‘Pitch Black’ (from the YouTube I saw, it looked pretty goddamn awesome).

It was unfortunate that Vreid didn’t get to play to the audience-size they deserved as headliner; I’d love to see them again in front of a packed house, playing the energetic show I’ve read they usually bring. While it was not a disappointing night by a long shot, it was definitely an interesting contrast in onstage make-do-with-what-ya-got.

Poorly-recalled Vreid setlist:
Raped by Light
Sound of the River
Speak Goddamnit
Wolverine Bastards
The Others and The Look
Pitch Black

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.