Support Acts: Arkona
Review & Photos by Yiannis (John) Stefanis
It was around the end of November that an acquaintance of mine asked me to name my favorite gig of the year to which my response was “It’s too early to tell – ask me again in a month’s time”.
I was then forced to explain that I simply could not provide a definitive response before attending the show that the Swedish Symphonic Metallers Therion had scheduled for the 20thof December. Why? Well, apart from the fact that the performance would include a rendition of the band’s 1998 opus “Vovin” in its entirety, there would also be the opportunity to listen to excerpts of the Rock Opera that Christofer Johnsson and his ‘troops’ are currently working on.
All this, together with my appreciation for this unique band and the opportunity to once again interview Kristofer Johnsson in person, brought me to the entrance of the venue quite early on in the day.
Having conducted what I consider to be a quite successful and thoroughly enjoyable interview with both Christofer and his band’s front man Thomas Vikström, I was asked politely by Napalm Records to be inside the venue by 19:00 so as not to miss the performance from the Russian Pagan/Folk Metal quintet Arkona – something I intended to do anyway as I had heard positive things about the band’s music and stage performances in the past.
My intention was to make it to the photo pit early enough to take a few good shots for this review but, by the time I entered the venue, the place was packed. I stood back to enjoy the band’s performance – one that left me with mixed feelings.
As far as passion and energy on stage are concerned, the Russian combo had them by the bucket load and that is mainly due to the way Maria “Masha Scream” Arkhipova conducts herself when behind the mic.
Covered in layers upon layers of animal skin, the diminutive singer was pacing the stage like a woman possessed, one moment urging the crowd to sing along to the band’s melodic tunes while at other times choosing to throw shapes with her closest band mate, much to the enjoyment of the band’s numerous and fairly loud fans.
As far as style is concerned, these Russians do not sound that much different from bands like Eluveitie, however, what I found both off-putting and not very fitting were Arkhipova’s Death Metal growls – growls that were present throughout the band’s ten track set and which ruined the good vibe that her normal sounding vocal melodies had created when combined with the use of traditional folk instruments like bagpipes and kettle drums.
In saying so, however, it looks like I was part of the minority as the band received a raucous response from the crowd, with songs like “Akraim”, “Zakliatie” and “Arkona” prompting great rounds of applause.
It became fairly evident, moments after Therion began their “Vovin” set with the all-time classic “The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah” that the stage of The O2 Islington Academy was too small for a band of their stature but that did not stop Christofer Johnsson and Co from providing us with a brilliant show!
Supported by a clear powerful sound and choreographed to absolute perfection, the band, with the focus firmly set on Lori Lewis, won their fairly mixed London crowd in no time, while Thomas Vikström, the band’s outstanding front man, added a touch of brilliance on the follow-up “Birth Of Venus Illegitima”.
While a few people were still left wondering whether the man holding the bass on stage was indeed Snowy Shaw or not (note: actually it was a thoroughly entertaining giant of a man called Malle Pahlsson), Kristofer Johnsson and lead guitarist Christian Vidal compared their riff shredding skills during “Wine Of Aluqah”, while “Clavicula Nox” brought the band’s softest nuances to the surface.
With the remainder of the “Vovin” album having been performed with equal splendour and attention to detail, the time came for us to be introduced to excerpts of the band’s work-in-progress Rock Opera and the signs could not have been more positive. Kicking off with an eerie orchestral theme and led by Malle Pahlsson’s fat bass tunes, “Overture” is a commanding piece filled with intelligent time signatures on the guitar, while “End of Dynasty” is a commanding piece, written with Thomas Vikström’s powerful vocals in mind.
Far more theatrical and featuring brilliant performances from both male and female singers in the band, “Who’s Your God?” was by far the most impressive composition of all, with the pompous “Onda Toner” finishing not far behind. Having received the encouragement needed in order to continue with this gargantuan musical concept, Therion performed a few more classics for their passionate fans.
Even though renditions of both “The Flesh Of The Gods” and its follow up “Muspelheim” were highly enjoyable, it was when material from 1996’s “Theli” were performed, namely “Invocation Of Naamah” and “To Mega Therion”, that the venue was finally in danger of being set alight, while a clearly pleased Johnsson wrapped up things with a somewhat rushed but still professionally performed version of “Lemuria”.
Even though I strongly feel that a band of the stature and importance of Therion do not need any form of musical licence and direction from anyone, including their own fans, I was fairly pleased by the truly warm welcome that London provided the band with on the evening of the 20th of December.
Even though the stage of the O2 Islington Academy was not big enough, what this group of amazingly talented musicians have offered us in return was perhaps the most impressive and truly memorable live experience this year on UK soil. See – sometimes, it really pays to wait a while before compiling one’s ‘best of’ list for the year…
Arkona Set List:
- “Ot Serdtsa K Nebu”
- “Goi, Rode, Goi!”
- “Slav’sja Rus’!”
- “Stenka Na Stenku”
Therion Set List:
- “The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah”
- “Birth Of Venus Illegitima”
- “Wine Of Aluqah”
- “Clavicula Nox”
- “The Wild Hunt”
- “Eye Of Shiva”
- “Black Sun”
- “Morning Star”
- “Black Diamond”
- “Raven Of Dispersion”
Rock Opera Excerpts
- “End Of Dynasty”
- “Who’s Your God?”
- “Onda Toner”
- “Sad End”
Continuation of main Set + incorporated Encore
- “The Flesh Of The Gods”
- “Muspelheim” (without the Intro)
- “Invocation Of Naamah”
- “To Mega Therion”
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 20 December., imbued with a festive flavour to raise the spirits
More about Josh: http://getreadytorock.me.uk/blog/?s=%22Josh+Taerk%22
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 December 2020 and announces the results of the Popular Poll for Best of 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 20 December 2020 and includes Pete’s best of the year selections
Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
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09:00-12:00 UNRULY CHILD Our Glass House (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 SERGEANT STEEL Truck Tales (Boyz Tyme Records)
14:00-16:00 DAN REED Liftoff (Zero Entertainment)
Power Plays w/c 11 January 2021 (Mon-Fri)
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RAY FENWICK Tam Tam (Singsong Music)
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