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Mekong Delta, Beehler, Pagan Altar, Vendetta, Enforcer @ Metal Merchants Festival, Oslo (NOR)

in Friday, 30 January 2009 at Metal Merchants Festival
by Erika Wallberg

Day One
Even if most of the things that could possibly go wrong went straight to hell; and this weekend was a pleasant glimpse of light in the cold winter dark. And cold was something that consistently was coming back over and over again this weekend. Not inside the venue though, 'Metal Merchants Festival' was a pleasant little event with a really warm and cozy atmosphere and of course a whole lot of nice music.

The slight delay that opened this event led to some anxious waiting in the entrance hall that got quite crowded before the doors opened. For this the temperature started to rise and thus my throat was getting really dry. Guess I wasn't alone because everyone seemed very thirsty and the bar got the most attention to start with. But to have ENFORCER to kick off the festival was a genius move, high octane NWOBHM-stylish music were bound to boost the party mood. The fun thing with ENFORCER is that they've managed to rip off every cliche, stereotype 80's idea of music without really stealing anything. Of course, most things they do were recognizable and could be related to a lot of bands from all years of Metal music but nothing was really stolen straight off.
They're just a strange mixture of new energy and nostalgia. ENFORCER sound better live than on album. The live sound is more forgiving and the small flosses that bugged me listening to Into The Night weren't notable at all this evening. Bands playing on the verge of the limit often feel much stressed but that wasn't the case with ENFORCER. Not even the extremely speedy version of JUDAS PRIEST's Tyrants felt over the edge.

Band's being or not can be questioned a lot these days. If the main part of the members still is in the band and they sort of feel the same I think it's ok. If not it more feels like riding on old credits rather than giving the fans something special. VENDETTA is sort of like that. One original member and not that much in common musically with was presented on Go And Live… Stay And Die and Brain Damage. Today's feel was a lot more modern and nu-aggro rather than the Old School Speed they did so well back then. Back at the second half of the 80's that is. Then I and a lot of other metalheads were blown away one Saturday afternoon when the radio-show 'RockBox' played On The Road. To me that was one of the coolest songs I've ever heard at that point and I wore the tape out in a few weeks. So yes, my anticipation for this was very high and maybe an unfair point to start with for VENDETTA. I actually wouldn't have mind at all if the old songs would have sounded as good and inspired as the new ones. Sure, it's probably impossible to recreate the vocal style that the mixture Daxx and Micky brought to the band. It took a while for the sound to be straightened out too, it was extremely raw to start with but everything can't be blamed on the sound.
At the 4th, 5th song something happened and VENDETTA delivered a few songs from latest release Hate, songs like Mother and Guerilla and it just sounded awesome. Dynamic, tight and just as much passion as Metal really need to have. Some more volume would have boosted all feelings a little more but that the band can't be held responsible for. When it turns out like this though I can't help but wonder why bands are doing this, why they decide to keep playing under the old name instead of a fresh start and a possibility to do what they really want.

Every now and then there are bands that make really strong impressions on you with their performances; but it's not at all as common that a band manages to knock you of your feet with the music alone. I've never experienced a band that delivers more passion through the music than PAGAN ALTAR but it wasn't just that.
PAGAN ALTAR have a way that makes their music tell stories and it was possible to feel exactly what the song was all about. Sorrow, joy, passion… all of them were delivered through the music alone. And it's very few granted to write such great melodies. Alan Jones has the ability to wipe the last tear drop out of his guitar and it makes such a colorful tone towards the heavy riffs and the equally astonishing vocal lines that's the trademark of PAGAN ALTAR. Perhaps, the music was too much retro for the new wave and too modern for the nostalgic because with one foot solidly in the 70's, more blues based version of Metal and the other equally stable in the NWOBHM genre it can be understandable that no record company swallowed the bait and signed them. Still, it must be one of the biggest mistakes made by the branch. It's so hard to see how a band of this caliber never landed a record deal. These days PAGAN ALTAR's music is quite accessible since Volume One finally was released on Oracle Records, who also released the subsequent albums Lords Of Hypocrisy and Mythical & Magical.
The stage-show perhaps left a little to wish for but that was nothing I even thought about until the last song. I guess the nature of the venue was absolutely perfect for them, not too big and not too small and a great support from the crowd. Reading about PAGAN ALTAR concerts in the early days their show seemed to be pretty spectacular with cloths, coffins and other effects. It would be really cool if they brought some of that back to the set again, the description alone brought a lot more mystique over the band. Still this is very impressive for a band who never really released an album.

Dan Beehler and Allan Johnson certainly screams EXCITER but this evening they appear under the name BEEHLER. Perhaps that's a little confusing but not as much the two versions of LA GUNS who both are touring the world under the same name. Still I think it's fair to question who has the right to the name, or perhaps who has the most authority to use it.

To me 2/4 of a band compared to 1/5 weighs the most but who am I to judge. But frankly, as long as they get along and keep kicking ass both of them I don't really care. Today's edition of EXCITER rocks and so does BEEHLER! Pounding Metal really describes everything, speed and power says the rest.

Compared to the other bands on the bill though I don't think BEEHLER held as high standard musically, they weren't as passionate as PAGAN ALTAR and not as tight as VENDETTA. Not that BEEHLER was bad in any way, not at all but the bill held such high standard it didn't take much to be knocked off the top of the ladder. Also the stage show gets a little if not strange, at least odd with the drummer as the lead singer. No matter how hard the others rock there's still something missing in the front. One thing that struck me though, on the rare occasion when then reduced the speed in the music is that Dan Beehler is one hell of a singer and it really is a shame he don't use his voice in a wider range that he do. Ok, that's not EXCITER but I could easily mention Carl Albert and Bruce Hall in the same breath as Dan. Now it was only in Black Witch he really can show off and it's absolutely amazing.

Judging on what types of music I listen to and worship these days it's completely impossible for me to understand how MEKONG DELTA never crossed my path. Sure, I've been having a lot of friends that thought they were the coolest band in the genre but they never got stuck on me. Until just recently at least, when I finally gave them a fair chance I was completely blown away.

Sure, their latest release Lurking Fear has quite a lot to wish for when it comes to production but the music on the album is absolutely great. To me it wasn't all fair to put them at the end of the bill the first day, the delays during the day chased people away before the evening really ended and the floor emptied quite fast after PAGAN ALTAR already. Even if it didn't seem to matter for MEKONG DELTA I thought they deserved a lot more response than they got.

It all sounded absolutely prefect, the sound was well balanced without being too cleaned out. Normally this type of technical music can lose a lot of power when it's put up on a stage but just as with NEVERMORE the intensity and power was still there without affecting the clarity in the guitar sound. My only concern with MEKONG DELTA was that the band feeling was gone; it felt more like putting excellent musicians up on stage rather than a band. Martin LaMar pointed out afterwards that they absolutely were a band and not a project. I don't doubt that and that wasn't my point, it was just the feeling I got while watching them play. Martin is both an excellent singer and a great frontman and the others ended up a little in the background behind him. The balance of the stage show wasn't perfect but it's easy to look past that when was musical perfection instead.
And this wraps up the first day of the 'Metal Merchants Festival.' Go ahead and learn what happened during the next day…
(photos by 'Erich Zann' Erika)





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