Paganfest has been a huge success worldwide amongst heathen meatheads and their kin, and so at last the celebrated tour came to London - after disappointingly missing a stop in England in 2009 - with a renewed passion and vengeance! On the bill this evening were patriotic Russian metallers Arkona, Bavarian Varg, Dornenreich, Eluveitie (making a welcome return to our shores) and headliners Finntroll, who were back surprisingly soon after touring the UK only a matter of months ago.
The 02 Islington venue, parked oddly in the middle of a shopping complex, provided a welcome relief from standing in the freezing air whilst queuing, and an excellent spot to pitch a camp or two and nestle down with a bottle of mead whilst waiting for the evening to begin. Which of course diligently and in true pagan style, my clan and I did! What's the legendary Paganfest without some traditional pagan drink at your elbow, and braving the freezing winds (ahem, of England) in a hardy manner, keeping an eye out for attacking Gauls?
After some documented trouble at the border, the tourbuses rolled in at little past noon. Finnish giants and Paganfest regulars Finntroll, as ever, were lovely guys, hanging around the doors on a very prolonged and hungover fag break and being very warm and affable- even for trolls (even though, bless him, Sami had 'just woken up'. At that point, it was 4pm). Eluveitie, too, were hanging around the venue, and I was lucky enough to jam with Chrigel (an extremely nice man, and seemed very, very happy at me and Mazza's Swiss flag - hell, she got a marriage proposal. I however, got a blank look and the notification that I lack tits. Ah well). All in all, the only band to be arses was Arkona - Masha was in a right old huff and very unapproachable; we put it down to PMT. Many fags, pictures and hugs later, doors opened!
Doors opened promptly, despite the apparent trouble with Customs, and the gig went underway smoothly. Arkona, despite being extremely unapproachable outside the venue unlike the other bands, put on a relatively good show and it was clear that the audience definitely appreciated Masha's strong female vocals as a contrast to the nearly all-male line-up within the other bands. For the more Finntroll-orientated crowd, Arkona's upbeat folk metal was well received, the costumes and dancing all adding to the theatrical element.
Varg next, and while they were a 'good' band, like Dornenreich who followed, they were no where near outstanding. To my eyes, the costumes were painfully ripped off from Turisas, even though the music was blacker and less melodic. Not boring, and certainly kept the crowd's momentum up, but nothing to write home about. Similarly, despite having a small fanbase of staunch fans, Dornenreich's set did nothing for me. Arguments I have to agree with is that they didn't have the 'X' factor to them, that spark that can keep duos captivating the audience, and in my opinion had they any longer on stage, half of the audience would have drooped under the blandness of it all. Certainly a more original 'style' within the folk metal base, but their desire for difference couldn't stave off our heathen lust for some real drinking music.
On to the co-headliner of the night, the Swiss opus that is Eluveitie! Their set began with the ethereal opening track of their new album Everything Remains (As It Never Was); Otherworld, and as Chrigel has stated, gave off a mystical 'Galadriel-esque' aura (for those Lord Of The Rings fans amongst you). Bringing the real dancing music back to Paganfest was track after track of, must I say, a far more metal-orientated Eluveitie. But it is clear that they've not forgotten their roots, and folk instrumentation, especially excellent hurdy-gurdy work, was prevalent and consistent throughout each new song. From delectable tune and new single Thousandfold, to immense crowd-pleaser (and bagpipe'd) Inis Mona and acoustic track Omnos, Eluveitie's performance was a showcase of what the pinnacle of folk metal achievement is: uplifting, wild and just damn addictive.
After that performance, Finntroll, the certified headliners, just couldn't cut the mustard. Indeed, I might say that they were (gasp!) overshadowed by Eluveitie that night. Many people were just too exhausted to go crazy for their performance, and even myself, a die-hard member of Team Troll, couldn't exert myself much further. That being said, Finntroll's performance as ever was powerful, and included behemoths from their latest album Nifelvind (a masterpiece combining a satanic carnival, troll punk and black metal), including atmospheric opener Dråp, bouncy traditional Finntroll-esque Under Bergets Rot (the acoustic of which features a quote: 'kazoo army') and Solsagan - whose chorus is a garble of joiky nonsense. In a good way. Highlight of the set was frontman Mathias receiving a 'present' from the crew, which turned out to be a box of Disney princess items - an in-joke I'm not sure I want to know about...
On the whole, this wasn't the best Paganfest line-up. But with two sterling headliners, and with Eluveitie's earth-moving performance, it was definitely worth it.