When I look at the lineups for upcoming shows, I tend to put them into three distinct categories: Those that assert themselves as a must-see, those I would really like to see, and those I can safely ignore either because I do not enjoy the main bands or because I have seen all the bands in the lineup before. So when I saw that after 20+ years, the mighty swamplords in Kalmah were finally doing a U.S. tour, I knew there was no way I was missing it. I had to be at work at 10 am the next morning so it meant driving all the way to Los Angeles and back in one night (100+ miles and roughly 2 hours each way). Seeing Kalmah, and with Vreid and Empyrean Throne no less? That made the long, difficult drive totally worth it. That plus the fact that I got in for free as a member of the press (thanks to Austin Griswold for making that happen).
I left later than I wanted to, the drive took longer than I thought it would, and as is always the case with L.A., it took a bit to find parking. The show was sold out so the venue was already packed when I got there there but The Hi Hat is a solid venue, especially for L.A., with carpeting and plenty of room for the loads of merch all the bands brought. Due to the factors previously mentioned, I missed the first band, Imperialist. I looked them up though and they sound pretty good. They play a brand of black metal with lyrics about space and the future and the riffs were pretty sweet so I will definitely be looking into them in the future. They are also signed to Transcending Obscurity Records, which is one of the top labels for underground extreme metal so that is pretty cool.
My first band of the night was Wormwitch, a Canadian black/crust band, who like their music loud, their riffs heavy and their tempos fast. They put on a killer show and the crowd seemed to be really into them. There was very little moshing in this set as the crowd was still getting warmed up and settling in but there was some decent movement and plenty of headbanging. I had never heard of these guys before but they impressed me enough to check out their studio output, which kicks tons of ass. You can definitely hear the crust influence in the heaviness of the riffs. They do use tremolo picking occasionally but most of the time, they are kicking your ass with heavy riffs, great black metal screams and pounding drum beats. They have a lot of songs on YouTube and as it happens, their entire live set from this show is on YouTube with good audio and video quality since the promoter was videoing the entire concert.
Next up was Empyrean Throne, a band I am intimately familiar with and have seen live many times. I first got wind of Empyrean Throne in 2014 when someone handed me a demo CD of theirs at the Carach Angren/Deicide show in Anaheim. I did listen to it and enjoyed it but I did not pay much other attention to it at the time since it was just a demo. Then I saw them with a host of other Orange County based bands at Fuzion in Huntington Beach and their stage show really impressed me so I started following them more closely and wound up seeing them a bunch of times in the three years I lived in Orange County. Their debut album, Chaosborne, came out in 2017 and it was fantastic (you can read my review of it here:
Their stage show is a chaos ritual that hearkens back to old school black metal with a modern and more creative spin on it. They also have lyrics in Latin that date back to the events of the 10th century Crusades as the audience chants “DEUS VOLT” along with them. Every time I see them, they have added an extra element to the chaos ritual to make it a more immersive experience with the latest being a chalice of blood that Andrew drinks from to spray the front few rows. These guys always put on a killer show and this was no exception with the crowd being super into it, the banners of chaos flying and the gold hands on pedestals, which come complete with a black candle that actually burns on stage. If you have not heard of these guys by now, do yourself a favor and get their album and make it a point to go see them live when they to a town near you.
Vreid was next to take the stage and this is where the real fun began as the crowd was fully warmed up and ready to mosh and headbang their hearts out. Vreid had a giant banner and was very professional about their set up, not taking very long to get everything up and sound checked. During that time though, Windir’s “Journey to the End” played over the PA, which was incredibly awesome and a fitting way to lead in to the sheer awesomeness that is Vreid. It only took a couple songs before the entire middle of the floor became one big mosh pit and from then on, the crowd was going nuts pretty much the entire time. Vreid did four songs from their newest album, Lifehunger, including the acoustic intro, plus “Pitch Black Brigade” and a host of other fantastic tunes from the great cold North. They were incredibly engaged with the crowd and sounded awesome. It was such an amazing and fun show and we can only hope that they will be back to the U.S. in the near future. What a band and what a treat for a sold out crowd to witness.
Finishing off the night was the mighty swamplords in Kalmah, one of the best and most widely loved bands in all of melodeath. The setup took a little longer because the crew had to take down Vreid’s banner to reveal Kalmah’s behind it but once the boys were ready to rock, it was go time and the crowd knew it. An even bigger part of the floor became one giant mosh pit and stayed that way until the band played their last note. Kalmah played their 70 minute set, doing at least one song from each of their killer albums, including “Seventh Swamphony,” “For the Revolution,” and a couple cuts from their newest record. Pekka is a really engaging frontman, a great musician and a real jokester on stage, which made the crowd love the show even more.
Since it was 4/20, he made a joke about not knowing what was going to happen after the gig since they had visited a smoke shop beforehand and a couple jokes about drinking, all of which were fun. His best jokes were the ones about him being an old man and how even he could play the less speedy songs. For one song, he divided the crowd in half and gave each side a Finnish curse word to yell at the appropriate times during the song. These things are always great fun because it really gets the crowd into it and having even more fun, no matter which side wins (pretty sure my side lost but great fun was had by all). At the end of their absolutely blistering and thoroughly entertaining set, the sold-out crowd started chanting “10 MORE SONGS.” They had already done 13 songs but that is what happens when you have a crowd who has been waiting 20 years to see you play. The band did not go offstage and make us wait for the encore. They simply ripped right into “The Black Waltz” followed by “Hades” to close out this immensely awesome show.