Jaxx is everything you expect a metal club in Springfield, Virginia to be. The club, with a broken neon sign, sits comfortably between an Afghani restaurant and a mattress depot. Interested participants can also peruse the Korean DVD store, the third rate computer outlet, or get your tires filled at the Sunoco. Jaxx, surprisingly, is a large promoter of European heavy metal, and is the only place to see decent shows -- with any consistent basis -- in the DC metropolitan area. Jaxx also promotes local and regional talent, as well as bootstrapping multiple bands on one show. A perfect example of this is the Finnish pride parade known to many as the Finntroll / Ensiferum double feature.
Finntroll and Ensiferum complement each other, as both explore folk avenues as well as Finnish heritage. The pre-Christian elements of the music led to an interesting cross section of audience members, including fantasy hobbyists, Scandophiles, Viking metal stragglers and a large number of people in warpaint. The atmosphere mimicked a mead hall, if said mead hall was located in a strip mall on a Wednesday night. There was an inebriated gentleman waving a Finnish flag while consuming beers as if engaged in a drinking contest with an invisible opponent. He will have a larger part in this story, but for now, the two opening bands were Barren Earth and Rotten Sound.
Both supporting bands also hail from Finland, but shared none of the headliner's embrace of the sixth century. Both bands did an admirable job of supporting, despite Jaxx's sometimes infamous legacy of poor sound. Barren Earth got the worst of said treatment, as their brand of melodic death metal was interwoven with irritating feedback. This unfair treatment is common with supporting bands, and makes the members exude a crestfallen demeanor. Perhaps someday the tables will turn and Finntroll will receive the lackadaisical sound treatment, but until then, Barren Earth's performance is another chapter in the trials of a supporting band.
Finntroll and Ensiferum shared the headlining banner and switched slots throughout their tour. Ensiferum was first, and gained the most amount of people during their long setup. The stage was filled with copious amounts of dry ice as their digital banner went through a series of Windows 95 screensaver modes. It was around the time when their logo was being filled with colored pipes the lights lowered as the band members took the stage. One thing I always look forward to is when the band members skip needless formalities and begin their performances sans shirts.
Ensiferum has been active for over a decade with four albums and a laundry list of band members. In the early '00s, the Wintersun side project of Jari Mäenpää fractured the band, leading to Petri Lindroos taking over vocal duties. In fact, second guitarist Markus Toivonen is the only surviving member, as Ensiferum has had their ranks decimated over ten years. The hodgepodge of band members did not detract from the performance, as Ensiferum did what they do best: pumping up the crowd with victory songs. The MVP for stage presence went to bassist Sami Hinkka, as his long hair, beard and performance as a mad Finnish warrior was more than enough to keep audiences interested. Hinkka's performance outshone everyone else, as a solo upon a flaming bass would not be unexpected.
Ensiferum's albums are decent and deserving of attention. However, the one criticism I have with Ensiferum is the same thing which made me tired by the end: despite rousing anthems of conflict and ultimate victory, the majority, if not all the songs feel the same, with little variety. Audiences can expect a sing along chorus to segment a harsh verse before a possible melodic interlude. I hate to be the guy who asks whether or not we have to successfully storm the castle -- for the fifth time today.
Halfway through Ensiferum's set, the Finnish flag bearer won his imaginary drinking contest. With amazing grace, he pushed his way through the crowd in the same way a blind gorilla would construct a model airplane. Being upfront was obviously not enough, as the patron whipped his flag around like a colored T-shirt at a football game. I noticed the flag constantly hitting another patron in the face, which spoke of unbridled and surmounting rage. During a particularly heavy transition, the enraged patron wrapped his arms around the offender and threw him to the back with remarkable speed and force. I would not be surprised if there existed a few seconds of mid-air flight. The now cooling patron crossed his arms and enjoyed the ending of "Deathbringer From the Sky". Ensiferum finished the set without stumble or surprise. I would've liked to see a switching of slots, as the close of Ensiferum's set brought a cleaving of the audience. Over half of the patrons vanished, leaving mostly hairy men to crowd around the stage for Finntroll.
Finntroll was my first introduction into a heavier folk metal. Since 2001's _Jaktens Tid_, I have regularly checked in with Finntroll to marvel at their construction of a Finnish Mordor. Finntroll, like Ensiferum, has had more than their share of member departures, including the death of guitarist Teemu Raimoranta. Finntroll's setup was shorter, and they entered the stage with radiating energy and leather kilts.
Finntroll's set rippled with frenzied excitement and chaotic bliss. The band members appeared to already be at 110% by the beginning of "Slaget Vid Blodsälv". Finntroll's music embraces black metal in only the ferocious qualities, leaving high energy beats with shrieks and cries resting on top. While the band released _Nifelvind_ in 2010, this did not stop them from pulling from deep within the past. One of the highlights of the show was "Midnattens Widunder" from the debut album of the same name. Finntroll's emphasis in early albums was placed in the sound of heads being separated from spinal columns. The maelstrom which is Finntroll reaches the level of bliss when the music becomes so fast, audience members are unable to move in any sort of rhythm. Patrons of Jaxx were left to just shake their face back and forth, possibly with black troll blood spewing from side to side.
While Ensiferum's Hinkka took the MVP for stage presence, the golden trophy for the night goes to Finntroll's third vocalist Mathias Lillmåns. Lillmån's hellish persona and ability to hold screams for minutes turned that little Northern Virginian strip mall into a Finnish forest inhabited with unthinkable creatures. Mathias also receives another award for "least understandable", as the combination of foreign song titles, thick accent and the tendency to scream the name of the song at the beginning made any sort of set list impossible. I could write it out, but it would be hilarious and look like it was translated into Ogre. Well, no matter. While the crowd slowly retreated to their beds, Finntroll played on into the night, unearthing ancient evils and thick furred creatures with razor sharp claws. The band did not seem phased by the dwindling numbers, and played like they have been doing so for the past fifteen centuries.