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Live Review: Ensiferum, Septicflesh, and Arsis

The Finnish folk metallers known as Ensiferum have returned to North America, still going strong on their worldwide promotion of their 2017 release Two Paths. Admittedly, I never considered that these two paths might be the United States and Canada, but the band has already begun defying my expectations in numerous ways by trekking across the entire continent, with Septicflesh and Arsis tagging along for good measure. I was lucky enough to catch this lineup at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City, towards the very beginning of the tour.

The Gramercy tends to avoid local openers in my experience, so Arsis was the first act to face the crowd. I was a bit nervous for them to open because they play a delicately balanced style of technical death metal (somewhat akin to early The Black Dahlia Murder, if you aren’t familiar) that could easily be tarnished by a bad mix. Sure enough, Arsis began to play and the drumming was way too loud and drowned out the other instruments, at least during blast beats or other sections heavy on the bass drum. But even with this annoying handicap, the band really did put on a tight performance that was overall enjoyable and worth watching. The rest of the crowd didn’t seem to mind either and was fully engaged and energetic right from the start. I was also happy with how many tracks from their debut album A Celebration of Guilt that Arsis managed to slip into the setlist considering how brief their set was.

I could be wrong, but it seemed like Arsis and Septicflesh were sharing a drumkit; it would certainly explain how Septicflesh was able to set up so quickly. There must be a pretty significant overlap in the Septicflesh and Ensiferum fanbases as well because the crowd was already at peak excitement by the time the pre-recorded orchestral intro began to play. Overall, Septicflesh seemed pretty dependent on backing tracks for the actual content of their music (which is understandable, considering that an orchestra isn’t something you can just casually set up behind you). However, actual content of the music aside, their frontman has a fantastic stage presence and really went all-in on physically engaging the crowd, even reaching out for some high-fives mid-song. I have to hand it to the band, what easily could have been a phoned-in and artificial performance was handled expertly and passionately and turned into a lively and dynamic experience. The only real complaint I have is that they went a little overboard with the flashing lights; it felt like a conglomeration of every Christmas decoration in suburban America was being thrown directly into my eyes.

To finish off the night, the unimaginable happened: Ensiferum played at an Ensiferum concert. They played a healthy variety of tracks from their entire discography, dating all the way back to the debut. I was expecting this tour to be heavily biased towards Two Paths given how recent its release was, but I’m not about to complain about hearing Victory Songs live. The live setting also had the unique advantage of bringing tracks old and new into the same physical space and making the ever-so-slightly modernized versions of earlier songs indistinguishable from new material.  As for the actual performance, Ensiferum forwent any gimmicky stage props or decorations and chose to fill the void entirely with their own antics. Both of their guitarists and the bassist were on vocal duty, and accordingly, there were three microphones set up on stage; but these positions were not set in stone. Everyone but the drummer (understandably) was constantly dancing around and switching from mic to mic whenever they felt like it, sometimes even sharing a mic purely for the hell of it. It was a bit goofy, for sure, but more importantly, it was fun and extremely memorable.

Ensiferum’s Path to Glory tour across North America with Septicflesh and Arsis continues until January 29th. See their official website for a full listing of dates and ticket options.

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