Last Thursday I had the chance to attend my first metal concert at the Newport in Columbus, Ohio. I must confess "heavy metal" has never been my music of choice. Don't get me wrong like any mere mortal I like to get the "led" out every now and then. My cultural reference point for metal ends somewhere between Alice Cooper and Guns and Roses. Nevertheless metal endures as a vibrant genre of rock music with widespread popularity in Europe and Japan. And for a live show experience, expect an onslaught a loud, brash, energizing assault on the senses.
The first band, ReVamp, hails from the Netherlands. Lead singer, Floor Jansen, has multi-octave vocal range and a captivating stage presence evoking a Viking queen. As a Progressive Metal band, their music splits the difference between hard driving metal and haunting melodies - think Abba meets Black Sabbath. Although their set lasted only 30 minutes, I found their music the most adventurous.
Next came the Swedish band Sabaton, who are known for writing songs about history and war. Frontman Joakim Broden and the rest of his band, all wore camouflage, flap jackets, and sunglasses making them look like post-Apocalyptic soldiers from the Mad Max universe. Their 45 minute set had the feel of a victory feast after winning a great battle, right out of Beowulf or The Song of Roland. At one point, Broden introduced one song as a tribute to Audie Murphy entitled "To Hell and Back." Murphy, the legendary American soldier from WWII, went on to Hollywood to star in war films and westerns, most notably John Huston's brilliant adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage. I liked the song.
Iced Earth, the headliner, has a more traditional type of metal characterized by intense power chords played at a rapid machine gun fire rhythm. Their set list combined the hard metal with erstwhile power ballads. Lead singer Stu Block had a nice connection with the audience and made a special effort to acknowledge his band mates. With a nearly 20 year catalog of material, Iced Earth satisfied fans with songs from their new LP Plagues of Babylon and some favorite tracks from the past as well. Iced Earth answered the challenge of the previous two bands with a blistering, non-stop grouping of songs expressing a wide range of emotions.
Perhaps what separates metal concerts from others is the almost symbiotic relationship with the audience. Both feed off each other's energy. The phenomenon of moshing also occurred on a few occasions. For those who don't know, a mosh pit usually happens in the front center of the audience and consists of crowd members jumping and "slam dancing" into each other. You enter at your own risk (some bands highly discourage the practice).
Metal thrives as visceral music, hence it's highly theatrical in nature. It taps into deep seated emotions of anger, frustration, and hope. Metal owes much to the Gothic tradition of exploring the dark side of human nature and the mystery of existence itself. For fans, the music brings self-empowerment and a well adjusted way of viewing the world. I found the audience respectful of others and polite - making for an evening of exciting entertainment.