(Live Review) DRAGONFORCE + SUPPORT - House of BLues, Chicago (11/10/23)
By The Beard & Little Johnny
Greetings Little Johnny and Beard fans. Beard put me in charge of this show because he has been booking a lot of stops to see bands whose prime was long before my time and, (although some of them were really good), it’s high time to get back to metal. (Ed: Way to take charge Johnny!) So tonight, for our 65th show this year, we are at the House of Blues in Chicago to catch bands #280-283 including:
Nanowar of Steel
Edge of Paradise
As always, I will be in the pit at the front of the stage drinking IPA’s and looking for a nice wave to surf on or a pit to bang in. Beard called his connection and is somewhere upstairs in the VIP section probably drinking expensive whiskey with his pinky curled. Old man just doesn’t know how to really enjoy a metal show. I don’t really know much about the bands, (that’s Beards business), he’s the pen of this team, I’m the sword. So, I’m going to kick this over to him and chat up the cute brunette with all the tattoos. All yours Beard.
Thank you Johnny, well, he’s not wrong in that I am upstairs seated, with a nice view and a nicer drink. He enjoys these concerts his way and I enjoy them mine. First up tonight was Los Angeles act Edge of Paradise, a five-piece band with female fronted vocals, heavy guitars and some influences of both classical and industrial. Edge of Paradise have released five full length albums since 2013 including their latest Hologram in 2023. The Beard has always been a mark for this style and singer Margarita Monet is on the Beards top five list of hottest vocalists I’ve seen this year.
EDGE OF PARADISE
The act itself was a bit dark with a lot of back lighting and some green glowing attire from vocalist Margarita Monet's unique cape-like covering, and guitarist David Bates outfit. The vocals were fine, Monet can most definitely sing, but I would have enjoyed them being a little clearer.
The guitars were good, and the drumming was solid. There was kind of a Lacuna Coil thing going on, but without the harsh male vocals. This was a solid opening 30 minutes and after the set, Monet came back out for a quick victory lap soaking in the crowd adulation. The Beard is going 82/100, (although they did have one of the best shirts at the merch table, and afterwards that one was my purchase.)
Little Johnny had to accept no pits for this band, but I envied his close-up view of Monet's performance. Luckily, the Beard was able to meet her after the show and grab a quick picture for my growing “Beard & The Band” collection. (Ed: You dog!)
NANOWAR OF STEEL
Second up were a tongue in cheek Italian act calling themselves Nanowar of Steel. Clearly the joke being made at bands like Manowar and Rhapsody (who changed their name adding “of Fire” due to a legal dispute). On Nanowar’s merch, the words “of Steel” are printed in a way that makes it look like it was hastily added on. The Beard found that funny, but the crowd was a bit split on the idea of a band making fun of the genre they were there to see. (Ed: I'm surprised that they noticed given the cheesiness of the sub-genre. Heh, heh.)
Catching fire on YouTube in 2019 with the song "Norwegian Reggaeton" (which now has something like 22-million views), this Italian act showed metalheads can laugh at themselves. After all, most of us loved This is Spinal Tap and Steel Panther still rakes in the crowds with their parody of hair bands. Nanowar of Steel’s online success led to their 2019 Christmas release Valhallelujha (which was dedicated to Odin & IKEA.) Once again, I find that funny.
Other releases continued to poke fun at rock & metal bands with titles such as Into Gay Pride Ride, A Knight at the Opera, Stairway to Valhalla and the most recent Dislike to False Metal. This is a band that one either laughs with or sullenly stares at.
Coming out like the “Metal” Village People, they started with the song “Your Anus”. It was a crowd singalong. This band is one you need to see the pictures of as descriptions can’t do them justice. Singer Carlo Fiaschi was a cross between Rob Halford and Freddy Mercury if you turned the gay factor up to eleven. Co-Vocalist Raffaello Venditti wore both a skirt and wig of pink. Guitarist Valerio Storch was a Chippendale Santa, Edoardo Carlesi was the orange wigged and dark sunglasses clad bassist, and I never got a great look at drummer Alessandro Milone. Again, I strongly suggest you check out the pictures on my Facebook site. Little Johnny just stood there, mouth agape like Beavis when he first saw a Vanilla Ice video.
Although some songs were in Italian, this was a fun set in that anything can happen kind of way. I haven’t enjoyed a chaotic set like this since the drunken dwarves of Windrose. One song involved the story of how to make Burzum smoked salmon. You place a salmon on a rock and then burn down the church next to it. Funny, (If you know your black metal history.) These guys tickle my funny bone. Like Steel Panther, Nanowar of Steel can actually play, and sing, (which just makes the whole thing funnier at least to me.) Johnny however just texted me “What the ever loving €#%¥ IS this?” Ha-ha, “You booked it little dude.”
Their final number "Valhalleluja" was dedicated to Odin and Ikea. They did it like a gospel metal song, and while it was going on, Fiaschi, while singing, also built a small table and then threw it to the crowd. You had to be there. (Ed: Now I really wish I was!)
I’m going 91/100 for a great original set. This was like watching the Metal Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Third up this evening was Swedish act Amaranthe who could be described as anything from power metal to melodic death to symphonic. They have released six albums since 2011, the latest being Manifest in 2020 (although there is a new one planned for early next year which they promoted and played a song from). With three singersin this six person act, covering the plethora of clean, harsh, and operatic vocalst, they presented a lot to take in.
These guys hit hard. They have all the parts, meaning everyone in the band fills their role perfectly making the unit better than the simple sum of its parts. They are in some ways the hardest sounding band tonight and Little Johnny is jumping and bouncing in anticipation of some pitting and/or surfing.
Vocally, there is a mix of clean (from both Elize Ryd, and Nils Molin) and harsh from Mikael Sehlin, but the three-person combination works very well and drew a big crowd reaction. Amaranthe are like Halestorm-meets-metalcore.
On the one hand that might create some dislike as pop fans likely find them “Too Metal” while hardcore metal fans might find them “Too Pop”. The Beard personally likes the amalgamation of the styles. They are a high energy act and throughout the set some small pits did break out. This band, in my opinion, for its many facets, had no weak spots. Everyone was good in their position. I found them both professional and extremely entertaining.
Adding in a great crowd response and the Beard is cracking a cold one with an unexpected 95/100. I could not find fault with anything in this set.
Headliner Dragonforce has been a longtime staple in the power metal world for over 20 years. They have often been grouped as one of the big four of power metal with Helloween, Blind Guardian and Sabbaton. (Ed: Don't you dare sully the thrash metal sub-genre!) Known for their long and complicated guitar solos, Dragonforce are touring behind a new album Warp Speed Warriors.
While Dragonforce have had a lot of lineup changes, superb guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman remain constants from the beginning, and their second lead vocalist Marc Hudson has been with them for twelve years. The newest member, Bassist Alicia Vigil, joined in 2020, but fits in nicely with the group dynamic (which is essentially allowing Li and Totman to solo, solo, and solo some more.)
Dragonforce came with the million-dollar light show. They do not skimp on giving the fans a lot to look at. Technically, Dragonforce are the Dream Theater of the power metal set.
Sporting a good look and audience engagement, along with a high pitch sonic assault, vocals by Marc Hudson can stand up to the "there are never too many guitar leads" sustained attack from Li and Totman who trade endlessly on some numbers. This meets the definition of power metal. While the Beard grew up on Manowar and Helloween, if I had been a few years younger I could just as easily have been a hardcore Dragonforce fan.
During a technical difficulty with Li’s guitar, Little Johnny and the crowd enjoyed the impromptu “chug contest” the band members engaged in. While drummer Gee Anzalone passed (as a non-beer drinker), the others all chugged a beer on-stage while Li’s guitar issues were addressed.
One song ("Tri-Force") involved three giant stuffed chickens being chucked around by the crowd for the entire song. It was a dedicated effort that several times these giant stuffed chickens made it all the way to House of Blues third balcony level. Although honestly I lost track of the song because I was watching where the chickens went, still, that was fun. Johnny also found both a few smaller pits and a couple smaller crowd waves to surf up to the front of stage on, so he was also happy.
Although The Beard was not familiar with many songs in the set, "Black Fire" was a masterpiece in combining aspects of thrash, power, and speed. The encore saw two enormous dragons (one on each side of the stage) as the band played well past the 11:00pm expectations with a four-song encore wrapping up with their mega-hit “Through the Fire & The Flame.”
Overall, Dragonforce gave us all of what they were, and the Beard must throw an 89/100 for it: Probably not as high as the hardcore true Dragonforce fans might have hoped for, but very good, nonetheless. I also suspect this wasn’t “quite” as intense as Johnny might have wanted, but it was most definitely “Back to the Metal”.
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Until next time...