A View From the Pit




Earlier this month I caught Eluveitie, Holy Grail and System Divide at NYC’s Gramercy Theater at the beginning of their month-long North American trek [check Eluveitie’s tour blogs]. Unfortunately 3 Inches of Blood were trapped in Cleveland (the horror!) due to van problems, so I was bummed to learn I wouldn’t be catching them on this day… but no matter, I’ve seen their rockage before and I’m sure they’ll be back again. Eluveitie reminded me of what folk metal is like when it’s done exceedingly well, Holy Grail lived up to my expectations of having lots of shred and lots of hair, and System Divide… well, uh, they were there too.

After the jump, further thoughts on all three bands, and plenty of photos from the show.

System Divide were completely laughable. Too many generic riffs, too many band members, too serious, too many black work t-shirts, too many overdubbed bass drops. I got the feeling that the players in the band are probably plenty competent on their own, but were suckered into playing below their level in this band for one reason or another (the allure of a record deal?). I’m not sure if this was Metal Blade’s attempt at the next Lacuna Coil or what, but the only people I can see really falling for this gimmick are teenagers who don’t know there are dozens of bands who do the same thing much better, and did it five or ten years ago.

Holy Grail were everything I thought they’d be live; ferocious, full of shred, tight, energetic, and holy hell, tons of hair. Crisis in Utopia was one of my favorite records of 2010, and though the lineup has changed since the record was recorded it was incredibly fun to experience these songs live. That’s the thing about Holy Grail… fun. You could bring a friend who’s never heard Holy Grail before —  like most of the audience at this particular show, I’d guess — and they’d have no choice but to fist-pump and headbang along to the wicked twin-guitars of Eli Santana and whoever is playing rhythm guitar right now. Holy Grail have the added benefit of a good frontman in vocalist James Paul Luna, who had the pit whipped into a frenzy in front of him. Even the older heshers next to me who preferred to watch from the sidelines had smug smiles on their face throughout the set, which was totally and thoroughly enjoyable. That should be the band’s new tagline: “Holy Grail: Enjoyable.”

It had been a while since I’d last seen Eluveitie live, and though I’d known all along this band stands out from the pagan/folk metal pack I’d forgotten why; they are remarkably free of gimmicks, and their music is air-tight. Don’t get me wrong… gimmicks can be fun in this genre, i.e. Turisas. But those gimmicks tend to lose their charm, and it’s hard to take those bands seriously. Eluveitie don’t wear war-paint or animals skins, they don’t have an elaborate stage show, they don’t go to great lengths to try and convince you they’re legit; they just play music, and they do it really well. Some might call the 9-piece band thing a gimmick, but what was most remarkable about Eluveitie’s set is that every instrument plays an important role in the overall sound. That they write excellent, catchy songs that are the perfect cross between Gothenburg metal and folk metal is what drives it all home, and they delivered these songs live with remarkable clarity, consistency, and passion.

MS photo czar Jacqueline Cheng was unable to attend this show, but John Greco did an admirable job of catching all the action in her sted. Check those photos out below.


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