On a Wednesday night, on the outskirts of Washington D.C., a flood of people packed into The Fillmore Silver Spring for a night of metal mayhem. Camo pants were being sported by a great many, and I even noted one individual wearing a pauldron. Everyone was fully prepared to rock out this Wednesday evening, March 7, 2018, and rock they did to sounds from European soils: Cyhra, Kreator, and Sabaton.
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The opening act was one I had only begun to hear about: the part Swedish, part Finnish, part German conglomerate known as Cyhra. Formed of former members of In Flames, Amaranthe, Shining, and Annihilator (as well as a concurrent member of Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody), the mere thought of this band peaks the interest before any music hits your ears. Described by vocalist, Jake E, as “really catchy metal,” you can totally understand what he says from the opening notes of their debut, Letters To Myself. After listening to this release, which truly doesn’t copy any of their previous acts, I was surprised, wondering how they could possibly pull off this material in concert without losing some aspect of the studio magic. But you know, they made it work surprisingly well! In fact, the band was extremely animated and had the audience in the palm of their hands. “Pretend you’re at a 70s Scorpions concert!” Jake E shouted, answered by the glow of hundreds of cellphones waving in the air, screens ablaze.
For whatever reason, bassist Peter Iwers couldn’t make the North American tour. Regardless of this unfortunate occurrence, the veteran foursome who were present put on one hell of a performance, and fans were saddened when they had reached the end of their set. I heard at least one person who hadn’t heard them prior to this proclaim, “I’ve got to get a copy of this album” after the music had ceased.
The thrash legends, Kreator, were up next. Personally, I thought this would be a jarring change from the melody-driven music of the opener, and I wasn’t wrong! The night took a left turn from its existing direction and entered a world claimed by the Flag Of Hate. This world was full of staccato stage lighting (not recommended for those with epileptic episodes), circle pits, crowd surfing, and headbangers in the rafters. Frontman Mille Petrozza pronounced “We heard Maryland is known for one thing…its moshpits!” much to the chagrin of the security in the room. Not less than a few times were myself and other photographers moved aside to catch impending crowdsurfers.
The German metallers pulled out songs from nine albums of their catalog, going all the way back to their 1985 debut, Endless Pain, though the majority of tracks came from their two most recent albums, Phantom Antichrist and Gods Of Violence. Needless to say, fans were overjoyed.
Sabaton, I am sad to say, is another failure on my part of not being familiar with them sooner. The name has rung a bell for years, but I had never sat down and listened to their material. I was surprised to find myself in the realm of anthemic, military heavy metal. Caught between dueling guitars, war helmet mic stands, and goofing off…I was caught filled with joy. This is what I imagine happens when every member of the band is an extrovert. I swear, every word of every song was sung by the audience, mirroring Joakim Brodén’s lead vocals, to the point where it was difficult to differentiate who I was actually hearing. Every so often the crowd would be moved to the point of leaping in unison, and I felt the building trembling by the combined force of their return to Earth alongside the reverberating speakers.
But I think the point where I really realized this band is truly amazing was when, mid-verse, guitarist Tommy Johansson came over to Joakim, who was kneeling down, and literally knocked him over. “What the—?!“ sputtered the frontman, before Johansson sat on him, all while continuing to play guitar and Brodén struggled to get up. After a couple of seconds the guitarist ceased his assault, and Joakim returned to his feet, singing while attempting not to laugh, and throwing the bird at Johansson. The crowd ate it up, and so did I. In the words of Frank Zappa, “shall we take ourselves seriously?” The answer, my friends, is clearly no.
With each brief intermission the band took, whether to get a drink of water or to change guitars, chants of “SA-BA-TON!” echoed through the venue. From my vantage point, I could see the band members laughing each time it occurred, because it arrived so quickly after they ceased playing! “We should tour here more often,” Brodén stated, “because you all, on a WEDNESDAY, are a more lively audience than some places we’ve played on the weekend.” And it’s true. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a more energetic crowd, here or at any other venue. There was a remarkable electricity running through the building, and it was one I was sad to see come to an end. And while the North American tour has come to an end as well, you should do your darndest to catch any of these bands in concert, wherever you might find them. You will not find disappointment.