I guess a good way to initiate this monthly column would be a little introduction, right? …wrong! True Vikings know that you must send a big HAIL ODIN out when favorable things are happening and you must send another Hail over to Freyr for continued success and prosperity!
Brendan Biryla is my name (pronounced Bur-ril-a) and I’m a Los Angeles based metalhead. (Venice Beach to be exact, which I lovingly call Viking Beach). By day, I work in the tech startup world and by night I’m an epic metal warrior and a desperately-trying-to-get-good guitar player. Obviously, I support all forms of heavy metal as I'm sure you do, but I particularly gravitate towards Viking/ folk/ black/ pagan/ power/ melodic death/ pirate/ prog-power and any other derivative heathen metals.
Nearly two years ago when I was living in Hollywood I had the opportunity to establish a small radio program on 99.3FM. The result of that can be found at this location, which is now an online show that I produce out of my apartment in Venice with whichever metalheads want to stop by that week. Recently I began to get the urge to write about metal again. I think that very same day I found @MetalAsFuck on twitter, and here I am.
Last note before we begin. I’m not a native of Los Angeles so I will not be writing from a position of expertise on LA metal. Rather, I hope to share with you my experiences in assimilating into the scene here and the wisdom imparted upon me by some of the many up and coming bands located in this great city. You can follow me on twitter here.
Back in March of this year I went to the Pagan Knights Tour which featured Tyr, Alestorm and Suidakra, (the latter being good friends of Hollywood Metal Radio). As you might expect, the show absolutely owned. Each band had a memorable performance. Since this is not a review of the show I’ll save my gushing thoughts about the performances. What I will tell you though is that there were two remarkable local bands also on that ticket: Phlegethon [melodic black metal] and Statius [melodic death/neoclassical metal]. Both bands impressed but Statius really stole the show. Here’s a clip of these guys:
As a testament to their awesomeness, Alestorm stole their bear mascot later in the show. You can watch this one here too:
Since this show I’ve become good friends with both of these bands and have learned a lot about what’s happening on the front lines of LA metal. Last Saturday Statius came down to Venice for episode 74 of Hollywood Metal. We had a great conversation about their recently pressed EP and the LA metal scene. It was very enlightening and I will share some of the excellent points made by the band.
Jed Kurtzman, the band’s bass player, brought up a very interesting point about the LA metal scene, and I’d venture to say that this is a trend in most cities as well. Jed explains that many so called metalheads in this city mistakenly believe that they are part of the LA metal scene when they just aren’t. To paraphrase, “just because you go to an Arch Enemy or Lamb of God show once every six months doesn’t make you part of the metal scene". What makes you part of the scene is your willingness to attend local shows at dive bars regularly and often without prior knowledge of half the bands on the bill ahead of time. There are active metalheads and then there are passive metalheads.
In the days before digital media proliferation, live performance was the catalyst for new music discovery. Tapes were passed around, bands were introduced to promoters, merchandise was distributed. Basically, the metal economy was built on these local metal nights and the people who came out often to see there city’s local talent. (Even if you had to sneak in underage.) Nowadays, digital media has created a situation where so-called metalheads no longer feel the need to attend live shows because they can consume hours of music streams daily on social networks, and an infinite amount of video content on YouTube right from the comfort of their room. I’m talking to you Mr Pseudo-metalhead surrounded by posters of bands you think are good because your social media profile is littered with advertisements from major labels cramming their latest bullshit-screamo-metalcore band down your throat, while the true metalheads are rocking out to Viking metal on their way to a heathen foray/epic black metal show in West Los Angeles.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against digital media in the slightest. I’m guilty of spending an absurd amount of time using social media to discover new bands from distant lands. I’ve even uploaded some great videos to youtube of concerts I’ve been to in the hopes that the footage will help introduce my favorite local bands to metalheads outside of LA. The difference though is that I still love to support the local metal scene by hopping on the LA Metro 33 or the 702 Rapid Express Bus into Hollywood every other week to see a show or two. Fostering a healthy metal scene is all about maintaining a healthy balance of digital-live music consumption. Ask any metal band that has, or is currently paying their dues in the metal world. I’m sure every one of them has seen an increase in the number of shows where the audience is comprised mainly of other bands on the ticket, plus a few warriors like myself. The quality of any one particular metal scene depends largely on the willingness of its metal fans to come out regularly to local shows.
The local scene is a two-way street, however. It is equally, mostly likely even more, imperative that the bands recognise the importance of putting on a great show. In an era where most bands pay their bills by playing live shows instead of selling records, bands need to treat every performance as if it’s their one and only audition for metal success. It would be easy to sit here and criticise the pseudo-metalheads all day about not attending shows, but the bottom line is that bands needs to get their fanbase talking. Word of mouth is, and will always, be the most powerful form of message communication.
To reach the kids who are glued to YouTube and get them to come to your shows, you have to impress some people in their direct communication channels so that their peers are the ones serving as your band's marketing and promotions engine. We’ve all been to shows anticipating greatness based on some excellent demos or EPs, only to be disappointed by lethargic band members and zero crowd connection. Conversely, and evidenced by my new friends in Statius, a superb live performance and audience connection compels your local metal scene to seek out your band’s shows and spread the word about local greatness.
It is with this in mind that I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about my fellow heathen warriors, Statius. These guys roam the San Fernando Valley and west LA spreading their epic blend of melodic death and neo-classically-influenced power/folk metal. They released their debut EP entitled Arcane Fables, which features excellent artwork to match the quality of musicianship on the recordings. If you would like to get a copy of the album you can contact the band at their MySpace page.
Every song on the album is epic and thoroughly developed. Ronnie Lee Marks and Nick Vidman provide the searing and crushing guitars, Jed Kurtzman’s earthy bass tones provide a foundation for the melodic groove, Sean Sykes’ keyboard elements provide the cosmic atmosphere as well as some face melting shreds reminiscent of Janne Warman and Jen Ola Johansson. Lastly, where would any great band be without its temporal center. Wyatt Bentley keeps the tracks racing along with his thunderous drum cadences. It’s hard to pick out favorite tracks because each one is equally as good as the previous. When I first saw Forest Kin live I thought the roof was going to fall off the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. When the Bear appeared on stage and escalated the show to a new level, I, like everyone else, lost my mind in the wall of melodic sounds exploding from the stage.
Obsession with the Stars is another strong one but for entirely different reasons. As this band’s most symphonic piece, this song takes you on a midnight trek through the woodland wilderness beneath a bright sky of burning stars. Stormbracing creates an equally vivid image in your mind as you listen to the music. This song details the perils of a life spent battling the forces of the sea. The struggle is conveyed by the pleading in Ronnie’s voice while the rollicking rhythm section capture the motion, suspense, and even enjoyment, of the treacherous seas!
For more details about these guys, hit up their MySpace.
Until next time, I'll leave you with some more videos of Statius on the Pagan Knights Tour: