I’ve never seen so many people nodding in unison as I did the evening of Nov. 18. I guess that’s the only way you can dance to metal music besides moshing (violently running into people).
I attended a concert at Social Hall in San Francisco featuring four groups: The Agonist (a Canadian melodic death metal band), Arkona (a Russian folk metal band), Fleshgod Apocalypse (an Italian symphonic and death metal band) and the main act, Epica (a Dutch symphonic metal band).
I had never been to a concert before, but I have seen enough videos online to know that a large, tightly wedged crowd of sweaty bodies headbanging and pumping their fists in the air was not for me.
Nevertheless, I was excited to go because Arkona, my favorite since seventh grade, was performing.
I arrived 30 minutes before the show was supposed to start, and there was already a sizable crowd. A group of people (all taller than I) were gathered in front of the stage, claiming their spots for the rest of the night.
I was surprised to see that Social Hall was serving food and had an area off to the side with tables. The tickets had cost $28, so maybe this is how the venue made more money.
I was even more surprised at the age of the crowd. Most looked to be adults out of college for a couple years. Many wore Epica shirts. There were even people in their work clothes. In the back were about 10 elderly people sporting black clothing in wheelchairs or with canes. I was definitely one of the youngest in the room.
Lining the walls in the back of the room were booths selling each band’s merchandise. I noticed that Arkona didn’t have a booth set up, so I approached the man at the Fleshgod Apocalypse counter and asked if Arkona was setting up a table.
He told me that Arkona hadn’t arrived at Social Hall, and they hadn’t heard from them in two hours.
The only reason I was there was to see Arkona! Epica was only an added bonus. I didn’t even like The Agonist or Fleshgod Apocalypse!
So I checked Masha “Scream” Arkhipova’s Instagram to see a post explaining that they had forgotten Vlad, the flute and bagpipe player, and had to turn around and get him. Then they got a flat tire.
Luckily, Fleshgod Apocalypse switched places with them.
First up was The Agonist, a Canadian female-fronted death metal band. Their music sounded very similar to Arch Enemy, a Swedish female-fronted death metal band.
I was relieved that everyone in the crowd had enough breathing room. Although people bobbed their heads and tapped their feet, it was hard to hear the lead singer in her clean vocals as well as metal growls.
When the frontwoman waved her hand in a circle, it signaled that the next song was good for moshing.
A small mosh pit opened in the middle of the floor, but it was half-hearted.
When The Agonist had completed their set, the lights went up and Fleshgod Apocalypse set up.
Thirty minutes later, a woman in a masquerade mask and baroque-style dress, carrying a golden caduceus staff, entered the stage, followed by three men with long hair, pale makeup and baroque clothing.
A larger crowd was forming, and during the last couple of songs a large mosh pit opened up. I made sure to stay very far away.
Although I didn’t originally like Fleshgod’s music, I was pleasantly surprised by their performance. It was very theatrical, involving reading from a book, introducing a fake head as a friend and a lot of headbanging. However, it was hard to hear the lead singer’s growling vocals, and even harder to hear the woman’s operatic voice. Although they sang in English, none of the words were intelligible.
Their performance made me re-evaluate the band, and I might try to listen to them again.
Finally, it was time for my favorite band.
Arkona started their set with Kolo Navi, an older song, which demonstrates Masha’s range of growling and clean vocals. They sang songs from their 2014 album “Yav,” which I didn’t like as much as their previous albums.
Even so, I mouthed all the words to their songs as Masha performed live, right in front of me!
My seventh-grade self was screaming inside!
They closed with “Yarilo” and “Stenka na Stenku,” which are their most popular songs and best for dancing. A mosh pit opened up and was very lively, but it looked like people were dancing rather than running into one another.
I had already been a fan of Arkona for years, but seeing them live reinforced my appreciation for their band and music.
Masha took control of the stage and engaged the audience more than any of the other bands. She danced and ran around the stage, taking the microphone off the stand and using the stand as a prop. Her fierce growls, melodious, clean vocals and headbanging captivated the audience.
When they finally ended, a group of people near me began changing “Ee-sho! Ee-sho!” meaning “Encore!” in Russian. I joined in, wishing Arkona were the main act.
After their performance a middle-aged woman and her husband were discussing Arkona’s performance. She said she was floored by Arkona even though she had never heard of them, couldn’t understand their lyrics and usually didn’t like growling.
Clearly, you don’t need to understand a single word of Russian to appreciate the band.
Epica, the final and main act, drew the greatest crowd. Simone Simons’s operatic voice was hard to hear, but it was just as beautiful as in the studio versions of her songs.
They played a lot of songs from their new album, “The Holographic Principle,” but closed with their best hits. They played for about an hour and a half, and at the end of the night I was tired of standing for four-and-a-half hours.
But I didn’t mind that my feet were sore because I had purchased enough Arkona merchandise to last me a lifetime – and fulfilled my seventh-grade self’s dream.
—By Nicole Wolkov