The date was January 6th, 2011. It was rainy night in downtown Vancouver, and the music scene was booming. The city had just bid farewell to Roger Waters in a concert deemed ‘a prog-rock spectacle for the ages,’ and Motorhead was gearing up for a show that would surely blow the roof off of the Vogue Theatre. Off the grid, Vancouver’s younger demographic was in full force: private techno parties were popping off all week in undisclosed warehouses, while careless headbangers got they’re rocks off all over the downtown east side. As per usual, I found myself in the heart of darkness: the esteemed Rickshaw Theatre. Wolves in the Throne, a two-piece, environmentally-themed black metal band from Olympia, Washington, were the night’s headliners.
Before they went onstage, a fellow concert goer and I engaged in a playful and prophetic discussion of our favourite band: Manowar. We recounted of their greatest songs, sang our favourite stanzas, and fantasized about their return to the Americas. Amidst our childish utterances, we struck a drunken deal that should they ever perform a show in their native land, we must be there to greet our brothers in arms.
After a pounding of the knuckles, the agreement became finalized and non-negotiable: if the Metal Kings set sail to the New World, we would be there to see the show.
With the pact in place and the band making their way to the stage, we turned our attention to the stars of the night, Wolves in the Throne Room. The show was like nothing I’ve ever seen. In the spirit of the band’s environmental philosophy, the stage was dimly lit by candles and the air smelt of forest pine (a refreshing contrast to the regular stench of sweat and body odour that you usually get in the moshpit). The set list was composed of only three songs, each a twenty-five minute epic meant to “channel the energies of the Pacific Northwest’s landscape into musical form” (as stated in the band’s biography). Flash photography was prohibited, and before the show the lead singer asked the crowd not to mosh, but rather to stand quietly and enjoy the music. The plea was uncharacteristic for a metal concert, where frequenters are used to pushing, shoving, and banging their head to the body of the beat; but with respect for the band, most of us suppressed our primordial instincts and indulged only with our ears. Their cerebral yet ambient ‘eco-metal’ sound was hypnotizing, making it easy to stand still: they were shamans taking us on a spiritual journey through fantastical worlds of pristine wilderness.
What a show, what a show.
The next morning, hung over and strung out on metal, I did my daily rounds on the internet. With the previous night’s pact somewhere in the back of my brain, I curiously surfed to Manowar’s webpage, where lo and behold, the first headline I read was “The Kings of Metal return to the USA!” In disbelief, I clicked on the link, and what I found was startling: Manowar was making a one-night appearance in Cleveland, Ohio, at the world-famous Agora Ballroom! The show was prompted by the thirtieth birthday of the band’s debut record, Battle Hymns, and they were going to perform the album in its entirety.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that I had to buy tickets immediately; one does not simply turn down the opportunity to see the world’s greatest band play in the intimate setting of a general admissions ballroom, let alone to listen to the live recital the greatest album to ever be etched in the holy grail of heavy metal. To my astonishment, the concert had been announced two week’s earlier and tickets had gone on sale earlier that morning. How had this gotten past me!? I must had been slipping in my old age. Horrified that I might miss out on the show given the small size of the venue (I imagined every die-hard fan in North America hunched over their computer! An honest suspicion, as I should have been doing the same thing), I jumped to the Ticketmaster website and, much to my amazement, secured a pair of tickets.
A feeling came over me that I can only compare to one other moment in my life: the first time I acquired tickets to Iron Maiden. A mere 14 year old chap with shaggy hair and an underdeveloped perv-stache, I was obsessed with the British metal band, when one day my daft dream of seeing them live became a reality after Ozzy Osbourne announced that Maiden would tour alongside Black Sabbath in what was probably the most stacked Ozzfest lineup in the festivals’ history. The tour was due for a show in Seattle, about four hours away from my neck of the woods, just days before my 15th birthday. I unrelentingly begged my mom for tickets until she finally caved (who could say no to my adorable, pubescent face?). The tickets arrived in the mail and a wave went through my body: a rush of excitement and anxiousness with a hint of panic and disbelief; a combination of “Oh my god I can’t wait!” with “Holy s**t is this really happening!?” The show itself was amazing; an Iron Maiden concert is a rite of passage that any respectful metal fan must notch under his belt before he calls himself a true headbanger.
But now it was seven years later, and the same adolescent sensations swirled through my body like some sort of nostalgic hurricane. Only this time, they came with something new: a new show; a new journey; a new evolution.
In our fast and rampant consumer society, our precious products, goods and services are brought to our towns, our doorsteps, and our living rooms, and the music industry has followed this standard; the show comes to you. But for the North American Manowarrior, no such privilege awaits. Our unconditional love for the band carries with it an irresistible compulsion, masked as an inescapable obligation, to travel far and wide for a live taste of the music that we have only ‘heard’ through our own devices. We are proactive creatures who pursue metal to its highest forms.
Sure, a Maiden ticket means metal pride; a respectful taste and interest in a style of music that rests in the eardrum of the concert goer. But a Manowar ticket means something more. It is a devotion to music that isn’t simply a product of preference, but of an involuntary predisposition to metal of epic proportions that remains unquestioned and permanent, the cornerstone of a true fan’s very essence. It is a mirror into one’s own identity, whose reflection depicts a ferocious and hedonistic beast that will move mountains just to get his fix. It is a symbol of sacrifice and dedication that might only be rivalled by the cross.
But please, don’t let my long and drawn out romanticism bore you; let’s just let The Kings speak for all of us:
They can’t stop us, let’em try! For heavy metal, we will die!
To read Part I, click here.
Feature image sourced on Google.