Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Concert Review: Huntress at Fubar in St. Louis September 14, 2016 -photos and review by Danny Nichols

A lot has changed since I first heard “Eight of Swords” in early 2012 and instantly fell head over heels in love with the band Huntress.  Their debut album Spell Eater is a masterpiece of dark pagan metal, which is very reminiscent of classic Mercyful Fate.  

Jill Janus had somehow mastered the four octave vocal style of the previously believed inimitable King Diamond.  The riffs carry all the precision and power of thrash metal, with a clear black metal influence. The subject matter drew heavily from Janus’ deep connection with and knowledge of witchcraft. 

Subsequent albums Starbound Beast and Static have moved a little away from the Mercyful Fate sound, and closer to a darkened power metal.  Comparisons in their sound now could be drawn to bands like Hammerfall and Helloween, except still uniquely harkening back to classic first wave black metal and early thrash metal.  Lyrically, while still maintaining a foothold in the world of the occult, Huntress shifted focus first to a metaphorical fascination with celestial matters and then with an exploration of mental distress.  

Blake Meahl
Despite a somewhat different sound to albums two and three, the amazing musicianship and song craftsmanship remained intact.   Trying to decide which of the three Huntress albums is best is like picking the best among the first three Metallica albums.
Also, there have been lineup changes since I last saw them.  Only Janus and co-architect guitarist Blake Meahl remain.  Gone are bassist Ian Alden, drummer Carl Wierzbicky and guitarist Anthony Crocamo. Which is a bummer, because those guys seriously rocked.  However, as evidenced both on 2015’s Static and on this tour, new members bassist Eric Harris, guitarist Eli Santana and drummer Tyler Meahl rip, tear and shred every bit as well as their predecessors.

I was very excited to hear Huntress had announced a brief headlining tour and was making a stop in St. Louis. I had only ever seen them before as an opening act, which only afforded them enough time to play about five songs.   This time we were finally treated to thirteen full length songs in all their epic glory.
The set list was weighted towards the new album, featuring six songs from Static, four from Starbound Beast and three from Spell Eater.  The songs were expertly chosen and contained almost all of the best  Huntress songs, such as the above mentioned "Eight of Swords", "Spell Eater" and their latest "Flesh".   The only omission of regret was "I Want To Want to Wake Up", which is on frequent rotation in my car,  but did not make the set list.  

Jill Janus
Most importantly they played “Destroy Your Life” which is easily one of my favorite songs of all time.  Huntress’ lyrics and music are always intense and powerful, but this song in particular is so closely aligned with both my musical tastes and personal philosophies I have an attachment to it as though I had written it myself.   
When discussing this with Janus, I was tempted to ask her about the song’s meaning, but decided I would be disappointed if my interpretation was other than her intent, and thus left the question unasked.  Instead, I presumptuously demanded of Janus, Meahl and Santana it never be removed from their set list, at least not in St. Louis, even if they were fifteen albums into their career and sick of playing it. 
Jill Janus
Later this month, Huntress will be opening for Black Sabbath at a festival in California.  The crowd there will dwarf those of us assembled to see heavy metal on a Wednesday in downtown St. Louis.  Still Huntress tore through their set with an energy , enthusiasm and ferocity befitting a sold out amphitheater.  Sure the folks in San Bernardino will get Tony Iommi and a lot more bands, but we got thirteen Huntress songs delivered up close in full force.  We are the lucky ones.
Tyler Meahl

The intensity of the music demanded continuous head banging, exuberant horned fist throwing and repeated guttural yelps of appreciation, which ensured Thursday would be a day of soreness.  An apology is owed to Janus as I attempted to sing along, in my decidedly one octave voice.  Blake Meahl and Santana smashed through riff after glorious riff , trading furious solos.  Harris and Tyler Meahl provided the dominating rhythm section which is so essential to Huntress' music.  And of course, Janus of the seemingly indefatigable voice, hit every note perfectly.  This truly was heavy metal at its finest.
Eli Santana
In addition, to their amazing music, there are two other reasons why Huntress is among my favorite bands of all time.  First is there willingness to interact with their fans.  Each of the three times I have seen them perform they went out of their way to be accessible and engaging with their fans following their set.  Although this is a common attribute in heavy metal, where a shared sense of community creates a comradery between bands and their fans which is rarer in most other forms of entertainment, this is especially true with Huntress.  After a few moments with the band, it is impossible not to root for them.
The second reason is they possess the talent to have made a career in any genre of music, and yet chose metal.     The operatically trained Janus has a voice which would make Whitney Houston jealous.  The band has an equal mastery of their instruments, which could probably land them a gig in a more lucrative musical world than the pubs of middle America.  Yet here they were bringing the metal to the tragically underserved metalheads of St. Louis. 

Eric Harris
They are about to embark on a set of shows with Sabaton and Trivium which includes the Black Sabbath show.  They could have patiently waited in California for this to start.  Instead they spent the intervening weeks packed into a van on a Taco Bell fueled road trip to Missouri.  They even played a show in Springfield, Missouri, which is not exactly the heavy metal capital of the world.  Their devotion to the craft has not gone unnoticed. 

Following the show I begged Janus to stay the course and keep Huntress going strong.  She assured me there was no turning back and she was “full beast mode now”.  Blake Meal indicated the same in my brief conversation with him. Thank you for this Huntress.  The world needs your music, and it was delivered in fine fashion in St. Louis.

*I was also greatly impressed by opening band September Mourning.  Please check back later this week for a review of their set.  Please see below for more pictures of the Huntress set.

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