HÄLLAS / SUMERLANDS - Kindred Spirits, An Ocean Apart

November 10, 2023, 8 months ago

By Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal hard rock hallas sumerlands

Speaking of spirits, although Halloween was a week earlier, revelers who attended Underground Arts, in Philadelphia, were treated (no tricks) to a musical goodie bag filled with the equivalent of full size candy bars, in a mini/fun size world. While it marked the Swedes first trip to the city, it was also almost a year to the day for Sumerlands' Dreamkiller record release show in their hometown. Neither band strives to pulverize the eardrums, preferring to pen catchy, upbeat anthems with clean vocals. Sign of the times, the bathrooms were labeled with pronouns: "They," the one with urinals, and "Them," the one completely comprised of stalls. Confusing? Nah... 

Not a lot of old-timers in the house tonight, the crowd predominately under 35. Having missed out on the metallic heyday, the between band DJ spins a heavy dose of classic ‘80s: Dio, UFO, Lizzy, Maiden, Saxon and on the heavier end, Tank and Exciter. Nice!

No roadies on this tour, the Hällas guys set up their own pedals and effects racks, then leave the stage. When they return, cape draped over shoulders, silver, heel booties and glittery eyeliner, frontman Tommy Alexandersson looks like he stepped out of a time machine, circa ‘70s UK, trusty Rickenbacker bass by his side. As he plays, legs splayed, he rocks back n’ forth (literally), occasionally balancing on one foot, angularly asymmetric. To his left is guitarist Marcus Petersson, who also offers backing vocals throughout.

Initially, lots of dark colors to illuminate the band, "Birth/Into Darkness" opens, with Tommy's unique voice stressing the "into darkness" lyric. The to & fro melody of "Stygian Depths" is punctuated by the Moog sounding keyboards. Newly recruited southpaw guitarist Rikard Swahn is attired in a black outfit, with silver spangles. Just the third night of the current run and it's all business, making sure the presentation gels. Apart from a "Thank you," there's little interaction/acknowledgement of the crowd and no song introductions, not that the intimate gathering of die-hards requires such.

Initial foray into a new market (band did a string of dates, last spring, in the south/west, leading up to their performance at the Hell's Heroes Festival). The Swedes wisely opted to keep a lot of older classics in the set, rather than cram in a ton off the latest effort: Isle Of Wisdom. Good move, as most were seeing Hällas for the first time and probably wanted to hear those old gems, many of which can be found on the just issued Live At Cirkus CD. Red hued "Tear Of A Traitor" is followed by the heaviest song of the set, purple lit: "Shadow Of The Templar". Atypical, but it's a headbanging trio across the lip of the stage, as Alexandersson moves up front (and not for the last time). Red lights intersect across the purple stage. The gentle bounce of "Earls' Theme" coalesces around a gloriously, triumphant vibe, thanks to a recurrent keyboard run that simulates a brass (trumpet?) fanfare.

A web of blue lights encase Tommy's mic as midway through "Beyond Night And Day", the pace slows, only to build towards a crescendo similar to its opening strains. This one's a showcase for leftie Swahn, as well as the keyboards. Kicking back, into relax mode, it's the gently meandering "Strider". Am I the only one who hears a hint of Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet" in the initial sequence? Green streaks slice through the otherwise dark stage. Reds crisscross for the poppy "Carry On", which seems like something between retro synthwave and a leftover from the Jazzercize crazy. Can't get that melody out of my head!

During the synth intro, to red bathed "Star Rider", some in the crowd begins to chant the band's name. Built around another infectious earworm, it's easily THE sing-along moment of the evening. The active bassist implores the fans to clap, shout, and show emotion. Which they did, in kind. Still two favorites to come, "The Astral Seer" and their concluding (as usual) signature tune. The former has a regal/Medieval, almost jangly folk rock feel, amongst the rollicking guitar journey. The keys aren't a substitute for a harpsichord, but tingle the spine in a similar way. Once again, around the halfway point, the pace alters, into a thoughtful jam session, before Swahn's guitar returns everything to the aggro way it began. 

Amazing evening, let's do it again. Soon! 

Opening the show (Hällas tour mates, Freeways, were on second) was Sumerlands. While the greatest number of tunes were lifted from last year's Dreamkiller album, they decided to delve into all eras of the band, many in attendance being longtime supporters of the local act. No easy feat in a set that lasted just six songs! 

"Edge Of The Knife" starts, with bald frontman Brendan Radigan standing out (in Rainbow tee) amongst a sea of beards and long hair. Next up, a double shot from the nearly decade old demo, although both blue/red lit "7th Seal" and "Blind" (which saw blues and greens sweep the cramped stage) both appeared on the '16 eponymous platter. Stage shines yellow and green for mid-tempo "The Guardian". Either side of Radigan are the guitars, shredding away. To his left, John Powers, flinging hair from his face and pressing close to those at the foot of the stage, whereas, side opposite is producer/wunderkind Arthur Rizk, more reserved, visage typically obscured by a beard and mask of sweat matted hair. 

There's an ‘80s film soundtrack quality to the upbeat "Force Of A Storm", tonight backlit in green, with sweeping orange accents. Concluding an all too short evening was the energetic shuffle,"Dreamkiller". Red and blue lights swirl onstage and off as the twin leads are showcased. Radigan has the last "word," a finishing sustained scream. Know the guys are busy with other projects (Eternal Champion, chief among them), but they really need to create greater visibility for Sumerlands.

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