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Thursday May 16th, 2024 at The Granada in Lawrence, KS
Battle Beast, & Blackbriar

I like to think Too Much Rock lovingly embraces bands from multiple genres. Sometimes my readers don't agree, and sometimes those bands who feel slighted get downright hostile – I do publish on the Internet after all. Still, I like to poke my nose into all sorts of subcultures. Occasionally it gets bitten off (several all-ages venues have made it clear to me that mine is not one of the ages that they care for), but generally it works out. Like that one time I found myself pumping my fist along with hundreds of metal heads to disco beats played by a band from Finland that I'd never heard of. Spoiler, this is that one time.

Blackbriar opened the night. My crouching position in the photo pit allowed me an unobstructed view of the sextet as it walked onto the dark stage. The Granada's stage is big, but the headliner had claimed most of its depth. As such, drummer René Boxem found his kit stage right with keyboardist Ruben Wijga stage left. The edge of the stage was lined by Bart Winters (lead guitar), Robin Koezen (rhythm guitar), and Siebe Sol Sijpkens (bass). The five appeared to be assembled from a variety of bands eschewing a single aesthetic. Maybe that effort would have been pointless, as the focus of Blackbriar is vocalist Zora Cock. Her trained soprano is not a forceful one that bludgeons, but rather a clean one that lures and beguiles. It was enhanced with occasional reverb that either came canned (along with the acoustic guitars, synths, and backing vocals) or was the result of a very on-the-ball live engineer. Either way, it melded nicely with the alternative metal delivered by her band. Especially on the songs subdued by folk melodies and Wijga's clean piano lines. Guitars were low in the mix all night (regardless of where I wandered in the room) and were only really heard during quiet introductory passages or Winters' rare solos. The mix didn't carry much punch from Sijpkens either, though he certainly put on a show spinning about with his five-string bass. Cock on the other hand is a confessed introvert, she walked the stage slowly, her tall heels barely visible under a long gown, her hands dancing around the microphone. Despite the custom lighting cues there was little spectacle to the band's performance, but I like a no-gimmick show better than the alternative, so I didn't mind six musicians on their first North American tour simply playing their songs. Besides, the headliner was yet to come.

Cuts from heavy metal's heyday pumped through the PA between acts. I was embarrassed by how quickly I fingers remembered Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" and by how long it took me to recognize Wasp's "Animal (F*ck Like a Beast)." Scanning the crowd a few old-timers were singing along. These were my people. But most of the audience was much younger. Early 30s perhaps. They wore shirts from Dragonfoce and Epica, and from headliners Battle Beast who had been through the area previously as a support act. Like Blackbriar before them, Battle Beast are a European (Finnish in this case) sextet fronted by a soprano. But while Blackbriar is brooding and gothic, Battle Beast is ostentatious power metal. And its front woman is a demon. Maybe literally if her horns are any indication.

Noora Louhimo is that succubus. At The Granada she was bold, always in motion, and wrapped in fishnets, sparkles, leather, and fringe from her horns to her boots. She was surrounded by Joona Björkroth (lead guitar), Juuso Soinio (rhythm guitar), Janne Björkroth (keyboards), Eero Sipilä (bass) and Pyry Vikki (drums). Everyone (well except Vikki) moved about the stage – even Björkrock whose keytar allowed him to join in on the coordinated rock stances. There were kicks, synchronized dance moves, plenty of running across the stage, and Louhimo did it all in some serious heels. Add in the imported light show and the performance was as big as any that rocked the Eurovision stage the week before. In fact, the band shares a heavy metal palate with Finland's only Eurovision winner, Lordi.

Battle Beast's take on heavy metal was broad. Louhimo's vocals soared and snarled over disco beats that came pounding out of the rhythm section, over the keyboard's melodic leads, over the various hammers, taps, and sweeps that covered every fret on the guitars, and over the pre-recorded strings that came from backing tracks. Maybe the tracks held more than strings, but the band did a pretty good job of hiding it during a sixteen-song set didn't meander much. Instead, it focused on the band's most recent trio of albums, skipping everything before 2017 entirely. Probably wise to avoid the new-wave revivalism of 2015's "Touch in The Night," but hearing the over-the-top elation of "Into the Heart of Danger" from 2013 would have been fun.

While Louhimo managed most of the banter, Sipilä often played the comic foil. At one point he led an unscientific poll that resulted in him singing Badfinger's "Without You" while the audience swayed holding their mobile phones-cum-lighters aloft. Other hijinks involved champagne for the audience and mylar balloons to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the band's first show. It was a lot, and although I was pumping my fist and shouting "Hey" along with the crowd through "Bastard Son of Odin," by the time the 90+ minute set ended with "Beyond the Burning Skies" I was too tired to stand, much less bounce along with the rest of The Granada. I was defeated, but grateful that the bands and their fans had invited me to the party.