Valkyries Over Atlanta
A Sound of Thunder/MindMaze/Brave/Die Once/Aria Flame/Mercy Isle/Eternal Mortality
120 Tavern & Music Hall
On a cold, rainy Saturday night, Pathfinder Promotions’ Valkyries Over Atlanta Festival descended upon Marietta, GA’s 120 Tavern & Music Hall boasting a line-up of seven female fronted metal bands. While all of the bands were female fronted bands, this was one of the most diverse line-ups I have seen in a long time. Each band delivered a 45 minute set but did so with varied degrees of quality ranging from the absolutely face melting to the “oh my god how much longer are they gonna play?”.
What I do love about shows like this is that I, as a lover of live music, get to hear bands that I’ve never heard before and I get to base my opinions on them in a live setting. I mean, if you can’t sell it to me live, you’re pretty much not going to sell it to me at all. So how did these bands do? Let’s recap the evening, shall we?
Kicking things off was Rockmart, GA’s own Eternal Mortality. Lead by the gorgeous vocals and piano playing of Cassandra Thaxton, Eternal Mortality’s opening set really impressed me. I didn’t catch their full set but what I did catch of it was really quite good. Thaxton’s vocals are very soulful for this kind of music which is a nice change in a time where vocals in this kind of music tend to be more operatic than soulful or emotive. Thaxton also had the best fucking head of hair I have seen in a long time so I’m going to have to give her the “best hair” award at this point.
Eternal Mortality’s songwriting in general had a somewhat young nature to it but then again, Thaxton is a young woman and seems to be really developing her skills. I really see a lot of potential growth in her writing and this is a band that I will definitely be keeping an eye on in the future.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to catch Mercy Isle’s set as I had to get something eat. Hey, this was going to be a long fucking night so I had to get my dinner on. Just in case you’re curious, I had chicken fingers and tater tots and they were really fucking good. Because I missed their set, I did go and give them a listen and I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed. Mercy Isle just kind of has this generic, female fronted, symphonic metal sound to them that doesn’t do much to set them apart from the pack.
Don’t get me wrong. They don’t suck but they just don’t seem to be doing anything really original. Listening to their song “I’m Gonna Make It” kind of showed me that great songwriting is also not really their strongest point. Without great songs and with a generic delivery you’re just going to get lost in the shuffle and forgotten which is exactly what happened with this band for me.
West Michigan’s Aria Flame describes their music as “neo-classical symphonic female fronted metal with a circus flare.” I didn’t quite get the circus flare part as I didn’t really see any clowns in this band (unlike others from this night but I’ll digress). Aria Flame lead vocalist Aziza A. Poggi’s voice is very much of the operatic nature and in all honesty I just didn’t dig it. The songs themselves were, much like Mercy Isle, just kind of generic sounding and not really all that captivating. I do have to hand it to the band for putting on a really high energy performance though.
Poggi totally works the stage with a high level of class and professionalism and their lead guitarist definitely wins a “fabulous hair” award! His hair was amazing and he knew it. Damn I was jealous. Anyways, while I didn’t find myself loving their songs, I rather enjoyed Aria Flame’s performance. They are the kind of band that if I saw them opening for someone I really loved, I wouldn’t be turned away but I wouldn’t be blown away either. The music was very easy on the ears and non-insulting but not really anything that had me running for the merch table to buy their shit.
I had never seen Die Once and I was honestly really looking forward to seeing them. I had been hearing so much about them but I have to say that at the end of it all, they didn’t do anything but put me off a bit. While she has a really great stage presence, I was honestly kind of put off by lead singer Melanie Morgan’s voice. Don’t get me wrong. She can really work the stage but her voice just seems to be pushed to the brink and lacking any kind of real discipline. Song after song just seemed to be full of discordant screaming. Musically, the band reminded me of this kind of wanky 90’s nu-metal. Die Once’s stage presence was almost comical as there was so much cliché posing with classic moves such as “the back to back”, “the head touching head”, “the whisper and laugh”, and “the overly smiling while jumping off drum riser.” I also had to roll my eyes at the band member intros as each member took a self indulgent “solo” after his name was announced. That was a totally “lol” moment.
I also found Morgan’s banter to be kind of creepy and inappropriate as she pointed out, “I’ve seen you guys looking at all these girls up here and I know you want to take them home.” Hmm, not sure what to say about that. I didn’t want to take any of them home with me. Why would you assume the room was full of Uber Drivers? Or were you assuming that your audience is full of hard up, desperate men who were only there to pick up the female lead singers of metal bands? Anyways, I’m sure Die Once has a good number of fans that truly like them but I felt like they were the odd band out on this bill. I found their overall performance to lack the class and sophistication that the other bands had brought to the event up to this point and at times I even found myself feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the awkward stage banter. This band had A LOT of friends/fans that showed up and while I was pretty impressed with how many people they pulled, the overall reaction to their set didn’t seem to match the size of their crowd. A lot of friends a great band does not make. I’m sure that Die Once is a band that appeals to someone but that someone just isn’t me.
The room pretty much lost 1/2 of its crowd when Die Once left the room but that didn’t affect Virginia/DC based band Brave in the slightest. The band took to the stage opening with “Surrounds Me” from their 2014 EP release and right out the gates I knew I was seeing the best band of the night. Brave then went into “Persia” from their old Arise from Thorns days. This was a huge surprise for me as I loved hearing them dip far back into their past to put a Brave spin on an old Arise From Thorns track. Brave’s 45 minute set pulled from the band’s nearly 18 year career and was also their first show to not feature founding guitarist Scott Loose who couldn’t be present. While his presence was missed, Brave did an amazing job filling in the void and performed like nothing was a miss which, for some bands, can be a nearly impossible task.
Brave’s performance was full of class, fire, and relentless passion. Lead singer/keyboardist Michelle Schrotz’s voice was so lively and her performance seemed to mesmerize everyone in attendance. At this point in the night, Brave received the most vocal reaction from the crowd and deservedly so. Brave was putting everything that they had into each and every song. “Escape” was dedicated to yours truly. There’s nothing cooler than when one of your favorite bands dedicates your favorite song to you and plays it with so much passion that it nearly makes you tear up. “I Believe” was played so beautifully and I can honestly say that this performance gave me chills. I could feel every word that was being sung and every note that was being played. “Words” from the band’s Searching for The Sun album was so full of energy but it was “Trapped Inside” that really brought the house down. Violinist Suvo Sur is an absolute madman rock star as he lead the band on an extended doom tinged jam before bringing everything to a close to a huge response from the crowd. Sur also wins the “Best Beard” award of the night. Goddamn I want that beard. It looks like a full cat on his face.
For 45 minutes, Brave played for the people, not just for themselves and delivered some of their best material. Brave also brought a level of class back to this event. They proved that you don’t have to be loud, obnoxious, and showboaty to win over an audience. They have the songs, the heart, the soul, and the passion and it showed as they won people over song after song. There were a lot of new Brave fans made after this show and as for me, I have to say that it’s performances like this that make me proud to be a fan of a band.
Up next was Allentown, PA’s MindMaze. Now I had never seen MindMaze live but I’ve heard their albums. I wasn’t sold on them from what I had heard on their recordings. Lyrically I found them to be really quite good but it was the vocals of lead singer Sarah Teets that just kind of left the energy feeling a bit flat but I wasn’t going to write them off completely without seeing them live. My first impression of them after they took the stage for their opening song was that musically they were tight as fuck. I was so impressed with their bassist and their drummer, who looked like Tommy Lee’s older creepy cousin, was pretty fucking badass. Sarah Teets really has a good voice and I was pleasantly surprised to see that live her voice is stronger than on the recordings but still seemed to lack the appropriate amount of power that I feel these songs really called for.
While her voice may not have been all that strong, Sarah’s stage presence is something that really surprised me. This girl can really work a stage and she does so with a very professional manor which I loved seeing. I also have to say that she gets the “best hair” award of the night just slightly beating out Eternal Mortality singer Cassandra Thaxton. MindMaze’s performance was actually quite enjoyable until their guitarist; (brother of vocalist) Jeff Teets started showboating. This dude was just causing me to roll my eyes. Ok, dude. I get it. You’re a great guitarist but you can really dial it down a notch.
Besides that dude clowning it up, I really found myself enjoying their songs. The songs were very melodic and very well constructed. This night, MindMaze really seemed to pull a great reception from the crowd and along with Brave seemed to be one of the better bands on the bill. I’m pretty sure that this band will never go with another vocalist so I can only hope that eventually Sarah Teets’ voice will become a much more powerful and confident voice. In addition to that, I’d really love to see Jeff Teets dial down his ego a bit and allow his band to shine a bit more rather than trying to make it “his” show. Hey, it’s just an observation.
A Sound of Thunder
A Sound of Thunder is one of those bands that I really loved at one point. Their album Time’s Arrow was one of my favorite albums and live they put on one of my favorite shows. The band’s last two albums, The Lesser Key of Solomon and Tales from the Deadside were two of my least favorite albums and unfortunately their live performance at Valkyries Over Atlanta was mostly made up of songs from these albums. A Sound of Thunder’s live performance this night just really seemed to lack on all levels. Let me just say that A Sound of Thunder can really kill a room and they did just that. After the great reception of both Brave and MindMaze, the crowd just thinned out a bit and slowly but surely peeled out of the room. I can’t really blame them as musically, A Sound of Thunder was putting on one of the weakest performances of the night. Lead singer Nina Osegueda’s voice just seemed to really be screechy this night and at times was sounding like nails on a chalkboard. Her stage presence also did little for me as it was somewhat clowny and at times got just a bit annoying. I even had a hard time believing that this was the same band that blew me away a year or so ago at the Masquerade.
The new material was just as bad live as it is on the albums and judging from the reaction of the crowd, well, those that were left, they all seemed to agree with me (except for the 5 or 6 of them up front). I found A Sound of Thunder’s performance to be energetic but the songs were just so boring and un-dynamic. I’ve never seen a band work so hard at playing such boring, unexciting material. Finally, a break came when the band closed their lackluster set with “Queen of Hell.” Now THIS is the A Sound of Thunder that I remember liking so much. They invited Sarah and Jeff Teets from MindMaze to join them for this one. I have to say that I loved the duo of Nina and Sarah but here comes Mr. Teets again showboating and taking center stage like it’s his show. C’mon dude, give it a rest. The band was supposed to play an hour but ended up cutting the set at about 50 minutes which I have to say I was very thankful for. Maybe one day A Sound of Thunder will once again do something that I can really get into but at this point I’m not holding my breath.