As this was an early show at the Annex Wreckroom, Bolero began their set shortly after 6 p.m., with the room still nearly empty when they started to play. Happily, though, the venue began to fill up by just a few songs in, and the band had a good and enthusiastic crowd in front of the stage.
Bolero have grown considerably as a local group in recent months, and have gained more confidence as performers after opening several high-profile shows. They are clearly well-rehearsed and have gained precision while losing none of their entertainment value. For this set, Cory Hoffing of Crimson Shadows filled in on drums; he fit their sound seamlessly, his drumming full of great rolls and crashes, like floodwater over rocks, to match their energetic folk metal sound. "O'Hail to the Northlander" and "The Swordsman" went over extremely well with the crowd, surely gaining the band a few new fans.
Montreal-based Viking thrash metal band Talamyus served as direct support and created a bit of a lull in the performance as a whole. Vocalist Benoît St. Jean seemed annoyed at the length of their set, as he mentioned they felt it was truncated several times and kept their banter to a minimum so they could play as much music as possible. The kick drum was the dominant sound during their set, turned up extremely high, with their live performance being considerably less energetic than their recorded material would suggest. They ended their set relatively strong, however, with "Pride of a Viking," which drew the strongest crowd response.
Finally, it was time for Arkona to play. As the lights went down, the crowd, who had been politely enthusiastic up to this point, suddenly became ravenous and rushed the stage. As soon as Vladimir "Volk" walked out, playing on a traditional volynka, the audience erupting into frothing, fist-pumping joy. The enthusiasm in the room only increased as Maria "Masha Scream" Arhipova bounded out, a blur of bright hair and bared teeth, dressed in a full wolfskin.
Arkona made it clear from their first note that they were here to create a battle and a party, and they succeeded brilliantly. After struggling through some early mic issues, Masha's vocals were incredible live, her harsh vocals mixed with deep, throaty cleaning singing. She also danced through the entire set, stomping and swirling as she groaned and wailed, the eye of a pagan metal storm. They played a lot of material from their most recent releases, including "Slovo," "Goi, Rode, Goi" and "Stenka Na Stenku," but new or old, each song drew roars from the crowd. Arkona gave the Wreckroom an expertly performed, high-energy, authentic pagan metal performance, one of the finest of the year.