Heathen Crusade Station 4, St Paul MN November 14 to 15

Heathen Crusade Station 4, St Paul MN November 14 to 15
Minneapolis/St. Paul doesn’t seem like a pagan metal Mecca, yet for three years running pilgrims from all over North America have made the trek to the twin cities for Heathen Crusade, two days of raucous and irreverent head-banging (and CD buying, eating and drinking). The bands came from even farther a field, American acts playing alongside Canadians, Mexicans, Belgians, Estonians and Finns, all interpreting myth, history and heritage for an enthusiastic crowd.

Last minute cancellations eliminated bands like No Man’s Land (Russia) and Moribund Oblivion (Turkey) from the program, but not disastrously. The first night of the fest had a warm-up feel at times – fewer bands, a later start, live acoustic folk (Nechochwen) struggling to be heard in the side room, and stripped down line-ups.

Inquisition are normally a fierce two-man storm, but Ancient Rites were (unavoidably) down to two guitars and a sick vocalist, which they pulled off with passion and professionalism but the empty drum set marked a monumental absence. Ulveheim had nearly as much crowd-stirring power, and though their harmonies were a little weak, when they blasted their blackened folk metal they raged persuasively.

Day two had a more epic aura, building to a tumultuous Moonsorrow (pictured) climax. Though still hit and miss at times, the night was packed with solid performances. Sudbury’s Wolven Ancestry, for example, were ferociously hypnotic (and so was their disturbing wolf-pelt helm), while Metsatoll turned down the primeval and upped the party. Ontarians Woods of Ypres did their Canadian cheering squad proud, nailing their entire Against the Seasons debut, and Moonsorrow’s double encore Finnish finale still left the room roaring for more.

A line of posts interfered with a clear view of the stage (while presumably keeping the ceiling in place), and the venue was smaller than I expected, though never overfilled. It seems that America’s heathen hordes aren’t ready to mount any large-scale invasions, but they are serious enough to make Heathen Crusade a major metal event.