Children of Bodom, Swallow The Sun, and Wolfheart on the “Hexed Tour” at Reverb (Ep 90 + 91)

4/18/19 – Children of Bodom / Swallow The Sun / Wolfheart – Reverb Reading, PA.

After a hearty dinner at the nearby Pike Cafe and Bar, we made our way into the venue to catch the tail end of Summoner’s Circle‘s set.  Robes, makeup and doom.  Check.  Check. Check.  

Next was Wolfheart. Hot off of last year’s ‘Constellations of the Black Light’ the band came out with an energetic set, featuring a drummer who may or may not be the Energizer bunny.  This is the latest project (yet still rather long-running) of Tuomas Saukkonen.  The bass player frequently engaged the crowd and this was the point in the evening where the audience was beginning to congregate around the stage.

Wolfheart – Photo by Henry Chung

Swallow the Sun brought a more meditative and somber set.  The lights were mostly low and the more melancholy, less doomy material on their latest album, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ was an appropriate pairing for the set.  First single “Firelight” was featured along with “Under The Water” and “Stone Wings” the latter of which especially seemed like a crowd favorite.  To be honest, a lot of the crowd didn’t seem to know what to make of the set for the first few songs.  The evening’s consistently low vocal mic didn’t do anyone any favors though it improved slightly as the show progressed.  At a certain point, everyone seemed to wake up a bit and respond to the music with most people seeming to be on board by the end.  While half of the set was new, they ended with their traditional closer “Swallow (The Horror Pt. 1”).  

Swallow the Sun – Photo by Henry Chung

Our headliners, Children of Bodom came out and so did the red and especially purple lights which was appropriate for their latest album ‘Hexed.’  “Are You Dead Yet?” was a pounding way to begin the show

Children of Bodom – Photo by Henry Chung

Interestingly, the band had recently toured on their very earliest material, so a fair amount of that was in the set along with a lot from mid-period favorites ‘Are You Dead Yet?’ and ‘Hate Crew Deathroll.’  Of course there were the new songs, the perfect first single “Over Grass and Clover,” along with “The Road,” “Platitudes and Barren Words” and “Hecate’s Nightmare.”  These tracks reflect a lot of the best aspects of ‘Hexed’ which many are considering a bit of a return to form for the band, embracing some of their neoclassical roots while having some catchier tracks than the last few albums.  

Relatively new guitar player Daniel Freyberg proved himself to be a worthy additional as he held up his end of the deal with the songs.  Of course, everyone else in the band are longtime constants so no questions there.  Seeing keyboardist, Janne Wirman, in action was especially a treat as his tremendous dexterity and manipulation of the keys is truly the X-factor that helps to set the band apart.  All of this was done on his backup keyboard which, itself, had some faulty switches, as he explained at one point in the set.  

Children of Bodom – Photo by Henry Chung

One of my personal favorites “Bodom Beach Terror” was played early and the rarely heard “If You Want Peace…Prepare For War” lent a bit of extra speed and heaviness to the show. Really, the selection was very good to appease fans new and old.  Of course, with ten albums out, there are always going to be few songs that don’t make the cut for this go-round but, all things considered, everyone in attendance should have been, and seemed very thrilled.  We even had some late-show crowd surfing. 

The encore started with another of my favorites “Hate Me!” and ended with “Downfall.”

Children of Bodom – Photo by Henry Chung

This package was a really rare treat as to have three wildly different bands from Finland playing in a little B-market (maybe C-Market?) like Reading in a tremendous convergence of unlikely factors.  More than that, it was a great time.

Before the evening began, I had the pleasure of speaking with Janne from Children of Bodom.  Of course, we talked about ‘Hexed’ but we also dove into their studios, some glaring omissions from the album, barbecuing, their beer and quite a bit more.

Interview with Janne Wirman, keyboardist from Children of Bodom

Pick up Children of Bodom’s ‘Hexed’HERE

Right after that, I tracked down Mikko Kotamaki, vocalist from Swallow The Sun.  The interview was conducted right outside the venue which of course, featured a passing train, passing fans, and angry yellow jackets. Distractions aside, we spoke about his vocal evolution, other projects, Nick Cave, Paradise Lost, and quite a bit more.

Interview with Mikko Kotamaki, vocalist from Swallow The Sun

Pick up Swallow the Sun’s ‘When A Shadown is Forced Into The Light’HERE

You can pick up Hedonihil ‘I’HERE

Words / Interview by: JJ Ellis
Photos by: Henry Chung

The Gen-X Summer Tour With Buckcherry, Lit, and Alien Ant Farm at One Centre Square

Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” When I first heard the announcement of the Gen-X Summer Tour, my first reaction was that this was just another nostalgia tour. Buckcherry, Lit, and Alien Ant Farm (no P.O.D. on this date, unfortunately) whose hits have been radio mainstays for the last 25 years are the definition of nostalgia in terms of modern radio rock.

While waiting outside of Easton’s One Center Square for doors to open, I was scanning the crowd and was delighted to see a mixed demographic. There were those who only knew Buckcherry via “Crazy Bitch,” and that might be the only song they know. Then there were those who weren’t even born when their first hit “Lit Up” first hit airwaves. Overall, I ended up in pleasant conversation with others about our own experiences with these artists.

Alien Ant Farm:

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Alien Ant Farm – Photo by Henry Chung

Alien Ant Farm was the first act on the bill. While I was upstairs setting up my gear and checking out merch, I saw they had a stack of CD’s laying on a table. I ran into my friend Hailey who was working with the promoter tonight. I mentioned to her that I used to be a part of the band’s street team and handed out these exact CDs to people at shows so many years ago. Within the first few bars of “Movies,” I noticed I was laying there with my back pressed up against the barricade singing along without skipping a beat. I haven’t heard this song in over 17yrs and I knew every single word.

The band played a mostly from ‘ANThology’ but also touched upon ‘Up in the Attic’ and ‘truANT’ then ending their set with Micheal Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

Lit:

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Lit – Photo by Henry Chung

Lit came out and opened with a cover of “American Girl” by Tom Petty before rolling right into “Four.” The band who proudly wore sunny California on its sleeve warmed the audience with their brightly colored pop rock.

Though the members might have a few extra greys in their beards, it’s clearly not slowing them down one bit as they hammed it up for the audience who loved every second of it.

A majority of the set leaned heavily on ‘A Place in the Sun’ while still touched on ‘The View From the Bottom’ as well as new tracks “Good Problem to Have” and “Someday Maybe” off of their new record ‘These Are the Days.’ Of course, their set had to end with “My Own Worst Enemy.” It’s pretty much mandatory, now.

Buckcherry:

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Buckcherry – Photo by Henry Chung

The greatest memory I have of Buckcherry was that it was the show that Cory (Neostar co-founder) first crowd surfed.

Having been the longest-running band of the night, Buckcherry had a greater catalog to choose from. Despite picking select tracks off of each of their records, the band leaned heavily on ’15.’

A trend of the night was that each band played a cover song. Alien Ant Farm had “Smooth Criminal” (Micheal Jackson), Lit did “American Girl” (Tom Petty), and for Buckcherry, they did “Say Fuck It” (a clever twist of Icona Pop’s “I Love It”).

From the bands playing together on this tour, right down to the venue itself, it felt like everything has come full circle. One Center Square is basically a reincarnation of the once great Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown. It is utilized by the same promoter and is (mostly) staffed by many familiar faces. Despite all that has changed from venues, to band lineups, to musical directions, and popular trends, rock clearly isn’t going anywhere.

Words/ Photos: Henry Chung

Tour Dates:

06/28 @Summerfest– Harley Davidson – Milwaukee, WI 
06/29 @ Corbin Arena – Corbin, KY 
06/30 @ Stars and Stripes Festival FREE SHOW – Novi, MI 
07/03 @ Miramar Amphitheater – Miramar, FL 
07/05 @ The Stage on the Bay – Savannah. GA ^ 
07/06 @ The Beaver Bar – Murrels Inlet, SC 
07/07 @ Pier Six Pavillion – Baltimore, MD 
07/26 @ The Amphitheater at Bald Hill – Farmingville, NY 
07/27 @ The Palladium – Worcester, MA 
07/28 @ CURE Insurance Arena – Trenton, NJ 
07/30 @ Exhibition Hall – Watertown, NY
07/31 @ Mavricks Music Hall – Barrie, ON
08/03 @ Bluestem Amphitheater – Moorhead, MN
08/06 @ Iron Horse Saloon FREE SHOW – Sturgis, SD
08/09 @ Choctaw Casino & Resort FREE SHOW – Pocola, OK
08/10 @ Golden Nugget Casino – H20 – Lake Charles, LA
08/11 @ Griffin Music Hall – El Dorado, AR
08/12 @ Summers at the River – Nixa, MO
08/14 @ Stampede – Aurora, CO
08/17 @ The Northwoods Rock Rally – Glen Fora, WI
08/19 @ Providence Medical Center – Bonner Springs, KS
08/21 @ Concrete Street Pavilion – Corpus Christi, TX
8/22 @ HEB Center – Cedar Park, TX
08/24 @ The Pavilion at Toyota Music – Irving, TX
08/25 @ Speaking Rock Entertainment FREE SHOW – El Paso, TX
08/26 @ Smart Financial Centre at Sugarland – Sugar Land, TX
08/28 @ Abilene Civic Center – Abilene, TX
08/30 @ Tyson Events Center – Sioux City, IA
08/31 @ DuQuoin State Fair – DuQuoin, IL
09/01 @ Naperville Last Fling – Naperville, IL
09/03 @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre – St. Louis, MO *
09/06 @ BLK Live – Scottsdale, AZ
09/07 @ BLK Live – Scottsdale, AZ

^ No P.O.D.
*Pointfest Radio Show with Offspring, 311, and more

Vans Warped Tour 2018: The End of an Era

For the last 24yrs, the Vans Warped Tour has been been the largest traveling music festival in the United States plus the longest-running touring music festival in North America. Criss-crossing through the US (and the occasional parts of the UK and Australia), It’s been nicknamed the “punk rock summer camp” for veteran bands and those trying to making a name for themselves. The tour is not one for the weak willed. The grueling Summer heat, the traveling, vehicle breakdowns, an ever changing daily schedule, and time away from loved ones would push those to their limits. But for a lot kids (and young adults like me), this tour was a place where you can be yourself and be one with your tribe.

The blow-up schedule for the Camden, NJ stop of the Vans Warped Tour 07/13/2018

This year would be considered the final cross-country run of the Vans Warped Tour. Despite what everyone else keeps thinking, the TOURING part is over but not the festival. Who knows what the future may hold for this Summertime staple.

As I made my way through the production halls of the BB&T Pavilion in Camden NJ, a moment of melancholy loomed over me. This is the last time I’ll be getting lost in these halls for Warped. All of the friends I have made over the years in production I might never see again after this. After a moment of clarity, I pushed onward and met up with my writer for my shot list. (NOTE: I was originally collaborating with another outlet but a lot of the interviews that were originally approved ended up being cancelled that morning so I decided to share the coverage here instead.)

Tonight Alive – Photo by Henry Chung

One of the first groups I shot was Tonight Alive. Us here at neostar//media have had a long history with with the band. Some of our first Warped interviews were with various members as they were on the rise. It’s still phenomenal to see how far their careers have soared over the years and they’ve always made time to hang out and talk to us whenever we’d run into each other at shows. This was their 4th time on the tour.

Nekrogoblikon – Photo by Henry Chung

The next group I saw was Nekrogoblikon. There’s been a buzz over the last few months about this band. The crowds were too massive for me to fight my way through so I hopped up on the Monster Energy truck to try and catch a wide shot. This was their first ever run on the Vans Warped Tour.

Wage War – Photo by Henry Chung

Next, I made my way through to catch Wage War. I believe they were on the previous year but I never got a chance to see them until I caught their set during the Self Help Fest last September. Their album ‘Deadweight’ was hands down one of my favorite records of last year. This was also their 2nd Warped Tour run.

Four Years Strong – Photo by Henry Chung

Next up was Four Years Strong. I wasn’t sure what to expect from FYS this summer. Probably a “hits” show since they’ve just released an acoustic record earlier this year Some of You Will Like This, Some of You Won’t so figured they’d just stick with fan-favorites (which they did.) This is their 6th year playing the Vans Warped Tour.

Crown the Empire – Photo by Henry Chung

The buzz around Crown the Empire has been the departure of co-vocalist Dave Escamilla with Andy Leo taking over full vocal duties. You can tell that there was just “something” missing from their performance but over all, I think Andy did a great job. It was almost impossible to get a still shot of him as he kept jumping around on stage. This was their 4th time on the Vans Warped Tour.

We the Kings – Photo by Henry Chung

We the Kings opened their set each day with the crowd singing along to Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” before going right into “Sad Song” and kept the crowd singing along throughout their half-hour set all the way into their closer “Check Yes Juliet.” This was their 6th time on the Vans Warped Tour.

The Amity Affliction – Photo by Henry Chung

Another Australian band that has been making waves this summer was The Amity Affliction. The band has been gearing up to release the sixth studio album, ‘Misery’. This was also their 3rd time on the Vans Warped Tour.

Simple Plan – Photo by Henry Chung

Playing their 12th run on the Vans Warped Tour, the Canadian pop-punk band Simple Plan was also celebrating their 20th anniversary as well.

Falling In Reverse – Photo by Henry Chung

Falling In Reverse are no strangers to the Vans Warped Tour. This will be their 6th time returning to the tour.

Every Time I Die – Photo by Henry Chung

I don’t know what else there is to say about Every Time I Die that hasn’t been said a million times before. They have become a Warped Tour staple over the years, they put on one of the best live shows, and their albums are phenomenal. This is Every Time I Die’s 9th run on the tour.

Hatebreed – Photo by Henry Chung

Hatebreed was a “special guest” on two of the East Coast dates of Vans Warped Tour. Today in Camden, NJ and tomorrow at Holmdel, NJ. In the previous year when I tried to photograph them, but a massive thunderstorm erupted over the skies above us causing us to seek shelter. This year, I finally get redemption. Within the first note, they did not let up. They tore right into old school fan-favorites. The majority of their set leaned more on the hardcore side of their catalog. This is the band’s 3rd time on the Vans Warped Tour.

Senses Fail – Photo by Henry Chung

Earlier this year, Senses Fail released their seventh album titled ‘If There is Light, It Will Find You.’ It was a deeply nostalgic and personal record written by vocalist and sole original member Buddy Nelson. The entire record harkens back to the sing-along feels of their landmark album ‘Let It Enfold You.’ But being around the same age as the singer, a lot of the songs on the new record felt uncomfortably too relatable. From growing up and getting older, dealing with the loss of close ones, and having kids. Just a few songs in, Buddy dedicates the song “Elevator to the Gallows” to his daughter Penelope (seen in the bottom corner along with his wife.) The main highlight of their set was the Nu Metal mashup of System Of A Down’s “Chop Suey”, Drowning Pool’s “Bodies”, Limp Bizkit’s “Break stuff” and Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade” towards the end. This was their 6th year on the Vans Warped Tour.

Motionless In White – Photo by Henry Chung

We’re getting closer to the end now. Closing the Monster Energy White Lightning stage today is our very own Motionless In White. With the recent departure of  longtime bassist Devin “Ghost” Sola, they called in the help of the group’s former guitarist, TJ Bell to fill in for the duration of the tour. This is also the band’s 10th run on the Vans Warped Tour.

Twiztid – Photo by Henry Chung

Now officially finishing the night is Twiztid. I didn’t know what to expect from them. I’ve heard of them and have had friends been fans of them over the years but I knew absolutely nothing about them. But, their stage presence was a pleasant surprise. They came out onstage with a live drummer to be honest, hearing the clean drums with a backing track was a nice relief to the ears after eight straight hours of punishing breakdowns.

So as sad it is that the tour is over. I try NOT to dwell too much on it. In the last two decades, I’ve felt that I have found an identity associated with the tour and the music it encompasses. I have watched as bands begin from playing small stages to filling arenas to becoming household names, from touring in broken down vans to becoming icons. The tour might be over but the music isn’t. If anything, it just opens up doors for others to start their own movement. Summers won’t be the same again after this but in the end, the music will continue.

Words and Photos by: Henry Chung

‘Sonic Unrest’ at Reading’s Reverb

On March 31st, Reading’s Reverb was the very first stop of The Sonic Unrest Pt 2 tour. Featuring Periphery, The Contortionist, Norma Jean and Infinity Shred, it was sure to be a varied bill.

Continue reading “‘Sonic Unrest’ at Reading’s Reverb”

Ice Nine Kills and Chasing Safety Sells Out Planet Trog

Whitehall, PA – Tonight’s SOLD OUT event takes place at the famous Planet Trog. Upon squeezing into the venue, all I could see was audience from wall to wall. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this place has been this packed. As I try to fight my way in through the crowd I noticed the band up on stage was my friends in Cedar Green finishing their set. I wish I had known they were opening as I would’ve arrived a little bit earlier. The thing you should know about this venue is that this place isn’t huge. It’s a small club with a 400+ person capacity. It is connected to an indoor laser tag arena.

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Every date of the tour has been SOLD OUT!
Continue reading “Ice Nine Kills and Chasing Safety Sells Out Planet Trog”

Transcending the Coma Tour

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9/15/16 – Transcending the Coma Tour – The Devin Townsend Project / Between the Buried and Me with Fallujah – Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA

Traffic and parking prevented us from witnessing opening act Fallujah’s performance. Reports seem to indicate that they put their latest release Dreamless firmly in the spotlight.

Between the Buried and Me were the second act of the evening and, as promised, played their latest album Coma Ecliptic in full. Coma Ecliptic was my favorite album of 2015, so seeing it in person was an experience that was perhaps best appreciated by those of us who had a familiarity with the concept and story. Then again, fans of progressive rock can also enjoy it as it may be the most accessible collection of songs the band has put out yet. The narrative helps to make it cohesive as a collection. Continue reading “Transcending the Coma Tour”

Exclusive Interview: Less Than Jake

Photo by Jamie Heim
Photo by Jamie Heim

A few years ago, Henry and a mutual friend conducted an interview with Buddy (trombone) of Less Than Jake written by me. In a lot of ways, even though I had never spoken to Chris (guitar and vocals), this felt like a follow-up. They didn’t have a lot to report in terms of new developments, but we dove into the election theme of their Warped shows, why they have been putting out some of their best work lately, possible future ways they will be releasing music, releasing a live album…. that was recorded 15 years earlier and their 5th annual Wake and Bake Festival in Gainesville, FL. Continue reading “Exclusive Interview: Less Than Jake”

Exclusive Interview: Reel Big Fish (2016)

Photo by Jamie Heim
Photo by Jamie Heim

You can see a ska show at any point in the year, but there is something about seeing Reel Big Fish outside in the summertime. The combination of sunshine, Hawaiian shirts, horns and upbeat songs goes together so well.

Photo by Jamie Heim
Photo by Jamie Heim

A few years prior, I had the pleasure of talking to then-drummer Ryland Steen about Candy Coated Fury. Since then, they have put out an EP of holiday-inspired songs Happy Skalidays. This time, I spoke to Derek Gibbs (bass) about releasing Happy Skalidays on gold vinyl, future recording plans (and difficulties complicating that), future tours and the hot sauces that they just released.

Words by JJ Ellis
Photos by Jamie Heim

Exclusive Interview: Every Time I Die (2016)

Photo by Henry Chung
Photo by Henry Chung

In 2014, Every Time I Die released my favorite album of that year, From Parts Unknown. The follow-up has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it’s recorded and almost ready to go. Continue reading “Exclusive Interview: Every Time I Die (2016)”

Exclusive Interview: Tonight Alive (2016)

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Photo by Henry Chung

It’s one thing to have a follow-up interview with a band, but this is round four between Tonight Alive and I. Yet again, I was happy to speak to Jenna (vocals) and Whakaio (guitar), this time, about their new album Limitless, the change in musical direction, embracing the possibilities for their live show, working with producers who kick their butts, calling their fans Humans, and teaching songwriting workshops on the tour.

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Tonight Alive – ‘Limitless’ Out Now on Fearless Records

The band has grown immensely since starting: no clearer evidence being that they started on the Kevin Says stage on Warped (which doesn’t even exist anymore) to now being a mainstage act. Tonight Alive has been steadily climbing the ladder through good old-fashioned hard work and there’s no reason to believe they’ll be stopping anytime soon.

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Photo by Henry Chung

Words by: JJ Ellis
Photos by: Henry Chung