Monday, December 10, 2001 @ 11:48 AM
Aria Live At The Sport Palace
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How far would you travel to see a band? How much time would you spend on a plane or even a train just to go to a gig? Usually, big metal bands tour extensively in Europe and the United States, so all we have to do is to find out where the nearest show is and simply go there.
But what do you do if the band you really want to see doesn't play anywhere near you or doesn't even play in your country because they're virtually unknown there? You can either get a live video or prepare yourself for a long journey to the country where they're mega stars and go to the show there.
Maybe it was one of those drunken ideas you get with your best pal after a certain amount of beer. I don't even remember how we got the idea, but suddenly the it was there: Let's go to Moscow and see Russia's metal stalwarts Aria live! An idea like this is quite easily conceived, but getting everything organised is another thing. From here, which is near Cologne in the very west of Germany, to Moscow it's 1300 miles (2093 km). Piece of cake when you're on a plane, but to cut down the costs, we decided to take the train, which would take about 36 hours (!!!). The necessary visas (a transit visa for Belarus and a tourist visa for the Russian Federation) as well as the hotel bookings for one (!) night in Moscow (the good old Intourist, which will be demolished in January next year) were organised by a travel agency, so all we had to do was fill in all the forms and pay.
Then it was Thursday, November 29th and our Russian metal adventure was about to begin...
We, that is my long-standing pal Bjorn Schmidt and me, took the train from Cologne, Germany to Moscow, Russia on Thursday, 29 November at 7.28pm. From there the train headed eastward, all across Poland, Belarus until we arrived in Moscow on Saturday, 1 December at 9.09am. Check-in at the hotel, an initial walk over the Red Square and through the Arbat district, a quick meal in a certain American fast-food restaurant, then back to the hotel.
At 4pm we were met by Olga, who works for the Aria band management and Larissa, who is married to Alex, who also works for Aria and who had organised our tickets. Olga and Larissa showed us round Moscow a bit and then we set off to Luzhniki, where the show was going to be. A long trail of "Aritsy" (the Russian word for Aria fans) was on the way from the Metro station Sportivnaya to the venue, either shouting "ARIA, ARIA, ARIA..." or loudly singing Aria songs. Their euphoria was infectious and made us forget the temperatures well below zero. The atmosphere was amazing and reminded me more of going to a soccer match than going to a metal gig. For Aria their show was a home match anyway and on the way to the venue, during the show and on the way back I felt that Aria mean more to their fans than just a band.
The entrances to the Luzhniki Sports Palace were guarded by the militia, who would only let in about ten people at a time, so there were long queues in front of the venue. We finally got in, but then couldn't find our seats in the press area. None of the ushers seemed to be able or willing to show us where to go, so finally we went in through a random entrance.
The stage was in the middle of the huge venue, a concept which reminded me of Metallica's black album tour some ten years ago. Aria's stage looked a bit like a medieval castle, the speakers were hanging from the ceiling and instead of support band, Aria came on immediately at about 8.30pm. As an intro, they used the first piece of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a piece of music that has been heard as a starter to many Ozzy shows. The intro was accompanied by a giant and impressive light show and when the five-piece finally came on stage, the assembled 12,000 - 13,000 "Aritsy" went wild. Aria kicked off with the title track from their new album Chimera, followed by "Nebo Mebya Naidem" ("Heaven Will Find You") from the same longplayer. Right from the start, Aria's performance was tight, powerful and kicked ass enormously - exactly what you want from a heavy metal band. What I found fascinating was how the guitar work was divided between the two axemen Vladimir Holstinin and Sergey Terentyev. While Holstinin appeared to be the more classical guitarist of the two, Terentyev was responsible for the heavy riffing. Together, they're one of the best guitar duos I've ever heard. Bassist Vitaly Dubinin is worth ten Steve Harrises while drummer Alexander Manyakin just rules and kicks butt. As far as singer Valery Kipelov is concerned, I have to say that, having seen and heard many of the Ian Gillans, Bruce Dickinsons and Geoff Tates live, he is one of the best metal singers on this planet. This guy has not only a voice that sends shivers down your spine once he gets started, he also has incredible stamina. Including the encores, Aria played for more than two hours, but at the end of the show, Kipelov sounded as fresh and powerful as at the beginning, and that is despite the extensive Russian tour they've been on.
The setlist had basically been put together by the fans on Aria's website, so the programme had something for everyone. The main focus was on songs from the new album, but each of the eight longplayers was represented with at least one mumber. Unfortunately, the 1991 album Krov Sa Krov (Blood For Blood) was only represented by "Sleduy Sa Mnoy" ("Follow Me"), a great song which must be extremely difficult to sing. Superfluous to say, no problem for Kipelov. He mastered the high notes in the chorus without effort but with much ease. Still, I felt that Krov Sa Krov was a little bit under-represented. I, and I also think the crowd, could have done with "Proshai, Norfolk" ("Farewell Norfolk") or the gloomy "Antichrist" (no translation necessary). Anyway, the necessary set of classics was included, for example "Torero" from the first album, "Geroy Asphalta" ("Hero Of Asphalt), "Ballada O Drevnerusskam Boynye" ("Ballad About An Ancient Russian Warrior") and, of course, the immortal "Ulitsa Ros" ("Rose Street"), which is the definitive Aria anthem. In the middle of the show, Aria put on a short acoustic set of three songs. Especially for this set, four cello players and additional percussionists came on. The Sport Palace turned into a sea of cigarette lighters. Honestly, I've been to many concerts, but I've never seen so many lighters at once. And I've never seen such a great audience either. The crowd was singing along with each and every line and after each song, the "Aria, Aria, Aria..." shouts started again. What was also remarkable was that the audience was very young. Aria started in the mid-eighties and I expected an older audience, but most of the aritsy were probably under twenty. It's reassuring to see such a young metal audience - the future of real metal seems to be in countries far away from all the Fred Dursts that are being imported everywhere from the States.
Back to the concert. The great musical performance was accompanied by a stunning pyro and laser show. In addition, Aria had some extra gimmicks, like the flying flute players in "Vampir" from the new album. One of the big highlights to me was the performance of "Shtil" ("Calm Sea") from Chimera as well. When Valery Kipelov announced the song, the crowd went close to being hysterical.
Three encores were played, all taken from the 1986 album S Kem Ty? (On Whose Side Are You?). The first, "Volya I Rasum" ("Will And Reason") is a real killer! After more than two hours of one of the best metal performances I've ever seen in my life, we made our way back to the hotel. The long trail of aritsy invaded the Metro, happily singing and shouting "Aria, Aria, Aria..." as before, but this time with a smile on their faces.
Back in the hotel bar, we found that the show was also being screened on Russian TV. At that point I was thinking about moving to Moscow...
The next day we were met at the hotel by at least 12 people from the chat on Aria's website www.aria.ru. I'd been in touch with one of them and we agreed to meet up in Moscow, but we certainly didn't expect such a group. So we spent the afternoon and evening with Metal Demon, Odin, Satana, Bes, Vedma and others walking through Moscow. They were looking after us very well and we had a really enjoyable time - thanks to all of you, you're great! But after all, things aren't that rosy in Russia. We were told that a friend of theirs had been beaten up by a policeman and ended up in hopital. I asked why. "No reason," one of them said. "Because this is Russia."
The 36 hours on the train back home seemed longer than on the way to Moscow. Time enough to think about the lessons that can be learnt from our Russian metal experience. First of all, it was definitely worth it and I would always do it again. Then, Aria are the best live act I've seen in my life and it is about high time they get the international recognition they deserve. Thirdly, the best metal is probably to be found beyond the horizons of our western music industry. I'm not gonna complain anymore about the nu metal stuff, because it isn't worth it. I'm not gonna take every fashion dictated by record labels and sales figures seriously anymore. Instead, I'll just stick the Aria live video on I bought in Moscow. Fourthly, rock knows no borders indeed. A German, writing for a global internet community based in the States travelling to Moscow to check out a Russian band. That says it all. There's much more to rock 'n' roll than we think of. I've learnt a lot...
Special thanks to Dieter Meier from Olympia Reisen, Alexey, Olga, Larissa, Metal Demon and everybody from the chat who was there on Sunday.