Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notes From The Astral Kingdom

The Astral Kingdom emerges from a dream.(Photo: The Friar)

1) Astral Travelling. 

November 18, 2014 - a day like any other. Except that I was going over to Sweden to once again to see the greatest band on earth and also good friends of mine. Their music I credit with singularly making me cancer free.

I made my way to the airport and flew to Stockholm from Vancouver via Sea-Tac and Reykjavik. I had no expectations this time because every time in the past the band has delivered the goods, both musically and as friends. They delivered in Spades again this time as you will see. This was good. I am a champion of social networking, especially on Facebook. After Desert Forces 2012, I started a Facebook group named Astral Doors - The Legion of Rock for the more involved fan. 

The idea that I can make contact PERSONALLY with each and every fan extends the hand of virtual hospitality. I remember the names, faces, and qualities of each and every fan I cross. I remember the kindness, hospitality,  and joy shared with every fan and member of the band. This trip would be no different. 

So I got to Stockholm and had a piece of shit Ford Fiesta rental car reserved. The damn thing was not compatible with Bluetooth or my Android USB 3.0 charger. Useless as tits on a bull. Fellow Admin of the Legion, Werner, arrives an hour after yours truly and SAS or Frankfurt airport staff lose his baggage on a DIRECT flight.  (!). So while Werner organized with SAS to arrange delivery of his bag, I dumped the Ford piece of crap for a Volvo upgrade. Problems solved. 

We were off to Borlänge,  capital of the Astral Kingdom. I had set up events for the Legion for a pre-gathering on Thursday night prior to the gig on Friday as well as a duplicate of the Liljan event because I couldn't import their event into the Legion. Functional limits of Facebook, I guess. 

The only band with a major social scene! (Photo: Friar)
2) Legion Pre-gathering! 

Arrival in Borlänge was followed up by rest after a long trip for both Werner and I. But, Thursday would be amazing. A walk around Borlänge, a new Swedish chip for my new Android, and a very nice visit with members of Patrik's family were the order of the day. Being an alcoholic in lifelong recovery this was very important to me. Some times we have problems and a certain member of Patrik's family is a superb resource and she helped set me straight!  So no worries as we reminisced over old times and organised some new ones, hopefully for next summer. 

Some late lunch with Werner at Café Peace and Love helped reconstitute us. Then we met up with Anders Axelsson whom we would hang with over the weekend. What a nice guy. Anders helped out as co-host of The Legion Gathering. We didn't get a lot of people. In fact, it was just Werner, Anders and I on the fan side. But we did have Mattias Eriksson attend. He had been wholly responsible for Astral Imagery since the single Hyllning Till Leksand. What a nice guy as well. 

What really blew us away was we had Patrik (vocals), Joachim Nordlund (guitars), and Roberg (keyboards) show up. S1 at the First Hotel Brage was the perfect venue for the event. Quiet, comfortable,  and quality over quantity was the order of the day. It also gave me the chance to get them to sign stuff before the gig. A special wedding gift for Rod in Poland was also included in the items. A copy of the album signed by the whole band, including new guitarist for live gigs,  Mats Gesar (Thalamus). 

Laughter,  friendship and getting to know the guys in the band again put me at ease as any worries about things quickly dissipated. 

The staff at The Brage made us all comfortable and the stay was amazing. 

3) Friday. Live Notes. 

So it was Friday that we hooked up with Anders Andersson and a couple of lady fans, Annelie and Lisen. We had a blast and with our little group growing almost hourly, we were setting the mood for one hell of a night. Some dinner at O'Leary's gave us the fuel we needed. 

During the afternoon, I went to Liljan,  the club where the gig was happening, for sound check. As the gig was being set up, a new amazing stage design emerged. The band had invested in a new "timeless" backdrop of the flower logo. The added side banners of Asta the Dragon conceived by Mattias Eriksson for Testament of Rock just added a touch of superb class. This was the best stage design ever seen from the band.

Johan "The Stockholm Fury" Lindstedt had just gotten his drum kit recovered with new heads. This included  a new bass drum head adorned with the medallion from the Notes of the Shadows album cover. 

So I got the camera set up on a tripod by the mixing board. House technician Anna was agreeable and all professional throughout. Things sounded good through the band sound check and I could tell from listening to the recording test results,  we were headed for spectacular results that night during the show filming. Mike Asplund's set up was a board feed and numerous Go Pros filming. The band hopes to share this footage some time in the future..

Well, Werner, Anders and I grabbed some dinner at the local Chinese and after we were ready for a great night. We had a drink with some of the girls who came to Borlänge for the show and then went over to the club. 

It was amazing how many people and fans of the band came up and said hello that night. I couldn't speak long with each but did take the time to excuse myself and otherwise keep circulating. Checking on the camera for proper operation ensured good quality in the end.
This was the first time I got to see Astral Doors with two guitar players. While Mats didn't take many solos,  his backup made the band sound like it was meant too. I was in heaven. They got to power us through a striking set list that included a few surprises. Notably:

Last Temptation of Christ
Disciples of The Dragonlord
Of The Son And The Father
London Caves
Wailing Wall
Die Alone
Bastard Son
New Revelation
Bride of Christ
Evil Is Forever
Black Rain

It was great to hear 5 songs off the new album. Bride of Christ was also a highlight. The house sound was not too loud which made for a fantastic recording while filming the gig. I filmed in 720p with 96 Hz sampling 24 bit audio. 

The footage had to be reviewed by the band, but I am ecstatic to say that I can post 3/4s of the night as a Legion of Rock exclusive. The results stand the test of anything previously filmed of the band. 

So the night came and went seeing everyone there, just passing in the night made for a sense of familiarity that makes Borlänge like a second home to me. A few shots of back stage completed the soirée and it was off to crash. Big thanks to all the band for their facilitation of the whole filming process and for putting on a great show. 

Legion and Lungs @ Leksand (Photo: C. Johansson)
4) Hockey and Bowling

So, we weren't done with this spectacular of hanging with members of the band yet. Saturday, Patrik and wife Carina attended a hockey game of Leksand IF vs HV71 with Legionnaires Werner, Anders and I. Leksand lost, but the game was enjoyable and I was surprised by the structured chanting from rival supporters' sections as they tried to consistently out do one another during the match. 

An added bonus was getting to hear the new Civil War album with a complete play by play from vocalist Patrik on the way to the game. The real pièce de la résistance was hearing Patrik's work with his challenged kids from his day job. Absolutely wonderful to hear the kids wanted to do a metal project with therapist Patrik. So they created a masterpiece comic metal anthem that basically says "We are the Death Skull Band, we spread fear across the land." The incongruity of the lyrics with those participating made for some hilarious moments and laughter from all those that got to hear this little gem. 

Patrik does the lead vocal and the instrumentals are ably aided by Astral Doors guitarist Joachim Nordlund. Nordlund just shreds a solo that rivals any of his professional work to date. He also provided the studio facilities. I really hope this project makes it for a charitable single/ep. 

Ulfie! Always happy! (Photo:
Jesper Malm.)
Upon our return we checked out Facebook and found that Astral Doors was challenging The Legion to a bowling game! Just a note to hear to thank O'Leary's bar for all the food and fun during our stay. The place has about 100 screens and shows more NHL hockey on a weeknight than we get in Canada on a Saturday since Rogers bought up NHL Broadcast rights. This is an absolute travesty to the Canadian NHL fan that we cannot even see games properly in our country where hockey is our national sport. 

Anyway, this O'Leary's place was not without a 13 lane bowling alley set up!! Somehow the band members (Ulf,  Joachim, and Johan) managed to get protective anti-gutter rails that raised during their turns. This unfairness gave the band both games with some very humorous consternation from the Legion. Big thanks to Ronny Ljung for sponsoring thus fun event. 

So it was with a great sense of accomplishment that Werner, Anders and I all parted ways with each other and the band. What awaited at home was another 6 weeks of work to complete the Live From The Shadows DVD,  which in the end turned out way more incredible than I thought. 

The Friar once again returned to Canada, feeling rejuvenated. The Astral Kingdom is a place of the heart, mind, body and soul bonded through friendship with the most incredibly kind bunch of guys with the most incredible music and songs on the planet. Long live Astral Fucking Doors!