AMARANTHE w/ BLIND CHANNEL & EMBER FALLS: Maximalism Tour – The Circus, Helsinki, 08.04.2017

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With Maximalism out now, Amaranthe is celebrating the release of their fourth studio album. I still remember buying their demo back in 2010 after their merch guys pushed it on me when they were opening for Leaves’ Eyes and Kamelot at Nosturi (when Elize Ryd was the latter’s touring guest vocalist), and getting really hyped on them (even if that hype never took off properly once their first few albums were released). And here we are, a few years later, with these guys headlining an even bigger venue! Though I really didn’t like Maximalism, I’ve never seen Amaranthe live outside of festivals, and with two of my new favorites, Blind Channel and Ember Falls opening the show, I really couldn’t pass this one up.

Full gallery HERE!
Or listen to the setlist on Spotify:

 

With doors at 19:00, I showed up at 19:15 – probably the earliest I’ve been to a show in years. Ember Falls was on stage at 19:30 already, so I was surprised and thrilled to see that there were already plenty of people in the venue. A cool electronic/industrial intro started them off and I was pleased to see that at least One of Haze (synth) and Ace (drums) had come on stage to play the song, as opposed to a lone backing track – not a common occurrence these days.

These guys have suffered from poor sound on a few occasions, so when I saw sound tech Mika Tyni in the booth, I knew it’d be a good night – even if he wasn’t on sound, he might be doing lights, so it was a win-win either way. They opened with “The Cost of Doing Business” and went straight into “Falling Rain”, at which point I had to stop taking notes and immerse myself in the moment, because the latter is still one of my favorite songs.

“The Lamb Lies Down in Sacrifice” was a surprise choice for track three, with Calu (guitar/growls) ditching his instrument to focus on his screaming. That jazz interlude is always a delight – I can imagine that song being a live hit that fades from the sets for a decade after a few more albums, only to become a comeback fan-pleaser in later years. You know what I mean – that song that you haven’t heard live in years and are really excited about.

The “Welcome to Ember Falls” intro played next, introducing “COE.” I’d like to take this moment to express how gorgeous the lights were for this show – with a bit more front lighting, they might have even topped South Park last year (close, but no cigar).

The band was definitely turned on too, visually, and Ace was really doing an amazing job of the drums. I’m not sure if they’ve played at The Circus before or not, but the floor in front of the stage was definitely filling fast for their set, drawing more and more people away from the bar. I was also glad to see the band has been getting more comfortable with both their material and playing live, taking more and more opportunities to stray from the album and improvise on stage. For example, Calu was growling a few of Thomas Grove’s (vocals) parts, and Grove growled or screamed a bit here and there, or changed the octave on at least one occasion. And I mentioned during the Tampere show that Jack the Rooster’s stage is far too small for them, so it was amazing to see what they could do with some room; I’d even go so far as to say that they could use a bit more – maybe the full stage without having Amaranthe’s equipment would’ve been great for them.

“Rising Tide” followed, before Grove quickly introduced “One More Time” – I got the feeling that they were keeping the speeches nonexistent so that they could pack as many songs into their limited time slot as possible. This was a wise move, considering how many potential Amaranthe fans they could pick up. I also think that last song was sped up a fair bit, though it didn’t suffer for it.

And then it was the moment I’ve been waiting for, for about 2-3 months, when they introduced Niko Moilanen of Blind Channel for “Open Your Eyes.” I was delighted that Grove wasn’t staying silent during Moilanen’s parts, harmonizing a bit here and there. Moilanen, incidentally, is a boy band’s dream vocalist. Just sayin’. The kid sings like an angel. I was disappointed in the crowd’s inability to clap along when prompted, but Moilanen did get a scream from a them once or twice.

They then closed out the night with “the one song that started all this jazz” – “Shut Down with Me.” It was a great performance of a great song, with Calu even jumping down into the pit mid-song for a while. Right near the end, the synth got a little too loud, but I have to confess that I kind of liked it. It’s hard to make synth feel heavy, but that did it; if it had gone on longer than the few seconds it had, it would’ve been bad, but as it stands, I didn’t mind. Props to the extended outro as well – nailed it!

So my favorite antidepressant got the night off to a fantastic start, as per usual. There’s not much more to say that I haven’t said already. Go see this band. They’re wonderful!

Setlist:
1. The Cost of Doing Business
2. Falling Rain
3. The Lamb Lies Down in Sacrifice
Track: Welcome to Ember Falls
4. COE
5. Rising Tide
6. One More Time
7. Open Your Eyes (ft. Niko Moilanen)
8. Shut Down with Me

 

The Facebook event declared that Blind Channel’s set would start a mere 15 minutes after Ember Falls ended theirs. At first I expected the 20:15 start time to be too ambitious, but the speed with which these guys took care of business changed my mind quickly. Knowing each other so well must help these two bands with their flow, as Blind Channel was already ready to rock by 20:12. Their set started at 20:15 exactly, to a track intro I didn’t recognize, and again, I was pleased at how many people were on the floor right away.

“Helsinki! … You won’t break me!” Moilanen shouted as they bounced on stage and started with “Enemy for Me” in true Backstreet Boys fashion: dressed all in white. It’s been just over 6 months since I’ve last seen these boys from Oulu on stage and I very quickly realized that I’ve missed them.

Much like with Ember Falls, it was a joy to see these guys on a bigger stage, and they took every opportunity to make full use of it. Also, to my amusement, the band played my album-favorite track second, just as Ember Falls had done, so I dropped my phone to pay full attention to “My Revolution.”

I also have to give props for how the band has a uniform look (all-white), while they individually have their own style: Joonas Porko (guitar) had the hoodie/jean jacket combo; Moilanen had his trademark hat of late combined with a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up; Joel Hokka (vocals/guitar) was in an unbuttoned cardigan over a t-shirt; Olli Matela (bass) had a short-sleeved collared shirt buttoned to the top; and Tommi Lalli (drums) sported a simple t-shirt in true drummer fashion. Uniform, yet individual. A weird thing to notice, but I liked it.

“Bullet (with Your Name on It)” followed, a high energy favorite. Asking for “oikea käsi ylös” [right hand up], they got the crowd waving their hands back and forth for “Hold on to Hopeless.” I’m glad that one is still on the set, incidentally. That song also had one of the most beautiful moments of harmonization of the night, as well as particularly gorgeous lighting.

Good old “Deja FU” followed, which was one of the best party songs of the night, again making me largely disappointed in the crowd for not taking more advantage of the moment than they did. There was a lot of movement in the crowd, yet… I don’t know about you, but that song makes me want to really let loose. Cool that Matela got a little love as well, by including a short bass solo in that track. At least the crowd got their hands up and clapping this time!

The stage went dark briefly, as some dancers came out to open up for “Can’t Hold Us”, a cover of the hit by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Moilanen came on stage to absolutely destroy the rapping parts while donning a balaclava (and holding a hand cam). Hopefully we’ll see that footage sometime in the nearish future. Perhaps in a music video? I’ve been a little on the fence about this cover, but I definitely really enjoyed it a lot live. Once that was wrapped up, they then had the crowd get down on the ground and jump up (and down) for “Unforgiving.”

Hokka brought out a Blind Channel flag – a new addition to the stage show – for the new addition to the live set: “Alone Against All.” While the phantom is waiting to hear this track in the context of an album, I’ve enjoyed it more or less from the first listen; however, like the phantom predicted, in the context of a live show it was even better. The crowd didn’t quite know the lyrics yet, as this new single only came out last Friday, but I think it has good live potential, particularly with the powerful, “we are born to a world that’s falling apart,” lyric.

Some drums and chanting then introduced what could only be “Darker than Black.” The sleepy crowd couldn’t resist the dynamic build-up they pulled off here – I offer a hearty round of applause. And to my pure delight, Thomas Grove appeared on stage in a white blazer to sing along, wonderfully reminiscent of South Park’s singer swap between these two bands last year. Even better, the three singers, bassist, and guitarist had their own little mosh pit on stage, and didn’t fuck up a single thing. What a way to go out!

I’m starting to appreciate this band’s diversity. After a mere 6 months, these guys had two new songs and the live show felt totally fresh. While the crowd was more alive than during Ember Falls, I can’t deny that I was still disappointed in the reception. Both of these bands deserve a lot more love than I saw.

Setlist:
1. Enemy for Me
2. My Revolution
3. Bullet (With Your Name on It)
4. Hold on to Hopeless
5. Deja FU
6. Can’t Hold Us (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis cover)
7. Unforgiving
8. Along Against All
9. Darker than Black (ft. Thomas Grove)

 

By the time Blind Channel was done, the floor was nearly full, to the point where the venue had opened the back bar and the upper level – I wonder if there were a lot of last minute ticket sales at the door. Amaranthe’s new, poppier sound seems to have attracted a less heavy crowd, as there were clearly some non-heavy fans at The Circus, dressed for a club and ready to dance. For me, however, I can’t say that I expected the headliner to top the openers.

Amaranthe was promised to start at 21:30, though it seemed as though everything was already prepped and ready to go at 21:15. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s when the intro music started, though the band didn’t take the stage until the designated time. I’d call that overkill, to be honest – no one needs a 15 minute intro.

A single beep at 21:29, followed by a recorded voice, announced that the overlong intro had ended at last. The intro beeping was abrasively loud, but that was quickly remedied. The official intro voice was a bit interesting, making Amaranthe’s history into a bit of a story, of which the fans were a main character. I thought that was a pretty cool idea, and fairly well executed.

They started with “Maximize”, and the growls sounded great, but it was immediately evident that Elize Ryd’s (vocals) microphone was way too loud compared to the rest. She also overdid her vocal parts a bit, but I’ll chalk that up to excitement, as she toned it down after the first chorus for the rest of the song. They followed this with the “Boomerang” single, which is catchy but soulless, even live.

I saw Amaranthe once at Myötätuulirock in 2012 and had thought that three vocalists, plus a backing female vocalist, was just way too much. Now, with Jake E (CyHra, ex-Amaranthe) no longer on clean vocals, I was curious as to how I’d like it with only two vocalists on stage… only, they seem to have replaced Jake E temporarily with Nils Molin (Dynazty) live, which I hadn’t been prepared for. So there were still three (but not four!) vocalists still on stage for this show.

Henrik Wilhelmsson (growling vocals) got the crowd’s hands up for “Hunger”, and I immediately felt nostalgic for their original albums… those drums, the solos, that bass! They can still pull it off, so it makes me sad that their music lacks that aspect now. The vocals were a total mess at the end though, with Ryd experimenting a bit too much with high notes while cranked up too loud and thus the three of them together just sounded clamorous.

Wilhelmsson was by far the band’s shining star for me (sorry, Ryd), doing everything in his power – both vocally and visually – to keep the new music from being nothing more than Swedish pop. I definitely didn’t hate Molin either, who did very nicely in songs like “Invincible.” In fact, he has such a nice voice that I might have to try Dynazty out sometime. I’ll also give them points for pulling off three vocalists much better than they had back in 2012. I might’ve liked to see more movement from the guitars and bass than simply switching spots every now and then though.

“1,000,000 Lightyears” was another highlight, with Molin and Wilhelmsson again doing much to impress. Ryd, I’m sorry to say, wasn’t impressing me vocally – though she is great to watch visually – and even now I’m not sure if the problem was with her specifically, or if it was just the mix – whenever there were long high notes, it kind of just sounded like she was shouting; all the melody vanished from her voice. This was odd, because on other occasions she sounded wonderful, and interestingly, it was almost exclusively in the new material when she didn’t stand out badly in the mix.

Molin greeted the crowd, as it was his first time plying with Finland, and announced “Trinity”, while Ryd got the crowd cheering and waving their hands. My theory that Amaranthe has a system for how many of each type of song and where they belong on an album was possibly proven true (pun intended) in their live shows as well, as the sixth track was none other than a ballad, “True”, as on the album. Molin did a fantastic job, which made it even more disappointing that Ryd’s sound was perhaps the worst of the night in this song, and their harmonization failed as a result. As this is one of my favorite Amaranthe songs, this was a pretty big letdown.

Thankfully, Wilhelmsson and a lot of heavy dance followed with “Fury”, where Ryd sounded much better, though I have to say that I just genuinely don’t like this song very much. My theory about Ryd only sounding good during the new material may have been proved when she took the stage for “Endlessly” – the second ballad of the night and a song that features her alone on vocals – and did a lovely job of it. That song is fairly generic though, so it didn’t really save anything at that point. Likewise, the performance of “On the Rocks” was really great, but I just don’t like that song. It does have one noteworthy solo that was very well executed, so props to Olof Mörck. Also props to Morten Sørensen for the drum solo – looks like there’s a bit of heavy metal in there somewhere buried beneath the surface.

“Automatic” was a step back into heavier days, and some big inflatable balls were thrown into the crowd to bounce around, which was fun; that’s usually more of a festival move. “The Nexus” was also cool to hear and wasn’t too disastrous vocally. One heavily-tattooed guy even got up onto someone’s shoulders halfway through, though that didn’t last long.

Ryd greeted the crowd in really adorable Finnish before asking how many people were at their last club show 2 years ago, and then thanked everyone for coming, old and new fans alike. She said that in the end, 1,352 people had shown up for this show. They then started up “Amaranthine.” I braced for disaster but the song started off at a reasonable 90% quality, and for once I wasn’t sorry when the crowd took over the chorus, knowing what might have happened otherwise. In fact, I really enjoy this one on the whole. As a song that I love as much as “True”, if not more, I was glad that it was well executed, even in the harmonies. Ryd’s sound wasn’t perfect, but neither was it as bad as it had been before. I was kind of amused by Wilhelmsson on stage doing his trademark angry metal horns to this song… you know, considering it’s a beautiful slow ballad.

They then closed out the night with “Call Out My Name”, which was a high-energy disco party, with equal parts heavy and disco drums. However, they did come back for four more songs: “Digital World”, “That Song”, “Dynamite”, and of course, “Drop Dead Cynical.” Bassist Johan Andreassen greeted the crowd with comical anger, and said he had some announcements, muttered something I didn’t catch, cracked open a beer, and said, “We fucking love you. Except for Morten. He doesn’t love anyone.” He went on to talk about shitting in bags for a while, and I’m not really sure what the point of that rant was beyond shock value. It’s cool though – no one minds extensive vulgarity and random speeches at a metal show, right? It went on too long though, let’s not lie. Also, you guys play pop-metal with the metal being only theoretical at times, so I’m not convinced your heart is, “pitch fucking black”… I liked him more later on when he was revving up the crowd and talking about the afterparty at The Riff.

“Digital World” went well, but I really dislike “That Song”, so I’ll just say nothing. “Dynamite” and “Drop Dead Cynical” tickle me in the right places though, so ultimately, the encore was pretty solid. They then received their gold records for “Drop Dead Cynical” in Finland. After expressing their gratitude, that was it for the night!

 

If I had some complaints about the sound at this show, at least the crowd didn’t seem to notice. On the whole, I was quite happy with the band and the male vocalists in particular, I’ll still say that it was a fun gig and worth attending. But this did nothing to change my 2-star rating of their new album, nor did it make me an official fan at this point. It was a bit of a lose-lose situation for me here though, as the new songs sounded the best, but I don’t enjoy them the way I enjoy the older material. Having the new and old songs juxtaposed against each other live really goes to show how much their sound has changed. Nevertheless, if you don’t have a problem with the way their music has changed these days, I would certainly recommend trying them out in a club sometime.

Setlist:
1. Maximize
2. Boomerang
3. Hunger
4. Invincible
5. 1,000,000 Lightyears
6. Trinity
7. True
8. Fury
9. Endlessly
10. On the Rocks
Drum solo
11. Automatic
12. The Nexus
13. Amaranthine
14. Call Out My Name

Encore:
15. Digital World
16. That Song
17. Dynamite
18. Drop Dead Cynical

Photos: Kirsti Leinonen

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