DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT ft. ORCHESTRA OF PLOVDIV STATE OPERA – Roman Theater, Plovdiv, 22.09.2017

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Devin Townsend’s Ocean Machine: Biomech (1997) is nothing short of a huge deal to his fans. When Townsend announced that he would be playing a special by-request show with the Devin Townsend Project in the ancient Roman Theater in Plovdiv with an orchestra, and that they would follow it with Ocean Machine in its entirety, fans from the world round scrambled to buy concert and plane tickets to the Bulgaria show. As fans of DTP and Ocean Machine ourselves, we gladly joined them.

Listen along to the near-full set on Spotify:

While I am known for my love of DTP, I actually have only a passing familiarity with this particular album, having listened to it only a handful of times. However, the songs I know I like immensely (usually the ones they play live), and on a few new listens, I quickly began to see the reason for this album’s popularity. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to travel, right?

 

There seemed to be a lot of confusion and kerfuffle regarding the tickets to this show. For one, there were many complaints online that the e-tickets were not downloading properly, though fortunately they seemed to have gotten that fixed by showtime. As well, the receipts for those who had physical tickets suggested that they should be picked up in Sofia, not Plovdiv, leading to no shortage of panic from some people who didn’t come via the capital. The woman working at the local Eventim-sponsored music shop in Plovdiv also seemed to have no idea how to print tickets on the day of the show, nor any real idea of what was going on in general, in spite of other attendees printing tickets there easily on previous days. Needless to say, for those who traveled, there was considerable stress about this show.

Nevertheless, the ancient Roman amphitheater was a breathtaking venue. Located on a hill and with many entrances that kept queuing at a minimum, the location was gorgeously historical and allowed everyone present a great view of the stage. Attendees had to rely on luck and early attendance to get a seat up front, as there were no seat numbers within the sections, but regardless of your location you should’ve been able to see the stage.

The show started at 20:30 as the orchestra took the stage and the band followed to uproarious cheering. Townsend came out and started immediately by thanking everyone, including the road crew, organizers, orchestra, conductor, and of course, everyone who came from all over the world. And all over the world indeed – we met people from America, Ireland, Austria, France, Australia, Norway, and more! He said that the event was a dream come true, that some of the songs had never been played before, and were we ready to fuck it up?

Townsend also promised throughout the show that he wouldn’t talk too much shit because it’d be painful to go through later in editing for the Bluray, and he actually more or less kept to that, to the surprise of many. He spoke a bit between tracks in the first set, such as to announce “Deadhead” as a song for his wife, “Canada” to be a song about – you guessed it – Canada, and called “Bad Devil” a “swingin’ dance party,” which was entirely true of the crowd, who were captivated for the entire night. Be it rhythmic head nodding or straight up partying, everyone was fully engaged from start to finish.

I couldn’t actually tell you how and where the by-request set was put together, if there was online voting or something else, but in my experience, by-request sets tend to be a bit disappointing. People want to hear the little-heard songs, but usually the masses end up voting for the hits. In that sense, I’d call this set both a big success and a bit of a failure at the same time. On one hand, they played some really unusual stuff like “Om” from the 1998 Christeen EP, “Deep Peace” and “Canada” from 2001’s Terraria, and “Gaia” and “A Simple Lullaby” from 2006’s Synchestra. On the other hand, you can be pretty much everyone at this show had seen their local tour gigs for the Transcendence tour around the world, so playing four songs from

that album was a bit of a let-down. However, I will concede that this was by far the best version of “Higher” I’ve heard – I’ve mentioned on the album review and the tour report that I do not much care for that song, but somehow with the addition of the choir and a bit of a looser performance, the song shone in a way that it hadn’t to me before. One other worthy mention is that the fireworks that you can hear on “A Simple Lullaby” on the album were present here as well, and who doesn’t love live fireworks? Townsend even joked that the fireworks used up all of their budget for the next album.

This leads me to another issue with this show, and easily the biggest problem overall. We could not hear the orchestra or the choir pretty much at all throughout the entire show. The sound quality was unbelievable and the lighting was incredible, but sadly, the sound of the band completely overpowered the orchestra to the point where they could barely be heard. We were seated centrally, about halfway up, and I can count on one hand the number of times that I was even aurally aware of the presence of the orchestra

: there was a vague hint of strings in “Stormbending” and another small hint in “Failure”, a bit of extra oomph present in “By Your Command”, and then a bit of the choir (possibly just the female half) in “Higher.” I truly hope that was just an issue of location, and that at very least they’re able to balance the sound out in the Bluray, because that was really a bit of a let-down. As well, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t take better advantage of the orchestra. Most bands I’ve seen that use an orchestra allow different moments to spotlight the band or highlight cool parts of the music with the orchestra, but that did not happen in this show. They were simply the backing music and couldn’t even really be heard. A sad waste from where we were seated, unfortunately.

However, after “Deep Peace”, Townsend thanked everyone profusely and promised to be back in 25-30 minutes. In that time, the orchestra cleared out and they rearranged the band, putting Ryan van Poederooyen’s drum riser in the center. They also brought out a chair for the special guest, John Randahl Harder, known as the bassist on Ocean Machine: Biomech, as well as Squid Vicious on Punky Brüster: Cooked on Phonics (1996). Regular DTP bassist Beav got to chill and watch the show from the crowd as a result.

While the by-request set with the orchestra didn’t quite live up to the hype, the Ocean Machine set easily surpassed my expectations. Live classics like “Seventh Wave”, “Night”, and “Regulator” shattered every earlier version of them I’ve heard with the sheer audio quality of the venue, while “Life” and “The Death of Music” were so heart-wrenchingly beautiful that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were tears in a few eyes in the crowd. Townsend brought out an acoustic guitar to do the short “Sister” on his own, and getting to hear “Bastard” live was a real joy – it instilled an even deeper appreciation of the song into me. The overall performance of the album was done to perfection, and mixed with the gorgeous lights, it was a truly memorable set and it alone was worth the journey overseas.

 

I have high hopes that the Bluray of this show will potentially surpass the show itself in regard to sound, though I can’t say that making the trip was in any way not worth it. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear some little-heard and lesser-known songs, and while the by-request set could’ve had fewer Transcendence songs, Ocean Machine was truly an emotional and wonderful experience. I am happy to encourage anyone who has the means to travel for gigs to do so, as the combination of new places and great music has been worth it every time!

Tracklist:
By-Request set:
1. Truth
2. Stormbending
3. Om
4. Failure
5. By Your Command
6. Gaia
7. Deadhead
8. Canada
9. Bad Devil
10. Higher
11. A Simple Lullaby
12. Deep Peace

Intermission

Ocean Machine set:
13. Seventh Wave
14. Life
15. Night
16. Hide Nowhere
17. Sister
18. 3 a.m.
19. Voices in the Fan
20. Greetings
21. Regulator
22. Funeral
23. Bastard
24. The Death of Music
25. Things Beyond Things

GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE – Finlandia-talo, Helsinki, 20.09.2017

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It’s time to introduce to you all the Game Music Collective. Described as Europe’s first professional video game music orchestra, these guys specialize in video game soundtrack music, and that has given us no small reason to rejoice in anticipatory excitement. Their debut show was at Finlandia-talo in Helsinki on September 20th, 2017. If this small collective was half as good as Score: Orchestral Game Music with a full symphony orchestra, this was not a show to miss out on!

 

If I hadn’t been bogged down with travel stress sandwiching this show (Ayreon Universe in the Netherlands on September 17th, and Devin Townsend’s Ocean Machine orchestra in Bulgaria on the 22nd), I would have been absolutely roaring with excitement for this event. Nevertheless, I’ve still had a great deal of anticipation surrounding this show. Not only do I love symphonies, I also love game music, so I knew this was going to be a night worthy of my time, in spite of how busy I was. It was also going to be my first-ever experience at Finlandia-talo, so that accounts for some intrigue as well.

 

We arrived at the venue in a bit of a hurry, as traffic had been weirdly bad on the main road into town. We managed to get out of the car and into our seats in good time though, but at a mere 5 minutes to showtime, it was evident that all of the guests would not be seated on time. It looked like over 50% of the venue was still queuing for their coats or the toilet, and as such, the show was nearly 10 minutes late getting started. It was nice of them to delay a bit though. The show was introduced by a young woman who said in both Finnish and English that the show would be recorded for radio, and could we please all turn our phones onto silent. We’re happy to announce that we didn’t hear a single phone ring during the performance, so it seems that everyone obeyed.

There was then an introductory video from someone from Rovio Entertainment, whose name we missed, who greeted the crowd and talked briefly about the important role of music in games and how music has also helped to define Rovio’s biggest franchise, Angry Birds with its unique setting and tone. He announced that the Angry Birds arrangement for this night had been specifically written for the show and that Rovio was excited to be a part of this project, and wished all gamers to remember to keep the sound on (ostensibly, while playing games, and not during this show).

At that point the conductor, Eero Lehtimäki, took the stage and they began with the opening theme and bombing mission songs from Final Fantasy VII. They played many songs from the Final Fantasy series over the span of their 2 or so hours on stage, and it seemed as though they kept getting better and better as the night progressed, moving from this to a Final Fantasy VIII battle medley, to a collection of airship themes, and the highly emotional “To Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X later on. We were very impressed with Roger Wanamo’s arrangement of the airship themes, as it took music from many of the games, not simply working in chronological order, but bouncing between songs to optimize the medley. And big points to Matleena Nyman on piano for her incredible performance on “To Zanarkand” that had us all covered in chills. The crowd gave an extra-heavy cheer for that one.

While one might expect the big hits to be the most popular, and while it was true for Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, the arrangements from Monkey Island and Journey were perhaps some of our favorites of the night, far surpassing the songs from Megaman or Angry Birds; “Apotheosis” had us all frozen in place, lost in another world. The one real miss on the set was the “Veikkaus Medley.” For those of you not familiar, Veikkaus is the company with the monopoly on gambling in Finland, running the slot machines in grocery stores up to the lotteries. The arrangement itself was very well done and lots of fun, but in a collection of music from video games, it felt out of place and inappropriate. The music itself was like a cacophonous circus, and the orchestra played it admirably – including a funny little moment where the percussionist got lost in the xylophone and pretended to get embarrassed as everyone turned to look at him as he slowly stopped playing – but it simply didn’t fit with the feel of the rest of the night. I understand that Veikkaus sponsors them, but it is a bit of a shame they probably had to play this song as a result, when that time could have been better used for other game music.

The orchestra paused so Lehtimäki could introduce songs every two tracks. He’d offer up some personal gaming history or history of the music, such as the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy VII. He thanked the crowd on a few occasions, as well as the technicians and organizers, etc. Some might have had a bit of an issue with his casual demeanor, but I think if you consider that he was likely speaking to a lot of gamers, a true conductor’s stiffness wouldn’t really be necessary.

Following the intermission, the biggest initial hit was the “Chrono Trigger Medley”, but when they marched out the male choir, Euga, after “To Zanarkand”, things got turned up a notch. I wondered at first about choosing an all-male choir, but with a very masculine song like the “Halo Main Theme”, the all-male choir worked better than a mixed choir would have. As well, they followed it with “Dragonborn”, the main theme from Skyrim, which features a male choir in its original form (to my knowledge). Also, a very solid “WOW!” to the fellow who came out for this song only, as he sang the high notes of the song – a part that would far more easily be done by a woman – and did it very admirably.

However, the progression of music took a bit of a slump when they reached the final track, “Destati” from Kingdom Hearts. If it had been me organizing this, I’d have put Kingdom Hearts as the first choir track and then kept the order from there. As it stands, the KH track was too short to be the last song of the night (pre-encore) and honestly a bit of a disappointing choice from KH’s vast and fantastic soundtrack, so it would’ve worked far better before Halo. As well, “Dragonborn” was so unbelievably good that it would’ve been a perfect ‘final’ track, especially with that fantastic vocalist doing the high parts.

They ended the night with “One-Winged Angel”, the iconic main villain theme from Final Fantasy VII, as an encore; an excellent, if predictable choice, but one that worked amazingly well with the choir yet again.

While there were absolutely zero complaints about the performance and the music itself, there were a few issues visually. The orchestra and conductor were in matching shirts and black pants, yet the choir were dressed up in jackets, which seemed… unbalanced. Allowing for T-shirts on musicians because it’s easier to play in flexible clothes is okay, but perhaps the conductor… I don’t want to say he was child-like because that takes it much too far, but he came across as rather young, and it might have helped if he was dressed a bit more professionally to counterbalance it. It might have helped his image to the ones complaining about his laid-back way of addressing the crowd as well.

As well, the visuals on the screen were lacking. Either they felt completely inappropriate for the song with regard to warmth or feel, or they looked cheap, like old Windows 95 screensavers. We’re in an era now where people can do so much with equalizers and 3D design that these seemed too basic for the music, especially since none of them in any way captured the spirit of the songs. It would have even been preferable to have a still image of the game in question. For example, during the Journey song, an image of the light between the two mountain peaks from a distance would have been far more effective than the greenish yellow light as seen through water that they actually had on the screen.

However, when it comes to performance, I want to give some credit to the musicians. In particular (I hope I’m getting these correct, as I’m having to guess from the website based solely on gender), Elias Lassfolk (violin), Ville Komppa (clarinet), Tarmo Anttila (contrabass), and again, Matleena Nyman (piano). Of everyone I noted on stage, these few had a certain flare for the visual. Nyman gestured vividly while stroking the piano keys; Lassfolk was near dancing at times with enthusiasm; one could easily see which songs Anttila was most into – it’s hard to move with a stand-up bass but that didn’t slow him down; and Komppa was veritably losing it at times, he was so excited about some of the music. Orchestras don’t often tend to be particularly visually stimulating, but this one made it clear that they truly love what they’re doing, and in a slightly more casual orchestral setting like this, I think it was nice to see that excitement.

 

All-in-all, this was a nice debut show and the musicians proved themselves to be excellent and highly capable. There were a few hitches throughout, though almost never relating to the music or performances thereof, but rather the decisions surrounding the songs or arrangements. To give them some credit, I want to applaud them for leaving out iconic but perhaps overused series like Mario or Zelda and opting for slightly more obscure options in their stead. On the other hand though, they had quite a lot of music from Final Fantasy – those who know the series well, like myself, were surely happy (though including Final Fantasy IX in the airship medley only was nothing short of blasphemy), but those who have never been into FF might have wanted a bit more selection from other games.

While this show didn’t surpass Score by any means, we likewise didn’t expect it to, as Score had a full symphony orchestra and this is just the beginning of what we hope to see become much bigger. I am enthusiastic to see this project continue and I look very much forward to seeing more of their shows in the future!

Setlist:
1. Final Fantasy VII – Opening Theme & Bombing Mission
2. Monkey Island
3. Undertale Medley
4. Journey – Apotheosis
5. Final Fantasy VIII – Battle Medley
6. Secret of Mana – Fear of the Heavens
7. Final Fantasy – Airship Medley
Intermission
8. Mega Man 2-5
9. Chrono Trigger Medley
10. Veikkaus Medley
11. Angry Birds Medley
12. Final Fantasy X – To Zanarkand
13. Halo – Main Theme
14. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim – Dragonborn (main theme)
15. Kingdom Hearts – Destati

Encore:
16. Final Fantasy VII – One-Winged Angel

Photos: Jana Blomqvist

 

GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE @ Finlandia-talo, Helsinki, 20.09.2017

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Game Music Collective at Finlandia-talo, 2017.
Photos by Jana Blomqvist.
Full gig report HERE!

S-TOOL w/ CRIMSON SUN @ Virgin Oil Co., Helsinki, 16.09.2017

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S-tool with Crimson Sun at Virgin Oil Co, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos by Janne Puronen.

AYREON UNIVERSE – Poppodium 013, Tilburg, 17.09.2017

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One of the most highly-anticipated shows of the year has finally come to pass: Arjen Lucassen‘s Ayreon Universe! With three shows promised in the fall of 2017, and recalling how earth-shatteringly fantastic The Theater Equation was in September 2015, fans from all over the world sold out the shows in mere moments. As Arjen Lucassen is notoriously uncomfortable with performing, we knew that this was an opportunity not to be missed, so Musicalypse boarded some planes and trains to Tilburg, Netherlands, in high anticipation for the last show of the weekend on September 17th.

Check out the full gallery HERE!
Or listen along on Spotify to the setlist:

 

Seeing Lucassen’s shows has become somewhat of a thing for a friend and I. We made the journey to Rotterdam 2 years ago, so it felt fitting that we would make the journey again together, nearly exactly 2 years later. This show boasted an impressive host of original vocalists, and for those songs whose vocalists couldn’t make it, there were bound to be equally impressive replacements. I, for one, refused to spoil the setlist or even the guest list for myself beforehand. However, for ease of reading, I’ll include the cast list here, with the corresponding major Ayreon/Star One projects to which the singers have contributed (I may have missed a couple – forgive me):

Floor JansenUniversal Migrator pt. 1 (2000), 01011001 (2008), The Source (2017); Space Metal (Star One, 2002), Victims of the Modern Age (Star One, 2010)
Damian WilsonInto the Electric Castle (1998), The Universal Migrator pt. 1 & 2Space Metal (Star One), Victims of the Modern Age (Star One)
Hansi Kürsch01011001The Source
Tommy KarevikThe Theory of EverythingThe Source
Anneke van GiersbergenInto the Electric Castle01011001The Theater Equation (2015)
Marco HietalaThe Theory of Everything
Jonas Renkse01011001
Mike MillsThe Theory of EverythingThe Theater EquationThe Source
Marcela Bovio: The Human EquationThe Final Experiment (2005 reissue), The Theater Equation
Irene Jansen: The Human EquationThe Final Experiment (2005 reissue), The Theater Equation
Robert Soeterboek: The Final Experiment (1995); Star One, session vocalist on many other albums
John Jaycee CuijpersThe Final Experiment (2005 reissue)
Edward ReekersThe Final ExperimentActual Fantasy (1996), Into the Electric CastleUniversal Migrator pt. 1
Jay van FeggelenThe Final ExperimentInto the Electric Castle
Maggy Luyten01011001
Lisette van den BergThe Theater Equation (choir), The Source (backing vocals)

 

We arrived in Tilburg in the early afternoon and the whole city seemed to have been alive with support for the Aryeon shows. Nearby the venue, there were cafes and restaurants littered with Aryeon dinner specials, as well as people from near and far in a wide variety band shirts – many of them already with their Ayreon Universe merch from attending multiple shows or ordering online beforehand! We sat down to an Ayreon Universe special burger in Grand Cafe Puur (which was overpriced for its quality) before having a drink and wandering over to the venue right around the time the doors would be opening. To the surprise of many, the entry queue wrapped nearly all the way around the block, and it’s a pretty large block, not your average suburban street.

Poppodium 013 in Tilburg has been in our gallery a few times, as one of the previous owners lived across the border in Germany, so it was a bit exciting for me to experience this known venue firsthand. It hosts about 3,000 people, give or take, and has a gorgeous set-up – a large main hall, stairs and the back, and a nice big balcony, also with steps to help people see optimally. I approved immediately on entry. There were two merch booths set up as well, the first of which was quite crowded, so we wandered a bit further in to pick up our shirts (which came with free posters and stickers – cool!) before my friend found a place on the steps and I made my way to the photo pit.

 

The show started at 20:30 sharp, with Mike Mills [Toehider] taking the stage in a rather bizarre and amusing android costume, with laser pointers and other decorations on his ‘head’. He did the intro to Ayreon’s first album, 1995’s The Final Experiment. We had to assume that this would also be his TH-1 costume from The Source (2017) later on in the show. The show officially opened with “Dreamtime” featuring Edward Reekers [Kayak] in an almost pastoral outfit. I’m entirely unfamiliar with Reekers or Kayak, which made the first track slightly underwhelming, not by any fault of Reekers – he was fantastic. Rather, I was maybe expecting something a bit bigger, like perhaps “The Day that the World Breaks Down” from The Source – something with a ton of vocalists to really get things going with a huge bang.

At this point I could go through the whole show, song-by-song, but I feel like that would spoil things for those who want to see the DVD later, so I’ll just continue on with my personal highlights. First up, “River of Time” from 01011001 replaced Bob Catley with Marco Hietala [Nightwish, Tarot]. While I actually feel, to a small degree, that Hietala was not quite used as optimally as he could have been in this show, there was no question that he and Hansi Kürsch [Blind Guardian, Demons & Wizards] have a lot of fun interacting on stage with one another. They ‘acted’ a bit but mainly spent a lot of time being jovial and teasing one another, interacting as though they were long-time bandmates, though I’m not sure these guys have ever shared a stage outside festivals. This happened again later on in “Age of Shadows”, though of course that track also had Floor Jansen [Nightwish] joining in on the party, so it could only possibly be better.

Speaking of Floor Jansen and stage performances, one cannot but be absolutely astounded at this woman. When she came out for “Merlin’s Will” she simply took command of the stage. She’s such a performer! She roared out like a magnificent lion with… I can only call it a presence. When she came on stage, she and the band and the stage became one huge, glorious entity. It’s hard to describe – you’d have to be there to see it. I don’t even know that I’ve ever seen it like that with Nightwish, though I chalk that up to the fact that she is expected to be present in every song. In this track, she was substituting for the original vocalist, Leon Goewie, and so she clearly knew how to make an entrance. There was no arrogance in that presence either. It was perfect.

I got a great chill of excitement when Jonas Renkse [Katatonia] took the stage not long after. That man has such a unique and eerie voice, and even though much of the music he sings is gloomy, he himself never seems to quite be dreary, in spite of the fact that he’s always in all black and it’s nigh on impossible to see him without his hair in his face. As well, having him with Anneke van Giersbergen [Vuur], another legendarily haunting voice – for not only their original duet, 01011001‘s “Waking Dreams”, but also later on in “Comatose”, where he did a shockingly good job replacing Jorn Lande – was an absolute delight. I say shockingly, because anyone who knows both voices will know they have next to nothing in common on the surface. Disappointingly (and a minor disappointment at that, as there was so much else to adore about this show), he was only present for the first half of the show or so, and only for three songs, the last being “Ride the Comet.”

Another note I want to make about Renkse and van Giersbergen together was a sort of mystical effect, that whenever van Giersbergen came to the forefront to sing, even if there was no smoke or spotlights or anything to make this specifically happen, Renkse managed to just sort of turn into a shadow and fade into darkness. I’m not sure if that was an intentional trick of the lighting technicians or not, but regardless, it was a really cool effect, especially considering what Renkse sounds like when he’s singing.

To slow things down a bit and go nigh full-on vocals-only, “Valley of the Queens” was another glorious moment from this gig – it seems almost an oxymoron to suggest that there can be a silky soft gentleness combined with a furious power when you combine the voices of Floor Jansen, Anneke van Giersbergen, and Marcela Bovio [ex-Stream of Passion], but it’s true. I know I abuse the word ‘haunting’ a lot when I talk about van Giersbergen’s singing, but this is so much more when you combine her with the immense power of Jansen and the sheer beauty of Bovio. The combination left us breathless and covered in goosebumps.

“Ride the Comet” was the first song to introduce Maggy Luyten [Nightmare] to us. We had zero familiarity with this Belgian vocalist in spite of her performance on 01011001 and as soon as she opened her mouth, we knew that needed to change. She has the sort of ferocity known from old classic female vocalists like Doro Pesch, but I’ve never really been big on Doro if I’m completely honest. Luyten takes what’s good about Doro and makes it awesome. She replaced a few of the men throughout the show, in songs like “Star of Sirrah” from The Source and the ‘cover’ of “Intergalactic Space Crusaders” by Star One, and if I recall correctly, “Everybody Dies”, also from The Source. Did she do well by them? Honestly, she did better than the originals on more than one occasion.

The excitement-inducing sound of didgeridoo could only mean one possible song, “Day Sixteen: Loser” from The Human Equation (or The Theater Equation, since Mike Mills has already taken over the role of the late Mike Baker once before). Since seeing the latter, I can’t say that I was overly on board with Mills’ portrayal of the Father. However, this version was, in fact, an improvement over the theatrical version. One of my major complaints about the theater version was that Mills played both Father and Rage. However, in this version, Luyten, Bovio, as well as Irene Jansen [Ayreon] and Lisette van den Berg [Scarlet Stories] (both from the choir) acted as Rage, coming out to chase Mills around the stage. While it wasn’t exactly the screaming force of Devin Townsend, it was easily a more effective way of expressing the imagery from that album. As well, it was just fun to watch Rage chase Father around and torment him.

Speaking of “Day Sixteen: Loser”, Jeroen Goossens is easily the coolest flutist in the universe. The way that guy can make a flute somehow look badass and spritely at the same time is nothing short of magical and hilarious all in one. He prances about like a regular metalhead without looking remotely silly, in spite of what you’d expect. He also plays flawlessly and brings a certain degree of childlike joy to my face whenever I see him take the center stage. Also, the ability to rock a didgeridoo is something that few people can do, and I appreciate that greatly.

Damian Wilson’s [Threshold] first appearance was solo in “And the Druids Turn to Stone” from Universal Migrator part 1: The Dream Sequencer, though his best performances came later on, alongside Luyten in “Intergalactic Space Crusaders” – which was far better live than on the album, if I may say so – and “The Castle Hall” from Into the Electric Castle – also one of the best less-familiar songs of the night for me. He has a very strong, solid presence on stage, he looks very cool, and if I may throw a few more points towards him, he seems like a very nice fellow – when everyone was queuing outside to get into the venue, he popped out for a moment to greet people, shake their hands, and take the odd photo. Incidentally, my friend was of the opinion that he could die happy now that he had seen “Intergalactic Space Crusaders” live.

“The Two Gates”, incidentally, was another neat track that I wished I was more familiar with. Alongside Wilson, it featured John “Jaycee” Cuijpers [Praying Mantis], another unfamiliar singer who looked like a cool old rocker and definitely had a voice to show off. He took over Jay van Feggelen’s part as the Barbarian, which was a bit of an odd move considering van Feggelen did show up later on in the show. Also replacing van Feggelen in his Barbarian role was Robert Soeterbroek [Star One]. His first appearance was early on in “Abbey of Synn”, which didn’t do much for me because I didn’t know the song nor the singer, but after getting a further feel for him “Computer Eyes”, I was glad to hear him try out this role and do well with it.

The lights dimmed and the first notes of “Into the Black Hole” from Universal Migrator part 2: Flight of the Migrator started, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of apprehension. Who, oh who, had they chosen to replace Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson for this song? I knew it was too much to hope that Dickinson himself would be here, and I’m notorious for hating Maiden cover bands because no one can do what Dickinson does. However, I had a jolt of excitement when Tommy Karevik [Seventh Wonder, Kamelot] came on stage. This guy has a voice like no other and if someone was going to replace Dickinson, he was a great choice. While I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say he topped Dickinson, he undoubtedly did him justice and I hope if Dickinson ever hears his version, he’d approve of it. It was a bit surprising that Karevik didn’t sing on the earlier Theory of Everything songs, but I suppose they were keeping him for a surprise “Into the Black Hole”… and why not?

Much like Kürsch and Hietala, Karevik is also a pure delight to watch on stage. He’s stylish and cool, and he doesn’t hesitate to have fun with the guitarists and just get up there and pose. He was by far one of the most fun people on stage to aim a camera at. Like Karevik, Marcel Coenen – who just looks like a guy who was born with a guitar in his hands – also seemed to notice whenever a camera was pointed at him, so there was always something different or silly or fun or cool to see when you made an effort to capture his image.

And if you can’t tell from the photos, a huge throwout has to go to the lighting techs, the costume designers, everyone who set up the stage, who worked the robot light arms… well, everyone really. The sound was fantastic – some of the best I’ve heard – and the pyros and CO2 were gorgeous as well, and there was absolutely no shortage of it. We were booted from the pit approximately every third song because there was some extra visuals that were dangerous up close. They seemed to have spared no expense on the production of this event, and it seemed worth every penny!

Lucassen didn’t make his appearance until after “The Castle Hall” was over. He spoke fervently for nearly 20 minutes, having his personal assistant even come out (and stand on a chair so she could reach his ear) to whisper people that he should remember to thank. There were a lot of inside jokes in there that the crowd was surprisingly familiar with, such as knowing that his biggest thank-you would go to Joost van den Broek; they went on to explain an ongoing joke that ended in van den Broek getting the whole crowd to call Lucassen a “Lul” [presumably that’s Dutch slang for ‘cock’ – please feel free to correct me if that’s wrong though]. Nevertheless, there was a lot of love and happiness during that speech. And I haven’t even mentioned the guest musicians who showed up, like Rob Snijders (drums) in “Comatose” and Peter Vink in “Intergalactic Space Crusaders”… I’m sure there are more than I wasn’t able to make note of. It really was just a phenomenal gathering of talent!

Lucassen couldn’t leave without playing a song though, so finally Jay van Feggelen [Bodine] made his appearance, and they did their duet, “Amazing Flight” together. You have to appreciate Lucassen for his hippy performance and van Feggelen for just being a cool rocker with a great voice. And in spite of Lucassen not enjoying live performances much, he certainly made the most of the time he had, bouncing around and generally looking like someone who enjoys being on stage, even if that’s not strictly true!

And then suddenly, it seemed like everyone was out on stage. I can’t recall if it was Reekers or Soeterboek who took over for James Labrie as Me for “Day Eleven: Love”, but Bovio was able to alter the lyrics for Love’s part to be the Wife’s, so she could sing it herself. It was nice to get Irene Jansen in the forefront as well, as the biggest role she had had otherwise seemed to be introducing the band earlier on. Unfortunately, when compared to the unbelievable performance of The Theater Equation, this didn’t quite stand up. I couldn’t say what exactly it was, but perhaps the song simply shines better in the context of the original with its intended vocalists? Nevertheless, it was a nice track to hear due to the chorus in the end, if they wanted to have one more song off The Human Equation included in the performance.

I suppose that the other Star One ‘cover’, “The Eye of Ra”, was meant to be an encore, but it really was more of a grand finale as they didn’t leave the stage and wait to be cheered back – instead, the Jansen sisters, Wilson, and Cuijpers got things going, and then the rest of the cast coming out to finish things up with them. I wasn’t familiar with the song so I can’t say how the did with it, but it certainly sounded cool and seemed like a great way to end the night.

 

In the end, how do you really describe a show when the words ‘mind-boggling’ and ‘earth-shattering’ seem like feeble adjectives? How do you eloquently word it when your opinion is pretty much incoherent joy-screaming? This was a great show and easily the best I’ve seen perhaps since The Theater Equation. Again though, how do you compare a regular gig with this sort of gathering of incredible performers? When you just have so much talent crammed on stage at once, how could any other band even begin to create something superior? It should come as no surprise then that this has an easy nomination for show of the year. Let’s see if Devin Townsend’s Bulgarian orchestra can compete later this week, shall we?

Setlist:
1. Prologue
2. Dreamtime
3. Abbey of Synn
4. River of Time
5. Prologue: The Blackboard
6. The Theory of Everything pt. 1
7. The Theory of Everything pt. 2
8. Merlin’s Will
9. Waking Dreams
10. Dawn of a Million Souls
11. Valley of the Queens
12. Ride the Comet
13. Star of Sirrah
14. Comatose
15. Day Sixteen: Loser
16. And the Druids Turn to Stone
17. The Two Gates
18. Into the Black Hole
19. Actual Fantasy
20. Computer Eyes
21. Magnetism
22. Age of Shadows
23. Intergalactic Space Crusaders (Star One cover)
24. Collision
25. Everybody Dies
26. The Castle Hall
Arjen’s speech
27. Amazing Flight
28. Day Eleven: Love

Encore:
29. The Eye of Ra (Star One cover)

AYREON UNIVERSE @ Poppodium 013, Tilburg, 17.09.2017

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Ayreon Universe at Poppodium 013, Tilburg, NL, 2017.
Photos by Amy W.
Full gig report HERE tomorrow!

TURMION KÄTILÖT w/ STEREO TERROR DJS @ The Circus, Helsinki, 15.09.2017

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Turmion Kätilöt with Stereo Terror DJ’s at The Circus, 2017.
Photos by Janne Puronen.

(2017) Caligula’s Horse: In Contact (English)

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Artist: Caligula’s Horse
Album: In Contact
Released: 15.09.2017
Label: InsideOut

 

Alongside kangaroos, koalas, and AC/DC, Australia has a fairly sizable prog scene. I’m familiar with Karnivool, but Caligula’s Horse has managed to gallop under my radar until now, although In Contact – a “conceptual work discussing the nature of art and creativity” according to the press release – is the group’s fourth full-length album already. The progressive alternative rockers have supported bands like Opeth, Anathema, Pain of Salvation, and Ne Obliviscaris, which is no mean feat, and therefore I was curious about the album.

 

The album starts with “Dream the Dead”, which puts the pedal to the metal right away with the first guitar solo coming in already after 20 seconds. However, the song is very melodic and has got nice atmospheric bits and gorgeous clean guitars, as well as intriguing rhythms courtesy of drummer Adrian Goleby. Jim Grey‘s vocal delivery is emotive, and his falsetto reminds me a bit of Arnór Dan Arnarson [Agent Fresco]. Unfortunately “Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)” is a letdown after the fantastic start – Sam Vallen and Dave Couper have some interesting guitarwork to offer, but also very generic djent breakdowns. There are also some corny gang shouts that would be more at home in a pop-punk song – why in the hell was this chosen as the first taster from the album? Amazingly enough, the quality goes up just as drastically as it went down – “The Hands are the Hardest” is catchy as the plague, with stadium-worthy melodies and cool riffage all over. Now this is a tune with hit potential! “Love Conquers All” is a nice track combining acoustic guitar, electronic beats, and gentle vocal harmonies, but unfortunately it’s just a short interlude – it could’ve been fantastic had it been fleshed out into a full piece. “Songs for No One” is fairly dynamic and quite alright, but ultimately not one of the highlights, and once again there’s some silly chanting.

“Capulet” is a sweet semi-acoustic ballad, and unlike “Love Conquers All” it’s a full-blown song. Grey’s soft singing sounds pleasant, and there’s some nice subtle organ playing going on in the background during the chorus. “Fill My Heart” continues in a slightly similar vein, but also has its metal moments and a brilliant solo by Vallen. The weirdest track on the record is the spoken word piece, “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall”, which kills the album’s flow and comes across as pretentious and unintentionally comical instead of adding something to the album. “The Cannon’s Mouth” takes the listener back into the run-of-the-mill djent frontier for a while, but luckily the upbeat closing epic “Graves” saves the album from ending on a sour note. It brings to mind modern Fates Warning and Dream Theater, and there’s a surprising saxophone solo, though for some reason there’s no guest musician mentioned in the press bio.

 

In Contact is a grower, but even after opening up, it’s frustratingly uneven. The production, playing, and vocals are all at a high level, and the highlights – namely the bookending songs and “The Hands are the Hardest” – are some of the finest modern prog metal I’ve heard in the past few years, but at its heaviest (and worst) the album can be very mundane. That said, the best tracks are great enough to make the record worth checking out, and while Caligula’s Horse hasn’t reinvented the wheel or mastered the album format, there’s a sense of melody and songcraft in these best moments that sets it apart from the stablemates. I see potential in these guys and wouldn’t be surprised to see them become one of the big players in the genre if the hit-miss ratio improves on the next album.

Rating: 7/10, 3½ stars

Tracklist:
1. Dream the Dead
2. Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)
3. The Hands are the Hardest
4. Love Conquers All
5. Songs for No One
6. Capulet
7. Fill My Heart
8. Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall
9. The Cannon’s Mouth
10. Graves

(2017) Caligula’s Horse: In Contact (suomeksi)

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Artisti: Caligula’s Horse
Albumi: In Contact
Julkaisupäivä: 15.09.2017
Levy-yhtiö: InsideOut

 

Kenguruiden, koalojen ja AC/DC:n lisäksi Australiasta löytyy kookas progeskene. Karnivool on tuttu minulle, mutta Caligula’s Horse on onnistunut laukkaamaan tähän asti tutkani alla, vaikka In Contact – lehdistötiedotteen mukaan “taidetta ja luovuutta käsittelevä konseptiteos” – on jo neljäs täyspitkä albumi yhtyeeltä. Nämä progressiiviset vaihtoehtorokkarit ovat lämmitelleet Opethin, Anatheman, Pain of Salvationin ja Ne Obliviscarisin kaltaisia nimiä, mikä ei ole lainkaan hassumpi saavutus, ja näin ollen olin kiinnostunut levystä.

 

“Dream the Dead” pistää kaasun pohjaan saman tien, ja ensimmäinen kitarasoolo kuullaan jo 20 sekunnin jälkeen. Biisi on kuitenkin hyvin melodinen ja sisältää mukavan tunnelmallisia osuuksia, upeita kliinejä kitaroita sekä rumpali Adrian Golebyn mielenkiintoisia rytmejä. Jim Greyn laulu on tunteikasta, ja hänen falsettinsa tuo mieleen Agent Fresco -solisti Arnór Dan Arnarsonin. Valitettavasti “Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)” on pettymys erinomaisen alun jälkeen – Sam Vallenilla ja Dave Couperilla on tarjottavanaan hieman mielenkiintoista kitarointia, mutta myös hyvin geneeristä djent-nykimistä. Mukana on niin ikään korneja mullikuoroja, jotka sopisivat ennemmin pop-punk-ralliin – miksi ihmeessä juuri tämä päätyi ensimmäiseksi näytteeksi albumilta? Hämmästyttävää kyllä, taso nousee yhtä rajusti kuin se laskikin: “The Hands Are the Hardest” on tarttuva kuin rutto, ja stadionkelpoisia melodioita ja hienoja riffejä kuullaan koko rahan edestä. Tässä sitä hittipotentiaalia on! “Love Conquers All” on mukava raita, joka yhdistelee akustisia kitaroita, elektronisia biittejä ja hempeitä laulustemmoja, mutta valitettavasti kyseessä on vain lyhyt välisoitto – täydeksi kappaleeksi laajennettuna se olisi voinut olla fantastinen. “Songs for No One” on melko dynaaminen ja sinänsä kelpo esitys, muttei lukeudu tähtihetkien joukkoon, ja mukana on taas hölmöä huutelua.

“Capulet” on maistuva semiakustinen balladi, ja toisin kuin “Love Conquers Allin” kohdalla, kyseessä on ihan täyspitkä kappale. Greyn pehmeä laulu kuulostaa miellyttävältä, ja kertosäkeen taustalla on mukavaa hienovaraista urkusoittoa. “Fill My Heart” jatkaa hieman samoilla linjoilla, mutta siinä on mukana metalliset hetkensä ja Vallenin tyylikäs soolo. Omituisin raita albumilla on puhemuotoinen “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall”, joka rikkoo kokonaisuutta ja kuulostaa teennäiseltä ja tahattoman koomiselta sen sijaan, että toisi albumiin mitään erityistä. “The Cannon’s Mouth” johdattelee kuulijan takaisin keskinkertaisen djentin rajamaille, mutta onneksi pirteä päätöseepos “Graves” pelastaa albumin kehnolta lopulta. Se tuo mieleen modernin Fates Warningin ja Dream Theaterin, ja biisissä kuullaan yllättävä saksofonisoolo, vaikka jostain syystä biografiassa ei mainita vierailevia muusikoita.

 

In Contact paranee kuuntelujen myötä, mutta avauduttuaankin se on ärsyttävän epätasainen. Soundit, soitto ja laulu ovat korkeaa tasoa, ja kohokohdat – erityisesti avaus- ja päätösraidat sekä “The Hands Are the Hardest” – lukeutuvat hienoimpaan viime vuosina kuulemaani progemetalliin, mutta rankimmillaan (ja huonoimmillaan) albumi heittäytyy harmillisen tavanomaiseksi. Tästä huolimatta parhaimmat kappaleet tekevät levystä tutustumisen arvoisen, ja vaikka Caligula’s Horse ei ole keksinyt pyörää uudelleen tai onnistunut täysin albumimitassa, huippukohdista paistaa hieno melodiataju ja lauluntekotaito, mikä erottaa bändin tallitovereistaan. Näen yhtyeessä potentiaalia enkä olisi yllättynyt, jos siitä tulisi yksi genren isoista tekijöistä, mikäli vain osumien ja hutien välinen suhdeluku paranee seuraavalla albumilla.

Arvosana: 7/10, 3½ tähteä

Kappalelista:
1. Dream the Dead
2. Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)
3. The Hands Are the Hardest
4. Love Conquers All
5. Songs for No One
6. Capulet
7. Fill My Heart
8. Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall
9. The Cannon’s Mouth
10. Graves

FORCE MAJEURE w/ STRIDER & THAUROROD @ Nosturi, Helsinki, 08.09.2017

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Force Majeure’s album release show for The Rise of Starlit Fires, with Strider and Thaurorod, Nosturi 2017.
Photos by Feng Deng.

PLAYLIST OF MY LIFE – Tuomo Laulainen (Scars of Solitude, Among the Prey), 2017

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Photo by Jouko Posio / Keikkakuvia.net

Playlist of My Life is back from a short festival break, with the newest list from the lead guitarist of Äänekoski-based Scars of Solitude, Tuomo Laulainen. The band’s melodic metal follows confidently in the footsteps of their bigger local counterparts, such as Before the Dawn, with a healthy dose of Finnish melancholy in the spirit of Sentenced. Tuomo is also the latest addition to the ranks of melodic death metal powerhouse Among The Prey, who feature members from acts like Thunderstone and Agonizer. Read below what Tuomo picked for his list during the summer!

 

1. The first song you remember hearing as a child
My mother used to listen to great artists like Kirka and Tommi Läntinen when I was a child. Such songs as “Via Dolorosa” or “Surun pyyhit silmistäni” still come back to haunt me today, looping in my head. Thanks mum!

2. The first song you can recall ever really and truly loving
The first song I truly fell in love with must have been “In the Shadows” by The Rasmus. I might have heard it from the radio for the first time. I was a big fan of the band for many years. I had their show from Ankkarock on a VHS tape, which I would play drums along to on a kit of boxes. I should really go see these guys live sometime now that they’re active again!

3. A song that you loved as a teenager/reminds you of high school
That would be “Are You Dead Yet” by Children of Bodom. I used to listen to CoB a lot in my teenage years and “AYDY” must have been the song that got me to listen to CoB and like death metalish music in general. Every time I hear the intro riff of the song – a flood of memories.

4. The song or band that got you into metal music (or the current genre you play in)
“Cowboys from Hell” by Pantera. Great riffs and lots of energy! Also a big thank you to the old Radio Jyväskylä (pre-Radio City) for doing great ground work on that matter.

5. The most recent song to get stuck in your head
“Miks ei” by Laura Voutilainen. Ended up listening to the song on Spotify after playing the same stage at Järvifestarit just recently and it stuck with me. Such a catchy tune!

6. Your guilty pleasure song/band
I don’t really feel much guilt or shame for any music I listen to. Maybe I should but I don’t really care that much. I know exactly what you’re looking for here and there’s a lot of stuff that could go under that category. “Treasure” by Bruno Mars is nowadays a classic on the go for some reason, as well as “Pimpeli Pom” by Vesa-Matti Loiri. Both were blasted a lot during Nummirock also! “Attention” by Charlie Puth would also go well under this category. The song has a real nice bassline! Last but not least, “True Survivor” by David Hasselhoff. Legendary!

7. The first album you bought with your own money/the first album you were really excited to own
Somewhere Back in Time by Iron Maiden; I’m not 100% sure if it was the first album I ever bought but for sure it was the first one I was really excited to own: a collection that had all the Maiden classics. If I remember correctly, I bought it the day I got from 5th grade or something. My favourite song from the album was and would still be “The Evil That Men Do.”

8. A song that makes you want to curl up on the couch with a hot beverage
Hmmmm… Maybe “The Gale” by Insomnium as it reminds me of feeling cold and soaking wet on a night of midsummer. The song goes well with rain and what else could you do in that kind of weather than lie on a couch and drink tea? Like seriously?

9. A song to blast at full volume while you’re on the road
I tend to blast the song “Magic Mike” by Ikinä because it has such a positive vibe to it. You either love or hate that song, so it has a quality to annoy some of my friends and bandmates too. Centhron is also an artist with some great songs to blast on the road!

10. The song you’d most like to be played at your funeral
“Mourn” by Sentenced might suit the occasion just as well as “Weighed Down with Sorrow” by Insomnium. Or then something completely different like “Walking on Sunshine” to create contrast or lighten up the mood.

 

Listen Scars of Solitude’s brand new song “Drown” here:

 

Check out Among the Prey on Spotify:

(2017) Ensiferum: Two Paths

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Artist: Ensiferum
Album: Two Paths
Release: 15.09.2017
Label: Metal Blade Records

 

It’s been a mere 2 years since Ensiferum’s last release, One Man Army (2015), but it’s time once again for these Viking metal Finns to show us what they’ve got. The biggest news about this album is the changeover from Emmi Silvennoinen (keyboards) to Netta Skog (accordion). While the band themselves have been in a bit of a creative slump since 2009’s From Afar, perhaps the small lineup change was enough to bring them back to life. At least I, as a long-time fan, hoped so.

 

The album opens with “Ajattomasta unesta”, which loosely translates to “From Timeless Sleep.” Ensiferum has been consistently solid with their intro tracks in the past, including nice pieces like “Ferrum Aeternum” (Iron, 2004), “Ad Victoriam” (Victory Songs, 2007), “By the Dividing Stream” (From Afar), “Symbols” (Unsung Heroes, 2012), and “March of War” (One Man Army), and not all of those were good albums otherwise. As such, the standards were set high for this intro, and this song. It starts out feeling slightly industrial (in that sort of Lord of the Rings, Saruman and the Uruk Hai sort of way), with a female voice (perhaps Skog?) singing the opening bits. The traditional Ensiferum chant is present, and overall, it builds up dynamically into the main riff from the following track before the song changes over officially.

The second track, however, I have some words about. First of all, “For Those About to Fight for Metal”? Really? Is this Manowar now? Secondly, the guitar part in the beginning sounds like they’re trying to be Iron Maiden but aren’t quite as creative. If the riff moved around a bit more instead of just repeating the same notes, it’d be cool, but as such, it’s just kind of boring. The backing music and orchestrated parts are considerably more interesting than the guitar-work, fortunately. The verses are fine, no complaints, as is the decent and traditional Enska solo maybe two thirds of the way through. As such, my next comment is that the pronunciation is really awkward in the chorus, which likely comes from them not being native English speakers. They stretch out the word “metal” to fill the musical timing in such an odd way that it ends up sounding kind of silly because they end up saying “met-ALL” than “MET-al.” To my native ears that’s a solid mispronunciation that doesn’t work, but, well, judge for yourselves – if you’re not a native speaker it may not bother you. There is hope though, because as I said, that backing orchestration and main riff are bringing me back to From Afar, so my fingers are crossed that this is still going to be a good album.

“Way of the Warrior” is next, and my belief that this album was written by Manowar is not chased away by this song title, nor by the straight-up heavy metal intro. The song itself though is actually pretty catchy and full of very standard Ensiferum riffs that everyone who’s heard any Enska song should recognize. They might, in fact, sound almost a bit too familiar. That’ll depend on how picky you are. There are some Finnish spoken-sung parts toward the end, but I’ll need to see some lyrics before I say anything about that. Overall, this is one of the most solid all-around tracks on the album and feels like Ensiferum still has some tricks up their sleeves.

“Two Paths” follows and my initial thought is… who is singing and why (I’m reasonably sure, based on their live shows, that it’s guitarist Markus Toivonen)? These clean vocals are around in some other Enska songs, but they’re usually kept in the background and don’t last too long, thus keeping the effect minimal, but here they are the lead vocals. Even Pete Lindroos‘ sweet, sweet growls don’t save this song. Disappointing though, as this could’ve been a rather good track if they had someone who could actually… carry a tune. There’s also a really odd solo about two thirds of the way through that I’m not sure I am for or against. Then comes in the first notable accordion parts, which kind of make the song turn into a pirate shanty. Apart from the vocal complaints, the intro to the song is very non-traditional for Ensiferum or folk/Viking metal in general. This song could definitely have used some more refining before going onto an album. I guess props for experimenting with this one, but I can’t say I liked it on the whole.

“King of Storms” (more Manowar?) throws back a bit to the days of Iron with its speedy, shreddy guitars and fast rhythm on top of the big ol’ growl from Lindroos in the beginning. There are some more distracting and low-quality gritty ‘clean’ vocals on this one as well, but fortunately they aren’t the central aspect of the track. I wonder if the ‘keyboards’ that can be heard at times in this track were actually done by Skog on the accordion.

“Feast with Valkyries” opens with some more notable accordion and female vocals, the latter of which are… a little awkward. They’re a bit flat and the timing is too drawn out at some points and too quick at others maybe, and they hit a note or two that doesn’t quite sound in tune. The choir takes over after a while though, bringing it back into the good Ensiferum territory. I’m not sure if this is Skog on vocals, and I’m likewise not sure how I feel about it. I thought she had a pretty decent voice at other shows I’ve seen her in, but these vocals aren’t living up to the quality I’ve heard from her in the past. It does make sense to have the female vocals on a song about Valkyries though. Again, this is another song that might’ve needed a bit more polish before release.

The strangest title on the album goes to “Don’t You Say”, which again has these strange vocals that are starting to sound like Christopher Bowes [Alestorm], and really, that guy’s awful voice only works because he’s pretending to be a pirate – it’s an act. With Ensiferum, they’ve had quality vocals for most of their music, so this is just grating and distracts from any potential the music would have had. And again, musically the song is good, but the vocals are just throwing it off and making it worse than it should be. I wonder how this stuff will sound live…

A heavy and somewhat orchestral intro opens up “I Will Never Kneel” aggressively, before it slows down into a nice, almost-marching beat that is broken up by growls and Viking choirs that trade off. Alas though, the bad vocals return. There are Finnish parts as well in this track, but the female vocals are much nicer on this song; they blend nicely with Lindroos’ screaming. There’s a bit of chaotic orchestration in the end that’s very dramatic. This track has grown on me a bit after a few listens, though the ‘clean’ vocals still hold it back from being better than the end result.

Perhaps the best use of accordion that doesn’t sound too pirate-y opens “God is Dead”, before a weird, short shriek comes out and the Alestorm vocals start again. Another song with some potential ruined by these vocals, though either I’m getting used to them or they’re not quite as flat on this track as they have been on the first few songs. Again, great choirs and uplifting music, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy the singing. Was there a reason for this switch from growls to ‘clean’ in the forefront of the music? The song ends with some organ music in a weird way that I feel like should be the intro music to the next track, as that’ll just be strange if you want to listen to this song out of the album context. To me, this song sounds like Turisas’ “In the Court of Jarisleif” as covered by Alestorm.

I like the slow, heavy intro to “Hail to the Victor”, as well as Lindroos’ solid growls, making this feel like a ‘real’ Ensiferum song. What ruins this song for me is that they’ve layered the bad vocals over top of the Viking choir in the chorus, meaning that instead of the epic power of the choir, you get a good yet muted choir backing up the slumped, tuneless vocals once more. Due to the epic potential in this song and it’s fairly good dynamics, I’ll give a small allowance to the bad vocals; with time they did become less bothersome.

The album then ends with “Unettomaan aikaan”, or “Into the Sleepless Time”, bringing the album full-circle in a way that’s either clever or cheesy – I’m not certain. The song also carries the main riff from “For Those About to Fight for Metal”, with a heavier part taken by the accordion, and sounds like it may be entirely acoustic. There are some soft female vocals in this track as well, but they manage to be gentle and in tune throughout, so no real complaints here.

Perhaps the saddest part about this album is that it ends with two more songs, which are alternate versions of “God is Dead” and “Don’t You Say” that only have Lindroos and the choirs on vocals, showing off how they would have sounded if they had been done in the traditional Ensiferum manner. It’s a bit heartbreaking. These two songs essentially highlight how good the album could’ve been but isn’t – I’m not sure if their inclusion was a blessing or a curse as such. On one hand, it’s nice to have them as alternatives, but on the other hand, damn, this really could’ve been a good album!

 

Overall, I won’t be dubbing this album any sort of masterpiece. I applaud its diversity of sound, their boldness in experimentation, the musical composition on the whole, as well as their desire to include more clean vocals in their sound. However, I’m sorry to say this as an old fan, but they need a clean vocalist who can actually sing in tune. As well, the female vocals are a bit sloppy or lazy in execution and/or mix in the main songs and feel like they could use some refining. I don’t want to give this too bad of a score because it’s really just one aspect of the songs that ruins things for me, and as evidenced by the alternate songs, if they were left as growls, musically and instrumentally, this album would’ve easily pulled an 8/10 or more.

However, I don’t think four good songs (two of which are the intro and outro) and a few more good musical foundations that were poorly built upon vocally can really constitute a good album. Tuomas Holopainen quit singing after noting how bad “The Carpenter” sounded. I think Enska needs to make a similar decision if they want to keep up the clean vocals in the future. It was hard to choose a rating for this, but I suppose I have to pick something, and having a lot of potential doesn’t mean an album is really ‘good’ in the end.

Rating: 6/10, 3 stars

Tracklist:
1. Ajattomasta unesta
2. For Those About to Fight for Metal
3. Way of the Warrior
4. Two Paths
5. King of Storms
6. Feast with Valkyries
7. Don’t You Say
8. I Will Never Kneel
9. God is Dead
10. Hail to the Victor
11. Unettomaan aikaan

CMX: Talvikuningas – Huvila-teltta (Helsingin juhlaviikot), Helsinki, 31.08.2017 (suomeksi)

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Vaikka CMX:llä on takanaan reilusti vuosia ja yhtyeen musiikki on aina luottanut yksittäisten hittien sijaan vahvoihin albumikokonaisuuksiin, eivät nämä suomalaisen rockin oman tiensä kulkijat ole koskaan lähteneet nostalgisoimaan klassikkoalbumikiertueiden merkeissä. Näin ollen Helsingin juhlaviikot teki hienon kulttuuriteon saadessaan yhtyeen esittämään 10 vuoden ikään ennättäneen tieteiseepoksensa Talvikuninkaan (2007) kokonaisuudessaan ensi kertaa Huvila-teltassa 31. elokuuta 2017. Musicalypse oli paikalla seuraamassa tätä ainutlaatuista iltamaa, kuten vuosi sitten Amorphiksen esiintyessä samassa paikassa.

 

Talvikuningas ei käsittääkseni saanut julkaisuaikanaan täysin varauksetonta hyväksyntää CMX-fanikunnalta, mikä on ihan ymmärrettävää – albumi on melkoinen monoliitti tunnin mitassaan ja futuristisine teemoineen. Kaltaiselleni progediggarille oli kuitenkin suhteellisen helppoa päästä sisään levyn maailmaan kun CMX:n musiikkiin tutustuin pari vuotta sitten, ja ajan myötä “Talkkarista” on muodostunut melkoinen kulttiklassikko myös monien fanien keskuudessa. Videoraita “Punainen komentaja” on yksi bändin suosituimmista kappaleista Spotifyssa, vaikkei sitä koskaan julkaistu radiosinglenä tai hittikokoelmalla Kaikki hedelmät (2008), ja muistan kuinka kaksi vuotta sitten Tampereen Pakkahuoneella “Pretoriaanikyborgit” oli yksi yleisöltä lämpimimmän vastaanoton saaneista valinnoista settilistassa. Ei ollut siis mikään yllätys, että Huvila-teltan keikan perusliput myytiin loppuun ennen kuin kerkesi tappajasatelliittia sanoa.

 

Saavuttuani Huvilalle kiihkeimmät fanit jo jonottivat sitkeästi konserttiteltan ulkopuolella sateesta huolimatta. Ravintolatelttaan oli lupailtu Jone Nikulan ja Mikko von Hertzenin vetämää etko-osiota nimeltä “CMX:n vittuilumeilit”, mutta oli pettymys huomata, että mikrofonin sijaan juontajapari puhui megafoniin, joka kuului heikosti kaiken hälinän yli. Ilkeämielisimmät kai toteaisivat, että Nikulan puheen volyymin vähäisyys korreloi paremman tunnelman kanssa, muttei silti voi kuin ihmetellä, kenen neronleimaus tämä järjestely oli ollut. Olin joka tapauksessa lukenut CMX:n sivujen legendaarista Kysy-palstaa ennen niiden valitettavaa hakkerointia, joten uskoisin kuulleeni parhaat palat jo aiemmin.

Iltaseitsemältä oli vihdoin itse konsertin vuoro – Mikko von Hertzen pohjusti johdatuksena Talvikuninkaaseen toiminutta ensimmäistä settiä paljastamalla, että CMX oli päättänyt tehdä jotain erikoista ja loihtia tapahtumaa varten kappaleistaan elektronisia syntikkaversioita. Tämä yllättävä ilmoitus herätti innostusta ja jännitystä – olisiko synasetti parhautta vai floppi? Kosketinsoittimien taakse marssi neljä tuttua miestä aurinkolaseissa, ja CMX:n Kraftwerk-kokeilu pääsi alkuunsa. Alun intro kesti niin pitkään, että kerkesin hetken jo pelätä, että kyseessä olisi vain jonkinlainen ambient-potpuri, mutta lopulta A.W. Yrjänä avasi suunsa “Suuri äiti” -kappaleen merkeissä. Ensimmäiset biisit edustivat verkkaisempaa osastoa, välispiikkejä ei ollut tunnelmaa rikkomassa, ja tuntui kuin yleisöllä olisi kestänyt hetken aikaa totutella kitarattomaan CMX:ään. “Revontulten repijä” ja “Tuulilukko” soivat ihan kauniisti, mutta alkuperäisversionakin Tangerine Dream -henkinen “Baikonur” oli ensimmäinen maaginen hetki. Intensiteetti kasvoi hiljalleen ja rockyleisökin lämpeni vihdoin, kun ilmoille kajahtivat “Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta” ja “Pedot”, jotka kuulostivat raivokkaan nykivältä teknolta. Valitettavasti jo kolmen vartin jälkeen setti päättyi ja Yrjänä kehotti yleisöä menemään baariin siksi aikaa, että yhtye saisi lavalle “oikeita” soittimia. Tuntui kuin matto olisi vetäisty jalkojen alta heti kun oltiin päästy vauhtiin – mihin jäi esimerkiksi “Mekaanisten lintujen puisto”, joka niin teemansa kuin musiikkinsa puolesta olisi soveltunut täydellisesti mukaan? Oli miten oli, tuttujen ja osittain odotettujen biisien kuuleminen täysin uudessa valossa oli virkistävää, ja koneellinen lähestymistapa sopi Talvikuninkaan maailmaan. CMX toimi hienosti elektronisessa muodossa ja osoitti kyynisimmillekin kuulijoille olevansa edelleen halutessaan hyvin muuntautumiskykyinen ja kokeilunhaluinen yhtye. Jos ideasampo kitararockin puolella ehtyy joskus, bändihän voi tehdä Discopolistakin (1996) rajumman vedon ja heittäytyä kokonaan syntikoiden maailmaan – täysiverinen “plugined”-kiertue olisi myös hyvä vastaisku muiden isojen nimien unplugged-meiningille.

Väliajan jälkeen yleisö sai sitä, mitä se oli tullut kuulemaan – CMX soitti alkuperäisellä Talvikuningas-kiertueella levyn 12 osasta yhdeksän, ja joitakin niistä on kuultu myöhemmin erikseen keikoilla, mutta tänä iltana koko teos soitettaisiin alusta loppuun. Sisäänpääsyä telttaan odotellessani olin huomannut yllättävän monilla yleisön edustajilla äärimetallibändien huppareita ja paitoja, joten ilmeisesti CMX:n raskain levy oli houkutellut paikalle myös niitä, jotka eivät normaalisti jalkaudu bändin keikoille ainomieliä ja kultanaamioita kuulemaan, tai sitten olin vain aliarvioinut bändin suosion metallipiireissä. “Kaikkivaltiaan” käynnistyessä väki nousi jaloilleen, ja suurin osa takarivejä myöten seurasi keikkaa loppuun asti seisten, mikä jälleen kieli paikalle ilmaantuneiden fanien intohimosta. Eeppinen avausbiisi pysyi hienosti kasassa väliosansa lyhyitä basso-, kitara- ja rumpusooloja myöten ja sai yleisön pauloihinsa saman tien. Alussa Yrjänän laulumelodiat tuntuivat menevän miten sattuu, mutta mies pääsi takaisin kartalle melko nopeasti. Oli vaikeaa olla huomaamatta miehen mikkitelineeseen kiinnitettyä tablettia, mutta albumilla on laulettavaa tekstiä siinä määrin, että sähköisen lunttilapun käyttö lienee tässä tilanteessa ollut paikallaan. Bändillä oli apupoikana myös Stonesta ja Suburban Tribesta tuttu Janne Joutsenniemi, joka soitti koskettimia ja lauloi taustoja, sekä vuorotteli Yrjänän kanssa hardcorerykäys “Resurssikysymyksen” huuto-osuuksissa.

Bändi soitti albumin pitkälti katkeamattomana virtana kuten levyllä, pitäen lyhyen hengähdystauon vain parissa sopivassa välissä. “Vallan haamut” on oma suosikkiosuuteni albumilla, joten sen kuuleminen oli mannaa korville, kuten myös kauniin tunnelmallinen “Tähtilaivan kapteeni”, jossa Timo Rasio soitti slide-kitaraa. Aiemmin soittamatta jääneessä “Kosmologisen vakion laulussa” Yrjänä ulkoisti bassonsoiton Joutsenniemelle – en ollut aiemmin kuunnellessani kiinnittänytkään huomiota siihen, kuinka työläs kappaleen bassolinja on soittaa laulamisen ohessa, ellei satu olemaan Geddy Lee. Vaikka yleisö oli kiitettävän hyvin mukana koko setin ajan, “Punainen komentaja” sai odotetusti eniten aikaan nyrkkien puimista. Olli-Matti Wahlström oikoi hieman mutkia takoessaan tuplabasarien sijaan tomeja säkeistöjen kompissa, mutta ratkaisu oli toimiva eikä syönyt biisin tehoa. Muutenkin pitkän tukan sitten viime näkemän kasvattaneen miehen soitto tuntuu parantuvan ja sulautuvan yhä luontevammin bändin menoon vuosi vuodelta. Omaan makuuni Talvikuningas notkahtaa hieman “Punaisen komentajan” ja “Kaikkivaltiaan peilin” välissä levyltä kuunneltuna, mutta livenä nämäkin kappaleet onnistuivat pitämään otteessaan, ja etenkin “Langenneen valon” lopun kosketinkakofonia ja “Quantan” nopea osuus iskivät kunnolla. “Kaikkivaltiaan peili” kruunasi kokonaisuuden Janne Halmkronan hienolla soololla, jonka aikana nähtiin vihreitä lasereita. Bändi poistui lavalta ilman sen kummempia kiitoksia, mikä herätteli toiveita jonkinlaisesta encoresta, mutta Yrjänä ja kumppanit palasivat ainoastaan esittelyjä ja loppukumarruksia varten. Toisaalta on vaikea kuvitella, miten moisen albuminjärkäleen jälkeen voisi esittää enää mitään.

 

CMX:n soitto kulki mallikkaasti, Joutsenniemi oli mies paikallaan liitännäisjäsenenä ja yleisö söi bändin kädestä ilman kosiskelujakin. Ainoastaan keikan visuaalinen puoli jäi hieman puolitiehen, vaikka lopun laserit olivat näyttävät. Talvikuningas-setissä taustalla ollutta kangasta ei hyödynnetty ollenkaan, vaikka olisi ollut hienoa nähdä esimerkiksi “Punaisen komentajan” video kerrankin livenä biisin taustalla, kun siihen olisi ollut mahdollisuus. Ensimmäisessä osassa taas kankaalle heijastettiin kuvioita, mutta valaistus oli erittäin vähäistä. Minimalismi toimi katsojan näkökulmasta, mutta hyviä valokuvia oli vaikea saada, varsinkin kun myös luonnollista valoa oli vähän sateisesta ja pilvisestä säästä johtuen. Kaiken kaikkiaan Talvikuninkaan loppukesään tuoma viileä henkäys oli silti hieno ja ainutlaatuinen kokemus. Huvila-teltta osoittautui jälleen upeaksi keikkapaikaksi, joten hatunnosto Helsingin juhlaviikoille on paikallaan, ja toivon mukaan erikoiskonsepteilla höystettyjä rock-keikkoja on luvassa jatkossakin. On vaikea sanoa, onko Talvikuningas CMX:n kaikkein paras saavutus, Aura (1994) kun on sen verran täydellinen kokonaisuus, mutta kyseessä on epäilemättä paras Suomessa tehty konseptialbumi, eikä tämän keikkakokemuksen myötä Talkkarin tarvitse hävetä kansainvälisessäkään vertailussa.

Setti 1:
1. Suuri äiti
2. Revontulten repijä
3. Tuulilukko
4. Baikonur
5. Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta
6. Pedot

Setti 2:
7. Kaikkivaltias
8. Resurssikysymys
9. Pretoriaanikyborgit
10. Vallan haamut
11. Tähtilaivan kapteeni
12. Kosmologisen vakion laulu
13. Parvatin tietäjä
14. Punainen komentaja
15. Langennut valo
16. Quanta
17. Rusalkai
18. Kaikkivaltiaan peili

Kuvat: Amy Wiseman

CMX: Talvikuningas – Huvila-teltta (Helsingin juhlaviikot), Helsinki, 31.08.2017 (English)

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Although CMX have been around for a good while and the band’s music has always relied on the album format instead of individual hits, these free spirits of Finnish rock have never reveled in nostalgia in the form of classic album tours. Therefore, it was great for the Helsingin Juhlaviikot [Helsinki Festival] to get the band to perform their 10-year-old sci-fi epic Talvikuningas (2007) for the first time in its entirety at Huvila-teltta on August 31st, 2017. Musicalypse was present to enjoy this unique evening, much like we were a year ago when Amorphis performed a specialty gig at the same venue.

 

As far as I’ve understood, Talvikuningas wasn’t accepted by the CMX fandom without reservations upon its release, which is understandable – the album is quite the monolith with its 62-minute runtime and futuristic themes. However, for a prog fan like myself it was relatively easy to get into the record when I started listening to CMX a couple of years ago, and over time, Talvikuningas has become a bit of a cult classic among a lot of fans as well. The video track “Punainen komentaja” is one of the band’s most popular songs on Spotify, although it was never released as a radio single or on the greatest hits compilation, Kaikki hedelmät (2008), and I remember how 2 years ago at Pakkahuone, Tampere, “Pretoriaanikyborgit” was one of the most warmly received selections in the setlist. Hence, it was no surprise that the tickets to the Huvila-teltta show were sold out in a heartbeat.

 

Upon my arrival at Huvila, the most passionate fans were already queuing outside the concert tent despite the rain. A pre-show program called “CMX:n vittuilumeilit”, hosted by Jone Nikula and Mikko von Hertzen had been scheduled for the restaurant tent, but much to my disappointment, the pair only had a megaphone instead of a microphone, which could be heard only faintly through all the hustle and bustle. The most mean-spirited ones might argue that the low volume of Nikula’s speech correlated with a better atmosphere, but you still couldn’t help wondering whose ingenious idea the arrangement had been. In any case, I’d been reading through the legendary Q&A section of CMX’s website before its unfortunate hacking, so I’d like to think I’d heard the best bits already.

At 19:00 it was finally showtime – Mikko von Hertzen introduced the first set, which served as an initiation to Talvikuningas, by revealing that CMX had decided to do something special and create electronic synth versions of their songs for the occasion. This surprising announcement generated excitement and nervousness in me – would the synth set be the best thing ever or a bust? Four familiar men marched to their spots behind the keyboards, and CMX commenced their Kraftwerk experiment. The intro was so long that for a moment I was afraid the whole thing would be just an ambient medley, but at last A.W. Yrjänä opened his mouth in time for “Suuri äiti.” The first songs were rather calm, there was no banter to break the atmosphere, and it felt like it took a while for the audience to get used to a guitarless CMX. “Revontulten repijä” and “Tuulilukko” were performed beautifully, but it was the Tangerine Dream-like “Baikonur” that was the first magical moment. The intensity grew slowly, and at last the rock crowd warmed up when the aggressively techno-ish renditions of “Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta” and “Pedot” were aired. Unfortunately, the set concluded at only 45 minutes when Yrjänä told the audience to go to the bar while the band would go and get some ‘real’ instruments. It felt like the ground had been cut from under your feet right when things had got into full speed – where was, for example, “Mekaanisten lintujen puisto”, which would’ve been a perfect fit both musically and lyrically? Either way, hearing familiar and partially expected tunes in a totally new light was refreshing, and the mechanic approach fit the world of Talvikuningas. CMX worked nicely in electronic form and proved even to the most cynical listeners that they can still be a protean and experimental band. Should they run out of ideas on the guitar rock side, the band could pull an even more radical move than Discopolis (1996) and dive headlong into the world of synths – a full-blown ‘plugged-in’ tour would also be a good counteraction to the unplugged tours that other big names are doing.

After the intermission the crowd got what it’d come to hear – out of the twelve parts of Talvikuningas, nine had been played on the original tour, and some of them had been performed individually later on; however, on this night, the whole work would be played from start to finish. While waiting to get into the tent, I’d noticed surprisingly many people wearing extreme metal band hoodies and shirts, so apparently CMX’s heaviest outing had lured in those who wouldn’t normally go to the band’s shows to hear “Ainomieli”, “Kultanaamio”, and the likes, or maybe I’d just underestimated the band’s popularity among metalheads. When “Kaikkivaltias” got started, people got on their feet, and most of the people – including the ones in the back – stood for the rest of the show – another sign of the passion of the fans present. The epic opener – including its short bass, guitar, and drum solos in the middle – was performed tightly and enchanted the audience right away. At first Yrjänä’s vocal melodies sounded a little off, but he got back on track fairly quickly. It was hard not to notice the tablet attached to his mic stand, but the album has so many wordy lyrics that using an electronic cheat-sheet may have been necessary and acceptable in this case. The band also had Janne Joutsenniemi of Stone and Suburban Tribe to help them out on keyboards and backing vocals, and he alternated with Yrjänä on shouting vocals during the hardcore blast “Resurssikysymys.”

The band mostly played the album as a continuous piece of music, as on the record, with only a few short breathers in a couple of appropriate spots. “Vallan haamut” is my favorite part of the album, so hearing it was a treat, as was the beautifully atmospheric “Tähtilaivan kapteeni”, on which Timo Rasio played slide guitar. On the previously unplayed “Kosmologisen vakion laulu”, Yrjänä let Joutsenniemi handle the bass – I’d never paid attention to how difficult the bassline is if you try to sing while playing it, unless you’re Geddy Lee. Although the crowd seemed to enjoy the whole set, it was expectedly “Punainen komentaja” that had people pumping their fists in the air the most. Olli-Matti Wahlström simplified the drum beat in the verses a little by pounding the toms instead of the double kicks, but the solution worked and didn’t eat away the song’s strength. The man, who’d grown out his hair since the last time I saw him, also seems to have improved as a player and become more and more connected to the band every year. In my opinion, Talvikuningas lulls a little between “Punainen komentaja” and “Kaikkivaltiaan peili” on the record, but when played live these tunes managed to hold my attention, and the keyboard cacophony at the end of “Langennut valo” and the fast part of “Quanta” were particularly hard-hitting. “Kaikkivaltiaan peili” topped it all off with Janne Halmkrona’s fine solo, which was accompanied by green lasers. The band exited the stage without any thank-you’s, which awakened hopes for some kind of encore, but Yrjänä and co. only returned for a band introduction and the final bows. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine how you could perform anything after such a beast of an album.

 

CMX’s playing was tight, Joutsenniemi handled his job as the extra member gracefully, and the audience was into the show even without any persuasion from the band. Only the visual side of the show was a little half-hearted, although the lasers at the end were impressive. During the Talvikuningas set the screen wasn’t used at all, although for example it would’ve been great to see the “Punainen komentaja” video on screen live, since the opportunity was there. On the other hand, in the first part of the show there were projections on the screen, but the lighting was very modest. From a spectator’s view, the minimalism worked, but it was hard to get good photos, especially when there wasn’t much natural light either, due to the rainy and cloudy weather. Overall, the cool breeze Talvikuningas brought into the end of the summer was still a fine and unique experience. Huvila-teltta once again turned out to be a fantastic venue, so a tip of the hat to Helsingin Juhlaviikot is in order, and hopefully there are more rock concerts with special concepts on the horizon. It’s hard to say whether Talvikuningas is CMX’s greatest achievement, as Aura (1994) is such a perfect album, but it’s undoubtedly the best concept album made in Finland, and based on this live experience I don’t think it pales in comparison internationally either.

Setlist:
1. Suuri äiti
2. Revontulten repijä
3. Tuulilukko
4. Baikonur
5. Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta
6. Pedot

Intermission

Talvikuningas:
7. Kaikkivaltias
8. Resurssikysymys
9. Pretoriaanikyborgit
10. Vallan haamut
11. Tähtilaivan kapteeni
12. Kosmologisen vakion laulu
13. Parvatin tietäjä
14. Punainen komentaja
15. Langennut valo
16. Quanta
17. Rusalkai
18. Kaikkivaltiaan peili

Photos: Amy W./Janne Puronen

CMX: Talvikuningas @ Huvila-teltta (Helsingin Juhlaviikot), Helsinki, 31.08.2017

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CMX’s Talvikuningas special event for Helsingin Juhlaviikot, Helsinki 2017.
Photos by Amy W., photo editing by Janne Puronen.
Gig report coming soon!

WINTERSUN w/ VALKEAT @ The Circus, Helsinki, 31.08.2017

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Wintersun with Valkeat at The Circus, 2017.
Photos by Marco Manzi.
Gig report coming soon!

(2017) Force Majeure: The Rise of Starlit Fires

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Artist: Force Majeure
Album: The Rise of Starlit Fires
Release: 08.09.2017
Label: Mighty Music

 

As has been rather common this year already, today we introduce yet another band whose latest album features a change in line-up. Force Majeure is one of Finland’s lesser-known power metal gems, and is now featuring an all-new vocalist: Marcus Lång. Having released a single and lyric video to demonstrate Lång’s Marco Hietala-esque pipes a massive 2 years ago, it’s time for these guys to reveal the full album itself at long last! I sat down to listen, with the phantom hovering nearby, sharing his thoughts as well.

Listen along on Spotify, if you like:

 

The first thing of note is that there seems to be a somewhat astronomical theme running through this album, with constant references to starfalls, the Zodiac signs, the planets, and other such universe-oriented things.

The album starts with “Gemini Rising”, which is a pretty solid blend of classic 80s metal and modern power metal, with its synth chants, speedy drums, and solid guitar work. Lång indeed does sound very similar to Nightwish’s Marco Hietala, and his vocals are strong, but almost a bit tentative at times, as if he’s still finding his sound and where he’s comfortable. Of course, this is his first full album as lead vocalist to my knowledge, so that’s completely excusable. Some lines feel a bit awkward, as though they were written in Finglish, but then corrected to be in proper English, but the flow of the lyrics wasn’t adjusted to match the flow of the music. This continues on occasion throughout the album.

“Apocalyptic Hearts” is a speed metal anthem, with a hint of classic power metal. The phantom faults it for being beautiful, but losing its energy in its weird and incomprehensible lyrics, which I can agree with. If you ignore the words for the most part, this is a great track for lovers of that high energy, non-stop power metal, like old Sonata Arctica, with some classic Nightwish in the synth. I give bonus points to the solos in here, done by Eemeli Ojanen and/or Jussi Reuhkala. Speaking of Sonata Arctica, next up is “Blessed by the Wolves”, which opens with some tinkling wintery-sounding power metal. This is perhaps the most diverse drumming on the album, highlighting the skill of Jaakko Nylund (who was also one of the writers, and may have been writing to highlight his own skills – bravo!).

The album’s name is referenced in “The Great Starfall”, which was released all the way back in 2014. There are some cool breakdowns in this one, with some chugging, heavy guitar nearly halfway through, and another part that spotlights Tuomas Väänänen on bass. Pretty decent for a single.

“Church of Steam” is an obvious nod to the Finnish sauna, built on the shore, where you “wash away the sins of day” in “eternal silence.” I like the cheekiness of the song’s theme, though it does unfortunately suffer from a weird lyrical turn at the end that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the song. As well, I think Lång was trying to say “for the rich and for the poor,” but it comes out as “for the rich and for the pure“… oops. Classic heavy metal guitar and drums open “Pantheon of My Passion”, followed quickly by classic 80s synth sounds. I like the flow of this one a lot, which can be credited to Ojanen as the music writer. It’s a bit more laid-back than the others, but it allows a good dynamic change in the album, resulting in a song that stands out nicely between a lot of fast power metal tracks.

“The Darkening” is, at least by my experience, one of the most original-sounding tracks on the album. Much like its name, this is also one of the darkest (or perhaps heaviest is a better word) songs on the album, though it rises and falls in dynamic nicely throughout. There’s a screaming, almost thrashy part mid-way through that comes as quite a surprise and a good change-up to the album. The song then takes a bit of a turn towards Nightwish in the end, when a creepy echoing female voice speaks the final words over the last minute or so.

The album closes up with a song about… ice fishing? Yes, you read that correctly, “Subarctic Showdown” is about ice fishing! In that context, this song is actually pretty awesome, if you consider the lyrics about “reach[ing] / into the deep”, “catch[ing] them all” (Pokémon reference likely unintentional), and “the lure of the catch.” Indeed, the phantom has said that it’s pretty obvious if you think about it. There’s a rockin’ solo and the right amount of energy to close out an album on a good note.

 

This is one of the most influence-laden albums I’ve heard in recent years. You can find Nightwish chant-synth, speedy Sonata Arctica and cheesy lyrics, Helloween-like speed and breakdowns, a Children of Bodom thrash bit, and probably many more that we couldn’t figure out. However, don’t take that to mean that the album sounds generic or ripped off – as the phantom put it, it’s very evident that they had a lot of fun making this album and there’s a clear sense of humor and perhaps even self-irony in there. However, it stumbles a few times on lyrics that don’t make any sense or don’t flow with the music’s rhythm; as well, a lot of the lyrics don’t actually match the words in the booklet, which is a shame. The production is a little low-budget overall, though this was a self-made album (the label only joined in once it was done), so that’s also no reason to dock any points. All-in-all, it’s a fun, slightly silly, and well-executed album.

Rating: 8.5/10, 4 stars

Tracklist:
1. Gemini Rising
2. Apocalyptic Hearts
3. Blessed by the Wolves
4. The Great Starfall
5. Church of Steam
6. Pantheon of My Passion
7. The Darkening
8. Subarctic Showdown

(2017) Paradise Lost: Medusa (English)

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Artist: Paradise Lost
Album: Medusa
Released: 01.09.2017
Label: Nuclear Blast

 

I’ve been a fan of Gothic doom pioneers Paradise Lost for about 7 years now. Their discography is one of the most interesting in the history of metal, ranging from death/doom to synth-tinged Gothic pop. While fan-favorite Draconian Times (1995) is my favorite album as well, I also love the controversial Host (1999), which left metalheads scratching their heads in disbelief, and therefore almost all the different phases of the band’s career have something to offer to me. Paradise Lost have gradually returned to a heavier sound, and The Plague Within (2015) finally brought back the death growls heard on the band’s first few releases. Medusa, the first PL album through Nuclear Blast, will be released on September 1st, and it builds upon the doomy direction of the Plague track, “Beneath Broken Earth.”

Listen on Spotify here:

 

Although I didn’t like The Plague Within as much as its three predecessors, and in some parts of the songs, the growls felt like a cop-out when clean singing would’ve been more appropriate, it was still a quite solid album and didn’t abandon the melodic sensibilities that the band had developed over the years. Despite that, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Medusa, as the band had described it as a sludgy album and the missing link between Gothic (1991) and Shades of God (1992). I’m not really into sludge metal, and to me Icon (1993) is the first album in which PL truly hit their stride, so the first three albums aren’t exactly close to my heart. While the first two singles showed a lot of promise, it turns out that my concerns about Medusa were not unfounded – the growling has become even more predominant, a lot of the songs are at similarly slow tempos, and sadly PL’s trademark hooks, melancholy, and atmosphere aren’t very prevalent.

Let’s start with the good: the 8½-minute “Fearless Sky” is the longest Paradise Lost song ever, but it flows very well compared to, say, “Crying for Eternity” from Shades of God. The Hammond organ (an instrument the band has never used before) intro sets the mood nicely, and the Sabbath-y riff after the 6-minute mark is a good one, although the song could do with more melodic vocals in the first half. The lead single, “The Longest Winter,” is the strongest tune here, with a soaring chorus, a Type O Negative vibe (never a bad thing!), and a cool guitar effect that almost sounds like a keyboard. The title-track includes haunting piano, Nick Holmes‘s vocal melodies are interesting, and the clean guitar in the middle is nice. “Blood and Chaos”, the second single, is a Draconian Times -style upbeat track that’s a breath of fresh air from the doominess of the rest of the album, although the murky production and growling don’t really fit it. In that sense it’s like “Cry Out”, the most rocking tune on The Plague Within.

Then comes the bad: “Gods of Ancient” is one of the most forgettable PL songs ever with its pedestrian doom riffage, while “No Passage for the Dead” tries to recapture the ‘evil’ vibe of the band’s debut, Lost Paradise (1990), and lesser Gothic tracks like “Rapture” and “Silent.” “Until the Grave” is a rather underwhelming ending to the record compared to previous album closers such as “The Glorious End” and “Over the Madness.” “From the Gallows” is the most frustrating track of all, as it begins with a promising melodic intro, but quickly descends into standard death/doom, sounding like a poor man’s “Dead Emotion.” According to lead guitarist and composer Greg Mackintosh, the song has its origins in 1989 – if it wasn’t good enough for a studio album back then, why was it worth recording now?

When it comes the production, I have to say I’m not a big fan of the buzzsaw death metal tone of the guitars, because it makes Aaron Aedy’s rhythm guitar tracks sound less tight than they should be. The drum sound is also very similar to that of The Plague Within, which I believe hinders the album’s own identity a little bit. Speaking of drums, the young Finn, Waltteri Väyrynen, makes his debut behind the kit on Medusa. He does a good job, managing to throw in some nice fills despite the general slowness of the music – too bad his youthful energy didn’t spark the band to make stronger songs. Nick Holmes’s vocal performance is unfortunately a little one-dimensional, as his Hetfieldish rasp is absent, which only leaves us with growling and clean crooning. It’s a shame, because at many points throughout, a gritty yet melodic approach could’ve done more justice to the material than simply growling his way through it.

 

I’m afraid I can’t shake off the feeling of a musical midlife crisis while listening to Medusa. Paradise Lost is like an uncle who used to be naturally cool, but has now bought a Harley Davidson and is trying too hard to act like a badass. Considering that the gap between the two newest albums was merely 2 years, instead of the typical 3, and that Greg Mackintosh wrote the music while working on the latest Vallenfyre record, I think taking more time might have done wonders considering how rushed the final result sounds. As a big fan, I hate to give the album such a low score, but when you only truly like half the songs, out of which a few could’ve been stronger with changes in the vocal and production department, and the rest is a big blur that fails to convince you even after several listens… well, there isn’t much of a choice. To add insult to injury, bonus track “Symbolic Virtue” is available for listening on Spotify as the B-side to the “Blood and Chaos” single, and it’s a lot better than most of the songs on the actual tracklist – I wish the album had been more in its vein, with mainly clean vocals and a little more keyboards to make things sound more colorful. As is, Medusa is a disappointing throwback to Paradise Lost’s most embryonic and least mature era that doesn’t play to the band’s strengths. It’s the third real clunker in their otherwise consistent catalog, the first two being Lost Paradise and Believe in Nothing (2001).

Rating: 5/10, 2½ stars

Tracklist:
1. Fearless Sky
2. Gods of Ancient
3. From the Gallows
4. The Longest Winter
5. Medusa
6. No Passage for the Dead
7. Blood and Chaos
8. Until the Grave

(2017) Paradise Lost: Medusa (suomeksi)

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Artisti: Paradise Lost
Albumi: Medusa
Julkaisupäivä: 01.09.2017
Levy-yhtiö: Nuclear Blast

 

Olen ollut goottidoomin pioneerin Paradise Lostin fani jo noin seitsemän vuotta. Bändin diskografia on yksi mielenkiintoisimmista metallin historiassa, vaihtelua kun riittää death/doomista syntikkavetoiseen goottipoppiin. Vaikka fanien suosikki Draconian Times (1995) on minunkin lempialbumini, rakastan myös kohua herättänyttä Hostia (1999), joka sai metalliyleisön edustajat raaputtamaan päitään epäuskoisina, ja näin ollen lähes kaikilla yhtyeen uran vaiheilla on jotain annettavaa minulle. Paradise Lost on hiljalleen hivuttautunut jälleen raskaampaan tyyliin, ja The Plague Within (2015) toi viimeinkin takaisin alkupään julkaisuilla kuullun murinalaulun. Medusa, ensimmäinen Nuclear Blastille tehty PL-albumi, julkaistaan 1. syyskuuta, ja se jatkaa Plague-raita “Beneath Broken Earthin” viitoittamaa doom-linjaa.

Kuuntele Spotifyssä täällä:

 

Vaikka The Plague Within ei ollut makuuni aivan yhtä hyvä kuin kolme edeltäjäänsä ja joissain kohdin kappaleita murinat tuntuivat turhan helpolta ratkaisulta, kun puhdas laulu olisi ollut sopivampaa, se oli silti melko vahva levy eikä hylännyt bändin vuosien varrella kehittämää melodiantajua. Tästä huolimatta en ollut varma siitä, mitä Medusalla oli odotettavissa, sillä bändi oli kuvaillut sitä sludgemaiseksi albumiksi ja puuttuvaksi palaseksi Gothicin (1991) ja Shades of Godin (1992) välillä. En pahemmin perusta sludge metalista, ja mielestäni Icon (1993) oli PL:n ensimmäinen täsmäosuma, joten ensimmäiset kolme albumia eivät ole varsinaisesti lähellä sydäntäni. Vaikka kaksi ensimmäistä singleä olivat kovin lupaavia, huolenaiheeni Medusasta eivät olleet tuulesta temmattuja – murina on entistä keskeisemmässä roolissa, monet kappaleet kulkevat samankaltaisissa hitaissa tempoissa ja PL:n tavaramerkiksi muodostuneet koukut, melankolia ja tunnelmallisuus eivät ikävä kyllä ole vahvasti läsnä.

Aloitetaan plussilla: 8½-minuuttinen “Fearless Sky” on Paradise Lostin pisin kappale koskaan, mutta sen rakenne on luontevampi kuin vaikkapa “Crying for Eternityn” Shades of Godilla. Hammond-uruilla (soitin, jota bändi ei ole koskaan käyttänyt) soitettu intro luo tunnelmaa hienosti, ja sabbathmainen riffi 6 minuutin paikkeilla on toimiva, vaikka biisin ensimmäisessä puoliskossa voisi olla enemmän melodista laulua. Ykkössingle “The Longest Winter” on vahvin kappale vahvoine kertosäkeineen, Type O Negative -tunnelmineen ja siisteine kitaraefekteineen, jotka kuulostavat melkein koskettimilta. Nimikkoraidassa on synkkää pianoa, Nick Holmesin mielenkiintoisia laulumelodioita ja väliosassa mukavaa puhdasta kitarointia. Toinen single “Blood and Chaos” on Draconian Times -henkinen reippaampi raita, joka on raikas tuulahdus muutoin niin doomahtavalla levyllä, vaikka synkeä tuotanto ja murina eivät oikein sovi mukaan. Tässä mielessä kappale on kuin The Plague Withinin rokkaavin ralli, “Cry Out”.

Sitten tulevat miinukset: “Gods of Ancient” on yksi kaikkien aikojen yhdentekevimmistä PL-biiseistä keskinkertaisine doom-riffeineen, kun taas “No Passage for the Dead” yrittää tavoittaa debyyttialbumi Lost Paradisen (1990) ja Gothicin heikoimpien hetkien, kuten “Rapturen” ja “Silentin”, häijyä tunnelmaa. “Until the Grave” on harvinaisen mitäänsanomaton lopetus levylle verrattuna “The Glorious Endin” ja “Over the Madnessin” kaltaisiin aiempiin päätöskappaleisiin. “From the Gallows” on kaikkein turhauttavin kappale, sillä se alkaa lupaavan melodisella introlla, mutta vajoaa pian tavanomaiseen death/doomiin, kuulostaen köyhän miehen “Dead Emotionilta”. Soolokitaristi ja säveltäjä Greg Mackintoshin mukaan biisi on saanut alkunsa vuonna 1989 – jos se ei ollut silloin riittävän hyvä studioalbumille, miksi se oli äänittämisen arvoinen nyt?

Tuotannosta täytyy sanoa sen verran, etten ole deathmetallisen sirkkelikitarasoundin ystävä, sillä se saa Aaron Aedyn rytmikitararaidat kuulostamaan vähemmän tiukilta kuin tavallisesti. Rumpusoundi taas on hyvin samankaltainen kuin The Plague Withinilla, mikä hieman heikentää albumin omaa identiteettiä. Rummuista puheen ollen, nuori suomalainen Waltteri Väyrynen debytoi rumpusetin takana Medusalla. Hän on tehnyt hyvää työtä ja saanut mahdutettua mukaan tyylikkäitä fillejä levyn keskimääräisestä hitaudesta huolimatta – harmi vain, ettei hänen nuorekas energiansa auttanut bändiä tekemään vahvempia kappaleita. Nick Holmesin laulusuoritus on valitettavasti hieman yksipuolinen, sillä miehen hetfieldmäinen raspi loistaa poissaolollaan, mikä jättää jäljelle vain murinaa ja putipuhdasta laulua. Tämä on harmillista, sillä monessa kohtaa särmikkään melodinen lähestymistapa olisi tehnyt materiaalille enemmän oikeutta kuin pelkkä korina.

 

Valitettavasti en voi välttyä musiikillisen keski-iän kriisin vaikutelmalta kuunnellessani Medusaa. Paradise Lost on kuin setä, joka oli ennen luonnollisesti cool, mutta on nyt ostanut Harley Davidsonin ja yrittää liian väkinäisesti käyttäytyä kuin kovanaama. Ottaen huomioon, että kahden uusimman albumin välissä oli vain kaksi vuotta tyypillisten kolmen sijaan ja Greg Mackintosh sävelsi musiikin työskennellessään samanaikaisesti tuoreimman Vallenfyre-albumin parissa, arvelen että bändi olisi voinut käyttää enemmän aikaa levyn tekoon, sillä nyt lopputulos kuulostaa hätäisesti kokoon kyhätyltä. Suurena fanina harmittelen, että joudun antamaan näin matalan arvosanan, mutta kun vain puolet biiseistä iskevät kunnolla, ja niistäkin pari olisi voinut olla parempia erilaisten tuotanto- ja laulupuoliratkaisujen myötä, ja loput levystä on yhtä suurta höttöä, joka ei vakuuta useidenkaan kuunteluiden jälkeen, vaihtoehdot ovat vähissä. Suolaa haavoihin lisää se, että Spotifyssa “Blood and Chaos” -singlen b-puolena kuunneltavissa oleva “Symbolic Virtue” on parempi kuin suurin osa itse albumista – kunpa levy olisi ollut enemmän näillä linjoilla, sisältäen enimmäkseen puhdasta laulua ja enemmän kosketinsoittimia värittämässä tunnelmaa. Tällaisenaan Medusa on epätyydyttävä paluu Paradise Lostin raakilemaisimpaan ja epäkypsimpään vaiheeseen, joka ei hyödynnä bändin vahvuuksia. Se on kolmas todellinen huti yhtyeen muutoin tasalaatuisessa katalogissa – ensimmäiset kaksi olivat Lost Paradise ja Believe in Nothing (2001).

Arvosana: 5/10, 2½ tähteä

Kappalelista:
1. Fearless Sky
2. Gods of Ancient
3. From the Gallows
4. The Longest Winter
5. Medusa
6. No Passage for the Dead
7. Blood and Chaos
8. Until the Grave

(2017) Crimfall: Amain

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Artist: Crimfall
Album: Amain
Release: 25.08.2017
Label: Metal Blade Records

 

Crimfall has been fairly quiet since their 2011 album, The Writ of Sword, with the odd tour date here-and-there. Now it seems they’re back with Amain. Known for mixing symphonic metal and folk metal in a straightforward, approachable way, their return has assuredly been awaited by many. We’ll be taking a track-by-track look at it to see if it was worth the wait.

Be sure to check out the in-depth interview Lene L. did over HERE!

Or listen along on Spotify here:

 

1. Eschaton
Vincent: As the elders hath decreed, every self-respecting metal album must have an intro track. This one stretches the limits of what is acceptable by being nearly 2 minutes in length. At the start, it consists of a short monologue on what sounds like a windy hilltop, which is then followed by strings, drums, and a choir. It’s epic enough to warrant its place on the record.

Amy: I agree that it was a bit risky using such a long track as an intro, yet its length didn’t bother me. The spoken-word part perhaps contrasts a bit with the choir, but I like the way the music builds up at a steady pace, and I especially like the wailing, wordless female vocals that appear for a time.

2. The Last of Stands
Vincent: This song sums up the album fairly well. It begins with the kind of epic, bombastic, choir-infused metal you’d expect from Crimfall. It then abruptly abandons it in favor of a somber ballad with Helena Haaparanta‘s voice in the forefront. And just before you think it’s a ballad, it turns into a metal song again, complete with Mikko Häkkinen‘s growls. All of this happens in the first 40 seconds.

When it’s a metal song, it’s actually really energetic. Häkkinen’s growls sound a lot heavier and more masculine than on the previous album. Helena also gets to sing in a heavier, louder style in the pre-chorus. The chorus itself is very Rhapsody of Fire-esque. It gets me admittedly hyped up, even if it’s a bit all over the place in the beginning.

Amy: I agree and disagree entirely on this song. I think the first 40 seconds of this song sound like what Turisas could’ve become if they hadn’t lost all sense of what it was that made them good back in 2013. I love the transition from the very “To Holmgard and Beyond” intro into the gentle vocals; the time-change doesn’t bother me. Then, as Vincent said, it goes fully back into a metal song, and at this point, I find it a little messy, with a tiny bit too much going on; I’m not sure how I feel that Turisas and Rhapsody blend together. The song is very complex and won’t suit every person or every mood, but it’s pretty good nevertheless, though could’ve been reined in a touch.

3. Ten Winters Apart, Part. 1: Far from Any Fate
Vincent: This is the first part of a four-part song. It starts off as a proper ballad led by Haaparanta, but the verses are again led by Häkkinen’s growls. The chorus, however, is all Haaparanta. The melody is pretty strong but not quite as memorable as the last one.

Amy: I like the gentle, layered whispering of Happaranta in the beginning of this track. The soaring epic quality of this reminds me a bit of how Epica likes to turn all their songs up to 11. For some it might be too much, while others will find it fantastic. I’m riding the line, but ultimately, as the melodies are very nice. I do like a little more reservation in my use of choirs though – I find if every song has them, they start to lose their power and overwhelm things. If every song is crazy epic, no song is epic.

4. Ten Winters Apart, Part. 2: Song of Mourn
Amy: I like the wind-down of the previous track and how it leads acoustically into this well-needed break from the action (though if I’m being a Grammar Nazi, that should say “Song of Mourning“). With full-choir rager songs prior, this is a necessary breath of air. Also, I really need some lyrics for this, because I thought I heard the words, “My loins are bleeding…” which clearly needs some context (or I heard it wrong). I dig the solo, as well as the ethereal fade-out.

Vincent: The interesting thing about this one is that it’s not a half-ballad/half-metal anthem. It’s just a sincere, quiet moment. For some it might veer a bit too close to folksy pop (think Scandinavian Music Group). It has a classic, fuzzy guitar solo, but the whole thing just feels like padding to me.

5. Ten Winters Apart, Part. 3: Sunder the Seventh Seal
Amy: There is a tentative and tension-building intro to this song that feels like the preamble before a wicked climax in a movie. I have to give praise to the strength and grit in Haaparanta’s voice. She is truly a force to be reckoned with. They’re also blending heavy and folky quite nicely yet again. In particular, I like the ending, with the tinkling parts and soft outro.

Vincent: I nominate this for Musicalypse’s patented ‘Hardest Title to Say Three Times Fast’ award. “…Sunder the Seventh Seal” sounds like it’s really gearing up for an impressive climax. It has a fast-paced string arrangement and sound effects that seem to be hoisting up something big. Perhaps an anchor? Some of the band’s arrangements are made with intentional dissonance that make them sound unnerving. It doesn’t really work as it’s own piece, but perhaps with that last part in mind…

6. Ten Winters Apart, Part. 4: Dawn Without a Sun
Vincent: “…Dawn Without a Sun” flows directly from where the previous part ended. It gets going with Haaparanta’s vocals as the focus. The chorus has a solid melody but it sounds embarrassingly poppy, and downright annoying. Häkkinen does the backing vocals, but it all just falls flat. These four parts flow together well but none of them stand out as anything particularly interesting.

Amy: What can I say? I agree that part 3 & 4 work best as a unit, as opposed to individually, and while the poppy chorus didn’t bother me much at first, I do think there are some vocal techniques that might lead you to feeling the way Vincent does. I think the growls help to neutralize it a bit.

7. Mother of Unbelievers
Vincent: This track is the opposite. “Mother of Unbelievers” starts off strong with a catchy riff and keeps the energy going. Haaparanta seems to be channeling Bruce Dickinson in the pre-chorus and the chorus isn’t half bad either. It’s a great power metal song with a dash of extreme metal which is what a lot of people came for, right?

Amy: I agree that this is easily one of the winners on the album. I like the eastern feel of the folk intro, which feels very tastefully done (and not overdone like some songs I could name). Haaparanta’s vocals are powerful and at their best in this one. I’m still getting a bit of a Symphony X/Rhapsody of Fire vibe in this, but here it works a little better for me.

8. It’s a Long Road
Amy: Three kicks, followed by a trumpet, and this almost treads into the realms of a western [ed: actually, this is the Rambo soundtrack cover], but the acoustic guitars keep it from going too far into that territory. The dynamic clean male vocals are a nice change-up, and the orchestrations back it up well. The changeover into speedier death metal was a bit unexpected, and perhaps fewer full-on tempo changes might’ve benefited it. I’m on the fence, but I think I like this overall. Perhaps there’s a bit too much going on.

Vincent: It is indeed a long road, filled with ballads. This one’s saving grace is guest vocalist Rob Lundgren. He brings a gravitas along with him that carries through the slow first half. The second half goes more towards symphonic metal, but at the end of the day the melody just isn’t that strong. The lyrics are pretty straightforward as well. At the end, it goes off on a Moonsorrow-esque jam; it’s nothing special.

9. Wayward Verities
Vincent: This one is the most folk metal of all the songs so far. It begins with Haaparanta’s signature yoik, which was very refreshing, as we’ve gotten so little of it on this album. It’s short-lived, however; the song is mostly growling metal verses intercut with power metal choruses. The bridge goes full folk metal however. It makes me wish it had more moments like that.

Amy: I too appreciate the delightful yoiking at the beginning of this song. This song has a lot of power as it transitions between its parts, and also sees a return to the eastern folk sound. It also has some of the most powerful growls on the album.

10. Until Falls the Rain
Vincent: “Until Falls the Rain” is the perfect Crimfall song. It’s epic with it’s choirs, it knows exactly when to go heavy and when to go mellow. It has those yoiks that were sorely lacking elsewhere and it keeps a good folk metal groove the whole way through. It’s almost 8 minutes long but it doesn’t feel bloated or as if it’s stalling. It’s just a solid, epic piece.

Amy: No argument here. I think the album ends on what is perhaps its strongest song, and that’s a great way to end things!

 

Vincent: I was actually really excited for Amain and, in some ways, it’s an improvement on The Writ of Sword. All of the vocalists gave excellent performances that were far better than anything I’d heard from them elsewhere. The compositions were more ambitious and they used a more varied array of techniques to put them all together. That being said, every song seemed to follow the pattern of slow beginning, growly metal verse, power metal chorus. The whole thing just seemed a bit too big for its britches. It’s an ambitious album but didn’t stand up to further scrutiny. The four-part epic in the middle just padded it up and made it seem like it was saying more than it really was. It’s a good album but it won’t keep you warm when winter comes. 7/10, 3 stars

Amy: I appreciate hearing what I would consider to be a very mature folk metal album, which tend to be rare these days as Viking/folk themes get cheesier and more into the ‘Manowar and/or drinking songs’ territory. While the album didn’t quite live up to the very high expectations I had for it, the dynamic and soaring soundscapes have a great deal of power, and Haaparanta truly stands out as one of the best and most diverse female vocalists that people should start to take note of if they haven’t already. I do agree that the four-part piece does slow the album down a bit (I never seem to get on board with the X-part tracks on any albums, come to think of it), but I think I got more enjoyment out of the rest of the tracks than Vincent, and I wonder if the enjoyment might deepen with access to the words. 8/10, 4 stars

Average rating: 7.5/10, 4 stars

Tracklist:
1. Eschaton
2. The Last of Stands
3. Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 1: Far from Any Fate
4. Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 2: Song of Mourn
5. Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 3: Sunder the Seventh Seal
6. Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 4: Dawn Without a Sun
7. Mother of Unbelievers
8. It’s a Long Road
9. Wayward Verities
10. Until Falls the Rain

FROSTTIDE – Juho Patinen, Felipe Munoz, & Joonas Nislin, Jyväskylä 2017

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While the majority of eyes were on Eluveitie and Leaves Eyes’ public drama last fall, the Finnish folk metal scene had a little turmoil of its own, when Frosttide parted ways with singer-guitarist Joni Snoro and bassist Lauri Myllylä in the middle of preparations for their third album. We’ve heard Joni Snoro’s side of the events, but his former band has been rather quiet about the circumstances and rather, focused on their new music instead. Following the release of the new single in the middle of July, Lene L. took the band back in time for a bit, and more importantly, asked what the future holds for Frosttide.

 

It’s an almost blindingly bright Sunday afternoon in Jyväskylä, and we’re meeting up with the guys in a parking lot by the quite metal-y named Tuomiojärvi [doom/judgment lake] to hike up a ridge next to it. It’s been a bit over 7 years since the first time we did the same trip in order to shoot Frosttide’s very first promotional photos for their then-upcoming EP, Dawn of Frost. Naturally, a few things have changed since then – in this case, mostly the landscape, with a Frisbee golf route and some spray paint scribbles on rocks here and there, but shooting with Frosttide not so much. Goofing around is inevitable, as is reminiscing about that first shoot, as well as wondering how the climb up had gotten so much steeper and higher than we recalled it being. After the fun part (and questioning our past selves’ life choices regarding photoshoot locations), we sit down at a bonfire spot for some more serious talk.

 

“Things are better for everyone now.”

Frosttide was founded back in 2009, when all of the band members were just teenagers, barely old enough for high school, but the young age didn’t hinder the band one bit. After a year, give or take, the five-piece had put out their first EP and rallied enough of a fanbase to vote for them to be the Demo Band of the Year at the Finnish Metal Awards the following winter. It didn’t take long after that for the band to warm up stages for Korpiklaani in Finland, sign a recording deal, and tour Europe with the biggest names in folk and pagan metal. From the outside, everything seemed to be going their way, up until last winter that is, so we felt like digging up the past a little bit. Did it really go just like that, and has anything changed much?

Some things have certainly changed since the last time we were shooting here. How does it feel to be up here again?
Juho: At least my stamina is worse: Climbing here was way worse than then, but-

Felipe: You were younger and prettier back then.

Juho: Yup. Not sure about prettier, but yeah.

What else do you remember from those times, back when you were making the first EP?
Juho: [chuckles] Pretty much nothing… I made only one song for that one.

Things started to escalate pretty quickly after you released Dawn of Frost – did it ever feel like you got a bit too much too fast?
Juho: Not too much or too fast at least… like, what we have really achieved now, it isn’t that much. There could be more.

Felipe: I think it has come more naturally. Everything has come pretty naturally, in the way we have been working. I think it looks like the band has grown at a faster pace than usual, but it just looks like that. We have been working all the time and nothing has really changed [in that sense], it’s just like… we got the record deal, then we got to play those shows – they were big shows and everything – but still the core of the band and how big the band is… we’re not really that big and it’s remained pretty much the same.

Juho: And all that we’ve [accomplished] has been because of the hard work we did. We’ve always worked for it.

Felipe: Yeah, so it’s natural because we’ve put work into it: It has been kind of expected that it should come one way or another. We have been lucky though, very lucky, that we’ve been able to get to where we are at the moment.

This is the first time you guys are doing something entirely without Joni [Snoro, Frosttide’s former guitarist-singer]. I know you haven’t been really open about this to the public earlier, but how did everything lead up to that point, that you couldn’t work things out between you guys, Joni, and Lauri anymore?
Juho: Well it was pretty much up to them. They didn’t have the motivation to carry on and work on this, and they suggested putting this project on ice so that they could focus on their new project. We just decided then to carry on with the three of us. Everything has worked better like that, I think, because things are better for everyone now.

Felipe: Yeah, it’s just better that we have gone our separate ways. We have a different work ethic, like, how we three work and how they do, the way they see how the music works. We were already working on the new album, rehearsing the new songs and everything, and when they wanted to put the band on hold and focus on their own project, it came as bit of a shock for us, because we were planning everything for the album recordings. So while we had this really strong drive to make the following record, they were not really into it and… well, things escalated in a way that of course nobody would like to in that situation. It was a very heavy situation still, but in the end, I think both sides are pretty happy – they get to do what they want to do, we’re happy if they are with what they’ve got going, and we feel very comfortable also being in a group that has the same work ethic and the same vision. It’s just way smoother right now.

Do you wish you’d have parted on better terms? Are you on speaking terms with Joni and Lauri these days?
Joonas: Yes.

Juho: Yeah, we are, at least with Lauri.

Felipe: I think it may take a while for things to set in. I mean, despite it having been more than 6 months, things are still quite fresh in a way. Maybe time will tell if we’ll be able to be friends and have things like they used to be, but one way or the other, the way things came to light… like, of course things could have been taken better care of, but on the other hand, there was no other solution, so…

Now that half a year and some has passed, what really has changed? In writing music, handling things with band, and so on?
Felipe: Things haven’t changed much, as in how we three interact. Of course, when there’s only three guys in a band, there’s much more work to do. However, thanks to the years that we have been working together and even just the experience, that makes things a little bit easier. So yeah, compared to the previous records, there is a little bit more workload but on the other hand, we have gotten things done efficiently. Everybody’s doing their job as they are meant to and things are fitting into place. Sometimes we have problems with our schedules of course, but still we get some free time and try to put things together on time.

 

From Whispers to Ascend

In spite of the drama, the band seems collectively content with where they are right now, and tentatively excited about future endeavors. While under no pressure to get the album finished, the guys took a moment to muse about what working on it has been like, as well as releasing the new single.

You released a new single, called “From Dusk to Ascend” in mid-July. What’s the feedback been like?
Juho: It’s been very good, at least on Facebook and from what I’ve seen elsewhere on the internet, though I try to read those [comments] as little as possible. And the live feedback has been good as well. People seem to like it.

Joonas: Especially Juho’s vocals, they’re saying that they are great.

Felipe: That’s been common feedback in the past as well; people have been saying that Juho is a really good singer.

Joonas: And there was this joke inside the band, because the title is “From Dusk to Ascend”, but y’know, in the first versions of that song, the vocals were really low, so it was like “From Whispers to Ascend.”

You’ve been working with Jouni Valjakka from Whispered on the visual side – how did that collaboration start?
Felipe: I know Jouni very well – I also participated on their previous album, Metsutan, where I played a couple keyboard lines – but yeah, I’ve known the Whispered guys for many years and I have always admired how Jouni does things, especially the Whispered music videos and all the artwork. So one day, we were just talking about, whether he would be interested in doing the artwork and something else, and he gladly accepted. It’s been very easy to work with him – he puts a lot of work into what he does and doesn’t really complain or anything. He just gets everything done as supposed to, so it’s really, really great to work with him.

Juho: Yeah, and now after the first concept that included two albums is over, it’s quite a natural decision to get somebody else to do the artwork and stuff, kind of an update to that too. And Jouni is the perfect guy to do it.

What about rest of the album? How’s working on it been so far? What can we expect from it?
Juho: [chuckles] Well, all the songs are written…

Felipe: All the string sections are done, all the guitars, bass, and drums have been recorded… there’s been a bit of a delay with the keyboards and orchestrations due to personal matters. Juho is the one who has written the songs and [Joonas and I] work as arrangers here. I think the sound is the Frosttide you can expect, but of course there are new elements because we like to experiment with new things and we like to get out of our comfort zone. That’s something really rewarding. So far, at least I am very happy; Joonas has done really great work with the drums and Juho of course is improving a lot on guitars, arrangement-wise and playing-wise, and he also took care of the bass. So the bass also has a really strong role on the album. I think I’m very… well I won’t say I’m confident, but I will say that I’m extremely positive about how the album will turn out. Of course, anything can happen.

So there’s no release schedule yet?
Juho: No, not yet.

Felipe: Yeah, there are plans, but nothing really settled.

Juho: Yeah… it’s better to keep it that way and not stress about it.

Are there any tour plans for now, or are you focusing more on finishing the album?
Felipe: I think finishing the album is the main priority at the moment.

Juho: Yeah. Of course, we’re doing all the shows we can and are trying to somehow keep the momentum up.

Felipe: It’s been a while since Blood Oath came out – 2 years now – so it’s time to release something new, a full-length album. But we’re happy that we were able to release the single and that gave us a little bit of a breather. After all that happened [last year], a lot of people were wondering what the future of the band is and what we were going to do, but now that they’ve heard the single, there has been this new spark. People are like, “Hey, they’re actually alive and kicking,” and nothing much happened besides the vocals.

 

Frosttide on ice, family matters, and the future.

All-in-all, Frosttide looks to be in a good place with just the three of them. Upon asking about possible new additions, the discussion takes a turn towards more profound pondering on the fundamentals of a band community. Not for too long though, naturally.

So you’ve had session members stepping in for the past few gigs now, and you’ve handled recording as a three-piece just fine, so I guess you’re not really in a rush to find new permanent members.
Juho: No, I think it’s better to look carefully for the ones we pick for the band and keep the same momentum we have as a three-piece group. And since we can work with just the three of us on the album, it’s not really problematic.

Joonas: Yeah, and the recording process also tells us how motivated everybody is.

Juho: Yeah.

Joonas: So maybe after the new album we can get on that.

Felipe: Experience has taught us also to not make rushed decisions, and y’know, it’s completely different, how chemistry works with friends in daily life and how you interact when you do music. Especially because music is a creative art, but also a business.

Juho: But that applies to almost everywhere.

Felipe: Exactly.

Working with your best friends doesn’t always work out.
Felipe: Yeah, I think one of the best ways to know – there’s always this honeymoon stage when you have a new member, everything is great and fun and all the gigs are awesome and everything, but then the reality starts to hit. Y’know, like when you’ve been together for a couple weeks and you’re in the same place all the time, things become a little bit more edgy, and maybe you get into fights and stuff like that, but that’s the reality. That’s when you know if the member really works with the band. Musically and studio-wise, of course, it depends on the motivation and that they know how to play, but I think for me at least, the most important way to see if that person is the right person for the band is when you have been touring for a while. Technically it’s a family – we see each other quite often and we share a lot of things. There has to be good chemistry.

Juho: And a good meter to tell who’s a good guy is that there will be conflicts and fights, but how you recover from them – that’s the thing, how you sort them out.

Felipe: And like, nobody’s perfect – these things just come – but if you’re able to talk through it and then improve your relationship within the band like, “I screwed up, I’m very sorry about that, it won’t happen again,” and you move on from there. That’s one of the most important things.

So what’s in store for Frosttide in the long term?
Juho: Well, maybe some sort of arena tour, at some point…

Felipe: “Frosttide on Ice” would be awesome. [laughter]

Juho: Yes, a collaboration with Disney. But yeah… nothing much. Now we’re just focusing on the album, getting it done, and then we’ll see what happens.

Felipe: Just working hard and playing good shows so people can get motivated to listen to our music, and to see if some doors will open to new things [after future tours]. Because that’s actually how it happens. There’s not much said or done when you record the album, but then you play shows and then new doors will open and people will get interested in what you do and then you go to the next place.

Joonas: Yeah.

Juho: Yeah, just… step-by-step to the next level.

 

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TallennaTallenna

IKINÄ w/ NEGATIIVISET NUORET @ Virgin Oil Co., Helsinki, 19.08.2017

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Ikinä with Negatiiviset Nuoret at Virgin Oil Co., 2017.
Photos By Janne Puronen.

CRIMFALL – Jakke, Helena, & Mikko, Helsinki 2017

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They say that good things come to those who wait, but that seldom happens without putting some work into it. The Helsinki-based epic metallers of Crimfall put in both the time and the effort to bring forth their third full-length album, Amain, and the end result has certainly been worth that wait. On the brink of its release, Lene L. spent one afternoon with Jakke Viitala [guitars], Helena Haaparanta [vocals], and Mikko Häkkinen [vocals], to find out more about what’s happened since their last album, as well as how the next album had shaped up.

 

It’s almost like going on a field trip when we meet in the harbor next to Kauppatori to take a ferry to the picturesque island sea fortress of Suomenlinna in Helsinki – a lovely and mellow way to spend any given Sunday… provided that it doesn’t rain, that is. We hoped it wouldn’t, as there was a large mass of grey clouds rolling across the distant horizon and we had some photos to take. The potential for rain isn’t much of a concern though, on a trip filled with cheerful chatter about the long-awaited release and everything related, or unrelated, as there is hardly a quiet moment with this bunch, and certainly nothing boring.

 

A long journey…

The band has come a long way since they released their debut album As the Path Unfolds…. There have been temporary member changes, they lost their label, and had quite an obstacle course on the way to get the successor for The Writ of Sword finished and out to the world. But as the official release date is less than 2 weeks away and is becoming more concrete every day, the trio around the table is visibly excited, and understandably so. The answers get lengthy and all three have something to add to each other’s insights.

It’s been quite a few years since the release of your last album, so how does it feel to be waiting for the new one’s release in just a few days?
Helena: Anticipated stirring, more or less. [laughs]

Jakke: Yeah, we had twisted and turned everything for quite some time, so there’s a little anticipation on what the reception for this one is going to be like.

Helena: But on the other hand [there’s] a hell of a lot of excitement too, like, “No, damn, we’re actually getting it out.”

Mikko: Some songs we’ve been listening to for probably 6 years by now, although many of the songs are partly new, but you just can’t comprehend some of the songs anymore at this point, whether they are actually any good or not. But we’re content with it nonetheless.

Jakke: Yeah, we wouldn’t… if at some point we would have lost our faith [in this], we wouldn’t have gotten it finished. There was this feeling all that time, that this could become a pretty badass disc.

Helena: So it wasn’t like we had to grit our teeth to get it done, even if it took us a long time.

Jakke: We did have to sometimes though. [laughs]

Helena: Well, of course sometimes, but it wasn’t just working with the taste of blood in our mouths until the end, rather than there was – at least I had – this feeling from the first notes, like, “Wow, this is going to be awesome stuff,” even if I did venture away [from this] for a while.

You did work on this for around 6 years, so did the material or concept change much on the way?
Jakke: In principle, on all of our albums, the concept has been formed while we have been working on them, so we don’t really know beforehand.

Helena: Like, deciding that, “Now we’re doing this and that”… not like that.

Jakke: At some point it just clicks. Maybe on this one it took a little longer, well… partially because Helena wasn’t in the band and we just felt like we didn’t have all the pieces in place, so then we just turned all the things over. And also when we had to leave our former label back in the day and were again in the situation of needing to find a new partner, there was this certain pressure to create – that we need to make the kind of music someone could like and catch on to – so that was in a way a bad starting point for making music, thinking about the target audience too much.

Helena: Yeah, it rather should… stem from the innermost ruptures. [laughs] You can’t just think that, now people are listening to this kind of stuff and you should do that, but maybe more along the timeframe you use – because we used so much time, the album was perfected [by that]. Like, it grew little-by-little.

Jakke: And what we had on the first demos, some of that changed quite a bit. We maybe took a wrong turn with them at first, but at some point realized that we should do it like this, and this is how it should sound. Some songs are totally different from where they started.

Helena: Uh-huh, and when I came back, the songs got a taste of my composing as well, on the melody side of things, so… the journey was long, but worth taking.

You kind of touched on this already, but what kind of good and bad aspects do you see in making the album without a label or any other outside affiliate?
Helena: Well at least we weren’t in a rush. There was no-one breathing on your neck like, “In a year from now you’ll be releasing a fucking great album.”

Jakke: Yeah, we were able to hem and haw quite a bit there; that was a good thing. Maybe it would have been good to have some sort of schedule pressure, we could have made some decisions faster, some specific arrangement things so we could move forward-

Mikko: Yeah, on some things you just have to decide, like, pondering on certain things doesn’t necessarily even help the situation, but-

Helena: On the other hand, the end result is what it is now – in a positive sense entirely – it’s damn good that it went like this. So for this album, this was the right way, and in a way it’s pointless to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ – like, if I hadn’t left the band and we had hurried an album out all of a sudden in 2 years for the previous label, what would that have been like?

Jakke: Well yeah, the material for the album was ready 3-4 years ago already, so there’s just been a lot of mixing and recording. So one bad side of when you don’t have a label behind you is that everything costs a lot; we’ve paid for everything ourselves. That’s why we took the approach that – now that there’s no pressure from outside schedules and we don’t have the resources to do anything – we’re doing everything as well as we possibly can by ourselves, and if we can’t, we’ll do it again and do it better.

Helena: And one more note about that ‘detour’ of mine – I did very a different kind of music during that time, pop sort of stuff mainly, so it probably brought something in return to the melodies on this album. So it [played a part]; I think I got a lot better as a melody composer, so it might be that the waiting was beneficial.

Jakke: I would say – considering the outcome – it was good that we didn’t have to make any compromises, that we could toss and turn everything until everything was right and perfect.

Mikko: I think it was also sort of a culmination point, when we realized that we couldn’t do this kind of music if we didn’t use this huge amount of money to finish it. And we didn’t really have that amount of money backing us up when we decided to just put our own money into it so that we’d reach that goal, so it was kind of… well, at that point it would have been nice to have that label behind us, but…

Jakke: Yeah, we just had a band meeting like, “This thing requires these resources, are we doing this or leaving it here?”

Helena: Yeah, and we’re all just ordinary working people, like, none of us are rich here. We’re working on this alongside day jobs and paying for this fun on top of that. [laughs]

Jakke: I’m really happy we decided to do it, anyway.

Helena: And on the other hand, the end result was probably easier to sell – it sounded more ready, so we could get it out through a big label.

Actually, that would have been my next question, whether it was easier to sell this kind of ready package to a label or not.
Jakke: That was actually one of our decisions, that now we’re doing the album, getting it ready – we hadn’t mastered it at that point, we were finishing the mixing – and we’ll make it so good that someone will catch it.

Helena: And if you think of it, that if we would have actively sent the first demos to labels back then, 6-7 years ago, they could have simply not seen the final product from those, the thing we have here now! Of course there was some damn good composing, but now that the product is finished, it’s pompous and it has… like, it’s done, it’s ready.

Jakke: Yeah, it’s good to try and talk at that point like, “Yeah, there’s gonna be real violins, really! Here will be a real choir!” It’s kind of useless to explain it like that.

Helena: Yeah, “We’ll get a real good guy to do the mixing so we’ll get it working, right?”

Jakke: You just try to play with the cards you have at that point and if someone once says no, it means no. Like, forever.

Helena: So it was simply a strategic decision.

Mikko: On the other hand, that would have been an interesting question by the time we were making this, if we wouldn’t have gotten a good enough deal with any label, what would we have done then? Would we have put it out ourselves, like, for free, or just-

Jakke: We were kind of thinking of that, that what if no-one catches this, but we wanted to close out that scenario. It wasn’t an option.

Helena: There was that child-like faith and hopeful glimmer in our eyes, like, “We can do this still!” Because you could sense the potential in that material along the way already, even though it wasn’t finished, like, “Oh fuck this is going to be so great!” So in a way you knew in your heart, in spite of that unconscious ‘what if’ -kind of fear, there was this certainty that if you couldn’t go places with this, you couldn’t go anywhere at all.

Mikko: And then again, the field is changing so quickly that you’ll never know who will end up signed and who won’t.

Helena: Yeeeeaahhh, but if you do something really well…

Mikko: That’s true, though. I still want to believe in that.

Jakke: And when you go all-in, you don’t have to explain yourself. Like, “Well if we would have mixed it properly, we would have gotten a deal from a big label.” Now we just put all our cards on the table, and if it had not been enough, then the music really just isn’t enough.

Mikko: Yeah, no ifs and or buts, so there’s no excuses if it doesn’t work out.

Helena: But it worked!

Jakke: Cheers to that!

 

“All-in, Amain”

Crimfall’s musical formula has been grand and massive from the beginning, painting epic, cinematic landscapes with soundtrack-like elements. As such, calling it mere folk metal just wouldn’t cut it. On Amain, all of this has been cranked up as high as it goes, from compositions to arrangements, with Mikko and Helena’s vocal deliveries bordering on chilling for the better part of the album. All visual aspects have naturally followed suit, as this is not a band that does things halfway. Aside from the good-humored banter and fun anecdotes, both singers and guitarist get thoughtful when we reach the subject of inspiration, lyrical themes, and the music itself.

How would you describe Amain yourselves, then? Can you compare it to the previous records, music-wise, in any way?
Jakke: I want you guys to answer this first; I’ll answer after that.

Helena: Of course you can compare. I can’t say it’s similar, but there is still that Crimfall sound, even though we’ve put some more coins into making the product, more working hours and so on – as we’ve said, all-in, Amain. So there’s this certain core, it’s Jakke’s heart in there. [laughter] That’s the thing peeking out of there.

Mikko: I kind of feel like before this album, the production did not do justice to Jakke’s compositions, while on this one it really gets them to fly.

Helena: Yes! Like, really glowing!

Mikko: Like, now when I’m listening to the two previous records, you can hear that heart in there, but it’s still a bit… demo-like, or too bland, the soundscape there. When I put this one spinning, it plays big.

Helena: And everyone’s developed, of course, as instrumentalists, singers, composers – as lyricists, too probably, if I understood Mikko’s ancient English words sometimes! [laughs] No, really, I had to translate one of Mikko’s texts to Finnish for a project – it was really wonderful stuff. I don’t know if you’ve always written that well, but there’s some deep shit in there.

Jakke: Yeah… I can say myself that in a way, what we had on the first album was this energy, whereas the second one is more of a mood album, so we kind of brought our strengths from both of them together on this one. It’s a very energetic album, but it gets more deeply inside you, right to the bone.

Helena: Yeah, the emotion definitely comes through from there.

Jakke: And like these two said, everything we’ve done before, we’ve now done to the power of 10.

Helena: All-in.

Jakke: Yeah, all-in and got it a lot more finished-sounding than the previous ones.

Helena: Can we just answer all of the questions with ‘all-in’? [laughter]

That might cover most of this for sure! Anyways, you had some rather well-known visitors on The Writ of Sword, from Moonsorrow, Turisas, and so forth, so are there any on Amain as well?
Helena: All-in. [laughter]

Indeed, it works!
Jakke: Who did we have there again? Netta Skog-

Helena: Netta Skog, yeah, a lovely lady-

Jakke: And Ensiferum’s previous lady, Emmi [Silvennoinen] plays piano… Janne Perttilä…

Helena: In other words Moonsorrow’s live guitarist and vocalist, who also plays in Barren Earth and such. A real good Dickinson-type sound, you’ll spot him right away from that song.

Jakke: Who else… Swedish Rob Lundgren.

Helena: Yeah, Rob Lundgren does one real important song.

Jakke: “It’s a Long Road”, a cover from the Rambo soundtrack. Who else did we have? I don’t want to forget anyone…

Helena: At least… not yet that well-known, but she’s toured with Sólstafir in Europe, in their string quartet, and now launching her own band, Space Forest, an amazing violinist, Lotta Ahlbeck.

Jakke: Cellos were played by Juho Kanervo-

Helena: Well-renowned in Helsinki’s pop-jazz scene.

Mikko: And also plays in Kaija Koo’s live band!

Helena: Really? Awesome! Greetings to Juho.

Jakke: We’re probably forgetting someone here; we’re sorry if we did.

Helena: Amazing people, one after another.

Jakke: So yeah, there’s always a purpose to our visitors, other than name-dropping – all of these musicians come from our friend groups more or less, so it’s easier to ask from there if someone wants to help out.

Helena: Yeah, and for instance, Netta is singing as well as playing accordion. I remember that Jakke was like, “It’d be really nice to have some different lady sound in here – you’ve [Helena] already been heard.” [laughter] Not really, of course, but I think your idea was to have a duet for us there, lady and lady. And two different gals, specifically, because it sounds so generic when you sing your own parts, so it became more of a duet kind of thing. She’s got a lovely, soft jazz voice.

So, if we talk about the lyrics for a bit, is there any common theme or story on Amain?
Mikko: Well not really a story per se that would carry on through the whole record, but maybe on this album there’s a certain… or well, the album clearly starts by standing on the last shore, kind of; bridges have been burnt behind us, waiting for a storm to hit with our chins held high, and we’ll see if we can withstand it, whether we’ll burn our insides or rise as some sort of phoenixes through it, so to say. That maybe carries on throughout the album to some extent. It’s perhaps a search for your inner truths, the whole thing, but in some way it’s also a close theme for us, to tell about the sadder sides of wars, what that destruction actually is like. We don’t necessarily sing stories about the heroes, but rather the truths behind all of that, the stories of antiheroes, and maybe a certain kind of…

Helena: Misery.

Jakke: I answered in another interview that usually it’s the winners who write history, but Crimfall tells the stories that are usually left unsung.

Helena: Well now there’s the key to it!

Jakke: Pretty well said, wasn’t it?

Mikko: I think that was well put, yeah. And there’s a kind of positivity, in a way – I feel like this is an optimistic album in some sense, a praise for certain freedom, freedom from all religious dogmas or national propaganda, or anything of the like, but essentially freedom to be an individual and grow as an individual. That’s the positive message on this album.

Jakke: That’s kind of anarchist. Should we change the A from our logo to the anarchy-A? [laughter]

Helena: Or a dove of freedom, like, set the bird free from our hands – hey, let’s give Jaska a dove, let’s draw that quick with Paint.

How about inspiration, then? What inspires or influences you when you’re writing music or lyrics?
Jakke: Well, the inspiration for songs stems from pretty much everything one can sense around themselves. It can be a… well, take for example a thunderstorm, how it’s a massive experience physically in your life, so you can take a source like that from nature. Or it can be a certain movie, a certain feeling in it, like, “Here’s a good thing going on. How could we translate that into a song?” That is also the reason why I like to dish out these cinematic elements, so it’s easier to create moods and so on. I don’t believe there’s really sources of inspiration in any bands for us. It’s more these abstract spaces, sounds and colors, photos and pictures…

Helena: Moods and happenings.

Jakke: Yeah.

Helena: At least how I feel about melodies – I’m not really talking about composing, rather than picking up – they just come and then there has to be that life you’ve lived behind it. Yeah, they do come out of nowhere – in a way, they just happen – but on the other hand there has to be some history, some miles behind you so that something to say will come up, whether it’s a melody, or in Mikko’s case, text you’ve read, or [things you’ve] lived or experienced. Do tell your side of this too!

Mikko: Well now that we’ve mentioned how visual the music Jakke has created is, I could actually say that my most important source of inspiration for lyrics is simply Jakke’s music. The story and the images that come into being from the music, that’s usually the starting point from where I begin writing the lyrics. I listen to the song again and again and see what it awakens, what kind of feelings, what sort of landscape, what kind of mood… that’s my process with it.

Jakke: You could say it works the other way around too; this song we have a music video coming out for, “Until Falls the Rain”, it was slightly different before Mikko did the lyrics, and then he told a story about rain, so I got inspired by Mikko’s lyrics and started to change the arrangement a little bit – “I want more rain in the intro” – altered it a bit to have more raindrops with picking the right instruments and such.

Mikko: We feed each other this way.

Helena: And I had the howling there in the end, in the chorus. But now that I’m thinking of the writing process, of course it’s there, in Jakke’s world, where the first places come from… like, dude’s writing a straight-up soundscape, it’s really like a movie score and you just go there, close your eyes, and be in there, so of course it has to affect [the process].

Now that the video for “Until Falls the Rain” was mentioned, would you like to elaborate on that a little? If I remember correctly, it’s your first video so far.
Helena: Yeah!

Jakke: We also have an unofficial video from our last album release show. It’s got more hits [on YouTube] than any other video [Toni] Salminen has ever made.

Helena: There’s also 42 pages of commentary on which one is worse, fat shaming or skinny shaming.

Mikko: This time we clearly focused [on the making of it] – we had a fairly clear vision of how it should look and we wanted to do it well. Strong emotion, especially, and I feel that at least I personally – and I think my buddies too – are happy with how it looks in the end.

Helena: Yeah, we’d gotten it in our hands just a couple of days ago, and the first thing that came through from there was the emotion. It really comes through the screen; the thing that’s most essential in that song, it charges from there and it’s not necessarily out of joy that you’ll get tears in the corner of your eye, but a distressing and shitty feeling. [laughs]

Jakke: Yeah, I called my wife’s sister and showed her the video. She watched it and when the video ended, she was quiet for a few seconds and said, “I got myself really upset [from that].” [laughter]

Helena: No, really, it looks really great, the people – true pros, Olli Häkkinen and his team – did incredibly great work, and so did our Polish collaborators… like, insanely cool stuff. And the song behind is also hit material, of course.

Speaking of the visual side of things, Amain also has some gorgeous cover art, as did the previous albums. Who’s the artist behind it?
Jakke: We’ve had a different artist for every album; on the first one we had Belgian Kris Verwimp-

Helena: To whom I messaged after the second album, going like, “My, that was a good-looking cover you did for this second album!” and then he replied “I didn’t do it… but thanks!” [laughs]

Jakke: I met him when we were in Belgium, a wonderful gentleman. The cover for The Writ of Sword was made by Olli Häkkinen, the director of our music video, and Mikko’s brother, who’s also taken all of our band photos.

Helena: Keeping it in the family.

Jakke: Yeah. And then this third one, the cover is done by my work buddy, Tuomas Gustafsson, he’s an actual painter and likes to deal with the human body in his art; men and women in different kinds of lighting and situations. Mikko and I were still working in the same place and I showed him [Tuomas’ work], would we have here the artist for the next album cover if we ever get this done, and Mikko instantly said, “Yes, this is the guy.” One of our fans we know is this fitness sort of bloke, so I asked him if he wanted to show some buttocks on our album cover and he went like, “No way, really? How cool is that!” [laughs] So we took a few photos of our model there and we thought of which one would be the one to start the painting from, Tuomas painted it, and Kalle Pyyhtinen did the layout for the booklet from the painting.

Mikko: We specifically wanted to preserve the painting-like quality, brushstrokes and so, but on the other hand, everyone’s probably going to say that it’s photoshopped shit anyway. [laughs]

Jakke: Yeah, especially with the LP version. At the time we were planning the cover, we said that we want it in LP format, so when someone gets it, they’re going to see all the brushstrokes and everything,  so we kind of did it thinking about that scenario. A sort of a counter-move to this Spotify era – if you’re paying for the physical copy, you’ll get a little something extra.

Helena: I think it was a really nice choice you did there; I don’t know at what point you thought of that, but on the first album we had this warrior on the cover, fully dressed in armor, very much on his way somewhere – as the path unfolds – like, now we’re going there. And on the next album, from Olli’s pen, is maybe the same warrior in another form, in a way, after experiencing some hardship already, and on this last one getting butt-naked [laughs], like, all-in!

All-in-all, the visual side plays an important role in your shows as well – who designs and makes your stage clothes, for instance?
Helena: Vera Schneider has done the latest ones, and there’s been some talks about an update, so we’ll see if that works out, with what kind of schedule and so on. I just noted that I ended up ruining one simply amazing leather dress while making the music video, so I might have to grease it really well or get a new one. [laughs]

Jakke: Vera is part of our core team as well, doing a great job, and wants to be a part of building this brand for our band.

Mikko: We want to put effort into the visuals in every aspect that we can and not just go on stage wearing T-shirts and jeans. It’s our thing, how we want to do this band thing.

Jakke: It’s also kind of a ritual before a gig, when we put on these garbs and put some make-up on – you get out of the home-dad-zone to the rock world, create a good build-up there… like, we’re gonna hit the stage in a few and win the audience over and have fun.

Helena: To battle! [laughs] No, I’ve had the chance to do one princess gig in Belgium back in the day, at the Metal Female Voices Fest, in this grand, green tulle dream made by Nina Lahtinen. But mainly, we wear Vera’s works – on the first album we had a different person doing our stage clothes.

Jakke: Yeah, on the first album our clothes were made by my wife’s sister, who’s also in the clothing business.

 

Ninja-witch, symphony orchestras, and the love of the game

After a while, the future ahead looks quite bright in the Crimfall-camp. To conclude our chat, we talked about their upcoming shows, ventured a bit further into the realm of possibilities, and also threw the ball into Crimfall’s fans’ court with one of the questions.

You have a couple of gigs in Finland announced for fall by now – are there plans for more just yet?
Jakke: Well, we have quite a few nets cast in the water, so to speak; we were given permission to say that there’s going to be stuff happening next year.

Mikko: I guess we could have more, but at least it looks like we’ve been somewhat forgotten, so now that we’re getting this album out and… well, we’ll see when the reviews are rolling in.

Helena: Yeah, hopefully the music will speak for itself, that people would want to see us on stage, and it’s been a while since the last tour anyway… or well, we had a few gigs here in Finland [last spring].

Jakke: True. I would think we haven’t been that relevant before the new album is out.

Helena: And on the other hand, it’s not just ‘merry drinking songs’ -kind of music; there’s something to listen to in a different way than there is with these lovely and beloved party bands of the same genre.

Still on the topic of live shows, now that different kinds of special shows have been all the rage – like Insomnium performing with a symphony orchestra, Amorphis playing in a castle, and so on – what kind of special show would Crimfall play, if anything was possible? Would it be the symphony orchestra, or something entirely else?
Jakke: I think that would be one of the elements there, but it probably wouldn’t stay at that alone.

Helena: There’s all those choir parts [on our albums], so yes, some sort of huge, 400-person choir howling in the background would be ideal.

Jakke: I would definitely fancy doing things on as big of a scale as possible, but we have to remember the realities, like, it has to be an occasion where the effort is worth it. If it’s a Wednesday evening in a pizza place in the middle of nowhere, it’s probably not the right occasion to drag a hundred person orchestra out.

Mikko: All kinds of stuff has been envisioned. We’ll see when we can do and what.

I also read from another interview that Jakke, you work with game music in your day job, and on the other hand, Crimfall is quite ideal background music when bashing through Skyrim for instance, so have you ever thought about what kind of game you’d place Crimfall’s music and world in? Or what kind of game characters the members of Crimfall would be – like, who’s the battle mage?
Helena: Well we’ll catch this good question here and throw it to our fans out there. They would be great at telling us that since they probably blast this music more than we do.

Jakke: I suppose the game characters would be pretty much what we are on stage, of course, these kinds of beaten fellas. [laughs]

Mikko: NPCs who’ll get their asses whooped there. [laughter]

Helena: A warrior princess in a leather armor there… no wait, actually, when we were thinking of the non-musical stuff for the new album, I definitely had in mind this ninja-type, maybe slightly witch-like [character], living in her cabin in the woods and cooking up potions – a ninja-witch! So I think the mage’s role would be for me. And brute force could of course be Miska [Sipiläinen, bass], because he’s the prettiest. [laughter]

I can see that! Although, aren’t the prettiest ones usually Elven archers or something?
Jakke: True, that would be exactly Miska.

Helena: Ooh, yes!

Mikko: [laughs] Or a bard or something…

Jakke: Yeah, a bard. But Crimfall as game music, I don’t know… As much as I follow the field, I can’t point my finger right away at something it could be placed to. Anyway, when there’s something to do with metal [in a game], it’s going towards some very different kind of games rather than soundtrack games. Or soundtrack-wise, I don’t know if there’s a hybrid where it could fit in.

Mikko: Witcher 4, maybe, whenever that comes.

Jakke: To the end credits, yes. But yeah, some suitable game that wants a little twist in there – many just want to take the safest route, so if [someone] wants a new kind of approach, then our music could fit there.

Fair enough. So, what does the future of Crimfall look like after the album release? Have you had the time to think about things that far?
Helena: Well, it’d be good to get the new songs into good live condition in case there will be more gigs dropping our way; there’s a few booked already and some in negotiations, so we kind of have to go to the rehearsal space to work on them. [laughs] And with quite some enthusiasm too because, after all, we’ve played “Wildfire Season” for quite a few years at this point, so it’s pretty cool to get to play new songs.

Jakke: This group of ours does live through the live set anyway, so the 6 years spent in the studio are probably not the most rewarding moments. It could be the 15 or 45 minutes on stage at Nosturi or somewhere. That might be the moment we do this thing for.

Helena: The younger metal audience who don’t know us will more or less wait for the next band, but then everyone hears the music and are into it… that’s a kind of victory that feels really good. Naturally, it’d be nice if someday someone knew something about us too. Weeeeell…

Jakke: Hopefully we can celebrate this album with live shows in the near future. I don’t want to think about the next album just yet.

Mikko: Yeah, this isn’t done for money, but specifically for the sake of getting to bring the music on the road, and hopefully the album gains enough success that doing those tours will be possible.

Helena: That would be grand, yeah.

Jakke: And that it would pay for itself, plus/minus-zero would be nice.

Mikko: That’s also true, now that we’ve thrown way too much money into this latest album.

Helena: An expensive hobby. But yeah, like you said, it’s not because of the money, but for the art.

Jakke: For the love of the game, yeah.

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AJATTARA w/ BARATHRUM @ Korjaamo, Helsinki, 18.08.2017

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Ajattara and Barathrum, Korjaamo 2017.
Photos by Marco Manzi
Striptease photos that follow Barathrum may not be appropriate for all ages and viewer discretion is advised. NSFW.

(2017) Interviews

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Our collection of interview photos from 2017.

(2017) Leprous: Malina

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Artist: Leprous
Album: Malina
Release: 25.08.2017
Label: Inside Out Music

 

Ever since I joined this site, we’ve been keeping a close eye on Leprous. The melancholic Norwegian prog metal group has been busy touring and giving interviews all year, but still found the time to complete a full-length album. 2015’s The Congregation was a hit with critics and fans alike, leaving tensions high for the followup. After a long summer of deliberation and a brief chat with singer and synth player Einar Solberg, I finally felt ready review it for you.

Listen along on Spotify here:

 

01. Bonneville
The album begins with “Bonneville”, which sounds like the name of a place in which to set a Stephen King story. It starts off with a jazzy prog rock groove like you wouldn’t believe. The whole sound is muted and quiet. Even the drums are using brushes. One would be forgiven for assuming that they put in the wrong disc… at least until Solberg’s signature falsetto vocals come in at 00:19. The understated tone gives out a haunting feel. It immediately took away any expectations I had for the album. The distorted guitars come in halfway through and the pace picks up slightly. It’s an interesting subversion of easygoing music, to make it feel uneasy.

02. Stuck
“Stuck” is more like classic Leprous in terms of composition. It’s lead by strong guitar riffs and it plays with the tempo… all that good prog metal stuff. Most importantly, it has a powerful and catchy chorus. It’s this combination that fans come to expect from them. That being said, the sound is completely different from The Congregation. It’s not bombastic and metal with distorted guitars. The sound is about as clean as can be. Every instrument comes through clearly and is separate instead of a being a wall of noise. I’m going to have to classify this as more prog rock than metal.

03. From the Flame
The intro to “From the Flame” is reminiscent of earlier songs like “Flood” or “Slave” with just a weird synth sound and Solberg’s vocals soloed. They keep coming to it because it works. It sounds like a plea echoing in an empty hall. Once the band joins in it creates the illusion of heaviness without actually generating any. Yes, the sound is still very clean but the song is just so damn catchy and energetic it doesn’t seem to dampen the impact.

04. Captive – 05. Illuminate
“Captive” and “Illuminate” are built around the synth. Just simple one-hand staccato riffs. The sound is a bit distorted but not overwhelmingly so. Just like the guitars, it’s pretty muted. The rhythms are very complex but all the instruments are doing the exact same thing, playing in perfect unison, so it doesn’t sound like a big soundscape but rather one united entity.

06. Leashes
On the other end of the spectrum we have “Leashes.” Here the guitars are prominent but still simple. At the beginning it’s slow and moody, but starts to build. The chorus is loud and uninhibited. It throws everything at you. After while you can even hear a bit of cello in the background.

07. Mirage
“Mirage” is the epitome of the prog epic. It has the most bombastic sounds on the album, the trickiest time signatures, and the most energetic guitars. The grooves themselves would already have made a great song but that chorus is the best on the album. The usual broodiness takes a backseat to a triumphant and hopeful message. It confidently bellows out “I found my path when I thought that I was wrong.” It’s exactly the kind of statement that comes from having wandered in a wasteland (metaphorical or otherwise) and coming out the other end stronger than ever.

08. Malina
Weirdly enough, the album then takes a 180 with the title track. “Malina” is the moodiest thing on the album so far. For the most part it’s an airy cello sound accompanying more solemn falsetto vocals. They break the tension with the occasional jazz section but the general tone is still despair. Really it seems more like it should have been a 2 minute intermission instead of a 6 minute slog. Since it’s the title track I’m a bit confused as to what they were going for.

09. Coma
More bizarre still, the next track is titled “Coma” but sounds more like the soundtrack to a panic attack. It’s the first instance of double bass being used on the record – a fast metal track full of action. For once the vocals aren’t that interesting, but the urgency and pace are interesting enough to make this a great song.

10. The Weight of Disaster
I always love a strong bass line. It lays a good foundation to a song. “The Weight of Disaster” understands this well. Much unlike the previous track, this one is slow and contemplative with a great chorus. It has one very good, albeit simple, guitar riff to it but mostly it alternates between quiet and loud. From what I can gather from the lyrics, it feels like a dip into the mind of someone who’s submissive to an oppressive force, be it a dominant person, a god, or a substance. Whatever it is, it’s something that can control you and make you do something you know is wrong. I like a song that tells a story even if that’s not the original idea.

11. The Last Milestone
The finale is “The Last Milestone”, which is by far the most solemn Leprous song of all time. From start to finish, it keeps the same slow and depressing tone. It doesn’t play around with the tempo or throw any curve balls. It doesn’t even have the band, per se. What it has though, is vocals and cello, that’s it. The cellos are layered so that multiple parts can be played at once. It’s atmospheric and doesn’t have any distinct repeating melodies. It was apparently originally intended as just a string composition and finally ended up on this album. The piece is haunting and beautiful, for sure.

 

In the end, Malina is the definition of a mixed bag. It alternates between gloomy and energetic, simple and complex. The thinking behind it is prog metal but it doesn’t sound even remotely heavy. It works best as a mellow album with occasional toe-tapping high points. I can’t even compare it to previous Leprous albums because even though the same techniques are being employed, it sticks out like a sore thumb. However, standing out isn’t in itself a bad thing. It has it’s own mood and it’s own place in their discography. Really, it’s rare when an album only feels padded in one song. Malina is a great slow burn book-ended by two of the most subversive tracks Leprous have ever done.

Rating: 8/10, 4 stars

Tracklist:
1. Bonneville
2. Stuck
3. From The Flame
4. Captive
5. Illuminate
6. Leashes
7. Mirage
8. Malina
9. Coma
10. The Weight Of Disaster
11. The Last Milestone

(2017) Eluveitie: Evocation II – Pantheon

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Artist: Eluveitie
Album: Evocation II – Pantheon
Release: 18.08.2017
Label: Nuclear Blast Records

 

The time has come! Eluveitie had what seemed to be a rather rough division in members last year, resulting in the formation of Cellar Darling and in Eluveitie revealing a vast new line-up. Not only have fans been waiting to hear what this new mix would sound like, but Evocation II has been a long time in the making, with Eluveitie having released a whopping three albums since its predecessor in 2009, Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion. Seeing as how there are a great number of people in this band, let’s briefly list the full personnel since the line-up change (not in the photo order):

Chrigel Glanzmann – growling vocals, mandola, whistles, pipes, gaita, acoustic guitar, bodhrán, harp
Kay Brem – bass
Rafael Salzmann – lead guitar
Nicole Ansperger – violin, backing vocals
Matteo Sisti – bagpipes, whistles, mandola
Alain Ackermann – drums
Jonas Wolf – rhythm guitar
Michalina Malisz – hurdy-gurdy
Fabienne Erni – vocals, celtic harp, mandola

I for one am a fairly big fan of Eluveitie and have been enjoying their music pretty much since their inception, and have found very few disappointments in their discography. In spite of me being a big fan of the members who left, I am aware that it is Glanzmann who holds the reins during composition, and as such, I had every faith that this album would hold their standard.

Listen along on Spotify, if you like:

 

The album starts with the sound of a light wind, accompanied by looming music and the invocation, which you can read about in our interview with Glanzmann to get the translation of the welcome. It’s short and sweet though, going straight into the second track. The first release was titled “Epona”, and it is worth noting that they already have a song called “A Rose for Epona.” One has to assume though, that the newer song is about the goddess herself, while the elder is more a tragic song about faith and the diminishing thereof, so I can easily forgive the repetition. Epona is not simply the name of the horse in The Legend of Zelda – that series did name her appropriately though, as Epona is the guardian of horses, mules, donkeys, and ponies.

The first impression I had of the song, and the new line-up as a whole, is one I expect that many of you shared: “… That’s just not Anna Murphy.” Murphy – the former hurdy-gurdy player and vocalist, for those of you a few steps behind – was very well beloved by fans, and her departure probably stung a bit more than many other departures in recent years. However, on my second listen to the song, the shock of the change had already passed and I was able to appreciate the song in its entirety, and the impression it left was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, it would be a disservice to say that Fabienne Erni‘s voice is not lovely. It is merely different from Murphy’s. I’d actually consider her a very nice replacement, all things considered.

“Svcellos II” is the first of two sequel tracks on the album, in this case referring to Origins (2014). At this point, as someone who is only familiar in passing with the Celtic pantheon, I’m quite certain that I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of this album’s concept. The song itself features a soft, whispering intro, slightly eerie but still hopeful, featuring flutes/whistles. It transitions very smoothly into “Nantosvelta”, which introduces more instruments. This is a neat pairing, as Sucellos and Nantosuelta are partners in the pantheon, so the fact that their songs nearly blend into one is perfect. There are some soft female spoken parts towards the end in Gaulish, of course. The song kicks off into a quicker, dancing pace about two thirds of the way it, making for a lively and fun track overall. Sucellos is often portrayed as a middle-aged bearded man with a hammer (or beer keg on a pole) and is associated with wine and agriculture, while Nantosuelta is the goddess of earth, fire, and fertility.

A hurdy-gurdy drone, accompanied by female spoken words, makes up the entirety of “Tovtatis”, the tribal protector. “Lvgvs” is the other advanced release track from the album. It continues the trend of sweet and powerful vocals from Erni, though I have to say that vocally, this track is rather repetitive. It appears to be limited to a verse or two and then a chorus that is repeated more or less until the end, and while the music is incredibly bright and catchy, the song does get a bit old after a while, working better as a background track than something to listen to actively. As a god, Lugus is considered to be similar to or the same as Mercury in the Roman pantheon.

An interesting change from there, Grannus was known for sun, spas, and healing springs (hot springs, I suppose). “Grannos” has a mid-tempo, gentle feel to it, with a lot of flutes and possibly violin. I do confess that I have a bit of trouble pinpointing which instrument I’m hearing, so do take my thoughts with a grain of salt – these guys blend instruments masterfully. There is some light guitar in there back as well. Like “Nantosvelta”, it kicks up into a faster reel about two thirds of the way through, into a cheerful and quick, dance-able tune.

The horned god, Cernunnos, represented the underworld, as well as wealth, life, animals, and fertility. Spoken female words open his song with some gentle harp to follow before the rest join in. It’s a very peaceful and soft song and avoids sounding ominous or melancholic, like one might expect of an underworld deity. There is a beautiful violin part that is paired with a scream from Glanzmann that holds a certain power. If you want something a bit creepier and more ominous, the following track, “Catvrix” will definitely satiate that desire. With both eerie lower vocals from Glanzmann and wild higher vocals from Erni, as well as a strong drum presence, this tribute to the war god sounds exactly like you might expect it to.

The bear goddess is none other than “Artio”, and the pattering of rain and female vocals open her song, contrasting starkly with the previous, more aggressive track. Rather than using instruments, this track uses wind in the woods and other ambient noises to emphasize the vocals, only adding in a low drone around 2 minutes in. The instruments only enter into the picture towards the very end for a short moment.

I had a much harder time finding any information on Aventia than most of the others, but what I did learn was that she was associated with Grannus. The song is a rather pretty one though, with flute in the forefront before the violin kicks in about halfway through, sounding like a traditional Celtic fiddle tune (which I’m sure it must be – Glanzmann has never shied away from using traditional tunes) – props to Nicole Ansperger for her performance!. There is a whisper of a scream in the background, though on the whole, this track remains lyric-free.

“Ogmios” was immediately a familiar track to me for several reasons, and should be to you for at least one reason: it’s an alternate version of the same tune that founded Eluveitie’s “Inis Mona” back in 2008. My history with this song involves a friend from the Celtic region of France informing me that this is a old Celtic song, and she played me a French version in the traditional manner. Some time later, I came across this song, by Nolwenn Leroy:

This version is extremely similar to the new Eluveitie version, though Eluveitie’s version has an incredible little breakdown about three quarters of the way through, and is also sung in what I must assume is Gaulish, since it’s not French. I’d love to hear some history on how this tune made it into “Inis Mona” and why they chose to reuse it now. Ogmios is the god of eloquence. You may also recognize his name from the Origins album.

Moving on from that, we reach “Esvs.” Not much is known of this particular god, though he is always portrayed trimming branches from trees with an axe. The song has some tapping sounds within, as well as a blend of chants that slowly evolve into vocals. It is haunting, in a beautiful way. The vocals toward the end get particularly interesting, with the lead switching back and forth with a… I don’t exactly want to call it a choir, but some group vocals. “Antvmnos” was another god I couldn’t find much of anything about online, though it is cited several times on the Origins album and may be associated with Annwn. The song is a very sweet and lovely piece, with flutes and harp creating a lovely ambiance.

The second sequel of the album, “Tarvos II”, has the pipes at the forefront, helping it stand out a bit from the others, and reflects all the way back again to Slania, where one will find the original “Tarvos.” The drums are also noteworthy on this track, which may relate to his depiction as a bull with three cranes on his back. He can be found in one of the same images as Esus.

The ‘fair shining one’, Belenus, was the patron deity of ancient Roman city, Aquileia. “Belenos” combines soft flutes and background ambient noise to create yet another on the long list of lovely tracks on this album. The shaman drums are again very gentle and pleasant, and at this point I really need to give a shout out to Merlin Sutter’s replacement, Alain Ackermann, for his performance. Of course, everyone wants a thunder god, and that’s where “Taranis” comes in. The music almost sounds like a clashing of a storm, with violin in the back as the flutes take off and soar. This bright and lively song is less like the hyper-macho depictions of Thor, and avoids any and all stereotypes and preconceptions, maintaining a strong Celtic sound. The vocals are a bit odd in this track, reminding me of the effect they used on dark Galadriel in Fellowship of the Ring.

The album ends with “Nemeton”, which to my knowledge was more of a sacred ritual space, as opposed to a deity. The song indeed feels more like a place than a person, and lasts less than 2 minutes, working effectively as an outro to the adventure that was this album.

 

Ultimately, I’m glad I had only given Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion a 9/10, as I wanted to suggest that this album still has the same issue relating to some songs not standing alone so well, but I also wanted to make it clear that this album is definitely a step up thematically, musically, and potentially even vocally from its predecessor. If you enjoy Eluveitie and in particular, the previous Evocation album, I would find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t enjoy this one as much, if not more. Some might hold back their appreciation due to the loss of Murphy on vocals, but I would consider that foolish – Erni (and the others, for that matter) have certainly earned their place in the band and then some on this album.

Rating: 9.5/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Dvressu
2. Epona
3. Svcellos II (sequel)
4. Nantosvelta
5. Tovtatis
6. Lvgvs
7. Grannos
8. Cernvnnos
9. Catvrix
10. Artio
11. Aventia
12. Ogmios
13. Esvs
14. Antvmnos
15. Tarvos II (sequel)
16. Belenos
17. Taranis
18. Nemeton

ELUVEITIE – Chrigel Glanzmann, 2017

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chrigel interview 2017

Seems like nothing can stop the Swiss folk metallers from Eluveitie from pursuing their path. One might think that the departure of three members would suffice to make them at least break a sweat, but thankfully, they didn’t give up and managed to navigate out of those stormy waters. With the upcoming release of Evocation II: Pantheon on the horizon, we took some time to speak with their leader, Chrigel Glanzmann, about how they found their new members, and got some details on the new album as well.

 

So you’ve just released the clip for “Epona”, the new album is coming out in a few weeks, and there’s an upcoming tour through Europe and Russia. What is the vibe, what are you hyped for, and how do you feel about it?
Of course we’re hyped and we’re a much-touring band, and [by our standard] we’ve had rather a long break, so yeah, we’re super excited to finally hit the road again. And we’re excited to tour Europe and tour Russia again. Of course we’re hyped!

Do you have any further plans, like Finland maybe?
Yeah, I mean, at the moment we are working on quite a lot of, in my opinion, pretty cool things regarding the upcoming album, which of course I cannot let out, otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. We are also working on our further plans, which I also cannot talk about [laughs] but we might come up with some nice surprises within the next couple of months.

Do you plan to film any more clips at this point or is it still in a conceptual stage?
Yeah, we are working on some.

Your lips are sealed, right?
[laughs] Yeah, we’re working at the moment; I don’t wanna tell. You’ll see!

Moving on to the album itself then, was there any reason, other than musically, to start with “Epona” as a single?
To be honest, we haven’t really thought about it that much. It was a very intuitive decision that “Epona” would be the first. But to be fair, actually I have to say “Epona” was the first song ever written for Evocation II. So, I don’t know, it just felt right.

I’m kind of a history nerd too, so I wondered if it’s because of her significance and that’s why you went for her first.
Not necessarily. I mean, she generally is. That’s probably one of the reasons why she is on more than one of our albums. But it didn’t have much to do with the fact that it was the first one to be released.

It’s also a very cheerful song overall, very bright – the overall feel is very different than the previous Evocation album, I’d say.
Evocation II – Pantheon carries the spirit and vibe of Evocation I pretty well, I think. It’s probably even folkier, closer to tradition, and rougher. But overall it’s a pretty mystical, partly lugubrious, and dark album. But yeah, you’re right, “Epona” is rather surging forward. We’ve tried to not only deal with the particular deities lyrically, but to also express their character musically. That’s where the ‘galloping’ character of “Epona” comes from.

So, the pantheon! Let’s start with the cover. Usually before I do interviews I try to do some research, but I couldn’t research this cover… so what does it depict?
I just tried to create something that represents the tone of the album. The concept of the album is basically the Celtic pantheon, the otherworld. I mean, it’s the main theme on the Evocation concept cycle generally – pristine Celtic mythology put into songs. So I wanted to create something that can express that. The cover is a rather complex icon; there’s a lot symbolism in it, but I can give you a quick summary.

So, this four-corner symbol you see at the very back is the great wheel, which is crucial in Celtic culture and, if you want to say it in a cheesy way, represents nature’s rhythm, the natural cycle of the year, the seasons, the equinoxes, solstices, and so on. Above that you have a tripartite Enneagram, three triangles to form a nine-pointed star, with three groups of three points each, representing the trinities within the Celtic pantheon. This all frames the figure in the center, which is a combination of various different deep and important symbols of Celtic mythology. The figure itself is a depiction of the god Lugus, who is a tri-cephalic deity – often addressed in plural – as the trinity of the Lugoves. The lower part of his depiction is framed with the so-called lord of the animals symbol, expressing a rather deep concept of Celtic mythology; it basically shows man’s role among all creatures, which is not described in a manner as today’s society unfortunately sees it, but in short and simple words rather expresses something like a symbiosis between all creatures. The upper half of Lugus is framed by the symbolism of high-kingship, which was also a very deep and crucial spiritual concept in Celtic culture (but since it’s rather complex it would probably go beyond the space of an interview to explain it in detail).

Now, where the lines of the great wheel and the circles cross, they create fields, which are filled with capitals of the names of the gods and goddesses that are presented on the album, in the order they relate to each others.

Are the letters in the outer circle in Gaulish or Latin?
Nooo, of course Gaulish. Everything you have there is Gaulish.

So that’s why I couldn’t research it…
Actually those are the lyrics of the opening track of the album. This is a very short track and the lyrics are basically a kind of an invitation. Because, you look at the album it’s like a journey through the Celtic pantheon. So this text is an invitation for the one who dares to set forth on this journey. At the same time, it’s also sort of a magical blessing for the traveler. The lyrics mean, “May you come in. May your journey be safe. May you find blessing. May you find wisdom and knowledge. May you see yourself.”

Continuing with the album then – do you think that the departure of Anna, Ivo, and Merlin had a creative impact on the new record?
I will have to say yes and no. On one hand no, in the sense that Eluveitie is still Eluveitie, always has been and will always be. The core didn’t change. It was a tough, hard time for everybody… hard for us all as people, emotionally. We’d been together for nearly 10 years! But now looking back after nearly 1.5 years after our split, I think that was really good, and Anna, Ivo, and Merlin will also say the same. In that sense, their departure didn’t affect the music. It rather made space for many new good things – for them and for Eluveitie.

What really did affect it was how Eluveitie as a band developed new members, which was kind of a lucky turn and at the same time was pretty unexpected. The way [the relationship with the new members] developed over the last 12 months… I don’t know how to describe it. Really familial, also very dedicated at the same time. For instance, we’d been in the studio recording the album and during the whole production time, nearly the full band was there at all times. Even those members who weren’t recording at the time, they were still there, just to be there or to cook for everybody else or so on. It was a very dedicated atmosphere; every day, morning to evening, every corner of the studio had some band members just sitting together, jamming and brooding over details of the songs. There was so much room for spontaneous creativity and three tracks off the new album were actually even fully created this way in the studio. That’s a rather new thing for Eluveitie. I mean, we haven’t worked together so closely as a band, as a group of musicians, for a very long time. And that’s really good in my opinion. So that’s affected the music somehow. I think you can hear this unity and organic-ness and this space for spontaneous creativity on the album.

Was it difficult to find replacements?
Yes and no. It was rather unexpected. I mean, on one hand it was kind of difficult in the beginning, because Anna, Ivo, and Merlin left big shoes to fill. Especially Anna, in my opinion, is one of the greatest vocalists of the time. To find someone even half as good as her… The thing is, when the
three left, we really wanted to search well and choose wisely, and really take as much time as it needs to find the right people.

But we already had shitloads of festivals, open-airs, and tours already booked and confirmed by then, so we actually did not have much time. And it was very clear to us that we’re not going to cancel even one single show. So we quickly decided to hire live session musicians to play all the upcoming shows and take the [necessary] time to search for new members. This is how it came across to the people that actually are in the band now. We didn’t know any of them, but they got recommended to us by friends, musicians, and so on. They all have reputations for being among the very best on their instruments. We contacted them, asked them if they were available for a few months, and they all were.

So we started playing all our summer festivals last year and it was really great. They came in and did their jobs as if they had not done anything else in years. Musically speaking, in our situation, getting those guys was like hitting the fucking jackpot. We started playing the summer festivals and it really rocked. We still kept searching, but the relationships between us grew in a really amazing way. The atmosphere in the band developed in a really amazing way. So this is how we got to the point fall last year where we needed to ask ourselves, “Why the fuck are we still looking for new people if we’ve already found them months ago?” We sat with them then and we asked if they could imagine to not only help us out as session musicians for some months, but to actually become part of our band. Luckily for us, they all said yes. And that’s how we got our current lineup.

Now on to the other songs – was it difficult to illustrate a god’s character musically?
I wouldn’t call it difficult. I can’t really describe that. It’s something that grows and there’s a lot of emotion and feeling and intuition. The tracks on the album don’t really just talk about the respective goddess or god in the lyrics, but they express the characters of the deities musically. I don’t know, it was almost like a spiritual experience or something like that. I don’t really know how to explain it.

I mean, with “Epona” it was quite obvious, as it’s kind of a galloping song, but I wondered how you’d depict other gods?
It’s not that we had songs and then just divided the songs between gods and goddesses, it was other way around. There was somehow a list of gods and goddesses that would be on the album. I mean, there are many more deities in the Celtic pantheon. I cannot say why exactly these gods and
goddesses are on the album. It’s something we never thought about, it just kind of happened. Only then we started writing the music. If I express it in a rather stupid way, I would say we wrote the soundtrack to each of these deities 😉 We explore their characters. I can’t really explain it. It was a very organic process, with much intuition involved, almost spiritual.

Do you think you’ve raised the bar with Evocation II compared to the first one?
I want to say that Evocation II captures the spirit of the first one really well. But still, from a musician’s perspective, playing-wise the second one is obviously on a much higher level.

Do you think that, because it took so long to complete, Evocation II it is more thought-out and developed? Like a fine wine?
[laughs] Actually, I never looked at it that way. Maybe it is, maybe not. I have no idea.

I wondered – don’t get me wrong, I’m just curious – since you put so much time and effort into your research, do you sometimes halfass any phrases?
No. Everything we do conceptually – like Celtic culture and history and also the language – are very accurate. I don’t really know, maybe because we’re nerds or something, but it is very important to us. I believe that if you deal with history, you owe it to history itself, to the people who lived back then do actually do it accurately and conscientiously. It’s a matter of respect, I think, so I put as much effort into that, as I put into the music. It also resembles a scientific project a lot. From the start we always worked with scientists from various universities across Europe.

[Regarding Gaulish in the lyrics], what we do is often something like… let’s take Katy Perry for instance. She has the song called “Unconditionally.”

I honestly wouldn’t know…
I mean, check it out. But in the chorus she actually sings one word and stretches it. So she goes [sings the chorus of “Unconditionally”]. When you write it down, it’s not really “unconditionally,” it’s more like “uncondition-aahl.” We do similar things with Gaulish in our lyrics [to make it fit the music].

Again, since you put so much value into your material, do you think it has an educational value? Or does it create an impact?
[laughs] First thing – we don’t really give a fuck. We don’t want to ‘educate’ anyone; we do it because we like it, it’s our personal passion, and it means a lot to us. We don’t really care if people read our lyrics or not. Also, I’m not actually a fan of ‘spreading’ something. We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, and when you go to metal show, you do that to bang your head off and have a great time – not to learn and to be educated.

But around 2 weeks ago, some days after the release of the “Epona” video clip, we posted the Gaulish song lyrics with translations on our Facebook page – and our fans really appreciated it. There were a lot of people referring to the Gaulish language, having some linguistic questions, even inputs, etc. And that was really amazing to see. Back in the day, 15 years ago when we started and released our Gaulish songs for the first time, no one even knew what Gaulish was. Now there are people on Facebook discussing fucking linguistics! There is growing interest apparently, and this is very, very cool and overwhelming.

To wrap things up – as musician, music is an essential part of your life, obviously, but what would you name as something(s) that would be important to you, as a person?
Well, outside Eluveitie, there’s unfortunately not much time for other things. I mean, obviously music is a huge part of my life. Besides music, being out in nature is important to me.

Any last words?
Thank you for the interview and to everybody reading it. Thanks for supporting Eluveitie!

SAARIHELVETTI – Viikinsaari, Tampere, 05.08.2017 (English)

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SaariHelvetti, a metal festival run by the Tampere-based Nem Agency and arranged this year for the third time, intrigued me with its concept and lineup already a year ago, but as a long-time Jurassic Rock attendee, I, for some reason, went on to spend my first August weekend last year in Mikkeli. What used to be an interesting ‘something for everyone’ approach to booking bands, the festival’s selection has since sunk to the abysmal level of playlist radio stations and Vain elämää, making me rethink my choice to skip SaariHelvetti and, for example, its Deathchain oldies show. This year, SaariHelvetti’s lineup really gave me no choice, as in addition to some interesting Finnish bands and the legendary Rotting Christ from Greece, the festival had snagged Austrian Harakiri for the Sky, so on August 5th, 2017, I jumped on a bus to Tampere. As of the day of the event, nearly the full 2000-ticket quota was sold, so a good party was to be expected.

Viikinsaari, the event location, is an island in Pyhäjärvi, so the only way to get there is by ferry from Tampere’s Laukontori. I only arrived at the docks about 10 minutes before the first boat was set to embark, but fortunately the queue wasn’t very long. The ticket booth didn’t have press passes to hand out, but I managed to get mine when we got to Viikinsaari – apparently there had been a small mix-up, to which I even received an apologetic email afterwards. No biggie, these things happen! The boat ride went by quickly, and once we arrived, I had to spend a moment scrutinizing the location – Viikinsaari hosts a chapel, a festivity building, a dance hall, a playground, a miniature golf course and volleyball court, a hiking trail (unfortunately not in use), a kiosk stall… you name it. It’s an amazing location for an event like this!

 

Galvanizer

The first band on the running order and the winner of the Battle of the Bands from Hell contest was Laitila-Tammela based deathgrind group, Galvanizer. They took the second stage at 15:30 and bashed away for a good 30 minutes in the dance hall. Despite their young age, all three of them were incredibly good players – drummer Nico Niemikko’s performance was particularly jaw-dropping. The songs had a good number of great riffs and a sense of danger to them, and the show managed to attract a decent-sized crowd, even if all the VIP ticket-holders had apparently decided to spend their time drinking beer on the opposite terrace. It’s definitely shows like this that reward you for showing up early, even if you haven’t heard of the bands beforehand – a great show from Galvanizer indeed!

Evil Drive

During the 30-minute transition time, one had the opportunity to observe the show at the Rock’n’Tits stage, placed behind the VIP terrace and boasting a variety of sideshow activities, from burlesque shows to a Speden Spelit tribute (a TV game show from a couple decades back). I can’t say that I know too much about burlesque, but – not to diminish the show in any way – I believe that striptease isn’t a traditional part of it, as opposed to the introduction the host gave the audience. At 16:30, Evil Drive began their half-hour set on the second stage. Compared to the Elmun baari show from the night before, their slight stiffness had vanished overnight and SaariHelvetti presented a band with a lighter mood, led by their snarky vocalist, Viktoria Viren. Because of their only 30-minute slot, the band had had to cut their setlist short, and, as a second show over the course of 2 days, it didn’t offer anything new to me personally, but the audience, filling over half of the hall space, appeared to enjoy it greatly. Not bad at all.

Fear of Domination

I had to cut Evil Drive a bit short to get to the main stage on time. Fear of Domination’s line-up grew to eight members earlier in the summer, as Sara Strömmer’s place as the second vocalist was made official mid-set at Tuska, and her presence clearly fits the band. The whole band seemed to have a lot of fun on stage throughout the 30-minute set; their percussionist in particular ran back and forth anytime he didn’t have to play. He also threw at least two pairs of drum sticks into the audience, the first time in a pretty low arc – hopefully no one got hit in the face. The band surely will have to put up with comparisons to Turmion Kätilöt until the end of time, but there were so many fans in the audience knowing all their songs’ lyrics that I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation turned around at some point in time. Even if Fear of Domination still doesn’t appeal to me musically that much (sorry, Jinx!), one cannot deny their entertainment value – FoD clearly is a party group and you had to be pretty cynical if the final song, the cover of The Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch”, wouldn’t have brought a smile to your face. The only -1 points from the show goes to the mixing booth – being as strong-voiced as Strömmer, it takes a lot of talent to lose her vocals somewhere between her microphone and the stage’s sound system.

Harakiri for the Sky

Coming up next: the main monkey business! Harakiri for the Sky was visiting Finland for the first time over this weekend, but the crowd was surprisingly large at Elmun baari on Friday already. This time around, the second stage was already half-full before the Austrians had even begun their show, which allowed for only 30 minutes of showtime for some mind-boggling reason; almost all of their songs being around 8-9 minutes in length, HftS only had time to play three songs. As with the previous night’s show, during “Calling the Rain”, “Funeral Dreams”, and “Jhator”, the band didn’t try to make contact with the audience, but they needn’t have bothered, as almost everyone started clapping and singing along spontaneously during the more mellow passages; the cheering between songs was so loud that you would’ve thought you were in a considerably larger venue; and I believe the “we want more!” shouts after the show were the only ones we heard that day. I was dead certain after Friday that HftS would have to return to Finland, and after Saturday the feeling grew even stronger – as of writing this review, the band has already commented on the issue on Facebook and revealed that something will happen in the future – we’ll be waiting!

Rotten Sound

Next up on main stage was the crown jewel of Finnish grind, Rotten Sound. I never would have thought it possible to see anything other than good or excellent shows from these guys, but this time the main stage’s sound really didn’t do any justice to the band’s material. The sound tech managed to twist the knobs in such a way that anything else than Sami Latva’s bass drum didn’t stand out… not even his snare. Fortunately, what Rotten Sound lost with the horrible sound, they made up with their as-strong-as-ever stage presence, courtesy of their long experience. Keijo Niinimaa was his mellow self during his speeches. On top of the difficult circumstances, the band’s merchandise apparently hadn’t arrived to the location, as a car had broken down on the way, so Niinimaa encouraged everyone to buy Rotting Christ shirts, as they “had the almost same band name on them.” The setlist, similar to the ones on previous shows this summer, had a decent mix of newer and older favorites, even “Decay” from the Consumer to Contaminate EP. The moshpit was active throughout and the audience seemed to enjoy it to the fullest, so ultimately the show wasn’t a miss.

Shade Empire

From the domestic acts, I anticipated Shade Empire’s show the most beforehand. This Kuopio-based (and one of the most criminally underrated Finnish metal groups) finally released a successor to their 2013 masterpiece, Omega Arcane – Poetry of the Ill-Minded – a month and a half ago; they also played a crowded show at Nummirock. Unfortunately, the show started out as a total pancake – if Rotten Sound had suffered from bad sound, the second stage’s sound tech made watching the show absolutely impossible. I haven’t worn earplugs at a metal show in years, and because the rhythm guitar was mixed incredibly loudly and was extremely grating, burying everything else, I had to go back outside and order a beer instead. What I could make out from the wall of screeching guitar sounds, the song seemed to be the new album’s opener, “Lecter (Welcome).” Still, Shade Empire clearly interested the crowd, because the dance hall was almost full throughout the set – hopefully everyone came back out with their hearing still intact.

Battle Beast

The main stage’s third performer was the Helsinki-based power metal extravaganza (or abomination, depending on who you ask), Battle Beast. I saw the band for the first time around their debut album, Steel (2011), and got blown away by the charisma and voice of Nitte Valo, their singer at the time. After the ensuing European tour, Valo announced that she would leave the band, and I haven’t been able to get excited about them since, even if the current frontwoman, Noora Louhimo, doesn’t pale in comparison to Valo one bit. The group’s history hasn’t been devoid of drama, as the founding member, Anton Kabanen, got kicked out of his own band a few years back under questionable circumstances. But enough with the babbling. How did Battle Beast do in Louhimo’s home town? I’d like to say ‘excellently’, but much like the other Beast shows I’ve seen this summer, this one was lukewarm at best. Judging from the amount of Battle Beast shirts in the audience, a lot of fans were present, but most of the time, keyboardist Janne Björkroth looked like he’d rather be backstage drinking beer. Louhimo, guitarist Juuso Soinio and bassist Eero Sipilä had a good vibe going on though, and Louhimo deserves appreciation – the day marked a year without alcohol for her, making her a winner of a 500€ bet she had going on with a friend. The set was inclined towards their latest Bringer of Pain album, and the record clearly has cheerful live hits to choose from. As a conclusion, I still have to present a completely unnecessary complaint: why bring two bass drums on stage for looks, if the other one gets left without a microphone and the drummer only kicks the other with a double pedal?

Mørket

I had to skip the probably the most deviant band when compared to the festival’s musical theme, the Helsinki-based death/black/punk hybrid, Mørket, for a compulsory food break before Rotting Christ’s show. If there’s something about SaariHelvetti that deserves a special mention, it was the selection of food. The new de facto price for festival food servings seems to be 10€ a pop, but unlike this year’s Nummirock for example, you’d definitely get your money’s worth at SaariHelvetti. A large flamed salmon grill was present, along with a huge frying pan for pork belly and falafel. The side dish was a spelt tabouleh (onion, cucumber, tomato, spices) with tzatziki, which you could also order vegan. The pork dish was incredibly tasty! The Tex-mex themed stall also seemed to boast good-looking dishes, and the fans of more traditional sausage-with-fries stuff weren’t forgotten, as Viikinsaari’s own kiosk sold fries with sausages or meatballs for the really affordable price of 7€.

Rotting Christ

Even though Rotting Christ have been to Finland on several occasions, I’ve never been able to see the Greek extreme metal legends of Sakis and Themis Tolis live before. The evening had already started to darken when Rotting Christ, formed back in 1987, got on the main stage and bombarded the audience for 50 minutes with simple but ingenious riffs and creative drum work. We got to hear new – as well as really old – material from the band’s lengthy recording career: “The Sign of Evil Existence” from their debut, Thy Mighty Contract (1993), was played, and if I’m not completely mistaken, “The Forest of N’Gai” from the very first EP as well. Their latest effort, Rituals, struck me as slightly dull when it came out, at least when compared to its predecessor, the excellent Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού, but especially ”Ἄπαγε Σατανά” worked flawlessly live. The actual bangers were saved for the end – first ”In Yumen/Xibalba”, and as a conclusion, ”Grandis Spiritus Diavolos.” Aww yiss! The audience was on fire throughout the set, and Sakis Tolis used every opportunity to thank Finland in Finnish and Greek. A great band and an excellent show, and this time the sound was on point as well – Rotting Christ probably had their own sound tech.

Whispered

I possibly cannot comprehend why the Tampere-based samurai metal group, Whispered, still has to settle for smaller stages at festivals, as well as clubs. All the pieces for total world domination have been in place since their second album, Shogunate Macabre (2014), and their latest Metsutan – Songs of the Void pushed the boundaries even further. The band had attracted a dance hall full of people, and the moshpit circled around for practically the full 40-minute set in such a way that I thought it best to go stand right next to the mixing booth – the fence had a sharp corner and someone could easily bump into it when shoved out of the pit. Probably because of the hometown show, the setlist was a bit different: “Lady of the Wind” was featured for the first time in a while that I’ve seen, along with two covers (the theme from Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin and “Samurai” by Matti Nykänen), because why not? The final song was, as usual, “Hold the Sword.” The audience knew the lyrics to an admirable extent and cheered spontaneously, so let’s cut the crap – I’m willing to bet that Whispered will be the next big thing the instant that promoters of bigger festivals have the courage to look through the band’s makeup and costumes and realize that they’ve been outplaying all the more well-known melodeath bands for several years. I mean it, it’d be great.

Turmion Kätilöt

As with last year, Turmiön Kätilöt had the honor of wrapping up the main stage in this year’s SaariHelvetti. The band’s always been a bit of an issue for me, because while they have a few decent (older) songs, the vast majority of their material doesn’t do a thing for me, and in addition, I don’t like the character type of their average fan one bit. Then again, I haven’t seen a whole Kätilöt show in years, so I decided to give them a chance this time. The festival’s announcer and the band’s former vocalist, Tuomas Rytkönen, pointed out that the situation was peculiar – a year back, he would’ve been backstage waiting for the intro tape to begin playing. Instead, it was Saku “Shaq-U” Solin that pulled off a double shift tonight, as he had already been on stage with Fear of Domination. Kätilöt kicked things off promisingly with “Minä määrään”, but they didn’t manage to keep their grip on me until the end, despite “Pirun nyrkki” being played halfway through and “Tirehtööri” being fun to sing along to. Hunger had started to take hold again, so I had to leave towards the second stage near the end of the show. Along the way, I heard surprisingly many conversations on how the band’s newer songs aren’t that good as the old ones. Go figure.

Rytmihäiriö

Over the course of the evening, the event had completely sold out, so after gorging through a set of fries, it started to be practical to move towards the boat dock to avoid the biggest crowd. As the last show of the evening, Rytmihäiriö began their set on the second stage, but even if I wouldn’t have been in a hurry, I still wouldn’t have the interest to watch their set for longer than a few songs – I’ve never found anything worth listening to from their material, and I have to say that I’d have suspected the crowd in the dance hall to be larger than it was.

The boat queue was close to 100 meters, but it shrunk pretty quickly, as a new ferry arrived to the dock right after the previous one had embarked. A couple of ill-fated festival goers that had sprained their ankles were brought along as well. Considering the weather, everyone was lucky – the island had only a few drops of rain in the afternoon, but once our ferry got to Laukontori and we stepped out of it, it started raining, and even if we only had a few blocks to walk afterwards, I was soaking wet once we got to our apartment. At least no shower was needed.

Rytmihäiriö

 

In conclusion, SaariHelvetti was an amazing event all-around, at least for a first-timer like me. Viikinsaari offers an excellent venue to host happenings like this, the event itself was organized so well that you didn’t even pay attention to the staff or security, the beer queues weren’t long despite the festival being sold out, and the lineup was great. The thing that surprised me the most was the bathroom policies – the buildings on the island had two bathroom sections, and in addition to them, I counted a total of only six (!) portable toilets, but absolutely no queueing was needed at any time – men were able to take a leak in the bushes without anyone coming to tell them not to. With the food section being on point, I cannot think of anything to criticize, and unless something really weird happens to me or to the festival’s organization, I suspect that we’ll see each other next year as well!

Photos: Janne Puronen

SAARIHELVETTI – Viikinsaari, Tampere, 05.08.2017 (suomeksi)

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Tamperelaisen Nem Agencyn pyörittämä, tänä vuonna kolmatta kertaa järjestetty SaariHelvetti-metallifestivaali houkutteli konseptillaan ja bändikattauksellaan jo viime vuonna, mutta pitkän linjan Jurassic Rock –kävijänä menin jonkinlaisessa mielenhäiriössä valitsemaan Mikkelin. Takavuosien mielenkiintoisesta jokaiselle jotain –bändikattauksesta valahdettiin jo viime vuonna Vain elämää –helvettiin, joten en oikeastaan edes tiedä miksi jätin SaariHelvetin ja sitä myöten esimerkiksi Deathchainin oldies-keikan väliin. Tänä vuonna tosiasioita ei enää voinut sivuuttaa, sillä Helvetin esiintyjäkaartiin oli saatu kiinnitettyä muutaman kovan kotimaisen sekä kreikkalaisen Rotting Christin lisäksi itävaltalainen Harakiri for the Sky, joten 5. elokuuta 2017 Onnibusin nokka suuntasi kohti Tamperetta. Festivaaliliput olivat käyneet kaupaksi hyvää tahtia, ja tapahtumapäivänä lippuja oli jäljellä enää muutamia, joten en ollut asiassa yksin.

Festivaalin tapahtumapaikka, Viikinsaari, on Pyhäjärven selällä, jääden länsi-itäsuunnassa Epilän ja Pispalan väliin, ja ainoa tapa siirtyä saareen on laivalla Laukontorilta. Torille siirtyminen ja ensimmäiseen, kahdelta lähtevään laivaan, nouseminen jäi hieman viime tippaan, mutta jonoa ei paikalla onneksi ollut. Lipunmyyntitiskillä ei ollut jakaa lehdistölippuja erikseen, mutta sain moisen lopulta järjestettyä Viikinsaaren päässä – tässä oli ilmeisesti käynyt pieni sekaannus, jota myöhemmin erikseen pahoiteltiin ja joka ei todellakaan menoa haitannut. Laivamatka sujui nopeasti, ja paikalle päästyäni täytyi välittömästi kuluttaa hetki aikaa pelkästään tapahtuma-alueen ihastelemiseen: saaresta löytyy kappeli, juhlatila, tanssilava, leikkipuisto, minigolf-rata, beach volley –kenttä, luontopolku (joka ei tosin ollut käytössä), kioski ja vaikka mitä. Huikeat puitteet!

 

Päivän ensimmäinen esiintyjä oli vuorossa puoli neljältä, kun Bändikilpailu helvetistä –kisan voittanut laitilalais-tammelalainen deathgrind-jyrä Galvanizer paiskoi todella äkäisen puolen tunnin setin tanssipaviljonkiin sijoitetulla kakkoslavalla. Nuoresta iästään huolimatta äijät olivat kaikki todella kovia soittajia, ja varsinkin rumpali Nico Niemikon menoa katsoi täysin monttu auki. Biisimateriaalissa oli mukavasti koukkua ja vaaran tunnetta. Paikalle oli ehtinyt jo hyvänkokoinen joukko keikkaa todistamaan, vaikka VIP-lippujen ostajat olivatkin jumiutuneet omalle terassilleen kaljaa lipittämään. Juuri tällaisten keikkojen takia kannattaa välillä raahautua paikalle aikaisin, vaikkei bändistä olisikaan etukäteen mitään käsitystä. Galvanizer ehdottomasti jatkoon!

Puolen tunnin roudaustauon aikana oli hyvää aikaa luoda katseensa VIP-terassin takana sijaitsevalle Rock’n’Tits –lavalle, jossa pyöri päivän aikana erinäistä oheisohjelmaa burleskiesityksistä Speden spelit –tribuuttiin. Vaikken aihepiiristä kovin paljoa tiedäkään, niin – mitenkään meininkiä väheksymättä – tietääkseni strippaaminen ei kuulu burleskitanssin perinteiseen määritelmään, vaikka näin lavalla kerrottiin. Puoli viideltä vuorossa oli edellisenä iltanakin Harakiri for the Skyta lämmitellyt Evil Drive. Elmun baarin jähmeys oli hävinnyt yön aikana tietymättömiin, ja lavalla oli selkeästi hyväntuulisempi yhtye räväkän vokalisti Viktoria Virenin johdolla. Puolen tunnin soittoajasta johtuen settiä oli jouduttu lyhentämään, eikä keikka toisena nähtynä kahden päivän sisään tarjonnut uutta, mutta SaariHelvetin yleisöön se tuntui uppoavan varsin hyvin. Ei huono, kuten Jorma Uotinen asian laittaisi.

Evil Driven keikan lopusta täytyi nipistää hetkinen, jotta ehdin siirtymään ajoissa päälavan kulmalle viideksi. Fear of Dominationin jäsenistö kasvoi aiemmin kesällä kahdeksanhenkiseksi, kun Sara Strömmerin laulajanpesti vakinaistettiin kesken Tuskan-keikan, ja Strömmer kyllä sopii habitukseltaan bändiin kuin nenä päähän. Meininki lavalla tuntui olevan koko puolituntisen ajan erittäin korkealla, varsinkin perkussionistilla, joka käytti kaiken vapaa-aikansa lavaa pitkin poikin juoksemiseen ja eturivin kosiskeluun. Rumpukapuloitakin lensi yleisöön kovaa tahtia, välillä ei edes kovin suuressa kaaressa – toivottavasti kukaan ei ottanut osumaa. Bändi joutuu varmasti kuuntelemaan maailman loppuun asti vertailua astetta tunnetumpaan Turmion Kätilöihin, mutta paikalla tuntui olevan sen verran kappaleiden sanat ulkoa osaavia faneja, etten ihmettelisi jos tilanne joskus kääntyisi päälaelleen. Vaikkei Fear of Domination edelleenkään puhuttele musiikillisesti aivan täysin (sori Jinkku!), ei bändin taitoja viihdyttää silti voi kiistää – onhan FoD selkeästi bilebändi, ja viimeisenä soitettu The Bloodhound Gang -laina ”The Bad Touch” viimeistään toi leveän hymyn naamalle. Ainoat miinukset keikasta menevät miksaajalle, joka jotenkin onnistui kadottamaan Strömmerin laulusoundin mikrofonin ja PA-kaiuttimien väliin, niin hiljaiselle ja paljaaksi oli säädöt jätetty.

Sitten itse asiaan! Harakiri for the Sky oli viikonloppuna Suomessa ensimmäistä kertaa, mutta edellisenä iltana Elmun baarissa oli todella hyvin porukkaa paikalla. Nytkin kakkoslavan eteen oli pakkautunut hyvänkokoinen joukko odottamaan itävaltalaisbändin settiä, joka jostain täysin järjenvastaisesta syystä oli jouduttu puristamaan vain puolen tunnin mittaiseksi. HftS ehtikin sisällyttää slottiinsa ainoastaan kolme kappaletta, sillä bändin tuotannon keskipituudet taitavat huidella jossain kahdeksan-yhdeksän minuutin tietämillä. ”Calling the Rainin”, ”Funeral Dreamsin”, ja ”Jhatorin” aikana bändi ei edellisillan tapaan juuri ottanut kontaktia yleisöön, mutta sille ei ollut tarvettakaan, sillä hoilaukset ja taputukset lähtivät spontaanisti liikkeelle käytännössä kaikissa suvantokohdissa, kappaleiden välillä hurrattiin aivan kuin oltaisiin oltu kokoluokkaa isommalla keikalla, ja keikan päätteeksi taidettiin kuulla illan ainoat ”we want more!” –huudotkin. Äijät vaikuttivat myös yllättävän hyvävointisilta ottaen huomioon, että edellisenä iltana he olivat kuuleman mukaan juoneet viinaa aamuneljään kaverini luona järjestetyillä jatkoilla. Olin jo perjantain keikan jälkeen satavarma siitä, että HftS:n Suomen-visiitti ei jää bändin ensimmäiseksi ja viimeiseksi, ja SaariHelvetin keikan jälkeen tunne vain vahvistui. Tätä kirjoittaessa Facebookista saikin lukea, että tulevat suunnitelmat on jo lyöty lukkoon, joten jäämme odottamaan!

Seuraavaksi oli vuorossa pälavalla Suomen grind-ylpeys Rotten Sound. En olisi ikinä uskonut joutuvani todistamaan Rotiskolta mitään muita kuin hyviä tai erittäin hyviä keikkoja, mutta tällä kertaa päälavan soundit tekivät bändille kyllä todella pahan kepposen. Miksaaja ei saanut koko neljänkymmenen minuutin aikana väännettyä potikoita sellaisiin asentoihin, että lavalta olisi erottunut edukseen mikään muu kuin Sami Latvan bassorumpusoundi – edes virveli ei paukkunut toivotulla teholla. Musiikillisesti keikan teho jäi täysin puolitiehen, mutta onneksi bändi paikkasi tilannetta parhaansa mukaan pitkän kokemuksen tuomalla varmuudella, ja olihan Kiisseli-Keijo oma leppoisa itsensä välispiikeissä. Aivan kuin vaikea keikkatilanne ei olisi jo ollut tarpeeksi, bändin paidat olivat kuulemma myös jääneet matkalle niitä kuljettaneen auton hajottua tielle. Yleisöä kehotettiinkin ostamaan Rotting Christin paitoja, onhan niissä melkein samanlainen bändin nimi. Kesän aiempia keikkoja mukaillut settilista sisälsi hyvässä suhteessa uutta ja vanhaa, ja onpa bändi kaivanut Consume to Contaminate -EP:n ”Decaynkin” mukaan hetkisen soittotauon jälkeen. Pitti pyöri ja yleisöllä oli selkeästi kivaa, joten ei tässä kuitenkaan tyhjin käsin poistuttu paikalta.

Kakkoslavalla aloittavaa Shade Empireä odotin SaariHelvetin kotimaisista esiintyjistä eniten. Suomen aliarvostetuimpiin yhtyeisiin lukeutuva kuopiolaisbändi julkaisi alkukesästä pitkän odotuksen jälkeen Poetry of the Ill-Minded -levynsä jatkona edelliselle Omega Arcanelle (2013), ja Nummirockin kaljatelttaillan keikkakin oli silkkaa mannaa. Odotukset kuitenkin lässähtivät täysin: jos Rotten Sound kärsi huonoista soundeista, kakkoslavan äänikuva teki Shade Empiren seuraamisesta täysin mahdotonta. En ole käyttänyt korvatulppia keikoilla vuosiin, joten koska komppikitara oli niin kovalla ja miksattu niin viiltäväksi että se peitti kaiken muun alleen, tanssilavan sisätiloista oli pakko poistua pihalle kaljajonoon. Sen verran sain moisesta puurosta selvää, että ensimmäinen kappale taisi olla uuden levyn ”Lecter (Welcome)”. Shade Empire kuitenkin selkeästi kiinnosti, sillä tanssilava oli täynnä porukkaa – toivottavasti kaikki poistuivat keikan jälkeen kuuloaisti tallella.

Päälavan kolmas esiintyjä oli Helsingin power metal -ylpeys (tai häväistys, vähän riippuen keneltä kysyy) Battle Beast. Näin bändin livenä ensi kerran debyyttilevynsä Steelin (2011) aikoihin ja vaikutuin bändin tuolloisen laulajan Nitte Valon karismasta. Levyä seuranneen Euroopan-kiertueen jälkeen Valo kuitenkin ilmoitti jättävänsä bändin, eikä hommasta oikein ole tullut sen jälkeen innostuttua, vaikkei nykyinen keulakuva Noora Louhimo ainakaan laulutaidoiltaan jää Valolle yhtään kakkoseksi. Draamaa yhtyeen historiasta ei ole puuttunut, sillä perustajajäsen Anton Kabanen potkittiin muutama vuosi sitten pihalle hämäriksi jääneiden olosuhteiden vallitessa. Lätinä kuitenkin sikseen: miten suoriutui Battle Beast Louhimon kotikaupungissa? Haluaisin sanoa ”todella hyvin”, mutta muiden tänä kesänä nähtyjen Beast-keikkojen tapaan homma jätti ainakin allekirjoittaneen vähän kylmäksi. Paikalla oli paitamuodista päätellen todella paljon bändin faneja, mutta lavalla synisti Janne Björkroth näytti suurimman osan ajasta siltä kuin olisi ollut mieluummin bäkkärillä juomassa kaljaa. Louhimolla, kitaristi Juuso Soiniolla ja basisti Eero Sipilällä oli sentään kova taistelutahto päällä, ja Louhimolle täytyy nostaa hattua: tuona päivänä tuli kuulemma vuosi täyteen ilman alkoholia, ja kaverin kanssa lyöty viidensadan euron veto oli sitä myöten voitettu. Setti painottui selkeästi uusimman Bringer of Pain -levyn biiseihin, ja kyllähän levyltä selkeästi hyväntuulista keikkahittiä löytyy useampikin. Loppuun tosin on pakko esittää täysin ulkomusiikillista kitinää: miksi raahata paikalle näön vuoksi kaksi bassorumpua, jos niistä toinen jätetään mikittämättä ja rumpali polkee niistä tuplapedaalin avulla ainoastaan toista?

Mørket

Festivaalin musiikillisesta linjasta ehkä hieman poikkeava, helsinkiläinen death/black/punk –sekasikiö Mørket joutui toimittamaan taustamusiikkibändin virkaa, sillä ennen Rotting Christia oli pakko pitää ruokatauko. Jos jotain täytyy vielä erikseen SaariHelvetissä kehaista, niin sen ruokatarjontaa: festarimättöjen uudeksi de facto –hinnaksi on tuntunut asettuvan 10 euroa, mutta toisin kuin vaikkapa tämän vuoden Nummirockissa, SaariHelvetissä rahoille sai todellakin vastinetta. Paikalle oli roudattu iso loimulohigrilli ja muurikkapannu, jossa paistettiin ylikypsää possunkylkeä ja falafeleja. Kylkeen annosteltiin spelttipohjaista taboulehia (sipulia, kurkkua, tomaattia, mausteita) sekä tsatsikia, jonka sai halutessaan myös vegaanisena. Kyllä muuten todellakin toimi! Vieressä ollut texmex-tyyppinen kojukin tarjoili hyvänkuuloisia annoksia, eikä makkispekkisten ystäviäkään oltu unohdettu: Viikinsaaren oma kioski myi makkara- ja lihapullaperunoita sangen kilpailukykyiseen 7 euron hintaan.

Vaikka Rotting Christ on vieraillut Suomessa useaan otteeseen, en ole ikinä päässyt tätä Sakis ja Themis Tolisin jo vuodesta 1987 luotsaamaa äärimetallilegendaa livenä todistamaan. Ilta oli jo alkanut hämärtyä kun Rotting Christ nousi lavalle, ja yleisö sai 50-minuuttisen täyslaidallisen yksinkertaisia mutta nerokkaita riffejä ja rumputulta. Bändin mittavalta levytysuralta saatiin kuulla niin uutta kuin todella vanhaa materiaalia: mukana olivat debyyttilevy Thy Mighty Contractin (1993) ”The Sign of Evil Existence” sekä – mikäli en täysin erehdy – jopa ensimmäisen EP:n ”The Forest of N’Gai”. Pidin tuoreinta levyä, Ritualsia, ilmestyessään hieman tylsänä verrattuna edelliseen, loistavaan Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτούhun, mutta livenä varsinkin ” Ἄπαγε Σατανά” toimi loistavasti. Parhaat menorallit oli säästetty loppuun: ensin ”In Yumen/Xibalba” ja setin päätteeksi ”Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”. Oi kyllä! Yleisö oli läpi keikan todella hyvin mukana, ja Sakis Tolis kiittelikin Suomea vuolaasti milloin suomeksi, milloin kreikaksi. Hieno bändi ja hieno keikka, ja tällä kertaa päälavan sounditkin olivat kohdallaan – ilmeisesti Rotting Christilla oli oma miksaaja mukana.

En voi käsittää, miksi tamperelainen samuraimetalliretkue Whispered joutuu edelleen tyytymään festareiden kakkoslavoihin ja pienempiin keikkapaikkoihin. Kaikki ainekset maailmanvalloitukseen ovat olleet kasassa jo kakkoslevy Shogunate Macabresta (2014) lähtien, ja tuorein levy Metsutan – Songs of the Void kiristi ruuvia entisestään. Bändi oli tälläkin kertaa houkutellut tanssilavan täyteen porukkaa, ja pitti pyöri käytännössä läpi koko 40-minuuttisen setin siihen malliin, että päätin varmuuden vuoksi siirtyä mikseripöydän viereen jätetyn terävän mellakka-aidan kulman eteen seisomaan, jottei kukaan pitistä pihalle lentävä joudu sairaalaan. Kotiyleisön edessä esiintymisestä johtuen settilista oli vähintäänkin hämmentävä, sillä mukaan oltiin otettu viime aikoina harvemmin kuultu ”Lady of the Wind” sekä jopa kaksi coveria: Hopeanuoli-animen tunnari sekä Matti Nykäsen (mikäs muu kuin) ”Samurai”. Viimeisenä kuultiin tuttuun tapaan ”Hold the Sword”. Yleisö lauloi biisit mukana ihailtavalla prosentilla ja taputukset irtosivat pyytämättä, joten mitä tässä lätisemään: Whisperedistä tulee saman tien se seuraava iso juttu, jos isompien festareiden promoottorit vain uskaltavat nähdä bändin sotamaalien ja puvustuksen läpi ja ymmärtää, että äijät ovat jo useamman vuoden ajan soittaneet kaiken maailman bodomit suohon. Arvostaisin.

Päälavan annin SaariHelvetissä vuosimallia 2017 sai luvan paketoida Turmion Kätilöt edellisvuoden tapaan. Bändi on ollut aina vähän vaikea aihe, sillä siinä missä Kätilöillä on muutama ihan menevä (vanhempi) ralli, suurin osa tuotannosta ei puhuttele millään tapaa, minkä lisäksi koen bändin keskimääräisen fanin ihmistyypin melko sietämättömänä. Toisaalta en ole vuosiin katsonutkaan kokonaista Kätilöt-keikkaa, joten päätin tällä kertaa antaa tilanteelle mahdollisuuden. Festivaalia juontamassa ollut Tuomas ”Spekkeli” Rytkönen totesikin tilanteen olevan eriskummallinen bändiä lavalle spiikatessaan, sillä vielä vuotta takaperin mies olisi ollut lavan takana odottamassa intronauhan pyörähtämistä. Saku ”Shaq-U” Solin sen sijaan urakoi tänään tuplavuoron, sillä mies ehti olla lavalla jo alkuillasta Fear of Dominationin keulilla. Setti pyörähti lupaavasti käyntiin kappaleella ”Minä määrään”, mutta bändi ei pystynyt pitämään väsynyttä raportoijaa otteessaan loppuun saakka – ei, vaikka ”Pirun nyrkki” olikin mukana setin keskivaiheilla, ja kyllähän sen ”Tirehtöörinkin” mukana lauloi ihan mielikseen. Tie vei takaisin kohti kakkoslavaa setin loppuvaiheilla, sillä nälkä oli päässyt yllättämään uudemman kerran. Matkalla tunnuttiin puhuvan muissa porukoissa yllättävän paljon siitä, etteivät Kätilöiden uudet biisit enää säväytä vanhojen tapaan – tiedä tuosta sitten.

Päivän aikana oli lippuluukulta kiirinyt tieto siitä, että SaariHelvetti oli myyty loppuun, joten makkaraperuna-annoksen tuhoamisen jälkeen alkoi olla jo järkevää lähteä kohti Viikinsaaren satamalaituria, jottei saaresta poistuminen venähtäisi 2000 kävijän pamahtaessa samanaikaisesti jonottamaan. Kakkoslavalla Rytmihäiriö aloitti vielä illan viimeisen keikan, mutta vaikkei paikalta olisikaan ollut ”kiire” poistua, en olisi silti jaksanut jäädä todistamaan bändiä paria kappaletta pidempään. En löydä hc-kohkauksesta sitten yhtään mitään kuuntelemisen arvoista, eikä tanssilava kyllä muutenkaan ollut niin täynnä kuin sen olisi voinut kuvitella olevan. Vaikka lauttajono oli lähemmäs sadan metrin mittainen, se kuitenkin veti nopeasti, sillä uusi laiva saapui laituriin heti kun edellinen oli lähtenyt. Järjestäjät ajoivat paikalle mönkijällä pari nilkkansa nyrjäyttänyttä festarikävijääkin. Sään puolesta ei olisi parempi tuuri voinut sattua, sillä koko päivän aikana saatiin vettä vain muutama tippa, mutta heti kun lautta karahti Laukontorin laituriin, vesisade alkoi siihen malliin että muutaman korttelin päähän kävelyn päätteeksi oli jo litimärkä. Eipähän tarvinnut käydä suihkussa.

Rytmihäiriö

 

SaariHelvetti oli, ainakin näin ensimmäistä kertaa käytynä, kaikin puolin loistava tapahtuma. Viikinsaaren luonto tarjoaa loistavat puitteet yleisötapahtumille, järjestelyt toimivat sen verran hyvin ettei niitä oikeastaan edes paikalla ollessaan huomannut, anniskelualueilla ei loppuunmyydystä tapahtumasta huolimatta tarvinnut juurikaan jonottaa ja bänditarjonta oli mainio. Eniten kuitenkin yllätti vessapolitiikka: saaressa on kaksi vesivessaosastoa, joiden lisäksi paikalle oli raahattu kai ainoastaan kuusi (!) bajamajaa, mutta missään vaiheessa päivää ei esiintynyt vessajonoja, sillä miehet pystyivät suorittamaan nopeammat tarpeensa pusikoihin ilman, että kukaan tuli asiasta huomauttamaan. Ruokapuolenkin ollessa kohdillaan en keksi SaariHelvetistä kerrassaan mitään kritisoitavaa, ja ellei mitään mullistavaa tapahdu puolin ja toisin, tulen melko suurella varmuudella paikalle myös ensi vuonna.

Kuvat: Janne Puronen

SAARIHELVETTI @ Viikinsaari, Tampere, 05.08.2017

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Saarihelvetti-festival at Viikinsaari, Tampere, 2017.
Photos By Janne Puronen.

HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY w/ EVIL DRIVE – Elmun baari, Helsinki, 04.08.2017 (English)

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For some reason, it has been hugely difficult to get excited about new or new-ish metal bands over the last few years. While my taste has become more and more polarized between the more extreme or technical metal and almost ambient music, more traditional metal tunes haven’t found their way to my playlists like before. During last year’s spring, however, a friend of mine had picked up the Austrian band, Harakiri for the Sky, from his Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, and it blew me away instantly – it was almost as if one was listening to a more black metal-ish Insomnium. I ended up buying both their vinyls twice and pre-ordering their third album, III: Trauma, released last fall, the second it became available. I even threw their name on some lists when festivals asked who the crowd would like to see in the summer.

The pleas of myself and many others were answered when Tampere-based Nem Agency announced that Harakiri for the Sky would play at their SaariHelvetti festival in August. The anticipation went through the roof only to fall back down upon the announcement of the timetables, specifying a measly 30 minutes worth of showtime for HftS. Nem managed to turn the situation around with a second show the night before at Helsinki’s Elmun baari, marketing the event with an extra-long setlist compared to the SaariHelvetti set. Of course I eventually attended both shows, but let’s cover Friday night first.

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Considering my upcoming Tampere journey, the showtimes were pleasant, as HFTS was to begin at 22:00, and the Helsinki-Kotka-Hamina-Kouvola –based melodeath/thrash act, Evil Drive  currently working on their sophomore album – was to warm up the stage at 21:00. I got in about 15 minutes before Evil Drive’s showtime, which eventually was delayed to 21:10 due to the pretty scarce audience. The band began their set with their latest single, ”Anti-Genocide”, and the attention was naturally focused on singer Viktoria Viren, delivering vocals that easily hold up against the ladies of Arch Enemy, for example. As the show progressed, Viren did her best to get the audience to participate, ending up being visibly frustrated as the fists only pumped for a short while at a time.

During the show, I found it really difficult to get a hold of the band’s lasting theme, but then again, I can only blame myself for not listening to a single track beforehand. The function of the Indian headdress that Viren wore during ”Anti-Genocide” was left a bit blurry in that moment, but afterwards I looked the song up and found out that it’s about the history of America’s indigenous people. There was a Nazi [ed] Russian army cap on stage at some point, so I guess I should also check out the themes from their debut album. The stage that was set up in Nosturi’s lobby didn’t actually help Evil Drive’s music either, as the space isn’t meant for playing metal shows – the sound was brutal and really bare, badly mushing up Viren’s microphone at times. The spotlights were static as well. Still, the show wasn’t bad in any way – the Motörhead cover, “Killed by Death”, played near the end of the set (possibly on the fly), managed to finally activate the front-rowers, and the band played a couple of to-be-released tracks as well. Having been present at the show, Viren’s primary school -aged son in his large earmuffs served as a nice ending to the show by climbing on stage and shredding a few chords – wonder when his band’s first demo is coming out?

 

And then we waited. On record, Harakiri for the Sky is a two-man band, being known only by their initials: M.S. plays all instruments, J.J. does the vocals. Considering that almost everyone present was certainly a fan of the band, the guys got to smoke their cigarettes on the bar’s terrace surprisingly uninterrupted. The band climbed on stage at about 22:15 with their intro tape playing the sound of rainfall. Things were expectantly kicked off with “Calling the Rain” from III: Trauma, yielding a good deal of accepting nods from the audience. J.J’s voice wasn’t quite on point from the start, but the situation improved as the 11 minute song went on, bringing the much-needed harshness to his bellowing voice.

The man didn’t waste time on speeches, letting the band continue straight to the second album Aokigahara’s “69 Dead Birds for Utøya” and back to the new record with “Funeral Dreams.” The five-piece band played with great synchronization, and their bassist was especially interesting to watch, since he slapped away with his six-stringer without a pick. As the fifth song, HftS made a trip to their self-titled debut with “Dancing on Debris”, and later on, even “Lungs Filled with Water” was played. The set was concluded with the band’s The Best Song™, Aokigahara’s ”Jhator” – the song’s only fault is that the magnificent guitar lead in the end doesn’t go on for longer. As silently as they began, HftS also left the stage and there were no encores, but no one probably would’ve needed more; it was a great set!

 

It’s always unsettling to attend a show from one of your favorite bands for the first time. Will they be as good live as on the records? Will the set include all the good songs? Though I could’ve swapped a couple of tracks from the new record for older ones, Harakiri for the Sky still fulfilled all of my expectations. J.J. clearly isn’t a showman, even appearing a bit shy on stage at times and refraining from making contact with the audience, but (post) black metal isn’t a genre you’d first associate sucking up with. If I’d have to find something to improve from the show, it would be the drummer’s habit of slowing things down for blastbeat passages – every time you tried to mosh away, you’d first have to find out on how much slower you’d need to do it. More practice, I’d say! Judging by next morning’s headache, I had chugged a good deal of beer during the event, making the decision to leave for Tampere by bus instead of by car a really welcome one; I probably couldn’t have made the trip if I’d had to drive myself. A big thank you to Nem Agency for this opportunity – let’s do this again real soon, please!

Photos: Janne Puronen

HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY w/ EVIL DRIVE – Elmun baari, Helsinki, 04.08.2017 (suomeksi)

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Aivan viime vuosina uusista tai uudehkoista metallibändeistä innostuminen on ollut työn ja tuskan takana. Perinteisempää metallijunttaa on tullut kuunneltua koko ajan vähemmän musiikkimaun ääripäistyessä teknisten dödisbändien ja jopa ambientin välillä. Viime vuoden keväällä kaverin Spotifyn Discover Weekly –listalta bongattu, itävaltalainen Harakiri for the Sky vei kuitenkin saman tien täysin mukanaan: aivan kuin Insomnium, jos se soittaisi vähän enemmän black metaliin kallellaan olevaa räimettä. Bändin vinyylit tuli ostettua kahteen kertaan ja viime vuoden loppupuolella ilmestynyt kolmas levy III: Traumakin ennakkotilattua välittömästi. Toivoin bändiä alkukesän festareille esiintymään, turhaan.

Allekirjoittaneen sekä monen muun asiasta Internetissä ääntä pitäneen huutoihin kuitenkin vastattiin, kun tamperelainen Nem Agency ilmoitti Harakiri for the Skyn saapuvan elokuussa järjestettävään SaariHelvettiin. Odotukset ampaisivat saman tien kattoon, mistä ne ropisivat yhtä nopeasti takaisin lattialle kun tapahtuman aikataulut julkistettiin ja HFTS:n soittoajaksi oli määritetty vaivaiset puoli tuntia. Erinomaista pelisilmää osoittanut ohjelmatoimisto paikkasi kuitenkin tilanteen julkistamalla edeltävälle illalle Helsingin Elmun baarissa tapahtuvan keikan, jota etukäteismarkkinoitiin erikoispitkänä verrattuna SaariHelvetin vetoon. Olin lopulta totta kai paikalla molemmilla keikoilla, mutta pureudutaan ensin perjantai-illan antiin.

Kuvagalleria TÄÄLLÄ!
Or read in English HERE!

 

Illan soittoajat olivat seuraavan päivän Tampereen-matkaa ajatellen miellyttävät, sillä HFTS:n oli määrä nousta lavalle kymmeneltä. Illan yhdeksältä aloittavaksi lämmittelijäksi oli valikoitunut helsinkiläis-kotkalais-haminalais-kouvolalainen melodeath/thrash –pumppu Evil Drive, joka työstää parhaillaan kakkoslevyään. Pääsin paikalle noin varttia ennen Evil Driven soittoaikaa, joka tosin myöhästyi lopulta noin kymmenellä minuutilla, sillä yleisöä oli ehtinyt soittoaikaan mennessä paikalle vasta kohtuullisen harvalukuinen joukko. Bändi aloitti settinsä viimevuotisella ”Anti-Genocide”-sinkullaan, ja huomio kiinnittyi luonnollisesti ensimmäisenä vokalisti Viktoria Vireniin, jonka ääni kestää helposti vertailua eräänkin Arch Enemyn keulilla vaikuttaneisiin solisteihin. Keikan edetessä Viren teki parhaansa saadakseen jähmeään yleisöön liikettä, ja lopulta ilmassa oli aistittavissa selkeää turhautumista, kun nyrkkejä jaksettiin puida aina vain hetkisen kerrallaan.

Keikan aikana tuotti eniten vaikeuksia saada kiinni bändin kantavasta teemasta, mutta toisaalta tästä voi allekirjoittanut syyttää vain itseään, sillä en ollut ehtinyt kuunnella ensimmäistäkään kappaletta. Virenin ”Anti-Genociden” aikana käyttämä intiaanipäähine jäi tuossa hetkessä funktioltaan arvoitukseksi, mutta jälkeenpäin sen totta kai tajusi liittyvän kappaleen amerikkalaisen alkuperäisväestön historiaan. Jossain vaiheessa lavalla vilahti myös natsilakki [ed] Venäjään armeijan lakki, joten pitänee kahlata debyyttilevyn teemoja tarkemmin läpi. Nosturin aulaan rakennettu esiintymislavakaan ei varsinaisesti tarjonnut apuja Evil Driven musiikille, sillä eihän tilaa hevikeikkojen soittamiseen ole tarkoitettu; soundi oli rujo ja hyvin paljas, ja paikoitellen Virenin mikrofoni puuroutui pahasti – taustavalotkin olivat staattiset. Ei keikka silti missään nimessä huono ollut; setin loppupuolella (mahdollisesti lennosta) soitettu Motörhead-laina ”Killed by Death” aktivoi eturivin hevikörmyjä kiitettävästi, ja pari tulevan albumin raitaakin kuultiin. Loppukevennyksen keikalle tarjosi paikalla ollut Virenin alakouluikäinen poika, joka viimeisen kappaleen päätteeksi kiipesi Peltorit päässä lavalle ja sahasi pari sointua – jäämme odottelemaan ensimmäistä demoa!

 

Sitten vain odoteltiin. Studiossa Harakiri for the Sky on pelkillä nimikirjaimilla esiintyvien kahden miehen bändi: M.S. soittaa kaikki instrumentit, J.J. taas laulaa. Ottaen huomioon, että keikalle oli lähes varmasti tullut paikalle pelkästään faneja, pojat saivat polttaa röökinsä yllättävänkin rauhassa baarin terassilla. Bändi kipusi lavalle lopulta noin varttia yli kymmenen intronauhan toistaessa vesisateen ääntä. Setti aloitettiin odotetusti III: Trauman ”Calling the Rainilla”, joka kirvoitti yleisöstä runsaasti hyväksyvää nyökyttelyä. J.J:n ääni ei ollut aluksi aivan parhaassa terässä, mutta 11-minuuttisen järkäleen edetessä tilanne parani ja huutoon saatiin mukaan myös kaivattua korinaa.

Välispiikkeihin ei aikaa käytetty, vaan ”Calling the Rainista” siirryttiin suoraan kakkoslevy Aokigaharan ”69 Dead Birds for Utøyaan” ja takaisin uudelle levylle ”Funeral Dreamsiin”. Viisihenkisen bändin yhteissoitto toimi loistavasti, ja eritoten basistia oli ilo seurata miehen peukuttaessa kuusikielistä soittopeliään. Viidentenä kappaleena päästiin jopa ensimmäiselle levylle ”Dancing on Debrisin” myötä, ja myöhemmin kuultiin vielä ”Lungs Filled with Water”. Keikan päätti itseoikeutetusti bändin Se Paras Biisi™, Aokigaharan ”Jhator”, jonka ainoa vika on sen loppuosan upean kitaraliidin loppuminen liian lyhyeen. Bändi ei sanonut mitään keikan päätteeksikään, vaan poistui lavalta, eikä encoreja kuultu. Tällä kertaa niille ei kyllä olisi ollut mitään tarvettakaan, loistava setti!

 

On aina etukäteen hiukan kuumottavaa mennä suosikkibändinsä keikalle ensimmäistä kertaa: onko se livenä yhtä hyvä kuin levyllä? Onko setissä kaikki hyvät biisit? Vaikka olisin voinut pari uuden levyn kappaletta itse vaihtaa muihinkin, Harakiri for the Sky lunasti silti kaikki odotukset esityksellään. J.J. ei selkeästi ole mikään showmies ja vaikutti paikoitellen jopa ujolta lavalla pidättäytyessään kontaktin ottamisesta yleisöön, mutta eipä nuoleskelu (post-)black metaliin kuulukaan. Jos keikasta jotain parantamisen varaa pitää kaivaa, niin rumpalin tapa hidastaa tempoa kappaleiden blastbeat-kohdissa hämmensi – aina kun yritti pyörittää hiuksia, piti hetkisen kuulostella, kuinka paljon hitaammin se pitää tehdä. Lisää treeniä, kiitos! Oluttakin tuli ilmeisesti särvittyä siihen tahtiin, että Tampereelle lähtö bussilla auton sijaan tuli tarpeeseen; ajokuntoa ei todennäköisesti olisi ollut. Kiitos Nem Agencylle tästä mahdollisuudesta, ja otetaanhan pian uusiksi?

Kuvat: Janne Puronen

HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY w/ EVIL DRIVE @ Elmun Baari, Helsinki, 04.08.2017

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Harakiri For The Sky with Evil Drive at Elmun Baari, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos By Janne Puronen.
Read the gig report in English HERE!
Raportti suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!

(2017) The Haunted: Strength in Numbers

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Artist: The Haunted
Album: Strength in Numbers
Release: 25.08.2017
Label: Century Media

 

I’ve been a fan of The Haunted (without knowing it) since I heard “Dark Intentions”, the legendary intro track from …Made Me Do It (2000), when it was used as a jingle on an internet radio station back in 2001. I had no idea at the time that it was a real track from a band until a friend brought the album to work and the band immediately found a new fan in me. By the time Revolver came out, I was ravenous for more, and they did not disappoint.

Fast forward to 2017 – the eagerly anticipated followup to the brilliant (and aptly titled) 2014 album, Exit Wounds, is almost upon us. Strength in Numbers continues where that album left off, while also drawing on the diverse styles of previous releases. All of these (perhaps disparate) elements are tied together with the interwoven thread of Ola Englund‘s [ex-Six Feet Under, Feared] input. I was unfamiliar with Englund until he joined the band, but anyone who doesn’t know his other work should definitely check out Feared (and his YouTube channel). Guitarist Patrik Jensen has commented on the new album that, “You have to throw curveballs every once in a while.” This they have done, but still managed to keep true to the spirit of The Haunted. Englund too has mentioned that he had the opportunity to do a lot more of the writing on this album, so for anyone who is familiar with his work, it’s quite fun to try to pick out where he has had input.

Listen along on Spotify here:

 

The Haunted have a very special relationship with intro tracks. “Fill the Darkness with Black” kicks the album off beautifully, with an amazing – and perhaps surprising – acoustic guitar riff. This leads perfectly into the heavy part and the scene is set. “Brute Force” feels like it would fit in very well on Exit Wounds, but by no means is it a reject from those sessions. This song carries its own weight and plows on mercilessly. The sudden burst of right hand tapping, mid-riff, in the chorus took me by surprise but it all fits really well.

You can see the official music video here:

And Englund’s playthrough here:

The next track, “Spark”, feels for me like it’s going to to become a firm favorite from this album. The clean intro sets up the main riff perfectly. I feel this song has stylistic elements from 2006’s The Dead Eye, and there are also some audible elements that I could only describe as Feared-esque (Synder era).

Check out the official video here:

“Preachers of Death” is going to be doing battle with “Spark” for the title of my favorite track, however. “Preachers” thrashes in with a riff reminiscent of 99 (from 2004’s Revolver), and the chorus seems to have elements that would have fit in well on The Dead Eye (2006). The interlude jumps in out of nowhere and takes you on a brief journey, floating in the air before the solo comes in and takes it even higher. The solo on this one is monstrously epic! This is the longest track on the album, at almost 5 minutes, and goes nearly everywhere. It does come to a bit of a sudden stop at the end, just as the solo is getting going, which is a little odd (hopefully this is just an issue with the promo files and will be fixed on the album itself). Jonas Björler gets a mention here too, as during the clean part before the ending solo, he manages some bass-work worthy of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris.

Next up is the title track, “Strength in Numbers.” Before the first verse, there’s a part that will be great for a round of “AY! AY! AY!” from the crowd in a live setting. There is also an awesome breakdown in the middle that will get the crowd going crazy! Tracks 6-9 all have a very Revolver type of vibe to them. “This is the End” feels almost like a sequel to “Abysmal” – still wish they’d play that one live! You may also notice a nod to “The Guilt Trip” (from The Dead Eye, 2006) at the 1:50 mark. “Means to an End” is a great headbanger. Jensen does some mean chord riffing under Englund’s higher rhythm parts on this one. Meanwhile, “Tighten the Noose” has a super fast riff that hearkens back to “…Made Me Do It.”

The final track, “Monuments”, has a very suspenseful intro which quickly changes into a driving riff that pushes you on through the song. There is a highly emotive solo, full of feeling, and a beautiful, clean interlude that comes in again that I find quite reminiscent of Dream Theater. Englund, is that you again?

I realize I’ve spoken almost exclusively about the guitar parts but this is definitely a guitar-driven album. I should point out that Adrian Erlandsson’s drums are tight and powerful throughout, and Marco Aro’s vocals are absolutely on point.

 

Englund, on his Facebook page, had stated that, “If you like solos, you’re going to love this album” – he’s not wrong! So many bands choose their best track as the first single and then fail to live up to it when the album comes along. This, for me, is an example of how to lead with a fantastic track and then have the rest of the album STILL blow you away. It has also been said that Englund has written quite a lot of this album. As a fan of his material outside of the Haunted, I can certainly see how that is true, but it still sounds like The Haunted I’ve always loved in all of their various guises.

Where Exit Wounds is an immediately accessible entry into the new lineup, Strength in Numbers manages to take that sound and explore new territory whilst still keeping everything relevant. A worthy addition to The Haunted’s back catalogue, one that delivers on every track. Can’t wait to see them on the tour for this album!

Rating: 10/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Fill the Darkness with Black
2. Brute Force
3. Spark
4. Preachers of Death
5. Strength in Numbers
6. Tighten the Noose
7. This is the End
8. The Fall
9. Means to an End
10. Monuments

Text: Marc Taylor

Jolly Roger Festival @ Arena, Wien, 02.08.2017

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Jolly Roger Festival at Arena, Wien, Austria.
Photos by Maria Sawicka

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS (RHCP) – Kaisafest, Helsinki, 29.07.2017

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In spite of having just been here twice last summer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to return to Finland once again this year. The Getaway 2017 Tour came to Kaisafest in Helsinki’s Kaisaniemenpuisto on July 29th, 2017… or perhaps Kaisafest was named because RHCP were returning. Either way, with a few openers on board and a big stage set up, we decided to go and see what the American rockers had to offer!

Stay tuned for the photos and gallery, which will come at a later date.

Listen along with the setlist (minus covers) on Spotify here:

I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of RHCP. I used to listen to them in my teen years, and they’ve certainly got a few good tracks. I enjoy their funky musical style a fair bit, but I’ve never been big on Anthony Kiedis’ vocals – sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don’t. Regardless, they are a bit of a bucket list band, so… why not, right?

 

The park’s set-up was both interesting and not that awesome at the same time. For one, you had to pay extra to access the K18 drinking area, which took up a solid 80% of the area… which means that most people probably paid it. This didn’t stop people from smuggling booze into the cheaper area either though. On one hand, it did mean there was lots of room for the drinkers, but on the other hand, the area available to the under-18s and those uninterested in paying to be in front of the stage were shafted to a place hidden beyond the toilets, without much access to the stage unless you showed up very early. A bit of a ripoff, if you ask me. They also boasted a fancy tented VIP area that had a dining room. Goodness knows how much that cost, but I hope it was worth it, because from within the tented area, you couldn’t really see the stage.

The stage itself was rather unusually embellished – the back-center had a large iron semi-circle (same make as the Heartagram that used to be at Nosturi, for the locals), with a few smaller circles above and on the sides, which had lights all around them. As well, before the show we caught some more light risers going up, with the light techs sitting right up in the rafters of the stage, working the lights manually. That’s some dedication, right there.

The show started at 21:31 sharp, as everyone sans Kiedis came on stage for a warm-up jam. At first I wasn’t certain if this was the show, or if it was just a really good final sound check. In hindsight, it could’ve been both. The show officially kicked off with “Around the World”, and immediately I was not impressed with the vocals. I’m not sure if the sound was unbalanced, but Kiedis and whoever was singing backing vocals were totally out of balance. Over the next few songs this became a consistent problem – Kiedis was either totally out of tune, or he and the backing vocals were completely out of sync with each other. The problem persisted until about “Aeroplane” (give or take a few songs), when they seemed to finally get in the groove of things.

Second up was “Dani California” from Stadium Arcadium (2006), and the last single that I liked enough to be excited to hear, though Kiedis completely failed on the high notes midway through the song. “Scar Tissue” worked pretty well live, though I’ve personally always hated that song. Among those greatest hits, they also played “Californication” (the last song to still have some minor vocal struggles as far as I recall), “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, “Aeroplane”, and “Suck My Kiss.” The crowd wasn’t afraid to show their enthusiasm in any way – nearly everyone there was dancing. I saw preppy blonde girls trying to headbang, and moms rocking out with their kids, and older couples dancing away. Everyone was having a ton of fun. I even saw a few girls get angry because the guards were making them get down from their friends’ shoulders – sad, but pretty standard practice in Finland.

The band wasn’t afraid to jam a bit either and play with their music – Chad Smith got an outro drum solo (and a personal introduction) at the end of “Scar Tissue”, as well as “By the Way.” “Californication” had a long guitar/bass faceoff for an intro, while their cover of Funkadelic’s “What is Soul” had a purely bass intro, though I can’t say I much liked the song otherwise – it was a bit boring and the vocals were just strange. Lastly, of course, Josh Klinghoffer got his own solo during the cover of the Pixies “Debaser”, which opened up the encores. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As for the band, well, if you didn’t look at the screens, you’d wonder if these guys are in their teens, particularly based on how bassist Flea was dressed. The only word I can use to describe it is ‘flamboyant.’ These guys are in their 50s now, but their attire and hair (though perhaps not Kiedis’ thick black ‘stache) all suggest that they haven’t aged a day since their inception (1983 – man, has it been that long?). Their interaction with one another was frequent and good, but the energy seemed to come and go at random. Flea had the most enthusiasm, running to and fro and acting crazy, but even then, he wasn’t like that the entire show. Klinghoffer on guitar was completely on and off, and Kiedis was not much of a frontman – though I’m not actually sure if the band considers Flea their real frontman. If they don’t, maybe they should. Chad Smith, however, was perhaps my favorite part of the band in a live context. He had a great deal of energy and clearly enjoys what he does, as he was all-in, from start to finish (and really does look a lot like Will Ferrell!).

There was a small amount of stage banter, but most of it was bland and/or boring. Flea did most of it, saying hello, talking about peeing his Underdog sheets while discussing how much he loved Underdog as a kid, and commenting on how the pinkness of the setting sun matched the pinkness of someone’s heart, or something to that effect. Most importantly though, he thanked the crowd wholeheartedly for their continued support.

After they said their farewells following “By the Way” (a perfect song to end the set on, incidentally), they returned to play three more tracks, starting with a cover of “Debaser” by the Pixies. This was followed by another new song from The Getaway, “Goodbye Angels”, and then they ended the night with “Give it Away.” I had hoped to see some fireworks or pyrotechnics of some sort during the encore, but on that front I was sadly disappointed. But, I guess that stuff isn’t for every band.

 

On the whole, this was an interesting show and worth seeing once to check off the bucket list. As for the overall quality-to-cost ratio, I definitely don’t think it was worth the 90€+ price tag. You can see bigger and better bands, with higher quality stage setups, for less or equal to that. While the stage and the screens were cool, visually the band offered a mediocre+ show, and musically they pulled through in the end, but at least for me, they only got their shit together vocally once they had already played all of my favorite songs.

One aspect that I do have to give them considerable praise for, however, is the fact that if you look at their setlists from this summer, at least for the past ten gigs or so, there hasn’t been a single repeat set. Every show has featured a differing mix of hits and covers, and I was fortunate enough to get to hear everything I wanted to hear, which isn’t always the case at shows like this.

Overall? I think if you like the band, you’ll like them live. The music holds the standard you’d hope for, and the energy is easily enough if you’re too busy dancing to give them your full attention, and at least on this occasion, most of the people in the crowd fell into that category. I do hope they clean up the vocals a bit, but otherwise, it was worth the one-time go. For myself personally? I doubt I’d go again, but I’m glad I went this once.

Tracklist:
1. Intro Jam
2. Around the World
3. Dani California
4. Scar Tissue
5. Dark Necessities
6. Wet Sand
7. Me & My Friends
8. Go Robot
9. Californication
10. What is Soul (Funkadelic cover)
11. Aeroplane
12. Blood Sugar Sex Magik
13. Sick Love
14. Suck My Kiss
15. Soul to Squeeze
16. By the Way

Encore:
17. Debaser (Pixies cover)
18. Goodbye Angels
19. Give it Away

Photos by Marco Manzi

SAUNA CLASSIC – Eteläpuisto, Tampere, 28-29.07.2017

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Sauna Classic in Tampere was introduced as a successor to the late Sauna Open Air and celebrated for the first time on July 28-29th, 2017. We were curious to see this smaller-scale version, which was advertised as a ‘Heavy Metal Garden Party’, and it did sound very promising with a line-up consisting of some great Finnish bands. Mira and Lene set off to Eteläpuisto to find out if the garden party lived up to its name, and what kind of a show Turisas, Brother Firetribe, Stratovarius, and Ensiferum, among others, would put on for the party people!

Be sure to check out the galleries from Day 1 and Day 2!

 

Day 1 – Friday

One Desire

Lene: While waiting for the other half of our crew to arrive, I checked out One Desire, the newcomers from the west coast. They released their first, self-titled album last March, and play catchy, Reckless Love -like hard rock with some hints of ‘Brother Firetribeness’, for lack of a more descriptive word. The group features members from, for example, Cain’s Offering and the teen metal sensation from a few years back, Sturm und Drang, so they’re not exactly newcomers in the usual sense. However, because of the latter band I mentioned, I did have my preconceptions towards them. On listening to their debut before the festival, I was more than a little skeptical as to whether singer André Linman would be able to pull off the songs nicely, but turns out that he sounds more pleasing live. It makes one wonder why on earth the lead vocals on the album were deep-fried in autotune, but I guess that’s a whole other story. The song material itself is nothing new or special in the scene – in fact, it used pretty much every trick in the AOR book – but the tracks can and will get stuck in your head like bubblegum in your hair. All kidding aside, this bunch was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise to catch live. Linman’s lengthy speeches were amusing, as he expressed in a heartfelt manner how nice it was to play in Tampere again, and took his time to introduce the band, with no jokes left behind from that. I indeed had my doubts but the band left an overall good impression, and I especially enjoyed how the last track of the set, “Buried Alive”, sounded live, being more purely heavy metal than easy-listening hard rock. It’s always nice to get surprised like this, and I hope to hear more catchy tunes with less autotune from these guys in the future.

Shiraz Lane

Mira: As I finally made my way to the festival site, the garden party atmosphere got to me right away. I had a little time to stroll around before Shiraz Lane hit the stage and the festival area seemed to be very cozy. People were hanging out here and there, some in the bar by the lake, some sitting on the grass enjoying their drinks and, of course, a bunch of people were waiting in front of the stage. Personally, I didn’t know much about the band; I only had a vague idea about their style and genre. It was actually quite fun to see the band without knowing what to expect. And damn, if I wasn’t positively surprised! As the band members are quite young, they had the most amazing energy! The boys seemed to enjoy themselves on stage and the audience was having a blast. It might have rained a little at some point, but in the end, it bothered absolutely no one, or if it did, we didn’t notice. The way the band got the audience to jump and sing along was quite brilliant. Towards the end of the set, bassist Joel Alex hopped down from the stage to mingle with the audience in front of the stage, and also went to say hi to the people lounging in the beach bar. The perks of a small festival areas!

New Jersey

The second stage, Cover Garden, was located in the bigger bar area and provided some rather enjoyable background noise for hanging out between the bands on main stage. It almost felt like there were bands playing in your own backyard – as confusing as it was at first, it really was kind of cool. What we saw on Cover Garden stage, was Dear Victims making their tribute to KISS, and New Jersey getting the crowd to sing along to the hits of Bon Jovi. And there were some seriously loud and impressive singalongs happening! Festivals have been getting more into cover/tribute bands in the past couple of years and they do seem to make people gravitate towards smaller stages, as we have noticed at a few festivals. The stage might have been tiny but the songs played there certainly were not. We certainly appreciated the concept of the Cover Garden.

Ensiferum

After a pleasant hang-out in the Cover Garden we headed back toward the main stage where Ensiferum was up next. When it comes to Ensiferum live, they very rarely let you down, and this gig was no exception. There were some backing track mishaps right after the intro, and after a little bit of more or less confused shuffling, the band re-entered the stage in a true ‘like a boss’ manner. The set opener, ”From Afar”, got the audience right on track and during ”Ahti” there was a mini-moshpit – an impressive mini-moshpit, to be exact. ”Stone Cold Metal” and the dish brushes as drumsticks had made a comeback this summer, and yes, the song works ever so nicely! The setlist was leaning a little on the heavier side and the songs were gathered from all of their albums. Solo-wise you can’t not mention Netta Skog and her accordion; what is a Finnish summer festival without ”Säkkijärven Polkka?” – and a very speedy version of it, no less. Naturally, a metal gig needs a bit of disco, which was provided in the form of ”Two of Spades.” The band was having a blast with it and that song never fails to elicit a smile – it might not be a masterpiece but it certainly is very entertaining. ”Lai Lai Hei” ended the set, and as cliché as the song might be, it still works after all these years. Since it’s been taking a break from the regular setlist, it was a nice addition to the festival edition.

Brother Firetribe

The headliner for Friday was Brother Firetribe, who have been celebrating their 15th anniversary and their latest album, Sunbound, that came out earlier this year. While a lot of the festival-goers had been scattered all over the festival area throughout the day, at this point the front of the main stage was packed. The set was built around the new material with some appearances of oldies, such as ”One Single Breath”, ”I’m on Fire”, and ”Heart Full of Fire.” As I had completely neglected to listen to Sunbound, I didn’t know what to expect from the new stuff. And as much as I am digging the older BFT, the new songs did not disappoint. Tracks that stood out for me were ”Shock” and ”Last Forever”, the latter being very classic Brother Firetribe. Since it was late enough in the summer, it was actually dark enough for the lights and smoke effects to be seen properly and weren’t they neat! The only downside was the wind, which kind of ruined the smoke effects a bit, but they were cool nevertheless. The energy on stage was on point, the audience was swimming in good vibes, and the interaction between the band members was, to put it simply, adorable. There was quite a lot of interaction with the audience as well and it seems that singer Pekka Heino hears the most random stuff from the audience and isn’t afraid to comment on it. The set ended with the oldie but goodie, ”I am Rock”, which ended up being stuck in my head for days afterwards. Nothing to complain about though – the song is great. One more notion we had about Brother Firetribe while walking toward the gates to avoid the crowd, was that their outro was clearly the most epic we had heard this summer. Not a bad way to end the night, right?

 

Day 2 – Saturday

Kill With Cover

The second day of the festival started bright and early for us, as the Finnish summer showed us its best side with sunshine and delicious warmth, and early for us as we headed to see the opening act of Cover Garden. We missed most of the Kill With Cover – in their own words, the most ultimate Manowar tribute band in the world – gig in Nummirock and we felt that we need to see full set from them. When I arrived to the festival area, the first thing I saw was a butt. A bare butt, mind you. Yes, this is important to mention, because the drummer of Kill With Cover wears assless leather chaps and a thong on stage, and naturally, the rest of the band was also wearing leather in true Manowar fashion. There were a handful of people ready to witness the true metal in all its glory, and they seemed to be really into it. Even though we’re not too familiar with Manowar, the gig was entertaining and the songs weren’t bad at all. ”Kings of Metal” got the audience quite excited. I have to say though, that for a Manowar tribute, Kill With Cover did not play loud enough, due to sound restrictions. According to Kill With Cover, we were all there for three reasons: booze, sex, and heavy fucking metal. It’s quite hard to argue with that when there are bubbles floating around. Yes, they had a bubble machine, and you can’t get more metal than that!

Run For Cover

After all that ‘true metal,’ it was time for the opening band of the main stage. Run for Cover, fronted by the very talented Netta Laurenne, was the only cover band on the main stage, and they also were only one of the cover bands who didn’t stick with just one band. And really, you can’t go wrong with such classics as Dio, Deep Purple, and Pantera. Their Dream Theater cover was a bit of an unexpected one, since you don’t hear Dream Theater covers too often. At this point, Sauna Classic was totally living up to its name with the heat and classic songs played on stage by amazing musicians such as Rolf Pilve [Stratovarius, Status Minor], Teemu Mäntysaari [Wintersun], Tuomas Yli-Jaskari [Tracedawn], and Vili Itäpelto. With such people on stage, you ca