OPETH w/ HEXVESSEL @ Finlandia-talo, Helsinki, 16.10.2017

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Opeth with Hexvessel at Finlandia-talo, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos by Charlotta Rajala.
Gig report in English HERE!
Lue suomeksi keikasta TÄÄLLÄ!

ENSIFERUM: Two Paths Album Release Gig – The Circus, Helsinki, 13.10.2017

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Ensiferum has always been at their live peak during album release shows, with some of their best including the album release party for From Afar in 2009 and One Man Army in 2015. With that in mind, it seemed like a good idea to check out this show. How would the new material work out live, especially with the new line-up and change in vocal style on this year’s Two Paths?

Photos coming soon.
And listen along to the playlist on Spotify here:

I was on the fence about my feelings toward this gig for quite a while. It took me ages to decide whether or not I would even attend. For one, while From Afar is one of my favorite albums, Unsung Heroes (2012) started strong and fizzled out, and One Man Army (2015) sort of just… never really grasped me over time. As well, I wasn’t a fan at all of the clean vocals in Two Paths, so I was unsure of whether I’m still on the Ensiferum train or not. However, this seemed like a good opportunity to decide if I want to keep up with their live shows or leave them as a fun band to enjoy at festivals.

 

This Friday the 13th proved iffy for the band, as Pete Lindroos (growls, guitar) mentioned to us prior to our interview that he cut his hand, making guitar slightly iffy, and that their sound tech had fallen ill and they needed to use the house staff, which is always a risk. The doors to The Circus opened at an unfortunately late 20:00 (19:00 would’ve been a bit nicer), with Ensiferum’s set starting at a hefty 23:00. As much as I had hoped to see Crimfall and Wolfheart, I had business to attend to, and so returned to the venue at 22:45 to find the merch booth making plenty of sales and an impressive crowd gathered… though I was surprised to note that the show hadn’t sold so well that the upstairs was open.

The show began right on time, starting with a tape of the album’s intro, “Ajattomasta unesta” and then opened into “For Those About to Fight for Metal”, which elicited a great many cheers from the crowd. It was clearly a fan favorite as the first release from Two Paths.

Sami Hinkka (bass) immediately jumped up on the amps and showed that he’s got as much energy as ever, and Markus Toivonen (guitar, vocals) smiled broadly and wagged his tongue out at the crowd. Crowd-pleaser Netta Skog (accordion, vocals) was looking lovely with her blonde hair done up in curls – pretty but not scruffy enough to be very Viking. There were some issues in matching up the vocals, as Skog was a bit over-loud and not quite in harmony with Lindroos.

“Two Paths” sounded excellent musically, as expected based on the album, but vocally sounded blunt and barely in tune, as expected based on the album. Lindroos’ vocals shined though, and he pulled off one difficult-looking extended low growl nicely. They regained my full admiration again with “Two of Spades”, being a newer favorite of mine, and their lively rendition brought a smile to my face as Skog and Toivonen goofed and danced around together and Hinkka let the bass funk reign from atop the speakers. The crowd chimed in during the “hoo-hah” and the Finnish lines, and the fog cannons helped add some style to the visuals. Also, I’ve always loved Enska for their lights – they often pick lighting that matches the song in question’s album art in color, and the blues and greens looked perfect in this track.

“King of Storms” had some surprisingly loud singing along from the crowd, for a new song and not one I’d have expected as an obvious singalong. Lindroos’ growling was again the highlight while the clean vocals were not too bad. Then Hinkka started to play… “Enter Sandman” [Metallica]? I guess it served as short bass interlude before “Treacherous Gods”, but the crowd began rowdy chanting, so maybe they were disappointed it wasn’t the full song. “Treacherous Gods” had some of the most notable parts from Skog’s digital accordion, and the crowd showed their appreciation with a wall of death. “In My Sword I Trust” was one of the better songs off Unsung Heroes and was a fun inclusion even though Lindroos’ vocals were a bit quiet at first.

Hinkka played another bass interlude before “One Man Army” that got the crowd dancing and goofing around again; the title track of 2015’s album proved yet another popular live track. At this point I was surprised how few old songs had been played, but the crowd didn’t seem to care. The female vocals in the back were again a bit out of balance in the mix.

There was an actual interlude then with a recording of “Tumman virran taa” from From Afar before they played “The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne pt. 2)”, which was a welcome surprise as one of their better epics. “Way of the Warrior”, being one of my favorites from Two Paths, was also easily the live highlight of the new material. It’s not a surprise stylistically for Enska the way “Two of Spades” was on release, but feels like such a traditional, good ol’ Ensiferum song, and it’s properly catchy, so what’s really not to like? Beautiful blue and green lights again too.

Perhaps one of the oddest moments of the night was when Skog took the mic and spotlight for “Feast with Valkyries”, a very accordion-heavy track, and did not actually play the accordion. I guess the idea was to focus on singing well, but… all the guys are perfectly capable of singing and playing their instruments and jumping around. It was a nice performance and she sang well… but it felt kind of attention-grabby. To be fair though, an accordion is a lot heavier than a guitar, so perhaps that’s the reason.

The second legitimate interlude was the “Mourning Heart” track played on a full-green stage and the band came in for “Tale of Revenge.” “Victory Song” – another live classic to which I even saw a few happy couples dancing – was announced as the last song before the encore. We were left to guess if they’d play “Iron” or “Lai Lai Hei” after the short break, and Hinkka teased the crowd with a tune know from hockey games. They started up the encore with the always excellent “From Afar”, which sounded kinda cool with the accordion, and finished up with “Lai Lai Hei.”

 

I will have to say that the set was actually quite good on the whole in spite of my issues with the new material. They played most of their best tracks from over the years, even lacking greats like “Token of Time” and “Ahti”, but that’s the way it goes when your song base keeps growing. I’d have liked to leave pre-encore, but they kept dropping good songs and made it impossible to make it out before the crowd. And, considering they didn’t have their regular sound tech, I was glad to notice that the only sound issues I heard were also more or less present on the album too, so I suspect it was pretty close to how they wanted it. I do wonder why Hinkka and Toivonen’s, and even Skog’s vocals are still so much better and well-mixed in older songs like “Victory Songs” than the new stuff though. So, as I said, these guys remain at their best during album release shows, even if my overall approval of their music is waning.

Setlist:
1. Ajattomasta unesta
2. For Those About to Fight for Metal
3. Two Paths
4. Two of Spades
5. King of Storms
6. Treacherous Gods
7. In My Sword I Trust
8. One Man Army
9. Tumman virran taa (tape)
10. The Longest Journey (Heathen Theone pt. 2)
11. Way if the Warrior
12. Feast with Valkyries
13. Mourning Heart – Interlude (tape)
14. Tale of Revenge
15. Victory Song

Encore:
16. From Afar
17. Lai Lai Hei

Photos: Kirsti Leinonen

(2017) Sons of Apollo: Psychotic Symphony (English)

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Artist: Sons of Apollo
Album: Psychotic Symphony
Release: 20.10.2017
Label: InsideOut Music

 

“For Apollo so loved the world that he gave his only 5 sons…” Or in layman’s terms, Dream Theater alumni Mike Portnoy (drums) and Derek Sherinian (keyboards) joined forces with ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan, and one-time Journey frontman Jeff Scott Soto to form a progressive metal supergroup under the banner Sons of Apollo. As a founding member of Dream Theater, Portnoy is surely one of the father figures of the genre, but after his departure from the group in 2010 he hasn’t revisited that style in any of his studio bands until now, so there’s been a certain amount of excitement about his return. Sherinian has been talking about ‘reclaiming the throne’ and taking more or less veiled jabs at his and Portnoy’s former band on Twitter, so it’s time to listen to Psychotic Symphony and see whether the hype is real or if the self-proclaimed new kings have no clothes.

 

To be completely honest, I haven’t actively listened to any of Portnoy’s projects outside of Dream Theater besides OSI, of which he’s no longer a part. Although I feel that DT went downhill towards the end of his tenure, partially because of his increasing control on their direction, it’s not that I hate the guy, but for some reason none of his bands in particular have resonated with me. Now that he’s paired up with Sherinian, whose time with DT was so short that he didn’t get to show his full potential, I wanted to hear whether I’d finally get into something he’s done. The talks about combining modern prog metal with classic hard rock were also intriguing, as that’s an influence that’s unfortunately neglected by a lot of newer bands in the scene.

“God of the Sun” opens the album with sitar sounds and a keyboard solo reminiscent of the intro to Dream Theater’s “Lines in the Sand.” The orientally influenced epic is a great way to kick things off with its soaring chorus and heavy riffs. In the middle it calms down for a while, only to be followed by a complex instrumental section, which along with the song’s structure is reminiscent of latter-day Portnoy-era DT, but doesn’t go totally over the top luckily. Video track “Coming Home” is a straightforward rocker that you can almost imagine playing after a Horatio Caine one-liner, with the opening scream and all. It may not be a groundbreaking tune, but it’s catchy, and the organ and delay guitar break in the middle is nice. The first single, “Signs of the Time” is a fairly standard prog metal song and not that special, but it’s saved by Thal’s fascinating solo.

“Labyrinth” makes me think Sherinian has been listening to Haken lately, as the 80s synths at the 2½-minute mark are like straight out of “1985.” Most likely both have simply been influenced by Vince DiCola, but the similarities are uncanny nevertheless, and this coupled with the forgettable instrumental break in the middle is a letdown, because the song starts out so well. “Alive” is a post-grunge/alternative rock-sounding melodic anthem that’s the closest thing to a ballad on the album, which makes it refreshing and one of the standout songs. “Lost in Oblivion”, on the other hand, is prog metal business as usual – the riffs and melodies are fairly standard, and apart from the album name dropping there’s not much of note here. Sherinian’s organ solo “Figaro’s Whore” leads us into the Deep Purple-influenced “Divine Addiction”, which is like a cousin of “Perfect Strangers.” The vibe and the energy are good on this tune, and I can see it working nicely live. Sadly the album falls flat at the end – “Opus Maximus” may please fans of Sherinian’s Planet X project and those who like their prog super-technical, but I find the 10-minute instrumental rather tedious and self-indulgent, as well as a weird choice to end the album.

When it comes to individual performances, Ron Thal and Derek Sherinian are the star players. Thal in particular surprised me, as I’d never heard his playing before, but he’s an accomplished guitarist whose solos are tonally interesting and not your typical shred or pentatonic licks. Sherinian’s sound palette is wide, with more symphonic and modern sounds than during his Dream Theater tenure, and he has a much bigger role in Sons of Apollo. While Mike Portnoy may be the boss, it’s clear that without Sherinian’s input, Psychotic Symphony wouldn’t sound the way it is. Speaking of Portnoy, he does his job well behind the kit, but despite having played other styles than progressive metal for the past 7 years, he’s still recycling the fills and tricks he was playing in Dream Theater. Whether that makes you feel nostalgic or think he’s stagnated probably depends on how big a fan of the man you are – I find myself leaning towards the latter option. Billy Sheehan’s playing is fine, but I’m not a big fan of his bass tone, as at some points the rumble buries the guitar, the worst offender being the verses of “Coming Home.” Also, most prog bands have a vocalist with a distinctive voice that may split opinions among listeners, but this is where Sons of Apollo fall short a bit – Jeff Scott Soto is a competent hard rock/AOR singer who is the perfect man to sing a track like “Alive”, but in the proggiest moments he comes across as a hired pair of lungs and his voice doesn’t have the kind of uniquity that would elevate the music to the next level.

 

So are Sons of Apollo the saviors of prog metal? Based on Psychotic Symphony I have to say nay, but it’s not a bad start. Due to the lack of ballads and slow moments I find the album a little fatiguing, and “Opus Maximus” comes across as a desperate attempt to one-up both Dream Theater and the new generation of shredders. I find myself enjoying the fivesome’s rocking side though, as it seems to come more naturally from them, and Soto’s vocals in particular work better in that style. I’m a little skeptical about the longevity of supergroups in general, but if these guys get to tour the world, become a tighter unit, and make another record, I can see good things happening.

Rating: 7/10, 3½ stars

Tracklist:
1. God of the Sun
2. Coming Home
3. Signs of the Time
4. Labyrinth
5. Alive
6. Lost in Oblivion
7. Figaro’s Whore
8. Divine Addiction
9. Opus Maximus

(2017) Sons of Apollo: Psychotic Symphony (suomeksi)

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Artisti: Sons of Apollo
Albumi: Psychotic Symphony
Julkaisupäivä: 20.10.2017
Levy-yhtiö: Inside Out Music

 

“Apollo on rakastanut maailmaa niin paljon, että antoi ainoat viisi poikaansa…” Toisin sanoen Dream Theater -alumnit Mike Portnoy (rummut) ja Derek Sherinian (kosketinsoittimet) pistivät ex-Guns N’ Roses -kitaristi Ron “Bumblefoot” Thalin, Mr. Big -basisti Billy Sheehanin ja kertaalleen Journeyn keulilla laulaneen Jeff Scott Soton kanssa pystyyn progressiivisen metallin superryhmän Sons of Apollo. Dream Theaterin perustajajäsenenä Portnoy on yksi genren isähahmoista, mutta bändistä erottuaan hän ei ole päätynyt kyseisen tyylin pariin yhdenkään studiobändinsä kanssa ennen kuin nyt, joten hänen paluunsa on herättänyt jonkinasteista innostusta. Sherinian on puhunut valtaistuimen lunastamisesta takaisin ja heittänyt enemmän tai vähemmän verhoiltuja herjoja entistä bändiään kohtaan Twitterissä, joten on aika kuunnella Psychotic Symphony ja katsoa, onko hype aiheellista vai onko uusiksi kuninkaiksi julistautuneilla vaatteita lainkaan.

 

Jos rehellisiä ollaan, en ole kuunnellut aktiivisesti yhtään Portnoyn Dream Theaterin ulkopuolista projektia, lukuun ottamatta OSI:ta, jossa hän ei enää soita. Vaikka DT menikin hänen aikanaan alamäkeen loppua kohti, osittain hänen vahvan otteensa vuoksi, en inhoa miestä, vaan jostain syystä yksikään hänen bändeistään ei ole erityisesti säväyttänyt minua. Nyt kun hän on lyönyt hynttyyt yhteen Sherinianin kanssa, jonka pesti DT:ssä jäi niin lyhyeksi, ettei hän kerennyt näyttämään kaikeka potentiaaliaan, halusin nähdä joko vihdoin tykästyisin johonkin hänen tuotokseensa. Puheet modernin progemetallin yhdistämisestä klassisen hard rockin kanssa olivat myös mielenkiintoisia, sillä kyseessä on vaikute, jonka harmillisen monet uudet bändit skenessä ovat jättäneet huomiotta.

“God of the Sun” avaa albumin sitar-soundeilla ja Dream Theaterin “Lines in the Sandin” introa muistuttavalla kosketinsoololla. Itämaisilla vaikutteilla höystetty eepos on mainio tapa potkaista levy käyntiin huimine kertosäkeineen ja raskaine riffeineen. Puolivälissä biisi rauhoittuu hetkeksi, vain jatkuakseen monimutkaisella instrumentaaliosiolla, joka kappaleen rakenteen tavoin muistuttaa myöhempää Portnoyn aikaista DT:ia, muttei onneksi mene ihan överiksi. Videoraita “Coming Home” on suoraviivainen rokkiralli, jonka alkukiljaisuineen voisi melkein kuvitella kuulevansa Horatio Cainen repliikin jälkeen. Se ei välttämättä ole mullistava kappale, mutta se on tarttuva, ja puolivälin urku- ja delay-kitaraosuus on antoisa. Ensisingle “Signs of the Time” on aika tavallinen progemetallibiisi eikä sinällään erityinen, mutta Thalin kiehtova soolo pelastaa sen.

“Labyrinth” pistää miettimään, onko Sherinian kuunnellut Hakenia lähiaikoina, sillä kahden ja puolen minuutin kohdalla kuultavat kasarisyntikat ovat kuin suoraan “1985:sta”. Todennäköisesti molemmat ovat vain ottaneet vaikutteita Vince DiColalta, mutta samankaltaisuus on hämmästyttävän suuri, ja tämä yhdistettynä yhdentekevään instrumentaaliväliosaan on pettymys, sillä biisi alkaa erittäin lupaavasti. “Alive” on post-grunge/vaihtoehtorock-henkinen melodinen laulu, joka on levyn annista lähimpänä balladia, mikä tekee siitä piristävän ja erottuvan. “Lost in Oblivion” sen sijaan edustaa jälleen tavanomaista progemetallia – riffit ja melodiat ovat peruskauraa, eikä albumin nimen mainintaa lukuun ottamatta mitään huomioitavaa tapahdu. Sherinianin urkusoolo “Figaro’s Whore” johdattelee deeppurplemaisen “Divine Addictionin” pariin, joka on kuin “Perfect Strangersin” serkku. Biisin tunnelma ja energia ovat hyviä, ja uskon sen toimivan mainiosti livenä. Harmillisesti levy loppuu latteasti: “Opus Maximus” tyydyttänee Sherinianin Planet X -projektin faneja ja niitä, jotka haluavat progensa superteknisesti tarjoiltuna, mutta itse pidän tätä 10-minuuttista instrumentaalia melko pitkäveteisenä ja omahyväisenä sekä outona tapana päättää albumi.

Kun yksittäiset soittosuoritukset otetaan puheeksi, Ron Thal ja Derek Sherinian ovat levyn tähdet. Varsinkin Thal yllätti minut, sillä en ollut kuullut hänen soittoaan aiemmin, mutta hän on pätevä kitaristi, jonka soolot ovat nuottivalinnoiltaan mielenkiintoisia eivätkä tyypillisintä tilutusta tai pentatonista kikkailua. Sherinianin äänipaletti on laaja, sisältäen enemmän sinfonisia soundeja kuin hänen Dream Theater -pestinsä aikaan, ja hänen roolinsa Sons of Apollossa on paljon suurempi. Vaikka Mike Portnoy ehkä onkin pomo, on selvää ettei Psychotic Symphony kuulostaisi tällaiselta ilman Sherinianin panosta. Portnoysta puheen ollen, hän hoitaa hommansa kannujen takana hyvin, mutta vaikka hän onkin soittanut ihan muuta musiikkia kuin progressiivista metallia viimeisten seitsemän vuoden ajan, hän kierrättää samoja fillejä ja temppuja kuin Dream Theater -aikoinaan. Se, tekeekö tämä nostalgiseksi vai saako se pitämään miestä kaavoihin kangistuneena riippunee siitä, kuinka suuri miehen fani on – itse kallistun jälkimmäiseen vaihtoehtoon. Billy Sheehanin soitossa ei ole vikaa, mutten erityisemmin innostu hänen bassosoundistaan, sillä paikoitellen sen jyrinä hautaa kitaran alleen, pahimpana esimerkkinä “Coming Homen” säkeistöt. Lisäksi siinä, missä useimmilla progebändeillä on laulaja, jolla on mahdollisesti mielipiteitä jakava omalaatuinen ääni, Sons of Apollo ei ihan onnistu: Jeff Scott Soto on osaava hard rock/AOR -solisti, joka on mies paikallaan “Aliven” kaltaisissa kappaleissa, mutta progressiivisemmissa biiseissä hän kuulostaa lähinnä palkatulta sessiokeuhkoparilta, eikä hänen äänessään ole ainutlaatuisuutta, joka nostaisi musiikin seuraavalle tasolle.

 

Ovatko Apollon pojat progemetallin pelastajia? Psychotic Symphonyn perusteella vastaukseni on kieltävä, mutta aloitus ei ole hassumpi. Balladien ja hitaiden hetkien puutteen vuoksi levy on putkeen kuunneltuna hieman väsyttävä, ja “Opus Maximus” tuntuu epätoivoiselta yritykseltä päihittää Dream Theater ja uuden sukupolven tiluttajat teknisyydessä. Nautin kuitenkin viisikon rokkaavasta puolesta, sillä se tuntuu heille luontaisemmalta, ja varsinkin Soton ääni toimii kyseisessä tyylissä paremmin. Olen hieman skeptinen superkokoonpanojen pitkäikäisyyden suhteen, mutta jos nämä tyypit kiertävät maailmaa, hitsaantuvat tiiviimmin yhteen ja tekevät toisen levyn, uskon parempaa olevan luvassa.

Arvosana: 7/10, 3½ tähteä

Kappalelista:
1. God of the Sun
2. Coming Home
3. Signs of the Time
4. Labyrinth
5. Alive
6. Lost in Oblivion
7. Figaro’s Whore
8. Divine Addiction
9. Opus Maximus

(2017) VUUR: In this Moment We are Free – Cities

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Artist: VUUR
Album: In this Moment We are Free – Cities
Release: 20.10.2017
Label: InsideOutMusic

 

We at Musicalypse have known and loved Anneke van Giersbergen for many years and many projects, from The Gentle Storm and Ayreon, back to The Gathering, and onward to pretty much anything she’s ever done with Devin Townsend. However, the one thing that’s never quite clicked has been her solo music, at least for me personally; so when the band VUUR was announced, anticipation ensued! Not only was the legendary vocalist going to be heading back into heavy waters with her music, but she had some of Ayreon’s absolutely fantastic musicians with her, including the incredible Ed Warby on drums, Jord Otto and Ferry Duijsens on guitars, and Johan van Stratum on bass. Do any of those names sound familiar? They might, if you’ve been following any of Arjen Lucassen/Ayreon‘s work in the past few years.

VUUR’s debut album, titled In this Moment We are Free – Cities, promised eleven tracks that would in some way capture the spirit and/or feeling of cities that van Giersbergen has traveled to throughout her life. The songs may be about the vibe she gets from a place, the history, or another significant event, meaning the album should be a bit of an adventure. As I have complained on many occasions in the past, I wish promo albums came with lyrics, because it would help so much more to get a feel for the songs.

Check out the recent interview that Vincent did with van Giersbergen over HERE!

 

The album opens with “My Champion – Berlin”, which you should know by now from its music video. It starts with some straight-up oldschool heavy guitars, and the vocals are immediately that style of ethereal beautiful that only van Giersbergen can manage. There is a ton of vibrato, and they’re not afraid to slow it down a bit towards the end.

An even heavier intro starts “Time – Rotterdam”, which is the only city from her home country (the Netherlands) on the album. There is a mention of “days gone by” in the lyrics, which may somehow tie into “Days Go By – London”, or could just be a coincidence. This song sticks to a fairly simple formula, and is perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be. “The Martyr and the Saint – Beirut” stands out as one of the most unique tracks on the album with great variation in vocals with beautiful layering. The rhythm guitars feel familiar, while the proggy heavy sound of this song is really nice overall.

Another one of the better songs is “The Fire – San Francisco”, where she does some wonderful parts, doing some sort of up-and-down vocals with almost Devin Townsend Project-esque vocals in the back (by that I refer to her parts from DTP, as styled by Townsend), and then goes on to hit some absolutely gorgeous high notes. “Freedom – Rio” is a more traditional heavy rock/light metal song and manages to come across as one of the most beautiful songs on the album without exactly being what I’d call a ballad. This song also has the titular line, “In this moment we are free” accompanied by some catchy, gentle guitar, and the vocal layering becomes similar to some of van Giersbergen’s parts in Ayreon songs.

The first song that the band had released was the aforementioned “Days Go By – London.” I think this song works as a pretty good introduction to the album on the whole, expressing the band’s sound fairly accurately. The guitar sound from the beginning you’ll hear already before this song, and while it’s not the best song on the album, it shows off a lot of what they’re about.

“Sail Away – Santiago” is another basic hard rock/metal song, and one of the least notable tracks on the album. “Valley of Diamonds – Mexico City” has an almost Goth/alternative-rock intro and stays as a rather catchy rock song without dipping too deep into the heavy aspects. Bonus points here to the varying rhythms that Ed Warby is able to maintain so effortlessly, and for the guitar solos yet again.

Finnish locals are likely most excited for “Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki”, especially considering how Finland is not exactly known for light. It’s only a theory, but I suspect she might be talking about the people and their beauty, rather than the actual physical light the country lacks in winter. The intro to this one is more orchestral than anything yet, yet maintains the heavy rhythmic guitars and wonderful layered vocals that the rest of the album boasts. I’m not sure if I like this one a lot objectively or subjectively. It’s one of the more unique songs, so perhaps it’s a bit of both.

The album starts its wind-down with “Save Me – Istanbul”, which has an appropriate hint of eastern music in the lead guitar line that helps it stand out a bit. The song hits its peak power around 3 minutes in and when van Giersbergen sings “save me” it sounds like a choir of her – cool. The album then ends with “Reunite! – Paris”, which is by far the slowest song, and also one of the most lovely, building up to a fairly good finale to the album.

 

The one problem I’ve had a bit with van Giersbergen’s solo music is that the songs tend to be a bit indistinguishable from one another. This problem persists a bit on this album – the sound in itself is very diverse, but the songs still all fit the band’s style so well that they become a bit same-sounding if you don’t pay attention. The solos are fantastic, but sometimes the songs get a bit repetitive and could maybe use one chorus fewer. As well, the album maintains a fairly steady page throughout, never particularly kicking up the energy or turning it down until the end. That said, the album has a lot of passion and the musicianship is excellent across the board. I suspect that if you’re a fan of her voice in general or if you’re a bigger fan of her solo stuff than I have been, you’ll love this new, heavy album. And even if you’re not a big fan of her solo material, I’d recommend giving this a play-through or at least seeing it live, as I think I enjoyed it even more at Tuska this year than on the album itself.

Rating: 8/10, 4 stars.

Tracklist:
1. My Champion – Berlin
2. Time – Rotterdam
3. The Martyr and the Saint – Beirut
4. The Fire – San Francisco
5. Freedom – Rio
6. Days Go By – London
7. Sail Away – Santiago
8. Valley of Diamonds – Mexico
9. Your Glorious Light will Shine – Helsinki
10. Save Me – Istanbul
11. Reunite! – Paris

(2017) Daniel Cavanagh: Monochrome (English)

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Artist: Daniel Cavanagh
Album: Monochrome
Release: 13.10.2017
Label: Kscope

 

Daniel Cavanagh is known as the main songwriter of Anathema, and therefore he’s not the first person you’d expect to release a solo album. On top of that, his main band’s latest album, The Optimist, was released less than half a year ago, which makes the question ‘why now?’ even more relevant. According to Cavanagh himself, the material would’ve been strong enough for Anathema, but the songs are, “So personal as to not need more input.” Having followed Anathema for 6 years, I was curious to hear how he would do on his own, so Monochrome was a must-listen for me.

 

Opening track “The Exorcist” shares its name with the horror film, but the music is far from terrifying – instead it’s like a beautiful cross between “One Last Goodbye” and “Untouchable, Pt. 2”, while standing on its own. What took me by surprise were Cavanagh’s vocals, as he sings the latter half in a higher register than usual. As a singer, he’s always been overshadowed by his brother Vincent and Lee Douglas in his main band, but “The Exorcist” is his strongest performance to date, as well as one of the best songs he’s ever written – his signature lead guitar playing at the end is the icing on the cake. “This Music” introduces Cavanagh’s past touring partner, Dutch siren Anneke van Giersbergen on guest vocals for the first time on the record. I enjoy the call-and-response approach between van Giersbergen’s somnolent vocals and Cavanagh’s subdued delivery when they sing “Just this song, just this music.” The wonderful “Soho” is like a musical triptych: at first van Giersbergen sings alone, only accompanied by the piano, after which the pace picks up, she and Cavanagh duet, and at the end, things wind down and Cavanagh is left alone, with only piano and keyboards in the background once again. The whole song is so picturesque, like two soulmates meeting in the night briefly before going their own ways.

The instrumental “The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours” is the first big departure from the Anathema sound, as the early piano runs have a touch of classical music, while in the second half there are wordless vocals reminiscent of Mariusz Duda’s Lunatic Soul project and some 70s prog-style spacey synth leads, as well as a burst of guitars. What an epic track! “Dawn” is another atypical piece, as the combination of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, violin (played by Anna Phoebe, who has performed with Anathema before), and the upbeat rhythm makes it quite folky and almost Celtic-sounding. The lush “Oceans of Time” is another duet with van Giersbergen, featuring strong vocals from Cavanagh and a slight throwback to “Fragile Dreams” in one piano melody, although it’s so subtle that it may not have been intentional. On the closing instrumental, “Some Dreams Come True”, there’s presumably Cavanagh’s own child’s laughter, which is a sweet way to conclude the album.

 

Monochrome is slightly stripped down compared to Anathema’s latest works, and the piano dominates the music, but there are big buildups here as well. Cavanagh’s wailing leads likewise make plenty of appearances, which is a positive thing, as there hasn’t been a lot of them on Anathema’s albums lately. “The Exorcist” is by far the best song on the record in my eyes, but instead of making the rest of the album pale in comparison, which is a typical problem with strong openers, it sucks you in and just makes you want to listen to the whole record. Monochrome sounds relaxed, yet passionate at the same time – it’s as if Cavanagh knew that not many would expect a solo album from him, so he’d have full freedom to record personally meaningful songs and explore some slightly different sounds with no external pressure. This music (no pun intended) is best listened to in the quiet hours of the night, and I’d dare say Monochrome is the most satisfying and consistently great album Cavanagh has made since 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here.

Rating: 9/10, 4½ stars

Tracklist:
1. The Exorcist
2. This Music
3. Soho
4. The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours
5. Dawn
6. Oceans of Time
7. Some Dreams Come True

(2017) Daniel Cavanagh: Monochrome (suomeksi)

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Artisti: Daniel Cavanagh
Albumi: Monochrome
Julkaisupäivä: 13.10.2017
Levy-yhtiö: Kscope

 

Daniel Cavanagh tunnetaan Anatheman pääasiallisena lauluntekijänä, joten häneltä ei ihan ensimmäisenä odottaisi sooloalbumia. Lisäksi hänen pääbändinsä viimeisin julkaisu, The Optimist, näki päivänvalon alle puoli vuotta sitten, mikä tekee kysymyksen “miksi nyt?” vielä relevantimmaksi. Cavanaghin itsensä mukaan materiaali olisi ollut riittävän vahvaa Anathemalle, mutta kappaleet olivat niin henkilökohtaisia, etteivät ne tarvinneet muiden panosta. Seurattuani Anathemaa kuuden vuoden ajan olin kiinnostunut kuulemaan, millaista jälkeä hän saisi aikaan omillaan, joten Monochrome piti tietenkin katsastaa.

 

Avausraita “The Exorcist” ei nimestään huolimatta ole kauhuleffamainen teos – sen sijaan kyseessä on kuin kaunis risteytys “One Last Goodbyeta” ja “Untouchable, Pt. 2:ta”, joka kuitenkin seisoo omilla jaloillaan. Cavanaghin laulu yllätti minut, sillä hän laulaa toisen puoliskon korkeammassa rekisterissä kuin yleensä. Laulajana hän on aina jäänyt veljensä Vincentin ja Lee Douglasin varjoon, mutta “The Exorcist” on hänen vahvin laulusuorituksensa koskaan ja yksi hänen parhaista kappaleistaan – miehen tavaramerkkikitaraliidit biisin lopussa ovat kirsikka kakun päälle. “This Music” esittelee ensimmäistä kertaa levyllä Cavanaghin aiemman kiertuekumppanin, hollantilaisen seireenin Anneke van Giersbergenin vierailevana solistina. Hänen raukean laulunsa ja Cavanaghin hillityn tulkinnan välinen vuorottelu heidän laulaessaan “just this song, just this music” on nautinnollista kuunneltavaa. “Soho” on kuin musiikillinen triptyykki: aluksi van Giersbergen laulaa yksin pianon säestyksellä, sitten tahti nopeutuu hieman ja hän ja Cavanagh duetoivat, ja lopussa kappale rauhoittuu ja Cavanagh jää yksin laulamaan, jälleen vain pianon ja koskettimien soidessa taustalla. Koko kappale on hyvin kuvauksellinen – kuin kaksi sielunkumppania, jotka tapaavat pikaisesti yössä ja menevät sitten omia polkujaan.

Instrumentaalinen “The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours” on ensimmäinen iso irtiotto Anathemasta, sillä alun pianojuoksutuksissa on klassisen musiikin sävyjä, kun taas jälkimmäisessä puoliskossa kuullaan Mariusz Dudan Lunatic Soul -projektin mieleen tuovaa sanatonta laulua, 70-lukulaisia avaruusprogesyntikoita ja kitaroiden jyrinää. Melkoinen eepos! “Dawn” on toinen epätyypillinen sävellys: akustisen näppäilyn, viulun (soittajana Anna Phoebe, joka on aiemmin esiintynyt Anatheman kanssa) ja menevän rytmin yhdistelmä nimittäin tekee siitä melko folkahtavan ja lähes kelttiläisen kuuloisen. Upealla “Oceans of Timella” Cavanagh duetoi jälleen vahvasti van Giersbergenin kanssa, ja mukana on pieni viittaus “Fragile Dreamsin”, vaikka se onkin niin hienovarainen, ettei se ole välttämättä tietoinen ratkaisu. Lopetusinstrumentaalissa “Some Dreams Come True” kuullaan oletettavasti Cavanaghin oman lapsen naurua, mikä on kaunis tapa päättää albumi.

 

Monochrome on hieman riisuttu verrattuna Anatheman viimeisimpiin julkaisuihin, ja piano on vallitsevana elementtinä musiikissa, mutta mukana on myös jonkin verran paisuttelua. Miellyttävää on myös se, että Cavanaghin ulvovia kitaraliidejä kuullaan useaan otteeseen, sillä niitä ei ole kuultu järin runsaasti Anatheman albumeilla viime aikoina. “The Exorcist” on ehdottomasti levyn paras kappale, mutta sen sijaan että muut biisit kalpenisivat sen rinnalla, mikä on vahvojen avausten tyypillinen ongelma, se imaisee mukaansa ja saa haluamaan kuunnella koko albumin. Monochrome kuulostaa rennolta, mutta silti intohimoiselta – aivan kuin Cavanagh olisi tiennyt, että harva odottaisi häneltä soololevyä, joten hänellä olisi täysi vapaus äänittää itselleen tärkeitä kappaleita ja kokeilla hieman erilaisia vaikutteita ilman ulkopuolisia paineita. Tällainen musiikki kuulostaa parhaalta yön hiljaisina tunteina kuunneltuna, ja rohkenen väittää Monochromen olevan tasalaatuisuudessaan paras albumi, jonka Cavanagh on tehnyt sitten vuoden 2010 We’re Here Because We’re Heren.

Arvosana: 9/10, 4½ tähteä

Kappalelista:
1. The Exorcist
2. This Music
3. Soho
4. The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours
5. Dawn
6. Oceans of Time
7. Some Dreams Come True

(2017) Hallatar: No Stars Upon the Bridge

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Artist: Hallatar
Album: No Stars Upon the Bridge
Release: 13.10.2017
Label: Svart Records

 

As some of you likely know already, the tragic origin of Hallatar is far from usual. After the untimely passing of singer-songwriter Aleah Starbridge last year, her partner Juha Raivio [Swallow the Sun, Trees of Eternity] gathered poems and lyrics she had written, and during one week’s time wrote music that would become Hallatar’s debut album. The band’s line-up was completed with former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick and Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis on vocals, both of them saying yes to the project before hearing a single note of the music. Without any changes made to its songs after they were written, No Stars Upon the Bridge stands as an unfiltered, harrowing journey into bereavement.

I thought for a long time about how to even begin this review, because casual doesn’t feel like the right way to go. I seem to have a pattern forming in reviewing a doom album every fall, with Trees of Eternity’s The Hour of the Nightingale last year, and now this year with Hallatar. Both of these are albums that evoke a wide array of thoughts, but only a little in actual words, and finding the right words is my job here.

 

In the same way I looked for a way to start this text, I also looked for opportune moments to listen and really focus on the album, but as it turned out, it’s rarely a perfect time for anything like that. That in turn led into thinking of an analogy to describe the sound on No Stars Upon the Bridge; if The Hour of the Nightingale was like mentally preparing yourself to face something ahead, Hallatar’s debut sounds like when the actual blow hits you. That is present especially on the first track, “Mirrors”, and peaks from time-to-time throughout the album. Musically, it’s not Swallow the Sun nor Trees of Eternity – Hallatar dives deeper into the voids of doom, and while you can easily recognize Raivio’s hand in the music, the trademark sound is a touch subtler than in the aforementioned two bands, giving way for the needed approach.

When it comes to the completing pieces of the lineup, Tomi Joutsen is clearly a perfect match for the music, along with visiting vocalist Heike Langhans [Draconian], whose calming, whispering voice is heard in the upcoming video track, “My Mistake”, and in spoken tracks “Raven’s Song”, “Pieces”, and “Spiral Gate.” Those who are used to Joutsen’s singing in Amorphis might be in for a bit of surprise, as on No Stars Upon the Bridge, the vocalist covers a wider range of harsh styles, from outright cries and rattles to the more familiar growl. His vocals channel raw emotions in a way that is teetering on the edge between disturbing and purging, shaking out the listener’s own frailties with ease. On the other hand, his soothing clean vocals are the highlight of tracks like “Severed Eyes”, complemented by acoustic guitars, and in their lamenting softness is something one doesn’t get to hear too often with Amorphis.

Still on the topic of vocals, I didn’t really expect to hear Aleah’s voice on this album, and was extremely happy to hear her in the closing track, “Dreams Burn Down”, which has become one of my favorite songs that have been released this year. Her lyrics are again poignant and beautiful, with a touch of the kind of personal that resonates in others, wonderfully complementing the different sort of moving that is presented in the music on this album. While the poems and writings have as otherworldly an air as her singing, they tread through thoughts that are deeply humane and recognizable, and by that, unexpectedly comforting. Aside from that, reading them and listening to the last track made me want to put The Hour of the Nightingale on for a few spins after some time.

There’s one thing that this album makes painfully clear and worth remembering: grief is hardly ever beautiful in the usual sense of the word, nor is there anything to glorify about it. When you lay it out in the open, it’s not like something out of a romantic movie or book – it might look ugly on the surface, but conventional beauty is not exactly written in grief’s description. As such, No Stars Upon the Bridge is like a black hole of sorrow; but despite their name, black holes and the space around them are not completely devoid of light, and neither is this album. It may be small and it may be fleeting, but that light is still present in what would otherwise be a crushing whorl of darkness.

 

As a final thought, this is an album that gets to you little-by-little – even though the delivery is heavy-handed, it’s not aggressive or demanding attention to itself. It will get that anyway, and while it doesn’t demand, it does need attention – or at least a bit of non-rushed time – to thrive. That being said, it’s not an album for everyone. It doesn’t try to be easy to approach or process (as it shouldn’t try) and some won’t find anything appealing in it no matter how hard they try. From another point of view, it can and will become extremely personal at times – essentially, this is what losing a loved one sounds like, to the letter.

It’s not the first time I’ve said, and likely will not be the last, but I hate having to give a numeral rating or stars to an album like this. For one, I don’t see much point in it because I don’t have a clear base to refer to (as my more active doom listening days are long past), and secondly, I simply don’t want to. From my opinion, with or without rating, here’s a piece I wish people will find and experience.

Rating: 9/10, 4.5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Mirrors
2. Raven’s Song
3. Melt
4. My Mistake (feat. Heike Langhans)
5. Pieces
6. Severed Eyes
7. The Maze
8. Spiral Gate
9. Dreams Burn Down (feat. Aleah Starbridge)

(2017) Cyhra: Letters to Myself

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Artist: CyHra
Album: Letters to Myself
Release: 20.10.2017
Label: Spinefarm Records

 

When one door closes, they say another opens, and that was true for Jake E. [ex-Amaranthe], Jesper Strömblad [ex-In Flames], Peter Iwers [ex-In Flames], and Alex Landenburg [ex-Rhapsody, ex-Annihilator]. This group of well-known artists have come together to create a band known as CyHra (‘sigh-rah’ for those of you who haven’t heard it pronounced out loud yet) after leaving their respective bands. They also recently announced a new member, who had helped out with some of their solos on the album: Euge Valovirta [ex-Shining].

I’m not sure about you guys, but I have been massively hyped about this band since I learned of their existence. I liked Amaranthe once upon a time, but on the release of Maximalism last year, I’ve pretty much given up hope that they’ll be good without Jake E. Meanwhile, In Flames hasn’t really been good for nearly 10 years, which incidentally coincides with the time when Jesper Strömblad was still a member. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. I have wanted this album, but more than that, I have had some really high hopes for it, needing it to be great so I can let go of those two bands who lost their ‘it’ value.

What is further interesting about this is the sound potential. I mean, let’s be real for a minute – Amaranthe and In Flames are pretty much on opposite ends of the ‘metal’ spectrum (if you can even call the former a metal band anymore). How will Jake E.’s polished and produced clean vocals work with the kickass riffing and heavy rhythms of the ex-In Flames guys? With power metal classic Alex Landenburg on board and hardcore heavy guitarist Euge Valovirta, that gap could be pretty effectively bridged.

Check out the first single on Spotify here:

The album opens with “Karma”, which I’ve become fairly familiar with by now, as it was released in the end of August. The song immediately feels like good old nostalgic In Flames, with riffing that is very clearly Strömblad’s. I actually got a big thrill on hearing it, knowing that sound could be back once more. The vocals come in and the contrast is pretty stark – you have the classic mid-era In Flames guitar song matched with a bit of an overly-produced, overly-clean sound. On the whole it actually doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit of a shock on the first few listens. I do think that the song would benefit from a bit less polish in the vocals – Jake could use a bit of grit in his voice to allow the sounds to blend together a bit more cohesively.

In the end, this does sound a bit like more of a mix of In Flames and Amaranthe than the album as a whole, and thus slightly misrepresents the album. However, I understand why they would include a song like this, and put it up front – this is to get fans of the band members’ old music excited for the album and ready for this new thing. In fact, this song is possibly the least original track on the album, and the rest of the music is far more unique.

“Heartrage” has a nice heavy intro with some good drum rolls, and a bit less polish in the vocals, so it’s already better than the single, and peaks with a nice, powerful chorus. The hints of pop are downtuned from “Karma” already, but Jake E.’s influence is still clearly there. “Here to Save You” starts slow but doesn’t hide its electronica, which acts as a backing sound rather than a ‘focal’ point, which I think works quite well. There are some progressions in there that sound familiar from some Amaranthe songs, though they’re in there so sparsely that it’s not bothersome.

“Muted Life” has a good feel to it and the layered vocals in the chorus combat the over-polished sound to even things out. I like the way Jake E. sort of whisper-sings in the verses as well. “Closure” has some classic Strömblad guitars and dark melodies, but with a modern and revitalized feeling. Again, this still isn’t In Flames and I mean that in a good way. The passionate chorus makes this feel like a fantastic song to raise some lighters to in a dark live setting – as far as ballads go, this is a definite winner.

The album turns up the heavy then with “Letter to Myself”, while “Dark Clarity” does a great job of blending disco rhythms with metal. As well, these songs have a lot of emotion packed into them, which comes across powerfully via the vocal strength of Jake E. A lyric sheet might have been nice for this album, as songs like “Holding Your Breath” have a lot of feel to them and I’d love to get into it more here, but I’d need to be certain of the lyrics. As well, the phantom was actually quite surprised that all of the vocals were done by Jake E., as he hits some impressively high notes.

“Black Wings” and “Inside a Lullaby” start the wind-down, with the former using the last of the high energy, and the latter as another ballad that blatantly shows off Jake E’s talent. Both ballads on the album are beautiful, but with the addition of some gorgeous piano, this one truly soars. The most risky and unusual song on the album is by far “Dead to Me”, which has a spoken-word part that sounds a bit like it belongs in a hip-hop song. It’s actually a pretty good song on the whole, though I’m still uncertain as to whether I like the spoken parts or if they distract from how good the rest of the song is.

 

For fans who are hoping to hear a blend of Amaranthe and In Flames and nothing more, I suspect you’ll be satisfied with this album. However, if you hold these guys to a higher standard and hope to get something that has the feel of both In Flames and Amaranthe, yet is its own unique sound with an entirely different vibe from either predecessors, then you will, I think, be quite happy with this band. CyHra has the emotional charge of bands like Linkin Park with the musical maturity of the best heavy Gothenburg metal, making this a fantastic debut. A lot of music gets ruined by bands who want to write tunes but have nothing to say, or the bands might have something to say but not the musical originality to back it up. Cyhra has both aplenty. The album on the whole is very diverse, with upbeat tracks interspersed with milder pacing and beautiful ballads. I’d definitely recommend giving it a listen.

Rating: 9/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Karma
2. Heartrage
3. Here to Save You
4. Muted Life
5. Closure
6. Letter to Myself
7. Dark Clarity
8. Holding Your Breath
9. Rescue Ride
10. Black Wings
11. Inside a Lullaby
12. Dead to Me

ARCH ENEMY w/ JINJER @ The Circus, Helsinki, 01.10.2017

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Arch Enemy with Jinjer at The Circus, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos by Janne Puronen.
Full gig report HERE!

ARCH ENEMY w/ JINJER – The Circus, Helsinki, 01.10.2017

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The Swedish melodic death metal group Arch Enemy has enjoyed immense acclaim and popularity in their modern incarnation. Though some may still miss the valkyrie-esque Angela Gossow, the fans have had two albums to get used to new vocalist Alissa White-Gluz from Canada. In addition, the new line-up also includes a veritable guitar god from America, Jeff Loomis, most known from Nevermore. The term “Swedish” is staring to feel loose. Their last two albums have been massively popular, the newest of which, Will to Power, came out just this September, landing in at #2 on the Finnish album sales charts. Therefore, it was no surprise that their show at The Circus was sold out.

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

Strangely enough, I’d never seen Arch Enemy before. I’d heard some of their stuff in the early ’00s but it failed to reach me and therefore I never really followed up on them. Then since their resurgence with War Eternal, when everyone was hyping on them, I felt the need to check them out. Though maybe not the most innovative record in existence, it was a solid melodic death metal romp done with great attention to detail and atmosphere. I did since discover more of their classic material but I fear I will always be a rookie when it comes to these guys. Obviously I was very excited to see them live for the first time and was hoping they’d play at least some songs I’d recognize.

 

From 19:00 when the doors open and on, there was a continuously long queue to get in. This tends to happen when The Circus is sold out. The first wave of fans swarmed the merch stand so that the most popular sizes sold out within the hour. I wasn’t sure if this was a sign they had been unprepared or if the fans had just been particularly enthusiastic. The most popular shirts were the ones with the album cover on them. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it that much but ever since I got the LP I it really opened up to me. It had a sort of emblem that was kind of at war with itself.

The opening act was a Ukrainian metalcore group called Jinjer. Before they took the stage, an intro tape riled up the crowd, who tried as they might to clap along to it but tired quickly. Following this was an awkward silence whilst the band still checked their instruments. After what felt like the longest minute of my life they finally began to play. They were very much of the school of thought that melodic death and metalcore are essentially the same. Soon after the first riff, the vocalist climbed on stage. They, not unlike the headliner, also have a female vocalist, Tatiana Shmaylyuk. She was a commanding presence, taking control of the crowd immediately. She stood up on the monitors so the whole crowd could see her imposing image. Her vocals mostly consisted of brutal growls and screams, occasionally breaking for some clean singing. On the albums these clean vocals had been heavily modified so that a more old school listener would easily dismiss them. Here they were in no way distorted and we got to enjoy them as welcome variety, as opposed to a constant annoyance.

Jinjer’s sound seemed almost proggy at times. Rest assured this was no Attack Attack! The sound relied heavily on bass guitar, which consistently served as the lead instrument, leaving the guitar to mostly play power chords. The bass sound was largely influence by the likes of Meshuggah and Gojira, which wasn’t a bad thing per se but wasn’t exactly new. Their drumkit was almost adorably small. Seldomly does one see a drummer’s whole torso at a large club such as The Circus.

Even though it wasn’t my genre, I enjoyed it. Their sound was dynamic and interesting. The clean vocals were admittedly the weakest parts but at least they weren’t absolute deal-breakers like on the albums. Shmaylyuk’s accent was a bit distracting but I didn’t spot any egregious grammar mistakes, which was a huge point in their favor. They also had very erratic lighting that was perfectly in tune with the music. I’d say I liked Jinjer a lot more than I thought I would.

 

Just before Arch Enemy came on stage, they played an intro track. It was “Thuderstruck” by AC/DC. The audience was thrilled and clapped along to it but gave up after the first verse. Following that was yet another tape. It was the intro track to Will to Power, “Set Flame to the Night”, after which the show began in earnest. The first song proper was “The World is Yours.” At first they had an issue with the vocals, as they came out too quietly, but they soon fixed it. The song itself was the single with which they promoted the new album. It’s all about finding the strength within to pursue one’s dreams. Lofty ideals aside I always found it a banal song with little to offer. It’s mostly based on one particularly weak melody and it was always the weakest song on the record. In a sense I was relieved they did it straight away. It was like ripping off a Band-Aid.

White-Gluz was a returning champion the entire night. Her presence on stage was undeniable. The crowd was obviously 100% on board to begin with so she got to strut around like a heavy metal Freddy Mercury. Her almost iconic hairstyle was modified to be blond on one side while blue on the other. This created a sort of Harley Quinn look – but with cornrows on the side. I’m no fashion critic but it looked fabulous on stage. It was also a delight to watch legendary guitarist Michael Amott harmonizing with Loomis. It was a real shame Amott didn’t let Loomis write any music since he joined the band for fear of messing with the sound. It seemed like a waste of a perfectly good Loomis. That being said they had an obvious chemistry on stage. Loomis fit the band like a glove.

During “Apocalypse” the sound lost all low-end for a bit near the end. Fortunately, the bridge had a crowd participation phase to offset the problem. The crowd went along with it as if nothing weird had gone down but I saw White-Gluz’s face twitched just a little when the problem appeared. It resurfaced during “You Will Know My Name” soon after. It kept coming up for a while but never lingered that long. In between songs it always came back to the default setting.

Once White-Gluz announced “Blood in the Water” from Will to Power it became clear that the crowd was familiar with the new album and were enthusiastic about it. Sometimes the crowd chanted along with admirable passion but admittedly clapped way off tempo. Such is the way of the world.

Before they did the video track, Liina Rislakki from Century Media came on stage to announce that the War Eternal video had just reached 27 million views and gave them a plaque to commemorate the occasion. White-Gluz cordially thanked the fans as being the reason they got this distinction in the first place.

After a triumphant few songs, it was abruptly time to wind down the set. In one monologue, White-Gluz gave a clear shout out to Jinjer. She said they were honored to play with such a great band and that they had lots more shows to go. For “No Gods No Masters” they asked the crowd to get their hearts beating in the same rhythm. “That’s 666/bpm.” I’m not ashamed to admit I laughed out loud.

After “We Will Rise”, they did the usual disappearance waiting for an encore, which they promptly provided in the form of “Avalanche”, after which Loomis played a solo that had the crowd clapping along. At times it was sublime. Amott joined in after a while. It was the best bit – just the both of them, masters in their field, having at it. It only took a few minutes, then they finished the show with “Nemesis.” It was a catchy, melodic, great song, and it was the perfect note on which to end.

 

Despite some minor technical issues it was a solid, great gig. AEs resurgence is well on track and the group, as well as the fans, seemed brimming with enthusiasm. The set was mostly focused on the last two records, but can you blame them considering how popular they have proven themselves to be? Even the opening act was far better live than I could have expected. Seeing as it was a sold-out night, there seemed to be no doubt they would return and soon. As they themselves said, next time they have to go some place bigger. You may find me in the front row.

Setlist:
Set Flame to the Night
The World Is Yours
Ravenous
Stolen Life
War Eternal
My Apocalypse
Blood in the Water
You Will Know My Name
Play Video
The Race
The Eagle Flies Alone
As the Pages Burn
Burning Angel
No Gods, No Masters
Dead Bury Their Dead
We Will Rise

Encore:
Avalanche
Snow Bound
Nemesis

Photos: Janne Puronen

RIVERSIDE/LUNATIC SOUL – Mariusz Duda, Tampere 2017

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2016 was a rough time for Mariusz Duda, as both his Riverside bandmate Piotr Grudziński (guitar) and his father passed away. However, the talented Pole is back on the live circuit this year on Riverside’s extensive Towards the Blue Horizon Tour, and his solo project Lunatic Soul just released its fifth album, Fractured, through Kscope on October 6th. We talked to Duda before Riverside’s concert at Klubi in Tampere on September 29th, and the jovial man discussed both the hardships he’s faced lately and the future, which fortunately looks bright.

 

First of all, I’m just happy to be able to talk you right now, because after what happened last year, I wasn’t sure if you guys would continue.
Yeah, we’re happy too that we can talk. [chuckles] At the very beginning there were just some weird thoughts, that maybe this should be the end of the band, maybe we should just split our paths. But later we realized that the heritage was too big, and we’d sacrificed lots of our own time for doing that. And it wouldn’t be fair for us and the fans, so we just decided to carry on. Fortunately, we found a good soulmate who can help us with playing live shows, so it’s perfect.

What was it like to step on stage in Warsaw in February? What was going through your head back then?
It just… Imagine this enormous balloon that was bigger and bigger with every month when we started practicing in September. So in February, the balloon was so big that I was just waiting for it to puff up, and it happened when we started to play. The very beginning of the first track – it’s all gone. It was tough, but I think everyone needs that – us and the people that came. It was very fine, because we sold out two shows, and I’m sure that lots of people were convinced that these shows would be the first after the break and the last ones – you know, maybe it’d be the last one – but later we just announced the tour and decided to go back on tour. I’m happy that we reached Scandinavia too, and Finland, because we know that we’ve got lots of fans here. We wanted to do it last year, but under the circumstances it didn’t work out. But we’re here this year, and all these memories from February now… they’re not as important as they used to be, so we just moved on.

It must’ve been a relief.
Yeah, we’ve moved on. We will not change the past, and it was tough for us, but I seriously think that we should have another chance. I know that people need time to realize, especially all these people that were very into us with Piotr. Now it’s really difficult for them, but I know that time will change everything, you know? And seeing us live in a new lineup once or for the second time will change for sure.

Unless I’m mistaken, this is your most extensive Finnish tour so far. How has it been?
When we picked the specific songs for this tour – very moody and the big, powerful… we didn’t want to play things like “Artificial Smile” and that kind of stuff, you know? We wanted to sound more Pink Floydish or whatever, so we’ve picked all these emotional, big things, like “Second Life Syndrome”, “Escalator Shrine”, and stuff like that. We wanted to show that we’re a different band now a bit, ’cause we can’t pretend that we’re the same band as we used to be. But the music is the same, and we just play who we are, what we do. So I’m happy for this tour to be honest, because this is the catharsis – not only for us, but also for the audience. Plus it’s nice to hear all these songs that we missed a bit.

I was going to ask about the setlist later on, because I know you haven’t been playing any songs from Out of Myself (2003) or Anno Domini High Definition (2009)…
Yeah, no – we’re not playing that.

So I kind of got the answer there. Lion Shepherd is the support band on this tour, did you know those guys beforehand?
Actually we’re friends from a long time ago, and we even played here together live 4 years ago. They’ve been Maqama, but now they’ve just changed the name and they sound more oriental. I like this project much better than the previous one, because it’s first and foremost oriental and second, the initials are really close to my heart: LS, like Lunatic Soul.

That’s a nice bridge into the Lunatic Soul questions. [laughter] The new album is more song-based than before – was that affected by your experiences or did you just want to change things up after the previous records?
I think lots of things… You know, Lunatic Soul is mostly connected with the subject of death: the first two albums were about the journey in the afterlife, Impressions (2011) was a supplement to that, and Walking on a Flashlight Beam (2014) was a really dark album about depression, loneliness, and suicide… so just imagine that. When I lost my father, when I lost my friend, and everything that I was writing about happened in my real life, I just decided, “Ok, maybe it’s time to stop, I can’t record another very, very dark album to reflect everything that I feel.” ‘Cause I was simply, you know… “I will die!” And that was so intense and it was so dark that I just thought to myself, “Ok, maybe it’s time to get out of this darkness and try to do something which will be more bright, more optimistic.” I wanted to reflect my mental state, so the title Fractured is like it is. But the main message was more optimistic, so I thought I should do something which I think I’ve recently done best, so I focused on songs simply. And I also focus on some experiments with a new sound, ’cause I didn’t want to do another oriental album. I wanted to move on and change something, so I just skipped all these oriental parts and exchanged them for electronic sounds. That’s maybe why the sound is different from the previous albums.

You’ve mentioned 80s artists like Depeche Mode and Peter Gabriel as influences, and some 80s-style stuff can be heard on Love, Fear and the Time Machine (2015) as well.
I think this is what I continue, you know? ‘Cause when I said earlier that I’m not the generation of the 70s, and let’s say that I play a sort of progressive rock, but I grew up in the 80s. These are my years, and I don’t think that these years were terrible, and everything that happened in the 70s was only “great, great, great” and the 80s not. Well-written songs were always close to my heart, so I didn’t do 80s now, because I know Steven Wilson did that, right? I did that much earlier and I always had lots of songs in my things, but I started this with Love, Fear and the Time Machine. I said to myself, “Ok, maybe this is enough of the inspiration of Genesis and that kind of stuff – let’s be inspired by The Cure or Depeche Mode and let’s create something more original.” When Riverside was more rock-oriented, if I can say that, inspiration was connected with The Cure in the basslines and that kind of stuff. Now, when it comes to electronic sounds, I just thought, “Ok, The Cure was checked off, so let’s now go to different inspirations, like maybe Depeche Mode even.” But it’s not only electronic sounds on Fractured, this is not only connected with the 80s. I was also very much inspired by early 90s, you know? The Bristol sound like Massive Attack, Portishead, that kind of thing. Hooverphonic, Lamb, all these trip-hop bands… Those kinds of sounds were always close to my heart, so I wanted to do that in Lunatic Soul too.

In “Red Light Escape” there’s this line about “four red digits”, and it kind of reminded me of “Under the Pillow” for some reason, like maybe there’s some kind of relation to the daily grind, but it probably wasn’t intentional?
I think that Love, Fear and the Time Machine and Fractured are kind of similar speaking of the lyrical subject, because both albums are talking about moving on. Love, Fear and the Time Machine is about making a choice, that you should do something with your life and make the right decision, and Fractured is about leaving the past and doing something with your life, you know? It’s more about how you struggle with loneliness when you lose someone and start your life over again. And here the end of the album is kind of optimistic, as for my things that I always do – it’s the biggest difference. Maybe I’ve changed in the last years and I simply want to record my albums in the way of all these self-help books, you know, how to help yourself to struggle with all the bad things around. I’ve started to write that way, so it’s kind of similar.

One lyric that particularly caught my attention was “Battlefield.” You’re singing, “I got up from my knees and became a man / Standing over the boy’s grave.” I took it as a message about growing and becoming stronger after a tough experience.
Well yeah, when I turned 40 I just realized that I’m not Peter Pan anymore, but I still want to enjoy that, you know? Probably I’ll be a child forever until the end of my days, but that’s very true – some circumstances that happened in my life changed me. I think I’m more self-confident right now, speaking of the things that I do for a living, speaking of my personal life, and also speaking about the things that I do in my musical world. So I don’t think that, “I shouldn’t do this or I shouldn’t do that,” I’m just simply doing what I feel and I don’t care what people think about that. Of course I respect my fans and I respect everything, so I don’t want to change everything 180 degrees and start doing some kind of… ’cause I’m a kind of aesthetic guy, and when I’ve started something with Riverside I want to continue that in this particular genre, as with Lunatic Soul. I also want to do it in this particular way that you can hear from the beginning that it’s Lunatic Soul – different, but still… So yeah, this is what I do. But for sure, I’m not so frustrated anymore.

You feel liberated?
A bit, yeah. I just feel more mature, that’s very true. Plus my skin got more thick, and I’m just maybe not so sensitive anymore. My shell is just bigger now, but that’s life, that’s maturity. When I hear about lots of problems now, I just say to myself, “Jesus, really? This is what you think is a problem? But ok, you’ve got your time.” I know that everyone needs to grow up to everything. But I grew up for sure.

Probably my favorite song right now is “Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes” – on the surface it’s a kind of sweet song, but at the same time there’s this sinister darkness to it.
It’s dark, it’s about nightmares, you know? Yeah, it’s very true. You know what? I’ve got a new family in the last 2 years. I met a very beautiful woman with kids, so I almost became a father to them. And I remember when the time was really dark and when I saw the girl sleeping… she was so innocent and she was so fragile. I thought it’d be nice. You know, that kind of thing is sometimes much better than taking some pills… painkillers or antidepressants or that kind of stuff. Just looking at her and she’s still… you know? All these dark things just run away. So I just imagined someone who’s just stealing all these innocent dreams from a child’s brain and just taking them to himself to help himself in some sort of way.

But yeah, “Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes”, the title, these are my two favorite nightmares that I always have, you know? First that was this checking, always… after I woke up I was checking my teeth. That’s the worst feeling ever. And the owl eyes… when I was a child, very small, I’d seen that kind of picture, and the window was dark, and suddenly I saw big eyes, like the owl eyes, with nothing around, so it was pretty scary. So I thought it’d be a good title – how to fight your own scary dreams.

That explains a lot! Have you written any new music for Riverside yet?
Yeah, I’ve got three songs I think will be pretty ok. Just after the whole promotional thing connected with Lunatic Soul I think I will create a demo, and at the very beginning of the next year we will try to start something in the studio. The plan is to release the album around late August, early September next year. The plan is to do more self-confident music, I think.

Have you got any new idea for a new trilogy or overall theme?
Yeah, I’ve got it for sure. Something that I can now reveal is the fact that I will start [using] short titles now. [laughs]

No more acronyms?
No, that was part of the previous trilogy, you know? Out of Myself, Second Life Syndrome (2005), and Rapid Eye Movement (2007): these are albums [in the] Reality Dream trilogy. Three words in the titles and nine songs each – three per three. That was that kind of pattern. Later we’ve got Anno Domini High Definition: fourth album, Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013): five, Love, Fear and the Time Machine: six. That was that part.

Oh, I never realized that!
Yeah, so now you know. And now, I’ll probably switch the titles to letters, so the very next Riverside album will have seven letters, the eighth eight, and the ninth nine letters. This is what I can reveal for now, and the music I think will be… still Riverside, but probably we will have to find some specific theme or the subject for another three ones – we’ll see.

So no 2-letter titles like Peter Gabriel?
No, I just like when you take a look from the wider perspective and you see that the patterns are still here. Just like Lunatic Soul: the same covers. I just like it, you know? So I will continue in this weird phase.

You have a new live guitarist, Maciej Meller. How is he fitting in?
I think perfectly, ’cause thanks to him, we can be a band on stage. That was very important from the beginning, to hire someone who’ll create a band with us, not being part of a different world. Everyone can see that he’s amazing, but it’s obvious that he’s just paid by us, because he’s so awesome. I think we didn’t want to do it, so Maciej is great on stage, because thanks to him Riverside can be a live band. But he’s still not an official member, we’re like a trio. Maciej helps us only with the live shows, so when it comes to the new album, we’ll still be a trio.

So you’ll play guitar?
I will play the parts of the guitar probably, and there’ll be guests, that kind of thing. I for sure, I will compose the new album. And Maciej probably will also be a part of that, but still as a guest musician. But we don’t know what the future brings – maybe we’ll change in the future, but now I think it’s too early for that. When we announced that we are a trio, we wanted to be this trio, you know? And the new album will be the proof that we can be like this, so we’ll see.

So Maciej may still play a solo or two here and there?
Yeah, of course I hope that. He’s open to playing live shows with us, but he understands that I’m the main guy in Riverside, so it’s not like we compose [as a] band, just taking this or that. No, last two albums were mostly composed by me, and I’m going to continue that as soon as I have a vision, but of course it’s still like, you know, we’ve got the conversation – I mean, the reaction between us speaking of the new album, so for sure the guys will help me with achieving that final result. But yeah, the trio will compose the new Riverside album mostly then of course – this is how it is.

I saw this photo of you guys meeting Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman at some festival.
Yeah, we played in Charlotty Valley, Poland with Yes [featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman]. That was a really nice experience, I was so surprised when I saw them playing live. I think they’re much, much better than all the Yes lineups in the past 15 years. They were great, and Trevor Rabin is an astonishing guitar player, so I really loved them. Of course I was very into the Fragile (1971) and Close to the Edge (1972) era, but I also admire… 9125? [90125 (1983)] And Talk (1994), these albums are really great. Trevor Rabin is… I [highly] respect him.

Yeah, that’s a great era too. Did you have any time to talk to them?
Yeah, that was nice – a short conversation. We’d been together with Jon Anderson in England, UK, when we got a reward from Prog magazine, because Riverside received a reward for an Anthem [with] “Towards the Blue Horizon.”

Oh yeah, I remember that.
And at the same time Jon Anderson received the reward for Prog God. So when we were talking, I said to him, “Do you remember we met up in the UK? You became a Prog God, so now you can bless me.” He said, “Yeah, of course.” So he blessed me and now I’m just blessed by a Prog God.

That’s awesome!
Yeah, I know.

So I assume Chris Squire must’ve been an influence on your bass playing?
Yeah, I like his bass playing. Speaking of progressive music, yeah – Chris Squire, Geddy Lee [Rush]… that way of playing bass was always great for me. I didn’t like the kind of bass playing like …And Justice for All (1988) by Metallica.

[laughs] There barely is any bass on that album.
That’s what I’m saying, you know? Maybe there’s something, but you can’t hear that. I picked especially this album, because there was no bass there, but anyway, that kind of playing bass was not my intention. I didn’t want to do only the helper for the guitar, I wanted to be a guitar player, [laughs] taking the bass guitar, so that’s why that kind of style fits me. It suits me, I think.

Geddy and Chris are good influences for sure. Steven Wilson is obviously a very busy man, but I loved the song you wrote together, “The Old Peace.” Could you see yourselves collaborating more in the future?
The funny thing is that I’m just getting as busy as him recently, and it’s really hard to find free time [for] us. Always when we tried to meet up on his tour or my tour, he’s said that he can’t because he’s got interviews, and now he just probably came to Poland too, and I said, “I’m sorry, I’m on tour.” We’re always just passing each other by, but just imagine that it was also hard to write the music together. There’s still a B-side that we should create, because we promised each other that maybe we should release this song, but doing this on vinyl we should create another one. We’ll see, maybe in the future – who knows?

Now everybody will be waiting for that! What do you think of Steven’s new album [To the Bone]? It has been a little divisive in the prog rock community.
For me this is just… I don’t believe in this whole pop, 80s inspiration, whatever it is, because for me there’s nothing from the 80s there. It’s just the same music that Steven always did. For me it’s just the Stupid Dream (1999) era or Lightbulb Sun (2000) era, but in shorter compositions, you know?

Yeah, I kind of agree with you.
For me it’s more 90s than 80s, so… I like it! I think it’s good, you know? Maybe I’m not a huge fan of the “Permanating” style, it’s not my cup of tea, but I think there are lots of well-written songs. But definitely for me this is not like 80s-inspired, I don’t see that. It’s just a normal Steven album, that’s it.

Those were all my questions, so thanks for your time and good luck with the show!
Thank you very much!

 

Photos: Charlotta Rajala

RIVERSIDE w/ LION SHEPHERD @ Klubi, Tampere, 29.9.2017

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Riverside with Lion Shepherd at Klubi, Tampere, 2017.
Photos by Charlotta Rajala.
Gig report in English HERE!
Lue keikasta suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!

RIVERSIDE w/ LION SHEPHERD – Klubi, Tampere, 29.09.2017 (English)

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The Polish prog rockers Riverside lost their guitarist Piotr Grudziński tragically last year, which put the band’s touring to a halt. Fortunately, the surviving members decided to soldier on as a trio with the help of session guitarists, and starting with two hometown shows in Warsaw last February, the Towards the Blue Horizon Tour brought them back into the live circuit. After a European leg in the spring and festival appearances in the summer, this fall it was the Nordic countries’ turn to see Riverside’s return, with support from fellow Poles, Lion Shepherd. Finnish fans were lucky enough to get a total of four shows, and Musicalypse went to see the one at Klubi in Tampere, on September 29th.

Full photo gallery HERE!
Lue suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!
Listen to Riverside’s setlist here:

 

Back in the spring, I noticed that Riverside had responded to a Facebook commenter asking them to come to Denmark, saying that Scandinavian dates would be announced soon. Since Finland technically doesn’t belong to Scandinavia, any local shows were in question, yet it still gave me hope that I would finally get to see them live for the first time. Lo and behold, the dates were announced and Finland was included, so attending the show in Tampere was a no-brainer for me. My biggest regret as a concert-goer has to be skipping Riverside’s previous Finnish tour back in 2013 after I’d just gotten into their music, because obviously I had no idea it would’ve been my only chance to see them with Grudziński. It was time for me to remedy my earlier mistake.

 

Having interviewed Riverside bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda, we were at the venue early on. There wasn’t an abundance of people around yet, so I wasn’t sure how big of an audience to expect. The showtime for Lion Shepherd had been announced as 21:00, but about 20 minutes before that, an intro of oriental-style music with female vocals started playing. I assumed the band would start early, but the tape went on and on, lasting for all those 20 minutes until they finally hit the stage. I’d never listened to Lion Shepherd before, so I went in with fresh ears, although I’d read that their music falls under the progressive umbrella, and Duda had told me they have eastern influences in their music.

Lion Shepherd’s music did match these descriptions, as there was a distinct oriental flavor in the outro melodies, along with occasional odd time signatures and other rhythmic hooks. Drummer Piotr Podgórski played some percussion sounds on his drum pads, but it was the multi-talented guitar tandem of Mateusz Owczarek and Łukasz Belcyr that stole the show as they effortlessly shifted between electric and acoustic guitars, as well as exotic instruments such as oud and Irish bouzouki, the latter of which frontman Kamil Haidar introduced as the band’s ‘secret weapon.’ The dark-featured singer’s voice actually sounded a bit like Duda’s to my ears, although it may have just been the Polish accent playing a trick in on my mind. Some of the songs had a rocking vibe going on, while others were more metallic with low and chunky riffs – the heaviest one reminded me of Porcupine Tree and Tool, and Haidar even let out a few screams. Lion Shepherd’s fusion of western and eastern sounds was engrossing, and the only real bummer was how quiet Haidar’s vocals and some of the acoustic instruments were in the mix, although it got better later on.  The band used their slot very effectively with little room for banter, but the show was nevertheless well-received by the crowd, which had grown quite a bit in number by the end, and you could even hear some enthusiastic squeals. “I’ve got to buy their record,” I heard someone declare to their fellow afterwards, and while I didn’t rush to the merch stand myself, these guys’ two albums are definitely on my shopping list now.

 

After some pieces from last year’s ambient compilation Eye of the Soundscape had been played through the PA, Riverside got on stage at 22:00. However, they started in an unusual manner, as Mariusz Duda gave the audience a speech, telling what the show would be all about. He talked about the sad circumstances that prevented the band from coming here last year and said they would tell a story through the music for the following 2 hours. They started with a dark version of “Coda” from Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013) as a trio, until about halfway through when guest guitarist Maciej Meller joined them. On the album, “Coda” is the short acoustic reprise of “Feel Like Falling” with more positive lyrics, but this version was an extended full-band piece with solos and all. An alternate version of an album outro track is not your typical way to open a concert, but it set the mood for the show very well. It also transitioned nicely into “Second Life Syndrome”, one of my all-time favorite Riverside songs, which was performed magically. While a spot in the setlist as the epic finale might typically seem more appropriate for it, being played this early on made sense in the context of the story Duda talked about – after all, Riverside was basically starting a second life after last year’s events.

The set continued with a beautiful rendition of “Conceiving You” and “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire.” One surprising highlight for me was “The Depth of Self-Delusion”, the studio version of which never particularly struck me as an amazing song. Hearing it live made me see the error of my ways, and the extra solos by Duda and Meller at the end were fantastic. Another tune that seemed to get a brand new life on stage was “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat)?”, which was played as a semi-acoustic version with Duda on guitar – the folky singer-songwriter vibe was lovely. While at the start of the show Duda had told us not to expect too much heavy stuff, “02 Panic Room” was a welcome burst of energy, and “Saturate Me” likewise had people nodding their heads. During the monumental “Escalator Shrine” you could just feel the music wash over you and forget about all the pointless thoughts in your head, and “Before” brought the main set to a climactic close as the band left the stage while the guitar was still ringing with feedback. After another speech by Duda, they kicked off the encore with an emotional performance of the title-track of the tour, “Towards the Blue Horizon”, which was dedicated to Grudziński. While the lyrics had originally been penned about Duda’s late friend, they got a poignant new meaning as he sang “You can still play the guitar / And sing your songs,” and the band’s demeanor was a little more serious than during the other songs. Finally, the night came to an end and the circle was completed with the bright version of “Coda”, at the conclusion of which Duda sang “When something ends, something else begins / We are moving on.”

Considering the intimidating task Maciej Meller had as the substitute for a dead man, he handled his job admirably; staying faithful to the original guitar parts and not trying to steal the spotlight from the band members themselves, while getting to display his talents during the extra solos. The most heartwarming thing about the whole show was simply seeing the three surviving members of Riverside looking visibly happy on stage and being able to do what they love again. Keyboardist Michał Łapaj in particular was constantly grinning from ear to ear behind his keyboard kiosk, and even the crew guy at the side of the stage was occasionally moving along to the music and exchanging funny faces with him. The packed house showed its appreciation for the band and clearly included a lot of faithful listeners, although the sing-alongs in “Lost” and “02 Panic Room” were a little quiet and bashful in typical Finnish fashion. As Duda stated during the encore, “We don’t have fans, we have a family,” and that spirit was in the air throughout the night.

 

By midnight I’d killed two birds with one stone: I’d seen Riverside live at last and been introduced to an interesting new band in Lion Shepherd. While Riverside’s setlist for the tour had looked a little weird and short on paper and didn’t include a lot of my personal favorites, the various segues, extensions, and alternate versions made it flow well and helped the show become an experience of its own. The visual side of things with the rotating triangles of lighting looked great, and the sound was pleasant, although “Saturate Me” could’ve used some more prominent organ from Łapaj. Duda promised Riverside would come back next year, which is something that I’m looking forward to already. Ladies and gentlemen, Riverside is reborn and the journey is far from being over.

Setlist:
1. Coda (dark version)
2. Second Life Syndrome
3. Conceiving You
4. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire
5. The Depth of Self-Delusion
6. Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat?)
7. 02 Panic Room
8. Saturate Me
9. Escalator Shrine
10. Before

Encore:
11. Towards the Blue Horizon
12. Coda (bright version)

Photos: Charlotta Rajala

RIVERSIDE w/ LION SHEPHERD – Klubi, Tampere, 29.09.2017 (suomeksi)

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Puolan progeylpeys Riverside menetti kitaristinsa Piotr Grudzińskin traagisesti viime vuonna, mikä laittoi bändin kiertuesuunnitelmat jäihin. Onneksi eloonjääneet jäsenet päättivät marssia eteenpäin triona sessiokitaristien avustuksella, ja kahdella kotikenttäkeikalla Varsovassa käynnistynyt Towards the Blue Horizon -kiertue toi heidät takaisin live-esiintymisten pariin. Keväisen Euroopan-kierroksen ja kesäisten festivaalien jälkeen syksyllä oli Pohjoismaiden vuoro todistaa Riversiden paluuta, lämmittelijänä toimivien Lion Shepherdin maanmiesten kera. Suomalaisfanit olivat onnekkaita saadessaan peräti neljä keikkaa, ja Musicalypse oli näistä paikalla Tampereen Klubilla 29. syyskuuta.

Kuvagalleria TÄÄLLÄ.
Read in English HERE!
Kuuntele Riversiden settilista tästä:

 

Keväällä huomasin Riversiden vastanneen Facebook-kommenttiin, jossa bändiä pyydettiin tulemaan Tanskaan – Skandinavian kiertuepäivät julkistettaisiin kuulemma pian. Koska Suomi ei kaikkien määritelmien mukaan teknisesti kuulu Skandinaviaan, mahdolliset keikat täällä olivat kysymysmerkkinä, mutta sain silti toivoa siitä, että näkisin bändin ensimmäistä kertaa livenä. Kuinka ollakaan, kiertuepäivämäärät julkistettiin ja Suomi oli mukana, joten Tampereen-keikalle osallistuminen oli itsestäänselvyys minulle. Kenties suurin katumuksen kohteeni keikoilla kävijänä on se, että jätin väliin Riversiden edellisen Suomen-kiertueen vuonna 2013 juuri kun olin alkanut kuunnella heitä, koska en tietenkään voinut silloin arvata, että se olisi ollut ainut mahdollisuuteni nähdä bändi livenä Grudzińskin kanssa. Oli siis aika korjata aiempi virheeni.

 

Haastateltuamme Riversiden basisti-laulaja Mariusz Dudaa olimme Klubilla hyvin etuajassa. Paikalla ei ollut vielä hirveästi porukkaa, joten en tiennyt kuinka suurta yleisöä odottaa. Lion Shepherdin soittoajaksi oli merkitty 21:00, mutta noin 20 minuuttia ennen tätä alkoi soida naislaululla höystetty orientaalinen intro. Oletin bändin nousevan lavalle etuajassa, mutta nauha jatkui ja jatkui, kestäen koko 20 minuutin ajan kunnes bändi vihdoin nousi lavalle. En ollut koskaan kuullut Lion Shepherdin musiikkia, joten olin paikalla ummikkona, vaikka olin lukenut heidän musiikkinsa kuuluvan progen piiriin, ja Duda oli kertonut minulle heidän itämaisista vaikutteistaan.

Lion Shepherdin musiikki vastasi kuvauksia, sillä kuten intronauhassa, melodioissa oli selvä orientaalinen säväys, ja mukaan mahtui myös erilaisia tahtilajeja ja muita rytmisiä koukkuja. Rumpali Piotr Podgórski soitti rumpupadeillaan joitain perkussiosoundeja, mutta monilahjakas kitarapari Mateusz Owczarek ja Łukasz Belcyr varasti show’n vuorotellessaan vaivattomasti sähkö- ja akustisten kitaroiden sekä eksoottisten soittimien, kuten udin ja irlantilaisen bouzoukin välillä. Näistä jälkimmäistä keulahahmo Kamil Haidar luonnehti bändin salaiseksi aseeksi. Tummapiirteisen laulajan ääni kuulosti itse asiassa hieman Dudalta, mutta voi olla että puolalainen aksentti vain hämäsi minua. Jotkin kappaleet olivat hieman rokkaavia, kun taas jotkin olivat metallisia mataline ja painavine riffeineen – raskain biisi toi mieleen Porcupine Treen ja Toolin, ja Haidar päästi ilmoille jopa pari huutoa. Lion Shepherdin sekoitus läntisiä ja itäisiä vivahteita oli kiehtova, ja ainut harmin aihe oli se, kuinka alhaalla Haidarin ääni ja jotkin akustisista soittimista olivat miksauksessa, vaikka se parani myöhemmin. Bändi käytti aikansa tehokkaasti eikä juurikaan jutustellut yleisön kanssa, mutta esitys sai silti hyvän vastaanoton väeltä, jonka lukumäärä oli loppuun menessä kasvanut melkoisesti, ja jostain kuului jopa innokkaita kiljaisuja. “Noiden levy pitää ostaa,” joku julisti kaverilleen jälkeenpäin, ja vaikken itse rynnännyt merkkarikojulle, tämän porukan kaksi albumia kuuluu nyt ehdottomasti ostoslistalleni.

 

Kuultuamme joitain viimevuotisen ambient-kokoelma Eye of the Soundscapen teoksista PA:n kautta, Riverside nousi lavalle 22:00. Bändi aloitti kuitenkin varsin epätavallisesti, sillä Mariusz Duda piti puheen, jossa hän kertoi yleisölle mitä oli odotettavissa. Mies puhui surullisesta tilanteesta, jonka vuoksi he eivät päässeet tänne viime vuonna, ja ilmoitti bändin kertovan tarinan musiikkinsa kautta seuraavien kahden tunnin ajan. Alkuun päästiin synkällä versiolla Shrine of New Generation Slavesilla (2013) julkaistusta “Codasta” triopohjalla, kunnes puolivälissä vierailijakitaristi Maciej Meller liittyi mukaan. Levyllä “Coda” on lyhyt akustinen kertaus “Feel Like Fallingista” positiivisemmilla sanoituksilla, mutta tämä versio oli täyspitkä sooloineen päivineen, ja siinä soitti koko bändi. Vaihtoehtoinen versio outroraidasta ei ole tyypillinen tapa avata konsertti, mutta se loi hyvin tunnelmaa. Siitä siirryttiin luontevasti kaikkien aikojen suosikkibiiseihini Riversidelta lukeutuvaan “Second Life Syndromeen”, joka soi maagisesti. Vaikka kappale tuntuisi yleisesti ottaen soveltuvan paremmin eeppiseksi lopetukseksi, näin aikainen paikka settilistassa kävi järkeen Dudan mainitseman tarinan vuoksi – olihan Riverside käytännössä aloittamassa toista elämää viime vuoden tapahtumien jäljiltä.

Setti jatkui kauniilla “Conceiving Youlla” ja “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wirella”. Yksi yllättävä kohokohta oli “The Depth of Self-Delusion”, jonka studioversiota en ole koskaan pitänyt erityisen mahtavana biisinä. Sen kuuleminen livenä sai minut kuitenkin ymmärtämään erehdykseni, ja Dudan ja Mellerin ylimääräiset soolot olivat upeita. Toinen lavalla henkiin tullut kappale oli “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat?)”, joka soitettiin semiakustisena versiona, jossa Duda soitti kitaraa – esityksen folkahtava laulaja-lauluntekijä-tyylinen meininki oli miellyttävä. Vaikka keikan alussa Duda oli kertonut, ettei raskaampaa materiaalia olisi luvassa, “02 Panic Room” oli tervetullut energiapommi, ja “Saturate Me” sai ihmiset niin ikään nyökyttelemään päitään. Monumentaalisen “Escalator Shrinen aikana musiikin pystyi tuntemaan vyöryvän yllään, ja turhat ajatukset unohtuivat. “Before” päätti varsinaisen setin vahvasti, ja kitara jäi ulvomaan vielä bändin poistuttua lavalta. Dudan toisen puheen jälkeen encore alkoi tunteikkaalla esityksellä kiertueen nimiraidasta “Towards the Blue Horizon”, joka omistettiin Grudzińskille. Vaikka sanoitukset kertovat Dudan edesmenneestä ystävästä, ne saivat uuden liikuttavan merkityksen, kun hän lauloi “You can still play the guitar / And sing your songs”, ja bändin olemus oli hieman vakavampi kuin muiden kappaleiden aikana. Lopulta ilta sai päätöksensä ja ympyrä sulkeutui “Codan” valoisalla versiolla, jonka lopussa Duda lauloi “When something ends, something else begins / We are moving on”.

Ottaen huomioon Maciej Mellerin pelottavan tehtävän kuolleen miehen paikkaajana, hän hoiti työnsä ihailtavasti, pysytellen uskollisena alkuperäisille kitaraosuuksille varastamatta huomiota varsinaiselta bändiltä, mutta saaden taitojaan esille ylimääräisten soolojen aikana. Lämmittävintä koko keikassa oli saada nähdä Riversiden jäljelle jääneiden jäsenten hymyilevän ja pystyvän jälleen tekemään sitä, mitä he rakastavat. Erityisesti Michał Łapajin oli jatkuvasti naama virneessä kosketinkioskinsa takana, ja jopa bändin roudari lavan sivussa liikkui musiikin tahtiin ja ilmeili hänen kanssaan. Täysi tupa osoitti suosiotaan bändille ja sisälsi selvästi runsaasti uskollisia kuulijoita, vaikka “Lostin” ja “02 Panic Roomin” yhteislaulut jäivät hieman hiljaisiksi ja aroiksi perisuomalaiseen tapaan. Kuten Duda totesi encoressa, “meillä ei ole faneja vaan perhe”, ja tämä henki oli vahvasti ilmassa läpi keikan.

 

Keskiyön koittaessa olin tappanut kaksi kärpästä yhdellä iskulla: olin vihdoin nähnyt Riversiden elävänä ja saanut Lion Shepherdistä uuden mielenkiintoisen tuttavuuden. Vaikka Riversiden settilista kiertueelle oli näyttänyt hieman erikoiselta ja lyhyeltä paperilla eikä sisältänyt monia henkilökohtaisia suosikkejani, kaikki pidennykset, siirtymät ja erilaiset versiot tekivät siitä hyvin rytmitetyn ja omanlaisensa kokemuksen. Visuaalinen puoli pyörivine valokolmioineen näytti hienolta, ja soundit olivat mieluisat, vaikka “Saturate Messä” Łapaj’n urkuosuus olisi voinut olla äänekkäämpi. Duda lupasi Riversiden palaavan jo ensi vuonna, mitä odotan innolla jo nyt. Hyvät naiset ja herrat: Riverside on jälleensyntynyt, ja matka ei ole lähelläkään loppua.

Settilista:
1. Coda (dark version)
2. Second Life Syndrome
3. Conceiving You
4. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire
5. The Depth of Self-Delusion
6. Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat?)
7. 02 Panic Room
8. Saturate Me
9. Escalator Shrine
10. Before

Encore:
11. Towards the Blue Horizon
12. Coda (bright version)

Kuvat: Charlotta Rajala

VUUR – Anneke van Giersbergen, 2017

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Anneke van Giersbergen is no stranger to this site. She is best known for her vocal performances with The Gathering, Ayreon, the Devin Townsend Project, and The Gentle Storm, just to name a few! Since this summer she has been unveiling her new band, VUUR a progressive metal outfit. Since their debut album, In This Moment We Are Free – Cities, comes out soon, Anneke granted us a phone interview from her home in the Netherlands.

 

Hello?
Hi, how are you doing?

I’m fantastic, I’m speaking to Anneke van Giersbergen!
I know. Awesome.

Totally, and you get to speak to Vincent Parkkonen himself.
Ah, my dream just came true! [laughter]

So the new band: VUUR. By the way am I saying that right? Is it with a v or f sound?
It’s VUUR [a husk f-sound]

VUUR?
Yes, perfect!

Right, like how Dutch people say Vincent van Gogh. It has to hurt.
Yeah exactly. It’s a difficult pronunciation. I realize that.

Okay, so for my first question: Finnish people love to hear about Finland so I have to ask about your performance at Tuska this summer. You hadn’t released any material yet but the crowd was really into it.
That’s true! It was a really big thing because that was the first gig we did outside of a tryout gig in Holland. At Tuska we just threw ourselves on the stage with these really, really intricate songs nobody ever heard. We don’t have fireworks, backing-tracks, or anything like that. It was really down-to-earth. We just played the songs as best as we could. We had no idea how people were going to react! And they were… so awesome! It was fantastic to do a couple of summer shows just to say “hi” and let everybody know that we are here. Now we’re going to tour once the album is out. We’ll work some more on the show and it will be better.

You did do a couple of The Gathering songs there too…
Yeah, I always do. You can’t really tour with just one album, so we got to do some of the songs we really wanted to do and we also do some The Gathering, Devin Townsend, and The Gentle Storm.

Awesome. I have one last question about Tuska, because it fascinates me. You came on with VUUR, then you did an acoustic show, and then also came on with Devin Townsend Project. That’s 3 gigs in one day!
That was… an interesting day [laughs]. I also did like ten interviews that day. Then really early in the morning we had to leave because of another festival or something. I do like those kinds of days though. Just rush rush rush and do everything that a human can possibly do in a day, in 24 hours. It feels like I got everything out of Helsinki, you know?

Before I get to the new band, I have to ask since it was such a big event: Ayreon Universe! This massive ensemble! What was it like putting something like that on?
It was epic, I can tell you that! Arjen [Lucassen] never really comes out. but when he does, something really, really amazing happens. You know the band was basically the VUUR band. They did an excellent job and they had more band members from the Ayreon Universe too. There were sixteen singers. It was really great to play with these other people and all these fantastic singers.

Oh VUUR made up a bunch of the band? I knew Ed Warby and you had been on Ayreon before but the others have also participated?
Yeah, our bass player Johan [van Stratum] has done some Ayreon stuff. He used to be on Star One. And Joost [van den Broek]! He produced our album for VUUR and helped put it all together. He plays keyboards and is always working with Ayreon.

So a lot of Ayreon performers have defected into the new group?
Absolutely.

Cool! VUUR seems to be some of the heaviest and proggiest stuff you’ve done so far. In recent years you’ve been doing a lot of acoustic stuff and those solo albums were perhaps a bit poppier. Was it an intentional decision to go back to heavier music?
In the last 10 years of my solo career, I did a lot of different stuff because I could! I had the freedom to do it. I collaborated with a lot of different people from a lot of different genres. They taught me so much! I grew to be a better singer, song-writer, everything.

You know, I’ve always been in the metal world. I’ve worked with Arjen, Devin Townsend, all the guys. I hadn’t made a really heavy album until The Gentle Storm and this new album. It’s not that I didn’t want to but the stars were never aligned. I never had the right musicians or a good producer for metal around me. It just never happened. I worked with the live bands we threw together for The Gentle Storm and I just realized they were really good metal and prog musicians. So I decided to take the chance to make a heavy album.

Okay, you got to play guitar with them too?
Yeah, but not on the album, only live. It’s an extra element for the live shows. We have two fantastic guitarists so they did all the guitars for the album.

I get that. The new album In This Moment We Are Free – Cities. I understand it’s kind of a love letter to the places that inspire you?
That’s a good way of putting it. That’s awesome, well said. I think you just answered your own question. Next! [laughter] It’s true. I’m very inspired by travelling. I’m always writing and I thought it might be a good idea to write about a lot of these places that I would go to. Every song has its own sound, its own vibe. I’ve had this idea for a long time but it really fit best with heavy music.

I found myself wondering if the cities theme would maybe continue on later albums?
I am afraid I may have to make a part 2. There are so many places and you have to make a choice, you know? You can’t put seventy-two songs on an album.

And one of them is Helsinki?
Yeah there’s one on the new album. It’s one of the best songs on the album, man! Check it out, I hope you like it.

I’ve seen you play with lots of groups and sometimes by yourself. Your on stage banter is always great and when you get hecklers, I feel you deal with them in the best ways. Do any weird heckles come to mind?
Not really. Sometimes you have these crowds that are a bit loud. Sometimes you get some wise-ass who shouts or whatever. I’m not really shocked by that. In the past you’d get these guys who would come on stage and try to touch you or whatever. In recent years the crowds have been a bit older, a bit calmer. I haven’t really had any trouble.

I quite vividly remember this one acoustic show you did and you were taking requests. So this loudmouth insisted on yelling “bring me more beer!” and you just roller your eyes like “Uh, okay sir”
Oh, I remember! That was in Helsinki, right? Nos-something?

Yeah, Nosturi in Helsinki
Yeah! And he was like that the whole evening, right? Sometimes you get guys like that. If it’s like a quick thing you can just make a joke and move on. The risk is that if they get the attention they’ll just keep doing it for the rest of the night. Sometimes you just need to ignore them.

Well, I think you handled that pretty well.
Thank you.

Okay, that’s it for my questions. You are an inspiration to us all and we’ll be looking forward to seeing you guys again soon.
Oh thank you. We’ll be sure to come to Helsinki and Finland again soon.

In This Moment We Are Free – Cities comes out October 20th, 2017. We’ll be sure to check it out. Good bye!
Bye!

WINDHAND w/ SATAN’S SATYRS @ Kuudes Linja, Helsinki, 25.09.2017

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Windhand with Satan’s Satyrs at Kuudes Linja, 2017.
Photos by Marco Manzi.

PLAYLIST OF MY LIFE – Iivo Kaipainen (Arion), 2017

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Arion is hardly a stranger anymore to fans of Finnish melodic metal, and the upcoming second album of the Helsinki-based troupe is one of the most anticipated future releases in Musicalypse headquarters as well. Following their new single, “No One Stands in My Way”, and while waiting for the release date for the whole album, we are delighted to share the playlist of band guitarist and main composer Iivo Kaipainen’s life.

 

1. The first song you remember hearing as a child
I’m a child of a classical composer and a classical singer so I’ve been to an incredible number of classical concerts as a kid. Back then I was always sung to sleep and that’s why I’ll answer the Brahms’ Lullaby. One of the most beautiful melodies in the world.

2. The first song you can recall ever really and truly loving
The first Pokemon theme! It’s still so freaking nostalgic to me… And I think I’m not the only one who feels this way (of those at my age).

3. A song that you loved as a teenager/reminds you of high school
I had ”Psychosocial” by Slipknot on endless repeat when I was 13-14 I think. I still love the song. I also remember blasting ”Dead to the World” by Nightwish with Viljami, the first singer of Arion during our pre-high school years.

4. The song or band that got you into metal music (or the current genre you play in)
“Nemo” by Nightwish. I heard it playing on Finnish pop station Radio Nova when I was 9-10 years old. My heart has belonged to heavy rock and metal ever since. It’s probably worth mentioning that I was exposed to the music of Children of Bodom and Iron Maiden by my friends in elementary school and that’s why I ended up playing the guitar.

5. The most recent song to get stuck in your head
Arch Enemy – “The Eagle Flies Alone.” I can’t get the intro melody out of my head. It haunts me…

6. Your guilty pleasure song/band
I’ve got way too many of those! Hah… Anyway ”Lost Boys” by The 69 Eyes, “La la la” by Naughty Boy, “All of Me” by John Legend, etc.… I also have to list ”Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John. I don’t fancy the original studio version too much – it feels a bit cheesy to me – but the song itself is one of greatest ever written.

7. The first album you bought with your own money/the first album you were really excited to own
I think it was a Nightwish album, most probably Once or Highest Hopes. I also remember buying almost every record made by Children of Bodom.

8. A song that makes you want to curl up on the couch with a hot beverage
“Bother” by Stone Sour. Hauntingly beautiful, sad, and intene song written and sung by one of my favorite vocalists.

9. A song to blast at full volume while you’re on the road
When I get my chance to be the DJ while on the road, I always choose at least “Throne” by Bring Me the Horizon, “War Eternal” by Arch Enemy, “Numb” by Linkin Park, “Last Ride of the Day” by Nightwish, “Feel Invincible” by Skillet, and “Lift Me Up” by Five Finger Death Punch.

10. The song you’d most like to be played at your funeral
“One Day” by Hanz Zimmer. It includes one of my favorite soundtrack themes of all time.

 

Listen “No One Stands in My Way” and more from Arion on Spotify:

AMORPHIS @ The Circus, Helsinki, 23.09.2017

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Amorphis’ final show of the Under the Red Cloud World Tour at The Circus, 2017.
Photos by Miia Collander.

DARK DAYS OF HELSINKI @ Nosturi, Helsinki, 22-23.09.2017

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Dark Days of Helsinki festival at Nosturi, 2017.
Photos by Marco Manzi.

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! A quick aside here too – every single person we met at this show was very kind and everyone was amiable to one another; it’s a wonder to be at a place where everyone is so positive and enthusiastic and bound together in fellowship over the love of something. Townsend himself then 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

CRIMFALL w/ VORNA @ Klubi, Tampere, 20.09.2017

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Crimfall with Vorna at Klubi, Tampere, 2017.
Photos by Lene L.

TallennaTallenna

(2017) Grave Pleasures: Motherblood (English)

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Artist: Grave Pleasures
Album: Motherblood
Released: 29.09.2017
Label: Century Media

 

Gothic rock/post-punk posse Grave Pleasures seems to have become a cult name of sorts, as I recall seeing them (as well as the band’s previous incarnation, Beastmilk) mentioned in various magazines and websites, usually in a positive light. Despite all the hype, I only have vague recollections of listening to one or two of their songs until now, which makes me suspect that they didn’t leave a very lasting impression on me back then. Nevertheless, I decided to tackle the Helsinki-based group’s sophomore effort (third if you count Beastmilk’s Climax from 2013), Motherblood, the successor to 2015’s Dreamcrash.

 

Just a brief glance at the song titles – “Joy Through Death”, “Laughing Abyss”, “Deadenders” – lets you know what’s going on – gloom is the name of the game, and the influence of the likes of Joy Division, The Cure, and Killing Joke shines through, especially in Mat McNerney’s vocals. However, there’s also a punky, rocking edge reminiscent of Misfits that makes the music perversely upbeat, which is also reflected in the band’s name – it’s as if you were at an apocalyptic rave. The forceful opening track “Infatuation Overkill” demonstrates this duality well and gets straight into action. My favorite album openers either have a slow build-up or kick things off with a bang, and this tune fits the latter description down to a T. The problem here is that most of the songs follow a similar formula – dark and more or less fast-paced music with dramatic vocals – and become a blur because of the similar tempos and vibes.

Some songs do stand out positively: “Atomic Christ” breaks the monotony with its extended horror film-style intro and is a doomsday anthem done right, while “Falling for an Atom Bomb” is so groovy that it’s bound to make Goth ladies shake their assets on the dance floor, and “Mind Intruder’s” driving bassline, beat, and catchy melodies stick out. I keep longing for a quiet and brooding number though, because – to use a Cure analogy – I have a feeling these guys could make their own “Drowning Man” or “Faith” and pull it off if they weren’t so terrified of slowing down for a few minutes. More variety would also make the impact of the up-tempo numbers a lot more powerful. Additionally, one annoying detail in “Joy Through Death” is that the vocals seem to be just slightly out of sync with the music in the chorus, but maybe this is a conscious stylistic choice – who knows?

 

The fact that Motherblood manages to be dark yet rocking at the same time is commendable, but ultimately Grave Pleasures comes across as a rather formulaic one-trick pony. Instead of being a captivating dark thriller that virtually grabs your hand and forces you to watch it until the very end, this is the black-and-white flick on TV in the hospital waiting room that’s mildly intriguing, but hardly essential viewing. Motherblood’s sameness doesn’t get overbearing thanks to the album’s compact length, and none of the songs are bad per se, but a sizable chunk of the record basically floats by without leaving a big impression, other than, “Alright, but wouldn’t necessarily listen again.” Maybe I was let down because of the hype surrounding the band, but it looks like my initial impression of their music not being particularly memorable wasn’t totally off. I have to say I’ve heard music in a similar vein done better by others – both the big names from the 80s and some contemporary underground acts – and I think I’ll continue to stick to those groups.

Rating: 6½/10, 3 stars

Tracklist:
1. Infatuation Overkill
2. Doomsday Rainbows
3. Be My Hiroshima
4. Joy Through Death
5. Mind Intruder
6. Laughing Abyss
7. Falling for an Atom Bomb
8. Atomic Christ
9. Deadenders
10. Haunted Afterlife

(2017) Grave Pleasures: Motherblood (suomeksi)

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Artisti: Grave Pleasures
Albumi: Motherblood
Julkaisupäivä: 29.09.2017
Levy-yhtiö: Century Media

 

Goottirock/post-punk -poppoo Grave Pleasuresista on ilmeisesti tullut jonkinlainen kulttinimi, sillä muistan nähneeni sen (sekä bändin edellisen inkarnaation Beastmilkin) mainittuna lukuisien lehtien ja nettijulkaisujen sivuilla, monesti mairittelevassa valossa. Kaikesta hypestä huolimatta minulla on vain hämäriä muistikuvia siitä, että olisin kuullut bändiltä yksi tai kaksi biisiä tähän mennessä, mistä päättelen etteivät ne jättäneet järin vahvaa vaikutelmaa. Päätin kuitenkin tarttua helsinkiläisten toiseen tuotokseen (kolmanteen jos Beastmilkin Climax vuodelta 2013 lasketaan) Motherbloodiin, vuoden 2015 Dreamcrashin seuraajaan.

 

Pikainen katsaus kappaleiden otsikoihin – “Joy Through Death”, “Laughing Abyss”, “Deadenders” – kertoo, millaisesta musiikista on kyse. Synkistely on pelin nimi, ja Joy Divisionin, The Curen ja Killing Joken kaltaisten bändien vaikutus paistaa läpi, varsinkin Mat McNerneyn laulussa. Musiikissa on kuitenkin myös misfitsmäisen punkahtavaa ja rokkaavaa särmää, mikä tekee siitä perverssin pirteää, mikä heijastuu myös bändin nimessä – kuin apokalyptisissa reiveissä olisi. Painokas avausraita “Infatuation Overkill” edustaa tätä kaksijakoisuutta hyvin ja syöksyy suoraan tositoimiin. Suosikkiavausbiisini joko kasvavat hiljalleen tai lähtevät pamahtaen käyntiin, ja tämä ralli edustaa vahvasti jälkimmäistä koulukuntaa. Ongelmana on se, että useimmat biisit seuraavat pitkälti samaa kaavaa – tummasävyistä ja enemmän tai vähemmän nopeatempoista musiikkia kohtalokkaalla laululla – ja sen seurauksena sulautuvat yhteen samankaltaisten tempojen ja tunnelmien vuoksi.

Jotkin kappaleet erottuvat edukseen: “Atomic Christ” rikkoo monotoniaa kauhuleffamaisella pitkällä introllaan ja on hyvin tehty tuomiopäivän yhteislaulu, kun taas “Falling for an Atom Bomb” on niin groovaava, että se saa taatusti goottinaiset keikuttelemaan vartaloitaan tanssilattialla, ja “Mind Intruderin” jyräävä bassolinja ja komppi sekä tarttuvat melodiat jäävät mieleen. Kaipaan kuitenkin edes yhtä hitaampaa ja hautovampaa kappaletta, sillä – käyttääkseni The Cure -vertausta – arvelen, että bändi pystyisi onnistuneesti tekemään oman “The Drowning Maninsa” tai “Faithinsa”, jos tahdin hidastaminen edes parin minuutin ajaksi ei hirvittäisi niin paljon. Suurempi vaihtelu näet tekisi myös nopeiden rallien tehosta paljon voimakkaamman. Lisäksi levyllä on yksi ärsyttävä yksityiskohta, sillä “Joy Through Deathin” kertosäkeessä laulu kuulostaa olevan hieman epätahdissa muihin soittimiin nähden, mutta kenties tämä on vain tietoinen tyylikeino?

 

On ihailtavaa, että Motherblood onnistuu synkistelemään ja rokkaamaan samanaikaisesti, mutta loppupeleissä Grave Pleasures jää hieman kaavamaiseksi yhden tempun poniksi. Sen sijaan, että kyseessä olisi kiehtovan tumma trilleri, joka suorastaan tarttuu käteen ja pakottaa katsomaan loppuun asti, käsillä on sairaalan odotushuoneen tv:ssä taustalla pyörivä mustavalkofilmi, joka on lievästi mielenkiintoinen, muttei mitään pakollista katsottavaa. Motherbloodin yksipuolisuus ei mene yli hilseen albumin ytimekkään keston ansiosta, eikä yksikään biisi ole varsinaisesti huono, mutta suuri osa levystä vain lipuu ohi tekemättä sen kummempaa vaikutelmaa kuin “ok, mutten välttämättä kuuntelisi toistamiseen”. Ehkä bändiä ympäröivä hype vaikutti pettymykseeni, mutta näköjään alkuperäinen ensivaikutelmani sen musiikin unohdettavuudesta ei ollut täysin tuulesta temmattu. Pakkoa sanoa, että olen kuullut samanhenkistä mutta parempaa musiikkia muiden – niin 80-luvun isojen nimien kuin joidenkin tämänhetkisten underground-yhtyeiden – tekemänä, ja taidan jatkossakin tyytyä noihin bändeihin.

Arvosana: 6½/10, 3 tähteä

Kappalelista:
1. Infatuation Overkill
2. Doomsday Rainbows
3. Be My Hiroshima
4. Joy Through Death
5. Mind Intruder
6. Laughing Abyss
7. Falling for an Atom Bomb
8. Atomic Christ
9. Deadenders
10. Haunted Afterlife

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!

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!

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.

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.

 

TallennaTallenna

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TallennaTallenna

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.