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.
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
16. From Afar
17. Lai Lai Hei
Photos: Kirsti Leinonen
Artist: Daniel Cavanagh
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
1. The Exorcist
2. This Music
4. The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours
6. Oceans of Time
7. Some Dreams Come True
Artisti: Daniel Cavanagh
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
1. The Exorcist
2. This Music
4. The Silent Flight of the Raven Winged Hours
6. Oceans of Time
7. Some Dreams Come True
Arch Enemy with Jinjer at The Circus, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos by Janne Puronen.
Full gig report HERE!
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.
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
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.
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.
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
11. Towards the Blue Horizon
12. Coda (bright version)
Photos: Charlotta Rajala
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.
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.
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
11. Towards the Blue Horizon
12. Coda (bright version)
Kuvat: Charlotta Rajala
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:
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!
5. By Your Command
9. Bad Devil
11. A Simple Lullaby
12. Deep Peace
Ocean Machine set:
13. Seventh Wave
16. Hide Nowhere
18. 3 a.m.
19. Voices in the Fan
24. The Death of Music
25. Things Beyond Things
Artist: Grave Pleasures
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
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
10. Haunted Afterlife
Artisti: Grave Pleasures
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
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
10. Haunted Afterlife
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!
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
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
16. Final Fantasy VII – One-Winged Angel
Photos: Jana Blomqvist
Game Music Collective at Finlandia-talo, 2017.
Photos by Jana Blomqvist.
Full gig report HERE!
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 Jansen: Universal Migrator pt. 1 (2000), 01011001 (2008), The Source (2017); Space Metal (Star One, 2002), Victims of the Modern Age (Star One, 2010)
Damian Wilson: Into the Electric Castle (1998), The Universal Migrator pt. 1 & 2; Space Metal (Star One), Victims of the Modern Age (Star One)
Hansi Kürsch: 01011001, The Source
Tommy Karevik: The Theory of Everything, The Source
Anneke van Giersbergen: Into the Electric Castle, 01011001, The Theater Equation (2015)
Marco Hietala: The Theory of Everything
Jonas Renkse: 01011001
Mike Mills: The Theory of Everything, The Theater Equation, The Source
Marcela Bovio: The Human Equation, The Final Experiment (2005 reissue), The Theater Equation
Irene Jansen: The Human Equation, The Final Experiment (2005 reissue), The Theater Equation
Robert Soeterboek: The Final Experiment (1995); Star One, session vocalist on many other albums
John Jaycee Cuijpers: The Final Experiment (2005 reissue)
Edward Reekers: The Final Experiment, Actual Fantasy (1996), Into the Electric Castle, Universal Migrator pt. 1
Jay van Feggelen: The Final Experiment, Into the Electric Castle
Maggy Luyten: 01011001
Lisette van den Berg: The 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?
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
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
22. Age of Shadows
23. Intergalactic Space Crusaders (Star One cover)
25. Everybody Dies
26. The Castle Hall
27. Amazing Flight
28. Day Eleven: Love
29. The Eye of Ra (Star One cover)
Ayreon Universe at Poppodium 013, Tilburg, NL, 2017.
Photos by Amy W.
Full gig report HERE tomorrow!
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 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:
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.
1. Suuri äiti
2. Revontulten repijä
5. Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta
10. Vallan haamut
11. Tähtilaivan kapteeni
12. Kosmologisen vakion laulu
13. Parvatin tietäjä
14. Punainen komentaja
15. Langennut valo
18. Kaikkivaltiaan peili
Kuvat: Amy Wiseman
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.
1. Suuri äiti
2. Revontulten repijä
5. Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta
10. Vallan haamut
11. Tähtilaivan kapteeni
12. Kosmologisen vakion laulu
13. Parvatin tietäjä
14. Punainen komentaja
15. Langennut valo
18. Kaikkivaltiaan peili
Photos: Amy W./Janne Puronen
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.