Amorphis has been pretty much dominating the Finnish live music scene this whole summer. As August drew to a close, Helsinki celebrated the annual multi-arts festival, Helsingin Juhlaviikot (Helsinki Party-Weeks), and on the 27th of August, Amorphis took over the Huvila-teltta stage once more to offer something completely new: two 1-hour sets, with the second featuring Under the Red Cloud in its entirety. What’s more, they had advertised Anneke van Giersbergen as a special guest for the event. Musicalypse showed up early to grab Anneke and Esa Holopainen for a quick interview and then stuck around to catch the sold-out gig itself.
Bear: We’ve seen no shortage of Amorphis this summer, but what made this festival special was the length and content – the first set promised some classic Amorphis with a bit of improvisation, while the second set was a complete play-through of Under the Red Cloud. For me, this was the main draw, while Wille was also excited to hear what the first set would have in store.
First of all, the venue. Huvila-teltta (Huvila-tent) is, to my knowledge, set up exclusively for the Juhlaviikot events, and it was great. There was an open space for the crowd to stand if they wanted to, and an auditorium-like set of ascending seats for those who didn’t want to stand. As well, at the back there was more room for people to stand up, in case the front was too crowded. Everyone could see the stage, and the sound quality was fantastic on the whole. This was the first time in ages I didn’t wear earplugs – it was loud to be sure, but not so loud that it gave me tinnitus afterwards, and the overall sound quality was incredibly smooth and well-balanced throughout the show. I’m not certain if this had anything to do with the tent or what, but it was a breath of fresh air.
Wille: The press release for the show had led me to believe the first set would be fully improvised – naïve, I know! – but “Enigma” was a good mood-setter and indication of what the first set would be like: familiar songs played with slightly different flavors and extra bits, courtesy of the guests. The biggest shocker of the night was already the second song, the title-track off Far from the Sun (2003), which was played for the first time in over 10 years. I never would’ve expected Amorphis to pull anything from that album out of the vault, given how unhappy the band members are with it. While FftS is easily the lowest point in Amorphis’ otherwise solid discography, the title-track is one of the few songs I like from that record, and it certainly gained new life with this performance.
The acoustic set continued with “Silent Waters,” which I didn’t recognize at first due to the more guitar-driven arrangement, and ended with “My Kantele,” which culminated in a great jouhikko [traditional Finnish bowed lyre] solo by Pekko Käppi. I’ve heard at least three different versions of “My Kantele” live, but never the fully acoustic one, so it was nice to finally experience it. These acoustic arrangements with extra instruments were so well done that it would’ve been pleasure to hear more of them, but I was just happy to hear any at all, as I’d missed out on the band’s concert hall tour 4 years earlier. Tomi Joutsen also admitted he doesn’t feel completely at home while performing unplugged, because it makes him feel naked.
While saxophonist/flutist Sakari Kukko left the stage and Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen switched to electric guitars, Niclas Etelävuori played a heavily effected bass intro, which led to “Silver Bride.” After that, Kukko came back and it was time for a double punch of my personal favorite Amorphis songs, when “Sampo” and “Alone” were performed. This was a magical moment, because I hadn’t heard either song live in a while, and both were extended with instrumental bits that allowed Käppi and particularly Kukko to shine. “The Wanderer” was up next, and while it’s not a bad song, it felt like an underwhelming pick after the streak of greatness that had preceded it, especially because it was performed without any guests. Joutsen even mistakenly introduced it as the first single off the latest album, though he admitted he wasn’t totally sure, blaming years of headbanging for destroying his brain cells. However, the first set was wrapped up perfectly when Anneke van Giersbergen was introduced to a rapturous applause, joining Joutsen for a gorgeous duet on “Her Alone.” Their voices melded well together and I wish the band would’ve played one more song with her, or at least had her join in on “The Wanderer” already.
Bear: I have nothing to add – that pretty much covered it! The first set took an hour and then the crowd was given the opportunity to step out and get some fresh air, visit the toilet, or grab a drink or some food for the next hour. Juhlaviikot had offered a variety of tickets, several of which had a small meal included. Meals could also be bought without a ticket as well. The food was fairly expensive compared to most festivals with a price tag of 12,50€, and though the food was certainly fancier than you’ll get at say, Maailma Kylässä -festivaali (World Village festival), it still felt overpriced for what you were getting – I’d have been okay with paying 8-10€ for the plate of food. Regardless, I certainly appreciated the opportunity to eat and drink something, as we still had another hour and some to go.
Wille: Meanwhile in the tent, Amorphis’ lyricist, Pekka Kainulainen, showed up on stage dressed up like a sort of shaman. Most of the audience seemed to be back already, though the actual music hadn’t continued yet, taking heed of Tomi Joutsen’s praise of Kainulainen’s poetry performance, which he said people wouldn’t want to miss out on. Kainulainen’s costume didn’t allow him to use a microphone, so his speech was pre-recorded. He read bits of his original Finnish poems, which the lyrics of Under the Red Cloud were based on – I recognized lines and verses from at least seven songs. It was cool to hear them recited in their original form by the man who wrote them, and the nature imagery on the screen was a beautiful companion.
Bear: And then it was time for Under the Red Cloud. As much as I enjoyed the first set, this was the set that really got me going. One small detail that’s worth mentioning immediately is that the stage had a different UtRC-themed image in the background for every song, many of which I saw on T-shirts in the crowd, and some of them were either new or just never-before-seen for myself.
The first three songs from UtRC are already familiar from their recent touring and plentiful summer shows, but “The Skull” was the first of several live debuts of the night. While still a good track, “The Skull” is not one of my favorites from the album and it’s quite understandable why it’s been left off the sets from the UtRC tour. However, in the context of the full album being played live, this track was now in exactly the right place and it was nice to get a chance to hear it at least this once.
Of course, it’s clear by now that I love “Death of a King” with a near-unreasonable fervency, but I also began to appreciate “Sacrifice” a lot more as a fun live song, as this was the first time this summer I’ve really let myself go and rocked out properly at an Amorphis show. While the song is more of a ‘radio hit’, it’s got a good groove to dance to and great energy in a live context. By the time we hit “Dark Path” and “Enemy at the Gate,” I began to really appreciate how diverse Tomi Joutsen’s growls are for the first time. Of course he sings wonderfully with his clean vocals, but he has both the Alexi Laiho -style screamy growls, the standard death metal growls, as well as the black metal growls, and made very efficient use of all of them throughout the second set.
“Tree of Ages” and “White Night” were both played for the first time this night, and unlike with “The Skull,” these were two songs that I thought could have easily been included in their live sets, had they been so inclined, with the latter left out for obvious reasons. Tomi Joutsen mentioned that they had asked Aleah Stanbridge, who did the female vocals on the album, to join them on stage for this song, and she had agreed, but “fate decided otherwise,” as unfortunately, she has since passed away. As such, the screen in the back showed the first image that was not related to the UtRC album art style, but rather an image of her face as the song was dedicated to her memory. I confess that I wished that van Giersbergen had sang her parts, as I think she would have done a beautiful job of that song, but I also understand that Stanbridge has passed away only very recently, and perhaps they felt it was inappropriate to replace her, so to speak, so soon. Whatever the reason, or whoever’s reason it was to leave the song be and play the backing track, I respect it, even if I would’ve liked to hear van Giersbergen’s take on the song.
The show then ended with Joutsen bringing van Giersbergen back for one more song: “House of Sleep.” This was perhaps my favorite version of the song I’ve ever heard, perhaps simply because van Giersbergen’s voice added something so new and fresh to a classic. And not only that, but Käppi and Kukko also returned for this song, adding another aspect of novelty into the mix. For what they suggested to have been very little time practicing together, they did a very nice job of tying the whole thing together and creating something fun and novel for the event.
Wille: It’s no secret that I’m a fan of full album sets, and Under the Red Cloud was no exception in that regard. While I started to see some flaws in the previous two Amorphis albums after a year had passed since their release, UtRC still holds up extremely well, and hearing it performed start-to-finish only strengthened the notion that it’s one of Amorphis’ greatest achievements. Songs like “Bad Blood” and “Death of a King” lifted the energy levels successfully just like at Pakkahuone and Monsters of Rock, and this time it was great to hear a venue full of people chanting “Death! Of! A king!” in one voice. The highlights, though, were the songs that I hadn’t heard live yet, especially “Dark Path,” during which Joutsen commanded everyone to headbang, and “White Night,” which was a moving tribute to Aleah Stanbridge. “House of Sleep” ended the night on a high note, with all the guests on stage again. Van Giersbergen harmonized beautifully with Joutsen on the chorus, and we can only hope she’ll work with the band again in the future.
Bear: Ultimately, this show proved to be the best Amorphis show I’ve seen all summer. Everything was fun and fresh, even if it might’ve been a bit sloppy at times, likely due to the improvisation or lack of practice time with van Giersbergen. I couldn’t say how many times I’ve heard metal music with a saxophone, but it worked! My only complaint would be that van Giersbergen was only present for two songs. She’s such a talented vocalist, so I’m sure they could’ve snuck her into a few more songs (not just referring to “White Night”), but alas, we can’t always have everything we want. I’ve got a few shows on my list of nominees for Gig of the Year, and I think I’ll be adding this to the list for one reason: prior to this show, I didn’t really consider myself a fan of Amorphis per say, in spite of loving UtRC and liking many other songs, as well as having seen them live about a million times and enjoying it every time. This show made me go back and listen through their earlier albums with new appreciation and afterwards, I can say with confidence that I consider myself a fan of Amorphis.
Wille: How many Finnish metal bands could perform with a jouhikko and wind instruments and make it work? Amorphis is arguably the only group in this country that can successfully juggle between metal festivals and cultural events like this. The atmosphere in the tent was unbelievably warm and joyous, and you could tell everyone in there was a fan. The reception clearly pushed the band to give everything they had, and Joutsen was evidently thrilled by the audience’s reaction. I wish the bass volume would’ve been turned down just a notch, and the sound was a little chaotic at a few points due to there being so many instruments playing at the same time, but 99% of the time the guests truly enhanced the concert. Hopefully the experience of playing slightly extended versions of songs in the first half will inspire the band members to jam and improvise a little more during conventional shows as well, because they certainly are capable of it. I find it hard to believe Amorphis could ever top this show, but I’m sure the band still has a trick or two up its sleeve…
2. Far from the Sun
3. Silent Waters
4. My Kantele
5. Silver Bride
8. The Wanderer
9. Her Alone (ft. Anneke van Giersbergen)
1. Under the Red Cloud
2. The Four Wise Ones
3. Bad Blood
4. The Skull
5. Death of a King
7. Dark Path
8. Enemy at the Gates
9. Tree of Ages
10. White Night
11. House of Sleep (ft. Anneke van Giersbergen)
Text: Bear W., Wille Karttunen | Photos: Petri Anttila, kindly provided by Helsingin Juhlaviikot