The Tampere-based NEM Agency is doing fine cultural work in the domestic live music scene, since they finally got Arkona, the Russian folk metal act, to throw a gig in Finland. The band, founded in 2002 in Moscow, split up before the release of their first album, but the vocalist and primus motor, Maša Arihipova, gathered a group of studio musicians to record the band’s first two albums, and afterwards the session musicians joined the band as permanent members. Arkona has a reputation of being a great live act, and they’ve played pretty big stages with success in the past, so beforehand it was evident that the Finnish show was going to be intense, since it was to take place in the intimate Kuudes Linja on February 17th. Kouvola’s own Kivimetsän Druidi was there to warm up the stage, and since they’ve been active as long as Arkona, there was a certain Battle of the Nations –type of feel in the air.
In spite of being on a Friday, the showtimes were marked surprisingly early, with Kivimetsän Druidi starting at 19:30 and Arkona at 22:45. I arrived at Kuudes Linja at about 19:00, right at the time the doors were supposed to open, but it took a good 20 minutes to get the coatroom line moving. Fortunately the line melted away pretty fast, but as Kivimetsän Druidi started off their set a few minutes late, there were quite a few people who were still queuing outside, hoping to already be at the bar.
As with other Finnish folk metal acts with fantasy elements in their songs, KMD’s domestic fanbase hasn’t quite grown to the size they deserve, which is truly a shame; as always, the band played an excellent show to the somewhat small but steadily growing audience. Their latest release, last year’s The Lost Captains EP, was played in full and combined with nice picks from their previous efforts, and they even played the title track from their first EP, Kristallivuoren maa. The band was performing in a pleasant mood, getting the audience to shove their fists in the air and clap along, and the bassist, Simo Lehtonen, doing all the interim speeches, was as laid-back as ever. The mix was great for the most part, although Leeni-Maria Hovila’s classical vocals tended to get behind the rest of the band at times.
From their debut album, Shadowheart, the set ended with the feisty “Blacksmith” and “Jäässä varttunut”, the latter probably still being the band’s most well-known track. It’s not easy to make yourself known to the audience these days, especially when Kivimetsän Druidi doesn’t currently have a label to back them up and promote them, but I still wish that the band could yank their success to (at least) the next level, both in Finland and central Europe – their songs are clearly good enough for the task.
Near the end of the intermission, the atmosphere was almost tangible, as the music was changed to stripped-down traditional singing and the lights were dimmed to a minimum, with the venue being full of anxious people waiting for Arkona to take the stage. Finally the band of five climbed on stage and kicked things off with “Yav”, the colossal title track off their latest album. Every player was instantly moved into a passive role, as Arihipova took a hold of the situation with her unbelievable energy. She paced back and forth and let so many different sounds out of her vocal cords that I’m hard-pressed to think of another frontlady quite as spectacular. Of course the rest of the band performed with confidence and the band’s flutist, Vladimir Reshetnikov, was especially amazing to witness live, as in addition to his smaller fipple flute, he also played the bagpipe. The show wasn’t without minor technical difficulties, however, as Sergey Atrashkevich’s guitar amp blew something after a moment of popping sounds. The rest of the band barely noticed the situation and continued on, leaving Atrashkevich to fiddle with his gear without rush. After the amp was again up and running, he jumped in to the end of the song as nothing had happened.
The show had an amazing audience – fists were pumping in the air and the cheering was non-stop. Arihipova even got the audience to do a wall of death before ”Stenka na Stenku”; everyone who has attended a show at Kuudes Linja can probably imagine what I’m talking about if I say that it was a little pathetic. Also as a pretty rare but extremely nice move, Arkona didn’t leave the stage before their encore, but instead played their whole set in one piece, ending the show with Goi, Rode, Goi!’s “Yarilo.” Having thanked the audience wholeheartedly on almost every occasion she could, Arihipova once again told the audience how great they had been, and it was pretty clear that the show had been a great experience for both the band and the audience. The set wasn’t as long as a week ago in Moscow (30 songs!), but a tad short of an hour and a half was still more than enough. The light technician had utilized the stage’s setup to its fullest, and the sound was excellent throughout: the mixer spent the most of his time in the audience, adjusting the levels with his iPad – mobile apps are clearly making their way to live shows as well.
It’s always nice to attend shows at Kuudes Linja, as the whole package works regardless of music genre, and since the show ended pretty early, it was easy to continue with the evening in the city center. Earlier, as I was queuing to the ticket booth, I felt a great deal of pity towards this clearly under-aged girl, who had arrived at the venue with her dad and had purchased a ticket beforehand, begging the doorman to let her in, which obviously the guy couldn’t do. She was hugely disappointed, but I can say that if there’s anything to be deducted from tonight’s action, I think it’s a certainty that Arkona will return to Finland!
Photos: Miia Collander