Battlelore, one of Finland’s most under-appreciated local acts, released six albums between 2002-2011 before retreating, taking a hiatus of unspecified length. Some time ago, the band announced two live shows, one in Turku on September 23rd and the other in Helsinki on September 24th, for the first time in over 4 years. The Lappeenranta-based metal act has always been hugely popular in central Europe, but has, for some reason, eluded the Finnish audience, which has always seemed a bit odd to me considering the number of Finnish folk metal bands and their overall domestic success.
My old home town has produced a number of successful metal bands, of which I’ve always regarded Battlelore to be one of the best, so it was pretty self-explanatory to attend at least one of the two shows.
Arriving at the venue, GONG2 (previously Turku’s Klubi), I was running a bit late, but I still had some time to check the venue out nevertheless. Klubi used to be a shady live venue with dark wall paint and beer stains, but the place was renovated along with the name change. The walls were painted white and a bunch of black umbrellas were inserted to hang from the ceiling to dim the lighting. My local friends, who hadn’t been there for a while, commented that the space felt a lot bigger than before because of the paint job. Also, I can’t remember if this was the case with Klubi but the cloakroom was placed right next to the band area, which seemed to confuse some of the concert-goers.
After I steered away from the cloakroom and grabbed a beer, the first band of the evening, Whispered from Tampere, had already started their show. I’ve written about these guys a few times already, and nothing’s changed since the last time I saw them live: Whispered’s melodic death metal was as effective as ever. The band has been quite popular for a few years now, so it wasn’t a surprise that the venue was already quite packed – from what I heard from my friends, opening acts usually only attract a few dozen people. Whispered gave us a nice performance and created some spontaneous mosh pit action in the front of the stage, and it was pretty clear that people had come to see all three bands. The setlist was – due to the limited timeframe – mostly comprised of Whispered’s music video tracks, but the band managed to surprise me completely, as they finished off with the new album’s epic 11-minute closing track, “Bloodred Shores of Enoshima.” NOICE!
The evening’s second act, Kivimetsän Druidi, has been around since 2002. The band showed up on my radar in 2006 when they released the EP, Mustan Valtikan Aika, attracting considerable attention from folk metal fans and, along with the EP The New Chapter next year, landing them a record deal with Century Media in 2008. Being from Kouvola, which is less than 100 kilometers from Lappeenranta, enabled the band to perform relatively frequently in Lappeenranta at that time, but for some reason I haven’t seen a single one of their shows.
I can’t say that I’m too familiar with Kivimetsän Druidi’s material, but the show was great! The band relies heavily on the dynamics between the guitarist Joni Koskinen’s growls and vocalist Leeni-Maria Hovila’s classical voice, with lengthy experience clearly showing in both members’ performances. The bassist, Simo Lehtonen, puffed up the audience between songs, while the rest of the band concentrated on playing. A word on the band’s drummer, Atte Marttinen, though – impressive precision and strength right there! The setlist featured a few tracks from the band’s latest EP, The Lost Captains, and was concluded with (arguably) the band’s most well-known song, “Jäässä Varttunut,” off their debut album, Shadowheart.
Time for the main act! Kivimetsän Druidi had attracted a hefty audience, as the band space was almost full when Battlelore started their show. The group climbed on stage and kicked off with “Fangorn,” dating all the way back to their debut album from 2002, Where the Shadows Lie. Didn’t see that coming – I’ve only heard the song live in 2006, when Battlelore played at Imatra’s Rock to the River festival! The Last Alliance’s opener, “Third Immortal,” followed, before the harsh vocalist, Tomi Mykkänen, introduced the band in his thick Karelian accent.
The show continued on with the debut album’s “Khazad-Dûm pt. 1” and “Kärmessurma” from their latest effort, Doombound, and it was delightful to notice that Battlelore was still as vibrant live as they were before the hiatus. The band dropped hits one after another: “House of Heroes,” “Sons of Riddermark,” “We Are the Legions”… they even did “Moontower” and “The Star of High Hope,” the two last songs off The Last Alliance. Before the last song in the set, Mykkänen asked – maybe a bit shyly – to come to the T-shirt sales booth and say hello after the show. Battlelore concluded their main set with “Journey to Undying Lands” off Where the Shadows Lie and climbed off the stage only to instantly be cheered back. The band gave the audience the choice between Sword’s Song’s killer track, “Buccaneer’s Inn,” and Third Age of the Sun’s opener, “Storm of the Blades,” of which the audience (of course) cheered for “Buccaneer’s Inn.” Sadly, this was the last song of the evening, as Battlelore thanked the audience afterwards and went backstage.
Battlelore is a great band with a long history – the seven current members have been together since 2004 with loads of hit material, and it’s a shame that during their prime they didn’t receive the kind of promotion from their record label or media that they musically should have. Their concept is far richer than some of their domestic competitors with the lyrical themes based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; Doombound even being a concept album based on Tolkien’s tale of Túrin Turambar, which in turn is based on Kullervo, a character from the Finnish national epic, Kalevala. Of course, Battlelore is not the only metal band to base all of part of their work on Tolkien, with Germany’s Blind Guardian and Austria’s Summoning to name a few, but there’s no denial of the brilliant work of Battlelore’s primus motor, guitarist Jyri Vahvanen. I sincerely hope that the band will continue on after this brief comeback.
As a whole, the night was a great success, as all three bands had great performances, the renovated venue worked nicely, and a pint of beer was moderately priced at €4.50. The stage was small and its lighting wasn’t as extravagant as one would’ve expected, but it served the audience just fine. As said, the bands had a T-shirt sales stand in the back corner of the band space, and hopefully sales were good. Maybe the only surprising thing about the evening was the absence of Battlelore’s third (and somewhat of a breakthrough) album, Third Age of the Sun, in the setlist – songs like “Gwaith-i-Mírdain” or “Touch of Green and Gold” would have been wonderful additions to the already great setlist.
2. Third Immortal
3. Khazad-Dûm pt. 1
5. House of Heroes
6. Olden Gods
7. Sons of Riddermark
9. We are the Legions
10. The Star of High Hope
11. Last of the Lords
12. Journey to Undying Lands
13. Buccaneer’s Inn
Text: Atte Valtonen