DARK SARAH w/ ARION – Virgin Oil Co., Helsinki, 11.02.2017

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On a dark and slippery Saturday night, sometimes it’s best to stay home. However, occasionally, there comes an event that’s intriguing enough to pull you away from the warm cozy comfort of your house, and on the 11th of February, 2017, Dark Sarah’s release show for their latest album, The Puzzle, (which, interestingly enough, was released November 18th, 2016) was one such event. With Arion as the opener (along with another new name, Manzana), and considering I hadn’t even heard of Dark Sarah until a week or so ago, I figured it’d be worth my while to pop by and check it out.

Full gallery HERE!
Listen along with the setlist here:

 

I was too late to the venue to check out Manzana, but made it just in time to catch Arion’s set. They started things out with “Out of the Ashes” and unfortunately, the sound quality was immediately abysmal. The sound engineer did some work to fix it, but alas, as is common at Virgin Oil, the show never achieved a proper balance. This has plagued Arion every time I’ve seen them at this venue, which is to say, every time I’ve seen them save once, at On the Rocks of all places. Nevertheless, the band gave it their all, as is to be expected from these guys.

They followed “Ashes” with “I am the Storm”, which remains a very Symphony X -sounding song, at least to my ears. The intro synth was loud, but beyond that, they pretty much might as well have left Arttu Vauhkonen at home, because the keyboards were nearly completely absent from the mix. Again. However, Kaipainen was reasonably audible as he tackled the guitar solos with style. They keys were again present (and excellent) in the intro to “Seven”, and the band really nailed the ambient, echo-y sounds from “Last of Us”, my personal favorite; the song had such an explosive ending that I actually thought the gig was already over. This was followed by “Lost” and “At the Break of Dawn.” I really enjoy the latter, but the use of the backing track makes the song just straight-up weird live. It’s a duet sung by one person, essentially, which feels very uncomfortable. My bucket list truly includes a version of this song live that actually has Elize Ryd doing the vocal part. They closed out their set with “Unforgivable”, their latest single. Something about this song didn’t quite catch though, and their set sort of fizzled out a bit when it concluded. Perhaps that song isn’t the strongest closer, or maybe it just didn’t work on this particular night – especially compared to the previously-mentioned epic song closer! It’s possible that the sound quality is to blame for that though.

Much like the previous night’s show, the floor had been rather empty when the show started, but Arion’s great style, commanding presence, and purely good music managed to captivate the audience and lure them out onto the floor. I remain convinced that Lassi Vääränen was exactly the showman this band needed after Viljami Holopainen left – he owns the stage and has incredible presence. You might write his voice off as being a bit ‘generic power metal’, but I’ll go so far as to say that there’s something a bit special or unique in his sound that makes him stand out from the crowd. Overall, this band truly deserves a bigger and more responsive crowd, as well as better sound quality – how can they be expected to make new fans if half of their gigs sound like shit by no fault of their own? I may take a break from their gigs if they end up at Virgin Oil again, but trust me when I say that the second they play at a better venue, I’ll be there!

Arion’s setlist:
1. Out of the Ashes
2. I am the Storm
3. Seven
4. Last of Us
5. Lost
6. At the Break of Dawn
7. Unforgivable

 

Dark Sarah was set to take the stage at 00:00, though I’m not sure why Virgin Oil insists on this setup. Much like Ember Falls and Sonic Syndicate the day before, the stage changeover took longer than 20 minutes, and it was already 00:07 before the band was ready to take the stage.

I was quite pleased to see that the crowd looked very enthusiastic for this band – the venue had filled up decently, and there were a few women dressed up in some rather gorgeous Gothic dresses for the occasion. The crowd was shockingly varied too, as there were a few people there who were easily 50+ years old – not an age range I’d expect in this sort of show. The band came onstage as “Breath” played as an intro, and vocalist Heidi Parviainen joined them to a great cheer from the crowd.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve seen Parviainen on stage once before, in Gloria back in 2009 when she used to sing for Amberian Dawn. I thought she was a phenomenal vocalist, but rather wasted on that band, as the music just didn’t do anything for me, in spite of a great deal of talent amongst the collective band members. As such, it was really wonderful to get to see her on stage some 8 years later! She manages to be a very sweet and commanding stage presence, with a touch of cool, and is very endearing. Oh yeah, and she’s got one hell of a voice! She nailed every note with expert precision, and looked great while doing it.

The lights turned solid green and Parviainen sported a rather knowing smile as they started “Little Men.” I found myself quite surprised by the song, as it dabbled in the dance genre more than I had expected in this sort of band, and had a bit of a funky beat. As well, the show as a whole boasted some rather impressive guitarwork.

If there was one problem with the show – and I use the word ‘problem’ rather lightly here – it’s that, of all the shows supporting this release, this was the release party, and also one of the few that didn’t feature JP Leppaluoto (ex-Charon) as a guest vocalist. This is not to say that his replacement, Ilari Hämäläinen, didn’t do a good job – quite the opposite, he was fantastic! – it’s just that Leppaluoto was on the album, is in the video, etc. You’d think he’d have been at the album release party. I’ll have to assume there were some scheduling issues, but it was a bit of a disappointment that he wasn’t present. I haven’t seen him perform in ages. Again though, I will reiterate that if they had to fill his shoes, their choice was a good one. “Dance with the Dragon” is the only song I know – it’s the reason I know this band exists, as its music video showed up in my recommended videos on YouTube. I wasn’t initially convinced of it, as it is a very theatrical song, but it grew on me as I listened and in a live context, I found it quite entertaining. The drama is used to good effect.

“Light in You” followed immediately after, again with Hämäläinen on the male vocals, and I learned later that this song was originally sung by Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica), which is pretty cool. It was one of those moments where I made a note to go home and listen to the original, because the live version was really fun, and definitely a personal highlight.

Now, if I’m being completely honest, this sort of music is pretty hard to follow if you’re not familiar with it. Everything was extremely well done, from the vocals to the music to the performance, even if the sound wasn’t what it should have been. However, I really enjoyed the execution and it was certainly intriguing. I was pretty skeptical about this band when I read about them – “Dark Sarah” is hardly subtle or poetic, and the same goes for some of the other language used in telling the story, such as “The Evil Tree” and so on. This could have been a catastrophically overdone and cheesy Goth show, so I was very pleasantly surprised at how classy and professional the whole thing was, as well as how warm and lovely Parviainen was on stage. So indeed, I’ll be giving both Behind the Black Veil (2015) and The Puzzle a spin in the very near future.

Dark Sarah’s setlist:
Intro – Breath
1. Island in the Mist
2. Little Men
3. Hunting the Dreamer
4. Evil Roots
5. Dance with the Dragon (ft. Ilari Hämäläinen)
6. Light in You (ft. Ilari Hämäläinen)
7. Memories Fall
8. Ash Grove
9. Silver Tree
10. Aquarium

Photos: Kirsti Leinonen

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