One can say with certainty that metal bands doing all-acoustic tours are a rare sight. However, the Finnish Viking-folk metal act, Ensiferum, recently did just that. Though Enska tours their home country fairly frequently, this was the first time we’ve noticed them on an acoustic tour and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to check it out. As such, Musicalypse headed to Nosturi in Helsinki on January 30th, 2016, to find out what it is like when you take the heavy sounds out of folk metal.
My last encounter with Ensiferum was just a few months ago when the band was opening for Children of Bodom on their Finnish tour. Before that, it had been a long time since I last had a chance to see Ensiferum on stage. My enthusiasm towards the genre and this particular band had worn off over time, but I remember being quite fond of Ensiferum around 6-7 years ago. The gig in Jyväskylä, however, reminded me how good they actually were live. Getting a chance to see the band live with an all-acoustic setlist sounded interesting and definitely worth checking out. Maybe this night could rekindle that old flame?
Even though Ensiferum is a pretty popular band, their off-tour shows have been fairly hit-or-miss in the past, so an acoustic gig could really have gone either way. I was interested to see whether or not an acoustic set, without an opening act no less, would be enough to fill Nosturi with eager listeners.
When I arrived at the venue, the sight was not encouraging. There were some people sipping their beers but it did not seem like it would be a full house. Right away a few people walking around in armor-like costumes caught my eye. Were they just particularly eager fans? Were they LARPing? What was happening? Later I found out that the night’s show was following a Buhurt -tournament. To put it shortly, it’s a type of realistic medieval melee tournament, so naturally it was a good opportunity for some crossover.
Around half past nine, the band was welcomed to the stage and a decently sized audience, who were enthusiastic and loud enough to give the whole gig a good vibe from the very beginning. Even though many had stayed in the bar area both up- and downstairs, there were plenty of people crowded in front of the stage ready to, well, enjoy whatever was ahead.
The keyboardist, Emmi Silvennoinen, was absent from the majority of the band’s One Man Army -tour citing personal reasons, and continued to be missing from the acoustic shows. Netta Skog, the renowned ex-Turisas accordionist, filled in for her during the gigs on the previous tour. I loved Skog’s energy on stage back when she was still with Turisas, and it was good to see her in action once more in Jyväskylä last December. Needless to say, I was happy to see her on stage again covering for Silvennoinen on this occasion as well.
Watching an acoustic set by a metal band feels admittedly weird when you see the band just sitting on the stage. With Ensiferum, I’m used to some sort of running and jumping around – bassist Sami Hinkka even went so far as to mention how difficult it was to just stay put in his chair when all he wanted was to stand up and move around stage like he normally does.
However, as the first song, “Token of Time,” started, it felt as if the crowd had gathered around a campfire to hear some old songs from the past. This feeling got stronger the further the set went. Also, the acoustic versions caught my attention in a more intense way compared to the original versions. I have a bad habit of listening more to the music and the melodies rather than the lyrics. The acoustic show, however, forced me to focus more on the lyrics and I ended up noticing parts and words in otherwise familiar songs that I had not paid attention to before.
Even though this tour was a special occasion with a special setlist, the band still put a bit of an emphasis on their newest album One Man Army, with 4 songs in total. Otherwise, the set was a nice combination of new and old, giving me a bit of a nostalgic feeling with songs like “Eternal Wait” and “Lai Lai Hei.” One of my favorite parts of the gig was hearing Skog singing “Tears,” “Neito Pohjolan,” as well as parts from the “Finnish Medley.”
When it comes to the audience, the acoustic show was certainly received warmly. From the very first songs like “Twilight Tavern,” people took part in singing along with the choruses. What totally took me by surprise was seeing the crowd actually forming a moshpit a few times. Thus Ensiferum proved that, as long as the songs are great, it does not matter if you play them acoustically or not – the fans will enjoy it all the same.
With regard to the aforementioned campfire atmosphere, it was, from time to time, ruined by the color combinations of the stage lights that just did not match well with the songs and the overall feeling of the gig. Also, sometimes the lights were changing way too rapidly when compared to the slow and gentle rhythm of the songs. Luckily, this was only the case in a few songs and for the most part I could focus on the actual gig without getting annoyed by the lights.
Being a folk metal band, Ensiferum’s songs were perfect for this kind of acoustic gig. It was as if the origins and inspiration of the songs were dug up and presented properly for the first time. I personally felt that I got a better grip of the lyrics and melodies when hearing the acoustic versions.
Acoustic metal gigs are a rare sight as stated before, but I truly hope more bands will pick up the idea and rework their songs with acoustic arrangements. Mokoma has done it (releasing a whole album as well), Ensiferum did it, and now the question is who will be next? When it comes to Ensiferum, I also hope the band is encouraged by the success of their acoustic tour and will include acoustic versions in their normal setlist during future gigs!
1. Token of Time
2. Twilight Tavern
3. Burden of the Fallen
4. Warrior Without a War
7. Eternal Wait
8. Into Battle /Victory Songs
9. Celestial Bond
10. Neito Pohjolan
11. Lai Lai Hei
12. Finnish Medley
13. Two of Spades
Text: Essi Nummi | Ed: Amy Wiseman