Topping the Finnish charts on the week of its release, Insomnium’s experimental new album, Winter’s Gate, has certainly caught the attention of the music world, as well as Musicalypse! Not only did the band promise to play the entire 40 minute one-song album from start to finish, but there would be a second 40-minute set to follow. With Pressure Points and Swallow the Sun also on the roster, it was only natural for us to be there to see what we assumed would be very few opportunities to hear “Winter’s Gate” in its entirety. We also swung by earlier in the night to have a short chat with Niilo Sevänen about the album, book, and its tour.
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Pressure Points was a new name for me, but if we were going to be in town for an interview already, I thought it might be worthwhile to check these guys out. I had a listen through their sophomore album from last year, False Lights, and thought it was pretty decent, so I was happy to show up and see their set. For the first of three bands, these guys brought in a fairly impressive crowd already. It seemed as though they’re still physically trying to find their rhythm on stage – it’s a bit of an issue with prog in general, as a lot of the music is quite technical, so either the stage show suffers as the band members focus on playing well, or the show is dull but the playing is good (Dream Theater tends to have a bit of the latter going on, for example). These guys did their best to move about, but ultimately the performance aspect took a backseat to getting the music right. Keyboardist Veli-Matti Kyllönen had a rather mellow and relaxing voice, almost hard to hear at times, but it was quite pleasing. I had joked to my companions that their set was going to be only three songs long, only for one of the guys from the band to make the same joke a few minutes later… only it wasn’t a joke. Their set actually was just three songs long, each of them around 10 minutes in length. As a whole, I enjoyed their show, but much like a lot of progressive music, I prefer to listen to it at home than live. These guys might benefit from an overcast festival setting though!
Once Pressure Points had cleared away their instruments, it was time for Swallow the Sun to take the stage, and for the second half of the venue to open up to accommodate all the people coming in. It’s been a good long while since I’ve watched Swallow the Sun in a scenario other than me watching with half an eye at a festival, so I was immediately impressed by the number of people who slowly trickled on stage to their long intro track – two vocalists, two acoustic guitarists, keyboards, bass, and drums. I recalled seeing the second vocalist at Tuska this year, but not knowing who he was there either. They mentioned his name tonight – Jaani Peuhu [Iconcrash] – and I have to say that I enjoyed his contribution to the show. Though he didn’t sing during every song, he was, I believe, present for the new tracks from Songs from the North, and they benefited nicely from the harmonizing. Of all of the people on the stage, I was saddened to see that Juha Raivio was not among them. I wondered if he is still mourning the recent tragic loss of Aleah Stanbridge. His replacement, whose name I didn’t catch, did a nice job of filling his shoes, though there was a little hint of something missing without Raivio on stage.
As much as I enjoyed and maybe even prefer the newer songs with live acoustic guitars, it was nice to hear something that featured Mikko Kotamäki growling a bit later on, as he has a rather strong voice. In one of the songs, there was a very prolonged deep growling scream that I truly appreciated, and I’m a bit disappointed that I wasn’t sure which song it was from. I would also like to give a shout out to Juuso Raatikainen on drums – he’s doing very well, considering he is following in the footsteps of Pasi Pasanen and Kai Hahto.
Overall, these guys played a very pleasing set that made me wonder how it is that I’ve lost touch with their music. I’ll be listening through the three discs of Songs from the North in the very near future, I’m sure.
1. The Heart of a Cold White Land
2. Pray for the Winds to Come
3. Songs from the North
4. Autumn Fire
5. 10 Silver Bullets
6. Rooms and Shadows
7. Hate, Lead the Way!
9. New Moon
10. Descending Winters
With that, it was time for Insomnium to start their event! My very first thought that followed the rush of adrenaline and excitement, was that I might’ve preferred to see this song in a setting like Kulttuuritalo or Tampere-talo. A seated venue would’ve allowed people to see the performance from no matter where they were, and to hear the show with balanced sound. I had the misfortune of having two yappy guys behind me who would not shut up – I couldn’t imagine how you could possibly be speaking so much during the 40-minute-long song. “Winter’s Gate” is, I assume, a one-tour-in-a-lifetime show, and having people behind me shout-talking was distracting and irritating.
That said, I was very impressed by the band’s performance. It takes a great deal of stamina to play for 40 minutes without a proper break. They had a strong start with a lot of headbanging and energy, but didn’t come across as nervous – I suppose the Turku show on the previous night had proved to them that they could definitely pull it off. They truly did not disappoint. Part of me wanted to watch the show, but I kept finding myself with my eyes closed, swaying back and forth, lost in the story and the music. It would have been nice for them to have a live keyboardist or someone on synths for this show to ease up the burden of staying in perfect time with he backing track (not that they had any trouble with it – it just allows more freedom) – I know they have had Aleksi Munter of Swallow the Sun playing with them in live shows (2009-2010 -era), and I was just a tad disappointed that he hadn’t been a part of this show, especially considering he did the keyboard compositions for the album.
Visually, I was torn. The fog cannons were great in the moments they were used, but I would consider the lighting as a whole to be a failure. I suspect that whoever was in charge was going for cold, ambient, and ominous, but mostly it was just blue and dark, making it hard to see the band at times, and the attempt at ambience had failed. I have seen some brilliant ambient lighting in my day that would have really benefited this show, but that was just not the case. There was one moment, however, which I think was around the 15:55 mark of the song give or take, when the music just gets evil and the lights changed and the fog cannons blasted up – it was massive and perfect, and it saddened me a bit that there was only one moment of properly appropriate lighting during the whole song.
However, as a whole I think the entirety of the “Winter’s Gate” performance was a great success, and I’m very happy to have gotten to experience it; that was perhaps the shortest 40 minutes of my life – you would think a song that long might drag on, but it felt like maybe 15-20 minutes at most. After the song ended, I was surprised that the band didn’t even take a proper break; “The Gale” started up quite soon after the fade-out (both of which I suppose allowed them a few minutes’ rest) and then they returned for “Mortal Share.”
The rest of the show didn’t waste much breath on chit-chat, with the only “speech” being Niilo Sevänen’s moment to thank the audience for being a part of this tour and refer them to the merch booth mid-way through the second half of the show. Rather, they just played, and played their hearts out. As my friend put it, “this is a professional band on stage.” While you might take that to mean that they are a bit serious, Markus Vanhala (guitar) interacts a great deal on a goofy and personal level with people in the crowd, so I wouldn’t say that’s the case. But they do come across as a band with a lot of practice who are comfortable with one another on stage and who know their music through-and-through.
They left the stage after “The Promethean Song” but came back to play “The Killjoy” and “Weighed Down with Sorrow” as encores. I headed towards the exit during the latter and wondered if there had been a pit at some point – a large open space had appeared in the center of the venue, though no one was in it as I was heading towards the back.
Ultimately, as per usual, Insomnium proved to be a rock solid band who, in spite of the visual setback, put on an extremely memorable show thanks to the material they had written. I would go so far as to say that Winter’s Gate has certainly elevated this band to another level, and if you get the opportunity to catch one of the last few shows on this tour, do not hesitate to grab a ticket – you may never get another chance to hear all of Winter’s Gate in its full and proper epic form after this!
1. Winter’s Gate
2. The Gale
3. Mortal Share
4. Drawn to Black
5. Where the Last Wave Broke
6. While We Sleep
7. Last Statement
8. Change of Heart
9. The Promethean Song
10. The Killjoy
11. Weighed Down with Sorrow
Photos: Jana Blomqvist