OPERA FESTIVAL ROCKS – Olavinlinna, Savonlinna, 21.07.2019

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The city of Savonlinna is less a metal hub and more a place of castles (well, just one castle) and culture. Though Olavinlinna [originally Olofsborg, or Olaf’s Castle] is usually host to opera performances, once a year during the summer, they host Opera Festival Rocks. Originating as a Nightwish performance some decade or two ago, Opera Festival Rocks has been hosting big name local bands like Amorphis and Apocalyptica in recent years. Musicalypse has considered attending for some time now, and a line-up with Battle Beast, Arion, and Wheel was too tempting to pass up.

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You can listen along to the set as a playlist on Spotify:

We arrived at Savonlinna in blessedly good time, as there was very little hassle getting in (though our seat assignments were as bizarre as imaginable). Olavinlinna is a beautiful venue and we were surprised to see that they had actually covered the amphitheater with a tent that resembles the one they use on Tuska’s tent stage – we were surprised that it wouldn’t be an open-air show, but this also meant that there was potential for some excellent lighting and ambience.

Lo and behold, our suspicions were correct as the stage was set up, shadowy but with atmospheric colored lighting. When Wheel came on stage in their dark hoods to play “Lacking,” the mood was perfect. The first few notes were astoundingly loud, but as the song proceeded we came to realize that though the first notes were harsh, the sound was actually beautifully balanced; earplugs actually blocked the sound too much, so we took them out and didn’t have horrible tinnitus at the end of the night, which is always a bonus. And when the drums got going too… oh man! You could feel it in your bones.

It doesn’t hurt that these guys write really great prog metal; somehow the music fit the castle venue really nicely. After two songs, vocalist/guitarist James Lascelles introduced the band and mentioned that they had just released an album this year, and the next song was from it: “Tyrant.” Even though their set was only six songs long, they pack a lot into their music. While the stage performance was quite still, prog doesn’t require a lot of movement and you could still feel the love of what they do coming through.

One of the longest songs of the night was “Please” from their second EP, released in 2018. Lascelles asked who was excited for Arion, and then the great Battle Beast – to roaring cheers from the crowd – before ending their set with their epic self-titled song. When their set ended, we definitely felt like we could’ve gladly heard a few more songs.

Wheel setlist:
1. Lacking
2. Vultures
3. Tyrant
4. Where the Pieces Lie
5. Please
6. Wheel

Local power metal wizards, Arion, were up second. Blue lights and the album’s intro, “The End of the Fall” played as the band took the stage and the lights picked up. Following suit with the album, they went straight into “No One Stands in My Way.” Throwing a fist up felt natural because of the music but strangely inappropriate in a seated venue, but fortunately vocalist Lassi Vääränen traversed the stage, encouraging the crowd to cheer and pump their fists, with bassist Gege Velinov also doing his part to connect with and engage the audience.

“I am the Storm” followed, a truly great power metal track. After this, Vääränen chatted with the crowd a bit before introducing the hard-hitting “Punish You.” The set was great, with other favorites like “Seven” (which had a great, solo-y outro), “The Last Sacrifice” (a classic drummer-breaker), and “Out of the Ashes”; they always seem to have such good energy and Iivo Kaipainen’s guitar solos are just great. The crowd, though politely seated, were still at least roaring loudly after every song. Following “The Last Sacrifice,” Kaipainen did an incredible solo, eventually leading it into “Finlandia,” which was a nice treat to hear at the castle.

The whole performance was really tight, including the less-often played “Burn Your Ship,” but disappointingly left out “Last of Us” in favor for “At the Break of Dawn.” The set ended with Vääränen running into the crowd and jumping up on some unsold seats in the second row to hype up the crowd one last time. Once again, our energy was at max level and we were left craving more!

Arion setlist:
1. The End of the Fall
2. No One Stands in My Way
3. I Am the Storm
4. Punish You
5. Seven
6. The Last Sacrifice
7. Out of the Ashes
8. Burn Your Ship
9. Unforgivable
10. At the Break of Dawn

Right at 21:15 exactly, the lights dimmed and the intro played to bring Battle Beast on stage. A mere decade ago (give or take), these guys were first getting airtime on RadioRock. Now here they are doing huge tours and headlining this year’s festival. They opened with “Unbroken” and by the time they hit the chorus, Noora Louhimo (vocals) was all smiles. The horned metal queen is truly a showman (show-woman?), and while I don’t get her new tiefling visual style, she’s a pretty great front for a band.

Greeting the crowd graciously and laughing, Louhimo is clearly hugely popular based on how easily she warmed up this stiff, seated crowd. With sparks, fog blasts, and fireballs, it really became quite an impressive spectacle. “Endless Summer,” however, fully interrupted the vibe by sounding far too Van Halen, and the ballads, while very dramatic, could’ve perhaps had some spotlights on Louhimo to add drama. The visual aesthetic was again a bit confusing when a druid came on stage with a staff. Louhimo had a partial costume change at this point and claimed the staff as her own for “Raise Your Fists.” I would go so far as to say the staff should have just been her mic stand; it would’ve made a bit more sense. One of the heavier new songs, “The Golden Hoarde,” brought the real energy back to the crowd.

We were also introduced to another jacket, which started to remind us of Rob Halford’s many coat changes, though she needs about sixteen more coats until she becomes full Halford. Then there was a musical spectacle involving Pyry Vikki pulling a keyboard/electric drum kit around the stage while Janne Björkroth chased it around playing a familiar song that we can’t name. “Bastard Son of Odin” was a spectacle on its own, with the keyboard drum kit lighting up on every strike (though Björkroth had to be ass-to-crowd so the light could be seen). Guitarist Joona Björkroth started doing push-ups off the vocalist’s platform too (though the CrossFit coach in me was unimpressed… BandFit, perhaps?). They also had the whole crowd stand up for the song, which was really fun, though everyone then politely sat back down after (except some idiot behind us filming the songs). They were able to get part of the crowd back up for “The Hero,” and “No More Hollywood Endings” had two dancers join Louhimo on stage. Individually the dancers looked cool, but they weren’t very in sync with each other unless Louhimo had joined in for the arm movements. It was kind of cool, but we weren’t really sure what the dancers were meant to add to the song.

They finished their set on a high note, however, with “King for a Day” and “Beyond the Burning Skies” as closers – and awesome closers at that! To make the most of the event, Lassi Vääränen was invited back to share the vocal duties for the final song, which was very cool, though he was a bit hard to hear.

Battle Beast setlist:
1. Unbroken
2. Familiar Hell
3. Straight to the Heart
4. Black Ninja
5. Endless Summer
6. I Wish
7. Raise Your Fists
8. The Golden Hoarde
9. Bastard Son of Odin
10. The Hero
11. Eden
12. No More Hollywood Endings (ft. dancers)
13. King for a Day
14. Beyond the Burning Skies (ft. Lassi Vääränen)

Whew, what an event! Starting with Finland’s best prog band, one of their best up-and-coming power metal bands, and then the powerful performers, it was truly a great show. Myself, I’m not even a big fan of Battle Beast, but I still really enjoyed myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them outside a many-day festival, so it was a rare treat to catch a club scenario and they did an awesome job. While Battle Beast’s new material didn’t personally impress us, it’s hard to deny that they put on a pretty fierce show. If anything, the worst part of the night was annoying drunk guys shouting “Noora!” all night [insert eye-roll here]. Well Savonlinna, thanks for having us! Perhaps we’ll make this a yearly thing.

Photos: Laureline Tilkin

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