There’s nothing that says “Merry Christmas” more than seeing a bunch of heavy metal singers on stage singing Christmas carols, right? The Raskasta Joulua -tour (Heavy Christmas) has reached an admirable age with this being their 11th year of touring alongside six albums. Essi attended the main concert at the Metro Areena in Espoo on December 18th, 2015, to get into the spirit of Christmas.
After releasing the first Raskasta Joulua album in 2004, Erkka Korhonen’s project has reached new heights. What started off as one album and a few gigs in small club venues has now grown to a 24-date tour taking place in bigger clubs and arenas all around Finland. My first time attending a RJ-gig was in 2009 in Rytmikorjaamo, Seinäjoki, and it was a night I won’t forget – that evening JP Leppäluoto sang his way into my heart. Nostalgia aside, Raskasta Joulua has ever since been more or less an important Christmas tradition for me.
This year I was finally able to attend the main concert, which took place at Espoo’s Metro Areena. With a big venue and all twelve vocalists performing, I could not stop my expectations from getting higher and higher the closer the date of the concert came. It was my first time in Espoo Metro Areena (formerly known as Barona Areena) but I expected it to be like any other ice hall I have seen before.
I arrived at the venue about 30 minutes before the concert started and immediately regretted my late arrival. The entrance queue was long and reached around the corner. Luckily it moved quickly, so I managed to leave my coat to the cloakroom and take a look around before the concert started. Some critical comments were heard from the people queuing but hopefully everyone got in on time.
Even though the show was not sold out, there were plenty of people both on the seats on the sides and back of the arena, as well as standing in front of the stage. Seeing people of all ages proved that Finland truly is the land of heavy metal, at least what it comes to the heavy versions of Christmas carols.
The show started on time and with such a manner that left no doubt that this would be a great evening. The first one to hit the stage was Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica, who sang “Me käymme joulun viettohon,” a cheerful and upbeat song that gave the show an energetic start. Most of the Christmas carols were performed by one vocalist only, but some brought several guys on stage. One of my favorites was “Pieni rumpali,” which was performed by the ever-so-wonderful Northern Kings, aka Tony Kakko, Marco Hietala, JP Leppäluoto, and Jarkko Ahola. Some of the other singers that were heard that evening were Antony Parviainen, Antti Railio, Ari Koivunen, Elize Ryd, Kimmo Blom, Pasi Rantanen, Tommi Salmela, and Ville Tuomi.
The stage had plenty of space for the band and vocalists to move (and jump) around. The higher ramps on each side of the stage were a nice addition since the musicians could get higher to see the crowd in the arena and also gave the perfect milieu for those fiery mountaintop guitar solos Erkka Korhonen and Tuomas Wäinölä played from time to time, with bright spotlights pointed at them.
The back of the stage was covered with big screens that had light installations on them. One screen was placed on the right side of the stage where one could see what was happening both on stage and in the audience. In addition to great lights and roomy stage, the show got its final touch from pyrotechnics which ranged from reddish fire to more traditional firework-like bursts. Once again I was amazed by how the whole event had grown over the past few years. Pyrotechnics and almost grandeur lights made me wonder from time to time whether or not I was really in a Christmas concert since the feeling was closer to an arena gig of some biggish metal band. One thing is for certain: Raskasta Joulua differs greatly from any other Christmas concert in Finland at the moment.
The newest Raskasta Joulua –project album was released in the beginning of November. Tulkoon joulu is a compilation of acoustic versions of popular Christmas carols. Four acoustic versions were also heard during the show in Espoo, giving the audience time to calm down a bit. These included “Heinillä härkien,” “Konstan joululaulu,” “Mielenrauhaa,” and “Joulu, juhla parahin.” At first I was not quite convinced if the acoustic versions were as good as the rowdier ones. The atmosphere, however, was relaxing and soon I found myself slowly moving to the rhythm.
Even though the majority (all of the other singers and the whole band) of the Raskasta Joulua -entourage is male, in 2013 the tour got a female visitor when the singer of Amaranthe, Elize Ryd, joined some of the gigs. This year was the first one for me to see Ryd in action on Raskasta Joulua tour and I have to say I was impressed. Seeing her standing straight and singing “Himlen I min famn” with her strong and beautiful voice gave me the shivers. Ryd had an ethereal stage presence, which was new to me since the last time I saw her on stage was with Amaranthe on Nummirock 2015 where she was very much present and lively. Later Ryd performed a duet with Kakko singing “Julen är här,” which also was a top notch performance, even though Kakko’s Swedish did not quite convince me.
The Metro Areena audience also deserves a special mention. One could see at least a few people singing along to each song, and each performance was rewarded with applause and shouting. During the latter half of the concert, Marco Hietala performed “Varpunen jouluaamuna,” which is likely to be one of the most popular Christmas carols in Finland. Hietala made the audience sing the chorus twice while he and the band were standing and listening on the stage. There was something special in the air during that moment when the whole of Metro Areena took part of the song.
The concert had its perfect ending when the first encore gathered the whole gang on stage (except for Jarkko Ahola, who for some reason did not appear again, even for the last bows). Performing “Tulkoon joulu” and “Ilouutinen,” the vocalists on stage passed around microphones, sometimes two singing with one mic, and couple of others moshing or otherwise moving around on the stage. During those two songs there was a rather bizarre Christmas carnival on stage which brought smile to everyone’s face.
The final song heard was a duet with Hietala and Ryd when they sang “Ave Maria” together, which is definitely one of my favorite songs from the Raskasta Joulua albums. Singing both in Finnish and English, the couple on stage left the audience with silence and calmness. In spite of the fact that after the song ended, the whole gang appeared again to the stage with plenty of noise and energy, I was left with some inner peace which lasted throughout the next day. One could say I really got into the Christmas spirit during this two and a half hour concert.
Attending Raskasta Joulua in Espoo once again reminded me why I keep attending those gigs year after year. There is that special something when you see familiar faces on stage from different bands in the Finnish metal scene singing about Christmas and peace. The arrangements are extremely well done and breathe life into the otherwise old and sometimes, let’s be honest, worn-out Christmas carols. I personally think you do not even have to be a friend of metal music in order to enjoy Raskasta Joulua concerts. The skills of both vocalists and the players cannot go unnoticed even though you might not like the music they perform outside this tour. Also, all of them are experienced performers assuring that the audience will be entertained accordingly.
It will be interesting to see how long we get to enjoy these Raskasta Joulua tours. Some of the musicians have said that it is a great way to meet with old friends, have fun, and enjoy Christmastime. Then again, in order to keep up with the tours one might need to release yet another Christmas album in order to maintain the interest of the crowd. The question is, how many Christmas carols are there left that has not been made into a heavier version and will the audience keep attending in such a big numbers as they are as of now? Only the future will tell, but I personally wish for at least one more year so that I will get to enjoy my Christmas tradition one more time.
1. Me käymme Joulun viettohon (Tony)
2. Ensimmäinen Joulu (Marco)
3. Valkea Joulu (Jarkko & Pasi)
4. Tonttu (JP)
5. Arkihuolesi kaikki heitä (Ari)
6. Himlen i min famn (Elize)
7. Sydämeeni joulun teen (Ville)
8. Jouluksi kotiin (Tony, Erkka on acoustic guitar)
9. Nisse-polkka (Ville)
10. Sylvian Joululaulu (Tuomas, Antony guitar solo)
11. Heinillä härkien (Antti, Kimmo, & Tuple)
12. Konstan joululaulu (JP & Ville)
13. Mielenrauhaa (Jarkko)
14. Joulu, juhla parahin (Pasi, Tony, Tuple, & Ville)
15. Keyboard solo
16. Pieni rumpali (Marco, JP, Jarkko, & Tony)
17. Enkelikello (Antti)
18. Oi Jouluyö (Kimmo)
19. Julen är här (Elize & Tony)
20. Tähti tähdistä kirkkain (Antony)
21. Varpunen Jouluaamuna (Marco)
22. Petteri Punakuono (JP)
23. Tulkoon Joulu (everyone except Jarkko)
24. Ilouutinen (everyone except Jarkko)
25. Ave Maria (Elize & Marco)
Text: Essi Nummi | Ed: Amy Wiseman