Arena concerts have been all the rage for the past couple of years in Finland, and not just the big international acts from abroad, but the local Finnish artists as well! From Elastinen to Juha Tapio, and from Jari Sillanpää to Antti Tuisku, pop and rap artists have filled the ice halls and arenas… but what about metal bands? Leave it to Sakara Records to bring out their flagships – Stam1na, Mokoma, and Diablo – for three arena-sized concerts under the Sakara Tour name, six years after the last and ten from the first. How does the trio translate their normally club-sized shows to the arena level? Lene and Maria teamed up to find out at Espoo Metro Areena on April 16th! Listen along with the setlist if you like!
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We’ve gotten used to seeing Finnish bands, such as Diablo, as openers for big international metal bands whenever they do an arena show here, but it’s a rare occasion to see a Finnish metal band headlining in a venue of the same scale. Nightwish has done it a few times, but having a Finnish-singing band in that spot would have been laughable just a few years ago. When Sakara Records announced their ambitious three-gig tour to Lappeenranta, Espoo, and Oulu, my initial thought was to applaud them for having the cojones to even try. On the other hand, if any Finnish-singing metal bands can pull a thing like that off, Mokoma and Stam1na are among the very few who would have a chance of succeeding. And hey, what fun is life without a little risk?
To be honest, the fun started before the first notes had been slammed out of the instruments, as neither of us had been to Espoo Metro Areena before and finding the right entrance was a bit of an adventure. It goes without saying that it was a wise choice to be around a good while before the first band, even though the event seemed to lack the rushed feeling you sometimes experience at big shows and festivals. As someone with no previous indoor arena-scale events under my belt, I was curious about the acoustics in a huge hall and how the whole thing would differ from festivals and bigger clubs with the capacity of a thousand or so people. While waiting for clock to hit 19:00, we sat down to wonder how the bands would use the video screens on the sides and back of the stage.
The place wasn’t too crowded a few minutes before Diablo would stamp their timecards, but the people moved in front of the stage right when the ”Rattaanpyörä”-intro from Eternium started to play, followed by the opening track of the album, “Symbol of Eternity.” More people would likely show up for Mokoma and Stam1na, knowing the floor tickets had been sold out, but the rather nice-looking audience who gathered around earlier greeted singer-guitarist Rainer Nygård’s “Espoo, my city!” speech before “Read My Scars” with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm. The visuals on the screens at the back of the stage started during the second song, simply showing the band’s logo, whereas the ones on both sides showed a live view from the stage, a reasonable addition considering how very strangely low the stage was, even compared to clubs like Nosturi or Pakkahuone. Also of note, it felt odd seeing people sitting in the stands, though that’s always the case at metal shows. The sensation was short-lived, though, as it would turn out later.
The starting trio of older songs was finished with the title track from Mimic47 (with Nygård dedicating it to “all the Harry Potters of their own lives”) and followed by a three-song combo from the latest album, Silvër Horizon. The visuals changed to nebula landscapes to suit the album theme, and along with the lights, they really did justice to the atmosphere. That being said, it was obvious that arenas suit Diablo – for a four-piece they had no trouble filling the stage and the size of the venue allowed them to bring a more impressive visual side to the story of Silvër Horizon. Even though the video installations were relatively simple, they brought a bit of new dimension to the show.
When it comes to band itself, Rainer Nygård more or less owns the place wherever they go, while rest of the band usually isn’t very vocal, which is fine. With Nygård’s speeches filled with gritty charm and dry humor, guitarist Marko Utriainen and bassist Aadolf Virtanen taking over the stage with a “no biggie” kind of poise, and drummer Heikki Malmberg delivering his parts with finesse and precision, it’s hard to not feel entertained… especially if you’ve been told that the next song is about pickles and vodka in perdition (we approved of the pickles).
And truly, it’s not a Diablo gig if there isn’t a not-so-religious remark or two about Finland’s own “Bible belt” in Northern Ostrobothnia: a member of the tech crew brought a very bible-like book on stage by the end of the set; however, Nygård announced that “this is not a Bible, this is a surprise.” In any case, it was clear the time had come for “The Preacher,” which is still likely the most iconic Diablo track and one of those the audience loves no matter how many times they hear it. The set ended with the title track from Icaros, leaving the crowd buzzing happily. All-in-all, there would probably not have been a better opener than Diablo for the night – a solid performance from an experienced band, and even if the football choir attempt on “Trail of Kings” didn’t quite catch the audience, things like that don’t startle the band or manage to ruin the mood.
Intro: “Rattaanpyörä” (Henry Theel)
1. Symbol of Eternity
2. Read My Scars
4. The Call
6. Prince of the Machine
7. Trail of Kings
9. Living Dead Superstar
10. The Preacher
Wondering how club-sized shows would translate to the big stage turned out to be a running theme throughout the evening – after seeing Diablo’s CCCP-style, smoke-leaking props on the amps, Mokoma’s stage setup sure looked small up there. But fear not, here comes “Chacarron!” After a few years’ break, Mokoma brought back their hilarious nonsense intro and the crowd still seemed to love every bit of it. We had wondered if the huge hall might had swallowed the sound of cheers during Diablo’s set, but we were wrongs! The crowd got stunningly loud while drummer Janne Hyrkäs danced onto his throne and the rest of the band appeared on stage, and they got even louder as the band kicked off with “Valapatto.” The crowd had almost doubled from when Diablo started their set, and as good as the audience had been, it was quite clear whose gig people had come to see (besides Stam1na). As a personal note, I had hoped Diablo would attract the crowd as much as the two Finnish-singing bands, but one can’t always win.
To matter-of-factly answer our question, there’s not a lot of use for props with this band, with singer Marko Annala in the frontline, cheerfully running all over the place. Mokoma’s shows don’t really seem to change with the scale of the venue: whereas Diablo’s space odyssey benefits from the huge stage, Mokoma’s gigs have the same warm feeling regardless of the location, be it a club for couple hundred or a stadium of eight thousand people. The only significant difference appears to be the fact that there’s more space to run and rampage around the stage without running into your bandmates, and that there’s more people to entertain. And true enough (for a band with some huge hockey fans), after a couple songs Annala commented on the size of the venue, joking about the place being big enough to play ice hockey in.
Along with the big stage, the setlist was quite festival-like: a neat combination of long-time live favorites and hits from the last album, with some nice opportunities for singalongs – the football choir on “Punamultaa” was particularly top-notch. There might always be room to complain, but the audience didn’t seem too bothered about not hearing rarities this time. It’s not so surprising though; a lot of bands end up in a somewhat dull routine over their many years of active touring, but Mokoma always looks like they have fun wherever and whenever they play, all smiles and slight shenanigans as usual, which is likely the very core of their charm. When the band is enjoying what they do and showing it on stage, the crowd will catch that and come back for more, and when singer Marko Annala asks the audience to raise their hands, everyone does (and will leave them up for most of the show). Still nothing to complain about regarding the sound quality either – and my, “Elävien kirjoihin” especially has never sounded THAT big!
The visuals were a touch more elaborate than with Diablo, with an animated logo and red sparks reminiscent of a bonfire, but were still rather simple, which suits the band. Mokoma has always been a rather interactive bunch, both on and off stage, so the show elements naturally rely more on connecting with the audience. The “Hei hei heinäkuu” skit with everyone waving their hands in the chorus still works nicely every time (I wonder if anyone ever gets tired of it), and if I have complained about a lack of crowdsurfing lately, I can stop that now thanks to Annala. After climbing back on stage, he commented that one tends to start to look for strong-looking guys while at it, and that it’s lucky there were some. Loyal to their habit of good-humored banter, the guitarists then pointed out that there were actually some ungodly strong girls in the front row too.
If I had to name one personal favorite from the shared sporty activities, it would be the nu-metal type of jumping during “Pohja on nähty.” Even just watching people making the ground shake and shouting the chorus at the top of their lungs, the sight is nothing short of exhilarating – I’m not an expert, but I’d call that a textbook example of “empowering.” And damn, it’s so much fun! Apparently I’m not the only one thinking so either; it was nice to see people had stood up from their seats. That’s more like it!
Ending their set with a sizeable circle pit to good old “Pahaa verta,” Mokoma left us smiling; although the gig didn’t offer much out of the ordinary, it was a good reminder of why people find their way to their shows year after year. And now that I have the opportunity, I’ll express an unpopular opinion and thank them for leaving “Punainen kukko” out of the set. It’s a classic in its own right, but at least I had grown a tad bit bored of it, to the point it started to be nearly a bummer at the end of the show sometimes. So thank you, on many accounts!
3. Nujerra ihminen
4. Hei hei heinäkuu
7. Elävien kirjoihin
8. Hujan hajan
10. Kuollut, kuolleempi, kuollein
11. Kasvot kohti itää
12. Pohja on nähty
13. Sinne missä aamu sarastaa
14. Pahaa verta
Without much ado, Stam1na showed up in front of the stirring audience to the keyboard intro of the starting track off their fresh new album, Elokuutio, (wearing prison-style orange sleeveless overalls), taking their spots with almost unusual calmness. The crowd didn’t have to hold their breath to the serenity for long, because next thing we knew… BOOM! Pyros and visuals! We were definitely in for a big show! However, the first song continued to be weirdly stagnant for both the band and the audience. It could have been the huge-ass flames too, but those don’t usually stop bands from moving, so iwho knows? “Kadonneet kolme Sanaa” started with a bang as well (literally), but things remained pretty calm with the crowd and the band still warming up. The front row must have been scorching though – the pyro flames warmed the place up, even several meters away from the stage.
From a band that managed to lure in nearly a full ice hall of people, it was heart-warming to see how excited and baffled they seemed to be at the realization of how much people that meant, marveling at how there had been a lot of crowd in Lappeenranta, “but there’s as many of you here as there are people in the whole town of Lemi!” And sure enough “the more, the merrier” was a fitting phrase at Espoo Metro Areena – when singer-guitarist Antti Hyyrynen announced it was the Sakara Tour halfway party right then and there about three songs into the set, nearly no one stood still for the next hour-and-half until they left the stage. We will have to give an honorary mention to a member of the crowd dancing and jumping in front of us literally the whole duration of the gig with no sign of getting tired – now there’s a real trooper!
The visuals on the screens were made to match every song individually: “Puolikas ihminen” had a slideshow of Stam1na tattoos; “Mätä hohtava omena” had a bomb or a hand grenade, apt to the lyrics; singles had their cover art; and so on. Those things pose the risk of looking like they were just tacked on, but with the generous flames and sparks, they slipped into Stam1na’s show as they were meant to be – a visual extension to music. The visuals and pyros to “Likainen parketti” were perhaps my favorites, creating an overall crash-and-burn atmosphere with what looked like smoldering embers on screen and real flames in the front, finished with red light. Style points: 10 out of 10. As this year also marks the band’s 20th anniversary, so the milestone was honored with a photo slideshow ranging from 1996 to today. Looking at the path from their early years to the stage of Espoo Metro Areena, it was easy to get excited about the next 20 years to come!
If we can talk about the impressive for a moment, the main set’s ending, “Eloonjäänyt,” is still one of most remarkable live songs this band has written (or any bad for that matter), and this was the most stunning rendition of it, complete with tranquil sky visuals and the whole arena’s hands up in the air during the chorus – I refuse to believe I was the only one left speechless and in awe. If that already wasn’t breathtaking enough, the line “ja kun meri kutsuu, minä kuuntelen” was once again guaranteed to send chills down your spine.
After a short encore break where we gathered ourselves a bit, “Panzerfaust” blew the audience right back where “Pienet vihreät miehet” and “Dynamo” had left them; this band sure knows how to build drama within the set and keep spirits up. I had my doubts about whether the new material was easy enough to chew, but the tracks flowed nicely one after another and the crowd has accepted Elokuutio with open arms after only a few weeks. Following “Panzerfaust” and “Likainen parketti,” Hyyrynen welcomed a couple guests to share the stage for “Viisi laukausta päähän” – along with Mokoma’s guitarist, Tuomo Saikkonen, on growls, the audience was treated with a new, Panama papers -related version of the C-part’s public service announcement, performed by Diablo’s Nygård in a reverend costume. And as one could guess, the older half of the crowd at very least found the new speech wildly amusing.
As a conclusion, this was by far the most visually awe-inspiring Stam1na show I have ever seen: if it wasn’t clear before, it should be now, that these guys are made for huge stages. To be completely honest, the Espoo Metro Areena stage felt too small for them at times and that truly says something about the band. And there’s certainly no doubt that people love them: with enormous circle pits, a sea of middle fingers on “Valtiaan uudet vaateet,” loud singing of songs that were released less than a month earlier, and simply going crazy when Hyyrynen and bassist Kai-Pekka Kangasmäki took off to the crowd during “Lääke” at the end of the whole night, the audience also gave their best at Espoo Metro Areena. I feel that what makes Stam1na so unique is the fact that they attract all kinds of people, from middle-aged couples to teenagers who look more like they’d listen to Avicii; it never fails to amaze me how a band this complex is one of today’s most popular Finnish metal acts.
If described with only one word, I would call the Espoo leg of the Sakara Tour simply a success – three entertaining, visually balanced shows with good sound quality (almost surprisingly so), and a close connection between the bands and the audience cooked up a truly high-spirited experience. Even though it was the image I too had of arena-scale concerts, people were not here to boost their social media status or watch the gig through their phones – rather, they were air drumming, moshing, and having a great time with friends. Or as Stam1na’s keyboard player Emil Lähteenmäki delightfully phrased the same notion, “I don’t see cell phone light, I see shirtless men hugging each other.” If that’s not a sign of a memorable night, we don’t know much about live shows.
2. Kadonneet kolme sanaa
3. Kuoliaaksi ruoskitut hevoset
5. Valtiaan uudet vaateet
7. Paha arkkitehti
8. Puolikas ihminen
9. Mätä hohtava omena
10. Pienet vihreät miehet
14. Likainen parketti
15. Viisi laukausta päähän
16. Kuudet raamit
Photos: Maria Sawicka | Ed: Amy Wiseman