In 2015, melodic power metallers, Sonata Arctica, are continuing their Pariah’s Child World Tour that started in spring 2014, and are simultaneously celebrating the 15th anniversary re-release of their first album, Ecliptica. The band made a stop at Pakkahuone in Tampere on January 15th, accompanied by the latest Finnish melodic metal sensation Arion, so Musicalypse took the chance to see if Sonata still has it, and checked out what kind of competition the young guns of the genre are offering. Here’s what Lene L. has to say!
I had my heart set on seeing Arion’s whole set, since I’ve been listening to their debut album, Last of Us, quite a lot lately, but due to some rush and hassle at the doors, I was only able to hear the first song and a half from the lower level of the venue. Knowing how young the band is and how little they had toured before the show, their gig was more or less what I expected it to be. Their material is very mature, rather complicated, well written, and they executed it live as flawlessly as any older and more experienced band would, but youth and inexperience is still evident in their performance. It’s not an entirely bad thing though, not at all. One can see the potential they have and it will certainly be interesting to follow how the band grows into the demands of their music.
There were already a lot of good things in Arion’s performance. For instance, it was delightful to see bassist Georgi Velinov connecting with the audience and giving speeches in some parts, as that isn’t especially common with most bands. It particularly served its purpose early on in the set, as singer Viljami Holopainen seemed to gain more confidence as the songs rolled on. If his voice faltered a couple times, it was easy to forgive – Arion’s songs would be challenging even for more trained singers. And as for the rest of it, well, these youngsters definitely don’t try too hard or make their performance seem forced – they have fun on stage and enjoy playing. What they still might lack in so-called showmanship, they will gain with time. Give them a year or two and you’ll have a live band on a completely different level. And as a side note to that, I can’t wait to see some of their shows with pyrotechnics. Songs like “Burn Your Ship” and “Seven” are basically begging for them with their bombastic sound! Overall, I was really happy to see Arion, as they turned out to be quite an adorable bunch on stage.
Now, to be completely honest, I didn’t expect a whole lot from Sonata Arctica and more or less counted on Arion to deliver a decent show. I will admit that I have become a bit bored of Sonata concerts over the years. Then again, I’ve had the time of my life at some of their gigs, so I decided to hope for the best and see what would happen. And this time I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. They kicked it off with “The Wolves Die Young” and “Losing My Insanity,” followed by “My Land,” which all went down smoothly, with growing enthusiasm visible in the audience. But “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?,” with rather unusual all-red lights for Sonata, seemed to push all the right buttons for everyone. By that time, the show turned out to be definitely the best I’ve seen from Sonata Arctica in many, many years.
The whole show had a wonderful, memorable atmosphere, with the crowd spontaneously taking part in Tony Kakko’s speeches, laughing, cheering, and singing along, particularly to the older songs. Paying respect to Ecliptica‘s anniversary, there were as many as five songs in the setlist from their debut album (topped only by tracks from Pariah’s Child, beating it by one). From what I heard afterward, the set has been the same for whole Finnish tour this winter. For me personally, it offered a couple of surprises, the first coming in form of “Letter to Dana.” I had never heard it live before, and my, did it sound fresh in between “Black Sheep” and “Paid in Full.” Another surprising pick was good old “San Sebastian” before the encore, and it was right in its place to raise some nostalgia. They are both songs that haven’t been played that much in the last few years, yet they pulled off both effortlessly. On the other hand, with the more-often-performed “Kingdom for a Heart,” they failed to play the new version of the song’s ending that was recorded a few years ago, and it took a while for everyone on and off stage to get their act back together after a good laugh. Known for accurate but sometimes quite stone-faced playing, it was nice to see how well the band took the sudden failure and laughed it off.
Being more familiar with their older material than the two latest releases, it was quite interesting to see how “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?” and “Blood” from Pariah’s Child brought, in a way, a rather new aspect to a regular Sonata show. The nearly all-red lights and these somewhat rougher, not-so-symphonic songs with notably heavier sound brought in something I hadn’t experienced before in their concerts, and I have to say, I really liked that. Not because it was so different, but because of how well those pieces fit in spite of that, whereas “The Wolves Die Young” from the new album is sort of reminiscent of old Sonata. While I liked the setlist as it was, I would have replaced “I Have a Right” and “Love” with something else: there would have been plenty of fine choices on Winterheart’s Guild or Days of Grays, but they chose not to play any songs from either of those albums. But as it appears, and as it has often been with Sonata, they tend not to change their ready and rehearsed setlist that much.
Either it was the long break from seeing their shows, or the fact that Tony Kakko has become considerably funnier with his speeches (unlike the pointless babbling of the past), Sonata Arctica were a joy to hear. Of course, the speeches were rambling and long, as usual, but there were moments of spontaneity in them, which they have often lacked. For instance, Tony happened to have his name day on that day (according to the Finnish calendar), and he picked up a well-wishing shout from the crowd in the middle of one of his rants, thanked the well-wisher, and told the audience he actually had a two-day celebration going on for his name day, explaining how he had had a “mini-name day” the day before. One other thing he said, and what most definitely deserves a mention, was his last speech before the show-ending “Don’t Say a Word,” in which he thanked everyone for attending the show and keeping live music live by buying tickets and going to see gigs. From how he phrased it out, I feel like he didn’t mean only their shows, but concerts in general, which made me feel even better about the event.
There was one particularly curious thing I noted quite early on the show, which was the fact that the average age of the audience seemed to be older than usual, and not just with regard to Sonata concerts or metal shows in general. On the other hand, Sonata Arctica is the sort of music that appeals to nearly all ages in Finland, but I would have expected to see more of the younger audience around me, as I was watching the show from minor’s side of the fence. Then again, alongside seeing parents bringing their very young kids to festivals and concerts, it’s always great to see middle-aged and older people in these sorts of events; it feels kind of reassuring, that the rock and metal is not for twenty-something audiences only. So yes, I certainly hope I will find myself at festivals and metal gigs while I’m in my forties and fifties, and beyond.
As a conclusion, I could have not been happier that I followed my hunch about a great evening with one of my long-time favorites, even if the odds had been against them. If discovering new favorite bands is thrilling, re-discovering a thing you’ve had for the old ones and thought you lost is without a doubt equally exciting. Also, if you want to draw any conclusions about the atmosphere on Sonata gigs and how it has changed, I would be willing to bed that bassist Pasi Kauppinen brought in a load of new energy that still works in the favor of band chemistry, although he’s been around for a while now. But that’s just judging by this show and one festival slot last summer, so it’s merely speculation. But whatever it is, it seems to work.
01. The Wolves Die Young
02. Losing My Insanity
03. My Land
04. What Did You Do in the War, Dad?
05. Cloud Factory
06. Black Sheep
07. Letter to Dana
08. Paid in Full
09. I Have a Right
10. X Marks the Spot
13. Kingdom for a Heart
14. San Sebastian
16. 8th Commandment
17. Don’t Say a Word
Outro – Vodka
Text/photos: Lene L. | Ed: Amy Wiseman