What’s not to like about killing two birds with one stone? Sonic Syndicate has recently been touring their latest album, Confessions, in Finland, accompanied by Ember Falls, finishing at the Virgin Oil Co., on February 10th, 2017. If I’m being totally honest, I came to this show for Ember Falls. Their debut is out on the 17th, but I’ve already listened to it copiously, so I’ve been crazy excited to see them again now that I know all the songs backwards and forwards. However, I’ve heard tales of Sonic Syndicate as well – the general buzz is that they used to be great, but their latest album wasn’t up to snuff, going in a different, poppier direction. Needless to say, if there was an opportunity to see both, I figured I should go ahead and take it.
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Ahh, Virgin Oil. Your gigs start so late that I always feel like I’m a thousand years old. They’ve been getting a lot of great bands lately, even though they aren’t the biggest venue in town. On heading upstairs, I immediately noticed Sonic Syndicate’s rather high-budget-looking merch booth, which had a monitor playing the band’s music videos, interviews, and some live shots. That was new. I showed up just in time to catch the end of Planet Case’s set – I wasn’t convinced of their stage charisma, but can’t say more than that after only hearing one song.
Ember Falls’ crowd has been steadily increasing lately, so I was enthusiastic to see how things had progressed on this night. Would there be a worthy crowd? The venue was far from empty, though most of the patrons were seated at the tables, as opposed to on the floor. However, there were a handful of enthusiastic regulars, and as the stage changed over, there was a steady trickle of people onto the floor. The stage was a little crowded with Sonic Syndicate’s stuff in the background, which was unfortunate – these guys need a little more space to roam. It also looked like they didn’t really have enough room for their banners.
They kicked their set off with “The Enemy You Need” – an interesting choice, and not one I’d have picked for an opener, as it felt a bit like starting the gig in the middle, but it was amazing to hear it in proper context at last. I’d have personally gone with “The Cost of Doing Business” as a starter though, because it’s both a single and a familiar song, as well as a really hard-hitter. They’re forgiven though, because they followed it up with “Falling Rain”, my personal favorite from the album.
Next up was “Open Your Eyes”, and while I had hope that Niko Moilanen would be there, I knew that was wishful thinking since he lives in Oulu. He was semi-present in the backing vocals though, and it was fun to see how Thomas Grove (vocals) took over his parts – sometimes singing them, sometimes starting and fading out, and sometimes just letting the backing track take over. Grove is no rapper but he did very well making this song his own, and I commend them for not relying solely on a backing track for Moilanen’s parts, considering he does most of the vocals on the album track. Sound-wise, the vocals were almost totally absent at the beginning of the song, but fortunately that was quickly remedied.
The second single, “COE” came next, and it felt like a true dance party, with a slightly different boogie than on the album, complete with the disco lights. This was followed by “One More Time”, which was way heavier live than on the album, and I mean that in the best way. Ace’s drumming was fantastic, and loud! With the dance-style feel of this song, the heavy-as-fuck drums made it feel really good. I think it was also sped up a little. The dubstep-y solo part was also really fun in this heavier setting. However, it started making me a little sad about the album’s mix again, because this style suited it so much better.
“Rising Tide” followed, and in spite of my back problems, I couldn’t stop myself from dancing at this point. It was just such great energy, and Jay V was nailing his solos while Calu was simultaneously nailing the growls. Much like on the album though, the bass was a little quiet in the mix, making it a bit tough to heard Oswald. The electronic intro to “Of Letting Go” worked very well live, and again the drums were a part of what made this song fun – equal parts heavy and disco. Plus the mellower chorus allows for a bit of a break, before the dance party returns in the verses; a guitar solo and epic growl reminded everyone that this was still a metal gig. Oswald hopped down to rock out in the crowd for a bit, which was fun – I wonder how long they’ll be able to safely keep that up.
One of Haze played an ambient industrial intro with Ace to open up “The Cost of Doing Business”, and this again just made me wish that they had opened the show with this song (and its intro), because it’s got everything – headbanging and screaming and dancing and moshing, the last of which was sadly absent in the crowd. It’s a shame the sound on the growls kind of came and went from the mix throughout.
I was rather surprised, yet thrilled, to hear their thrash-jazz piece, “The Lamb Lays Down in Sacrifice” as well – if they had skipped anything off their debut, I’d have thought it’d be this one; in reality, the passed over the ballad. Calu dropped his guitar to focus on the growls, and was fortunately perfectly audible now. And goddamn again… those drums. I love the use of double-kick in this track. As soon as the first notes played, I was on the edge of my seat to hear how the jazz interlude would play out. The answer is awesomely – Grove was snapping his fingers like a dude in a jazz club, and then immediately mosh-smashed into Calu when he started growling.
There were hardly any Welcome to Ember Falls songs left, which meant only one thing: “Shut Down with Me”! This song is probably worming its way onto my favorite-songs-ever list. It got a little chaotic sound-wise in the chorus, with the synth overpowering the vocals, but it still managed to get me all sorts of hyped up! These guys make it impossible not to headbang, even if you have neck injuries. Goddamn, it was fun!
Ember Falls setlist:
1. The Enemy You Need
2. Falling Rain
3. Open Your Eyes
5. Rising Tide
6. Of Letting Go
7. The Cost of Doing Business
8. The Lamb Lies Down in Sacrifice
9. Shut Down with Me
If I’m to give an opinion on Sonic Syndicate based on listening through their discography a bit on Spotify, I’ll say that I don’t have an issue with Confessions (2016)per se, as it’s a catchy album – a few of the songs all kind of have the same melody, and it’s poppy, but it works – though I do agree that their older material is much better than the new stuff comparatively. The stage change-over ran a little late, with Sonic Syndicate coming on stage at 00:12 to an intro before setting into “Confessions”, the title track of their latest album. The mix was terrible at first, with the drums overpowering everything else, but evened out a bit by the end of the song, even if some of the drums were still too harsh at times, mainly in the verses.
I was immediately quite impressed with the band’s energy. In spite of the small venue and rather medium-plus -sized crowd, they really put their all into it. Even if the newer material is pretty poppy, it’s fun to listen to. Nathan Biggs (vocals) said hello and kiitos [thank you] after the first track, saying he’d rather be nowhere else than the capital of Fin before introducing “Beauty and the Freak” and asking the crowd to get and keep their hands up.
As a short person, I also appreciated how elevated Biggs kept himself throughout the show, standing on a box frequently, so he could always be seen. Also, I was not really prepared for his jumps. Man, he gets high! He’s a very charismatic frontman and really puts his all into the performance. He chats a lot too, particularly expressing his love for Finland and Helsinki, particularly because people here love their live music, calling it a home away from home. Biggs had the crowd shout “roll” after he shouted “rock n'”, a few times, and spent the time to hype up the crowd to get a better and louder response. This continued throughout the show, with him taking the time to hype up the girls and guys in turn during “Burn this City.” He really couldn’t get over it throughout the show, constantly gushing over how great Helsinki is.
I shouldn’t focus solely on Biggs though, as the whole band’s performance was worthy of praise. The playing was really solid, and they have great chemistry on stage. Drummer Peter Wallenäs was precision tight throughout, for one. Also, they can interact smoothly without any flaw in their playing in spite of the small stage, and have tons of energy. They weren’t afraid to get weird either – a few people in the crowd somehow had some massive balloons with them, one of which made its way on stage with Robin Sjunnesson during “Revolutions.”
The set was fairly diverse, with some poppier tunes (presumably the newer material) and some good rowdy tunes as well. The newer stuff is certainly lighter but I think it actually made for a nicely diverse show, musically. “It’s a Shame” was dedicated to those who have let the love of their life slip away, and Biggs had the techs turn the lights down for “Falling”; they also got the disco ball involved to good effect – there were a lot of people dancing and jumping along to this one. Meanwhile “Revolution” elicited middle fingers in the air and loud shouts of “fuck you”… and I think was dedicated to Jussi69? Take that as you will, but Biggs did list The 69 Eyes as one of the great bands from Finland at one point. “Crystalize” was a little more mellow, which doesn’t say much because it was still pretty high energy, and Biggs got the crowd to make hearts with their forefingers and thumbs for him. “Russian Roulette” followed a little band promotion, where Biggs said he doesn’t care much if people buy the album, but if you want to listen to the music and share it, you’ll make his dream come true.
Next up he explained that another thing they like about Helsinki is that everything they try, they get away with. This led to what he claimed was their first attempt at going acoustic in a show, and then played “Closure” with only Biggs and Sjunnesson on stage. I’ve heard the song once or twice, and it worked nicely as an acoustic track, being slower and closer to a ballad. “Halfway Down the Road” was also done at least semi-acoustically, with Wallenäs and bassist Michel Bärsén joining back in. The bass was pretty heavy, but I enjoyed it – it was a pretty fun version of the song. Biggs was acting pretty goofy – pelvic thrusting a bit, for example – clearly enjoying the new interpretation of the song. It’s tough not to smile when looking at him.
After, “getting in touch with our feminine sides” as Biggs put it, we had to get back into the metal, with “Jack of Diamonds”, which elicited a pretty hefty scream from the crowd. The next song got everyone jumping and the floor shaking. The last song was announced – “Start a War” – along with an afterparty at The Riff, and he apologized for the late start, which may or may not have cut a song or two out of their intended set, for all I know.
Overall, I was actually quite surprised at what a great time I had at this show. Ember Falls has, from time to time, suffered from a lack of energy, but this performance was fantastic and all of the new material was phenomenal – and the Mekanism songs are now completely absent from their sets. I’m okay with that, because I don’t know them. And Sonic Syndicate – a totally unfamiliar band for me – turned out to be fantastic performers. Their music was fun and lively, and really well-done. I had a great time during both sets, unable to let my back problems hold me back from dancing and headbanging. It was definitely worth seeing, and I’m only sorry that there weren’t more people there to enjoy it!
Sonic Syndicate’s (official) setlist [some songs may have been dropped due to the late start]:
2. Life is Not a Map
3. Beauty and the Freak
4. I Like it Rough
6. Burn this City
7. It’s a Shame
9. Revolution, Baby!
11. Russian Roulette
12. Closure (acoustic)
13. Halfway Down the Road (acoustic)
14. Jack of Diamonds
15. Turn it Up
16. Start a War
Photos: Miia Collander