Regardless of the album or tour, Turisas has been one of our go-to bands for when we want to see a great live performance! Even though they haven’t put out an album in a couple of years, that hasn’t stopped them from seeing the world! They recently returned to their homeland after a tour of Latin America, and stopped by Tavastia in Helsinki on November 14th, 2015, to give us some action!
Be sure to read our interview with Mathias Nygård, where we catch up with him after nearly five years! Also, we had a quick chat with Sami Yli-Sirniö and Jón Aldará from Barren Earth which is also worth a read!
During this local tour, Turisas has gathered the members of Barren Earth to open for them. This collective of known musicians has been on our list of bands to check out for a while and I personally haven’t seen them outside a festival since 2010 when they opened for Finntroll’s Nifelvind CD release show. In fact, I had only just recently learned that Mikko Kotamäki isn’t singing for them any longer, replaced by Jón Aldará from all the way over in the Faroe Islands.
The first thing I noticed about this band was their comfort on stage. Though they’ve only got three albums to their name, you can really see that they are all live pros nevertheless. Sami Yli-Sirniö has the most fantastic cheerful oldschool metal guy smile, who just leans into his guitar like it’s a part of him. They all looked very comfortable on stage with one another in spite of how little opportunity they get to play together.
Also, I was immediately blown away by Jón Aldará. I had been informed that he sings cleaner than Kotamäki had, so when he started belting out the older songs with a deep, ballsy growl, my eyes nearly fell out of my head. He’s bloody fantastic! His clean vocals are lovely and he has a great vibrato, so his diversity makes him pretty great to hear live. He’s also slightly more active with the mic than Kotamäki was, though not so much that it didn’t suit the music.
And the music was good. It’s the sort of thing I’d like to put on during a light rain on a nice day – not too gloomy but definitely ambient. They worked nicely as an opener, pulling in a good chunk of the crowd already. Aldará greeted Tavastia at one point saying that in spite of the stage being populated 90% by Finns, he’d still be addressing the crowd in English, and got a surprisingly large cheer – there must have been a fair number of foreigners in the crowd. We spotted at least one Brazilian flag later on, so it was certainly diverse.
Overall, I rather enjoyed their set. I haven’t listened to them much but maybe I need to change that one of these days because they were definitely worth showing up early for!
It wasn’t long after Barren Earth left that the stage grew dark once again and a nice intro track that I admittedly didn’t recognize introduced the headliner to the stage! They got things going with “March of the Varangian Guard,” which is one of their best songs in my opinion and a sure-fire way to get the crowd riled up!
The stage set-up for this tour was designed to look like an old-school byzantine church, with the faux religious artwork and the electric candles. It was fairly cheesy, but good for entertainment value. Turisas have just enough drama on stage without going overboard. It’s been a long time since I’ve been up front at their shows, so I didn’t even realized that their outfits had changed a bit since Stand Up and Fight, and I like the way they look now – a bit more ragged than the last album, which suits their musical style a bit better.
It’s been a good while since I’ve seen them play and I had almost forgotten how much I like these guys live. Nygård has, in my opinion, one of the best voices in Finnish metal, and I still think Olli is one of the best stage presences for an alternative instrument. Nygård played with the vocal lines a bit, keeping things fresh and lively. They followed up their starter song with “A Portage to the Unknown,” which had a nice group chant coming from the band. It made me nostalgic for the Varangian Way era, back when I first discovered the band. Even though the music is different now that the accordions have been replaced with keys, it’s still sort of a comfortable old blanket of a song.
After a song or two, I recalled that Kasper Mårtenson had also played with the previous band. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that Robert Engstrand had left Turisas last year, so I’m curious to know if Mårtenson was just a live session player or if he’ll be sticking around with the band when they start working on the upcoming album. I can’t say much in comparison with Engstrand because I can’t honestly recall much from the last gigs I saw with him, but Mårtenson did his duty well. I’m just not sure about his old-fashioned pilot hat and goggles.
Furthering that thought, I’m still not sure how I feel about the accordion being replaced by keys for the songs off The Varangian Way. In the case of “Cursed be Iron,” there was a new sense of ambiance to the song, more eerie droning, with a pretty good Kalevala feel. Though I’ve never much liked the version of “A Portage to the Unknown” with keys, they worked with “Cursed be Iron.” While I don’t think the songs are necessarily better than they were with Netta Skog, they are certainly new and interesting.
The set was fairly well balanced between the last three albums, but a bit lacking in Battle Metal, as they only played the title track. If I had my way I’d have changed one or two of the newer ones for “The Land of Hope and Glory,” for example. There was a German intro track to “Piece by Piece” that I again didn’t recognize. It was a bit of an odd choice, since it’s likely that most of the crowd don’t speak German. I have to appreciate the beautiful violin playing in this track however. It’s far more prominent than on the album and I like that about their live shows – the violin isn’t distorted until it’s unrecognizable. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Olli Vänskä play mandolin before, but he played an introduction to “Hunting Pirates” and that was a nice treat.
There was a bit of moshing in the crowd, though nothing especially impressive. It was nice to see the camaraderie from the crowd when someone went down and they took a lot of measures to make sure no one got hurt. I have a lot of faith in the Finnish metal scene and these moments continue to prove that it is well-deserved.
The show closed out with “End of an Empire,” which is a fairly epic song though and the fake snow was a nice touch. However, what was more surprising was their choice of a Pet Shop Boys cover, “It’s a Sin,” to open up the encore. It was pretty amusing, though I sensed a few people were more confused than anything else. More appropriately, they finished the night with “Stand Up and Fight,” complete with epic red and black confetti.
It was nice to see these guys play a local show again – they’re so busy touring overseas that they don’t get to tour their homeland that often, and they’re a solid live act. They have good energy and sound pretty consistently in every show I’ve seen. I’d always considered them a good use of a Saturday night and this time was no different. Here’s hoping they put out some good new material in the next year so that it’s not too long before we see them again!
1. The March of the Varangian Guard
2. A Portage to the Unknown
3. To Holmgard and Beyond
4. The Great Escape
5. Piece by Piece
6. Cursed be Iron
7. Hunting Pirates
8. Battle Metal
9. We Ride Together
10. End of an Empire
1. It’s a Sin (Pet Shop Boys cover)
2. Stand Up and Fight
Text: Amy Wiseman | Photos: Eliza Rask