SONATA ARCTICA is touring at the moment with their new album, “Talviyö,” and they played their second gig of the Finnish leg of the tour at The Circus in Helsinki on November 7th, 2019. Considering that SONATA ARCTICA are my favorite band ever, I was eager to hear them live once again, though admittedly the band’s musical direction had changed in their previous album from 2016, “The Ninth Hour,” in a way that hasn’t been as much to my liking as their previous material. That said, this was the first time where I hadn’t heard the new album beforehand (with the exception of the singles), so it was a new SONATA experience for me! Check out the full gallery from Pakkahuone in Tampere, including TEMPLE BALLS and ARION here!
I arrived at the venue just in time to catch the first notes of SONATA‘s opening song, which unsurprisingly was the first new single from “Talviyö,” “A Little Less Understanding.” These guys clearly have a solid, loyal fanbase and still draw a pretty big audience, but I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised that there were so many people in attendance on a Thursday night. The venue’s staff had opened the floor space all the way to the bar in the back so there was a lot more room to move around.
Hearing the singles beforehand, they felt a bit lazy and uneventful; the drums in particular have a tired, dragging feel to them. With that in mind, it was a nice surprise that the drums were much sharper and tighter in a live setting, bringing a much-needed attitude and energy to the song. Still, it’s hard to get pulled into the dull chorus, even live. This was followed by “Closer to an Animal,” a representative of their modern, more slow-tempo catalog, but was still an improvement in melody and drive. Following that was an unknown new song, “Whirlwind.” It didn’t leave much of an impression, representing the same musical style as the singles that likewise escaped my memory immediately.
Tony Kakko is still an impressive frontman, both physically and vocally, and his singing is always a delight to hear. He was smiling for most of the show and had a nice, positive attitude towards performing and a really good connection to audience, rambling a bit and often awkward, but also honest, relaxed, and down-to-earth. Sadly, the same could not be said about the rest of the band, who were static and passive, just worrying about playing their parts. The execution of the songs was great and they sounded very professional, but their raw live power escaped them this time.
I was in for a surprise when the first melodies of “The Day” started, as it’s one of my favorites from “Stones Grow Her Name”; it was the first song of the night that felt actually good and it wasn’t the most common live song for them. Suddenly there was action both on the stage and in the crowd. It seemed like the band had gotten an energy and vigor boost from faster, more dynamic, and altogether more “Sonata” song. After all the trotting, mid-tempo drumming, it was great to see that Tommy Portimo still can deliver some fast and tight double-bass! The song electrified the band for a while and Kakko got very dramatic during the delivery, which is no surprise considering the song’s tragic theme. Then, as quickly as the new-found drive had arrived, it was brutally taken away for “Cold,” the second single from the new album and almost as flavorless as the first. All of the energy given to me by “The Day” was sucked out by an evil wizard of blandness. Again, at least the live drums had a bit of edge and attitude.
The torment continued setlist-wise with the worst SONATA song of all time: “I Have a Right.” How it has become a must-play in their sets is a mystery, and to my personal horror, was the original song depicting the lifeless new sound of “A Little Less Understanding.” So despite the good intentions and important lyrical themes, I hold a special grudge against “I Have a Right.” Anyways, the live performance of the song had one really interesting part, where Kakko suddenly turned, pointed towards the SONATA ARCTICA logo in the backdrop, and sang the chorus, “Give me the gift / to be heard / to be seen / to be loved / to be free / to be everything I need / to be me / to be safe / to believe in something,” like he was speaking directly to it. For me, it was really intriguing moment.
The new track, “Storm the Armada,” had a surprisingly epic intro that got me interested right away. It also had an interesting melody that was to my liking, but the sluggish hangover drum composition dragged it down just the same. However, I didn’t dislike the song. Around this point, my attention was drawn towards Henrik Klingenberg, who sadly looked like it was just another workday for him. It’s a bummer, because when he joined SONATA ARCTICA, he was a bright burst of fun and energy added to the band. It’s a shame to have lost that.
Up next was “X Marks the Spot” from “Pariah’s Child.” It’s not one of the best songs, but it was still a welcome addition to the setlist from an album I actually like a lot. The song has funny lyrics and atmosphere, but it lacks something in its structure and has a boring, grey chorus. Kakko nonetheless had a blast acting as a crazy cult leader, doing funny screeches among his singing and having a wild energy take over during the song. This energy also somewhat caught on to Klingenberg and he actually came to the edge of the stage to play his keytar while trying to look cool, but he managed to just look bored out of his mind.
The gig continued with yet another new song, “Who Failed the Most.” Once again, not a lot to say here – it’s background metal that you don’t pay attention to. The guys play well, but this slow-tempo, musty song structure doesn’t allow them to use their own potential. Even the audience, who was paying attention, weren’t moving about much.
Finally it was time for some evergreen classics, as the recognizable melodies of “Tallulah” filled the venue and Kakko sat down in the front of the stage. Many people may be fed up with this song, but for me it always works. Kakko also asked how many people in the audience had sang “Tallulah” at karaoke before and instructed everyone to sing along. It became a really nice karaoke version with the audience as Kakko offered many parts from the song for us to sing and we complied willingly. At one point in the song, he turned to say “hi” to Portimo and there was an odd effect on his voice, which stayed for the rest of the song and made it sound disturbingly messy.
The cavalcade of classics continued in the form of “Black Sheep.” I noticed that Kakko was cutting the lines into smaller pieces when singing and he sometimes had problems hitting the highest notes clearly. The rest of the band finally activated again and Portimo got to do some great blasts. Even Klingenberg seemed to have fun! During “FullMoon,” Kakko didn’t have as many problems as with the previous song and his voice is really beautiful when it works. During the last song before the encore, “Losing my Insanity,” Klingenberg and guitarist Elias Viljanen unexpectedly stepped it up a notch and started to act like they were actually having fun. This steam luckily continued in the encore song, “Life.” Kakko really meant every word he sang, everyone was active on stage and contributed to the show, and suddenly there was a lot more movement everywhere. At last, of course, there was time for some “Vodka” and a group picture with the crowd.
This gig left me with mixed feelings. To be honest, the setlist was, in my opinion, a pretty horrible collection of the not-so-good SONATA songs, with some sparks of light here and there. Tony Kakko was the leader of the show, keeping the whole thing together with his enthusiasm and drive, while the other members played well but were passive and looked uninterested most of the time, only finding energy and joy in a handful of moments. However, no matter what you think about the new material, it seems that Kakko and co. are standing sincerely behind it.
- A Little Less Understanding
- Closer to an Animal
- The Day
- I Have a Right
- Storm the Armada
- X Marks the Spot
- Who Failed the Most
- Black Sheep
- Losing My Insanity
Written by Simo Kuusterä
Photos by Sami Hinkkanen
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”