Has it been a year alread? It must have been, since the last time we saw MOONSORROW at Virgin Oil Co. was for the release party of their 2016 album: “Jumalten Aika.” On March 11th, 2017, they returned to the same venue for what seemed like a victory lap since the album had garnered a superb reputation and had been immensely successful all-round. Opening for them was another Finnish folk metal group, DRAUGNIM. The Espoo-based openers came sporting a very similar sound and aesthetic. This was poised to be a great night for fans of that turn-of-the-millennium style of extreme folk metal. Check out the gallery here.
I myself have been seeing MOONSORROW on a fairly consistent basis ever since “Viides luku – Hävitetty” (2007). My favorite beyond a doubt has always been “Kivenkantaja” (2003), for its airy, mellow folk grooves, unique narrative style, and bombastic crescendos. Not unlike the rest of our staff, I did enjoy the new album quite a lot but I missed the show last year; therefore I was looking forward to seeing some of the new songs performed live, perhaps with a few of my old favorites sprinkled in for flavor.
The show started quite precisely on time at 21:50 with DRAUGNIM’s long-winded intro track. I’d had the pleasure of seeing them once before some 6 or 7 years ago. They looked pretty much the same as back then, dressed in tattered cloaks and corpse paint stained by fake blood (citation needed on whether it truly was fake blood). The singer had gauntlets on just as he did back then. In fact, at the merch stand they were only selling the first album, “Northwind’s Ire,” and the corresponding T-shirt just as they did back then. It was as if they’d stepped out of a time-capsule.
For the intro, they all stood with their backs turned until the song began in earnest. Right away I noticed some issues with the mixing. First of all, the vocals were very quiet, and secondly, the guitars were damn-near nonexistent and I suspect what little guitars I heard were the complimentary tracks from their backing track. The whole sound didn’t feel authentic or very exciting at all. It did allow me to enjoy the bass though. When the guitars are away the bass will play… They fixed the vocals for the second song but the larger issues still persisted. There was even a bit during the fifth-or-so song wherein the live sound cut off and we were left with naught but the drums and the backing track for a minute. Luckily for them, the crowd was on their side and dutifully clapped their hands and cried “hey!” They did finish the song as professionals should, but it did leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
I would suggest that the best thing one could do on stage after a massive technical failure occurs would be to thank the fans for their help and appreciation and chalk the whole thing up as a bit of a laugh. These things happen after all. DRAUGNIM’s frontman, Chimedra, however, had a different approach. He stood as silently as he did between all the other songs, only spouting the occasional platitude of “kiitos” [thank you] or simply naming the next song. This made it feel as though they are not a live-oriented band – I would say that the incident could have been handled more gracefully. However, their entire performance that night felt awkward and unprepared. I don’t think I’ll be going out of my way to catch them again. Maybe after another 7 years.
By the time MOONSORROW took the stage, the place was absolutely packed. True icons of Finnish metal, their following here was still as fiercely loyal and excitable as ever. Like the first band, they also had an intro track, which was recognizably “Tyven,” followed by “Sankarihauta” and “Kylän Päässä” – a strong start taking three classics from “Voimasta ja Kunniasta” (2001). This was a great way to establish that this wasn’t just a celebration of the new album, but a show dedicated to the continuing life and legacy of a truly special group. Following these was my personal favorite, “Raunioilla.” Unlike “Kylän Päässä,” this one didn’t open up any moshpits, but was clearly beloved and still welcome as a staple of any MOONSORROW set.
Unlike the first band, they had a great live mix that showcased all the best elements of each instrument. The keyboards perhaps got a bit drowned out by everything else but such is the nature of keyboards in metal. As usual, they had Ville Sorvali on bass and growling vocals with the two guitarists doing backing vocals. During “Kylän Päässä,” guitarist Janne Perttilä took the center mic to do the clean section. His vocals were so ridiculously oversaturated by effects that it was almost impossible to make out his performance or even the lyrics. This was no star-making turn for him.
After the classics were out of the way, Sorvali announced that since it had been a year since “Jumalten Aika” came out, they expected us to either know the songs by now or to have forgotten them. And on that note, the crowd cheered in absolute support for the eponymous “Jumalten Aika.” It was even better live than on the record. It was fast-paced and heavily black metal-influenced but with a clear sound that never got sludgy. Following this was “Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän ppäivän kansa,” which just like its predecessor was met with huge applause and enthusiasm. Since the material didn’t really lend itself to singing along, it felt good to at least be able to scream “roar Ruttolehto” a few times.
At this point, it became implicit that they were going to play the entire new album live. MOONSORROW are known for doing long live shows, so this wasn’t any more of an undertaking than any other headlining show from them. “Jumalten Aika” having been almost universally praised by critics and fans alike, the fans seemed agreeable to the situation. The fans took every opportunity to show their love for the band and the new record. They chanted for every section that allowed for it and even during those 15-20 minute songs, they still managed to pump their fists.
Finishing off the set was an encore of “Tuulen koti, aaltojen koti” and “Aurinko ja kuu” – two of the slowest songs in their discography. To be fair, at that point the songs were a well-deserved cool-down for both the band and the audience. This had been a spectacular evening for MOONSORROW. Even the lackluster opener had completely disappeared from my consciousness as they called it a wrap.
The theme of the evening had clearly been MOONSORROW, with DRAUGNIM coming across as second-rate. Seldom is seen two bands together so similar in style with such disparate executions. MOONSORROW was at the top of their game all night, whereas the first band I wouldn’t have even remembered if I hadn’t taken notes. For a band that took most of their sound from MOONSORROW, DRAUGNIM failed to live up to their great aspirations. In their defense, the band has very little they can do about the live mix once on stage, so this critique is not entirely on them but rather on the overall presentation. On top of that, when compared to an established group such as MOONSORROW, almost anything can easily come across as underwhelming. My impression of DRAUGNIM didn’t improve based on this evening but MOONSORROW only further cemented itself in the pantheon of great Finnish bands. It was a must-see concert for fans and I’m sure the next one will be as well.
3. Kylän päässä
5. Jumalten aika
6. Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän päivän kansa
7. Suden tunti
9. Ihmisen aika (Kumarrus pimeyteen)
10. Tuulen koti, aaltojen koti (encore)
11. Aurinko ja Kuu (encore)
Written by Vincent Parkkonen
Photos: Marco Manzi