15.11.2022 Droid Bishop & Magic Sword @ On the Rocks, Helsinki

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If you are interested in metal and/or synthwave, the name MAGIC SWORD may have reached your ears by now. This American group have gained a fair share of popularity through their cinematic soundscapes that go hand-in-hand with comic books about the titular magic sword and its keepers – represented by the band members – the Keeper, the Seer, and the Weaver. With Droid Bishop in tow as warm-up act, November 15th, 2022, was shaping up to be an interesting Tuesday night, as both artists played in Helsinki for the first time ever!

Droid Bishop was truly something to behold. A solo act with a synth stand, this fellow came on stage with a guitar and a beer and took absolutely no shit from the stereotypically quiet Finnish crowd, insisting that they move forward and act like it’s Friday night. He then proceeded to shred overtop of some very pleasant synthwave. He had an interesting manner, kind of grim-faced but insistent that people enjoy the party. Yet, despite his surliness, I couldn’t help but like him and his performance for many reasons. Firstly, he got the Finns to dance, so let’s all give some credit where it’s due. Secondly, he didn’t just stand around. Despite having to regularly return to the synths, he still moved around the stage, danced and tapped his feet, and even insisted that if the audience didn’t come to him, he would come to them, and descended into the crowd a couple times. What was truly fascinating, however, was his way of speaking, like a lounge singer in that low, rambly sort of demeanor, yet also howling like a wolf and shouting like he was a stadium rock band… all the while playing smooth guitar solos and mellow yet upbeat synthwave. What an odd pairing, but the crowd was living for it, as was I!

MAGIC SWORD came out to their origin story intro, donning the masks of the Keeper, the Seer, and the Weaver, and as they got started to “Reborn” and “Invincible.” From the beginning, I found myself wondering if their music had always been this heavy or was that just something that happens live. Surely it didn’t shred this much when I was listening earlier that day? Were there always such slick solos? Well, one way or the other, the upped heaviness was spectacular and I ate up every bass wave that rocketed through me. It was also an amusing change of pace to have heads bobbing in unison, rather than fists in the air, as the show got going.

There were a few moments in the set where I was convinced that the drummer was actively trying to kill people, as there would be a silence followed by a shockwave that felt like it was trying to knock some organs loose in our bodies. The sound was also hefty enough that some people managed to headbang and throw their horns up, despite the not-usually-meant-for-moshing tempo, though many seemed quite content to groove out. The soundscapes were vast and the echoey guitars guided the crowd through them, at least when the sheer heavy metal intensity was turned down to allow for more cinematic moments. The heavy parts would have benefited from a better sound system than what On the Rocks has on offer, but were nevertheless pretty awesome all things considered.

Perhaps one of the highlights of the night was when the actual magic sword – which lit up and everything, very cheesy and completely perfect for this sort of show – made its appearance to show off the right amount of camp factor to their whole story and sound. Alongside a better sound system, I’d also be interested to see these guys with a fancier stage production – just imagining the sort of awesome laser light show you could put to this music is enough to make me want to whip out the “shut up and take my money” meme.

The show had surprisingly few songs off their latest album, 2020’s “Endless,” though “Empress” also found its way onto the set, but a lot of material came off their very popular debut, “Volume 1,” which largely dominated the set with tracks like “Sword of Truth,” “The Way Home,” “Only Way In,” “Retrogram,” and “Infinite,” to name a few. Ever-changing, the synths also had their moments to direct the auditory story ever-forward, usually during slower, more ambient, or dramatic parts, so every one of the trio had their moments to shine.

When the band finished the main set with “Legend of the Keeper” (off the “Legend” EP, whose three songs were all represented), the band really made the audience work for their encore and work did they ever. The band was probably gone for a full minute as everyone relentlessly chanted and cheered to get them to return. Naturally, they finished up with one of their biggest hits, “In the Face of Evil,” which had the whole audience screaming – a clear fan favorite that everyone had to rock out to.

All-in-all, this was a surprisingly fun and entertaining night for anyone who wanted to spend a Tuesday evening dancing and enjoying some heavy synthwave. Droid Bishop was very good fun, recommended for lovers of synthwave and guitarists like BERNTH and Jason Becker, while it was really nice to have MAGIC SWORD play their debut show in Finland, reminding us that CARPENTER BRUT and PERTURBATOR aren’t the only worthy heavy synthwave acts on stages these days!

Photos by Arto Alho

Setlist

  1. Reborn
  2. Invincible
  3. Sword of Truth
  4. Colossus
  5. Infinite
  6. The Way Home
  7. Only Way In
  8. The Curse
  9. Uprising
  10. Empress
  11. Retrogram
  12. Legend of the Keeper
  13. In the Face of Evil (encore)