It’s been months since Finnish melodic metal band ARION played a headlining show in Helsinki, but since their recent vocalist change-over was announced, it was clear that the fans would need a real gig to be able to decide whether or not they were happy with Lassi Vääränen taking the frontman position. On September 17th, 2015, they took the stage with SIMULACRUM at On the Rocks to show us all what they’ve got and we sent Essi and Lene to let us know what was happening!
Before this year’s Nummirock, I had pretty much ignored the up-and-coming guys that call themselves ARION. And, as life would have it, at Nummirock I had to skip them because they were playing at the same time as another band I wanted to check out. However, as of one autumnal Thursday evening, I have finally seen what these guys were made of.
ARION released their debut, “Last of Us”, last year to astonishing success, and is now preparing for a new album with Lassi on vocals. The gig in Helsinki was the first time the crowd would see him in action with his new band, with only a few live studio recordings to give us a brief taste of what to expect beforehand. After listening to both the album and the studio live versions of “Shadows” and “I Am the Storm” with Lassi, I had high expectations for the evening.
It was also my first time at On the Rocks, which quickly received my approval. The place is just right for ARION-like bands with a decent-sized stage and enough space in front of it. On the Rocks was nicely packed with both friends of the band members as well as other attendees looking forward to check out the musical acts of that evening. The venue is notorious for bad sound quality, but it looked like the guys had their own people at least partly doing the sound and we were thankful for that because it was quite well balanced. All-in-all, both the venue and atmosphere had us in the right mood for a good show.
The night was not, however, all about Arion and their new singer. The opening act was SIMULACRUM, a progressive rock band from Turku, who were celebrating the release of their newest self-released album, “Sky Divided”. Being a concept album, the band had decided there was no other option than to play it from beginning to end. As someone who is not a fan of progressive rock, I had my doubts as to whether I would really care for this band’s performance. OPETH’s “Blackwater Park” is by far the only prog album I can really listen to and enjoy. Also it can be risky to play a whole album straight through, since not all songs work that well live. With that in mind, the magic of live music happened once again and I found myself enjoying the gig. The guys are still a bit rough around the edges when it comes to performing but the devotion and enthusiasm are there, bringing life to the songs. In particular, we noticed that the singer has some real potential. He certainly could use a bit of training to fine-tune things at this point, but there is a really solid base to build on. The band did not convert me into progressive music for good but got me thinking that maybe I should give this genre another chance. Maybe.
The evening’s headliner was a whole different story. The three of us present have all listened to “Last of Us” and have all enjoyed it immensely. I had only listened to it recently, but found traits of Nightwish, Turisas, Stratovarius and – yes, I’m serious – Westlife in their songs. I have to admit I would very much like to see guitarist and songwriter Iivo Kaipainen’s CD-collection…
I really liked Viljami Holopainen’s voice and after hearing the studio live videos I was sure I would approve of Lassi’s as well. What I was not sure of was how the band would perform on stage with the new guy and how focused their live performance would be. Lene had complete confidence in Iivo to find someone who could sing his favorite song, and Bear was skeptical but optimistic at the same time.
After “The Passage” introduced them to the stage, ARION started their gig with “Shadows,” a song that might have made some people doubt whether or not Lassi was the right choice based on the studio live video. However, after the very first notes I was overwhelmed by the sound and power of his voice. Lassi’s style is different compared to Viljami – it has a bit more depth and edge, which is to my liking. Both being excellent singers, one can hear the confidence and experience in Lassi’s voice that gives a whole new element of credibility to the whole band. Lassi certainly brings a notch of roughness to the songs but he also handled clean vocals well in calmer ballad-like songs like “You’re My Melody.” Also, as Lene predicted, he did a phenomenal job of “Last of Us,” the aforementioned favorite of Iivo. Overall, he is a versatile singer who took his place on the stage with ease and comfort.
When it comes to the stage presence of the other ARION guys, they seemed to be both confident and baffled by the situation. The songs sound great live and the players know what they’re doing. Now, however, would be the time to raise their heads up and interact more with the audience. It did happen a couple of times, most likely because the front row was manned by their friends. Iivo, for one, was full of smiles and goofed around a bit, and Gege Velinov (bass) is clearly quite a character. I have no doubt that after gaining some more live performance experience, we will see a whole different band.
The setlist was completely comprised of songs from “Last of Us,” save for one new song whose name remains a mystery. Once they started to play the new song, one could instantly notice the change in the whole band’s attitude and presence. All of a sudden there seemed to be more enthusiasm on stage and Lassi was clearly giving us his best, showing that this, right here, is what he knows by heart. And who could blame him? It’s always undoubtedly a bit tricky to step up and perform songs someone else has made famous. Performing the one song that did not carry any of the past’s weight was likely what they were looking forward to most, and it certainly showed. Incidentally, if anyone was worried that ARION would have trouble topping their last album in quality, this song certainly blew those concerns right out the door.
After playing their encore, “Seven,” a happy-looking group of metal heads climbed down from the stage and were greeted by their friends in the audience. One could really see the smile of relief on their face after the successful gig with their new singer received an enthusiastic and very encouraging response from the crowd.
ARION has proved to be excellent in the studio and have a lot of potential packed up and ready to be unleashed in the future. Once these guys finish the next album and get more confidence on stage, we might see them hitting bigger venues and stages in the very near future. We’ve got high hopes that their next album will blow “Last of Us” out of the water, and that things will only be going uphill for them from here!
1. The Passage (intro)
3. Watching You Fall
4. Out of the Ashes
5. I am the Storm
6. You’re My Melody
8. Burn Your Ship
10. Last of Us
11. Seven (Encore)
Written by Essi N., Bear W.
Photos by Lene L.