Having been listening to all kinds of metal for over two decades, it’s tough to really get excited about something new these days. The Danish progressive outfit VOLA has definitely been one of my favorites ever since their debut album, “Inmazes” (2015). The band’s “Depeche Mode plays Meshuggah” recipe felt wildly appealing at the time and while their sophomore effort, “Applause of a Distant Crowd” (2018) didn’t quite have the same pull to it, both it and the latest album, “Witness” (2020), have definitely grown on me since.
When VOLA announced last summer that they were going to do a headlining Scandinavian tour this spring, I snagged the tickets immediately. Having already seen them live once in 2017 when warming up for KATATONIA and AGENT FRESCO (do yourself a favor and listen to “Destrier”!), it was easy to anticipate top-notch musicianship combined with Asger Mygind‘s sweet voice. Still, the ebb and flow of the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic surely held the suspense on whether the show was going to even take place almost down to the last minute, as the Finnish government lifted the rest of ongoing restrictions regarding public gatherings and events only a few weeks before.
On top of that, the show underwent a venue change, as the On the Rocks club – where the event was originally supposed to take place – closed down for air-conditioning renovation for a whole month. Most of planned dates got rescheduled, but the show’s promoter, Nem Agency, pulled a wild card and booked the south end bar area – dubbed Brewer’s Street – of the Helsinki Ice Hall, for the show. How was loud progressive music going to sound in a hallway of a building made of concrete?
I made a move and participated in an honest ad-hoc pre-party at a friend’s house, conveniently missing the first band, ATLAS. Sorry guys, you’ve never been my cup of tea! We arrived at the ice hall during the first changeover, where entrance and the cloakroom both worked as you’d expect in such a large venue. The pat-downs at the door seemed a bit redundant in a club-like setting, but it was probably just venue policy. Moving up to the second floor space revealed the long south corridor being adequately draperied and lit, with a bar on the right, serving assorted snacks and ludicrously overpriced beer from plastic cups. One would expect that bringing the price of a pint just slightly down from 9,20€ might encourage people to arrive a bit earlier and enjoy their pre-show brews on-site, but I’m just an overly-thirsty show-goer, what do I know?
For the whole tour, VOLA was backed up by PORT NOIR from Södertälje, Sweden. The band has been around since 2011, but I was only familiar with them on a name level. The 45-minute set ended up being quite a decent display of modern progressive rock, with hard-hitting drum work and interplay of synthesizers and guitars, between which the guitarist shifted fluently. Lately (at least pre-COVID wise) I’ve had the habit of not trying to get into unfamiliar bands before shows, but in PORT NOIR‘s case it would’ve definitely helped; their music had just enough tosses and turns that you needed to pay attention, but with the emphasis on the word “rock” instead of “progressive”… not enough for it to really land on my soft spot of prog-trickery.
An entertaining warm-up set for sure, but probably not something I’d personally would go and see specifically, at least until I’ve been able to give them a few more listens at home. Overall, I think the quite sizeable crowd seemed to enjoy them. If you’re bored with bands like MUSE and aren’t allergic to rap-ish vocal work, PORT NOIR could be your next jam. Special points awarded for being an authentic power trio in a world where the holy trinity of guitar, bass, and drums has become increasingly rare by the year!
Time for the main event! VOLA took the stage at 22:00 sharp and kicked things off with a surprisingly light combination of “We Are Thin Air” and “22 Light-Years.” The beginning of the set was really nicely balanced between these softer tracks and the heavier “Napalm” and “Straight Lines,” before completely changing pace again with “Ruby Pool.” The band’s music is all about dynamics, with almost earth-shattering riffs and softer passages nicely playing along even inside a single song. This was probably best showcased with “These Black Claws” at the half-point of the set. Too bad, though understandable, that they had to play SHAHMEN‘s featuring raps from tape.
To tend to their older fans, VOLA had pulled one from the vault, and performed an acoustic-ish version of “Enter” off their 2011 EP, “Monsters,” which was a really nice touch before delving back to more recent stuff. The rest of the main set combined tracks from both “Applause…” and “Witness,” ending with the latter’s closing track, “Inside Your Fur.” Of course, this wasn’t enough for just about anyone in the audience and the band came back to play “Inmazes” and “Stray the Skies,” the latter apparently having been cemented as their de facto closer. The crowd would’ve still wanted to hear more, but the lights eventually came back on and people had to start backtracking towards the coatroom.
What a show! I was so in the zone throughout that, to tell the truth, I don’t have the slightest clue what Asger Mygind said in his scarce in-between-songs talks. All-in-all, there’s not much to nag about outside of setlist choices; out of fifteen songs played, only three were from “Inmazes” and maybe most surprisingly, “Gutter Moon” was not played at all. It would’ve also been great to hear the personal favorite: the magnificent “Emily.” If there’s something to bring out musicianship-wise, at times it felt that Mygind didn’t quite reach the albums’ level with his vocal performance, but I’m perfectly willing to amount this to nervousness, this being the tour’s first show, as well as their first headliner show in Finland. The whole band are immensely talented musicians and even the first album probably forever remaining my favorite from them, I’d say that VOLA has really progressed (pun intended) musically over the years!
Considering the venue and overall hospitality, I really liked the Brewer’s Street concept. There was a LOT of space, which was only a good thing during these infectious times, and both VOLA and PORT NOIR sounded surprisingly good. If anyone remembers how metal shows used to sound at Kaapelitehdas, this could’ve been just as bad, but I was positively surprised with the overall sound. The Finnish metal crowd was just as considerate and pleasant as ever, and decent amount of non-drinking attendees wore face masks throughout the event. Overall, an excellent start to what I hope will be a perpetual streak of live events after 2 whole years of uncertainty and disappointment!
Written by Atte Valtojärvi