2023.2.11-12 Nordic Metal Cruise @ Viking Cinderella

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Sometimes you attend an show or festival and have such a good time, regardless of bands, that you feel a deep compulsion to attend again, immediately. As such, it was quite lucky for us to have the chance to go on another Nordic Metal Cruise on February 11-12th, 2023, right after having just been on the long-pandemic-delayed Nordic Metal Cruise back in early November 2022. With artists like GAAHLS WYRD and ENSIFERUM, we knew that we’d be having a good time once more, no matter what!

Day 1

It was considerably less stressful the second time around, once we were a bit more familiar with what to do, where, when, and why. After picking up our tickets, we boarded the Viking Cinderella cruise ship, as it seems the usual Viking Grace was out of commission a bit longer than expected. The ship seemed very much the same, however, it seems Cinderella doesn’t usually come to Finland, so we had mainly Swedish staff and no Finnish text on the ship – a new experience, if nothing else. Once again, it took a bit of time for the cleaning services to finish up, but hey, at least this time around no one had barf in their room!

There were a few activities going on around the ship, with the Melody bar hosting the Nummirock Relaamo, with burlesque artists and meet ‘n’ greets, as well as another bar with a metal pianist, and of course, heavy karaoke. We heard that Gaahl‘s signing session didn’t end up happening, unfortunately… because he got lost? That was the rumor, anyways, but a shame to the fans who were hoping to see him. If you were lucky, you might have even caught ENSIFERUM‘s Sami Hinkka singing Frederick at karaoke!

The first band up was KAUNIS KUOLEMATON, whom we’ve been familiar with for some time. Fans of dark and doomy metal tend to always sing the praises of these guys, so it was nice to get the opportunity to check them out, as I was personally burnt out on doom metal about 15 years ago and haven’t had the interest to go to doom metal shows for fun ever since, with very few exceptions. To my delight, it was nice to see that these guys were spectacular to behold. The heavy, dark force of their music was that sort of style that can be cathartic and therapeutic, a sound that turns up the intensity of your sadness until that sorrow burns out and leaves you empty and open to healing. Not knowing almost any of their material, I did really enjoy the set. Word on the street was that they played a couple golden oldies, like “En ole mitään,” and “Paha ihminen” from their latest album of the same name, which is one of their most striking and dynamic songs.

There was a chance to refuel between sets, but one does not simply miss Gaahl‘s bands when they play. We headed back to the stage in order to see arguably the best set of the weekend, courtesy of GAAHLS WYRD. Everything about the set was brilliant and wildly professional, yet still fun. Also worth noting, everything just looked awesome, because the lights suited the mood… it was surely terrible for our photographer, but it suited the ambience on stage. It was clear that the performers – Gaahl in particular – were really focused in on their craft, yet were still letting loose in a spectacular manner. There had been some speculation beforehand as to whether they’d be playing more ambient material, or whether there would be more GORGOROTH in the mix; it seems as though there was a pretty nice mix of everything alongside GAAHLS WYRD‘s own material, with a lot of back catalog in there. “Alt Liv” from GOD SEED was heard, as well as some material from both GORGOROTH and TRELLDOM, with “Carving the Voices” from GAAHLS WYRD being one of the absolute highlights of the weekend! These guys definitely left us all wanting more.

The party was hardly over after GAAHLS WYRD ended though, so we continued the night with trips all around the ship, ending up back at the main stage while the DJ was playing, with many of us not getting to bed until the wee hours of morning.

Day 2

The next morning meant rough conditions and hair of the dog for most of the Finns, making for a funny morning when we all realized there was an absolute ass-ton of sporty looking Swedish children suddenly on the cruise with us. How interesting this must have been for them! The first act of the day wasn’t set until 16:00, so there was plenty of time to recover and reset before the party bands of the cruise were set to go.

If there was a weird inclusion in this event, it was definitely Austrian KONTRUST, who were so odd that it’s honestly rather hard to explain them. Listening on Spotify to get an idea of what this was, we thought it was some sort of mishmash of a few different genres, but when they were on stage, it seemed like they were more of a mishmash of ALL genres (including a drop into full reggae at one point) – seems that’s what a “crossover” band was, but we weren’t convinced that their music was particularly coherent or logical. What was even more interesting was that they sounded almost nothing live like they did in the studio mix. This was likely because their percussionist’s tok-toking seemed to be impossible for the sound engineers to integrate, making it oppressively loud whenever it appeared. However, it also just sounded a whole lot heavier than it was on Spotify. That said, it’s rare for a band to surprise me these days for any reason, and surprised I surely was.

Of note, there was some confusion as well regarding this band’s lineup, as most places on the web still list Agata Jarosz as their lead singer, but she seems to have been replaced at least already by last year, with Julia Ivanova now as acting female vocalist. Julia had a really lovely voice, but it was the other vocalist, Stefan Lichtenberger, who was the most interesting to observe on stage, as he never seemed to consistently stick to a particular style. The crowd were pretty aggressively polarized on this stuff, but it seems that they still brought a pretty decent audience to check out their set. I, for one, am glad to have seen it once, just for the weird-ass experience.

And then, of course, everyone had to rush to tax-free and to tidy up their rooms a bit, before ENSIFERUM would wind up the event. It would be hard to count exactly how many times we’ve seen ENSKA over the years, but it’s in the severals of tens at least. Part of me was hoping that they’d exclusively play water-themed songs, you know, since their last album was called Thalassic and we were on a ship… well, my wish was largely granted, actually, because alongside “Rum, Women, Victory,” “Run from the Crushing Tide,” and “Andromeda,” they also brought back an old classic, “Ahti,” which is about the Finnish god of the sea. There was also – very much to my surprise – something in there that I outright did not recognize.

The beginning of the set started with my gang pretty close to the front and center, but after a mere handful of seconds into the first song, a sampler platter’s worth of random beers began flinging in my direction, courtesy of an immediate mosh pit, so I instantly bailed to the upstairs balcony where I could watch the madness from a safe distance. From here, it was extremely fun to see what exactly had begun right near where I had been – conga lines, mosh pits, and linked-arm dancing in circles… everyone was having a blast and it continued until the last notes faded!

If there was something strange about this weekend, it was that the lineup seemed to be set on the wrong days. The deeply weird vibes of KONTRUST and the energetic party metal of ENSIFERUM are exactly what the first night of the cruise would have needed, while the powerful doom and epic extreme metals of KAUNIS KUOLEMATON and GAAHL’S WYRD respectively would have been perfect to zone out to for those coming down from their hangovers on day two. However, that oddness aside, this was yet again another extremely fun weekend of bumping into friends, cutting loose, and having a great time. We’re fairly certain that you’ll be seeing us on the Nordic Metal Cruise again in 2024!

Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Lady Enslain