23.3.2022 Octopie, From Grotto, & King of Sweden @ Bar Loose, Helsinki

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If there’s a growing passion among our staff in recent years, it’s for the stonery/psychedelic side of music, perhaps due to the sheer diversity of potential sounds. On March 23rd, 2022, we headed over to the local venue, Bar Loose, to check out OCTOPIE, FROM GROTTO, and KING OF SWEDEN, to see what they have to offer the Finnish psychedelic/prog/stoner music scene!

Admittedly, half of the reason I had wanted to come to this show was to see the original first-up band, ASTRAL BAZAAR, who were forced to cancel relatively last-minute. In their place was OCTOPIE, and despite having listened to some of their tunes beforehand online and feeling unimpressed, OCTOPIE turned out to be nothing like we had expected. What had felt like flowery, hippy, THE BEATLES -style stoner music turned out to be lively jazz-influenced pure progressive strangeness. The singer’s voice was very loud in the mix, so when their set started and he began to wail, we were caught utterly off guard. Perhaps “singing” is less accurate than calling it melodic emoting. Oh, the drama! Their songs had great theatrical movement, and boy did they serve when the songs hit their climax. The singer hit high notes in a manner that felt like Einor Solberg doing a theatrical performance. Oh, and did I mention that the band has a trumpeter? Because that also definitely ruled, especially knowing that he played a few other percussive instruments as well. The keyboardist had style for miles, the drummer never left us bored, and the guitarist knew when to let loose and when to play it cool. While there were clear mood changes throughout the set, they only stopped twice to greet the crowd and introduce themselves toward the end. The music took slow, ambient turns, psychedelic wild spurts, and had moments that felt like just plain old jamming. Pretty much everyone got a chance to show their style at some point in the show with some flavor or soloing. Frankly, they were a lot of fun.

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Next up was the other half of the reason I wanted to see this show. I’ve been a fan of FROM GROTTO since the release of the first soundtrack from the extremely well-rated (and still not available on console – snarl) rogue-like video game, Noita. The ambient psychedelic and somewhat mystical soundtrack enraptured me, with the second part only working harder to increase my enthusiasm. Now, with the third installment incoming, the opportunity to see them live for the first time was essential.

The opened on a rather dark note with quite heavy drumming (especially in the mix). I had noticed a few months ago that the band’s lineup was one member fewer than it had been, and wondered if it was the singer that had left. As the guitarist started on vocals and there was no singer in sight, it seemed that I may have guessed correctly. The band’s vocals had always been the weak spot for me, hence why I had never listened much to the band’s studio releases. The regular material continued into the second song, after they said a sharp “kiitos.” The next track had a few more vocal parts, but maintained that same psychedelic jamming spirit. While the vocals were definitely an improvement over what I recalled, these guys were still at their best where they were just jamming on their instruments. Smooth and funky bass set a great stage for all sorts of guitarwork, while the drums remained surprisingly heavy.

They did slow it down at one point, giving the bassist a chance at the mic – it seems that vocal duties are now shared, before switching into a bass-driven piece that sounded a bit more similar to the Noita material, as the drums chilled out and the guitars got really ambient-psychedelic. However, the bassist belted out some loud vocals during a few parts, breaking up the groovier parts. The mix here was pretty harsh, though as mentioned, that’s not unusual for the venue, especially on the cymbals, which often drowned out the other parts, even if the playing itself was very tight. As such, the best sound came out in the somewhat calmer moments. Luckily, the band didn’t seem interested in holding pace for too long, so the songs ebbed and flowed throughout the set. If there were any disappointments, it’s only that they didn’t seem to play any Noita material.

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The headliner of the night was KING OF SWEDEN and we opted not to listen to them beforehand so we could have a fresh take on their sound in the moment. Perhaps, considering the venue’s notorious bad sound quality, this was a silly idea, but I digress. Perhaps the last thing we expected to see when the band came out was one member actually dressed in a silly Swedish royalty costume. Like FROM GROTTO before them, KING OF SWEDEN were a three-piece and came out strong with ’70s style riffing. They sunk their teeth into a long jam out, with at least one old-school IRON MAIDEN style riff. In fact, there felt like quite a lot of IRON MAIDEN influence in the guitar parts at times, and from more than one era of the classic band. The king did take the mic as well at times, which was not part of the music’s highlights, unfortunately, but much of the music was, like the predecessors, centered around the playing more heavily than singing.

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As a salty old person, I’m often unimpressed by music that I don’t know beforehand, but we had a really enjoyable night at Bar Loose, especially considering the sound issues weren’t quite so harsh as they are known to be during metal shows. While some of the bands could use a little work in the vocal department, the instrumental parts were nevertheless quite captivating and were – across the board – the highlight of the evening. However, let’s give a shout-out to what a surprise hit OCTOPIE turned out to be, especially since we weren’t expecting much. Damn!