29.10.2021 Black Box Mikkeli: Balance Breach, Sara, Wolfheart, & Bloodred Hourglass @ Saimaa Stadium, Mikkeli

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With the ever-changing regulations in Finland, BLOODRED HOURGLASS were unable to go forward with their show in Helsinki with OCEANHOARSE, BALANCE BREACH, and MYGRAIN. Unwilling to let their astounding new release, Your Highness,” go uncelebrated, they moved the release party closer to home, at the Saimaa Stadium. With BALANCE BREACH, SARA, and WOLFHEART as supports, this one-night mini-festival and album release show on October 29th, 2021, promised to be one of the best out-of-town events of the year. Check out the gallery here.

Arriving in Mikkeli, the Saimaa Stadium is a relatively new and clean venue, which immediately made for a nice start to the event, save the fact that it was clear that they hadn’t hosted many gigs in the recent year, as it was unclear for us where to pick up our accreditation. Fortunately, the personnel were very friendly and helpful. There was also a free coat check, which is nigh unheard-of in Finland. Considering the venue was a stadium, it may have been nice to have a food stall open (like they have at, for example, Hartwall Areena), but there was only a small cafeteria that sold chips. The bar area was segregated from the floor, which meant that, as per usual, the crowd was divided between the drinkers and moshers.

BALANCE BREACH, who also hail from Mikkeli, were set up to start out the night at 19:00. Announced as an up-and-coming modern metal band, they were notably featured in this year’s Lost in Music in Tampere. Their most recent single, “Escapers of Paradise,” was released this summer through Out of Line Music, but our first time seeing them was at Emergenza Festival years and years ago, and we were immediately fans of their energy. In many ways, it was a shame that they were the opening act of the night, as they pulled in a pretty big crowd right away. This was no surprise, as they are natural professionals on stage, taking advantage of any and every stage they climb on, jumping, headbanging, and generally just letting loose and going hog-wild. We noted one couple in the audience dancing so intensely that they seemed almost possessed – not a common thing to spot at a metal show, but hey, whatever works for you! Their set was, of course, made up mainly of songs from their debut, “Dead End Diaries,” which was released in summer 2020, but the new single was also included. If there was one odd moment, it was when the photographer came on stage to take the audience photo… not after the last song, but before. Overall, they put on a hellishly energetic show and we hope to see them again sooner rather than later!

The alternative rockers of SARA have teased an upcoming album with a new single called, “Irtoavat leuat,” their first new music since 2018. They were a bit of a strange choice to fill out this lineup, but perhaps they were chosen to draw attention to the softer side of BLOODRED HOURGLASS? They started their set at around 20:15, coming on stage to impressive, atmospheric lighting. While we weren’t familiar with their music beforehand, they put on a very pleasant set of slower songs. However, they kept the energy up in spite of this, with the guitarist being the true stage highlight. Unfortunately, the bass drum was really harsh up in the front rows near the stage – our eardrums were reverberating like crazy, but once we moved around the venue a bit, this issue was no longer a problem. It was surely a bit of a shame for those in the front row though – hopefully they had earplugs! Surely, we’ll have to look into their music as we didn’t know their songs but there was plenty to enjoy in their set.

If you know your Finnish melodic death metal, you should know WOLFHEART. Tuomas Saukkonen‘s main band since the early 2010s has consistently provided captivating, moody metal since their first album, “Winterborn,” came out in 2013. Their most recent album, Wolves of Karelia,” was released in April 2020, so the band were eager to show off some new material on stage.

As per usual with these guys, the show started with an atmospheric tape of nature sounds to create tension before they hit the stage to “Shore of the Lake Simpele.” Despite a lengthy soundcheck, there were still issues with the audio quality, as Tuomas signaled that his vocals needed to be higher in the in-ears and the blast-beats continued to plague the photo pit. The vocal issue, at least, seemed to have gotten fixed fairly quickly. As an attendee, the crowd size was pleasantly full but not yet overpacked or cramped. Though it was weird to be missing Mika Lammassaari, they currently have Vagelis Karzis (ROTTING CHRIST) on guitars now, who proved to be a great addition to the lineup as he plays with a lot of energy and aggression. Funnily enough, another couple joined the intense dance pit at this point.

If anyone was expecting Tuomas Saukkonen to talk much, they haven’t seen WOLFHEART live before, as he’s never been much of a talker. There were no speeches, but there was also no need for them, as he has such a serious and impressive stage presence when he’s silent. Rather, bassist Lauri Silvonen was the one to hype up the crowd. Incidentally, he was doing double-duty this night, as he also plays guitars in BLOODRED HOURGLASS.

Aggressive “Breakwater” had excellent blast-beats, resulting in an absolutely incredible circle pit, which also included a few dancers. As this was one of the only shows WOLFHEART has had this year, the setlist was quite a surprise, as the only played “The Hammer” from last year’s album as the closer, which was a great choice. Otherwise, the set was mostly balanced between their previous releases, including three tracks from their debut, “Winterborn.”

Finally, at 23:00, headliners BLOODRED HOURGLASS came out to perform “Your Highness” in its entirety. There was a bit of confusion, as the press passes had them listed at 22:30 and we initially thought that we had lost 30 minutes of showtime. Fortunately, this was not the case. In recent years, Tuonela Magazine have become bigger and bigger fans of BLOODRED HOURGLASS, thanks to their last two albums being insanely good. This event was the only possible opportunity to see the band play “Your Highness” in its entirety, because the show in Helsinki had been postponed, so the 2.5 hour drive from Helsinki to Mikkeli was a no-regrets decision.

The band had taken care of this event themselves without the assistance of a booking agency, so we were quite impressed with how they were able to gather so many people together from all over Finland in such a relatively small town. It just goes to show how popular they’ve become in recent years.

There were two screens next to the stage that showed a timer at the 10-minute-to-showtime mark. There was some atmospheric music with a faint ticking sound integrated into the timer, which set the mood magnificently. While only a few people did a NYE-style countdown at the 10-second mark, most of the crowd simply started screaming and shouting. As promised, the show started with “Leaves” and they played through the new album in full.

The first part of their set was packed with energy as they played awesome tracks like “Drag Me the Rain,” “Nightmares Are Dreams Too,” “Leave Out All the Rest,” and one of the highlight singles, “Veritas.” The songs sounded instantly heavier than their studio counterparts, though considering how excited the band seemed to be on stage, it could simply be because they haven’t played a show since the summer.

Considering the deep curiosity towards how Jarkko Koukonen‘s clean vocals would sound live, we were heavily anticipating “Tell Me About Yesterday Tomorrow.” One of the band’s more surprising and unexpected new songs, it worked as a slightly heavier but great atmospheric intermezzo between all of the heavier songs, which the audience seemed to appreciate. The transition into “Change of Heart” came as an even bigger bash to the head than expected, with the mad, pounding drums, heavy riffs, and angry roaring, before it calms down and the melodic side takes over.

Other highlights included “Kings & Queens,” which felt more aggressive than on the album, and “My Prime of Kneel,” which includes an awesome riff throughout that almost felt mechanical live (reminiscent of GOJIRA), which was amazing live. The beautiful guitar section at the end was simply perfect… no wonder those people were able to dance all night.

“Your Highness” is not a particularly long record, with each song running only 3-4 minutes, so once they wrapped up with “Until We Meet Again,” the band was able to leave the stage and take a little break before coming back to play some classics. From there on out, the audience were largely treated to fan-favorite live tracks, mostly from “Godsend,” “Heal,” and “Where the Oceans Burn.” We had hoped to hear “Six Feet Savior,” but it hadn’t made it to the setlist; fortunately, there were plenty of great classics to sate our hunger, like “Waves of Black,” “Alysia,” “Valkyrie,” and “The Unfinished Story,” before wrapping up the night on a high note with “Where the Sinners Crawl.”

This first-ever event in Mikkeli was a great night with four talented bands, even if one was a bit of an odd-man-out in the lineup. Switching the first two bands of the night might have made for a bit of a better flow, but it’s a minor note. The production was fairly simple and could have used some pyros or other gimmicks, but based on the quality of the bands on stage and the headliner in particular, bands like these don’t need bells and whistles to entertain their audience. They just do it with the music.

Photos by Laureline Tilkin

Setlist

  1. Leaves
  2. Drag Me the Rain
  3. Nightmares are Dreams Too
  4. Leave Out All the Rest
  5. Veritas
  6. Tell Me About Yesterday Tomorrow
  7. Change of Heart
  8. Gone for Now
  9. Kings & Queens
  10. My Prime of Kneel
  11. Until We Meet Again

Encore:

  1. We Form the Broken
  2. Alysia
  3. Valkyrie
  4. Quiet Complaint
  5. Waves of Black
  6. The Unfinished Story
  7. Where the Sinners Crawl