The Nordic Metal Cruise has been paired up with Viking Line cruise ships for a few years now, and since Tuonela Magazine had such a great time last year, we decided that it was only logical that we should attend again this year, especially since the cruise boasted such great names as ASSEMBLE THE CHARIOTS, IHSAHN, EMBER FALLS, and LEPROUS. The 2022 cruise took place on November 5th-6th, once again on Viking Grace, which runs between Turku and Stockholm.
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This was our personal first time attending the Nordic Metal Cruise, so how/when/where/what/why was a bit confusing (timetables were only accessible beforehand if you went halfway through the process of buying a ticket), but once we knew what was up, everything went more or less smoothly from there. Passengers were ushered onto the boat, which left the harbor at right around 21:00 in the evening, with the first acts set to take the stage at 23:00. This gave us time to get settled into our rooms, though it seemed most staff and artists had to wait around for quite a while for our rooms to be ready and one of these rooms had clearly been barfed in recently and the cleaning was bafflingly horrible and the expectation that someone should want to use a vomit-scented room was mind-boggling. Can you guess what they did to clean up the barf? They put a towel over it… [insert facepalm here]. Needless to say, we had our rooms switched.
Vomit incidents aside, the 2 hours between boarding and bands flew by, as the tax-free shop and buffet both opened, the latter of which allowed people to explore the food selection and get unlimited generic wine if they were so inclined. This meant that event-goers were clearly well-inebriated by the time ASSEMBLE THE CHARIOTS took the stage. We had somehow mistaken these guys for a metalcore act. Their stage appearance did nothing to sway the opinion, but as you can imagine, we were a bit surprised by the brutality of these extreme/black metal vocals. The singer stormed around the stage, growling and roaring, like a caged beast tearing at its restraints (he seemed very metalcore, what can I say?), while the backing symphonics were somewhat reminiscent of the intensity you might get from DIMMU BORGIR, with perhaps a tad more Nordic/Viking flair to the sound, which felt surprising since the band name references a more Roman-esque history.
On the stage, they felt like a band with a lot to prove and were trying hard to do so. There was a bit of that tension that is quite common in young Finnish bands, where they haven’t fully found their comfort level on stage, but are eagerly seeking it… however, from what I understand, ASSEMBLE THE CHARIOTS have been releasing EPs since 2009, so it’s hard to say how much stage experience they actually have.
The music remained on the heavy/extreme spectrum throughout the set and vocalist Onni Holmström spoke to the crowd between a few of the songs, being surprisingly upbeat for the brutal sound of his vocals. Though this music may not be my jam personally, the crowd showed up and the floor and balcony filled out – I daresay there were even some fists up in the air during some songs!
IHSAHN is a pretty well-known name, as the side project of EMPEROR‘s vocalist, as well as the origin of LEPROUS, who started out as IHSAHN‘s band. Again, as someone who doesn’t enjoy extreme metal, I was nevertheless impressed by the relentlessness of the music’s intensity. Anyone in the front rows would have felt the vibrating bass in their bones from beginning to the end. However, despite the layers of brutality, there were certain moments that stood out – a riff here, an outro there, some small moments to break through the wall of sound. Despite the overall darkness of sound, the music had its definite intrigues, with these certain riffs and licks standing out throughout the set.
They put on an appropriately grim set with an impressive amount of power, and the crowd was appropriately packed and enthusiastic per what IHSAHN delivered, especially when Einar Solberg made a guest appearance in one track towards the end, entitled “Celestial Violence.” While I can’t say I personally know any of IHSAHN‘s material, it seemed like a pretty solid performance across the board.
The STEREO TERROR DJs played towards the end of the night, with Saku Solin [FEAR OF DOMINATION, TURMION KÄTILÖT] and Miikki Kunttu [FEAR OF DOMINATION, SHEREIGN] as the DJs du jour, the latter of whom was using his usual percussive energy to run around the stage and photo pit to amp everyone up. There was a surprisingly big crowd still awake at 2:15 in the morning to see their mix, so for those who had the stamina to check it out, it was worth it.
The bands had to get up bright and early for sound check the next morning and EMBER FALLS was set to start at 16:00. For shame, I didn’t go to their latest tour with DEAD BY APRIL, so I had no idea what the set had in store. Always making sure to impress me, they whipped out a new intro track and brought my favorite song from their debut back for the first song, “Falling Rain.” They followed this with “Divine,” “Enemy You Need,” and “The World is Burning,” before Tuomas Välimaa asked the crowd if we had heard of IN FLAMES, as they had recently released a covers EP, in which “Cloud Connected” was included. This has been a great summer song at festivals and it brought some fantastic energy to the ship. They also brought back one of the first singles from “Ruins,” “Heart Shaped Black Scar,” which only stayed on setlists for a short while after it was first released.
“For All” made a return to the setlist (though, having missed that recent tour, I wouldn’t have known that it was gone), and the vocalists were always changing it up, mixing in growls where they were cleans and vice versa, to make sure the songs didn’t get stagnant on repeat listens. It seems like they’re having fun, but sometimes it seems as though they might be using these techniques to compensate for a lack of vocal warm-up that’s preventing them from hitting notes that they would be able to hit in the studio. They ended the main set with their debut hit, “Shut Down With Me,” before wrapping up the show with “We Are Become Fire,” which is one hell of a banger and left us wanting more.
Everyone seemed to have shown up when LEPROUS took the stage at 18:00, opening with the powerful and dynamic “Out of Here,” followed by a synth intro that led into the very sci-fi-ish and dark sound of “Mirage,” that seemed to get progressively more hopeful as it went on, and the crowd ate up every second of it.
Vocalist Einar Solberg was a very powerful presence on stage, regularly climbing up on the edge to raise his arms and look dramatic, while the rest of the band rocked out throughout the entire set. There was more than one moment where we became completely mesmerized by the ease with which their drummer, Baard Kolstad, was executing such amazing drum rolls and fills.
After a few songs, Solberg greeted the crowd and got everyone screaming for “Below.” Droning and twisting opened the pleasingly funky and rhythmic next song, “The Price,” where Solberg spent a great deal of time singing haunting vocal lines without words. The music is so versatile that you can headbang as easily as groove out or dance, making it very easy to get lost in their soundscapes.
Solberg then explained how their music has a lot of keys but they have no keyboard player, and have to share responsibilities, and his quote-unquote burden was when he can’t be frontman while he’s on keys. They then played the wildly dramatic “From the Flame.” The crowd managed to get moving as the set went on and were about as enthusiastic as Finnish crowds can get – there were extreme screams from the audience after every song ended.
They mentioned the fan collaboration song, “Nighttime Disguise,” which doesn’t necessarily sound like a standard LEPROUS song (for obvious reasons). There were some really interesting instrumental parts, but towards the end it seemed to just try to push Solberg to sing as high as he could go without much reason. Don’t get me wrong, he’s brilliant, but keeping him so high doesn’t allow as much dynamic force in the lyrics as in other tracks.
Their set wrapped up with “Slave” and “The Sky is Red,” leaving many audience members feeling hyper-emotional and in tears, while others were all moshed out. LEPROUS are truly an interesting act, as the music is low-tempo but high-energy, making for passion-filled music that worms its way deep into the listener’s soul. Truly, a fantastic act upon which to end the event!
I will admit that my enthusiasm towards live shows reaches its low at the end of the year, every year, but the Nordic Metal Cruise was a breath of fresh air on a relatively decent November weekend. I’ve mentioned that I wasn’t really into Tuska Festival this year because the size of the event had grown to such unmanageable proportions, but NMC 2022 had more of a Dark River Festival -vibe, which was homey and fun and easy to bump casually into friends. There were plenty of other events going on than the bands, largely related to Nummirock – metal karaoke, trivia, and other such things happened in one of the smaller bars, and we even spotted Pekka Heimo singing with the PEKKA HEIMO DUO in one of the acoustic slots, though we were unable to return to catch more than a song or two. In fact, we were so sold on this event that we already made plans to return in 2023, since they’ve already announced ENSIFERUM and KAUNIS KUOLEMATON as local acts for the ship. Chances are, you’ll be seeing us there again!
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Lady Enslain