On the last day of June, the most peculiar combination of bands climbed on On the Rocks’ club stage, as Ben Varon’s (AMORAL) grunge side project, ALCYONA SKY, was paired up with the torchbearer of Finnish DREAM THEATER-ish prog, SIMULACRUM. As these two bands couldn’t really be musically further away from each other, I was wondering how many people would show up. Also, the date proposed a significant challenge, since IRON MAIDEN had had their show in Hämeenlinna only a day before, Tuska festival was to begin on the following day, as well as the Tuska Heatseeker event, featuring LOST SOCIETY, SHIRAZ LANE, and SANTA CRUZ, being held on the same day. At least the tickets were modestly priced at 8€, plus the usual 3€ coatroom fee. The weeknight gigs in On the Rocks have been awfully quiet lately, and sadly, this Thursday seemed no different at first – as I got in about 10 minutes to 22:00, only a handful of people had found their way to the downstairs club.
SIMULACRUM begun their set a few minutes past 22:00 with “Embrace the Animal Within” off their newer album, “Sky Divided,” released only last year. The first thing that struck me was that the singer, Niklas Broman, had an accompanying singer on stage. The band continued on with “Deep in the Trenches,” also from “Sky Divided.” At the end of the song, Broman introduced his accomplice as Erik Kraemer, the official second singer of SIMULACRUM. As the band put it in the words of Yngwie Malmsteen: more is more!
To show off the new talent, Broman left the stage and gave room for Kraemer to sing the following “Battle Within,” off their debut album, “The Master and the Simulacrum,” by himself. Kraemer pulled the song off nicely with his softer voice. The singers changed places for the heaviest song on “Sky Divided,” “The Abomination,” up next. Broman and Kraemer sung together the two final songs on the set, “Sky Divided” and “Enter Hyperion,” before giving way for ALCYONA SKY. The band received a decent applause when compared to the number of attendees, albeit some of them having been their close friends.
SIMULACRUM is such a great band. I saw them live for the first time in 2010, when they were opening for STATUS MINOR, and while clearly being young and bit shy, already at that time everyone in the band boasted incredible talent. Six years later, the talent is obviously still there, but the guys have also gained a tremendous amount of confidence. Niklas Broman is probably the only human being living in Turku (or Finland Proper in general) with a sense of humor, throwing hilarious interlude speeches containing everything from ironically emphasizing their own material to warning the audience not to catch an headache because “The Abomination” just is such a heavy song. Unfortunately, Broman didn’t come up with any new jokes about bassist Olli Hakala’s Chapman Stick this time. Bottom line: if you want your progressive metal on the more progressive side, go check this band out. There are not many metal acts in Finland with this much talent or courage to do things as pedantically.
After a short load-out-load-in period, the crowd had maybe doubled in size, but one still couldn’t speak of more than fifty people present. I got the notion that ALCYONA SKY was ready to take the stage a bit late, since there seemed to be something wrong with the bass amp as well as the bassist Jyri Helko‘s pedal board – Helko, On the Rocks’ mixer, and some third guy fiddled around with flashlights a good 10 minutes before everything seemed to be in order.
On with the show: one could say that ALCYONA SKY is a supergroup – besides the founding member and guitarist of AMORAL, Ben Varon, the band consists of FOR THE IMPERIUM’s bassist, Jyri Helko, ANCARA’s drummer, Rale Tiiainen, and DENIGRATE’s singer, Mikko Huvinen. The members’ experience showed in their stage presence, even when the band itself is fairly young. Huvinen played his acoustic guitar parts and sung the vocals almost phlegmatically, which provided a nice contrast to his strong presence, while Helko, after taking a little while to get warmed up, moved around and banged his long dreadlocks as if he were on a FOR THE IMPERIUM gig. At times, Tiiainen hit his drums so hard that I worried that he would break his drum heads. This didn’t happen, but on the second-to-last song, he actually managed to break his main crash cymbal stand in half, forcing him to continue with only the other crash. For some time I wondered why a keyboard was set up on stage with no one playing, but my questions were answered when AMORAL’s other guitarist, Masi Hukari, climbed on stage to do the synth parts for “The Leap.”
Since the band hasn’t yet released any physical records, it’s hard to name most of the songs they played, but besides “The Leap,” the other song I had listened prior to the gig was the final song of the set, “Long Time Coming.” Although I don’t like grunge in normal conditions, I managed to enjoy ALCYONA SKY’s set nevertheless; there’s something in Varon’s way to write songs that I’ve always liked, even if I haven’t been enjoying the latest AMORAL albums as much as the first three. Maybe ALCYONA SKY is something Varon should have booted up several years ago? After all, he has said in an interview that for the longest time he thought that everything he makes, he wants to release under AMORAL’s name.
Although the combination of grunge and progressive metal was a bit odd, I still enjoyed my time with SIMULACRUM and ALCYONA SKY. The admission certainly wasn’t expensive, so I can only imagine why people aren’t interested in live music, as the street bar of On the Rocks had a lot of customers enjoying their beers when I left the club. I guess it’s so much more familiar to chug down those 6½€ Karjala pints listening to those same fifty rock classics on the playlist. Hopefully someone got something out of SIMULACRUM’s set, as their audience was so scarce that one could almost call the show a paid rehearsal. On the positive side, the downstairs club still has the student discount in effect: 1½€ off the price of the tap beverages is probably the most generous discount that I’ve ever come across in a bar. It’s also great that these smaller gigs are even arranged these days. On the Rocks: don’t you go changin’ for nobody!
Written by Atte Valtonen