Although KATATONIA just played at Tuska last summer, it’s been a while since the melancholic Swedes have been to other cities in Finland besides Helsinki. Therefore a 5-day tour of Finland, supported by AGENT FRESCO and VOLA, was a most welcome way to start up November. The Finnish leg of the Fallen Hearts of Europe tour began at Klubi in Tampere on the 1st. Read below to see how it all went down! Check out the KATATONIA gallery from Helsinki here.
The first band of the night was the Danish prog metal quartet, VOLA, whose music combines djenty guitars with atmospheric keyboards and clean vocals. I dislike djent and hope the competition over who can tune their guitars the lowest will be over as soon as possible, so it came as no shock that the heavy moments of VOLA‘s 30-minute set weren’t exactly my cup of tea. However, one song sounded pretty interesting due to the use of the major key, and the atmospheric sections, such as the start of “Emily” were nice. As for the individual members, I liked guitarist/vocalist Asger Mygind‘s voice and Martin Werner used some cool synth sounds. In other words, while VOLA wasn’t totally my kind of music, there was something to like in it and they got a polite reception from the KATATONIA fans.
Progressive alternative rockers AGENT FRESCO from Iceland continued the Nordic theme of the tour package. The first song started out keyboard-driven and atmospheric, and I was surprised to see no guitarist on stage. However, after a few minutes keyboardist Þórarinn Guðnason picked up a guitar and launched into a riff, and vocalist Arnór Dan Arnarson let out a massive primal scream – now that’s what I call dynamics! The band’s music sounded very artsy and emotional, with rather dramatic mood swings, walking the fine line between rock and metal. It was amazing how lively they were on stage; a few times it looked like Arnarson and bassist Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson would bump into each other on the small stage, and the frontman sounded audibly exhausted while speaking after a heavy section with intense screams. Arnarson‘s vocals reminded me of Maynard James Keenan of TOOL, and he gave a profound speech while introducing a song about the passing of his father. AGENT FRESCO took me by surprise, and based on the reactions of the crowd I wasn’t the only one impressed by their performance. They even had a few enthusiastic fans close to the front row, and Arnarson said he recognized them from an earlier Finnish show – apparently a bit of a cult following has already started to develop, and they definitely deserve it.
I’d seen KATATONIA once before, at Unioni-festivaali in 2014, where they only played 14 songs despite being the headliner, so for me, getting to see a proper full-length set after 6 years of fandom was way overdue. The band came on at about 21:35, 10 minutes late, and the first song was – ironically enough – “Last Song Before the Fade.” It didn’t grab the audience by the throat like a perfect opening number would, but when “Deliberation” followed, people started clapping to the rhythm of the song immediately. The set continued with music from the three latest albums, until “Teargas” was played, and its introduction got the biggest cheer of the night. However, the band played the song with the guitars tuned down to C, like on the new stuff, which in my opinion made the song sound too chunky and took away the airiness of the original studio version, though of course it’s easier for the band not to take all of their guitars out on the road for the ease of switching. “Ghost of the Sun” was up next – I’m not a big fan of this song due to its angsty vibe and I would’ve preferred to hear “Saw You Drown,” which had been in the band’s setlist earlier on in the tour, but it was fun to hear the crowd shout “a fucking lie!” at the top of their lungs. Throughout the show, I got the impression that the audience seemed to favor the more straightforward and gothic-leaning pre-2009 material. I still have mixed feelings about the new album, “The Fall of Hearts,” which the band was promoting on this tour, but luckily KATATONIA played five of the best songs from it: “Serac” was intense, “The Night Subscriber” showed what drummer Daniel Moilanen was capable of, and I’d say “Old Heart Falls” has already become a modern KATATONIA classic, as the chorus was simply soaring.
A significant portion of the set was devoted to 2006’s The Great Cold Distance, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and was played in full at a few shows recently. This was certainly justified, as the hard-hitting “Soil’s Song” and “Leaders” came across extremely well, and of course the encore tunes “My Twin” and “July” are big fan favorites. The high point for me was the atmospheric and trippy “In the White” – the lyrics about “the quiet cold of late November” weren’t 100% perfect for the occasion, as it was the first day of the month, but the song itself truly captures the essence of Katatonia with its quiet vs loud contrasts and is one of my all-time favorites from the Swedes.
When it comes to the band’s performance, it’s amazing how much tighter Katatonia has become over the years. Of course this was only my second time seeing them, but judging by earlier live videos like the Live Consternation DVD (2007), the guys have come a long way, and the line-up changes have only made them stronger. While Jonas Renkse is still not the most animate frontman ever, his singing was spot on, and at times his voice had a raspy edge that is absent on the studio albums. He engaged the audience on multiple occasions, even throwing in a bit of humor, like when he called the band “ruotsipaska [Swedish shit].” When the band members were drinking water and tuning their instruments, some dude loudly yelled “carry on, carry on, carry on!” to which Renkse responded “we will carry on…” The true MVP of the night, however, was the new guitarist, Roger Öjersson. He played the keyboard solo of “Dead Letters” on guitar and did some cool stuff on “Lethean” as well. Öjersson also had a good voice for backing vocals that meshed well with Renkse’s, and at the end of “Evidence” he sang the “no one will find you” mantra by himself, showing what a wide range he has.
Katatonia’s 19-song set was a good mix of new and old, and while it would be easy to nitpick about the inclusion or omission of certain songs, it left me satisfied. The sound was good and balanced enough, and while I was puzzled that they were playing at Klubi instead of Pakkahuone, where they’d played 4 years ago, the intimate vibe of the venue turned out to be a great fit for the music. Katatonia has a special relationship with Finland and they were visibly happy to be back. I’m already looking forward to my next dose of ruotsipaska!
01. Last Song Before the Fade
04. Dead Letters
05. Day and Then the Shade
08. Ghost of the Sun
10. The Night Subscriber
11. Soil’s Song
12. Old Heart Falls
13. For My Demons
15. In the White
17. My Twin (encore)
18. Lethean (encore)
19. July (encore)
Written by Wille Karttunen
Photos by Eliza Rask
(The Circus, Helsinki, 05.11.2016)