So, January – and 2017 by association – have finally arrived. To tell the truth, I usually tend to hibernate a little longer than this, often avoiding live shows until February or even March unless it’s something unusual. Furthermore, I’ve been passing on SONATA‘s gigs for a while – you’ll notice I personally haven’t covered them since they opened for NIGHTWISH at Ratina a while back, and even then their live shows were not up to their usual standard in my opinion. However, considering I thought that “The Ninth Hour“ was a pretty decent step back in the right direction, I thought it was time to dust off my SONATA ARCTICA fandom and check out one of their shows again (besides, I’ve heard that they’ve been playing “Shamandalie” on this tour, which I couldn’t risk missing). The Ninth Hour World Tour passed through The Circus on January 27th with none other than one of the other most successful Finnish metal bands of 2016 as their warm-up act: THUNDERSTONE! Check out the full gallery here.
The gig was more or less right on time, as THUNDERSTONE took the stage to kick things off with the new standard opener, “Veterans of the Apocalypse.” It’s nice to see the change that their comeback has wrought – the venue was already fairly full of people willing to show up early to catch both bands (a step up from several other shows from 2016 for sure), though the energy from the crowd didn’t match the energy from the band right off the bat.
“Tool of the Devil” has moved up to the second track slot, still introduced with the “TotD” intro. This remains one of my favorite old THUNDERSTONE songs to hear live – man, that bass in the beginning! It was thunderous! Titus Hjelm is my hero. This is one of those songs where the band looks as cool as they sound while playing (which is… very). They greeted the crowd after two songs, checking to see that everything is okay (“Kaikki käy?”) before continuing with “The Path,” which continued to show off their good energy – these guys said they’d only keep going as long as music is fun for them, and it seems as though tour life has been treating them well, because they clearly enjoyed being on stage together, goofing around and playing really well. It’s also great to hear that Pasi Rantanen seems to be going strong on vocals.
“The Path” was followed by what felt like a kikkeli-metalli [cock-rock/metal] anthem of some sort, which I believe was “Break the Emotion.” It had all you need from classic ’90s power metal, with massive, dramatic soloing from Jukka Karinen on keyboards (as well as Nino Laurenne on guitars), and easy yet stylish drumming from Atte Palokangas. There was a nice drum solo to close out, and then Hjelm took the mic to greet the crowd, wished a happy birthday to Tapio (their sound guy, if I’m not mistaken), and then asked the crowd to put their cell phone lights on and hold them up for a ballad, before starting “Weak.” The keyboard intro was quite impressive, and on the whole, Karinen and Rantanen‘s skills were both nicely showcased in this song. And when the rest of the instruments joined in, it hit like a brick wall – powerful as hell!
The lights turned solid red-green-blue for “Forevermore,” and I couldn’t yet again, fail to notice Palokangas‘ twirling and tossing his drumsticks with ease. This was followed by “Through the Pain” – one of my favorite new live tracks – which again had some phenomenal bass. The backing vocals were a bit on the loud side, drowning out Rantanen to an extent, but it’s fortunate that they didn’t sound bad. After this, Rantanen asked if the crowd wanted them to continue (while Laurenne jokingly pouted, “En jaksa” [I won’t continue]), and they promised a few more, starting with “10,000 Ways.” Then, before finishing up, Rantanen had to engage the crowd in some ‘repeat-after-me’ singing, rather successfully I’d say, before they finished up with “Until We Touch the Burning Sun.” There was a pretty epic crowd singalong to the chorus, and they left the stage to an inexplicably weird outro song.
Overall, they played a very nice set. The selection of songs from the new album is still optimal, keeping “The Path” and “Through the Pain” over “Fire and Ice” (a good move), though from the old material, I’d have liked it if they had kept “Dirt Metal” from the eponymous 2009 album, and maybe something like “Welcome to the Real” or “Forth into the Black” as opposed to “Break the Emotion” or even “Weak.” I’m glad to see that they’re still going strong though, which means we’ll hopefully have more great albums and tours from them in the future!
1. Veterans of the Apocalypse
2. Tool of the Devil
3. The Path
4. Break the Emotion
7. Through the Pain
8. 10,000 Ways
9. Until We Touch the Burning Sun
After a quick stage change, it was time for SONATA! I had high hopes that this would be a good gig, considering the aforementioned reasons. The venue was packed nearly to capacity by the time the curtains opened and the unfamiliar intro track started to play, which is evidently referred to as the “We Are What We Are” intro.
The show started with the two starters from their latest release, “The Ninth Hour”: “Closer to an Animal” and “Life.” I enjoyed them both as live songs well enough – “CtaA” is equally as good as “The Wolves Die Young” (which was played directly after these two), and “Life” indeed works nicely with the la-la parts for singing along… though it is hard to get over those ridiculous lyrics. The mix was a little drum-heavy in the beginning, but this was quickly fixed and they managed to have fairly balanced sound throughout the set, with the exception of the vocals again being a bit muddled. I’m not sure if that related to where I was standing or the mix as a whole, but it was hard to hear Kakko from time-to-time.
It was interesting to see how divided the crowd was – it seemed to be largely divided between old SONATA fans and newer fans. I feel like the older songs, like “FullMoon” and “Tallulah,” got a louder response when compared to the newer songs. The latter involved Kakko sitting on the edge of the stage with dramatic colored lights on him, looking sensitive, as the crowd lost their shit, screamed, and slow-danced. As for the new songs, I was a little disappointed in the selection – “Fairytale” isn’t in my top 5 tracks from the album and should easily have been replaced with “Till Death’s Done us Apart,” which was the biggest loss from the set. “Among the Shooting Stars” had a rather weak intro sound-wise, as it was a bit hard to hear, and this song feels slightly wasted, as it would work really nicely as a duet with a strong female vocalist – someone who could match Kakko‘s still-impressive power. “We Are What We Are” was great to hear live though, which included a spoken intro about the environment. As well, I would have loved to hear the new “White Pearl, Black Oceans,” but I did figure that was a stretch.
Nevertheless, “In Black and White” was great to hear, keeping a slot for “Unia“ (2007). I think perhaps my biggest complaint about the set though, is that they didn’t have the same system as on their European tours, where they had the crowd choose between “Misery,” “Shamandalie,” and one other that I can’t recall (might have been “Tallulah”). I have been dying to hear “Shamandalie” live for ages now, so I had really been hoping that this would allow for the opportunity, and I was thus disappointed. If it was “Tallulah” though, perhaps they just assumed the Finns would pick it by default, which wouldn’t be hard to imagine – that song is freakishly over-popular here. I have no real attachment to the other older tracks they played, “Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited” and “Power of One,” so I might’ve liked to have something from “Days of Greys” (2009) instead, but I know I’d easily get outvoted if this was put to the fans.
I have to say, the crowd was also a bit sluggish on the whole, as – with the exception of a few groups here and there – the crowd was fairly responsive, though not particularly animated. The oldschool fans lost their shit to the classics, of course, and there was a bit of slow-dancing and whatnot, but I wasn’t picking up on a particularly good crowd vibe the whole night. Conversely, the band’s energy has been better than I’ve seen it in a good long while.
Elias Viljanen had a guitar solo before “Power of One,” which then led to the band vacating the stage. They made the crowd cheer for a good long time before coming back to play, unfortunately, “I Have a Right” (going on 5 years of waiting for that song to go away forever), before playing the classic I truly want to hear at every SONATA show – “Don’t Say a Word” – which was delightful as always. The standard “Vodka” outro followed, and thus the night was concluded.
It’s a bit hard to summarize my feelings about this show. As a friend put it, the tour gigs cater to the new fans, and if you aren’t big on the new material, you only get glimpses of fun amidst the material you don’t much care for. So for the oldschool fans, it might be prudent to wait until the special gigs, (like the “Ecliptica” shows, for example) so that you’ll hear more of the classic music you love. The newer fans will get what they want out of the new shows, for sure, but they might not have the same passion as the old crowds had. This was a fun show, and worth going to, but I might pass the torch again for a while and wait until they have an anniversary show of some sort before I come again myself.
We Are What We Are intro
1. Closer to an Animal
3. Wolves Die Young
4. In Black and White
8. Among the Shooting Stars
9. Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited
10. We Are What We Are
11. The Power of One
12. I Have a Right (encore)
13. Don’t Say a Word (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Charlotta Rajala