It’s been a busy time for THUNDERSTONE after the reunion with Pasi Rantanen (vocals) and the addition of Atte Palokangas (drums) last year. Now begins the challenging process of putting an album together when the band doesn’t live anywhere near one another and have so much going on individually. And yet, they managed to find the time to team up with other LiveNation power metallers, DRAGONFORCE, for a few gigs around Finland, concluding at Nosturi, Helsinki, on April 9th, 2015. Check out the gallery of THUNDERSTONE from Klubi here.
I had recently spent a bit of time with THUNDERSTONE at Sonic Pump Studios on April 5th to interview the guys about everything that’s going on, and after hearing them practicing the setlist, I was really enthusiastic to hear them live.
The stage grew dark for THUNDERSTONE’s opening act, as the very appropriately-selected intro track began to play: “The Boys are Back in Town” by THIN LIZZY. The reunited pack of Finns came on stage to kick things off with “10,000 Ways” off their last album that featured Pasi Rantanen before he had left. This was followed by one of my favorites of theirs, “Tool of the Devil.” Rantanen is a favorite of power metal fans and he’s sounding great – those vocal cords clearly weren’t going to waste during his absence.
In fact, since it was a shorter set of nine, they had to choose wisely, and it was a very solid set. The newest song that recently came out, “Fire and Ice,” really showed off the way they connect as a band, having had only a couple of days to practice it beforehand and still owning it. And naturally, you can’t have a THUNDERSTONE gig without “Forevermore” and “Virus.” They had some fun with the latter on stage, with Nino Laurenne (guitar) and Titus Hjelm (bass) singing in the back to “virus” but dropping in tune slowly, following up by doing the same with “kiitos” once the song wrapped up.
After these two, they paused briefly to welcome Rantanen back, and to welcome Palokangas into the mix. “Break the Emotion” and “Let the Demons Free” were played together as a medley, and toward the end, Rantanen paused after “let the…” to allow the crowd to finish “demons free” and jumped into the air excitedly when they did.
I know I’ve said this in the past, probably when I was writing about the Tuska afterparty show last year, but I am really enjoying Atte Palokangas. I haven’t seen him (pre-THUNDERSTONE) since 2009 when he was playing with BEFORE THE DAWN, and he really seems to be in his element here, particularly in “Roots of Anger.” I recall hearing that they had been looking for someone with not only drumming talent, but style, and he has this way of playing that is energetic with almost lazy ease, as seen when he throws his drumsticks in the air, catching them flawlessly every time. Unfortunately, he had broken a snare at one point in Tampere, which naturally caused a bit of an interruption in his playing, but there were no issues in Helsinki – everything seemed to go quite smoothly.
They finished up with “Until We Touch the Burning Sun,” which is by far one of their most loved songs, and for good reason. And special mention to Jarkko Piippari as well, running their lighting. It looked like some effort was put into that and it was nice to see that even opening bands take what they’re doing seriously.
It’s so nice to see these guys come together from time to time. Whatever it is that they’ve got, the distance and “part-time” pace they have doesn’t ruin it. They have great chemistry and definitely don’t take things too seriously, playing around and goofing off on stage. They’re always great entertainment and really fun to watch. It’s a shame that they don’t come together to play more often, so I recommend all melodic power metal fans to leap on any chance they can get to see them!
Intro: The Boys are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
1. 10,000 Ways
2. Tool of the Devil
3. Fire and Ice
6. Break the Emotion/Let the Demons Free (medley)
7. Roots of Anger
8. Until We Touch the Burning Sun
And then came DRAGONFORCE, and they were something else. I haven’t seen these guys live since they played in Canada with TURISAS in 2008. Back then they hadn’t impressed me overall because I thought most songs off their first handful of albums sounded exactly like “Through Fire and Flames” and as a result, we had ended up leaving before we even heard “TF&F.” That said, I was actually fairly impressed with this show by comparison. I hadn’t planned to necessarily stay and watch the show, but it managed to keep me around until the end.
For starters, I really like Marc Hudson a lot more than ZP Theart. They sound quite similar, but there is something about Hudson that is just somehow… better? I can’t really explain it. He’s also fun on stage, though then again, how do you not mount and conquer it when you’re singing ball-obliteratingly high-pitched metal?
Another difference I noted between this show and the 2008 show was how much more organic this one felt. For whatever reason, and this is either an accusation or a huge, huge compliment, but their show in 2008 sounded too polished – almost like they were not actually playing their instruments but just performing to a track. I mean, they were all over the stage and playing flawlessly. This time around, as I said, it felt natural. Not that they were messing up or anything like that, but just the playing felt less exact and more liberated and fun. I don’t like when live bands play all of their solos exactly the way they do on the album. I like the change-ups, and that’s what I mean when I say this was more organic. It was good, it was entertaining, it was well done, and it felt like a real show, not like I was listening to the album at home.
And I do like that their material no longer all sounds the same. I gave their latest album, “Maximum Overload,” a listen and actually rather enjoyed it. “Three Hammers” was great live, as was “Symphony of the Night,” which I assume has to a reference to Castlevania. There were a good number of songs on their set from the new album, and I assume these might have been the songs that I noticed had some growls in them, which was a nice change. It’s still got the same great guitar wankery that makes me nostalgic for my teen years, but it’s likewise evolved and grown since then.
Of course, we were also treated to a bit of casual banter. It turns out that they’re finally releasing a live DVD sometime around July. The new drummer, Gee Anzalone, was introduced and his talent showcased in “The Game,” and Hudson told the crowd that the first song he had ever sung with DRAGONFORCE was “Cry Thunder.” They are also perhaps the only band I’ve ever seen who outwardly admitted their afterparty plans – they were going to drink at Nosturi until they got kicked out, and then head off to Bäkkäri (Bar Backstage) to continue; a few members of THUNDERSTONE got a head start on them, joining the crowd for the show and mingling with fans. And lastly, Hudson said that there were two things that DRAGONFORCE swore never to do: slow down, and do a cover song. I don’t know what this means for the band’s speed, but they had recently done a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” on the album, and were happy to share it with us live in the encore. Naturally, we were given “Through Fire and Flames” as the last song of the night, and it was nice to see it live this time around – definitely worth waiting 8 years or so to see properly.
DRAGONFORCE is one of those bands that manages to be both a novelty and a great time. They’ve definitely improved a lot since I last saw them and they’re undoubtedly amusing on stage. With wild screams and unbelievable guitar playing, they’re definitely a band worth checking out.
3. Fury of the Storm
4. Three Hammers
5. Operation Ground and Pound
7. Symphony of the Night
8. Heroes of Our Time
9. The Game
10. Cry Thunder
11. Valley of the Damned
12. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover) (encore)
13. Through Fire and Flames (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Lene L.