A storm of Viking themes and heavy metal blew through Helsinki’s Nosturi on December 7th, 2013. Finnish bands ENSIFERUM and TURISAS played a sold-out show together that you really didn’t want to miss out on. One had to show up pretty early to get a good spot to watch, because two major local bands like this can really bring in a crowd (and a lot of face paint). Check out the full gallery from Rytmikorjaamo here.
ENSIFERUM was the starter for the night. They got going about 15 minutes late, but came on stage playing “Into Battle,” loud and heavy, sporting their trademark kilts – the leather ones this time. Their dark outfits matched nicely with their dark instruments. It seems that Sami Hinkka has left behind his flashy blue bass and taken up one that’s a little more Viking. Guitarist Markus Toivonen has been breaking the leather cuff stereotype of late, now sporting a – how to explain it – it’s a leather sleeve with square holes in it, kept in place by a cross-chest strap that seems to be slicing off his opposite nipple. I truly hope it is more comfortable than it looks. Vocalist Pete Lindroos also brought something new to the band’s visuals: a beard! This was quite surprising, because he has one of those Nordic faces that looks like it can’t produce facial hair.
They continued with three new tracks from their 2012 release, “Unsung Heroes,” including “In My Sword I Trust,” “Unsung Heroes,” and “Burning Leaves.” Their performance spanned most of their albums, including old favorites like “Treacherous Gods” from their first self-titled album, mid-era songs like “Ahti” from their third album, “Victory Songs,” and more recent songs, like “From Afar” and “Twilight Tavern” from their second-last, 2009’s likewise-named “From Afar.” I’m sure someone in the crowd was shouting “Paranoid” at some point, because between two songs they did actually start playing the first half a minute of the old BLACK SABBATH classic.
Another interesting visual was the hint of color-coordinating of the lights in the show. I noted that the starting lights were very purple, which was the same color as the cover for “Unsung Heroes” (and their current backdrops), and then switched between warm colors. “Burning Leaves” lights were all fiery yellows and oranges. When they moved to “From Afar,” the lights turned blue, the color of the album cover, mixed in with greens and other cold colors. It was a cool little thing that helped keep the atmosphere of each album in place.
The show was very energetic. Bassist Sami Hinkka and guitarist Markus Toivonen ran around quite a lot. Sami in particular seems to have shed his earthly bonds and bounced all over the place, doing his utmost (and debatably almost too much) to get the crowd riled up for the show. Emmi Silvennoinen (keyboards), however, doesn’t seem to have much to occupy her on stage. I’ve seen her more enthusiastic in the past, headbanging and partaking in the show, but on this particular occasion she did very little other than moving her shoulders back and forth while looking nice and playing well. Unfortunately, she didn’t look like she was having an especially good time. They seem to keep her crammed in the back, almost out of the lights where it’s hard to see her at all, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, the guys kept the energy up. I don’t know what Sami Hinkka is fueled on, but if I were to place a wager, I’d guess some combination of cocaine and energy drinks. The way he shoots his arms out, I get concerned that they’re going to fly right off his torso. He is the definition of enthusiasm. When they played “Burning Leaves,” they asked the crowd to jump with them, and I’m pretty sure the whole venue was shaking – I was upstairs and I could feel the gyrations there. The whole floor was a massive moshpit for the majority of the show.
One thing that really stands out in ENSIFERUM’s shows is that they don’t seem to have a standard set-list. Unlike bands like AMORPHIS or KORPIKLAANI, who only make one or two changes to their set any time they play, ENSKA’s shows are almost always a surprise. You never know if you’re going to hear “Token of Time” or “Deathbringer from the Sky.” Particularly, when it comes to the encore, they usually pick “Iron” or “Lai Lai Hei,” but rarely both. At this show, they played neither. The first encore track was “Wanderer,” but they ended the night by bringing out some huge sombreros and playing the bonus track from “Unsung Heroes”: a cover of the GIPSY KINGS’ “Bamboleo.”
It’s really great to see a band that’s got such a command over their discography and who isn’t afraid to change things up. It makes it fun to watch them over and over, and you’ll never get bored of their show. The great sound, mixed with the ever-changing list of songs you have the potential to see, and the general energy and enthusiasm make ENSIFERUM a band you don’t want to miss.
1. Into Battle
2. In My Sword I Trust
4. Unsung Heroes
5. Burning Leaves
6. From Afar
7. Treacherous Gods
8. Twilight Tavern
10. Tumman Virran Taa
11. The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne pt II)
12. The Longest Journey (outro)
13. Wanderer (encore)
14. Bamboleo (Gipsy Kings cover) (encore)
15. Outro (encore)
TURISAS, of course, followed some time after the curtains closed on Ensiferum. This band has drastically changed since their founding in 1997, from a Viking/folk metal sound, to the current more modern style. I haven’t seen them myself since they had their drastic line-up changes, and the band no longer has an accordion player, but has brought keyboards back into their mix.
The show started out with a deep voice reciting the spoken lines from “To Holmgard and Beyond,” as the band came on stage to perform their new anthem from “Turisas2013,” “Ten More Miles.” The show got off to a great start, and the floor again erupted into a swirling mass of bodies. They followed up with “Take the Day!,” which I’ve never heard live before, and I was glad to discover that the “buggle” from the album version of the song has become the “bugle” it was always meant to be. That has to be one of their most energizing songs, and with the error corrected in the live version, it could only be better than it was on the album.
They then traveled back to the first track from “The Varangian Way,” “To Holmgard and Beyond.” It sounds a bit different with the keyboards taking the place of the accordion, and while the performance was top-notch, I have to say that the old-fashioned sound of the original is a little bit tainted by the modern electronic sound used by Robert Engstrand on the keyboards.
Nygård spoke to the crowd between almost every song. I caught some discussion about disliking their genre being labeled as folk metal, but mostly he was thanking the crowd for coming out, thanking ENSIFERUM for playing with them, and he even gave a short English shout-out to the foreigners present, noticing both Polish and Brazilian flags in the crowd.
As a very live performance -oriented band, they’ve changed up their costumes several times, from the very basic “Battle Metal” outfits, mostly put together themselves, to the Viking styles of “The Varangian Way.” Now they have shed their post-apocalyptic Mad Max kind of garb from “Stand Up and Fight” to a more heavy metal leather n’ studs look, but it differs from the regular Halfords of the genre. They have rather a rather complex style, and it’s best to see for yourself what it’s like. My biggest thought on that was that, while they looked cooler than in “Stand Up and Fight,” they must be absolutely dying in those heavy clothes in the venue, packed to the brim with sweaty metalheads bouncing off the walls.
To make some notes on the general performance, I did notice that Nygård seems to be deepening his voice even more than ever. He has always been known for being an extravagant frontman, and this hasn’t changed. Back in the more Viking-esque era, he had bit of cockiness that merged into his strong stage presence and performance. I’m not sure what is exactly different about it now. The performance hasn’t gotten worse in the least, but rather, he has an air to him that seems to be a combination of the most passionate heavy metal guy, mixed with a bit of the diva-like confidence of the star of a stage show, with just a touch of orchestra conductor. He’s different, more confident, and tighter, but also far more dramatic. Spotlights and everything. Perhaps he feels he has earned the right to an ego. Or maybe he just loves the stage.
The other big deal I wanted to mention was how violinist Olli Vänskä is used in the live performance. If you read my review of “Turisas2013,” you may have noted that I was not impressed with how hard it is to hear him on the album. He is either crammed behind the orchestrations or choirs or guitars, or he’s distorted so much that he’s hardly recognizable as a violin. This was completely flipped around in the live show. While it’s true that he’s not even on stage sometimes, he did a solo in almost every other song, including an absolutely beautiful intro to one of the earlier songs (it might’ve been “For Your Own Good,” but I can’t recall exactly). And it never fails to blow my mind, just how well he plays while moving around. It’s also really incredible for a man who claims to not be much of a metalhead at all to be so enthusiastic about playing in a metal band.
The whole show was incredibly tight. Engstrand performed a keyboard intro to “Greek Fire” and he had impressive command over his rather large system of keyboards and sounds. The newest bassist, Jesper Anastasiadis, had nothing more than a shadow for his face under the paint and black hair, but his bright white smile stood out every once in a while to let you know he was having a good time. And the other original member, Jussi Wickström (guitars) has gone from long hair and Marko Hietala-style beard, to bald with a “Fuhrer” mustache, and seems to heading back towards his long hair and beard. He kept up the rhythm as always, and had a bit of a Steve Harris/John Schaffer gallop going on a few times.
Spanning all four of their albums, they played a good selection of songs, leaving behind old favorites like “Rasputin” and “One More” in favor of some newer tracks, which is understandable since this was their first local show since the release of “Turisas2013.” However, it was still a gig to please both old and new fans alike (I’m proof of this, as an old fan myself). The second last track was “No Good Story Ever Starts with Drinking Tea,” their new drinking song, and the finished up with “We Ride Together,” where they blew black and red paper all over the crowd.
It was a good long wait before they returned to play “Stand Up and Fight” as the first of their encores. Following this, Nygård made mention of the recent Finnish Independence Day (December 6th) and they performed a very powerful and beautiful cover of the old traditional Finnish song, “Täällä pohjantähden alla” [Under the North Star]. It was a rather dramatic way to go out, complete with fake snow blowing all over the floor, but it was wonderfully performed, with equal parts ballad and heavy metal. This was only the third or so time they’ve played it live, and it was a very solid performance, and a perfect way to end the night.
So, you might not be a huge fan of TURISAS’ new style. Or adversely, you may think they’re a hundred times better than they used to be. Either way, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to see them live. They please both crowds equally, but more importantly, they have a presence that has always placed them at the top of my choices for live bands. Everything about their live performance is awesome. There is power, talent, style, and a level of general excellence that’ll keep you coming back time and time again. If you didn’t manage to snag a ticket to this show, it’s a shame, because with these two bands at the helm, it was one you didn’t want to miss.
1. Ten More Miles
2. Take the Day!
3. To Holmgard and Beyond
4. For Your Own Good
5. Rex Regis Rebellis
6. Greek Fire
7. Battle Metal
8. No Good Story Ever Starts with Drinking Tea
9. We Ride Together
10. Stand Up and Fight (encore)
11. Täällä Pohjantähden Alla (Petri Laaksonen Cover) (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Lene L.
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