Unioni-Festivaali was a newcomer to Finland in the fall of 2014. This was a 2-day Friday/Saturday festival that fell on September 19th & 20th, hosting four bands each night between opening hours of 20:00 through to 02:00ish. While the majority of performers were locals, there were a couple of big names from outside Finland, such as ARCH ENEMY, SÓLSTAFIR, and KATATONIA to fill out the roster.
Friday night hosted an interesting mix of genres. THE MAN-EATING TREE falls into the sort of gothic/atmospheric genre of metal, while LOST SOCIETY is more speed/thrash metal. INSOMNIUM is then closer to THE MAN-EATING TREE with their special brand of melodic death metal. ARCH ENEMY then, while perhaps still classified as melodic death, has an entirely different feel from everyone else, leaving a pretty wide variety for attendees to enjoy.
Personally, I didn’t really get into the whole thing until INSOMNIUM took the stage, as I’m not especially familiar with TMET. From what I heard going around though, THE MAN-EATING TREE played mostly new tracks, so the show may have been a hit or miss depending on how you feel about their newest release. I certainly can’t comment either way.
LOST SOCIETY is, again, that new big thing that is entirely beyond my scope of interest. Not knowing or being interested in their music, it’s a bit silly of me to comment; however, performance-wise you can’t go wrong with these youngsters. Man, do they really give it up when they play.
INSOMNIUM was really the main reason I chose to come to both days of this festival. This is one of those bands that I try not to miss if I can because they’re always good. In fact, they’re good to the point that they’re starting to fall in with FINNTROLL. You know, those bands that are so consistently good that you start running out of things to say about their shows. There are only so many ways that you can say, “The singer sounded amazing, the playing was tight, the lighting was atmospheric, and the sound was sharp,” before you sound like a broken record. And all of that was true. Alongside this praise, I can also say that the set was interesting. They skipped “The Gale/Mortal Share” this time around in favor of shaking things up. As much as I love those tracks, I was okay with the omission because these were, after all, one-hour sets and with a new album out this year, I didn’t mind hearing some new stuff over the songs I’ve seen live on multiple occasions. In fact, if they keep pumping out such great tracks in their albums, it’s going to get hard to feel satisfied in their shows when they’ll never have time to play all the songs you want to hear.
And their melodic and memorable guitar lines are almost lazily chill but somehow fill you with energy at the same time. What a great thing to be able to say about a show. The backing vocalist had an almost amusing thing going on where he’d sing in his impassioned clean voice and then go immediately into headbanging, which kind of contrasted the gentleness in which he was singing. I wouldn’t say it took away from the performance, but it did stand out a bit.
Really, it was a great gig. I cannot praise these guys enough. I’ll still be first in line to their shows long after I’ve run out of words with which to praise them live.
ARCH ENEMY is another band that I haven’t a lot of experience with, but I know the legend of Angela Gossow and I saw them once back in 2009 and was really impressed with her. She was perhaps the original frontman to growl as heavily as any man and she certainly knocked my socks off when I saw them back then. As such, with her recent departure, I was interested to see how her hand-picked Canadian replacement, Alissa White-Gluz, was going to sound in her stead. While I have no experience with THE AGONIST, I did see her performing with KAMELOT back during the Silverthorn Over Europe Tour in 2013. And I remember thinking, “Who is that? Holy hell, that’s a woman?” So naturally, I was curious enough to stick around and see what was up.
Having a good look at the scene this time, what I saw was a total babe, dressed up like a proper old-school metalhead, eager to prove herself. And she was quite decent. As someone who doesn’t know their songs at all, I am basing my thoughts on her performance alone. She had moments where she seemed to struggle a little, but there were equally many moments where she growls were bone-chilling. She definitely excels in the deeper growling parts, that’s for damn sure. There was one song that stood out to me enough that I remembered to look it up the next day – “Revolution Begins.” I was thinking, “Okay… the instrumental part of this is excellent and the vocals are creepy as hell. I love it!”
I’m certainly not familiar with the band by any means, but I was pretty pleased with what I was hearing. But why care about my thoughts? What is really telling is that there were a ton of fans, new and old alike, and they were absolutely losing it. That says far more than my words ever will!
Arch Enemy setlist
1. Intro – Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor)
2. Enemy Within
3. War Eternal
5. Revolution Begins
6. My Apocalypse
7. You Will Know My Name
8. Bloodstained Cross
9. Under Black Flags We March
10. As the Pages Burn
11. Dead Eyes See No Future
12. No Gods, No Masters
13. Dead Bury Their Dead
14. We Will Rise
15. Khaos Overture (1st encore )
16. Yesterday is Dead and Gone (1st encore)
17. Blood on Your Hands (1st encore)
18. Snow Bound (2nd encore)
19. Nemesis (2nd encore)
20. Fields of Desolation (2nd encore)
21. Outro – Enter the Machine (2nd encore)
Saturday was much more even with regard to genre. The roster on this day consisted of BARREN EARTH, SWALLOW THE SUN, SÓLSTAFIR, and KATATONIA. All of these guys fall somehow under the progressive/doom/death categories and made for a pretty solid night for fans of the gloomier styles of metal. I missed out on the earlier parts of the show because I was over reviewing another gig, but I did make it in time to check out the later half of SÓLSTAFIR and all of KATATONIA.
SÓLSTAFIR was another new band for me. I knew their name but hadn’t heard their sound. From what I sensed, they were sort of atmospheric metal that is nice to put on during a grey afternoon when the sky isn’t sure if it wants to rain or not. There were moments when I was quite captivated and moments when I wasn’t particularly interested, so that in and of itself was interesting. I might have to listen to them further to make a more concrete opinion on them.
KATATONIA was, naturally, my main focus of the night. I haven’t seen them since their last show in Helsinki, which was back in, what, 2012 when “Dead End Kings” came out? Seems like ages ago. But it was a great show. Likewise was their performance at Unioni-Festivaali. You know how bands always say that they love being in a certain place (city, country)? I’m sure they say that sort of thing at every place they’re at, but you can always sense when they mean it sometimes. SABATON does it in Helsinki – you know they love their Finnish fans. KATATONIA is the same. When they say they love Finland, you know they mean it.
This was a perfectly mixed setlist, for one. They had all of the best songs spanning all of their best albums. It wasn’t tour-focused or new material focused, but it was more like a best-of set, which was great. New and old fans alike should have enjoyed this one.
And I might sound like a broken record, but I think ambiance can make or break a show and with KATATONIA’s sound, the right lights and fog can do wonders for their atmosphere and they always nail it. Colder and paler colors really work for them. It’s fantastic. It was the same with INSOMNIUM, though they use warm colors to their advantage as well. The mixers had done their job well again too. Everything was in perfect balance and Jonas Renkse sounded absolutely incredible, even from behind the wall of wavy black silk that is his hair. What’s more though, was their replacement guitarist/backing vocalist. He was harmonizing perfectly and his voice was amazing. Whoever he was, he really brought something to the table with his performance and if they don’t have an official member yet, I strongly hope that they keep him on because he worked beautifully with them.
So, they were great. Really, the only thing you could complain about was that the set was only an hour, but that was the same for everyone in this mini-festival. They were gentle and powerful all at once and with everything going right, it was a great show.
It would be nice to see more of these mini-festivals floating around. I personally enjoy these types where they pick one genre or so and bring in as many bands that fit the bill as they can. I understand the desire that big festivals have to get bigger crowds by mixing genres, but in these small-to-medium-scale events, it’s nice when they pick one or two styles and stick hard to them. These are the shows that sell out when they pull every fan of the genre in from all over the country (and from neighboring countries as well). This was definitely a fun two nights and I’ve got my fingers crossed that they do it again next year. Let’s see what happens!
4. Dead Letters
5. Day and Then the Shade
6. Ghost of the Sun
7. The Racing Heart
8. Soil’s Song
11. Cold Ways
12. My Twin (encore)
13. Lethean (encore)
14. July (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
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