A blast from the past. I wrote this article almost one year ago, but never published it. I think it’s about time. That was an amazing concert, probably the best of the many I attended in Helsinki last year.
Frosttide + Ensiferum
Three years after a highly criticized Unsung Heroes, the warriors of Ensiferum were back with a new offering called One Man Army. On their way to conquer the world, they stopped in Helsinki for a fantastic performance.
Jyväskylä’s Frosttide were there to open the show. Having offered a solid show during Heidenfest 2013 in Paris, I thought it would be interesting to see what they had to offer, with one more album out. Alas, the acoustic was disappointing, for the guitars were drowned among the keyboard and the drums. As a result, soli were barely audible, which is a pity for this kind of music. Actually, from the pit the music delivered by Frosttide sounded just like Ensiferum’s music, but simply worse. The blasting was powerful, but no emotion was born from it.
Still the audience was quite responsive, thanks to Felipe. The keyboard player was indeed restless, always asking the crowd to move and shout, but also chatting with his partners between the songs.
The show took off a bit with “Gates of the Asylum”, an epic powerhouse from Blood Oath, but it was clear that Frosttide still needed a bit of practice to be as convincing as their older brothers headlining this evening.
When lights faded and “March of War” started to sound in Nosturi, the excitement of the audience was palpable. As expected, a circle pit erupted in the beginning of “Axe of Judgment”, a pogo so lively it stopped only after the last notes of “Iron” had resonated in the venue. It immediately appeared that the acoustic was excellent, and even though it fluctuated later on, it stayed at a more than acceptable level. A good point, and the occasion for the audience to glimpse the mastery of a talented band. Most noteworthy, the work on vocals was exceptional. To witness Petri introducing an angry growl, then leaving the vocals to Markus and Sami for some epic clean singing, then coming back for a combined conclusion, was a redundant but powerful pattern the band used perfectly in their compositions. And it works when they are on stage, as the uninterrupted singing from the audience could testify.
Besides locals, the technical prowess of the band was stunning: martial rhythms, fast soli, devastating blasting, everything was executed to perfection, leaving the impression of a band at their top-level. Many samples were used, but they never stood out of place. Moreover, all the musicians interacted a lot with each other but also with the audience. Actually, they were surprisingly talkative and made numerous jokes, and even though I understood some words there and then, I deeply regretted not being able to understand Finnish very well. A “pesukone” (washing machine) caught at some point announced the arrival of “Ahti” (Ahti being a god of sea and fishing in Finnish mythology, or a sea-going warrior), celebrated by a fierce circle pit, but most of their speech remained unclear to me. It did not to the audience however, and the whole night was rhythmed by laughter.
Some days before the show, Ensiferum had announced that Emmi would not join them on tour, but would be replaced by Netta Skog, ex-Turisas. I was quite surprised to see the keyboard in the background, and even more to see Emmi behind this very keyboard. Nevertheless, Netta joined the band onstage after a couple of songs, for a gentle live rehearsal. Enthusiastic, she had the advantage of mobility over the keyboard player with her accordion, and used it to settle on the front of the stage. In addition to the accordion, she tried her vocals, with more or less success but always with good mood.
Emblematic of this good mood displayed by the band, this cover of Judas Priest they played to start the encore showed an unusual rearrangement of roles in the band: under the direction of Netta, Emmi and Janne took the guitars, Sami went behind the keyboard and Markus behind the drums. In the meantime, Petri assumed the role of the bassist, a role suiting him so well that the audience asked for a bass solo. After having broken the law, Ensiferum went back to their traditional set-up to finish off an ecstatic crowd with old-school classics like “Token of Time” and finally “Iron”.
Before that, the band had put forward their latest album, by including five songs from One Man Army to their setlist. And even though this album is quite convincing, it was no surprise to see that the crowd did not respond to new titles with as much enthusiasm as to good old anthems like “Smoking Ruins” or “Victory Songs”. Personally, I regretted that “Into Battle” hadn’t stayed in the opening position it occupied in Paris, because it felt like this was the perfect song for setting the mood of the audience, given its finely tuned mixture of savage violence and delicate melody. This night, it came third, and benefited from an excellent sound that showcased a remarkable interpretation from Markus, especially on this bridge played mostly with the last strings of the guitar. Definitely a highlight of an Ensiferum show.
However, there are some gems hidden in One Man Army that revealed themselves on stage, starting with “Warrior Without A War” and its elaborated vocal lines. The disco-ish “Two Of Spades” was highly expected by the fans, and they were clearly not disappointed. “Unsung Heroes” and “Burning Leaves”, taken from the album before, formed a coherent ensemble, and are songs that may appear anecdotic on tape but are very powerful when played live. Anyway, they didn’t have the impact of “Iron”, which riff was sung in the staircase by the fans waiting for their jackets, after the end of the show.
To be honest, there was no obvious flaw in this fantastic show. Of course, it appeared far too short: fans were ready to party for one or two more hours, they even formed a spontaneous caterpillar in the pit after the end. Of course, some songs were missing from one’s ideal setlist (they did not play “Twilight Tavern”!). But this was no revival show. Now, I’m waiting for an old-school tour, featuring “Stone Cold Metal”, “Deathbringer From The Sky” and “Goblin’s Dance”, and a live DVD for the memories… why not?
Cover picture by Florian Stangl: Ensiferum – Niflheim 2013 – 02-03-2013, under Creative Commons license, Attribution 2.0 Generic
Second picture by Abrisad, under Creative Commons license, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic