The Finnish Metal Tour 2 with Finntroll & Ensiferum
The Gramercy Theater – New York, NY
February 26th, 2011
Last April, I was fortunate enough to catch the original Finnish metal tour featuring Finntroll and their sister band Moonsorrow, which thoroughly blew me away. The tour must have been quite a success, since Finntroll enlisted Viking metal warlords Ensiferum for a second round of stateside Pagan folk lunacy. Also on board were two Finnish bands I hadn’t heard of, Barren Earth and Rotten Sound.
These guys are something of a Finnish supergroup that plays psychadelia-tinged death metal, featuring both the drummer & session guitarist of Moonsorrow as well as the vocalist of Swallow the Sun. They bore a passing sonic resemblance to Opeth, and seemed to have a solid following amongst the crowd. Overall, I enjoyed their brief set and wouldn’t mind seeing them again
What’s the fastest way to get your correspondent to take a dinner break during a metal show? Grindcore! No offense to these musicians, but grindcore just does not agree with my disposition. After the first few noxious notes came blasting out of some deeply downtuned guitars, I headed for the exit with visions of burritos in my mind’s eye. I usually like bands who don’t fit neatly into a tour package, but grindcore doesn’t mesh at all with the other metal styles on display tonight.
Delicious burritos and appalling grindcore aside, nothing spicy nor musically unappetizing was going to keep me out of the venue for Ensiferum. I saw their show in New York about a year ago and wasn’t really sold on their live set. This is probably because their frontman Petri Lindroos falls quite short as an adequate replacement for Jari Mäenpää, whom I excessively idolize as a peerless guitarist and Mozart-level compositional genius. Also, I felt their setlist was a little meandering and focused too much on songs that required actual singing, which Mr. Lindroos does not do at all. Bandleader & guitarist Markus Toivonen handled a lot of the clean singing parts, and he doesn’t have nearly the vocal power possessed by Mr. Mäenpää. All this criticism aside, I felt that these guys deserved another chance at winning my affections.
Right out of the gate, Ensiferum showed the crowd that they meant business. They oozed attitude and energy at a level far above what I witnessed last year. Shirtless aside for kilts and decked out in war-paint, these guys are just flat-out fun to watch. Most notable was the unquenchable mania of bassist Sami Hinkka, who raged on stage like the barrel-chested, Viking-bearded lunatic that he is. His musicianship and frequent interaction with the fans was also most impressive. Mr. Lindroos was also in better form, showing increased confidence in some of the trickier guitar solos of the Mäenpää era. For whatever reason, the numerous female audience members find him to be quite fetching, with one even asking me to check to see if he was wearing anything underneath his kilt. Ensiferum’s set focused mostly on newer, heavier material that the crowd at the sold-out Gramercy readily devoured. Classics like “Token of Time” and “Lai Lai Hei” were executed wonderfully alongside more recent songs, which sadly don’t quite stand up to the majesty of the Mäenpää era. Closeout number “Iron” is always the perennial fan-favorite, and is easily the best song Ensiferum has ever written – the band did a neat little jam during the “Western” interlude of this classic tune that was a lot of fun to watch. Massive moshing and good times were had by all.
By The Dividing Stream
Token of Time
Deathbringer From the Sky
Stone Cold Metal
The New Dawn
Lai Lai Hei
I got the feeling that many audience members came specifically to see Ensiferum, since the previously-packed Gramercy seemed to be a little thinner when Finntroll took the stage. After the sizzling performance rendered by Ensiferum, maybe the crowd needed a small break. And to Ensiferum’s credit, they give a more visually interesting & interactive show than Finntroll does. This is a shame, given that Finntroll’s vastly more complex & aurally demanding material makes even sophisticated Ensiferum songs appear formulaic & fluffy by comparison. The last time I saw Finntroll, they gave a good show but were handily upstaged by Moonsorrow (though to their credit, Moonsorrow’s live show is one of the most electrifying things I’ve ever seen.) So I came into this hoping that Finntroll would at least live up to their opening act.
Lucky for Finntroll, they have a great frontman in Mathias "Vreth" Lillmåns. For such a scrawny guy, he has endless plumes of trollish vitriol to fuel his manic shrieking. He’s definitely the star of the show, which is fine until you consider that the rest of the band doesn’t do a whole lot besides headbang in their respective corners. The other bandmembers seem a little too introverted on stage, and mostly seem too busy with their instruments to run around or wave at a fan. They also don’t engage much in backing vocals, which I think would tremendously help out songs like “Solsagan” that make great use of gang-shouts.
My criticisms aside, Finntroll does put on a pretty sick show. As musicians, they’re a tight bunch who never miss a beat. They again placed a surprisingly heavy emphasis on the NATTFODD album, which has the least in common with Finntroll’s other lofty works. However, NATTFODD has some of the bounciest trollish metal party songs ever made, and the medley of “Elytres,” “Grottans Barn”, and of course “Trollhammaren” provoked a furious response from the already bonkers crowd. By comparison, their newer material sadly doesn’t inspire quite that level of moshing. Otherwise, their two most recent albums made up the bulk of the setlist. Their breakthrough album JAKTENS TID only got a couple nods, and MIDNATTENS WIDUNDER got a wink as Finntroll played the first song ever written by the band, “Midnattens Widunder.” The encore of “Jaktens Tid” was graced by a pig-masked and extremely drunk Mikko Kotamäki, frontman for Barren Earth. He tried doing the traditional Sami joik-singing parts, but (perhaps for the best) was mostly inaudible. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable diversion to close out an exhausting evening of Finnish metal that the States may not get to see the likes of again for some time.
Den Frusna Munnen/Boingo
Under bergets rot/Kummitus