MOONSORROW, with TYR and METSATÖL
The Gramercy – New York, NY
September 22nd, 2012
Words and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
Another night of Scandinavian Viking metal in New York City! Who knew so many Vikings liked pillaging the Big Apple? Certainly not me.
My expectations for this show are high. Moonsorrow was a completely unknown entity for me up until a year ago, when they opened for Finntroll and totally blew them off stage. It turns out Moonsorrow and Finntroll are sister bands that share a key member in Mr Henri Sorvali, aka Trollhorn, who composes the bulk of the material for both bands. For unknown reasons, he does not tour with either group.
But first, there are two other groups to experience. The first of these is unfamiliar; Metsatöll hails from Estonia, a country that share a lot of language and history with Finland. All their songs were in the Estonian language, which I loved listening to as it sounds quite similar to Finnish. They take a lot of their band shtick from Estonian myth, with focuses on werewolves. A little trite, but still a robustly entertaining concept. Musically, they have a three-piece sound with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Lauri “Varulven” Õunapuu, who plays a variety of wind instruments as well as the Estonian bagpipe (also, props to Mr . Õunapuu for prancing around on stage BAREFOOT the entire evening – such a thing must be risky on the battle-worn stage of the Gramercy.) The result is pleasantly gruff folk metal with a lot of dimension and edge; overall, a very enjoyable experience. Frontman Markus “Rabapagan” Teeäär held my attention with folktales of his strange land in between songs, but Mr Õunapuu was the real star of the show.
Up next was Tyr, a band I have seen before. Like Moonsorrow, they heavily impressed me with their live show and so I was looking forward to more of the same intensity. Sadly, these Faroese Vikings left me a little cold. Frontman Heri Joensen looked either tired or bored throughout the show, as did guitarist Terji Skibenæs. Their musicianship was superb, but the performance lacked a lot of “oomph” that I’ve come to expect from Scandinavian bands of this level. The only one who looked like he was having any fun was bassist Gunnar Thomsen, who never let a huge grin leave his face all evening.
Musically, Tyr focused on their most recent two albums, BY THE LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN STAR and THE LAY OF THRYM, both of which sound pretty alike. From my experience with Tyr, their best material comes when they explore the ethnic side of folk metal – when they start chanting on and on about hammers and Thor, the songs start mushing together in a runny pile of blah. That being said, barnburners like “Hold the Heathen Hammer High” never fail to get one’s blood boiling. I would also have liked them to talk a little bit about their song “Shadow of the Swastika,” which was written in response to bogus claims of Nordic bands like Tyr supporting fascism/Nazism.
I admit – my expectations for Moonsorrow are too high. After being completely awestruck at my first experience, and subsequently rushing out to absorb their musical catalogue, I have been looking forward to this show for a long time. I have probably listened to their 30-minute EP Tulimyrsky over fifty times in the last year, since it was this particular song that really gripped me in the first place. Their newest album Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa also entranced me both with its change of pace from previous works and relentlessly bleak musicality.
But Moonsorrow has an intrinsic problem when it comes to performing live – their songs are usually 10 minutes in length, if not much longer. Their previous studio effort features only two songs – at about thirty minutes each! Given that Moonsorrow wasn’t headlining this show**, they run into severe time constraints when it comes to selecting songs. That being said, their song selection was very unusual, and I felt not very reflective of their current sound. Both the opening and closing songs were from their latest album, which I felt accurately reflected the stylistic direction the band has been perfecting the past several years. But the three songs played in between were older material that did not gel with what Moonsorrow’s recent musical evolution. Most notably out-of-key was “Sankaritarina”, supposedly the first song the band ever wrote – it’s a straight-up black metal tune, devoid of all of what makes Moonsorrow a uniquely brilliant band.
As for their stage performance, it was respectable but not up to the standard set previously. Again, not quite the energy level I wanted. This tour must be pretty grueling, if both Moonsorrow and Tyr seemed lackluster. Overall, I left the venue a little depressed. I expected a lot more from both bands, and reality fell far short of that expectation. Moonsorrow is still an incredible band and I will always jump at the chance to see them, hopefully next time as a true headliner that has time to spare for their epic-length songs.
**Wait, WHAT? That’s right, Moonsorrow wasn’t headlining this concert. Korpiklaani was. But I am not a fan of Korpiklaani, so I left after Moonsorrow finished. Ergo, this concert review may seem misleading since it implies that Moonsorrow headlined, when in fact they did not.