ELUVEITIE featuring WINTERSUN
@ The Gramercy Theater, New York City
20 December, 2012
Words and Pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
O Wintersun. Thou art as a secret mistress long yearn’d for.
“How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds”
Had he been a modern metalhead, Shakespeare could have written that sonnet about Jari Mäenpää, WINTERSUN’s stunningly talented frontman who seems sadly prone to suffering years-long bouts of writer’s block. When Mäenpää left Viking metal band ENSIFERUM in 2004 to start his own project, I don’t think anybody could have anticipated how ridiculously good their first album was. I probably had WINTERSUN continuously spinning in my CD player for months. Actually, more like years. Those eight songs showcased a truly unmatched creative talent that very rarely manifests in the modern metal scene. I can listen to them over and over and over again, and always find something new to appreciate. So you can imagine when their follow-up album TIME was announced in 2006, I was beyond excited.
Then TIME was delayed. And delayed some more. I got to the point where I would check the band’s website and forums for updates on a weekly basis. After literally years where no news would come from the band, I sadly concluded that TIME was a myth. Mäenpää clearly had lost his edge, having been repeatedly set back by computer hardware issues that crippled his composing.
Blessedly, I was proven wrong. TIME was split into two parts, the first of which was released in October. And it was really, really good. When I heard the news that WINTERSUN would be touring in the USA, I almost jumped out of my skin. After more than six years of assuming I’d never have the chance to hear more music from them, let alone see them live, I was beyond excited.
But first off, the other bands. Ah yes, they matter too.
As far as Teutonic pagan metal bands go, VARG gets extra points for style. As you’d expect, there’s a lot about wolves, blood, and Viking warriors. Musically, it sounds a bit like death-y mush, but they made for very entertaining showmen. The sold-out crowd absolutely devoured their “we’re a bunch of man-wolves in scary blood facepaint” shtick, though thematically they didn’t fit well with the considerably more intellectual sounds of WINTERSUN and ELUVEITIE (and WINTERSUN isn’t even a folk metal band.) Modern folk metal is a very inclusive genre, perhaps too much so when you consider how different a band like ALESTORM sounds versus the vastly more complex sound of FINNTROLL.
To my sorrow, WINTERSUN was not headlining this show. This makes some sense, given that they only have two albums under their belt. Nonetheless, they had over an hourlong set, more than enough to play TIME I in its entirety, plus half of their first album.
Their set began on a lousy note – or I should say a bassy one. I’ve noticed an unsettling trend develop in the “intro” phase of a band’s set, during which the intro and the sound check are somewhat merged together. In this case, the lights were blacked out while a series of endlessly annoying bass tones rattled through the subwoofers – all to provide cover for one last check of the drums. This process lasted close to ten minutes, after which the first notes of “When Time Fades Away” started to play. As it happens, “When Time Fades Away” is itself a five-minute-long intro piece that accompanies WINTERSUN’s longest, most ambitious, and most ridiculously awesome song yet, “Sons of Winter and Stars.” The audience ended up sitting through fifteen minutes of intro, but for Jari Mäenpää, I’m pretty sure this crowd would have waited patiently at the edge of an erupting volcano.
So when Mr. Mäenpää and company finally took the stage, the audience reaction was overwhelming. While ELUVEITIE was the actual headliner, most of this crowd was here to see WINTERSUN. The band was clearly delighted with the passion and joy expressed by their fans, and returned their patience with a fantastic performance. As a live guitarist, Jari is in an elite class – he can rip off those gorgeously technical solos without batting an eye. Drummer Kai Hahto was a bloody beast behind the drum kit, ripping out brutal blast beats and sizzling tom fills seemingly without effort. My only complaint is that WINTERSUN’s incredibly complex music requires them to play to a backing track of orchestrations – I would love it if they added a keyboard player to help add to the energy of a live show.
(endlessly long and pointless) Intro
When Time Fades Away
Sons of Winter and Stars
Land of Snow and Sorrow
Death and the Healing
Darkness & Frost
Beyond the Dark Sun
Another folkish band that mostly passed me by, I was nearly inclined not to stay for ELUVEITIE’s set. I listened to some tracks a couple years back and found it to be a wonky mix of folk and the worst elements of the “Gothenburg” Swedish death metal sound. Something about frontman Chrigel Glanzmann’s screechy vocals layered over hurdy-gurdy and pan flutes just didn’t work for me. Thankfully, I decided to give them a shot.
While they’re not a band whose albums I would purchase, ELUVEITIE’s live show is pretty incredible. The aforementioned-wonky mix of sounds works really well in concert, as the audience is forced to listen to the wonderful use of folk instruments that supersede the guitars. Instead of dueling guitar solos, we’re treated to dueling tin whistles. Instead of keyboard melodies, we get hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, flutes, and violin. Vocalist and hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy provided a great contrast to Mr. Glanzmann’s hoarse yelping, singing gorgeously in the dead language of Gaulish and occasionally doing some screeching of her own.
Overall, Eluveitie was the real surprise of the evening. I would relish another opportunity to see them live in the future, hopefully on a stage that allows their eight members and 15+ instruments a little more breathing room.
Meet the Enemy
A Rose for Epona
Everything Remains as It Never Was