Words and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
The Gothic Theater – Denver, CO
December 8th, 2016
For those wondering how to best save on heating bills, a great way to warm up on a bitterly cold winter night is to attend a Scandinavian power metal show. Performing tonight were two groups that I had scant knowledge of; LEAVE’S EYES was only familiar to me via ex-frontwoman Liv Kristine’s former band THEATRE OF TRAGEDY, and I was only familiar with SONATA ARCTICA’s first album “ECLIPTICA.”
If you’re looking for a great example of what’s simultaneously entertaining and cliché in a metal show, look no farther than the kind of live performance given by Scandinavia’s LEAVE’S EYES. Frontman and bandleader Alexander Krull is the prime manifestation of bulky Viking physique, with seemingly infinite strands of both head-and-beard hair flying about everywhere as he stormed the Gothic Theater’s small stage. His counterpart, a Finnish soprano named Elina Siirala, held her own as the “beauty” half of the beauty-and-the-beast style of vocal interplay that predecessor band THEATRE OF TRAGEDY made popular. Her voice is unfortunately similar in sound to the infamous Finnish soprano Tarja Turunen; I say “unfortunate” because her throaty, operatic style clashes pretty hard with the Viking battle-fantasy metal that LEAVE’S EYES plays.
Musically, LEAVE’S EYES bland blend of double-kick power metal mixed with melodic death-growls is not to my taste, so I won’t harp on them for not scratching my itches. They put on a fine show for any rabid Viking wanna-be’s in attendance. Having seen dozens of Viking-themed bands perform live, I’ve been consistently disappointed that none of them have been able to provide any gravitas to the myths their songs are based on. Mostly what you get is lame pandering to the tune of “we got any Viking warriors in the house?!?,” “scream like a Viking warrior!,” and similar nonsense (all of which LEAVE’S EYES was guilty of.) But LEAVE’S EYES took it to a whole new level of cheese when Mr Krull emerged halfway through their set in a full suit of chainmail, a Viking helmet atop his head and a longsword in his hand. To his credit, I was entertained. But Viking metal cliché’s are getting long in the tooth. Surely, somebody can do better.
I will give Mr Krull credit for a mid-set speech he made regarding America’s recent election. He acknowledged how divisive it’s been for us, but then pointed out that in the mosh pit, we “are all ONE metal family!” It was a nice touch.
Halvdan the black
The Waking Eye
Swords in Rock
Edge of Steel
Take the Devil
Fires in the North
Mot Fjerne Land
I had few expectations for Finland’s SONATA ARCTICA because I hadn’t heard enough of their newer music to make any kind of informed judgement. But to my delight, they put on an outstanding live show.
Frontman & composer Tony Kakko is without question the star. He is also one of the best live singers I’ve seen, perhaps only second to Fabio Leone of RHAPSODY OF FIRE. Mr Kakko effortlessly hit one gorgeous high-note after another without breaking a sweat, all the while radiating gobs of energy towards his enraptured fans. His sunny, no-nonsense persona is what makes SONATA ARCTICA stand out in a crowded metal field, where most bands blindly race to be the most evil, drunk and/or Viking, etc. SONATA’s music is not thematically connected to what you’d typically expect of a metal band, in that there are no demons, Vikings, or blood sacrifices represented lyrically; Mr Kakko is much more interested in the slippery emotions that real humans must deal with.
Mr Kakko’s brilliance aside, his bandmates are no slouches. Bassist Pasi Kauppinen’s electric stage presence and magnificent mugging made it hard to point my camera at anything else; guitarist Elias Viljanen had a more subdued stage presence, but his incredible guitar playing left me dazzled. Their performances had me humming along to songs I didn’t yet know, songs I’m belatedly listening to as I write this review. They closed out their set on a humorous note by singing the words “vodka vodka, we want vodka!” to the tune of the Hava Nagila.
As a jaded metalhead whose seen countless concerts, I’m delighted I got to see a live performance of this caliber. Charismatic acts like SONATA ARCTICA embody what great live music is about – primal connection with an audience. Mr Kakko gave a speech about just this towards the end of their set, wherein he encouraged the crowd to keep attending concerts so that musicians like him could continue to do what they do best. In the face of upcoming technologies that will enable fans to “see” live shows from their smartphones at home, Mr Kakko reminded us that being “in the room” will always be a much better experience for both fans and bands alike.
Closer to an Animal
Wolves Die Young
In Black and White
Ain’t Your Fairytale
Among the Shooting Stars
Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited
We Are What We Are
The Power of One
I Have a Right
Don’t Say a Word
Vodka (Havah Nagila)