Words and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
The Gramercy Theater – New York, NY
April 8th, 2010
Finntroll / Moonsorrow
Having spent the previous evening being enchanted and thoroughly worn out by none other than Opeth, I wondered if I would have enough energy for Finntroll, who ranks very high amongst my all-time favorite bands. There’s something about the marvelously bizarre Trollish shtick and polka melodies of these Finnish madmen that I find unreasonably captivating. I’ve been hooked since their second album of bouncy priest-devouring tunes, JAKTENS TID, and their newest effort NIFELVIND overwhelmed me with their most creative, heaviest music to date. But before Finntroll could take the stage, three bands I was unfamiliar with had sets to perform.
The opener was a local act from Brooklyn called Operatika, who did not impress me at all. Their sound could be best summed as a forced marriage between Yngwie Malmsteen and mid-period Nightwish. Vocalist Slava Popova did a truly admirable Tarja Turunen impression, but on the cramped stage did little more than stand around and bemusedly headnod while she wasn’t singing; she has a lot to learn about fronting a band like this. Complications arose when substitute bass player Michael Anthony LePond III of Symphony X fame had his cable malfunction, sending ear-shriveling shrieks through the P.A. until it could be replaced. Guitarist Bill Visser took the new #1 spot on my list for Needlessly Wanking Guitarists, surpassing even the mindless noodlings of Yngwie Malmsteen. For a style of music that seems oriented towards keyboard-driven progressions, hearing this guy do (admittedly zippy) scale runs for minutes at a time was beyond fatiguing and ceased being impressive after half a song. If this band could put as much focus into crafting memorable songs as they do soloing, they might create a decent product one day.
Up next was Swallow the Sun, which began the evening’s Finnish metal medley. I had never heard of these guys before, but I found their take on melodic death/doom metal to be reasonably entertaining, if somewhat unmemorable. There’s only one doom metal band I’ve ever enjoyed, and that honor belongs to the UK’s My Dying Bride. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a solid reception from the crowd.
Given their direct connection to Finntroll, why I had not heard of this amazing band before is a mystery. Moonsorrow and Finntroll share a key member; Henri Sorvali, or Trollhorn, is the primary composer for both bands. However, he does not tour outside of Finland with either band for unknown reasons, so a fellow named Janne Perttilä was there to fill in.
From the very first moment, Moonsorrow ignited the Gramercy’s stage with a fury I have never before seen. Frontman Ville Sorvali (Trollhorn’s cousin) had a smoldering stage presence and a mutilating roar that radiated mystical, brutal force. Lanky lead guitarist Mitja Harvilahti was likewise a whirlwind of kinetic mania. I was immediately swept away by Moonsorrow’s folkish blackened metal sound, with each song building peak upon peak of scintillating intensity. In a world full of pervasive mediocrity and bands that are just ‘good-enough’, I fell madly in love with the might and majesty of Moonsorrow. As I write this, I am frantically listening to their back-catalogue to make up for the many years this band has been absent in my musical life. Despite my ignorance, the smallish crowd was not; Moonsorrow received a thunderous response from a rabid crowd, some of which chanted along lyrics in Finnish!
Unfortunately for Finntroll, Moonsorrow set the bar just a little too high. I won’t say that they were “upstaged”, since Finntroll gave a great performance also, but they didn’t match the boundless energy and relentless enthusiasm that their predecessors so easily displayed. The only real ‘upstaging’ I’ve seen is when Arch Enemy completely blew the water out of an uncharacteristically sloppy, bored-looking Cradle of Filth some years back.
With intro to their newest album NIFELVIND playing, I expected the first song of the night to be the incredible ‘Solsagan’ – but instead they launched into ‘Negedang’ from UR JORDENS DJUP - a track with the power and unmatched catchiness of ‘Solsagan’ should rightly be saved for the end! The crowd response was thoroughly appreciative, though I wished that the 500-seat Gramercy was a little fuller. Maybe 300 or more were in attendance, which I felt wasn’t nearly enough for a quality band like Finntroll. Another Finnish folk metal band called Korpiklaani nearly sold the same venue out, and I would consider them to be even more obscure and less interesting than Finntroll. On the plus side, a smaller crowd meant that there was less crowding on the floor, which allowed for some truly amazing circle pits that encompassed nearly the entire venue.
Technical problems reared their head again after the creeping, hoppy rumblings of ‘Dråp’ (which somehow translates into “manslaughter”) – Skrymer’s guitar blew some of the circuit breakers out for a few minutes, which didn’t quite stop the show but led to some amusing between-song stage banter by frontman Vreth as he stalled for time. It must be said that Vreth is easily the best showman of the band; his energy and movement stuck out a lot in contrast to the more traditional headbanging of his bandmates.
To my surprise, the NATTFODD album was covered extensively with three songs played early in the set. NATTFODD is easily their “cheesiest” album, featuring a much zanier, whimsical sound than their recent, heavier efforts. It also featured the ungloriously-departed vocalist Tapio Wilska, and in a way is the bastard child of a bastard band. Nonetheless, the maniacally danceable jolts of ‘Trollhammaren’ were greeted with relentless mania by a jump-happy crowd. Finntroll also touched on older material dating all the way back to debut MIDNATTENS WIDUNDER, which really showcased their black metal roots without the spit n’ polish of the significantly more complex NIFELVIND album.
There was one unusual moment of the set that I feel warrants mentioning - later in the set, Finntroll played a song that had never been done live before, ‘Maktens Spira’ from the excellent UR JORDENS DJUP. There’s a brief guitar solo during the bridge that was done by a guest player on the album, but nonetheless Vreth walked up to guitarist Routa and shouted “c’mon Routa!” Somewhat awkwardly, Routa did not attempt the solo and simply played the rhythm section again. Perhaps the band hadn’t finalized the song’s live arrangement, or maybe Routa wasn’t feeling up to it. But being encouraged to take a solo you don’t feel comfortable playing live…that’s got to be weird.
The second half of Finntroll’s set almost seemed like a leadup to what may be their best song yet, ‘Solsagan.’ While a bloodthirsty crowd formed a massive circle pit, I was disappointed not hearing them chanting along to the infectious “hey ey yah” chorus. This is a song that really benefits from strong backing vocal performances, but guitarists Routa and Skrymer didn’t approach their microphones very often. Finntroll uses a lot of gang shouts in their songs to denote a whole chorus of trollish rage, but Routa and Skrymer seemed very hesitant the few times they stepped up to their mics. Additional vocal presence can really elevate a band’s set, and it would be nice to see Finntroll work on this a little bit. Also, the keyboards were quite low in the mix throughout the set – given how keyboard-driven Finntroll’s music is, I found this to be unfortunate.
After ‘Solsagan’, the band took a short encore with the fan-favorite ‘Jaktens Tid.’ This saw the entire floor devolve into a mess of circle pits and this newfangled ‘folk-metal jig-dancing’ that I see more and more at metal shows. Having left the venue nearly ripped apart, Finntroll gracefully exited. Despite the unforgettable performance of Moonsorrow, I’m still thrilled I got to see these them and I anxiously await their return!
Slaget Vid Blodsälv
Under Bergets Rot