Who: Finntroll, Moonsorrow, Swallow the Sun
Where: The Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL
Some months ago, I was thrilled to read an announcement for the Finnish Metal
Tour of the States in 2010. In itself, this concept is unremarkablethe past
few years have seen a number of tours trying to capitalize on Americas growing
fascination with all things folksy/pagan/forest-dwelling. However, there was a name on the
bill that caught my eye: Moonsorrow, a genre-defining act that had long been a favorite of
mine, and that Id never seen in concert. Id missed opportunities
beforetheyd played Paganfest and headlined the Heathen Crusade in
Minnesotas Twin Citiesso I resolved not to miss them again. The actual
headliners were Finntroll, always a good time and sure to bring out a crowd, and second
support coming from Swallow the Sun, a new-millennium doom act that has a knack for
achieving instant pathos. Altogether, quality over quantity package thats one of the
best Chicago has seen in months.
Now that The Pearl Room in Mokena has closed, Chicagoland metal tours are sprinkling out
across the city proper. This would be the first show I attended at The Bottom Lounge on
Lake Street, a venue Id always associated more with karaoke and hipster indie than
European heavy metal. Fortunately, it turns out the Lounge has a respectable venue tucked
away behind its front room bar. It seems a little like an afterthought, being a bare room
with little accommodations to speak of, but it had a legitimate stage, decent lighting and
sound, and capacity for a handful of hundreds. It is a little smaller than Logan Square
Auditorium, but the general vibe is much more welcoming.
The show was scheduled to start around eight, with Something Beautiful warming up the
crowd. I missed their entire set in interview with Moonsorrows Ville Sorvalia
soft-spoken and affable chap who entertained my questions for a good forty minutes. I
found him in a dressing room with Swallow the Sun, where I was greeted by a few hand
waves. One band member wore a mask made of what appeared to be a paper plate, and he
looked at me without speaking, impassively. Its an experience that only seems
bizarre in retrospect.
Following the interview, I headed back out to the main room and caught a spot in the third
row. The room was fairly filled, but not too densely packed, and the friendly audience
allowed a relatively free flow from front to back. After catching up with some familiar
faces, the lights went down and it was time for Swallow the Suns set to begin.
They emerged to welcoming, if not crazed, cheers, and set into a forty minute set with
gusto. They played a good spread of material, ranging from Out of this Gloomy
Light to The Giant, New Moon, and a few cuts from
Hope, which seemed to be crowd favorites. These Hours of Despair
in particular had the moshpit roiling. Helming the band at the microphone, Mikko seemed in
a trance, belting out low growls, high shrieks, and soft clean singing with equal ease. He
maintains a very mellow attitude as a frontman, his eyes often either closed or covered by
the brim of a hat. Occasionally hed join other members in headbanging slowly, both
hands grasping the mic stand as if it were a quarterstaff. The first of three keyboardists
that night, Aleksi Munter was by far the most animated, and not just because he had a
place in the bands front row. He headbanged vigorously, glared at the audience with
jaw set, and attacked his keyboard from two paces away at times to slam into a chord at
just the right moment. I still havent gotten used to keyboardists rocking out with
the rest of their band, but it certainly makes for a better show than a deadpanned specter
hiding in the back corner.
I was also struck by how the bands rhythm section is more virtuosic than any doom
music could ever call for, boasting the underrated Matti Honkonen on bass and Kai Hahto on
drums. Id quite forgotten that Kai was still playing with Swallow the Sun, but after
his performance that night I doubt Ill forget again. (He actually was a session live
member during their previous US tour, but has since become a full time member.) His entire
performance looked effortless, but not dispassionate. From slow grooves to mid-tempo
cymbal syncopation and a flawless blastbeat to cap the bands final song, he was in
total control. Although it would take more demanding material to show his full repertoire,
he has done a fine job of adapting his style Swallow the Suns material without
For his part on bass, Matti was the unexpected surprise of the night. Id seen this
band before (with Katatonia and Scar Symmetry in 07), but hadnt recalled how
involved some of his parts were. Showing a great command over his Jazz-style ESP (ESP/LTD
dominated the night), he deftly ranged up and down the neck, playing finger-style and
occasionally thrumming chords with a thumb. After Aleksi, he was the most animated
memberthe two of them held mirrored positions on stage and helped balance out the
two looming, somber guitarists.
After settling into a steady groove, Swallow the Sun was disrupted for a time by Juha
Raivos amp, which cut out on him about two-thirds of the way through their set.
Greatly to their credit, the rest of the band mostly held their cool and played through
the mishap. The crowds mood was a bit broken by the distraction, and we undoubtedly
missed a few of Juhas tapping lead sections, but Markus rhythm held things
down well enough. Between songs, Juha got some tech help and plugged into another rig, and
while we waited, vocalist Mikko remarked with some annoyance, Thats not the
first time that amps been fucked. Never buy a Mesa Boogie. Mesas were all that
were on hand, however, so a few minutes later Juha was back in the game, running through
yet another Dual Rectifier. This wouldnt be the last run-in wed have with
these Mesas, however.
Altogether, the audience seemed very pleased to see the band, and no one (except maybe the
members themselves) was especially miffed by the technical stutter. The mix could have
been betterkeys were intermittently audible and Mikko was too quiet across the
boardbut was at least consistent for all bands throughout the night.
The next layover was scheduled to be 15 minutes, but they could have pulled it off in less
than 10. The small running crew seemed capable enough, but this quick pace was primarily
due to shared equipment. One well-equipped Pearl kit served all the drummersonly the
cymbals were swapped out that I could seeand the same Mesa guitar rigs were in place
the whole night: oversized slant cabinets and two Dual Rectifier heads for each guitarist.
The lone exception was Mitja of Moonsorrow, who looked like he was running into a Fractal
Audio rack mount, though Ive found no evidence to support that in research since.
More often, he reports using a VHT power unit with an Engl preamp.
Whatever the case, the stage was primed for Moonsorrow in short order, and around 9:15 the
band took the stage to the first strains of Tuhatvuotinen Perintö. Once they
kicked into its counterpart, Jumalten Kaupunki, the crowds mood switched
suddenly from eager anticipation to enthused rocking, and for the next 50 minutes
Moonsorrow held us in thrall. They only played five songs, but managed to cover a good
spread of material, also including (if memory serves) Köyliönjärven
Jäällä, the epochal Pimeä, a 15-minute edit of
Tulimyrsky, and Aurinko Ja Kuu to close. Considering the breadth
of their catalogue they were bound to disappoint a few fans on this tour, but each song
was well chosen and went over well with the crowd.
During one short break in their set, Ville pointed out to a member in the audiencea
bespectacled, slightly scrawny teen with red war paint that was beginning to run in his
sweat. Looking rather grave, Ville says that the band would play another song, but only if
this fan will give us his best metal scream. The crowd, initially taken aback, began to
cheer. Ville interrupted: No, no, everyone be quiet. I want to hear him scream as
loud as he can. The kid, suddenly standing alone in a spotlight, gamely struck a
pose and emitted a noise somewhere between a whisper, gargle, and a shriek. Ville replied,
All right, that was pretty morbid, and the set resumed.
After listening to Moonsorrow on record for so many years and wondering how they could
ever hope to reproduce that majesty, I must commend them all on a job well done. Expansive
instrumentation was efficiently arranged for fivetwo guitars, bass, drums, and
keyboardand no critical overtures were missed. Clean harmonies were split three
ways, between Mitja, the bands live guitarist Janne Perttilä, and (a pleasant
surprise) drummer Marko Tarvonen. Though they couldnt equal the righteous heathen
choir of Moonsorrows recordings, they were reasonably in step with one another and
effectively conveyed the soul of each theme.
Indeed, the band managed to hit that sweet spot of live metal performance that equally
recognizes the seriousness and spectacle of their music. Ville delivered his wrenching
vocal lineshis matured voice improving significantly on some of the old
materialbut still would smile at the audience and occasionally pal it up with Mitje.
Ville and keyboardist Markus were shirtless, but didnt look costumed, like many of
their peers (Finntroll, Ensiferum, Turisas, etc.). Janne played a cream white ESP Explorer
with gold hardware and star inlays, but didnt parade it around like an 80s rocker
(who could have blamed him if he did).
That rocker role was left to Mitja, who has accurately described his stage moves as Pete
Townsend-inspired. He brought an almost punk rock sense of abandon to Moonsorrow's set,
stamping about with his long legs, letting his guitar lead him from the waist, and
windmilling his arm in true Who fashion. (Speaking of guitar, that in itself was a thing
to beholdhis custom Amfisound flying V, made in Finlandand he was happy to
show it off.) As such, his performance wasn't completely perfect from a technical
standpoint, but I wouldn't have wanted him to sacrifice his showmanship in favor of a
slight empirical improvement. Music as epic as Moonsorrows deserves some animation,
after all. In fact, Mitja was practically the bands frontman, commanding at least
the same attention from the crowd as Ville. As the bands bassist and vocalist, Ville
didnt have as much opportunity to play to the crowd, but he did a fine job handing
both his duties and was the essential contemplative counterpart to Mitjas raucous
Altogether, their performance is one that appreciates in retrospect: great fun without
being irreverent, theatrical without being melodramatic, and invigorating. As they left
the stage to chants of Moonsorrow! one fan in the front row commented,
Hows that for some direct support?
Most everyone seemed to agree, and we gladly took the next twenty minutes to recover. The
moshpit had been friendly but brisk, as it was much of the night, and the beer had really
begun to flow. Once Finntrolls tour manager brought a tub of Coronas on stage, we
knew the time was once again drawing near; it was not long after that Finntroll took the
stage, offering their 90-minute rebuttal to Moonsorrows challenge.
As a live band, Finntroll are largely set in their ways. They dont move around too
much (who can blame them, with six members on a smallish stage), and each member has his
little quirks that distinguish him to fans. My favorite has always been the inexplicable
little leg raise that bassist Tundra constantly does. His legs will lock straight, and
hell lean forward while lifting the right leg out at an angle, almost like hes
trying to clear a cable from around his foot. The two guitarists are neat
counterpartsthe alarmingly tall, lanky, and blonde Skrymer on one side, the stocky
and darker Routa on the other, his slightly grey-streaked hair spilling down to his waist.
In fact, all of these three tend to play with their hair dangling in their faces, leaving
it to Vreth to be the bands face in fact and figure.
Fortunately, to this task he is well suited. Aside from looking the parttall,
painted with the bands black root design that runs down the face and onto the torso,
and appropriately menacinghe exudes a confidence as a frontman that belies his
relatively short tenure with the band. His lung capacity is also impressive, and he put it
on display a number of times by carrying out screams several bars longer than seemed
On drums, Beast Dominator was a force to be reckoned with, as usual, but where Kais
performance had looked serene, BDs practically hypnotic. He barely seemed to blink
throughout the entire set, hardly looked at where he was drumming, and waved at the
audience almost dismissively. He spent most of his time staring at his
cymbalssometimes the crash, sometimes the splash or hi-hatwith a faint knit in
his brow, as if they had just posed to him a very good question that he couldnt
quite fathom. Stage mannerisms aside, his performance was steady as usualthe man
seems born to deliver Finntrolls trademark one-two pattern of snare and bass kick,
and handled tempo changes with sneaky ease.
They also had the second keyboardist on the tour with the name Aleksi, but he
couldnt have been much different from his predecessor; he, like Markus of Moonsorrow
before him, played his parts well but without much visible emotion. In fact, aside from
the similar keyboardists, the stage presences of Finntroll and Moonsorrow were swapped
from what one would have predicted: the contemplative, epic Moonsorrow were more cheery
and boisterous, while the humppa-grooving Finntroll seemed alternately grim and impassive.
There was one moment of dark humor when an audience member called out to Vreth that it was
his friends birthday. Vreth broke for a moment to follow up with the fan, shake his
hand, and then segued into the next song by say, Oh, happy birthday
were not going to be eating birthday cake. Were going to be eating
This, of course, served to introduce Kittledags. Otherwise, the bands
set read, minus encores: Nedgång, Dråp, Skogens
Hämnd, Slaget Vid Blodsälv, Boingo (which is Den
Frusna Munnen), Nattfödd, Korpens Saga,
Aldhissla, Svartberg, Blodnatt,
Trollhammaren, Kummitus (which was Under Bergets Rot),
Arabi (probably Ett Norrskensdåd), Eliytres,
Maktens Spira, and Solsagan. Trollhammaren was by far
the fan favorite, and had adult males in the front audience hopping and giggling like
schoolgirls, quite literally.
Their set seemed primed to carry on without issue, but those Mesas just would not behave.
Routa, playing on the same side as Juha earlier in the night, had a run-in with his head,
and had to swap it out for another. Fortunately, it was a brief issue and did not derail
the bands set or even significantly affect their momentum. If anything threatened
the crowds mood, it was the crowd surfing. Again, this venue had no photo pit and no
security, so the dozen or more crowd surfers that filtered towards the front had a good
chance of getting up on stage. At least five did, some a couple times, and eventually
Vreth began to simply shove them off once they arrived. He did so in good spirits, though,
and even put the microphone to one fans face to shout out Trollhammaren!
The issue was more with the fans in the front row, who understandably became annoyed after
the same sweaty, shirtless drunk came crashing down on their heads for the fourth time.
But towards the end of the set the surfing abated, the bands energy picked up, and
the audience turned once more to the front to cheer them to their conclusion and the
The proceedings wrapped up at 1 AM, leaving the audience weary and happy. A few stayed
behind to drink and chat with some of the band members that had come out to the main floor
(including Ville and Kai). In this respect and others, it was an intimate showthe
proximity of the audience to the stage, the closeness of the audience members to each
other, and even the interactions between band members. It was also a night of close
misses, where at least one guitarist in each band ended up with strands of someone
elses hair hanging from his headstock; where amps, but not sets, went bad; where
Mitja nearly capsized after slipping on some water spilled on stage; where crowd surfers
almost knocked vocalists monitors to the ground; and where Vreths hair
literally did become entangled in Skrymers guitar and had to be extricated mid-song.
This Finnish Metal Tour may have lacked the marketing grandeur of Paganfest, but was more
pure in a way, and captured a countrys spirit without turning it into a commodity.
Longer set lengths were also crucial, allowing the bands to make their statements without
rushing. They each had a unique voice, but the shared message was clear: To the rest of
Scandinavia, its your move.
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