Date: March 26th, 2017
Venue: The Academy, Dublin
Line-up: Sonata Arctica + Thunderstone + Striker
A couple of years ago the power metal scene in Ireland was almost non-existence with fans begging for bands to come over only to be met with the response that the demand simply wasn’t there. However, Sabaton’s show in 2012 started to kick up interest in the genre meaning that the band have since enjoyed subsequent visits (in bigger venues no less) with other giants of the genre coming to our shores such as Kamelot and more recently Blind Guardian. Finnish act Sonata Arctica tonight return to Ireland for the first time in nine years further strengthening the demand for the genre.
Opening the show are Canadian shredders Striker, having cancelled their last two shows due to vocalist Dan Cleary losing his voice is was a little hit or miss whether they would play. Cleary shared his story that he was told to take tonight off as well but he wanted the band to be able to put Ireland down on their list of countries performed in, so he powered through his illness. Despite his sickness, Cleary’s vocals came across very strong and worked well along the harmonies provided by his bandmates. Their music was in the vein of old school heavy metal taken to shred class, the performances of guitarists Tim Brown and John Simon Fallon were top notch, coming up to the blocks at the front of the stage to give us a clear view of their skills. The rhythm section was equally strong with loud in your face bass and a grinning drummer. They managed to get the crowd suitably pumped in their role as the opening act, managing to get them to singing along for their closing track ‘Fight For Your Life’.
Like the openers, this show marks the Irish debut of Finnish power/heavy metal quintet Thunderstone. Rather rare in metal, the band come out dressed in full suits which were quickly shed over the set as heat started to take its hold. The bands more grandiose sound added a touch of cheese to proceedings but it wasn’t anything this crowd couldn’t handle. Their setlist was quite varied, mainly sticking to upbeat heavy numbers but weren’t afraid to slow things down for a ballad or more epic numbers. Bassist Titus Hjelm introduced their ballad ‘Weak’ and encouraged the crowd to take out their phones, or in the case of the “ancient” people, their lighters. The moving track further cemented Pasi Rantanen’s vocal range; he sounded spot on through the set, almost perfect like on record. The bands performance overall was quite strong and had the crowd quite involved, they could have held the stage as the headline act.
As Sonata Arctica prepared to take the stage there was a speech playing over the PA with a countdown to the band beginning. With this you would expect a bombastic opening track to kick people into gear but instead the band chose to open with the drab ‘Closer to an Animal’, a track from their latest album The Ninth Hour. The slow-paced piece lacked any real momentum for an opener and with the band looking equally drab I feared for the quality of the rest of the show.
Luckily the band gave themselves a much needed boost of energy and moved into the much more upbeat and catchy ‘Life’, the feel good track also livened up the crowd and on vocalist Tony Kakko’s command sang back the “lalala’s”. ‘The Wolves Die Young’ and ‘In Black and White’ kept up this momentum, the former with its melodic guitar lead and the latter being a rather heavy track for the band. It was the early material which the crowd reacted most favourably to; the cheesy ‘Tallulah’ begged for the crowd to join in on its melodramatic chorus and ‘FullMoon’ saw the crowd at their most energetic shouting back “Run away, run away, run way”.
While the moments I mentioned above were upbeat with the band and crowd at their most carefree and energetic, they were scattered throughout the night between tracks from the new album which quite frankly interrupted the mood and played at too much of a contrast to the other material with its much slower pace.
Tony Kakko’s voice isn’t quite what it used to be in the bands earlier years but he has refined it and knows his own limitations and what he can do. With his rather eccentric personality even the grumpiest metalhead couldn’t help but grin at some of his little jokes and interactions with the crowd. Even his way of introducing the encore was different from what you’d expect, acting out a scene where he pretended to grab his drink from the stage only to be startled by the crowd that were still there waiting for more.
After a rousing speech in which Kakko encouraged people to always keep their minds open to many different types of music, a sentiment reflected in his own band’s music, and to help “keep live music alive”, which if you bought any piece of merchandise you would see this saying printed across it somewhere. The encore harkened back to the album Reckoning Days for the one, two hit of ‘Misplaced’ and ‘Don’t Say a Word’. These tracks were a fantastic way to end the night but they weren’t quite finished there, they then had the crowd chanting their love for vodka in the tune of the ‘Hava Nagila’, knowing the Irish and Finnish shared love of alcohol.
While the setlist was a rather mixed bag with the newer material sounding completely out of place, there were much more standout moments than bad ones in the night and so I wish the band a swift return to Ireland.
Closer to an Animal
The Wolves Die Young
In Black and White
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