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Finnish Metal Tour Part II: Barren Earth, Rotten Sound, Ensiferum, and Finntroll at The Gramercy 2/26/11

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a concert that offered the sort of full-on folk and melodic death metal that rolled in Saturday night at The Gramercy for the Finnish Metal Tour Part II. Though bands like Ensiferum and Fintroll bring more than a little bit of conscious irony to their music, dressing in kilts and body paint and singing about epic battles and ravens in the night, etc., the allure, pure fun, and technical wizardry of their music is undeniable. Barren Earth and Rotten Sound, the opening acts, brought a more sober tone to the show, but on the whole, the night was a rollicking good time for a capacity crowd that reveled in a willingness to embrace, at least for a night, an alternate reality filled with Vikings and battle-axes.

I knew it was going to be a crazy show when I showed up to interview Ensiferum bassist Sami Hinkka at 4:45 in the afternoon and there was already a group of about ten teenage fans lined up for 7:00 doors. That interview will come soon. When I returned for the 7:00 doors, a crowd had lined 23rd street and wrapped around the corner onto Lexington, eagerly waiting for the chance to get inside. For a country half the size of New York City, Finland was doing a good job of marketing itself as a pre-eminent producer of heavy metal; I even witnessed a representative from the Finnish Consulate getting a photo pass to document the show.
Barren Earth was up first, a band that I was eager to see considering that it is the new band of Olli-Pekka Laine, the bassist for Finnish legends Amorphis during what I would call their golden years, playing on Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Elegy, among other albums. I had listened to them previously and was pleased to find that they were good live and sounded much like the Amorphis of yore with solid melodic death metal melodies and a singer with a deep and rich growl.

Next up was Rotten Sound, a band I’m not too familiar with and one that was definitely the odd man out on the bill. They play a much more hardcore style of music than the rest of the bands on the tour, sounding a lot like a thrashier Cannibal Corpse, if you can imagine that. Not exactly my kind of music, but they were polished live.

It was pretty clear before Ensiferum took the stage that most of the crowd was here for them—a number of fans had even painted their faces in the Ensiferum style (while we’re on the topic of body paint, one fan had painted her face, t-shirt, and skirt with the Finnish flag). The seating area and the floor were packed and fans erupted when Ensiferum took the stage. They launched into “From Afar”, the title track from their most recent album and the kind of song that is bursting with energy and designed to start a show off with a bang. If you haven’t heard this kind of music live before, you need to see it to believe it: thundering drums, lightning quick riffs, group backing vocals, and incredible solos produce a depth of sound that few genres, if any, can match. Singer and lead guitarist Petri Lindroos is a virtuoso and calls to mind a fellow Finn, Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho (especially if you consider his old band, Norther). The band was extraordinarily energetic and was dressed in their trademark kilts, creating a visually stimulating show. They played a very enjoyable set, playing crowd favorites like “Lai Lai Hei” and “Deathbringer from the Sky”, and the sound was excellent.
Finntroll rounded out the bill as the headliner and was the only band present that had played on the previous Finnish Metal Tour, also as the headliner. The crowd had thinned a little, but those who stuck around were serious fans, jumping and moshing with enthusiasm.  Finntroll, compared to Ensiferum, is not as immediately likeable; the melodies aren’t so clearly defined and the vocals are sung in a more abrasive growl. I have never been a big fan of Finntroll, but I will admit that they are much better live than recorded. The guitars have a heavier feel in person and the keyboards take a back seat, with the result that the keyboard-driven folk elements and “humppa”, a traditional style of Finnish music whose name is an onomatopoeia and I think distracts from their overall sound (though it is their trademark), do not dominate the mix.

On the whole, the Finnish Metal Tour Part II was a great success. I continue to be amazed by the quality of Finnish bands and the enthusiasm that they inspire in their fans. I will have an interview with Sami from Ensiferum up soon.


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