Respected Euro-power quintet Sonata Arctica have made their way across the pond to tour the states in support of their recently released ninth studio album, appropriately titled The Ninth Hour. Promising a night of headbanging with a touch of epic fantasy, the Finns have brought along melodic metal powerhouse Omnium Gatherum and gothic/viking metal group Leaves’ Eyes. This review will cover the December 9th show at The Granada in Lawrence, KS.
Omnium Gatherum is a Finnish six-piece that specializes in blending the aggressive rhythms and riffage of Scandinavian metal with sublimely melodic lead guitar and soaring keyboards. Though the band has made numerous appearances in North America over the years, this was their first chance to perform songs from their well-received album Grey Heavens for their fans in the western hemisphere. After the local openers, the band appeared to an acoustic guitar and piano intro before launching into the thrashy opener of their new album, “The Pit”. The mid-tempo headbanger “Skyline” followed, with its infectious melody catching the ears of fans and newcomers alike, and “Frontiers” proved to be just as epic and moving live as it is on record. Throughout the band’s all-too-brief set, frontman Jukka Pelkonen paraded across the stage, flashing metal horns at anyone in sight, and lead guitarist Markus Vanhala was quite striking during guitar solos for “Frontiers” and “The Unknowing” – acting as the living embodiment of the “Scandinavian Guitar God” archetype. The band closed with a bang with their breakthrough track, “New World Shadows”, filling the room with energy and leaving everyone hungry for more.
Acting as direct support for Sonata Arctica were the multinational purveyors of epic viking metal, Leaves’ Eyes. Immediately apparent during the opener “Halvdan the Black” was the band’s subscription to the “beauty and the beast” vocal style – with frontman Alexander Krull’s deathy growls juxtaposed against frontwoman Elina Siirala’s clear operatic style. Siirala handled the majority of the vocals throughout the evening, and though having only joined the band earlier this year, she did not disappoint, as her classical soprano was always loud and clear above everything else. Krull served as more of a backing vocalist, though that is not to say that he put any less sweat in than any other members, in fact, his massive presence and constant movement across the stage made him out to be one of the most dynamic individuals in a group of already energetic performers. Highlights of the set included the cinematic chant-along “Hell to the Heavens”, and the band’s hit, “My Destiny”, which had fans jumping from front to back. Krull even had a special surprise in store for the closing song, which won’t be spoiled here, but suffice it to say that Leaves’ Eyes certainly bring history to life for their fans with every show.
Sonata Arctica, whose eight-album career began in 1999, and who have been travelling the globe consistently since then, always promise to bring a dynamic power metal-infused show to any city they visit. Their set began with a peaceful acoustic guitar and Celtic whistle intro, which played from tape while a bodiless voice bellowed, “are you ready to rock with Sonata Arctica?” As the audience clamored in response, the band appeared for “Closer to an Animal” from The Ninth Hour. Frontman Tony Kakko took his place behind a lightsaber-esque light-up microphone stand, which changed color between green, blue, and white throughout the set and splashed an otherworldly glow across the mainman’s visage. Guitarist and bassist flanked him to the left and right, and drummer and keyboardist were positioned next to each other on a riser behind them as an earthy, abstract artwork provided a complimentary backdrop. Kakko proved to be quite the engaging frontman, both during and between songs. When not singing in his polished tenor wail, Kakko was still sweating it out with his bandmates – gesturing to the audience, dashing across the stage, and wildly twirling the mic stand while lone guitarist Elias Viljanen and key master Henrik Klingenberg battled it out with satisfyingly melodic solos.
The energy continued through until the fifth song in the set, the band’s 2001 ballad “Tallulah”, which saw Kakko taking a seat at the front of the stage, directly in front of several fans who could be spied passionately singing along to every word of the intensely personal song. “Fairytale”, a rollicking lash from the newest album which targets America’s political climate, followed, after which the band threw back to their seminal debut album Ecliptica with the Iron Maiden-meets-keytar werewolf epic, “FullMoon”. Near the end of the set, Viljanen stood alone on stage for a masterful guitar solo, garnering much praise from the crowd, before the rest of the band returned for the classic “The Power of One”, followed by a more recent sing-along hit, “I Have a Right”.
Before leaving for the night, Kakko made sure to express his deep gratitude for concert patrons, explaining that their purchase of a ticket or merchandise directly supports live music and ensures that it can keep going strong in years to come. The speech was heartfelt and definitely connected with fans, and Kakko made sure to lighten the mood afterward by leading everyone in a self-deprecating chant of “shut the **** up, Tony!”. Everyone finally got what they were waiting for in the sensational sendoff anthem “Don’t Say a Word”, followed by Sonata Arctica’s time-honored ode to “Vodka” – their concert closer which consistently wraps up shows in the highest of spirits.
Visit Sonata Arctica and follow their tour schedule at their website here.