Ensiferum

support Fleshgod Apocalypse + Heidra
author AP date 07/04/16 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

Ensiferum has been a frequent visitor to Danish pastures of late, with tonight their third time in the country in a single year. From a booking perspective it makes sense: the Finns are a near guarantee for a high turnout any day of the week thanks to their penchant for a festive show. But even so, in the weeks leading up to tonight’s concert, I must admit to feeling uneasy about the prospective numbers — after all, last year’s ”One Man Army” is far from their best work, and they are still touring in support of that record. As predicted, Amager Bio is nowhere near sold out capacity either, though to my pleasant surprise, the audience still numbers in the high hundreds, which should give the evening’s three bands plenty of reasons to show themselves off from their best side, starting with one of Denmark’s more successful metal bands of late.

All photos courtesy of Lunah Lauridsen / Metalmoments.net

Heidra

The times that I have seen Heidra in the past have tended to be somewhat hit-and-miss, arisen more or less from two issues. One is that while the Copenhagen based Viking metallers do have a handful of choice cuts to shoulder the weight, the majority of their music is still not up to a standard where the listener feels continuously engaged. The second reason is that there has tended to be a certain insecurity, an air of inexperience hindering the band from unfolding itself on stage to the fullest of the musicians’ abilities. It is often said that the third time is the charm however, for tonight the impression is much different. Touring in support of Ensiferum and thus accumulating the needed confidence night-by-night (rather than playing fragmented shows in Denmark alone) seems to have borne fruit — the six musicians, sans the ever-timid keyboardist Danny ‘Zimmer’ Svendsen tucked so far to the right of the stage he is nigh invisible, are in a fiery mood; a hitherto unseen determination to own this audience beaming from their eyes and reflecting unmistakably in their poise as they work through a flawless rendition of “Awaiting Dawn”.

Guitarist Carlos G.R. (who also plays in Danish death metal crew Corpus Mortale) in particular carries himself like a genuine rock star, living and breathing his melodies and solos and attaching to every note and chord an expression or movement. But even so, it is when Sylvatica’s Jardén Schlesinger joins the frey for “Witch of Prophecy” and “The Eyes of Giants” that Heidra’s performance is truly lifted, his breathtaking guitar wizardry and reciprocity with G.R. giving the band the edge I feel they have always needed. There is no denying that G.R. and founding guitarist Martin W. Jensen, as well as vocalist Morten Bryld together excel at the art of generating melodies both catchy and epic. But when Schlesinger is on stage, the difference between playing and performing is made abundantly clear. The same is true when Laura Emilie Beck (of folk metal act Huldre) turns up to play violin for the Finntroll-ish final song “Wolfborn”, as again, it is her exuberance in busting moves with G.R. and spinning around the stage in graceful movements that catches the eye — not the remaining members of Heidra, hard as they are trying.

With a well-picked, compact setlist and perfectly timed guest appearances thus, Heidra deliver their best show on Danish soil yet (that yours truly has seen, anyway), although it will be interesting to see how the six-piece will fare on their own — will the assurance they seem to have found be enough to take on the burden of a headlining show? Time will tell, but until then, we can at least rejoice in the festive performance they muster up for us tonight.

Fleshgod Apocalypse

Being mildly familiar with these Italian extreme metallers, I knew I should expect some sort of neo-classical touch to their sound. In reality though, the music of Fleshgod Apocalypse represents the direct link often drawn between heavy metal and classical music — it sounds like Wagner playing death metal, complete with huge imposing samples, a live pianist, an actual female opera singer, and of course baroque garb donned by each member. Indeed, to say that the band’s performance is theatrical would be a tremendous understatement, as even your Manowars and such pale in comparison to the drama and bombast of Fleshgod Apocalypse. The spectacle borders on the melodramatic yet never crosses the threshold; the deep growls of frontman Tommasi Riccardi, the ripsaw shredding of guitarist Cristiano Trionfera, and the lightning fast double pedal pummel of drummer Francesco Paoli keep songs like “In aeternum” and “The Fool” firmly rooted in death metal.

But looking past all the histrionics, cool and visually immersive as they are, the band does suffer from a pressing lack of variety. Whether that is due to the fact that Fleshgod Apocalypse have time for just six tracks, I cannot say, but once you have heard a couple of the tracks, it starts to be difficult, trying to differentiate one from the other. It’s all machine gun drumming and rhapsodic samples, and even with the elegant infusion of Veronica Bordacchini’s soprano vocals and to some extent the (barely audible) piano keying of Francesco Ferrini, that kind of one-dimensional approach tends to become tiresome rather quickly. It is a visually enthralling show then — one in which every detail has been addressed so as to create this baroque atmosphere — but the band would do themselves a favour by diversifying their setlist a little more.

6

Ensiferum

The evening’s headliner suffers from no such issue, having distilled tonight’s setlist from all of their six studio albums, and those familiar with the Finnish ‘battle metal’ horde will doubtless agree that there is plenty of pepper to their tunes. In what is still a very recent development, the Finns are without their trusty keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen who decided to step down from the band right before this tour. But perhaps that is not such a tragic loss, given her replacement is Netta Skog, whose wizardry with the accordion should be well known to fans of Turisas and who, alongside bassist Sami Hinkka, ensures that Ensiferum’s stage presence retains its wild, unhinged character. From the sound of the start pistol (or, more precisely, “Axe of Judgement”), Hinkka is off his feet, charging across the stage roaring for crowd participation with maniacally bulging eyes, brandishing his instrument like one of the many ancient weapons featured in the band’s lyricism. And Skog is not far behind, letting her enthusiasm for playing this kind of music and wearing Ensiferum’s customary battle paint (which is somewhat less conspicuous than the red and black of Turisas, mind you) be known with a huge, euphoric smile and that spirited demeanour for which she is renowned.

So although the opening track ranks as one of the weakest of the evening, it is easy to see why the audience reacts with such endearment, repaying Ensiferum’s jovial mood with plenty of beer soaked moshing. And when “Heathen Horde” kicks off a trifecta of singsongs in its wake, the audience, too, is roaring ”All heathen hearts answer the call! God of thunder, bless our swords! Our heathen horde will never fall. We are hungry for blood, steel and war!” with frontman Petri Lindroos’ backing vocalists (that is, everyone but drummer Janne Parviainen). But while “Guardians of Fate” and “One More Magic Potion” keep the festivities boiling, I cannot avoid questioning some of the song choices. “Warrior Without a War” is an excellent piece when heard on record, but such prog-tinged epics rarely make for efficient live fodder, especially at the expense of surefire crowd pleasers like “Into Battle” and “Token of Time”. It takes some of the momentum away so that both “From Afar” and “Wanderer” pass by without raising much hell, and it is not until the disco banger “Two of Spades” as well as the booze ballad “Twilight Tavern” that Ensiferum really reels from the lapse.

Still, even if the setlist is not a reflection of my personal preferences, one cannot but admire Ensiferum for the passion with which they perform. Barely a moment passes when Hinkka, guitarist Markus Toivonen, or both are not standing on elevated platforms with a look of elation on their faces or running side-to-side like berserkers attempting to infect us with their frenzy. It works — people are downing pints and expending energy like it’s already Friday. And for that, you have to respect the band even when they are not shelling out their most obvious, infectious tracks. Ensiferum may have been misfiring at last summer’s Copenhell festival, but those troubles feel like a distant memory tonight, watching this lesson in how to play a serious show, tongue-in-cheek.

Setlist:

  • 01. Axe of Judgement
  • 02. Heathen Horde
  • 03. Guardians of Fate
  • 04. One More Magic Potion
  • 05. Treacherous Gods
  • 06. Warrior Without a War
  • 07. From Afar
  • 08. Wanderer
  • 09. Two of Spades
  • 10. My Ancestors’ Blood
  • 11. Twilight Tavern
  • 12. Lai Lai Hei

—Encore—

  • 13. Tale of Revenge
  • 14. In My Sword I Trust
  • 15. Iron

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