Dark Tranquillity

support Ensiferum + Marianas Rest
author AP date 03/04/22 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

My concert calendar is entering its busiest phase of the year, with most artists scheduling their headlining tours for it as well as the autumn season. Tonight’s line-up is one I have been looking forward to for a while now, having last seen Dark Tranquillity at this same venue no less than 14 years ago (their most recent visit to Copenhagen), and Ensiferum 6 years ago. Both bands were instrumental in my transforming into a metalhead during my teenage years, and as such, I hold them in high regard — to the extent that I am willing to be here after a three and a half hour flight and almost no time to unpack or change in between. I arrive at a fairly well packed Pumpehuset just in time to find there is, in fact, an opening act on the bill as well in Marianas Rest, giving me the opportunity to discover a new artist on top of the nostalgia that is certain to strike me later.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

Marianas Rest

With their fusion of melodic death and doom metal, Marianas Rest are part of a long lineage of distinctly Finnish-sounding bands with a penchant for finding melancholy in everything they do. Think of artists like Ghost Brigade, Insomnium and Swallow the Sun and you will have a pretty good idea of what this six-piece sounds like: a mostly slow or at best medium tempo, gloomy, harmonised guitar leads, and vocals that alternate between deep, guttural growls and pensive clean singing. The melodic parts initially drown in the mix as Niko Lindman’s bass guitar is, by accident one has to assume, enjoying an overpowering presence until halfway through the first track — but once the levels are correctly balanced by the engineer on duty, the crowd is at last able to enjoy four pieces of sullen metal like only the Finns can do it. The second cut, the title of which escapes me, is the clear standout with its nicely arranged guitar melodies and double pedal thunder, reminding me slightly of some of the older material by the evening’s headliners in Dark Tranquillity, and it is also the one that is accompanied by the most visually interesting performance, with Lindman and the two guitarists Harri Sunila and Nico Mänttäri, all swinging their manes in the windmill style and vocalist Jaakko Mäntymaa staring us down through his pitch black contact lenses. This song thus reveals a nice change in the otherwise introspective showmanship Marianas Rest likes to utilise, and although the downtrodden demeanour fits the remainder of the music well, I do find myself missing some nerve and intimacy from the group so that they might properly connect with their audience. It is a decent showing from the Finnish outfit, one full of atmosphere that is further heightened by wistful spoken word segments that form bridges between the individual songs. But it isn’t something that leaves a permanent mark on my memory, I must concede.

6

Ensiferum

Although I am not usually too interested in folk metal, my compatriots in Ensiferum have always held a special place in my heart, not least by virtue of their riveting showmanship, but also their blinding skill of musicianship. And after the Finns, their faces adorned with warpaint as always and their bodies covered in leather armour, have appeared on stage to the tune of “Seafarer’s Dream” (the intro piece on their latest studio album, 2021’s “Thalassic”), I am at once reminded why I never miss the opportunity to catch this band live. Bassist Sami Hinkka rampages around the stage wearing his customary fiendish grin, while lead guitarist Markus Toivonen shows off his astonishingly nimble fretwork, and frontman Petri Lindroos invokes the spirit of the late Alexi Laiho with a commanding presence, a menacing glare, and growls that could shatter glass in the opener “Rum, Women, Victory” off that same record. It may have been their countrymen in Turisas who coined the term battle metal, but I feel that Ensiferum embody the term in a much fuller way, be it their epic, folk music-laced melodies, Sami chants, or their intense stage presence invoking this distinct atmosphere of ancient warfare.

The audience is certainly feeling it, with fists pumping, an incessant, rowdy moshpit raging, and people readily responding to Hinkka’s many, animated calls to arms. Chants of “Hey! Hey! Hey!" and “Lai!” are omnipresent throughout the concert, not least when classics like “Into Battle” (off the band’s 2004 album “Iron”) and “Treacherous Gods” (taken from their self-titled 2001 offering) are played, and the genuine smiles on the five musicians’ faces seem to be growing warmer with each passing minute. They can feel it just as well as we can: this is an altogether fantastic show even by Ensiferum’s usual high standards, with one highlight track, show of musicianship and example of masterful performance manifesting itself after the other. Thanks to a well assembled setlist that leaves no stone unturned, and a band who seem hellbent on cementing their status as one of the finest live metal acts Finland has to offer, this is one of those shows that seems to render everything from the guitar solo in the aforementioned “Into Battle” and the lead in “Andromeda” to Hinkka’s possessed antics even wilder than usual — and the audience is loving every second of it. Once the title track to the group’s acclaimed 2009 offering “From Afar” brings things to a triumphant conclusion then, it would not surprise me if there were a couple of Dark Tranquillity members sweating about how they’re going to raise, or even reach the bar Ensiferum has set here.

8

Dark Tranquillity

It is customary for bands to start their concert with material from their latest record — and in the case of Dark Tranquillity, this would be their 2020 outing “Moment”. But were it up to me, I would have made an exception to the rule, as neither “Phantom Days” nor “Transient” have the kind of oomph required to kickstart a performance, which is quite obvious when observing the audience response during these opening tracks. Instead, we are left to marvel at the elegantly understated visual aesthetic that involves dim shades of lighting and projections that create a kind of unified motif around the entire performance — until a veritable tour de force erupts with the arrival of the excellent “Focus Shift” off the melodeath masterpiece that is their 2007 offering “Fiction”. The shift in energy inside the venue is palpable, with folks hundreds of voices suddenly singing along, heads banging, and horns piercing the air, and when “Terminus” off that same record follows shortly thereafter, the atmosphere intensifies even further. One now feels like one is in the presence of legends in spite of that underwhelming start even as the six musicians appear as mere silhouettes on stage, while the double pedal thunder from session drummer Joakim Strandberg-Nilsson provides the fuel for a sea of fist pumping in tune with the rhythm. The subsequent “Atoma” off its namesake 2016 outing is another standout piece, fomenting both enthusiastic showmanship from the band and the first moshpit of the show on the crowd side.

There is now letup in the steamrolling character the concert has assumed at this point, with also “The New Build” from 2005’s excellent “Character” record managing to give me the goosebumps by virtue of its delivery in a particularly sharp and intense rendition. Vocalist Mikael Stanne and his cohort seem most in their element in this more extreme style, which begs the question: why have they made such drastic changes to their signature sound in their later output? There is no doubt the vast majority of their fans here have the same opinion as me, as without exception it is classic material like “ThereIn” (off 1999’s “Projector”), or faster and thrashier examples of newer stuff such as “Encircled” that elicit the strongest reactions on the floor, while more muted pieces like “Forward Momentum” earn little excitement, not to mention are played with visibly less zeal by the band. It is thus a somewhat uneven experience we are presented with overall (though it needs to be said that this is, of course, a very subjective take on things…); personal favourites of mine such as “Monochromatic Stains” and “The Treason Wall” — both from Dark Tranquillity’s 2002 outing “Damage Done” — are nigh tear inducing with their perfect combination of extremity and melancholia, while the post-2010 cuts give me welcome breaks to visit the bar for a refill. So after Stanne has extolled Pumpehuset for providing him with some of his earliest metal concert memories (he watched Manowar here decades ago!) and the show has reached its climax with a powerful duo in “Lost to Apathy” and the stirring “Misery’s Crown”, I am admittedly left with some mixed feelings. This has been a thoroughly enjoyable, not to mention professionally delivered concert, but with so much focus on later DT output, from my perspective it still leaves a bit more to be desired.

7

Setlist:

  • 1. Phantom Days
  • 2. Transient
  • 3. Focus Shift
  • 4. Monochromatic Stains
  • 5. Forward Momentum
  • 6. Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive)
  • 7. The Dark Unbroken
  • 8. Final Resistance
  • 9. Atoma
  • 10. The New Build
  • 11. Identical to None
  • 12. Encircled
  • 13. The Treason Wall
  • 14. ThereIn
  • 15. Lost to Apathy
  • 16. Misery’s Crown

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