Although CMX have been around for a good while and the band’s music has always relied on the album format instead of individual hits, these free spirits of Finnish rock have never reveled in nostalgia in the form of classic album tours. Therefore, it was great for the Helsingin Juhlaviikot [Helsinki Festival] to get the band to perform their 10-year-old sci-fi epic Talvikuningas (2007) for the first time in its entirety at Huvila-teltta on August 31st, 2017. Musicalypse was present to enjoy this unique evening, much like we were a year ago when Amorphis performed a specialty gig at the same venue.
As far as I’ve understood, Talvikuningas wasn’t accepted by the CMX fandom without reservations upon its release, which is understandable – the album is quite the monolith with its 62-minute runtime and futuristic themes. However, for a prog fan like myself it was relatively easy to get into the record when I started listening to CMX a couple of years ago, and over time, Talvikuningas has become a bit of a cult classic among a lot of fans as well. The video track “Punainen komentaja” is one of the band’s most popular songs on Spotify, although it was never released as a radio single or on the greatest hits compilation, Kaikki hedelmät (2008), and I remember how 2 years ago at Pakkahuone, Tampere, “Pretoriaanikyborgit” was one of the most warmly received selections in the setlist. Hence, it was no surprise that the tickets to the Huvila-teltta show were sold out in a heartbeat.
Upon my arrival at Huvila, the most passionate fans were already queuing outside the concert tent despite the rain. A pre-show program called “CMX:n vittuilumeilit”, hosted by Jone Nikula and Mikko von Hertzen had been scheduled for the restaurant tent, but much to my disappointment, the pair only had a megaphone instead of a microphone, which could be heard only faintly through all the hustle and bustle. The most mean-spirited ones might argue that the low volume of Nikula’s speech correlated with a better atmosphere, but you still couldn’t help wondering whose ingenious idea the arrangement had been. In any case, I’d been reading through the legendary Q&A section of CMX’s website before its unfortunate hacking, so I’d like to think I’d heard the best bits already.
At 19:00 it was finally showtime – Mikko von Hertzen introduced the first set, which served as an initiation to Talvikuningas, by revealing that CMX had decided to do something special and create electronic synth versions of their songs for the occasion. This surprising announcement generated excitement and nervousness in me – would the synth set be the best thing ever or a bust? Four familiar men marched to their spots behind the keyboards, and CMX commenced their Kraftwerk experiment. The intro was so long that for a moment I was afraid the whole thing would be just an ambient medley, but at last A.W. Yrjänä opened his mouth in time for “Suuri äiti.” The first songs were rather calm, there was no banter to break the atmosphere, and it felt like it took a while for the audience to get used to a guitarless CMX. “Revontulten repijä” and “Tuulilukko” were performed beautifully, but it was the Tangerine Dream-like “Baikonur” that was the first magical moment. The intensity grew slowly, and at last the rock crowd warmed up when the aggressively techno-ish renditions of “Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta” and “Pedot” were aired. Unfortunately, the set concluded at only 45 minutes when Yrjänä told the audience to go to the bar while the band would go and get some ‘real’ instruments. It felt like the ground had been cut from under your feet right when things had got into full speed – where was, for example, “Mekaanisten lintujen puisto”, which would’ve been a perfect fit both musically and lyrically? Either way, hearing familiar and partially expected tunes in a totally new light was refreshing, and the mechanic approach fit the world of Talvikuningas. CMX worked nicely in electronic form and proved even to the most cynical listeners that they can still be a protean and experimental band. Should they run out of ideas on the guitar rock side, the band could pull an even more radical move than Discopolis (1996) and dive headlong into the world of synths – a full-blown ‘plugged-in’ tour would also be a good counteraction to the unplugged tours that other big names are doing.
After the intermission the crowd got what it’d come to hear – out of the twelve parts of Talvikuningas, nine had been played on the original tour, and some of them had been performed individually later on; however, on this night, the whole work would be played from start to finish. While waiting to get into the tent, I’d noticed surprisingly many people wearing extreme metal band hoodies and shirts, so apparently CMX’s heaviest outing had lured in those who wouldn’t normally go to the band’s shows to hear “Ainomieli”, “Kultanaamio”, and the likes, or maybe I’d just underestimated the band’s popularity among metalheads. When “Kaikkivaltias” got started, people got on their feet, and most of the people – including the ones in the back – stood for the rest of the show – another sign of the passion of the fans present. The epic opener – including its short bass, guitar, and drum solos in the middle – was performed tightly and enchanted the audience right away. At first Yrjänä’s vocal melodies sounded a little off, but he got back on track fairly quickly. It was hard not to notice the tablet attached to his mic stand, but the album has so many wordy lyrics that using an electronic cheat-sheet may have been necessary and acceptable in this case. The band also had Janne Joutsenniemi of Stone and Suburban Tribe to help them out on keyboards and backing vocals, and he alternated with Yrjänä on shouting vocals during the hardcore blast “Resurssikysymys.”
The band mostly played the album as a continuous piece of music, as on the record, with only a few short breathers in a couple of appropriate spots. “Vallan haamut” is my favorite part of the album, so hearing it was a treat, as was the beautifully atmospheric “Tähtilaivan kapteeni”, on which Timo Rasio played slide guitar. On the previously unplayed “Kosmologisen vakion laulu”, Yrjänä let Joutsenniemi handle the bass – I’d never paid attention to how difficult the bassline is if you try to sing while playing it, unless you’re Geddy Lee. Although the crowd seemed to enjoy the whole set, it was expectedly “Punainen komentaja” that had people pumping their fists in the air the most. Olli-Matti Wahlström simplified the drum beat in the verses a little by pounding the toms instead of the double kicks, but the solution worked and didn’t eat away the song’s strength. The man, who’d grown out his hair since the last time I saw him, also seems to have improved as a player and become more and more connected to the band every year. In my opinion, Talvikuningas lulls a little between “Punainen komentaja” and “Kaikkivaltiaan peili” on the record, but when played live these tunes managed to hold my attention, and the keyboard cacophony at the end of “Langennut valo” and the fast part of “Quanta” were particularly hard-hitting. “Kaikkivaltiaan peili” topped it all off with Janne Halmkrona’s fine solo, which was accompanied by green lasers. The band exited the stage without any thank-you’s, which awakened hopes for some kind of encore, but Yrjänä and co. only returned for a band introduction and the final bows. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine how you could perform anything after such a beast of an album.
CMX’s playing was tight, Joutsenniemi handled his job as the extra member gracefully, and the audience was into the show even without any persuasion from the band. Only the visual side of the show was a little half-hearted, although the lasers at the end were impressive. During the Talvikuningas set the screen wasn’t used at all, although for example it would’ve been great to see the “Punainen komentaja” video on screen live, since the opportunity was there. On the other hand, in the first part of the show there were projections on the screen, but the lighting was very modest. From a spectator’s view, the minimalism worked, but it was hard to get good photos, especially when there wasn’t much natural light either, due to the rainy and cloudy weather. Overall, the cool breeze Talvikuningas brought into the end of the summer was still a fine and unique experience. Huvila-teltta once again turned out to be a fantastic venue, so a tip of the hat to Helsingin Juhlaviikot is in order, and hopefully there are more rock concerts with special concepts on the horizon. It’s hard to say whether Talvikuningas is CMX’s greatest achievement, as Aura (1994) is such a perfect album, but it’s undoubtedly the best concept album made in Finland, and based on this live experience I don’t think it pales in comparison internationally either.
1. Suuri äiti
2. Revontulten repijä
5. Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta
10. Vallan haamut
11. Tähtilaivan kapteeni
12. Kosmologisen vakion laulu
13. Parvatin tietäjä
14. Punainen komentaja
15. Langennut valo
18. Kaikkivaltiaan peili
Photos: Bear W./Janne Puronen