It was a bit of a surprise that Ensiferum was playing an off-tour show in Helsinki after having just had their From Afar release show at Nosturi in September 2009. However, these local Viking folk metallers returned to the Finnish capital on March 12th, 2010, accompanied by an unknown band, Tarujen Saari.
I had only seen Ensiferum in smaller shows and festivals before their headlining album release show for From Afar in September, and that event had without a doubt blown my mind. As such, I jumped at the opportunity to see these guys (and girl) again as soon as possible.
The setlist can be found here on Spotify:
This was a bit of an odd night on the whole. After the amazing experience of seeing Ensiferum in 2009, I had somehow expected a similar experience – to run into nearly everyone I know, hear some great new tunes, and have an amazing time. Sadly, that is not exactly what happened.
Tarujen Saari was, as I mentioned, an entirely unknown band to me. Even as they took the stage, I still had no idea what to expect. First of all, their stage attire was perhaps the strangest and most inconsistent I’d ever seen. The violinist looked as though an Evanescence music video had thrown up all over her (and not in a good way). There was an old-school rocker (who couldn’t sing) in leather pants and a Tarujen Saari T-shirt. The singer had a Goth/Morticia Adams thing going on in her too-tight faux corseted dress and her hair pulled up in… boob shapes? Then there was a guy who looked like he was trying to be a pirate but just settled for whatever he had in his closet that was too big and full of bling. Lastly, there was a metrosexual-looking guy in a kilt. What in the bloody hell? I like when people have stage outfits, but please, let’s have a bit of symmetry perhaps?
I was no more impressed by their sound either. Musically, vocalist Kaisa Saari sounded as though she might know how to sing but wasn’t bringing her A-game on this night (you might know her as the vocalist from Ensiferum’s “Tears” track from Iron). The only one of any of them who had any true style or flare at all was the violinist, and the sound quality had her nigh on unhearable half the time.
And then there was the random weird, distracting things that the band kept doing. Most of it was spoken, like weird laughter or vocal parts that resulted in us wanting to either laugh hysterically or cry. It was just, honestly, a strange experience, and the music frankly wasn’t good enough to make up for everything else that was odd about the performance.
However, all things must come to an end, and Ensiferum was next up. Alas, my hopes had been high for this show and, I don’t know if it was the poor mood that the opener had set or if it was simply because it was an off-tour show, but this gig was nothing like what I had been hoping for. I suppose, on one hand, all of my friends had come out for the ‘event’ that was the album release gig, and they had gotten their fill then, as no one I knew was present. In fact, the crowd seemed to be about 75% made up of drunk shirtless teenage boys, not the variety of people from all walks of life that had been at Nosturi in September.
The set, on the other hand, was actually an improvement on the From Afar show’s set, as it had a better variety of songs, not focusing on the new material so much. This meant that the long “Heathen Throne” songs were abandoned for more tracks from the prior three albums. Some older favorites like “Victory Song”, “Token of Time”, and “Dragonheads” were included, which was nice. However, they skipped “Smoking Ruins”, which is perhaps one of if not the best song off From Afar and would’ve been better than “Elusive Reaches”, which is (imho) the least interesting song on the album. “Smoking Ruins” and “Stone Cold Metal” were both written on the set, but were skipped without explanation. However, the orchestral intro version of “By the Dividing Stream” that opened the show was incredible, so at least there was that.
As for the live show itself, I’m sad to say that I think they’ve retired their Finnish flag kilts; the new ones are nice but lack that symmetry of the band matching. However, the set overall looked great – Emmi Silvennoinen had a shield with crossed swords propped up in front of her keyboards. What was unusual about this show was the two fellows in the background of a few songs. On the left was an unknown Viking-looking guy with a sword and ale horn. On the right was Aleksi Parviainen [Soulcage] in an outfit that was so bizarre that he should’ve been on stage with Tarujen Saari. He looked like some hybrid of a Native American and a caveman, with his hair in two hanging braids, face paint all over his body, fuzzy arm bands, a furry diaper, and furry boots – it looked as though he had been in fur pants but someone had cut them off at the top of the legs and he just let the pant legs bunch up at his feet. These guys did some backing chants together in a few songs, and Parviainen also did the clean vocals on a couple of tracks. I had no issues with the Viking guy, as he at least looked the part, but the actions the two of them did were a bit lackluster. I was hoping to see a bit of fencing or something of the sort during one song when they started moving, but all they did was approach each other, touch swords, and back off. Boring.
Parviainen, as I mentioned, was front and center for the cover of Nordman’s “Vandraren” from From Afar, and returned again later on for Manowar’s “Battle Hymn.” I was a bit torn between joy and amusement, because I can’t say that I thought the vocal performance was overly good. While Parviainen has a bit of an Eric Adams thing going on, his voice was cracking on the big wails and, well, his stage presence simply bothers me as it comes across as very arrogant.
The band themselves, however, did a great job. Sami Hinkka [bass] has an unmatched amount of energy, prancing and leaping about. I have never been able to tell if he’s sober or on something during their shows – it could be booze, or he could just be extremely enthusiastic. It’s pretty funny to watch him run around, making hilarious faces, but at times we wondered if Markus Toivonen [guitar] and Pete Lindroos [guitar, vocals] were getting a bit overwhelmed.
It’s hard to call an Ensiferum show ‘bad’, but this show really didn’t live up to the hype of the last one. Perhaps that was my own fault, as I had had such a good time as the previous show that this one had no chance of living up to my expectations. We didn’t even stick around to hear the encore (missing out on hearing “Tears” with Kaisa of Tarujen Saari singing her part), having had enough of the night. Nevertheless, it was an interesting show, but perhaps in the future I’ll be sticking to the tour shows, as opposed to the one-off shows.
Intro – By the Dividing Stream (orchestral)
1. From Afar
2. Token of Time
3. Deathbringer from the Sky
4. Elusive Reaches
6. Into Battle
8. Old Man (Väinämöinen)
9. Vandraren (Nordman cover, ft. Aleksi Parviainen)
10. Lai Lai Hei
12. Battle Hymn (Manowar cover, ft. Aleksi Parviainen)
13. Blood is the Price for Glory
14. Victory Song
15. Tears (ft. Kaisa Saari)
16. Twilight Tavern