The beginning of a new year is always a great time to start out with something new, be it a new hobby or a healthier lifestyle. But how about getting to know a new band? And how about a band that has released only one song to the date? Psychework sure got us interested when they announced their existence to the world in the beginning of last November, and have kept us on their hook with all the little fragments of songs they’ve dropped online ever since. On January 15th they teamed up with Ranka Kustannus label mates Arion for their very first show, so Lene L. hit the road to Psychework’s hometown of Jyväskylä – a little curiosity never killed anyone, but was the trip worth it? Find out that and much more from her report!
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It’s always fun to make a roadtrip to see any band, nearly just for the sake of the trip, but especially to catch a band that you haven’t seen before. Although yes, it’d already be the fourth time within a year we’d see Arion, but who’s complaining? As mentioned in our wrap-up of 2015, it’s been a ton of fun to see this band grow so much during that time, and it’s quite fair to expect witnessing a young but solid live band yet again. When it comes to Psychework, it’s all the more thrilling – this is their very first show, after they’ve put out only one whole song and some bits and pieces. Though I have to admit, I was sold by those clips alone. From all the info we have gathered, they have their debut album well on its way and material for more than that already, which, of course, we’re glad to hear.
Lutakko in Jyväskylä is probably one of those venues you either like, or you don’t. The floor plan is quite interesting at least – the bar is located behind the stage, so that the stage is pretty much in the middle of the venue floor. The place has its quirks, but usually the audience in Jyväskylä is rather good, so I had my fingers crossed that my luck would hold out again.
Responding as I had hoped, the crowd started to gather around the stage well before Arion hit the stage. The night started with the already familiar intro, “The Passage,” and the set followed equally familiar patterns. Naturally, the setlist still consisted mainly of songs from the debut album, Last of Us, but the band had decided to treat the audience with not only one, but two new songs. The first of them we had heard once before at On The Rocks when it was still unnamed; now it carries the title “Unforgivable,” and was just as catchy I remembered it being during its premiere. It has the slightest hint of likeness to Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, and Cain’s Offering, without sounding really like any of those – it’s a notch fresher and, if it’s not too early to say so, it’s unmistakably Arion.
The latter was an even more exciting pick – the singer, Lassi Vääränen, hesitated for a moment, wondering whether or not he should reveal the name of the featuring vocalist, and after guitarist Iivo Kaipainen’s approving nod, he announced “At the Break of Dawn,” featuring Elize Ryd from Amaranthe. The reaction from the audience was electrified at the announcement, even if the lovely Ms. Ryd was only present in the form of backing tracks. Vääränen cracked a joke about them getting more applause by mentioning her name than “this one” (pointing at the Arion-backdrop). The song itself was as great as you could expect from these guys by now, and it was wonderful that Elize’s parts weren’t just a few lines here and there, nor were they overwhelming the song – the balance between her voice and Vääränen’s vocals was just right, and they blend together beautifully. Needless to say, we can hardly wait for the single to come out in March!
When it comes to the overall set, as predicted, it was solid and steady, even after a few months’ break from gigs and being only the second with the current vocalist. The band seems to have become an even more tightly-knit group with Vääränen, and that is a joy to see. This show was also the first they played in Vääränen’s hometown with him, and the special quality of the night might have shown a tad in his performance – whether he was a bit nervous, or just so excited, we can’t tell, but if he wasn’t quite as tight as in On the Rocks, it’s surely nothing to worry about. All-in-all, Arion proved again why people are drawn to their shows time after time; there’s an element of boyish excitement and delight in playing while delivering a good quality set of vivid and catchy songs like true pros, and hey, what’s not to love about that? By now the quality of their performance doesn’t really stagger, so it’s starting to be safe to say that these guys most likely won’t let you down at any occasion.
There’s a tiny clip from “At the Break of Dawn” on Ranka Kustannus’ Facebook-page, check it out here!
As it turned out, Psychework’s set didn’t start on time, but by the time the DJ faded out his tunes and a rather menacing-sounding intro started to reach the crowd, the excited and anxious stirring grew among the audience. There were already noticeably more people in front of stage than before Arion – clearly, these hometown boys were able to lure in the crowd, as we had expected. Upon seeing that, I had the intense feeling that this was an event this crowd had really been looking forward to, and after seeing the show, there’s no wonder why – certainly, the wait had not been in vain.
I’m not even completely sure where to start with this – I’ve seen my share of first gigs, but this doesn’t really compare by those standards. It’s like being let in to a secret, something quite exclusive and special; apart from the crowd at Lutakko that Friday night, I believe there is only a handful of people who have heard those songs. But what actually made this occasion so special? Numerous bands that haven’t released material play gigs all the time, so what’s the big news here?
First of all, it could be the fact that these guys are not exactly rookies. We’re talking about seasoned musicians from acts like Machine Men, Swallow the Sun (though drummer Juuso Raatikainen was not playing as he was on tour with StS), and numerous other bands from the Jyväskylä area, and the years of experience shines through. On stage, Psychework is firm and poised, having fun and captivating their audience – these guys look like they have found exactly the right place to be in with this band. There were no evident hiccups, technical or any other kind, as things just seemed to fall into place. One especially should not underestimate singer Antony Parviainen (known from the Raskasta joulua –ensemble, along with his own trio and Machine Men, together with guitarist J-V Hintikka) – he’s got one of the most recognizable voices in Finnish metal and more than enough charisma, but he seems to frequently get forgotten in favor of other excellent Finnish frontmen. Along with the mandatory speeches he, for instance, took the time to marvel at the chance to get back on the Lutakko stage after nine years, which led to someone asking from the audience how old he had been back then. Parviainen, after replying politely, pointed out that it was actually J-V’s birthday today, bantered a bit about his bandmate turning 20 (which of course was a joke), and deciding that we should sing to him later (which we did). On stage, he’s got the audience wrapped around his finger; either it comes naturally or from years of practice, but either way, the smooth shifts from fun times and chatter to a fierce frontman are impressive. And even on top of that, his voice just might sound better than ever these days, as there seems to be a whole new level of power in it.
Secondly, it could be the material. The variance between and within the songs is astounding – it’s both layered and catchy at the same time, and sounds nothing short of awesome live. I’m taking a wild guess here, but I’m pretty sure these guys aren’t really capable of ruining it in the studio either. The hints of the aforementioned Machine Men, for example, were evident in the catchier parts, but as a whole, Psychework is quite far from it. It’s far blacker, far doomier, far more symphonic; in all ways it’s darker than Hintikka and Parviainen’s former band, yet I wouldn’t be too hasty to categorize this in any way. There’s a flair for dramatic in this collective, and I’m expecting to see some massive pits and excessive front row moshing at their gigs in the future. Give me that much, ok? Because the songs simply SCREAM for it. And when it comes to the lyrics, they have a lot of elements that brought me back to the age of high fantasy books: it has “Tears of a Phoenix,” dragons and such, but also personal, internal battles. Yes, there’s also the power and will, seasoned with just the right amount of anger to battle the threats… in my humble opinion, a fine book needs all of these, but also a fine storyteller. Knock on wood, but these guys might just have the potential to pull on your heartstrings like your favorite books do. The serene ballad, “Keep the Flame,” brought a moment of peace in the middle of the set, yet was still packed with raw feeling. Parviainen spoke it in by telling the crowd that it was the very first song he had written for this band three years ago, first drafts and glimpses, and while it was a chance to catch some breath and slow down, it summed up gracefully into what Psychework seems to be in its core. All of this – the sense of drama, dark, layered tunes, and a whole deep world in lyrics delivered by Antony Parviainen’s affective voice – makes up a combination that is hard not to be astonished and moved by.
So, what does that leave us with? A first show that was as far from a “first show” as they get, leaving a venue full of people in awe. In all honesty, I have not been this stunned by any new band or performance for quite a while. It’s wild to think that I might have seen the best gig of the year already in January. I tried to come up with at least one even mildly negative thing about the show, since even in the most entertaining shows there’s usually a flaw or two, but just once in a blue moon the positive things overwhelm the stuff that could otherwise bother you. Of course, one could always whine about the amount of smoke, audience, venue, or whatever, but that’d be just nit-picking. Even if the band (or the audience) played it safe to some extent by sticking with the basics, I wouldn’t call it a bad thing, but hell, I can’t wait to see the day they don’t hold back one bit. The “Band of Brothers” outro after the encore left us craving for more, and luckily, I believe what we have here is a band that is not planning on cutting it short. When talking about the single, “Bullet with My Name,” Parviainen asked the audience how many had already heard it, and someone shouted that it was too long; the singer replied by saying that things he has to say wouldn’t fit into a minute, and we most definitely like things being that way. And whether you liked “Bullet with My Name” or not, I assure you, you haven’t heard anything yet.
Text/photos: Lene L.