KORPIKLAANI / ARKONA / SIOUM
Date: 05th November, 2018
Venue: The Bottom Lounge
Ticket: $25/€22 (in advance) - $28/€25 (day of)
Having live shows on Mondays is always tricky business as it is hard to move people off their couch, especially if the weather has turned cold. However, one of the strongest reasons to move people is putting together a solid billing, and this was exactly the case with ‘The Wayfarer North US Tour’, having two non-English lyric-writing bands. Both KORPIKLAANI and ARKONA have released killer albums, so I was pretty confident that the US metalheads would disregard the language boundary and gather in Bottom Lounge to dance Monday’s sluggishness off.
Chicago’s SIOUM was the first band onstage but beating the evening commute to make it on time was an impossible task. For some reason, the show-starting time was a bit early considering that there were just three bands... It would take some hours to understand why, but let’s get first things first, shall we?
The venue was nicely filled up despite it was a Monday and this confirmed my suspicions that Russia’s ARKONA have managed to break down the language barrier and have created a solid fanbase in this side of the Atlantic. A bison skull and two Russian tambourines were part of Masha’s mic stand, setting the right Folk tone for the night. However, the band’s latest and 10/10 album has shifted ARKONA’s sound into heavier and darker territories, and I was extremely excited to get to hear songs from “Khram”. Right on time, rugs-wearing Masha showed up and in a ritualistic way opened the door for Mara with the “Mantra” intro and figuratively laid a veil of primitive mysticism upon us. Even though the intro is 9 seconds shy from four minutes, the monotonous percussion tempo and the eerie vocalisms called upon the primitive instincts everyone has inside. Soon, the rest of the band joined her onstage and “Shtorm” was the first song of the night. Oh yeah, a “Khram” suite was in store and for the aforementioned reasons I could not be happier. To my ears and eyes, ARKONA have moved farther from the Folk Metal path and have dived headfirst into the early Pagan Metal which - by the way - was an evil(er) spawn of Black Metal. Despite the multiple layers in ARKONA’s music, the live sound did not leave anything to go unnoticed; the flute melodies were exchanging leading roles with the guitar without disturbing Masha’s multi-character singing. The mysticism in the music stood hand in hand with the onstage aesthetics and really it felt like a ritual taking place in some god-forsaken forest, so it made absolutely sense to keep hammering songs from “Khram” in an almost back-to-back fashion. To my surprise, the audience knew the songs, and headbanging was getting into the menu during the groovy part of “Tseluya Zhizn”. Yeah, the blast-beat parts helped a lot nudging us to the right direction. Vladimir was taking care of the non-traditional-Metal music instruments and he was frequently changing from bagpipes, different flutes when not handling the backing vocals, and additional credit is in order for doing this with grace as the Bottom Lounge stage did not offer lots of space to move around. “Thank you so much, friends!” said Masha before letting Sergey laying down the guitar arpeggios opening the title track from “Khram”. Yes, this was primitive Pagan Black Metal in its finest and the song’s ten minutes went down without even noticing, and I think the first serious mosh-pitting took place in the double bass drum explosion of this one.
The “Khram” suite ended with the massive “V Pogonye Za Beloy Tenyu” which took us on a ride changing tempos and atmospheres leaving Masha for the last time alone onstage to close the Mara incantation with more percussions and vocalisms. You don’t want to leave the door to the dark side wide open, right? And then, it was time to get onboard the Folk dancing-your-arse mood and prep the way for KORPIKLAANI. Yes, “Goi, Rode, Goi!” removed the “Khram” darkness and threw everyone into a mood that would take more than a couple of hours to snap out off. The sing-along (well, it was more like chanting along) showed its face in the up-tempo bagpipe-driven “Zakliatie” while headbanging was back in fashion with “Arkona”. I find it quite amusing looking around and noticing a wide spectrum of people coming from different music-listening groups; from die-hard metalheads to casual-looking listeners who seemed to be into the onstage happenings. And this, my friends, is the beauty of Metal which some may have forgotten; this scene is a welcoming place for all the people regardless of their style, race, zip code, continent of origin, skin/hair or whatever color.
“Kupalets” was a nice break before the climaxing three-song setlist closing. After the headbanging galore of the fast-paced “Skvoz' Tuman Vekov”, Masha announced that there were two songs left on the setlist and then let the dancing to take over. I did not expect to see that level of participation from the US fans who seemed to have a sweet tooth for the accordion grooves, but they wouldn’t have filled the place for KORPIKLAANI at the first place, right? The “la la la i” part set the mood for dancing in circles, clapping along and trying to imitate the sounds of the Russian lyrics; oh my, was this fun? Do I have to tell you how “Yarilo” went down? The only thing that needs to be said is that ARKONA perfectly set up the tone for KORPIKLAANI and to my delight, proved that their fanbase is still growing. I hope we’ll see them soon upon US soil with - why not? - an even longer setlist.
01. “Mantra” (intro)
03. “Tseluya Zhizn”
05. “V Pogonye Za Beloy Tenyu”
06. “Mantra” (outro)
07. “Goi, Rode, Goi!”
11. “Skvoz' Tuman Vekov”
12. “Stenka Na Stenku”
(click to enlarge)
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the mood inside Bottom Lounge was chirpy and soon it would become more than that, having KORPIKLAANI on the driver’s seat. After the stage preparations, the lights went out and a loud cheer welcomed the Finns who were already wearing big smiles (ok, aside from Jarkko who always looks serious). “Neito” was the first of the many and the dancing-along commenced right then and there. Even though this one as well as “Korpikuusen Kyynel” come from the band’s latest album, the audience seemed to have done its homework and tagged along. For the new song, Jonne was wearing a hat and I think this was to hide himself because he was using a teleprompter for the lyrics. There is no shame for not remembering the lyrics, but if this makes him feel better, then it’s perfectly fine. However, this did not stop him from constantly smiling and exchanging pleasantries with the people in the front rows. To my surprise, another new one followed, and even though “Aallon Alla” is a mid-tempo track, it went down really great, proving how well the new songs work live. The Finnish pronunciation is one of the things to credit for the KORPIKLAANI characteristic sound and because of this, I am happy that they have abandoned the English language. And this becomes important here in the States where people have a hard time accepting non-English lyrics. Violinist Tuomas asked the fans for a circle pit waving his violin bow in the air, but I don’t think people needed lots of convincing as the heavier “Erämaan Ärjyt” and the “hey, hey”-infested “A Man With A Plan” were more than enough.
Maybe KORPIKLAANI wanted to get this done as fast as possible, because there were minimum breaks between the songs, but this was definitely not case… We were down for a looong setlist which could potentially challenge the energy reserve people had after finishing off the first day of a working week.
“We have a new album out called “Kulkija”; does anyone of you have this one?” asked Jonne and I believe he was satisfied by the numbers of hands he saw in the air. After all, “Kulkija” is packed with music, so it needs more time to sink in, although I believe adding so many new songs on the set, will accelerate the process. Both “Juomamaa” and the faster / heavier “Kallon Malja” went down great, and I hope KORPIKLAANI will continue working as they did for “Kulkija” recording the songs in a more live way. The melancholic melody served by the violin in the slower “Harmaja” revealed the side of the Finnish band that until “Kulkija” lay hidden behind the faster and so-called ‘drinking songs’ that some wrongfully expect from KORPIKLAANI. And this one created a nice antithesis with the faster “Ievan Polkka” and the hit “Sahti” (the accordion set the mood for this one). Did I say there was dancing all around Bottom Lounge? Of course, there was, and literally on top of this, was some scarce crowd-surfing. Yes, everyone was in the zone and KORPIKLAANI were the ones to blame for.
More songs came from the latest album and that helped a lot with the pace of the setlist which switched from the dancing-alongs to the more atmospheric and moody ones. I was super excited to see my wish granted for the riff-driven “Sillanrakentaja” and at the same time enjoy the bass line Jarkko was serving wearing one of the rare smiles on his face. At this point, I started wondering how much room would be left on the setlist for the hits because we were already fourteen songs deep when “Henkselipoika” was next. Before this one, Jonne said: “It is nice seeing you on a Monday! Thank you for coming!” and I could not agree more as the energy inside the venue could trick anyone that this was a Friday night’s Metal show. Apparently we were for the long haul as the songs kept coming, although I did not sense the mosh-pit getting slower. I (also) love how the guitars have gained a louder voice on the new album, with “Korppikalliota” proving exactly this despite its mid-tempo.
Having such a long in time duration album and playing almost the entire thing live, showcases how much KORPIKLAANI believe in the direction they have chosen to follow, and I believe blew away all possible doubts whether this would work. Really, the new songs were a perfect fit with the old ones to that extent that they did not feel new at all. Indeed, the setlist with minimum breaks went down like a cold beer on a summer evening…
The dancing mood was spread onto the stage with accordionist Sami dancing in circles, and I think Jonne followed suit during the up-tempo “Kultanainen” which was the best way to lure people to do the same. Which they did, and even more for “Pilli On Pajusta Tehty” and “Wooden Pints” coming from a setlist that seemed to have no end, but I don’t think anyone seemed to care. On contrary, there was a loud chanting and some horns blowing to bring the Finns back for an encore. Oh, that’s right; after 23 songs (!), there was a loud request for more... If this is not an indication of a successful show, then I don’t know what is. “I know you have to work tomorrow and we have to do the same, because we’re gonna play in Minneapolis, but first we have to have some beer”, said Jonne and, of course, it was his way to sneak in “Beer, Beer” with a “Vodka” chaser (drinking pun totally intended). “Crows Bring The Spring” was meant to be the last one for the night, and watching all those happy faces after the end of the set, I’d say that KORPIKLAANI will definitely return for a reprise, and really, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. If you get the chance in this touring cycle, I’d say go for it and you will not be disappointed.
02. “Korpikuusen kyynel”
03. “Aallon Alla”
04. “Erämaan Ärjyt”
05. “A Man With A Plan”
07. “Kallon Malja”
10. “Ievan Polkka”
15. “Petoeläimen Kuola”
18. “Kuin Korpi Nukkuva”
22. “Pilli On Pajusta Tehty”
23. “Wooden Pints”
24. “Beer Beer”
26. “Crows Bring The Spring”
(click to enlarge)