|Location:||Sibeliustalo (Lahti, Finland)|
text & photos by Eurynome
Amorphis have made an impressive start into 2006. Emerging in triumph from the trials and tribulations of the past few years, the band released its arguably best album ever in February, attracted the largest audience at the Finnish Metal Expo, gathered rave reviews and didn't fail to score the top spot in the Finnish charts with both the new album, Eclipse, and the accompanying single, House of Sleep. Their Finnish tour in March was therefore highly anticipated, all the more since it was Amorphis' first actual tour with singer Tomi Joutsen in their home country. The last of the seven shows was at Finlandia Klubi, which is part of Lahti's well-known Sibeliustalo concert hall complex. Unlike some of the other shows on this tour, it wasn't sold out, but the venue with its high vaulted ceiling and excellent acoustics was an excellent choice at any rate.
There was no opening act, and it was still comparatively early in the evening when the lights were dimmed and the familiar Piirpauke intro set in. One by one the band entered the stage, and after the last chord of the intro stood for a moment in contemplative silence before Santeri Kallio gave the command to start the show by lashing out the opening riff of "Two Moons". This song, which also starts off the new album, is the perfect opener and immediately set the place rocking. In his live arrangement of the song, Tomi has opted to start the vocal line of the verse a fifth lower than on Eclipse, which slightly diminishes its immediate impact but leaves more room for the song to grow until its final climax. Bassist Niclas Etelävuori supplied some background vocals on this song for added bite, and the lone microphone stand placed on the stagefront was his. Unlike his predecessor Pasi Koskinen, Tomi has no use for one, as he never seems to stand still for a moment. His microphone at the Lahti show was worth a few extra style points - a shiny 1950s type model like the one used in the video for "House Of Sleep". The hit single was the next song in the set, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one singing along. While not being the most representative sample of Eclipse, it is certainly one of Amorphis' catchiest tunes ever and has been getting a lot of airplay on Finnish radio.
After opening with two new songs, Amorphis went back in time with "Against Widows", one of the songs that immediately turned me on to this band when I first heard their Elegy album in 1996. Amorphis have played it at almost every show during the past ten years, and still it never fails to excite. The same goes of course for the next song in the set, "Castaway" from the legendary Tales From The Thousand Lakes. While Tomi Koivusaari played the opening lead, Tomi Joutsen went to the edge of the stage and prodded the audience to shout along. While not exactly subdued, the crowd seemed a good bit quieter than at Amorphis shows in general, a direct explanation of which can be found in the early showtime and lower level of alcohol consumption - this gig was without age restriction, and no beer was allowed in front of the stage.
The next two songs were from Tuonela, "The Way" and "Divinity". If anyone had asked me a few months ago, I would have named Tuonela as THE perfect Amorphis album. The release of Eclipse has prompted a certain paradigm shift in this respect, but I'm still of the opinion that the more Tuonela songs in the set, the better for it. This album as well as following two are so strongly associated with the voice and personality of Pasi Koskinen that interpreting them is no easy task. Fortunately Tomi doesn't try to copy Pasi's style but prefers to develop an approach of his own. His voice is darker and warmer than Pasi's, allowing him to add new color and texture to the songs. As for the two Tuonela pieces, I particularly liked the way he sung the verse of "Divinity": softer than Pasi and thereby much more intense. The prolonged drum intro at the beginning of that song was effective if probably unintentional - Niclas was still in the midst of tuning his bass by the time the band was supposed to join in.
The next three songs were again taken from Eclipse, beginning with "Under A Soil And Black Stone", a sad and beautiful ballad written by Tomi K. and Santeri. It features some of the most mesmerizing psychedelic guitar of the whole album, but I remember that it wasn't one of the songs that struck me upon first listening as "potential live hits". All the happier I am that the band decided to take this song to the stage, as it proved to be one of the emotional highlights of the set.
For contrast, the next song was pure energy: "Perkele (The God Of Fire)", introduced by Tomi J. by leading the crowd into chanting a shamanic mantra - "A trap, a trap, a trap for the fire..." The guys in the band, who generally appeared to be in a very good mood and positively excited on this tour, really seem to dig this song - even ever-serene Esa Holopainen got into a wee bit of showing off at the beginning of the guitar solo. And Tomi K. hit the strings so hard that at least one of them broke - but then again, Tomi breaking a string is almost a default part of the show. And I certainly don't mind seeing him play that beautiful gold top Les Paul for a song or two while trusted guitar tech Oliver is restringing the black one. The most adorable instrument on this tour, however, was played by Esa: an elegant black ESP Eclipse...
True to their sequence on the album, "Perkele" was followed by "The Smoke", a song that perfectly sums up the defining elements of Eclipse: an underlying mood of melancholy contrasted with an uplifting guitar melody, tender and aggressive vocals in balanced measure and a chorus that your workmates will inevitably hate after you can't stop humming it for days.
After "The Smoke", Santeri deserted his post and left the stage to the rest of the troop, who eagerly launched into a brutal nostalgia trip: "Sign From The North Side" from the band's first album, The Karelian Isthmus. This song is clearly one of Tomi J's favorites, and it was a pure joy to watch him dance around the stage like a dervish, shaking hands with fans in between, always with that huge smile on his face and, by your leave, sexy as hell.
The next song was not much younger, "In The Beginning" from Tales. As a huge fan of Amorphis' later albums, I would have hoped for a more balanced setlist, and of the three featured Tales songs, my candidate for replacement by a newer song would have been "In The Beginning". It's actually one of my favorite tracks on Tales, but namely because of the interplay between guest vocalist Ville Tuomi's clean vocals and Tomi K.'s growls. For his own version, Tomi J. had to choose between the two and discarded the clean part. While still a good song, it lost an important part of its original atmosphere in my opinion, but this ultimately remains a matter of taste.
Anyway, my own taste for clean/growl mixtures was entirely satisfied with the next song, "My Kantele". While Pasi used to sing this song with clean vocals only, Tomi launched right into the first verse full growls ahead, resurrecting the electric version of the song as remembered from the Elegy album. Simply amazing. After this song wasn't played at the FME in February, I was afraid it might have been, like "Black Winter Day", dropped from the setlist entirely. Fortunately it's still there, for no matter how many great songs Amorphis have come up with since and will in the future, "My Kantele" will always remain very, very special.
The penultimate song of the regular set was the only one from Am Universum, which - like Far From The Sun - would deserve broader recognition in the setlist. As stated above, Tomi not only performs the older material extremely well but also does Pasi's songs justice, and perhaps nowhere more evidently so than on "Alone". His version is a good bit different from Pasi's, particularly the second and third chorus, which he has adapted to his lower register for added power and emphasis. Did I write power? Sorry, I meant POWER!!!
And then again, it was time to set the inner eye on the more colorful spheres of the mind. Tomi K. kicked on his phaser and together with Santeri's far-out keyboard sounds wove the magic carpet on which Esa's dreamy guitar melody took flight, before Tomi J. joined the fun and, with "The Orphan", proved once again that among his multiple other qualities, he also has an exceptional knack for ballads. Even an outstanding show needs its particular highlights, and this song was one of them. After the last chorus, the singer left the stage but the band played on. And I'd be the last one to deny a musician their well-deserved beer after a show, but right there and then I just stood leaning on the security fence, letting the outro solo infiltrate all my senses... wishing it would last... forever. As the old song goes, if we could freeze moments in time, we all would... Alas, the beer won.
Fortunately, this wasn't quite the end of it yet, for the band soon came back on stage to do three encores, starting with "Day Of Your Beliefs". Finally, a song from Far From The Sun! This 2003 album has faced plenty of undue disrespect even before getting totally eclipsed by its successor, but it's nonetheless a fine collection of little gems that deserve a better fate than utter oblivion. Esa has stated on more than one occasion that it would be interesting to re-record FFTS with Tomi J. some day, and while this doesn't seem the most realistic option, at least the live set should continue to include some of those songs.
The last two songs were "Drowned Maid", another perennial favorite from Tales, and finally, "Leaves Scar" from Eclipse. A few individuals in the audience - some of them not much older than the song itself - screamed for "Black Winter Day", but the majority appeared willing to do without it. It's a bold statement from a band to ban their biggest hit from the setlist (will Deep Purple ever again do a show without that Lake Geneva thing?), but it's the best thing to do when your new material represents your identity so much better. Amorphis know who they are and where they stand today, modest as ever but confident and rightfully proud of their new album. While the concerts of this tour covered the band's whole history with ease, they were much less a reminiscence of the past but an outlook on the future. And that future looks pretty good.