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Cheese for one and all with Sonata Arctica and friends

Pariah's Child tour poster

Wednesday night has been the night for shows in the area lately. There have been a fair few metal gigs landing midweek, and on the night of September 24th it was power metal time on Granville Street as Finnish metal masters Sonata Arctica rolled into town with Xandria and Delain in tow.

Xandria were first up. I did not really know much about them beforehand, except that they were a female-fronted band. They turned out to be German, and very much in the vein of Nightwish or Epica; a sort of symphonic operatic metal.

Playing to a backing track rather than using a keyboardist for their symphonic parts made them tight, but also took away a bit of that live spontaneity that infuses bands. Drummer Gerit Lamm was incredibly on point though, which is impressive. He didn’t do much beyond keeping the beat, but that is sometimes all a drummer needs to do.

Their last couple songs were the most interesting, containing some really cool riffs overlaid with some truly mystical orchestral parts. I think the best song was “Stardust”. Their set was really short, so it was really hard to judge them entirely.

One unfortunate thing that diminished the overall impression of their set was that the guitar was far too quiet. It was almost impossible to hear unless the guitarist was playing a guitar solo, or it was a clean interlude or something of that sort. It was a real shame, since a louder guitar would have given their sound the power it was lacking. It isn’t really their fault – that is the soundman’s responsibility – but they still suffered for it.

Vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen – no relation to the much loved Anneke van Giersbergen – is a very good singer in her own right. She seemed to take very much after the Simone Simmons/Tarja Turunen school of more operatic vocals, and it lent itself really well to this style of music.

Overall their show was decent, but not really anything beyond what I’d expected. For an opening band they did their job of warming the crowd up for the bigger acts.

Second band Delain were also fronted by a female vocalist, but were definitely a more unique experience than the previous band. Still firmly rooted in the more melodic power metal genre that Nightwish pioneered, Delain also had a much heavier metal aspect to them that made for some enjoyable headbanging. Set highlights included the songs “The Gathering” “Army of Dolls” and closer “We Are the Others.”

Vocalist Charlotte Wessels is a much more straight-forward singer, in opposition to the operatic show we were given previously. The Nightwish comparison is still valid, but more-so the material after Tarja left the band. It is more melodic than symphonic and the band use a live keyboardist. They were more fortunate than Xandria in that they got a longer set and therefore more chances to really impress, and their sound was better. The guitar was not entirely perfectly balanced, but it was certainly more audible than previously and was able to add its voice to the overall show.

Lyrically they’re fairly cheesy, but that was the case with pretty much every band tonight, and with every metal band in existence if we’re being entirely fair.

Delain left me with a good impressions of their show. It was hard and heavy, but also melodic and a touch of symphonic. The more power metal-minded metalheads should find some appreciation of their sound. They’ll be opening for Nightwish in April, who are a great match for them, and I am looking forward to seeing them again on that date.

Last, and best, were the Fins Sonata Arctica. The band are pretty ridiculous; even those who like power metal make fun of them, including yours truly – but that comes from a place of love, because they are also really good live. Frontman Tony Kakko has an enormous amount of personality and charm onstage, and his antics are quite memorable. His most amusing was probably bleating like a sheep to introduce the classic song “Black Sheep” – one of my favourites.

Their set moved along quickly and with much silly power metal pomposity. There were a few bland moments – notably the ballad “Love” from their new album Pariah’s Child and “I Have A Right” from their generally disliked Stones Grow Her Name – but other than that it was an extremely enjoyable show. Standouts were the aforementioned “Black Sheep”, the classic “Wolf and Raven”, the entire crowd singing along with the heart-wrenching ballad “Letter To Dana” and the power ballad “Replica”, and the encore, which contained both “Victoria’s Secret” and “Don’t Say a Word” – the latter of which is probably the best song they’ve ever done.

Musically they were all spot on, and the sound was really good. I stood further back than I usually do, which possibly contributed to the sound being more balanced than usual.

Sonata Arctica are utterly ridiculous and completely over-the-top, which is entirely fine by me. Their live show was tied together by a theme of “is rock and roll real?”, narrated by some backing tracks of a guy with a really deep voice, which was cool. Not many bands have an intro and outro like that.

And that was that. It was a shorter show with only three bands, but each one was interesting, and the headliners were entirely worth it on their own. Sonata Arctica come around fairly often, so it isn’t that special to see them, but this was the first time I was able to attend their show, and I must say I was impressed. Studio-wise they’re not bad, but when translated to a live setting, they are much more impressive. The same can be said for Delain, who have far more energy live than they do studio.

Until next time, Kevin out!

Kevin writer banner Jan 2014