Wintersun play a triumphant set in sweltering heat, but there was a slight issue…
It is difficult to truly imagine the scene at The Garage on the first night of Wintersun’s UK tour without either having been there, or having spent at least a small amount of time on the surface of the sun (whilst accompanied by a swarm of exceptionally hairy and sweaty tourists). But I shall do my best to immerse you.
Well past the 19:00 door time, the queue for this sold-out show still hangs out of the maw of the venue, trailing down the sidewalk with its tail end slapping away far down the street. Despite the huge number of people yet to gain entry, I still find myself navigating the room using a healthy portion of elbows and decent amount of “sorry mate, mind if I get through?”s. The place is abuzz with fans bustling about the bar and clamouring around the merch stall, all eager to empty their wallets as fast as humanly possible (in their defence, those are some very pretty tour shirts).
Even with approximately half of the audience still fighting to get inside, the show must go on. Tonight the privilege of being first on-stage to dip their toes into the sweaty water and test the audacity of the crowd belongs to local boys Savage Messiah – a thrash metal outfit hailing from London.
They open with the titular track from their 2009 release Insurrection Rising, a solid riff-laden number and a decent choice to get the crowd pumped. It’s not exactly what you’d call a firm genre-pairing with the headline act, but the audience reception is warm and welcoming, regardless. The band proceed to play a 50-50 split of released and unreleased material, tearing through two breakneck tracks from their 2012 release Plague of Conscience including the album’s eponymous opening song and “The Accuser” – both relentless thrashers, solid in quality but nothing ground-breaking or convention-twisting.Perhaps this inoffensive “traditional” approach works in their favour, as Savage Messiah succeed in winning the hearts of the audience.
Whilst introducing a brand new song “Iconocaust”, frontman Dave Silver announces how he has just quit his day job, giving us all a chance to bathe in the mini fantasy of giving his boss, our boss – and indeed, all bosses – our collective middle finger, solidifying that Friday night feeling… even though it’s only Tuesday. Better drink more, I suppose.
Next to take the stage is Bloodshot Dawn, a melodic death ensemble from the faraway mystical lands of Portsmouth. This band’s particular amalgam of melodeath and thrash seems to be a better fit for Wintersun’s fan base and whilst Savage Messiah were not ill received by the audience, there’s definitely a much greater buzz of electricity surging in the air, now. Though it’s possible that might be from the increasing flow of alcohol and heightening delirium from the ever-rising heat. Frontman Josh McMorran commands the crowd well enough and despite their lesser popularity, the band manage to provoke a respectable response from the glistening mass of broiled bodies in front of them. A solid performance to lead into tonight’s main event…
…if we ever get around to tonight’s main event, that is. In true Wintersun fashion, we’re treated to a series of delays. After an abnormally long soundcheck and changeover (something I’ll be moaning about again and more thoroughly before this review is through), the lights finally dim and the dulcet oriental tones of “When Time Fades Away” begin to slip silkily out of the PA stacks – the delicate melodies providing somewhat of a stark contrast against the sound of a crowd now going fully apeshit in anticipation.
However, hearing the glossy lulling of the backing track fluttering across the venue fills me with a momentary unease – the last time I saw Wintersun was at Bloodstock Open Air 2011, when their material was considerably more stripped-back and less layered with orchestral sections. Would Wintersun suffer from the same malady that plagues so many bombastic and “over-produced” metal bands in live scenarios? Short answer – no. The long answer is the remainder of this review.
Following in the footsteps of the recent Time I album, tonight’s setlist leads from the intro track into the symphonic behemoth “Sons of Winter and Stars”, an absolute piledriver of a track, standing nearly 14 minutes in length, absolutely drowning in synth and subtleties with an enormous throat-rending sing-along chorus. This flows smoothly into “Land of Snow and Sorrow” a lushly orchestrated ploddingly-paced romp that provides a welcome change in pace after a near quarter hour of music-induced whiplash and flash flooding of perspiration. Any worry about how the new material functions in a live environment has been comfortably dispelled. It’s possible that this is the reason for the overly long soundcheck – to get everything executed just right – but that doesn’t mean I can’t still have a good moan about the ramifications. And I’m going to do just that. Right now. Ready?
Whilst the setlist contains a selection of fantastic songs from the debut as well as ALL of the songs from Time I, I can’t help but feel something went a little awry at tonight’s show in London. A quick glance at the tattered setlist scuffling around the stage after the gig’s end reveals something frustrating. Not one, not two, but three entire songs had been amputated from tonight’s performance due to the fuck-up in time management. “The Way of the Fire” from the upcoming continuation of Time I has been axed from tonight’s set, but perhaps most heinous of all (prepare yourselves for a lot of hyperbole, because I’m really very bitter about this), two of the best tracks from the debut were also dropped for time – “Winter Madness” and “Death and the Healing”.
I’m sorry guys, but no amount of “Beautiful Death” or “Starchild” is going to make up for such an atrocity. The UK declares war on Finland due to cruel and unusual torture of English citizens at tonight’s show. I’m exaggerating for comic effect (and because I’m crying on the inside), but this really is such a great shame. The bittersweet relief is that it seems they’ve managed to play these tracks on subsequent UK shows. So it’s not like these tracks have died or anything, they’ve just moved on and are happy with other, sexier fans now (gross sobbing).
Maniacal jilted-lover-esque hysteria aside, tonight’s show really was fantastic. Every member of the band was on top form technically (although I can’t help but feel really sorry for drummer Kai Hahto, squashed up behind his kit at the back of the stage in this heat, sweating his balls off under the strain of such hectic and complex drum patterns) and even the crowd were on top form, singing and snarling along to every song and even “whooooaaaa”-ing along to the appropriate melodies. The festivities came to a close when it was revealed that today – the 16th July – is bassist Jukka Koskinen’s birthday. The cute pointy little birthday hats were the perfect complementation to set closers “Beyond the Dark Sun” and “Starchild”. The crowd leave stunned in sweaty, achy ecstasy. God damn, my throat hurts.