Sonata Arctica and Ensiferum with Vanishing Point @ Billboard (Melbourne), 5 Jan 2010

Ripping down the trendy techno club from the walls, the all Finnish (well, almost) power metal extravaganza kicked its way around Melbourne, leaving Aussie metal punters craving more.

On the weekends, Billboard the Venue turns into Billboard the horrible dance party. Rainbow neon lights line the walls as do seedy "private booths" as well as projector screens that flash random epithets of "BASS" or "AWESOME" on their screens. The only metal-looking stock footage they could muster was that of fire, which seemed to make sense at the time.

First to appear was Vanishing Point. Now, if you live in Melbourne and the international metal act you're about to see doesn't have a full-time growler in the line-up, you usually see Vanishing Point opening (or Black Majesty. Sometimes both.) Melburnians are pretty much sick of Vanishing Point.

Vanishing Point are European all but for the declaration of Australian citizenship that's printed on their passports (even then, who knows?), dripping in ultra-melodic Hammerfall style cheese and crunch. If you're a power metal fan, you know the drill; if you're not, you were probably drinking at the bar during their set.

The house was quickly filling with punters and was almost at the max by the time the proud Finnish warriors Ensiferum strode upon the stage, shirtless (well, except for keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen, of course, wearing a very pretty black dress) and clad in Lappish warpaint. A roar went through the room as they launched into From Afar, horns up and chanting right into the Edge of the World. With some fans brandishing (plastic) swords, their heads whipped in unison as Petri Lindroos hopped on the shred train with fellow axeman Markus Toivoinen which all sounded superb; something seldom heard in Melbourne. As Janne Parviainen tried to throw a drumstick into the crowd (it struck the top of the stage) fans were invited to the thrashy, folky Twilight Tavern and its ensuing guitar showcase. Victory Songs was also heard as the band rounded out the night with the western-themed Iron - I just wish I had some sipping whiskey in hand for that one!

After the crowd was given time to recover, an hush descended into the room as downcast lights cascaded down to the ground. The hall was chilled in suspense as a lone piano melody played until the band and especially Tony Kakko's arrival heralded thunderous applause. Even some Finnish backpackers joined in on the festivities, hailing from the same village as Sonata Arctica!

Their first track - Rescue Me - set the tone for the rest of the night - flawless execution from all concerned, from every lick, every tap of the piano and drumbeat, especially the sublime voice of Tony Kakko. What can be said about Mr. Kakko? What a character! Easily one of the funniest dudes in metal. Talking as if their debut record Ecliptica was a kid that's now 10 years old ("You know, if it was a kid, it would probably tell me it hated me and go back to watching YouTube and playing World of Warcraft," he lamented. "Oh well.")

Inexplicably he got everyone to yodel along to an impromptu cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart with a battle between Elias on guitar and Henrik on keytar before giving us all a taste of their power in FullMoon and again in 8th Commandment. All of it just exemplified their great showmanship and thrilling crowd participation.

Kakko continued to babble about good friends in dark times when he introduced the ballad As If The World Wasn't Ending and the Last Amazing Grays. He even polled the band to see whether they'd prefer Black or White (Pink? Green? "I don't fucking care," said bassist Marko Paasikoski. "Yeah, well you're colour-blind and useless!" Tony quipped back.), ploughing through Black Sheep and offering yet another Grays cut, Juliet, the one thing "Sonata Arctica and Shakespeare have in common."

Tony led us all through a special Aussie version of "We Will Rock You", replacing the chorus with a familiar patriotic chant. Rounding it all off with Don't Say A Word, Sonata left the stage with fans desperately wanting more, yearning for an encore. It was one of the most enjoyable and fun experiences I've ever had at a metal gig.

Hey metal bands, remember fun? Watch and learn boys, watch and learn.