Moonsorrow, Crimfall, Virgin Oil Co,.Helsinki, 13/09/14

Moonsorrow have come from a garage in Pukinmäki, to a worldwide fan base and even an Australian tour. They were one of the Finnish Folk bands that built up their country's reputation. They're even in a museum in Hungary. But they hadn't played a home crowd in two years when they headed back to the Virgin Oil Co in Helsinki.

Epic. Mind-blowing. Ineffable.

I’ve been trying to find words to describe Moonsorrow’s show at the Virgin Oil Co. for days. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just as hard to contain the majesty of a live Moonsorrow show in words, as it is to describe their albums. Formed by the Sorvali cousins in 1995, Moonsorrow has released six albums, an EP and has a new album in the writing stages. I, on my traditional Aussie gap-year in the UK when I was given a copy of Voimasta ja Kunniasta, wasn’t sure what I was listening to (quite literally, it was in Finnish), and I hadn’t even known Finland had metal bands.

Since then, I have travelled internationally a few times to see Moonsorrow play live, but had never seen them play to their hometown crowd until last Saturday night. There is a certain poignancy when the audience is a mixture of friends, family, long-time local fans, and fans who have travelled from afar. Early in the afternoon, I commented to Ville Sorvali that it was frustrating that after years of trying to get Moonsorrow to Australia, they’d visited after I’d moved to Finland. He responded jokingly that they’d been waiting for exactly that; an Australian tour without me present. At least they made it, even if the locals now have someone to blame for the delay. 

Virgin Oil’s small double story club venue was pretty packed when Crimfall hit the stage, escalating to standing room only by the time they had finished. For many of the crowd, it was the first time they’d seen Sara Strömmer singing as the new female vocalist. Catering for fans of folk metal, with a good dose of symphonic power, Crimfall have a mixture of male growls and clean female soprano vocals. Their live instruments stick to the basics, but the backing tracks provide the orchestral elements so familiar to the genre.

When the lights dimmed, and the intro to Tulimyrsky swept over the crowd I was transported back to the first time I’d heard the EP. Eagerly fetched from the post office, that night I had sat on my tiny apartment balcony and fed the music to the stars… and the neighbourhood. That’s what Moonsorrow’s music does for its fans. It transports them. I looked back in the audience at the rapt faces. Everyone was both in the music, and somewhere else. Back in the balconies, people sipped their drinks and sung along with the chorus of the half-hour long song. Fists were raising all over the audience, as the blood drenched band members played the notes so familiar to them.

Next up was a song from my personal favourite album, Verisäkeet, Pimeä. In the years before I knew any Finnish, it was purely the growl of the vocals I had heard set amongst the lyrics. Now I could hear the bleakness of the lyrics a little better. That wasn’t the reaction of the crowd. Heads were thrown back, a woman near me leant into her friends, all singing along in Finnish. The more upbeat Jumalten Kaupunki swept in, followed by the first performance in Finland of 1065: Aika from 2001’s Suden Uni. Taistelu Pohjolasta, Jotunheim, Muinaiset and exit stage left.

The crowd swelled with noise and the band was back with Pakanajuhla from that first album, Suden Uni.

 Almost two hours of music had swept by in what seemed like minutes, when the opening to Sankaritarina swept in. Sankaritarina was on that first CD I was given. I listened to it sitting on the cliffs outside Portloe in Cornwall. And for a few minutes, I was my younger self, sitting on those cliffs again.

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