Sonata Arctica, Ensiferum and Vanishing Point @ The HiFi (Brisbane), 3 Jan 2010

Waiting outside The Hi-Fi at West End to get into the show, I can hear snatches of conversation from the punters lined up along with me. There's a lot of anticipation about this show, and with good reason - Sonata Arctica's first Australian show ever, supported by fellow sons of Suomi Ensiferum and Melbourne's own Vanishing Point...

I negotiate the door, enter the main room and head for the bar. The anticipation is intensified by a thousand in here - the air smells of it; it almost overpowers the taste of Pure Blonde on my tongue. I find a nice posse and watch Vanishing Point take to the stage.
 
This Melbourne fivepiece have earned themselves a hardcore reputation - not only in Australia but overseas as well.  They've played with serious heavyweights such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Nevermore, Gamma Ray, Edguy, Nightwish, Black Label Society, DragonForce and Iron Maiden, as well as having graced the stage at Wacken Open Air, and to see them play live it's easy to see why: this is a band that SERIOUSLY knows its chops.

Warming up an already-responsive crowd, the group drive their set forward with dash and aplomb - a masterful mix of hard-and-fast progressive rock and beautifully melodic power-metal, gleaned from four studio albums and fifteen years of hard-won experience. Lead singer Silvio Massaro swaggers the stage with pure rock'n'roll abandon, interacting with the crowd, leading some serious oi-oi action and raise-your-fist-and-yell moments. The songs blend beautifully into one another, giving a perfect example of not just a set by a band, but a display of something amazing. You can tell they've been honing their craft since the 1990s, making masterful use of both analogue and digital soundscapes that provide a perfect counterpoint to the double guitar attack of Chris Porcianko and Adrian Alimic. All too soon, the set is over, alas, but I get the feeling that this is merely a fresh taster for these Aussie metal stalwarts, and it leaves me hungry for another studio album from them. After their set I catch Chris Porcianko at the bar; when asked about tonight's show he states,

'We love playing Brisbane shows. We love them because they're tough crowds. They make us drive ourselves on stage . . . they make us bring ourselves out so much more.' Indeed.
 
I take the opportunity of the break between bands to nip off to the gents' room, outside for a quick smoko, then back down to the bar for another beer. As I wait for Ensiferum to take the stage, I scan the crowd. There's a diverse group of punters here tonight - goth metallers, skatepunks, nu-metal kids, straight-edgers,  oldskoolers, even the odd 80s hairspray rock refugee. That's the thing about Brisbane - a good lineup can bring everybody out of the woodwork. 
 
Ensiferum take the stage in a wash of doom-laden synth background, and the crowd roars its approval. At first, I feel a little confused - for one of Finland's best heroic folk-metal bands, I ask myself 'What's with the kilts?' As soon as the music starts, however, any sense of confusion is swept aside as they blast they way into a blistering set which genuinely shows why they're one of Helsinki's finest. All the beautiful trademarks are there - Janne Parviainen's thunderous galloping double-kick, former Exsecratus member Emmi Silvennoinen's ethereal keyboard washes and the thunderous guitar attack of Markus Toivonen. Say what you want about them, it's impossible to deny Ensiferum's technical precision. There's not a single bum note, not a single beat out of time, even for the alternate-time pieces which veer beautifully from 4/4 to 5/8 to 9/16 and back again.

They're not afraid to have a bit of a giggle at themselves as well - before announcing their second-to-last song, they start a little impromptu on-stage jam which makes you think you might be at a Waylon Jennings show. They also give a good nod to the classic spaghetti-western soundtrack work of Ennio Morricone with another impromptu song intro which sounds like it could have been lifted from a Terrance Zdunich-directed version of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Lead singer Petri Lindroos roars 'Come on, Bris-bayne! I want to see a mosh pit right down here for the next song!' as they kick into One More Magic Potion from their 2007 long-player Victory Songs, and the crowd enthusiastically complies, as though this is what they'd been waiting all their lives for.

Ensiferum tear their way through an hour's worth of songs, taking in their whole back-catalogue from their self-titled debut through to last year's amazing From Afar and finishing with the classic Terror Tavern. An awesome set. I nip out afterwards to feed my filthy nicotine addiction and spot Petri Lindroos leaning casually against the wall, cigarette in hand, and I take the opportunity to congratulate him on a great set. He graciously accepts my compliment with a warm-hearted smile, and expresses the desire to return to Brisbane very soon - but hopefully during the Australian winter, as he and the rest of the band are not used to the overpowering humidity here. Stupid Brisbane summers. We shoot the breeze for a bit (swapping a few jokes about Finntroll), then Lindroos politely excuses himself to go and help the rest of the band complete their pack-down.
 
With the nicotine monster sated once again, I duck back inside just in time to hear the opening chords from the headliners for tonight's shindig . . . 
 
For one of the first international metal shows of the year here in Brisbane, it's pretty hard to go wrong with Kemi's Sonata Arctica. They've been kicking it for a good fourteen years now, blasting their beautiful blend of progressive-, power- and melodic metal and, like a fine wine, they just get better as they go on. The crowd hoots and hollers and yells its' lungs out as they take to the stage, roaring their enthusiastic approval. Fresh from playing with DragonForce on the American leg of the Ultra Beatdown tour, you can see the band members feeding off this insane, beautiful energy, taking it into themselves and blasting it back into the room as they slam into their first track. There's absolutely no holding back here - these guys are out for blood.

It's impossible to deny the power of this band. Frontman Tony Kakko is a consummate showman - he genuinely engages with and plays to the crowd, sharing stories, jokes and anecdotes about the songs and the band. Henrik Klingenberg's massive keytar is a conspicuous presence throughout the show, and he's sounding better than ever. In fact, the entire band is just incredible - tonight's show sees them truly at the peak of their power, harkening back to their incredible 2005 album Reckoning Night. Guitarists Elias Viljanen and Marko Paasikoski are playing with passion and ferocity - I can feel the rumble through the floor of the room all the way up my legs. The heaving, pulsating crowd laps up every note and nuance from the stage, and screams for more.

I can't concentrate any further on analysing the show - all I want to do is run down into the crowd and slam away in the moshpit. So I do, leaping into the fray with glorious abandon. I remain in front of the stage for the rest of the set, letting the juggernaut sounds wash over and through me, reminding me exactly why I got into metal in the first place. Sonata Arctica revitalised my love for metal tonight, and I can only hope that they come back to Australia very, very soon.