(As part of his continuing effort to make his NCS colleagues jealous, Andy Synn attended the performances of Insomnium, Barren Earth, and Wolfheart in Birmingham, England, on January 16, 2017, and files this tardy report.)
Last week I managed to snag myself a guestlist slot on the Birmingham date of the Insomnium/Barren Earth/Wolfheart tour. And a good time it was indeed.
But why has it taken so long for me to get this write-up together?
Laziness. Pure laziness. Or, you know, some other reason. Take your pick.
Either way, better late than never, right?
Up first on this evening of fulsome Finnish (well, 99% Finnish) delights were Wolfheart, the band put together by Tuomas Saukkonen after his decision to disband all his other projects a few years back.
Now I’m aware that Islander in particular is a big fan of the quartet, and I will admit that they put on a tight and energetic performance, and were probably the “heaviest” (by tonight’s standards anyway) band of the evening.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature and providence of the band, their overall sound seemed a little stereotypical to my ears – a little bit of Before The Dawn, a little bit of Black Sun Aeon, a little bit of Eternal Tears of Sorrow, a little bit of… well, if you were trying to design the archetypal Finnish melodeath band, you’d probably come up with something pretty similar to Wolfheart.
I know that sounds like damning with faint praise but, despite what I’ve said above (and despite a few nagging technical difficulties early on in their set), the band still put on a solid show, punching their way through cuts from all three of their albums (including their upcoming release Tyhjyys) with minimum fuss and maximum effort, leaving behind an appreciative audience nicely primed for the next band.
Photo by Femtography
The band in question were five-sixths Finnish, one-sixth Faroese progsters Barren Earth, a band who I’ve actually been looking forward to seeing for quite some time.
With a sound reminiscent of early Amorphis, only with a bit more classic Doom and a lot more Blue Oyster Cult in the mix, the sextet were definitely the most melodic and quirky (in a good way) of the night’s three acts, and much of the credit for this should go to the frankly rather stunning vocals of the band’s frontman Jón Aldará, who not only resembles a miniature Layne Staley but who belted out every line to every song with the power and presence of a man twice his size.
With a set comprised relatively equally of tracks from their debut album, Curse of the Red River, and their most recent effort, On Lonely Towers (while pretty much entirely avoiding, if memory serves, material from The Devil’s Resolve), the band were obviously in high spirits, something which came through in both the strength and sheer enthusiasm of their performance, jamming through catchy, anthemic cuts like “The Leer” and moodier, more morose numbers such as “A Shapeless Derelict” with an infectious sense of vitality and vigour, before eventually rounding things off with a rousing rendition of the epic “On Lonely Towers”.
By the end of Barren Earth’s set the crowd had swollen to what I believe was full (or at least, extremely close to full) capacity, and the anticipation in the air was palpable.
You see, after delivering what was, barring one or two killer tracks, arguably one of their lesser albums in 2014’s Shadows of the Dying Sun, I know that I wasn’t alone in fearing that Insomnium — partially as a result of their increased profile and popularity, and partially just because they had been going for such a long time — might have fallen into a bit of a rut.
But last year’s ambitious concept album, Winter’s Gate, proved to be the perfect antidote for my fears, showcasing a band with a renewed energy and intensity, still looking for ways to grow and develop and to push themselves as musicians and as performers.
That’s the Insomnium we all wanted to see, and that’s precisely the Insomnium which we got tonight.
Blazing their way through the entirety of their new album, start to finish, with only the slightest of (soundtracked) pauses between each section, the quartet were in absolutely top form. Every soaring melody, every streamlined blastbeat, every scorching riff and gruff, full-throated growl, was delivered with the drive and determination of a band still with something to prove, either to the audience or simply to themselves.
After wrapping up the Winter’s Gate portion of tonight’s performance the band took a short break before returning to the stage to treat the assembled crowd to a second set comprised of stellar cuts from the rest of their back-catalogue (with the exception of 2002’s In The Halls of Awaiting), including “Bereavement”, “Mortal Share”, “Down With the Sun”, and “Only One Who Waits”, to name but a few, ultimately concluding with a climactic rendition of “Weighed Down With Sorrow” from their 2009 breakthrough Across the Dark.
Somewhere along the way – a few minor missteps notwithstanding – Insomnium appear to have become a classic band, in every sense of the word. Tonight was just further evidence of how well-earned and well-deserved that title is.