Sonata Arctica - Tramshed, Cardiff
Paul- Having checked that all vital organs were still located where they were meant to be after the battering that Gojira gave them the night before, we headed the Tramshed in Cardiff for a night of total contrast. It's very rare that the UK gets a visit from the power metal Finnish outfit Sonata Arctica but combined with an even more rare appearance from Triosphere and Striker meant this was one not to be missed.
Unfortunately the metal crowds of South Wales clearly didn't feel the same as there were some rather large gaps in the venue. Kudos to those who made the effort on a Sunday night. Their noise for each band made it feel like the venue was full and we were rewarded with an evening of high quality as a result. With the battle for Womanby Street beginning, you do sometimes wonder whether the metal fraternity of South Wales gets what it deserves. Make sure you cram into the cowshed for Slipknot, Korn and Alter Bridge but don't support some of the hardest working bands. It makes my piss boil at times. Anyway, rant over and on to the music.
Norweigian four piece Triosphere (8) hit the stage promptly at 7:30pm and delivered some fine symphonic metal with a much harder edge. For a band that started out as a thrash band, their sound has certainly developed and anyone who has been wise enough to give 2014's epic Heart Of The Matter a listen will know that this is a band who can mix up their styles. Bassist and vocalist Ida Haukland may be diminutive in stature but her playing is solid and her voice, well, just fantastic. It's impossible to listen to her without comparing other leading metal ladies but alongside Cristina Scabbia and Kristie Kirby (ex-Triaxis), Ida has one of the most impressive voices around. Her soaring range, ably enhanced by an excellent sound (well done at the back!) ensured the band gained some new fans.
Flanked by Marius Silver Bergesen and Tor Ole Byberg and with Kenneth Tarneby pounding the skins Triosphere raced through their allocated slot, focusing mainly on tracks from their most recent release but with a dip into the past with Gunnin' For Glory from debut Onwards and Human Condition from sophomore release Road Less Travelled. Bergesen ensured that Haukland wasn't the centre of attention with some stunning guitar work, especially the bluesy solo on Breathless. He knows he is a rock star and adopts every pose in the book overdoing the posing a little for me at times. Closing with The Heart's Dominion Triosphere were worth the admission price on their own.
Fifteeen minutes later and Canadian traditional metallers Striker (8) crashed onto stage and proceeded to play as if they were headlining Download. Similar to Triosphere, Striker wasted few seconds in their set, careering around the stage and gurning in that goofy way only Canadians can. Imagine Anvil as a five piece, but with some decent songs and the energy of fellow countrymen Exciter in their heyday. It really was great to see a band having such a great time, playing quality heavy metal and loving it. And so was the crowd, who once again made a massive amount of noise for such a small gathering.
Dan Clearly is a charismatic frontman with a really powerful voice. Guitarist Adam Brown is hyperactive, climbing on monitors and generally acting the fool. It was engaging stuff and there were huge smiles all around. The band focused most of their set on their most recent two albums, the new self-titled release and 2016's Stand In The Fire. they even had the cheek to do the most Maiden style sing-a-long at the end during Fight For Your Life, which worked perfectly. A super live band with some solid songs to support the show.
Matt - Then it was time for the main event as the numbers of the crowd swelled a little, the mix of old-school rockers, lace covered goths and leather studded metallers was an overview of the style of music Sonata Arctica (8) play, it's heavy, dramatic, symphonic and joyous. Having last seen them in Cardiff in 2011 I was anticipating a similar level of energy and quality as then. As the intro tape of We Are What We Are played each member of the band took to the stage Tommy Portimo hidden behind his immense drumkit, Elias Viljanen stage right with his guitar held aloft, in fact he probably only had it horizontal twice during the show, the imposing Pasi Kauppinen was on stage left with keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg behind him cradling his keytar.
Portimo hit the switch and the set kicked off with Closer To The Animal and Life from the latetst album The Ninth Hour, just as the opening chords of Closer...hit frontman Tony Kakko swaggered on to the stage and started to belt out the words with his incredible voice, in fact the first four songs all came from their most recent releases with the excellent The Wolves Die Young from Pariah's Child and the furious In Black And White from Unia leaving the crowd breathless from fist pumping, singing and clapping. The songs demand participation but we were given a chance to breathe with the gorgeous ballad Tallulah that saw the first mass sing-along and even grown men cry such is the power of the song, it was a moving sight to see but the band effortlessly build the pace back up with the satirical Fairytale from the latest album that was followed up by going back to the beginning with classic FullMoon from Ecliptica.
There was genuine joy on the stage with Tony leading proceedings guiding the crowd through the motions, Pasi banging his head throughout and Henrik and Elias trading solos at blistering speed. As an old school Sonata fan the inclusion of Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited was very much welcome especially as it was sandwiched between the symphonic new tracks Among The Stars and We Are What We Are which carries resonant message about protecting the Earth we have. The main set ended with The Power Of One and the band were off stage for only a short time before returning because Tony "forgot his drink". The encore was made up of three songs two old favourites one modern classic and as Misplaced commenced the crowd went nuts, it sounds as good now as it was when it was released, I Have The Right sat in the middle as a clarion call, the set wound up with their normal final song the awesome Don't Say A Word and the breakdown into Vodka after a bit of crowd call and response.
Sonata Arctica are one of the top power metal bands in the business and this show deserved a bigger crowd than it actually got, three great bands for a good price, in a great venue (that still needs aircon) As Paul mentioned at the top, to really save the local scene we must attend these shows in larger quantities otherwise they may disappear all together.