First of all… this is the longest headline on this blog so far and will probably stay the longest for quite a while. But with four amazing bands teaming up for a tour, what else would I do? To start with the conclusion – for me, this was one of the best band packages I have ever seen on a tour! (At least certainly the best since Amorphis / Arch Enemy / Nightwish in 2015…) Each of the bands added a different side of metal to the bill and still it all felt very fitting overall.
I was able to go to three shows, starting in Oberhausen, going south to Geiselwind the next day and then back north to Hamburg where they played two days later. Three different cities, three different venues (the ones in Oberhausen and Geiselwind with capacities of 3-5k much bigger than the one in Hamburg with around 1,5k), and also three very different crowds: Ruthless (not to say violent) party people in Oberhausen, a relaxed crowd shaken up by many crowd surfers in Geiselwind and pure, happy enthusiasm in Hamburg. But back to talking about the line-up…
Jinjer was the only band I didn’t know before this tour: I had heard of them but never really checked them out. For some reason I expected some uninventive female-fronted metalcore… I was clearly wrong, because there’s nothing uninventive about the progressive rhythms, with touches of djent and funk, that they blasted in perfect execution. Singer Tatiana Shmailyuk proved to be a true powerhouse who masters both clean singing and screaming, besides showcasing an impressive variety in her wardrobe! 😉 A more than worthy way to open the night!
I discovered Tribulation about ten months ago when one of their members was heavily rumoured to be one of the Nameless Ghouls in Ghost. Spoiler: He is not… but Tribulation’s music has stuck with me since then. Occult rock, sometimes even with a touch of post punk, but with death vocals and corpse paint – hard to put them into a category, but also hard to escape their spell once you’ve heard their music. And once you’ve seen them live….! Their live show was just like their music, a perfect mix of dark horror and light playfulness. While singer/bassist Johannes Andersson was a stoic rock in the middle of the stage for most of the time, the performance, in dim light and smoke, was carried by the two skinny guitarists: Adam Zaars the living skeleton and Jonathan Hultén the prima ballerina. Especially Jonathan was simply incredible to watch; he kept dancing and jumping across the stage and never stopped his excessive sweeping dance movements for a second, a really aesthetic and extrordinary visual treat. Not to mention that of course the band sounded great on all three nights! If I hadn’t been excited about the new album Down Below already (it came out right on the day of the Oberhause gig so I used the time in the car to listen to it a few times), these performances definitely gave me a reason to spin it over and over again!
Another band that is hard to compare to any other: Wintersun from Finland. They basically take the best elements of power metal, add bits and pieces of progressive, symphonic, viking and even death metal and transform it all into their own epic style. I had already liked their music on the records, but even more than with Tribulation, seeing them live for the first time took it all a step further and made me realize how fucking brilliant this band is! Their shows didn’t stand under a good sign since they had to perform without their bass player (who was sick), but the rest of the band did everything to make up for it and seriously killed it every night! Sound on point (just a little less good in Hamburg), and the three remaining instrumentalists proved that they are super skilled on their instruments! Wintersun’s mastermind and singer Jari Mäenpää might not be the greatest vocalist ever, speaking strictly about the technical side of it, but he made up for it by putting all the energy of his heart and his lungs into his performance, so the tiny flaws just made him sound more human. And what an adorable bunch of humans this whole band is; they didn’t only perform great, they (mostly Jari however) also never missed any opportunity to fool around, interact with each other and just have a good time on stage. The little jokes (Jari’s tea ceremony for example) might have repeated themselves every night, but that didn’t make them appear less honest and sympathetic.
Regarding the setlist – with the length of Wintersun’s songs, six songs were enough to fill the 60 minutes they were given, two songs from each album. With two slower songs (Loneliness (Winter) and Time) in the second half of the set, it didn’t feel as balanced as setlists usually are for other bands. It was rather like the set was divided in two halfs – the ‘headbanging’ half first and then the ‘singalong’ half. And I have to say I liked that, not only because it was something different and showed the two sides of Wintersun’s music, but also because it left you in a very festive and euphoric mood after the set.
‘Did you sing along to your viking schlager again?’, one of my friends, who had been in Oberhausen with me, asked me after the Geiselwind show. Yes… yes, I did. As loud as my voice would let me. And I have to confess… Even after Arch Enemy’s set, and despite Tribulation’s fantastic performances, Wintersun won the night for me, three times. Band of the tour without a doubt!
Was there even a need for the headliner after those three amazing support acts? Well you never say no to an Arch Enemy gig if you can get one, right? And even if they tend to attract a reasonable number of idiots (along with many cool people of course) who got a bit annoying every now and then, you can always rely on Arch Enemy if you came for great music and great entertainment. On the musical side, they nailed it every night! No need even to talk about the technical skills of the musicians… The guitar masters Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis getting together in the middle of the stage for their guitar duets which define Arch Enemy’s sound so much – those moments are always my highlights of their concerts. And then there’s Alissa White-Gluz of course… it’s awesome to see how much she has improved over the years. I’ve seen her as guest singer for Kamelot even before she joined Arch Enemy, and she was absolutely amazing back then already, but nowadays she is on a whole different level. Even though she was apparently battling a nasty flu throughout most of the tour, her screams sounded more profound than ever, and when we got the honour to hear her sing Reason To Believe in Oberhausen, her voice sounded so powerful and fragile at the same time that I almost didn’t believe my ears. What a treat!
And of course Alissa was the one who made the show, while the guys mostly played cool. Jumping from the drum raiser, waving her mic stand, headbanging and a whole battery of other stage antics – you can’t take the performance much further than her. Flu? Not something that would stop the ‘queenbeast’…
Nevertheless, the shows (at least the first two in Oberhausen and Geiselwind) didn’t kick me as much as previous Arch Enemy gigs have always done. It took me a while to put my finger on why exactly that was the case. The setlist was my first thought; the new ‘hits’ (The World Is Yours and The Eagle Flies Alone) have never put me in too much excitement (though I love other songs from the new album that were played too, like Blood In The Water for example), but to make room for those new songs, several staples from previous tours, including some favourites of mine from the Khaos Legions album, weren’t played anymore. On the other hand, I have never ever been picky about the setlist at a gig as long as the performance was great, so I finally came to the conclusion that the real issue wasn’t within the band, but in the light show and the size of the stages. The light technician surely did a good job at creating a light show that was nice to look at, happily sparkling in all colours of the rainbow, but it just didn’t fit the atmosphere of the music at all. Instead, it distracted from the band members that were spread across the stage, and their energy got lost between all this flashing and sparkling. And that’s why the show in Hamburg felt better, because here the stage was reasonably smaller, the band was tighter and there was less open space. The band probably didn’t perform any different than the nights before, it was just that their energy transferred much better to the audience. So at least on the last night, everything was cool and Arch Enemy proved that they still are a kick ass band!