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WINTERSUN/ FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE/ ARSIS / STARKILL @ THE OPERA HOUSE, TORONTO - 11/08/13 - REVIEW BY STUART KRISTENSEN

 
Wintersun have been working their way up the progressive metal ranks with their 2004 debut album and Time I, and are now bringing their extreme fusion of metal music all over North America with their very own tour. The tour lasts through August and September and brings along a trio of genre-bending, envelope-pushing openers: Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arsis, and Starkill. Wintersun being one of my favorite bands of the past few years, I got myself a ticket for the August 11 show at the Toronto Opera House, an intimate, yet fancy venue with an elegantly designed stage, visually ideal for the enjoyably pompous, majestic atmosphere of the bands that would soon be at its centre.


The mix of the crowd was a depiction of the broad appeal of Wintersun’s music to people from all corners of the fandom; there were stereotypically dressed metal-heads mixed with more geeky types, bearded folk-metal fanatics, obvious members of the black metal fan base, teens with core scene shirts, a few kids under thirteen, a couple of young women, and more. Soon the lights were dimmed and replaced by a demonic red glow, and the audience prepared themselves for the extreme metal onslaught.

Opening band Starkill was bright, fiery, battle-themed melodic death metal overflowing with youthful energy. Their fierce tunes were peppered with dazzling solos, full of tapping and sparkle-clean sweeps. Indeed, the opening bands seemed to have been selected with the bar set very high in regards to technical prowess, each of the openers indubitably leaving a strong impression on the guitar fanatics in the crowd. At times Starkill’s sound evoked Children of Bodom, or Dragonforce, and the galloping, epic force of their music made them ideal for getting everyone in the right mood for the rest of the night. Frontman Parker Jameson is ideal for the band, with astounding guitar virtuosity, heroic good looks and a vibe of “true” metal about him that would impress even Manowar. The crowd went into a frenzy, and at this point I found myself dragged into the mosh pit for a bit of shoving and circle headbanging. www.facebook.com/StarkillOfficial

Next up was Arsis, who carried a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek attitude. They were on the stage before I knew it; the tech crew who spent ten or eleven minutes preparing the equipment and testing the microphones turned out, in fact, to be the band themselves (“want to get something done right, do it yourself” approach I assume). More wicked technical ability was on display from all members. The bassist was lively and energetic, the drumming was marvelous, and the frontman displayed both a mastery of guitar and a vocal style that was powerful and intense. Something was off with the sound output, however, and often what appeared to be stellar guitar work was drowned out by monstrous drum and bass noise. The creative energy evident in Arsis’s songs and live presence, however, was able to maintain the crowd’s excitement and then some. www.facebook.com/arsis

Then it was Fleshgod, the darkest sounding band of the show, and a definite musical and presentational contrast with the two previous bands. The Italian Fleshgod Apocalypse appeared on stage in grimy makeup, dusty costumes straight out of the 17th century wardrobe and custom instruments designed to look like violins or cellos. The band, which also included a masked female opera singer and a piano player, had a theatrical quality that kept them interesting, but unfortunately the multi-layered, symphonic intricacies of Fleshgod’s sound were not fully conveyed as a result of the imbalanced sound projection. Often little more was to be made out than a wall of face-crushing noise, which is fun for the mosh-ers but became a bit grueling for those of us trying to hear some music. Despite this disappointment Fleshgod made a significant impression on the audience that had people whispering during interludes throughout the rest of the night. www.fleshgodapocalypse.com

Then, finally, Wintersun. The excitement in the crowd was immense, the sweat dripping. Everyone was nearly exhausted from the previous bands, but as soon as the ambient track 'When Time Fades Away' started up the energy came back, starting at the floor like a mist and then rising up over our heads. Chants of “Jari, Jari, Jari!” broke out, and then the band were on stage, first the lovely drummer Kai Hahto and then the others, Jukka Koskinen, Teemu Mantysaari and Jari Manepaa, all of whom are deities to the crowd. With the first strike of the epic 'Sons of Winter' and 'Stars' the bubble of anticipation broke and the floor exploded into insanity. People sang along to the riffs and lyrics, banged their heads insanely, or simply cheered while throwing the horns. But again, something soon became apparent that made it all a bit disappointing and frustrating; the music was nigh indecipherable. Wintersun, like Fleshgod Apocalypse, have an incredibly deep and mutli-layered sound, with intricate riffs, vocal melodies, and atmospheric elements that simply did not communicate with the sound quality as it was. I doubt this to be any fault of the band’s, but rather a probable miscalculation on the part of the venue operators or maintenance crew, who perhaps were not used to having this particular genre of metal performing in the Opera House. At one point Wintersun treated the audience to a brand new song from the highly-anticipated 'Time II', but with the guitar so muffled I wouldn’t have known, if Jari hadn’t of said so to the audience beforehand.

This was a major annoyance, and must have been particularly frustrating for the many members of the audience, myself included, who are particularly guitar-oriented, but nevertheless the show was thoroughly exciting. In interviews Jari Maenpaa seems shy and soft spoken, but on the stage he is confident and commanding; he has a tangible connection to the crowd that was a joy to witness and be a part of. The band played nearly every song in their current catalogue, save for 'Sleeping Stars', 'Battle Against Time' and 'Sadness and Hate'. It was, at times a beautiful performance.

Wintersun are truly one of the most magnificent metal bands on the planet, and have the potential to be a rapturous live experience. But bringing the complex, Devin Townsend level of depth that Jari has lovingly put into his music to a live setting must be an extremely difficult task. With that in mind, some shows with disappointing sound balance are to be expected. But the band’s awesome presence and stage energy, and the excellent openers, definitely make this a tour not to be missed. www.wintersun.fi/band

Review by Stuart Kristensen