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Wolfheart, Barren Earth, Insomnium @ From Hell, Erfurt (Germany)

in Saturday, 21 January 2017 at From Hell
by Erika Kuenstler

I had the pleasure of catching INSOMNIUM not once, but twice during their recent European “Winter's Gate” tour. With the show in Erfurt being completely sold out, and the show in Munich being really full (despite a HAMMERFALL gig on the same night), you know it's going to be a good night when there's a massive queue already standing in the snow before the venue even opens.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity waiting in the freezing cold, the doors opened, giving a comical satyrical take on the meaning behind "Winter's Gate", with people rushing in to get the prized front row, center stage spots. And as I waited, I watched all the people coming in, what really stood out was the complete diversity of the crowd. In addition to your average metalhead, it seemed that everyone had come for the show, all the way from the computer nerd who has managed to crawl out of mancave (much to the delight of his mother) through to the bemused jock who stands close to the front of the crowd, with a slightly confused look on his face as he contemplates why there is so much hair flying through the air. At both the show in Munich and at the one in Erfurt, the audience was a complete mixed bag, and it was fantastic to see how bands really do bring together fans from all walks of life.

As it got closer to the the start of the show, the venues got more and more crowded, an excited buzz cutting through the air, with a few late die-hard WOLFHEART fans wheedling their way forward. And at long last, without much fuss, WOLFHEART took to the stage, and ensured that the night started of with a veritable kick. This Melodic Death Metal hailing from Finland's distant shores are a relatively new band, formed in 2013. Yet in those few short years, they certainly have been very active, releasing two full-length albums, with a third album, “Tyhjyys”, planned for March this year. I often feel bad for opener bands; they typically stand on stage, doing the best to get the crowd fired up, whilst the audience keeps a wary distance and regards them sceptically. Not so for WOLFHEART. From the very first note of their very first song “The Hunt”, they had the crowd completely swept away by their thunderous riffs and take-no-prisoners approach. WOLFHEART have an exceptionally tight drummer, giving them that much more bombastic force behind their music which creates an infectious live atmosphere. Both in Erfurt and in Munich, the band very soon had hair flying and fists pumping, all the way to the very back corners of the venue, something that even headliners often struggle with. As the additional figurative cherry on the cake, the setlist even contained the song “Boneyard” from the upcoming album, and if that song is anything to go by, then “Tyhjyys” will likely be a killer album. Definitely a release I'll be keeping an eye out for!
1. The Hunt
2. Strength and Valor
3. Ghosts of Karelia
4. Boneyard
5. Zero Gravity
6. Routa Pt. 2

After a very quick sound check, it was time for the next Finish band to take to the stage, namely BARREN EARTH, a Progressive Death Metal band. After the tempestuous onslaught delivered courtesy of WOLFHEART, BARREN EARTH's pace seemed perhaps a little slow. With heavy Doom-laden sections as well as clean vocals, you could clearly see that this sudden change of tempo didn’t sit quite so well with quite a large part of the crowd. This was perhaps even more noticeable at the Munich show, with people wandering off to the bar during the set, or going outside for a quick catch-up with friends.
With three full-length albums in their discography, BARREN EARTH’s set was an fairly equal mixture of all three, with two songs from their 2010 debut “Curse of the Red River”, a single song from 2012’s “The Devil’s Resolve”, and three songs from their latest release hailing from early 2015, entitled “On Lonely Towers”. Whilst there were a few fans in the crowd, you got the feeling that many were just waiting for INSOMNIUM. What struck me most about their show is that BARREN EARTH has excellent guitarists, yet I somehow felt that their skills weren’t used quite as much as they could have been, which in turn meant that the music didn’t have quite the impact that it could have. Whilst BARREN EARTH clearly are an established band who know what they’re doing, their music felt a little out-of-place jammed between such a volatile and unrestrained band as WOLFHEART on the one hand, and the stormy yet captivating melodies of INSOMNIUM on the other. This was a pity, as I’m sure that with the right lineup, this band would be excellent.

1. The Dead Exiles
2. The Leer
3. Flicker
4. Set Alight
5. A Shapeless Derelict
6. On Lonely Towers

There's something to be said for releasing an album that consists entirely of a single song, albeit split into parts. Concept albums are already an ambitious project, but if anyone is up for the task, it would be a band of INSOMNIUM’s caliber. And so it was that wiith subtle lighting setting an ambient mood, INSOMNIUM started their set by playing “Winter's Gate” in its entirety. Riveting the audience with the cascade of melodies and harmonies swirling forth from the stage, the band soon had every person in the crowd completely spellbound. One thing that always stands out to me at crowded shows is that the further back people stand, the less involved they feel with what’s happening on stage. But INSOMNIUM managed to captivated pretty much every single person in the room, with people throwing the horns, even from the very last row. As the last magical notes of “Winter’s Gate” drifted away, and the band left the stage, the audience grew restless, thinking that INSOMNIUM’s set was already almost over.
But it had only just begun, with the band delivering one momentous song after the next, playing a slew of fans’ favourite songs, all the way from “While we Sleep” through to “The Promethean Song”. What I really love about watching INSOMNIUM is that they are not only a professional band who know exactly how to draw the audience into their music, but they also haven’t lost that playful edge. For many of the more established bands, their performance is impeccable, but if you look closely, you can see that that is all that their performance is: showmanship. But INSOMNIUM again seem to be the exception, with an honest playfulness being apparent in their interactions with each other. Just look at the way guitarists Ville and Markus chase each other across the stage, and you straight away get a sense of camaraderie that runs deeper than simple stage theatrics.

Having said that, there are few musicians quite as showy as Markus Vanhala; and rightly so. Not only is he an excellent guitarist, but he knows it, and isn’t shy to show off his skills. And after this exceptionally long set, fans were treated to an encore, with the bitter-sweet strains of “Weighed Down with Sorrow” ending off the night on a melancholic note.

If you missed the band during their tour, be sure to catch them during one of their upcoming festival appearances, such as Ragnarök Festival in April, or at the incomparable Wacken Open Air later on this year. And if you haven’t yet done so, be sure to have a listen to “Winter’s Gate”: it is a veritable kaleidoscope of swirling soundscapes that takes you on a stunning other-worldly journey.
1. Winter's Gate
2. The Gale
3. Mortal Share
4. While We Sleep
5. Bereavement
6. Change of Heart
7. Only One Who Waits
8. The Promethean Song
9. Equivalence
10. Down With the Sun
11. Weighed Down With Sorrow

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