In what on paper looked to be a varied and odd bill of metal bands from all walks of life, actually turned out to be an enjoyable night at BB King Blues Club in New York's Times Square on Sunday night September 30th. Headliner's Sonata Arctica had been at the venue many times before, and were here in support of their strong new symphonic power metal release Unia. Along for the tour were melodic metallers Firewind, metalcore newcomers The Agonist, and avant-garde prog metal band unexpecT. It was a night of varied styles that kept the fans on their toes all evening, enjoying all the different elements that make for a great evening of music. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo was on hand, and delivers this concert review.
Canada's unexpecT opened up the show to a sizeable crowd, and kicked things off in grand fashion with their brand of schiztophrenic, avant-garde metal/prog hybrid. Those who might have caught the band open up for The Gathering last year, or who have heard their debut on The End records In a Flesh Acquarium, are no doubt aware of their unique blend of black metal, Frank Zappa inspired weirdness, jazz, and prog. With soaring female vocals, brutal extreme male growls, acrobatic & dangerous guitar riffs, nimble bass lines, wild violin, symphonic keyboards, and raging drum blasts, the music of unexpecT has a little bit of everything, and then some, which the band provided plenty of on this night. There was little doubt that many in attendance this night had probably never heard the band before, but they obviously won over the crowd in a big way. Not only is their music unique, but they are expert performers, turning the stage into their playground, providing an overall exciting performance both musicially and visually. The band, much like Into Eternity over the past few years and Echoes of Eternity currently, are in the process of opening on numerous metal tours that will obviously get them in front of a slew of varied metal audiences. Hopefully this exposure and hard work will pay off for them once their follow-up to In a Flesh Acquarium comes out.
Next up was The Agonist, also from Canada, who happen to be Century Media's new darlings. These guys, at their essence a metalcore band with some death metal leanings thanks to the growling vocals of lead singer Alissa White-Gluz, are also pretty busy on the touring circuit these days trying to build a strong following. On this night, the group was kind of the oddball fit of the evening, as the mostly power-metal fanbase didn't seem to full appreciate what The Agoninst had to offer. Their short set was filled with songs from their debut Once Only Imagined, which is decent stuff, especially when the band uses a more melodic style, ironically though the band chose to perform their more heavier material on this night. Guitarist Danny Marino (related to the legend Frank Marino) provided plenty of crunching riffs throughout the set, and singer White-Gluz has a fair amount of stage presence and a great look. Look for these guys to hopefully grow and mature in the near future and make an impact on the scene.
Greek melodic power metal veterans Firewind were without a doubt the most anticipated band of the evening. Although lead singer Apollo Papathanasio, who put in a stunning performance on their latest CD Allegiance, was not available for the tour, he was temporarily replaced by German vocalist Henning Basse (METALIUM), who seemed to fit right in and did quite a good job on this evening. Super guitarist Gus G. was of course the star of the show, delivering plenty of crunch riffs and smokin' hot solos throughout the set. Their music, if you haven't had the opportunity to check Firewind out, is sort of like Whitesnake on steroids, with some Dio, MSG, Iced Earth, and Helloween mixed in, very melodic, and heavy. Tunes like "Allegiance", "I Am the Anger", "Ready to Strike", and "Breaking the Silence" went over great, the band proving to be heavier live than on record, and Basse more than holding his own with some strong lead vocals. The crowd was totally into it (the barricade separating the fans from the photo pit/ stage area was quaking!) and gave every indication that they would have liked to have seen a longer set. Perhaps when Apollo is able to step back in and make the tour committment the band can come back and do some headline shows here and keep the momentum going. They have all the goods to be stars here, so let's see what happens.
Finland's Sonata Arctica are no strangers to the US and especially BB Kings, as they've been over here quite a bit these last few years. Finally seeming to find their own niche with Unia, the band carry themselves with a sense of accomplishment and swagger that justifies their now 'veteran' status as one of the leaders of the power metal genre. The band obviously loves what they do and feel equally about their fans, which was really evident the moment they took to the stage. Their mix of Queen styled vocal harmonies, crisp guitar work, symphonic keyboards, pummeling drum work, and melodic songs, was in full force this evening, as they delivered tracks from throughout their discography to the delight of the crowd. Tunes like "Full Moon", "San Sebastian", 'My Land", "Caleb", "Victoria's Secret", "Paid in Full", "8th Commandment", "For the Sake of Revenge", and many others, provided a perfect mix of old and new material. Lead singer Tony Kakko hit all the right notes, showing why he is one of the most well-respected vocalists in power metal, and the fans were treated to plenty of trade-offs between guitarist Jani Liimatainen and keyboard whiz Henrik Klingenberg, especially on the faster paced songs from earlier in their career. More than anything, the band seemed to just be having a blast throughout the set, no doubt spurred on by the fans singing along to every chorus. In many ways it was a welcome return for Sonata Arctica, but also perhaps a look into the future and bigger things to come. All in all, an interesting & enjoyable night of metal in New York city.
Sonata Arctica Setlist
1.Intro In Black And White
2.Paid In Full
4.For The Sake Of Revenge
10.It Won't Fade
12.Guitar & Key Solo
15.Don't Say A Word
Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko
Ken Pierce's views on the evening:
Fans of the Finnish Melodic Progressive Rock sensation Sonata Arctica would have their prayers answered as the band once again made their trek to the USA for some much appreciated touring. While this appearance in NYC would be their third actual visit it was only the bands second headlining appearance but like the previous two shows would be held at the ever popular B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. As was also the case with the other visits the band would be supporting a brand new release and this time around it would be a new studio recording entitled "Unia". It's an album that finds the band exploring ever deeper into the realms of Progressive Hard Rock as opposed to the Metal they were most commonly associated with and it's also available on Nuclear Blast Records their label of the past three years. The band is always an energetic and lively one in concert but to make this all the more special they would be joined by Firewind from Greece as well as both The Agonist and Unexpect from Canada. Having heard each of these bands albums before and judging by the crowd who had already gathered in time for the first band you just knew this was going to be another awesome night of Metal and one that offered the fans a wide variety of genre aspects.
Unexpect: Talk about a déjà-vu but I swear that I just reviewed an appearance of the band Unexpect, and oh yes it was when they appeared as an opener on the tour that found the Dutch juggernaut Epica returning to the USA. The best thing about seeing Unexpect perform again is very simply the chance to see Unexpect perform again. They are never boring in concert and as it stands I have seen most of their US visits and as result had the chance to see them on many different stages. The stage for them at B.B. King's seemed a bit tight tonight but that was mainly because all the equipment from the other bands playing was in place. Despite this the band once again showed that they are never afraid to pull out all the stops during their set. The downside was that it would again be a short gig for a band that starts out by confusing you, catches your attention and then has you loving what they are up to during their first song. I think a lot of the audience here tonight has seen Unexpect before since I recognized some from Epica, but since this was a larger crowd than that last show there was the chance for a fair amount of them to be converted to the musical mania that is Unexpect. My hope for this band is a longer set sometime soon and perhaps some sort of live DVD release. They were well-met by the crowd tonight and they sure deserve it so I was happy to see this occur. If there is any chance that you don't know about this band yet then I suggest you start clicking around their website to see what they are all about. If you like intelligent and creative chaos turned into your Metal music then Unexpect is quite the band for you. The Agonist was coming up next and the transition of bands was quite quick so the audience didn't get a chance to rest too much before the next attack began.
The Agonist: Hey wait a minute, the déjà vu continued for me as The Agonist hit the stage because these guys were appearing on that same Epica show that I just mentioned. This would only be my second time seeing this band perform and I liked the chance to see them hit a different stage setting. Their brand of Melodic Metalcore is different from the likes of their peers in the genre and this is not only based on the lovely Alissa White-Gluz and the way she mixes melody and fire in her vocals but in the manner of the musical structure and intensity. I was glad to find this band different from the other new popular Metalcore group In This Moment, as their differences allow for each to be enjoyed without the listener feeling as though they have been listening to more of the same group. Gluz is a great front person and gets right in the face of the fans in attendance while the band rocks behind her. We've mentioned that their guitarist Danny Marino has blood in the famous Frank Marino and lucky for us shows that he is no slouch on the guitar in terms of overall technique and heavy metal delivery. The drumming is solid as is the bass work and for this kind of band they come off as quite satisfying live. It's hard to actually find any differences in their set from the last time since I did not see the lists of either show, yet I did recognize that a lot of the same tunes were performed. This is to be expected given the group only has one album available. The CD is on Century Media Records and called "Only Once Imagined", so please check it out when you have time. Tonight the band would go over in a mixed fashion with some of the audience loving them while others were hoping they would finish quickly but observation led me to believe that the naysayers were very simply more excited about the soon to come onstage Firewind. A band that was finally making their appearance in the USA. I once again enjoyed The Agonist and like how they are doing things on their side of the genre.
Firewind: Based on the feeling of electricity that was hitting the room just before this band took the stage I was convinced that even though this was a Sonata Arctica show that much of the audience was here for them as well. Led by Greek guitarist Gus G., the band would be in support of their latest album "Allegiance" and it's the kind of album that all Power Metal fans would go crazy over. It's loaded with technical guitars and fluid solos that make for an appealing slab of traditional Metal and when you add in the rock solid drumming of Mark Cross and melodic vocals of Apollo Papathanasio you have a real aural treat. Sadly this tour found Apollo unavailable, so in his place was lead singer for Metallium, Mr. Henning Basse. I've heard Henning before and find him a really good singer, but I was amazed that their original guy could not find himself free for their first real US tour. During their set, which was much longer than the preceding bands, all eyes seems trained on Gus G. who was not only showing how adept he was at the instrument but also in how visual he likes to be during a performance. I hadn't much exposure to them prior to their most recent album and this show but can truly say that they offer up a tasty batch of tunes and all are catchy and merit the audience offer up their participation as they are played. The clear thing that I took from seeing Firewind as an opener here tonight was that their next visit should be nothing less than a headlining one. Given their reception from the audience I can't imagine anything otherwise. Now it was time for Sonata Arctica.
Sonata Arctica: As we have seen over the span of their last few albums Sonata Arctica is no longer truly a Power Metal band and instead have been making strides to be a lot more Progressive and Melodic when it comes to their song composition. This is a smart move with the amount of Power Metal bands being at an all time high for it allows the band to morph and change and keep it interesting not only for their fans but for themselves as well. Such is the style that we found on their new album 'Unia" and the set tonight would start off with two numbers from it. It was a gamble doing new material right away in the performance but no one in the audience seemed to mind. As usual lead singer Tony Kakko was singing his heart out and shaking the hands of the fans who could reach him over the photo barrier. While it might not surprise anyone to know that Tony was his normally energetic self, but having had the chance to speak with him prior to the show I had discovered that the singer was coming down with a bug of some sort and as result was really looking forward to resting after they had done their best for the New York City crowd. Based on the number of the people in the audience tonight you could tell that many of them had been fans for some time as even with the new stuff there were singing voices that at times were almost as loud as the guys on the stage. I've enjoyed watching the band progress into new musical realms since it keeps them as one of the bands that you never know what they are going to come out with next. If they stick to traditional Power Metal riffs and choruses and do it over and over again there is a risk that they will be indistinguishable from other groups of this type over time and could simply lose peoples interest. Instead they change the game by doing tracks like "Under Your Tree", a song I was sad that they did not play as it's a pleasant ballad and shows they easily master this aspect. The new stuff was working very well in the live sense and most especially the tune "Caleb" and this is also one of the best tracks from the album anyway. It brings a very Queen like chorus to life and the guys handle it like pros. My hope is that they will walk this musical road a little more going forward as it's quite interesting to hear them do this kind of chorus. Another interesting aspect of the bands performance tonight was the fact that keyboardist Henrik would not remain behind the standing keyboard rig to the side of the stage for too long and instead would use his portable one which allowed him to be a little bit more involved in the action that was happening.
The appearance did not come without some surprises as it was during this show that the fans in attendance would find that that one major change had happened with the role of guitar player, as long time member Jani Liimatainen was gone and according to press also no longer a part of the group. He had been replaced by Elias Viljanen and while Jani had some fans in the crowd they were not giving Elias a hard time as the musician was really doing his best and by the end of the show had seemed to win them all over. He is a good player and should be the perfect compliment to the group going forward in terms of playing so welcome aboard Elias. Jani's last recordings with the band can also be heard of "Unia" and we wish him the best in whatever he does going forward. The rest of the set mixed up a number of the bands albums and was a bit different from that of previous visits. Sonata Arctica is not afraid to pull some surprises out of their hats for their audience and despite some favorites not making the final cut the crowd was still quite pleased.
This was a great gig for all of the bands involved and once again a show that proved why Sonata Arctica remains a favorite in the genre. I was happy to see all of the opening acts performing to a good crowd who for the most part accepted their music with open arms and more importantly, open minds. After this gig Sonata would head to Georgia for the ProgPower USA Tour where they would headline one of the nights of the festival. Make sure to check out the band on recording and in concert when you can as it's a continually satisfying experience.