The winter showed its ruthless face to the Danish/Swedish/American melodic metal band Royal Hunt, as they visited Finland for the first time ever. The band was greeted with a freezing weather of -20 Celsius degrees, but thankfully the reception they got at Nosturi was quite a bit warmer.
Although Royal Hunt has sold a million albums worldwide, they aren't exactly a household name in Finland. Considering that and the fact that it was a mid-week gig, the turnout of 200 (or thereabout) rockers wasn't too bad, and the band was quite pleased with it. "We weren't sure whether there'd be more than 25 people here", said keyboard player Andre Andersen after the gig. He and the rest of the band members we talked with seemed to have their feet firmly stuck to the ground with no unrealistic expectations. If anything, the turnout was a positive surprise, and the fact that everyone seemed to be so much into the show was something they weren't expecting. Another positive surpise must've been the demand for Royal Hunt merchandise - they sold quite a few CD's , DVD's and T-shirts for Hunt-hungry fans.
The support act of the evening was Twilight Guardians, a metal band from Salo, Finland. The Guardians have released 3 albums so far, with the latest being "Sintrade" (2006). I wasn't really familiar with the band, having only heard a song here and there, most notably their rather cool cover of Madonna's "La Isla Bonita", which was a rock radio hit last year. However, I will have to take a closer look at the band's catalogue, as they did impress me quite a bit.
Unlike their name might suggest, TG are not yet another Helloween/Strato/Maiden-clone, but a rather classy melodic metal act with an identity of their own. The band has some very good songs with interesting nuances. Vocalist Vesa Viitanen has a strong, likeable voice, Guitarist Carl-Johan Gustafsson had a strong presence on stage as well, and bass player Mikko Tång dominated the other side of the stage. In contrast to the "denim and leather" clothing of the other members of the band AND the weather outside, his camo-shorts looked a bit odd though. Anyway, on the background there were keyboard player Jari Pailamo and drummer Henri Suominen, who both handled their duties accordingly.
The massive taped backing vocals of the last two songs were kind of funny... especially as I had just mentioned to our photographer Mira that "the backing vocals are a bit thin because there's just the keyboard player to sing them"... and then came the Wall Of Sound Choir from a magic box! Guess I got what I asked for?!
During the Twilight Guardians' set, the crowd stayed mostly in the bar area, separated from the main floor by a fence. The band did get a nice round of applause after each song, but the eerie silence afterwards was quite weird. While it was obvious which band was the main attraction of the evening, yet I do believe I wasn't the only one who was impressed by Twilight Guardians.
The Helsinki gig was the first one for Royal Hunt in over a year. It was the start of their mini-tour, with included gigs in Denmark and Russia. Royal Hunt played a familiar set - it was exactly the same as on their recently released "2006 Live" DVD! Not that I'm complaining, it was a real "best of Royal Hunt" set with tracks from all of their albums, and well chosen too.
The set was kicked off with the title track of the band's latest studio album "Paper Blood". The band seemed to be in good spirits, and the chemistry they had with each other couldn't be missed. It's always fun to see a band that really enjoys being on stage, and Royal Hunt really did enjoy themselves.
John West proved to be a great frontman and most certainly one of the best singers I ever witnessed live - believe me when I say that this guy is a master of his craft! However, it's Andre Andersen who is the "maestro", the undisputed king of the band, and he had a strong presence on stage as well. Unlike another "maestro" Yngwie Malmsteen, he didn't make his mark on the expense of the other band members. His brilliant playing was enough... and it does help to be as tall as he is!
Original drummer Kenneth Olsen was responsible for the solid foundation of the set, while the two atest additions to band, the Swedish duo of Marcus Jidell (gt) and Per Schelander (bs) added a lot of "action" to the stage with their energetic performances. They both sang a lot of backing vocals as well, which are an integral part of the Royal Hunt sound. Guest star Maria McTurk was also on stage, helping out the "Swedes" with the backing vocals.
"Paper Blood" was followed by a song from the DC Cooper-era, "Time", one of the highlights of the "Moving Target" album. Three more recent songs were up next, namely the rather excellent "The Mission" from the album bythe same name, "Never Give Up" from "Paper Blood" and "Can't Let Go" from the "Eyewitness" album. Another "Moving Target" track, the uptempo "Last Goodbye" kept the show rolling nicely.
West and Andersen were left to the stage all by themselves to perform a short version of the ballad "Follow Me" from West's first album with the band, "Fear". The song was yet another proof of Andersen's fine sense of melodies. While West kept the audience captured, the rest of the band sneaked back to the stage, and the Royal Hunt engine was again kicked into overdrive with the bombastic intro of "Cold City Lights" (again from "Fear"), which proved to be one of the highlights of the gig. The audience took its' time to warm up to the sing-along session, but in the end the Hunters managed to get a respectable noise out of the crowd.
Armed with a portable keyboard, Andersen joined Jidell and Schelander in the "frontline" to perform the instrumental "Martial Arts" from the debut album "Land Of Broken Hearts". The interplay between him and Jidell was really impressive, not to mention entertaining. Still, at least I always prefer "real" songs, and as John West re-entered the stage, he lead the band into a fine selection of their greatest hits. "Surrender" (album: "The Mission"), "Running Wild" ("Land Of..."), "Lies" ("Fear") and "Wasted Time" ("Clown In The Mirror") were all excellent, but it was "Far Away" that really stunned me and everyone else. The song is possibly the finest Royal Hunt ballad of all time, and while DC Cooper's performance on the "Moving Target" album is flawless, West truly made the song his own. His voice has everything - power, soul and passion. The last few notes of the song left the crowd almost speechless.
After a band introduction, West told that "Royal Hunt has a message to you god", and bursted into an excellent rendition of their classic "Message To God", which was the last song of the main set. This song was the only inclusion from the "Paradox" album and probably the most popular song of the night. As encores, we were treated to the "Paper Blood" album's instrumental "SK983" and one of the older favourites, "Epilogue" from "Clown In The Mirror", which was a fine ending to the great show. After having listened to the band's live album intensively for the last couple of weeks, I'm glad to say that their live performance didn't disappoint.
After the show, the band came to meet their fans which was really cool of them. We had a nice chat with Per, Marcus, Andre and Maria, who were all very friendly. Per told me that his other band House of Shakira is going to record a new album this year, and there's a Royal Hunt album in the works as well. We also met a couple of big Royal Hunt fans who had flown from Japan just to see the gig in Finland! Now that's dedication!
Now that we've seen what a great band Royal Hunt is live, I only hope that they can deliver the goods with their next studio album. The previous two weren't that impressive - now it's time to hit us hard with a real hammer of an album. Killer songs with razorsharp hooks, great arrangements and possibly a couple of those grand ballads, please! The pressure is on!
Report by Kimmo Toivonen,
22 February 2007