"Maata Näkyvissä 2009" wasn't supposed to be in the cards for us, but things don't always turn out the way you planned... our daughter Alexa became ill, and we had to cancel our trip to Germany, where we would have seen Gotthard and Europe. Talk about a major disappoinment... fortunately, Alexa's condition got better quite soon, and we were able to leave her to grandparents' care for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday.

The festival itself had its' share of Swine Flu Hysteria, as one doctor recommended that the event should be cancelled. Apparently the thought of 10.000 young people in one place for three days didn't sound too good, as the Flu was raging... However, the organizers had taken precautions and presented a thorough plan to control the disease from spreading. a day or two after his first statement, the doctor said that the organizers had done a good job and that the flu might not cause a lot of problems. And in the end it didn't... had this been a standard festival with a lot of drunk people, things might have been different.

Our festival experience was limited to three bands this time: The Rain, Fireflight and HB. The Rain have played at "Maata Näkyvissä" every time I've been there, but this gig was something special. Earlier this year they announced that they'd be taking a break of undefined length, and the gig in Turkuhalli was their last one for now. Fireflight are one of the hottest american Christian rockers, and their first gig in Finland was something that many of the festival goers were looking forward to. HB played a triumphant gig last year, and this year they were again reaping the rewards of the hard work they've done. They also showcased a new line-up and a new single.

As we weren't sure about the schedule, we arrived a little bit early, just in time to catch a "sing-along special". Mikko Nikula and Sami Asp managed to incorporate Black Sabbath's "Paranoid"-riff into one of the songs... not something I could've imagined to hear, but a very cool move nevertheless. Christianity isn't a dead serious thing!

When The Rain performed at MN festival last year, their show was a grand-scale one with pyrotechnics and one could say that they were at the height of their success with a Top 3 charting album under their belts. Although still as popular as ever, their 2009 gig was a bit more understated one. They still had the lights, the smoke and the bombastic songs, but because of the farewell thing, the gig felt more like a gathering of friends than a larger-than-life rock show... 10.000 of the bands' closest friends saying goodbye to them, at least for the time being.

We've grown accustomed to the short sets at MN, but I guess it wouldn't have been too much to ask for a longer set than some 45 minutes? After all, this was the LAST gig of the biggest Finnish Christian rock band... It's not the band's fault of course, but questionable judgement on behalf of organizers. Anyway, The Rain played an interesting set and thankfully kept the speaches to reasonable lenghts. The setlist consisted of songs from all of the band's four full-length albums, two from each one, except for the debut "Kiitos Ja Anteeksi", from which they played three songs. As a treat to long-time fans, they had practised "Katso Mua", a song they had never played live before.

During his short speech, guitarist Jussi spoke about the reasons of the hiatus they were taking, and asked the audience to send a prayer their way. As a farewell gift, the band released their first DVD on the festival, consisting of their previous year's concert and a documentary. One lucky (and good catcher) fan got a free DVD from Jussi, and I believe the said product sold like hot cakes on the merch stand.

The set ended with an old song called "Pian Sataa Taas" ("Soon It'll Rain Again"), and the audience were treated to a silver paper rain. It was a very emotional moment for many, the band included. The title of the last song does contain a glimpse of hope though...

Katso Mua
Tuuli Kulkee
Pian Sataa Taas

Florida-based FIREFLIGHT have scored big time with their two major label albums "The Healing Of Harms" and "Unbreakable", both containing big radio hits in the US radio. That might sound like nothing much, considering how underground Christian Rock is in Finland, but in the States it's way bigger, and the most popular artists are household names. Fireflight's music is modern melodic rock, and they've been compared to the likes of Evanescence. There are some similarities, but I think that Fireflight's music is less goth-inspired and more hook-driven. They have some emo/hardcore/screamo-whatever influences too, courtesy of guitarist Justin Cox who provides the screamy vocals. I could've done without them, but I guess they add some "cutting edge" to the music.

The band is at their best when they let the main vocalist Dawn Richardson to do her thing. She's a strong, emotional vocalist and she really gets into the songs. The band has a handful of highly infectious melodies, especially the tracks from their latest album "Unbreakable", including the title track, the super-catchy "You Gave Me A Promise" and "Brand New Day". The balladic "Forever" was another highlight. A new song from the next album "For Those Who Wait" was also aired, I believe it was called "Desperate". It didn't have the same impact as the hits from "Unbreakable", but it sounded decent enough.

The band put a lot of effort into their performance, and only interrupted their show with a couple of short speeches, as Christian rockers tend to do. Otherwise they were bouncing all over the stage, and especially Dawn Richardson impressed me with her vocals and intensity. On CD, her vocals are sometimes a bit over-produced and processed, but she proved that she can nail the notes without any "doctoring".

On Sunday, I took over the photographing duties too, and headed to the hall on my own to see HB. Their last year's gig was quite impressive, and this year's one was just as well.

The band has gone through some line-up changes, with only the keyboard player Antti and vocalist Johanna remaining from the line-up that I saw last year. HB's original drummer Samuel has returned to the band, while the bass duties are currently taken care of Tuomas Kannisto, a stand-in musician. On guitars there are now two new band members, Bob and Sofia.

New guitarist Sofia appeared to be a real whirlwind, taking advantage of the spacious stage, while the other members were more moderate in their antics. Well, the drummer Samuel did set himself on fire, so I'm not sure if "moderate" is the right word!

Compared to last year, vocalist Johanna seems to be even more at home on stage than before, leading the show as a real frontwoman. Also compared to last year, the band's show seemed to go on smoother, with no awkward "whatissupposedtohappennext" moments.

Songs played included material from the band's latest "Piikki Lihassa"-album, some older songs and the new single "Perkeleitä" ("Demons"), which has lyrics that might cause a bit of a controversy among the more old-fashioned Christian audience. I personally liked them more than the band's normal, quite serious and full-on biblical themes.

Once again, we had a good time at Maata Näkyvissä, and were impressed at how well the whole thing was run. If there's anything to ask for next year, it'd be longer sets for the main bands... and how about Skillet for next year?

Review by Kimmo Toivonen
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen (The Rain, Fireflight)
and Kimmo Toivonen (HB)
(c) 2009 RockUnited.Com
, 3 December 2009

More info on the event can be found here: http://maatanakyvissa.fi/in-english.