Like every November for the last few years, the investigative journalists of RockUnited.Com, armed with notebooks and cameras, headed to the strange "underground" gathering that is "Maata Näkyvissä" festival. This time they were determined to solve the mystery of it all...
Okay, I'm just fooling with you, this isn't going to be a thriller, merely a concert review. But there's some truth to the above blurb. Even though this festival gathers around 10.000 people to its' main events and has major international bands headlining the festival, you hardly notice it in the mainstream media or elsewhere in the city. In a way it's truly an "underground" festival, yet immensely popular and well organized. The reason for its' popularity is the fact that it's aimed at the young christian people, and mostly marketed via church-related media and other outlets.
The three-day event started already on Friday, but we skipped it and our first day was Saturday. Believe it or not, but the first set I wanted to watch took place around half past nine in the morning - most definitely the earliest "gig" I've ever been to!
HB wasn't the first band of the Saturday, but it's safe to say that their bombastic metal was the final wake-up call for the people. Hands were raised and choruses were sung along when the band ran through a selection of their biggest hits. I've seen the band a few times now, and they don't disappoint - they have a lot of good songs to select from.
For some reason, the band's keyboard player Antti had chosen to abandon his keys and take up a guitar, making HB a three-guitarist band. The band's prominent keyboard parts were still heard though... welcome to the computer age. Maybe he didn't feel like being stuck behind a stack of keyboards anymore?
Vocalist Johanna seems to be more and more confident in her role as the frontwoman, while the whirlwind guitarist Sofia didn't seem to stop at all. I was warned beforehand that there might be "artists bouncing" in the photo pit, and not surprisingly, the stage wasn't enough for her, she had to get closer to the audience. During one of the last songs, the security guys came and carried her away from the stage, which confused some people. Apparently it was a pre-arranged stunt, and she did return to take a bow with the rest of the band in the end of the set.
I also checked out a band called THE TRUTH in the morning. Despite the name, they sing in Finnish and according to the singer, they don't even speak english too well. I guess it's a tradition for Finnish Christian bands to choose an english name despite their chosen language... there's already "The Road" and "The Rain" at least.
Anyway, The Truth played a short and solid set of metallic hard rock. Like HB, they also had three guitar players, so there certainly wasn't a shortage of guitar riffs when they were on stage! Somehow the band's stage presence left a lot to be desired, but they're a young band and have plenty of time to refine their act.
After I had seen The Truth (!?) I left the festival area for a few hours, and returned in the afternoon with Mira who took over the photographing duties. Earlier this year I was sent a CD by a band called MIRIAM to review. That's what I did and I was quite impressed by it. Now that I had chance to catch them live, I gladly took that opportunity.
Miriam proved to be a decent live band, led by the charismatic vocalist/guitarist Ossi Mäki-Reini. The band's first few tracks made the biggest impact and somehow towards the end they chose to play some of their less appealing songs, but nevertheless, I'd say that they left a very positive impression on me. Despite the lack of harmonies, which were so prevalent on the album...
We briefly listened to SARASTE, but weren't really impressed. They seemed to bounce from one style to another, with the first song sounding like a poor man's version of The Rain, the second being something heavier and the third one had a punk-pop vibe. Or the other way around... and they didn't have much of a stage presence to speak of.
This year the international headliner was SKILLET, a modern rock band that has managed to cross over to the mainstream market and has sold a very respectable 800.000 copies of their latest album "Awake". Their status in Finland wouldn't fill an ice hall normally I guess, but at this event they got a very receptive audience of more than 10.000 people. I think that us present at the festival should consider ourselves lucky - if Skillet were to play in Finland on their own, they would probably playing in a club sized venue with a limited production. Now they had a big stage to roam about and a great light show and screens.
The band obviously has a sense of drama, as they started with only the cello and violin players on stage, both wearing masks. When the first song "Whispers in the Dark" kicked in, the crowd went crazy and seemed to stay crazy for the whole duration of the band's gig. And why not, the 10-song setlist featured one hit after another. Vocalist/bassist John Cooper was a captivating frontman, although who played the bass during those songs he didn't remains a mystery. Vocally he's a deadringer to Hinder's Austin Winkler, they sound really similar.
Young drummer Jen Ledger might be a small girl but she surely bashed the hell out of her drums, if you excuse the pun. Korey Cooper was the band's multi-instrumentalist, jumping from guitar to keys in no time and she even handled some lead vocals, as did Ledger. The new guitarist Seth Morrison was a lively performer and a good player, a worthy addition to the band.
Skillet's latest album "Awake" has a lot of slower, balladic songs (who said "Nickelback ballads"?) and I was hoping that they wouldn't play too many of those. Luckily they didn't, most of the set rocked hard, and although they interrupted the "flow" twice by bringing out a translator and doing speeches, the athmosphere remained high and the speeches were quite interesting. It did confuse me when John Cooper stated that "there's only one God and his name is Jesus". Wasn't Jesus supposed to be God's son?
All in all, a truly uplifting and entertaining gig by an excellent band. Wouldn't mind at all if the returned next year.
Whispers in the Dark
On Sunday we returned briefly to the festival to see the last band of the whole event, the veteran Christian rockers THE RAIN. They've been on a hiatus for the last two years, and this was their first bigger electric gig for some time. As a sidenote, this was also the first bigger rock concert for our daughter Alexa (aged 4), who quite enjoyed the experience.
The Rain played a 45-minute set of fan favourites like "Tuuli Kulkee", "Vastavirrassa" and "Kasvot" and if they were unsure whether they could still "cut it" one couldn't see or hear it. There's obviously still a huge demand for some more Rain, and I hope that the band comes up with great new music next year.
Review by Kimmo Toivonen