First of all, it seems that this festival is getting the short end of the stick from us again, and this review is published quite a few weeks after the event. Our apologies, but "real life" is rather hectic this time of the year, so there's very limited hours to spend on extracurricular activities such as writing and photo editing. Now, that's it for feeble excuses, let's get to it...
If you aren't familiar with Maata Näkyvissä Festival and haven't read any of our previous reviews of it, here's a quick summary... Maata Näkyvissä ("Land Ahead" or something to that effect) is a Christian youth event that gathers thousands of young people to Turku every year. There are artists, speakers, seminars and study groups, but I guess the bands and artists performing are the main attraction for most visitors.
As long as we've visited the festival, the backbone of the program have been the biggest and most popular Finnish Christian acts, with a couple of smaller international acts and a "name" headliner for Saturday's main concert. Inevitably, there's a large percentage of returning bands among the Finnish ones. There's no way to work around that, this is a small country with only a limited amount of Christian acts... then again, fans of bands like The Rain, HB, KLS or Tera can be almost sure that their favourite will be performing at the festival.
The program of the festival covers a lot of music genres, so we cherry-picked the most rock(united)-friendly acts from it. The first act was THE RAIN, those veterans of Finnish Christian Rock. The band has been one of the most popular acts of every MN festival they've played and one would think that they should get a longer set by now, but no... they got the usual 30 minutes or so.
The band played a "greatest hits" set that was quite similar to their comeback set last year. Just like most bands that have been around for quite some time, they have their "staples" than cannot be left out of the setlist; "Tuuli Kulkee", "Kasvot", "Haloo" and "Sotilas" are some those songs that aren't easy to leave out without disappointing a lot of their fans. Sure enough, all four were performed at MN'13 and they got the "hit reception", people were bouncing and singing along.
The band showcased a new song called "Marsmatkaaja", which hinted at changes to the band's hard rock sound. It had a strong alternative/modern pop vibe with its' ethreal keyboards and acoustic guitars, it reminded me a bit of Coldplay. The crowd seemed to like it but I seriously hope that it's not an indication of the band's new direction.
The band I was most looking forward to seeing this year was THEOCRACY, a progressive metal from USA. Their latest album "As The World Bleeds" (2011) impressed me with its' combination of progressive elements, catchy choruses and clever lyrics.
Theocracy played in a smaller auditorium, where there was room for different types of audience members. The die-hard fans were down at the front, fists in the air and moshing along, while the less rabid ones had a chance to be seated and still have a good view to the stage. As we had our 6-year old daughter with us, we chose the seated part of the auditorium. That was a good choice because as soon as I put the earmuffs on her, she fell asleep and slept thru the band's set! It was quite comical, there's a power metal blasting on stage and a lightshow going on, yet one little girl is sound asleep there!
Unlike most bands at the festival, Theocracy was allowed to play a longer set. Their got around 70 minutes I think, and they filled it with songs from all of their three albums. I wasn't familiar with the early stuff so there were several songs that I didn't know, and it sounded like they were mostly on the heavier side of things and less melodic than the material from "As The World Bleeds". The band opened with the 10-minute long "I Am", a stomping prog opus that set the mood. A "circle pit" was formed in the middle of the crowd and the most enthusiastic metal fans (or bruise fans?) enjoyed the show by bumping into each other. Well, to each their own... I know I'm showing my age here but I just don't get it.
Originally Theocracy was a "one-man band" of Matt Smith, but it has grown into a fully-fledged fivesome. Smith was still the star of the show, the other members appeared to be proficient but somehow faceless. There were some technical issues during the show, the backing vocals were mostly inaudible which meant that the choruses didn't quite have the same impact as on the album. All in all I wasn't quite as impressed as I hoped I'd be, but I did enjoy most of the show. Songs like "Master Storyteller" and "Hide In The Fairytale" were excellent, and some of the less familiar material had its' moments too.
HAWK NELSON was the only band on my agenda for Saturday, due to other commitments in the real world. For their show, I had to "wear two hats", I took photos of as well as scribbling down notes. HAWK NELSON were the main headliners of the event and just like last year's Discipline, I hadn't even heard of them before. I did some research before the gig, but didn't really get a grip or them - some of their stuff was the kind of pop punk that was popular a few years ago while some of it was rather catchy pop-rock.
The stage was set for the band and it didn't look good - there was some kind of a sampler/keyboard thing right there in the middle of the stage, and only two microphones. Surely there would be more than two guys on stage? Well, no. The band's bass player Daniel Biro had some health issues he had to deal with and was absent, so there was only vocalist Jonathan Steingard and guitarist Micah Kuiper on stage with Justin Benner behind his drumkit. Thanks to the wonderful modern technology the band's songs did have bass, not to mention rather big-sounding backing vocals, keyboards and whatever else... so what we got was hardly an authentic "live concert experience", but I guess that's pretty common these days. At least the band had an excuse for using pre-recorded bass parts.
While the little devil on my shoulder was whispering "playback show! playback show!" to my ear, I decided to ignore it and noticed that band did have a bunch of rather enjoyable pop songs. The band's frontman Jonathan Steingard used to be the band's guitarist up until 2012, but apparently he has mastered the art of frontmanship quite fast. He looked and sounded like a natural-born lead vocalist and entertainer and had a good contact with the crowd.
The band played most of their biggest hits such as "Crazy Love", "Live Life Loud" and others and had the crowd jumping. Their earlier punk'ish songs and more recent pop rock songs didn't sound too different next to each other. They also played two new, unreleased songs, possibly titled "Keep Coming At You" and "Made To Live". Both of them sounded like sure-fire hits, the first one was a bouncy pop-rock track which reminded me a bit of The Rasmus, while the latter was a midtempo track that wouldn't sound out of place on a modern-day Bon Jovi or Def Leppard album. Usually new songs that people haven't heard before do not get the kind of response that these two got - they were treated as if they already were two of the band's greatest hits! Must be quite nice for the band to get this kind of "approval" for their new material.
On Sunday we made the trip to the festival to see HB, one of the mainstays of the whole thing. Although the fact that HB is in the line-up doesn't seem to change from year to year, the band itself keeps their fans on the edge of their seats with their ever-changing line-ups. This was the fifth or sixth time I've seen the band at MN and I'm not sure but I think each time they've had a different line-up. The last time was in 2013 when they had three guitarists, now there was just one guitarist... I didn't catch his name but I'm quite certain he wasn't the band's main songwriter Antti Niskala.This gig was also the first time I've seen the band's new singer Miia Rautkoski, who did an OK job and appeared to be a lively character.
Possibly because of the band's many overseas shows, half of the material was sung in English, even though the audience was predominantly Finnish. Most of the songs work just as well with the English lyrics, but I thought "Evil Song" ("Perkeleitä" is its' Finnish title) didn't quite have the flow of the original version. Just like Hawk Nelson, HB relied heavily on offstage enhancements to their sound, at least all keys and background vocals were added from a computer. Sign of the times...
Positive things about the MN2013 festival were the fact that both Theocracy and Hawk Nelson got slightly longer slots than most of the previous years' headliners. Overall the festival has a nice athmosphere and each band gets an enthusiastic response. If there's one festival where parents can let their children go without worries it's this one...
Review: Kimmo Toivonen