If you’re a fan of melodic metal, you have to be impressed by this three band line up. The venue could be better, as this particular Academy isn’t blessed with either great sound or air conditioning, but a pretty packed house (though not sold out) says that these bands are worth a few lost vocals and a bucketful of sweat.
First up are Eden’s Curse, squeezed at the front of the stage and given minimal lighting. I don’t think anyone quite knows what to expect, especially the band themselves, who only started playing live together very recently. From the off, though, it’s clear that Eden’s Curse have a good thing going on here, and that dragging all of the members from their respective corners of the globe has been a very good idea. Musically, they deliver melodic metal that is pretty much accessible to anyone, sitting stylistically somewhere in between the two acts they’re supporting tonight. Vocalist Michael Eden seems to have no problems proving he’s as powerful live as he is in the studio, and although they only play six songs they go down a storm with the audience, finishing with a rousing version of “Angels & Demons” that’s much more entertaining than watching Tom Hanks down the road in the local Odeon. It’s a good start to the night, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who would happily sit through a longer set from these guys.
Next up are Greek power pushers Firewind, a band I was chastised for missing at Hard Rock Hell last year in favour of The Wildhearts. The first thing I notice is that drummer Mark Cross looks more like he’s ready for a bit of power lifting, never mind power metal, as he stomps across the stage like a vengeful giant. As soon as the rest of the band join him the stage literally erupts, and I realise why I was told off for not seeing them last year. Put simply, Firewind gallop at breakneck speed, playing the sort of metal than blends the classic heavy metal of Iron maiden with modern power metal sensibilities. “Destination Forever”, for example, has a riff that’s more Maiden than Maiden have had for several albums now, but veers off into superb power metal territory that’s fast, furious and a joy to behold. Frontman Apollo Papathanasio exudes charisma, with the rest of the band not far behind. Guitarist Gus G works his fretboard at supersonic speed levels, producing some brilliant solos, and special mention must go to Bob Katsionis, who handles rhythm guitar and keyboards with aplomb, notably on the keyboard heavy “Angels Forgive Me” and the bizarre but popular cover “Maniac“. It’s clear that Firewind have a lot of support, and as such the crowd are overjoyed when the band test out a track from their next album (not due til 2010), “Losing Faith”. Unsurprisingly, it’s a belter, and as they leave the stage to rapturous applause, all I can think is how the heck are Stratovarius gonna follow that…
So it’s time to see if Stratovarius can still cut the mustard onstage, although after hearing the new “Polaris” album I’m not at all worried that new guitarist Matias Kupiainen will be able to impress. The open with one of my favourites, “Hunting High And Low”, and as I snap away and sing along it’s clear that they are going to benefit from the best sound mix of the night, although on the balcony Timo Kotipelto’s vocals are almost inaudible. Downstairs, though, Stratovarius sound great, Timo’s voice is quite a revelation, and it’s great to hear him hitting every single high note with what seems like ease. The band are relaxed, happy and tight, which makes for a great show.
The set list comes from all over the place, with “Will The Sun Rise” being played for the first time in ages during this tour. It’s a criminal song to leave out of a set, and produces some brilliant guitar and keyboard duelling from Kupiainen and Jens Johansson. Both guys impress throughout the set, and it seems that the new boy has already settled in nicely, forging a strong rapport with the rest. As good as Eden’s Curse were, it’s obvious that this is a two horse race, with Stratovarius’ more technical, polished approach just losing out to the sheer power and passion of Firewind. Vocally, Timo Kotipelto takes the first prize, shing especially during an intimate rendering of “Forever”, complete with glitter ball. The only downside is when the band seem to be pulled off at 10.45 just when they wanted to do another song. Kotipelto taught us all how to count to four in Finnish (“Yksi, Kaksi, Kolme, Nelja” in case you’re interested) then the gig ended. Weird, but probably out of their control. All in all, this was a great night, full of quality music and some superb performances. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to continue my Finnish lessons at a later date, but until then, “Kiitos, Stratovarius”.
Review by Alan Holloway, alan "at" rockunited.com