Helsinki boasts plenty of rock clubs, but let us state right away that Kulttuuritalo is not one of them. The House of Culture, as its name translates into, is one of the nicer creations by Alvar Aalto – Finland´s most famous architect, whose aesthetic instinct unfortunately was not always unfailing – and was built in the 1950s, presumably with classical music in mind. Due to its 2,500 capacity, however, it is also booked for rock and metal gigs if the act is too big for Nosturi and not big enough for one of the hockey halls. Dimmu Borgir may have been too small for the latter, but alas, they were clearly too big for the sold-out Kulttuuritalo…
But let´s start from the beginning, which means Sahg, another band from Norway but one I honestly hadn´t heard of before. Expecting black metal in some form or other, I was surprised when they started off with a song that first sounded like Black Sabbath and then went on to remind me of Alice in Chains. Both in a very positive way, and the good impression lasted throughout the set. The atmospheric, melodic songs built up slowly with a keen sense of dramaturgy; particularly the vocals (all clean) and the guitar work were much to my liking. A pity Sahg had to play to an almost empty auditorium – you cannot call Kulttuuritalo a hall, it is more like a theater with ascending rows of seats plus a half-round floor area between the ranks and the stage.
The second band was the one I had anticipated most eagerly: Enslaved, whose 2008 album Vertebrae is one of my all-time favorites and whose latest opus, Axioma Ethica Odini, is of the same mold. They started with the two tracks that together form the name of the album, “Axioma” – an instrumental that served as the intro – and “Ethica Odini”. Herbrand Larsen´s clean vocals seemed to come out of nowhere, as the man and his keyboard were shrouded in fog through the entire set, not that there would have otherwise have been much to see because the light engineer was clearly bound to save energy.
His colleage at the soundboard perhaps didn´t have his best day either, but more likely he was simply having a hard time trying to cope with acoustics that simply weren´t right for this type of music. As if knowing that his vocals were hardly discernible, Grutle gestured the “wheels of time” mentioned in the chorus of “Raidho” with his hands. Fortunately Ice Dale´s guitar solo in “Ground” cut through, because it happens to be my favorite in all of Enslaved´s oeuvre so far. Well, the whole song was magical. And followed by “Beacon”, one of the best from the new album. Too bad they only played seven songs in all (plus the intro), because while the inclusion of three old ones – “Fusion of Sense and Earth”, “Isa” and “Allfadr Odhinn” was justified as such, I would have loved to hear more from the latest two releases.
The redecoration of the stage was accompanied by a selection of Dio hits and didn´t take a whole lot of time, but after all the stage props were quite sparse compared to what Dimmu had brought to Tuska the other year. Shagrath himself, of course, was as theatrical as ever, although the show would have profited from more interaction between the band members, at least the three regular ones. The additional musicians appeared to be hardly more than living stage props; the keyboard player actually kept his or her face hidden behind a mask from beginning to end.
If the stage show was somewhat bloodless, the action behind my back and from the side soon became more lively than I considered good for my own health. A bunch of drunks that had already annoyed everyone around them by shouting abuse at Enslaved through several of their songs was now eager to demonstrate they had elbows, too. Security tried to calm them down, but after determinedly standing my ground during the first four songs – that is, from “Spellbound” through “Dimmu Borgir”, the going got too rough during “Gateways” and I fought my way to the back of the floor area. Here the situation was no better – people were standing tight as sardines, yet some individuals started a mosh pit that was more of a pogo party. Trapped between them and the barrier in front of the seat rows I felt rather scared, but then I managed to slip upstairs and conquer a free seat. Not what I would have normally chosen, but it turned out to be a smart choice, enabling me to finally concentrate on the music. The setlist was exemplary, particularly the end of the regular set – “Blazing Monoliths Of Defiance” followed by “Vredesbyrd” and the surprisingly long encore, which, among a couple of other songs, included two of my personal Dimmu favorites: “The Serpentine Offering” and “Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse”.
Bottom line: three awesome bands with excellent material that I hope to experience again soon – with better sound, more light and in less claustrophobic conditions!