25. January 2014, Korjaamo, Helsinki, Finland (Photos by Tina Solda on Flickr)
Korjaamo is one of Helsinki´s lesser-known venues, and its main function is far from being a rock club. Located on the premises of one of the municipal tram depots, it is actually a museum for historical streetcars, all the way back to the first horse-drawn model. During concerts, the old trams are discreetly hidden from sight by a black curtain, but through its openings you can still get a glimpse of them. In addition, Korjaamo hosts a sushi bar, a café, a gallery and a bookshop, making it one of the cultural hubs of the Töölö district. Its concert programme is rarely directed at rock and metal audiences, but when it is, then the bands on the bill are typically genre-bending acts such as Agalloch, or in the most recent case, Alcest.
The first warm-up band was The Fauns from England. They were just starting their set when we came in, apparently with an instrumental tune. Getting closer to the stage, I realized that actually both vocalists were singing, but they were barely audible. I wasn´t familiar with this band beforehand and they said that it was in fact their first show ever on Finnish soil, so I cannot say whether it was just a sloppy mix or perhaps a calculated effect. I suspect the former; on the other hand, if appearances are anything to go by, Alison Garner must be one of the shyest persons I´ve ever seen fronting a rock band, so maybe hiding behind a wall of guitars is simply part of her style. The music, too, was somewhat too unobstrusive for my liking – a pleasurable backdrop but a bit too simple to arouse any particular excitement. As the opener for an evening of slow and atmospheric music, the Fauns were without doubt well placed, but I cannot quite imagine them as a headliner yet.
Hexvessel I had never seen live before either, but at least I knew their albums. so I had an idea of what to expect. Or not. Their studio material reminds me of the hippie folk I listened to in my youth before discovering the joys of metal, so I was prepared for a round of delicate nostalgia in the vein of Caravan, Ultimate Spinach, Affinity and the Incredible String Band. What I was not prepared for was the dynamic intensity and sheer hypnotic power the quintet generates on stage. The most striking surprise was how much better Mat McNerney´s voice sounds live than on record. The mantra-like “I Am The Ritual” rose to a totally new sphere, and the slow build-up of “His Portal Tomb” was mind-blowing. Kimmo Helén switched effortlessly between keyboards, trumpet and violin, adding new facets to the sound all the time. Marja Konttinen was missing from the line-up but Mat dedicated “Woman Of Salem” to her, whereas “Unseen Sun” was dedicated to Helsinki. Fortunately the title was no longer as fitting as it would have been earlier this month, when this town indeed didn´t see the sun for a couple of weeks…
After Hexvessel´s brilliant set, headliner Alcest was almost a bit of an anticlimax at first, starting with the first two tracks of the new album, which I find a bit weaker than the earlier works of Neige & Co. They played five out of its eight songs and from “L´éveil Des Muses” on, I started to get into the flow of them, so maybe I simply haven´t listened to them enough yet. Nevertheless I found the set a little bit too one-sided, as for the longest part it only contained material of the two most recent longplayers. The last time I had seen Alcest was at Tuska during the day, when they provided a perfect chill-out moment, but this was a Saturday night and well after midnight. Which means that after all the beautiful serenity – further enhanced by the mostly blue stage illumination – it felt like a quickening refreshment when almost at the end the band launched into “Percées De Lumière”, recalling for a moment their metal roots.
By the time Alcest finished, it was 1:30 a.m., but for once I am in no position to complain about the late showtimes, as the venue was only a five-minute walk from my home. Needless to say, I wouldn´t mind seeing more gigs at Korjaamo, especially with bills as interesting as this one. Extra points to Hexvessel for unexpected awesomeness!