I have no idea why it took so long to get our big neighbour country’s finest band (at least in my book) finally booked for a gig here in Finland, but wow how much it was worth the wait. Apparently my eager anticipation had been shared by many, because the line outside Kuudes Linja was uncommonly long. Despite arriving well in time, I didn’t get inside the venue until the opening act Kivimetsän Druidi was well into their third song, “Pedon Loitsu”.
Which is one of their best, as Leeni-Maria employs the lower end of her vocal range here and it just sounds better to me than the soprano parts. Matter of taste, of course. There was a time when I found it difficult to take KMD seriously and to be honest, I hadn’t even known they were still around, but they actually sounded a good deal better than I expected. Not particularly original, but decent melodic folk metal with the occasional fast-paced outburst.
By the time Arkona themselves entered the stage, the room was solidly packed and the temperature at a point that made me wish I had been smart enough to buy two beers during the intermission,because the one I had was not going to last me very long and there was no way I would leave my front row spot during the set. Photographing was pretty much mission impossible due to lack of light, but the atmosphere as such barely suffered from that.
Arkona were clearly in top form, as was to be expected less than a week after playing a three-hour show in Moscow on the occasion of the band’s 15th anniversary. No small feat given the sheer physical energy band boss Masha pours into each song, or rather each single note. The Helsinki show was only about half as long, but with no compromise to intensity. Only the night before I had seen an excellent gig by Primordial, whose vocalist Nemtheanga is one of the finest and most passionate I know, but in direct comparison with Masha he only scores an honorable second place. The audience was quite international and notably more frenetic than usually at Finnish gigs, and the well-structured setlist ensured that the enthusiasm wouldn’t let off for as much as a minute. The hit “Goi, Rode, Goi!” was fired at the crowd early in the set and, like the hypnotic “Zakliatie” and the lovely ” Slav’sja Rus”, got even those of us to sing along that, like myself, don’t know Russian. Many in the audience knew, though.
The intimacy of the venue only enhanced the intensity, and it was nothing short of sublime to be up close with the supreme goddess of pagan metal even though a couple of times I had to dodge her microphone stand. While Masha undisputedly dominated the stage, the rest of the band was fun to watch as well, especially Vladimir with his impressive arsenal of flutes and pipes. After we got a spontaneous Slavic circle dance going during “Pamiat”, Masha commanded a wall of death for “Stenka na stenku”, but due to lack of space it quickly dissolved into a free-form moshpit. The Russian dance frenzy culminated with “Yarilo”, a worthy closure to a fantastic performance. I sincerely hope it won’t take Arkona another fifteen years to visit Finland the next time…