A pagan feast on the Baltic Sea – Nordic Metal Cruise 2021

Author Ossi Kumpula - 11.9.2021

“Concert fever” has gotten a new meaning as a concept during the coronavirus era. Prior to spring of 2020 one could look forward to upcoming gigs with more or less positive vibes whereas the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic with its myriad restrictions and regulations has replaced giddy expectations with nervous trepidation. Nearly all of us have been forced to grow accustomed to fearfully awaiting news that this, that or the other concert and tour has been cancelled or postponed to a future date. And the postponements themselves guarantee nothing but a repetition of the aforementioned expectations, often to be met with disappointment.

So it was only on a bus ride towards Turku harbour on the day of Nordic Metal Cruise 2021 that I truly allowed myself to get excited about the event, when the vehicle made a stop in the city centre and was filled to the brim with more or less tipsy heavy metal folk. At the port one’s cruise hopes could still run aground if the antigen test conducted on site did not come back negative. This hurdle was unnecessary for the fully vaccinated and those who could produce a negative Covid-19 test no older than 48 hours. Looking at the ever-growing line leading up to the antigen test tents I deduced that many had decided to bet their cruising experience on this particular lifeline. Having received my negative test result I boarded the Viking Grace to be carried away by the waves with Moonsorrow, Ensiferum, Verikalpa, Swallow the Sun and Stereo Terror providing the tunes for the voyage.

Just prior to 11 p.m., when the cruise ship was well on its way towards Stockholm I made my way towards Club Vogue which was to serve as the arena for every band performing at the miniature festival. After a couple of strong long drinks picked up from Tax-Free my mind was light and ready to receive the sweet pagan sounds of Moonsorrow. The band made its entrance on time, and my joy shot through the roof right away when I realized the opening track rumbling from the speakers was “Ukkosenjumalan poika”, one of my all time personal Moonsorrow favourites that I hadn’t had the chance to hear live yet. The Moonsorrow magic was far from over as the band graced its audience with a killer 75-minute-set consisting of one hit after another. Moonsorrow took the audience on an atmospheric journey from the dance-worthy melodies of “Kylän päässä” to the 15-minute-epics by the names of “Ruttolehto” and “Haaska”, both of which contain enough highs and lows for an entire show. Towards the end of the gig I was especially smitten by “Raunioilla” and “Jumalten kaupunki”, since “Kivenkantaja” along with “Suden uni” was the album through which I originally discovered Moonsorrow. The concert was brought to a worthy close in the tunes of “Sankaritarina”, and I must say that I couldn’t have hoped for a better opening act for this year’s Nordic Metal Cruise.

Still basking in the afterglow of Moonsorrow the audience welcomed Ensiferum to the stage just right after one in the morning. Even though Moonsorrow is musically closer to my personal taste I must hand it to Ensiferum for its superior live energy. Despite its undisputed excellency Moonsorrow had to wait for the crowd to warm up a bit but every metalhead in Club Vogue was 100% on board with Ensiferum from the opening beats of “Andromeda”. For me Ensiferum is one of those bands I’ve been aware of since forever without ever taking a closer look before. Thus, I was positively surprised to witness the sheer ecstasy the band evoked from its fans, seemingly without effort. It couldn’t possibly have been a simple matter of inebriation since the festival folk had plenty of time to get loaded even before Moonsorrow’s performance. Ensiferum was much more extroverted with faster songs in a live setting, which was then inevitably reflected in the crowd’s response. “From Afar” inspired the audience to such a mosh pit that, despite having attended hundreds of rock and metal shows in my lifetime, all I could do was stare in awe. The gig flew by without a boring moment, and at some point the crowd began its “we want more” chant even though the band showed no sign of leaving the stage. Metal fans have a particular solidarity for one another, and whenever someone fell over in the pit there was instantly several pairs of helping hands pulling them up. The show was closed by “Into Battle”, and it was time for me to retire to my cabin for a recharge of batteries in preparation for the second cruise day.

On the return trip from Stockholm to Turku the cruisers were entertained by Verikalpa and Swallow the Sun. The former began its set at four p.m. in a sparsely populated Club Vogue. The situation was gradually remedied as more and more people made their way to the dance floor. I had my first date with Verikalpa back in February 2017 when they served as an opening act for Primordial in Helsinki. I have not revisited their music ever since so I was eager to see the progress the band might have made over the years. The band still doesn’t command a very large following, but on Viking Grace it served its purpose of stirring up the crowd from their coma. Verikalpa was also responsible for evoking one of the most hilarious reactions from the crowd during the entire cruise, when someone among the audience decided to try out a good ol’ letkajenkka. The stunt turned out to be a smash hit as everyone on the dance floor save for the first row joined the dance. The band was pleased enough by the sight to ask for a repeat performance, and at the end of the second round the line collapsed into a proper mosh pit. Even though Verikalpa handled its duties as the day’s first band well enough, at some point the similar sounding songs grew monotonous in my ears and I began to wonder whether the band had potential enough to ever act as a headline act. Verikalpa played twelve songs including “Varjosahti”, “Rautatammi” and “Taisto”, the latter of which the band hadn’t performed live before.

Before landing in Turku Swallow the Sun added its doomy contribution to the otherwise very much folk metal oriented feast. Smoke screen veiling the stage dissipated during the intro and revealed a background graced by the same figure as seen on the cover of the band’s latest album “When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light”. Musicians entered the stage one by one, and soon the club resonated with the opening notes of “The Giant”. As glorious as this 12-minute-epic is, it felt a touch out of place in a cruise ship nightclub. Nevertheless, the song set the desired tone for the gig, and the rest of the set consisted of more straightforward material from the band’s catalogue. Swallow the Sun, as well as all the other bands on the bill, sounded great, and especially Juuso Raatikainen’s drumming was a treat to listen to. The concert was capped by a breezy hit triplet in the form of “Firelights”, “Stone Wings”, and “Swallow”, the latter of which gained new heights with the sound effects keyboardist Jaani Peuhu conjured from his set-up. When announcing its upcoming “Moonflowers” album Swallow the Sun revealed that Peuhu would be stepping down from the band to focus on his other band Mercury Circle. Besides his wonderful contribution to the band’s live sound Peuhu celebrated his possibly last concert with Swallow the Sun by trashing his keyboards at the end.

At the closing of the cruise it was teased that a follow-up might be expected. The news was confirmed this week, and Nordic Metal Cruise will be sailing again between Turku and Stockholm next February. This year’s event was otherwise well organized save for a bit insufficient communication. A physical pamphlet containing all the essential information would have been in order, as now one had to seek out the cruise schedule from Facebook beforehand. The ship’s crew appeared to be in a properly light mood, even though taking drinks to the club’s dance floor was strictly monitored. Club Vogue had a nominal face mask mandate which was applied rather liberally on the first evening. News of this lapse in protocol must have reached some upper echelon, since on the return trip the mask mandate was enforced much more vigorously. Overall, the event was a success that left me with a very pleasant aftertaste, and as such I see no reason not to recommend this experience to any metal fan looking for a good time.

Text: Ossi Kumpula

Photos: Serena Solomon