Up until recently, the Danish metal act VOLA meant little more to me than a name from several years ago as a supporting act for Katatonia. Back then, the band had only the debut album “Inmazes” under their belts, and I remember overlooking them as just another harmless hard rock act with some melodic keyboard hues. Some five years and two more full-length records later, VOLA is one of the most exciting names on the map of European progressive metal, and I was compelled to be there for the opening night of their Witness Scandinavian tour. To state the obvious, VOLA were the headliner this time around, support being offered by Atlas and Port Noir.
Following the same foreboding intro that opens Atlas‘ latest album “Ukko”, drummer Aku Karjalainen took the stage and laid down the first beats to begin the band’s 30-minute set. Whether it was genuine excitement for all three bands, general enthusiasm for gigs being back after a covid-19 break of two years, or just some good old Saturday night fever, the venue was well populated even during the opening acts. Thus, Atlas got to show their fares to a hefty sample size of people, and based on the crowd response, these Finns have a bright future ahead of them. Atlas presented a peculiar mix of highly produced aggressive modern metal with a pinch of softer expression to break the mould, with English and Finnish lyrics blending in equal measure. At 30 minutes Atlas whetted the appetite without wearing out their welcome, so I’ll be sure to dig deeper into their music and catch them live again sometime soon.
The fifteen-minute interim reserved for each band proved to be too short for all the necessary change-ups, so it was a few minutes later than planned when Port Noir showed up for their turn in the limelights. Even though all three bands of the event were somewhat similar in their output each had their own unique angle to alternative metal, and hip hop appeared to be Port Noir’s ace in the hole. Though not anywhere near my regular cup of tea, in a live setting the lighter elements made this band seem more accessible compared to the downright oppressive sonic onslaught of Atlas. The chunky riffing by bassist-vocalist Love Andersson was my primary gateway into enjoying Port Noir’s music, and it was hard not to be endeared by the excited vibes of Andreas Hollstrand while performing his guitar and keyboard duties. If I understood correctly, this was the band’s first gig in two years as well as their first one in Finland, so some pent-up excitement was indeed due for release. Port Noir serenaded the crowd with several live debuts, such as “Sweet & Salt“, “Deep Waters” and “All Clash“, and the show was capped with a commemorative photo for which even the usually shy Finns were eager to partake in.
You could tell an up and coming band by the name of VOLA was up when the audience began shouting and clapping for them some ten minutes before the allotted showtime. As previously mentioned the evening marched forth three somewhat similar alternative metal outfits, of which VOLA proved themselves as the most well brewed and polished one. The Finnish audience had the distinct honour of witnessing several new songs live for the first time, and these included the opening tune “We Are Thin Air“, “Napalm” and “Future Bird“. VOLA already had a bit of a breakthrough with their sophomore album “Applause from a Distant Crowd”, and last year’s “Witness” has been received no less enthusiastically. Ethereal keyboard soundscapes meshed seamlessly together with Meshuggah-inspired djenting, and on a few notable occasions the crowd joined lead vocalist Asger Mygind in an unprompted sing-along. Many times I found myself wondering just when exactly did this band graduate to their current level from their 2016 Katatonia support gig playing to an empty hall at The Circus, a bygone Helsinki venue they could’ve easily filled to capacity this time around. The only blemish in the 15-song set was “These Black Claws“, a hip hop oddity that seemed out-of-place even in VOLA’s lavishly diverse palette.
Following “Inside Your Fur” the band teased their encore only briefly, the audience’s hunger for more readily apparent even without tired and overtly drawn-out “we want more”-chants. The set came to a final close with “Stray the Skies” during which the atmosphere was enhanced with a lazer beam aimed at a disco ball over the stage; a trick that would’ve worked better in a more intimate venue than the cool hallways of Helsinki Ice Hall. As the evening drew to a close I took the time to do a bit of audience profiling. Turns out VOLA is capable of attracting a diverse crowd from anything between young and old, male and female, and hipster and goth metal folk alike. With an arsenal consisting of three albums each better than the last, a Scandinavian tour with close to fully sold out shows and further tours planned for eager crowds across Europe, the cards are truly stacked in VOLA’s favor, a position they have well earned.
Review: Ossi Kumpula
Pictures: Niko Sihvonen