From 2013 until 2017, attending a Raskasta Joulua-concert was one of my few christmas holiday season traditions. After a five-year hiatus, I figured it was time to reprise the habit as the group, consisting of a five-piece band and alternating vocalists, performed a ten-minute walk away from my doorstep at Nokia Arena in Tampere. The show at the most grandiose indoor arena currently in Finland was the last stop of this year’s tour, and vocalists performing the metallized christmas carols were Noora Louhimo, Antti Railio, Elize Ryd, Tony Kakko, JP Leppäluoto, Ville Tuomi, Marko Hietala, Ilja Jalkanen, Tuple Salmela and Pekka Heino.
Raskasta Joulua has been a springboard to greater fame for many of the project’s soloists, and Antti Railio is no exception. He had the distinct honor to kick off the evening’s festivities with “Rakkain lahjoistani“, a song that I hadn’t heard before performed live. Not only did Railio deliver a killer performance at the mic, the various pyrotechnics deployed during the song promised ambitious production values for the rest of the evening.
The first ten songs were each performed with a different vocalist, giving every songbird of the night a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Sparks literally flew as Tuple Salmela cranked out “Me käymme Joulun viettohon“, and Noora Louhimo did justice to an exceptionally well-arranged version of Howard Blake’s “Walking in the Air“. The Battle Beast frontwoman did not shy away from acknowledging her hometown, calling on the Tampere crowd several times to show off their prowess as heavy music fans.
JP Leppäluoto and his performance of “Konstan joululaulu” inspired the evening’s first sea of smartphone flashlights, and Marko Hietala’s appearance during “Ensimmäinen Joulu” kicked the crowd’s excitement to a higher gear. The animated cheering from the audience as Hietala stepped forth is a true testament to the man’s ongoing star power, and it’ll be interesting to see what direction his musical career takes now that the pandemic and his duties in Nightwish are over. The first act before intermission drew to a close with “Sylvian joululaulu” sung by Tony Kakko. To mark the halfway point the song included a guitar solo so stretched that it bordered on distasteful.
After thirty minutes the interlude was interrupted by “Enkelikello“. The song’s joyful melodies and Antti Railio’s powerful vocals makes the tune an uplifting treat whenever you hear it, so it was a great choice to break the ice with. “Heinillä härkien kaukalon” marked the evening’s first duet as Pekka Heino and Tuple Salmela sang in together, and right afterwards the two female vocalists of the show joined forces for “White Christmas“. Noora Louhimo sang her parts in Finnish and Elize Ryd did her’s in English, making for a very interesting sonic experience. Ryd was dressed in black and Louhimo in white, furthering the ying & yang impression of the performance.
Whereas the first act of the concert marched the singers forth individually, the second half they performed in various assemblies. If “Pieni rumpali” wasn’t impressive enough with the quartet of singers Marko Hietala, Tony Kakko, Tuple Salmela and Ville Tuomi, then the green flames shooting up from the stage surely did the trick. Elize Ryd got to exercise her native language with Tony Kakko during “Julen är här“, and the loudest communal singing was coaxed from the crowd in “Varpunen Jouluaamuna“. Raskasta Joulua-showrunner Erkka Korhonen gave an impactful speech during the song, which inspired the audience to sing their hearts out. A Finnish cover of Queensrÿche’s “Silent Lucidity” was performed in memory of Kimmo Blom, who passed away last August. It was a heartfelt moment to begin the encore, with everyone onstage standing respectfully. All singers were present for the last three songs, the night culminating in “Ilouutinen“.
Even after a five-year break I felt right at home at last Sunday’s Raskasta Joulua-show in Tampere. Very little had changed for either better or worse since my last visit to one of these events, although the crowd enthusiasm might’ve been a bit more subdued than usual this time around. Curiously enough, the standing floor area was less populated than the seated galleries. It was a telltale sign of the audience profile, though I certainly couldn’t complain of the added breathing room. I’m not one for listening to the radio, so I’m not exposed to an overload of christmas carols during the holiday season. As such attending a Raskasta Joulua show is a convenient way to get my fix of holiday mood in sonic form, so I’ll seriously have to think about reviving this tradition for myself. After all, Raskasta Joulua has become a rock solid concert tour you can always count on come christmas time, and next year promises to be no exception.
Pictures: Sini Sulkakoski