The Easter bunny in shape of Blow up the Gramophones had hidden a real Easter treat at the Culture Factory Korjaamo (Korjaamo=Repair shop) on the Saturday of the Easter weekend, 7th April: Agalloch from the USA were playing for the first time ever in Finland and for yours truly it was also a dream come true to finally see this band because yours truly was supposed to see them years ago at the Ragnarök-Festival in Lichtenfels, Germany. But because the situation went like this: Yours truly standing in the parking lot outside the festival area with friends having some drinks after a four hour drive to get to the festival, getting really excited to finally see Agalloch, saying to my friends that we should slowly go in to the festival hall to make sure not to miss a single note of the Agalloch set. Coming in and starting to pay attention to the band on stage yours truly slowly realized that Agalloch were already on stage which was a little shock but the assumption was that they had just started early until they announced the next song would be their last one. After inquiring from some friends that had been in the hall the whole time the situation was that due to a very short notice schedule change Agalloch had started their set half an hour ago and it was now basically over…..
Still being traumatized from this experience years ago you can imagine the excitement when reading the announcement that Agalloch would be playing in Helsinki. Many people seemed to think the same as the gig was sold out weeks before the concert date. The ticket prices were at a quite fair 24 €. I say fair despite only two bands playing at the concert and usually only very successful Finnish bands like Amorphis and international acts like Pentagram have prices like that and up. But it being the first show of a band in the land of thousand lakes and a band that clearly many have waited for a long time to see the price could have been much higher. The Finnish Ghostbrigade were the support and set to play at 10 p.m. so we made sure to leave the delicious pre-Agalloch-Easter-party on time. And with delicious I don’t mean the usual beer, chips and nuts buffet but a variety of salad and cheeses, morels fried in cognac and filled with mascarpone-herb-chili fillig, cakes and sparkling wine – in short a menu worthy of the importance of this concert and proof that metal heads don’t only survive on beer and greasy junk food.
A short stroll through Töölö and we reached the Culture Factory Korjaamo. Töölö is not your usual Helsinki party area but more of a central and popular living area for the a bit better off, located a few minutes from the central railway station between Mannerheimintie, one of Helsinki’s arterial roads, and the sea. Tourist hotspots such as the Sibelius park are located there as well as the opera house at the beautiful Töölönlahti bay. Korjaamo itself is a very versatile place with various spaces of various sizes that host a variety of events from concerts, art shows, performances, theatres to parties which makes it also to one of the largest cultural centers in Northern Europe with more than 300 self produced events and 150 where they rent out their spaces. Besides these events also a café and a bar belong to Korjaamo where one can enjoy anything from brunch to lunch and drinks. It was only the second time attending an event there for yours truly and the first time in the Vaunusaali, which is the big hall. This hall is quite special in its décor: Red brick walls, arches and six historical trams from the years 1890 to 1941! During the day this hall functions as the tram museum and during events like this one the trams create a unique atmosphere. The café is also located in the hall and offers a variety of drinks and snacks, drink prices for beer and ciders are 5€ which is normal for this area of Helsinki.
But now back to the concert: Shortly before 10 p.m. we arrived and started queuing as everyone seemed to have the same time schedule but the bouncers and wardrobe staff worked fast and effectively so shortly after we were in and managed to catch the first tunes of Ghostbrigade that had gotten on stage and started precisely on time. The place was already packed which is quite unusual for Helsinki as people normally only come in time to see the headliner. This either meant that lots of people also wanted to see Ghostbrigade or were so eager to see Agalloch and get a good place that they overcame their typical Helsinki behavior. Either way, the concert was off to a good start like this and the crowd definitely also liked Ghostbrigade lots.
The atmosphere immediately caught you once you entered: There was the venue itself with its red brick pillars and arches that framed the stage and stage area on either sides and separated the concert area from the bar area on one side and the backstage area on the other; then the stage which was doused in shades of blue and violet and of course the music itself. What also immediately hit you the closer you got to the stage was the bad air quality: It was so stuffy and hot that for once a gas mask might have been not only a black metal fashion accessory but also a useful survival tool. Be that as it may, it lead to yours truly drinking mostly water during Agalloch and getting high on oxygen after the gig when stepping into a normal breathing zone again so maybe not all that bad.
But now about Ghostbrigade: It was the first time for yours truly to see them although the name was very familiar and various friends had recommended them. Admittedly, the mind was not 100% with their show because the anticipation to soon finally see Agalloch took over but Ghostbrigade were a suitable support, they created a beautiful atmosphere and were a pleasure to watch and listen to and yours truly made a mental note to follow up on this band finally.
During the break the place got even more crowded but it was still possible to quite easily get a good place close to the stage. The audience was a very interesting mixture from hipsters to the usual black metal crowd and non-metal looking people. But what they all had in common was the excited glow of anticipation on their faces.
And then the long awaited moment finally was here: Agalloch entered the stage, first barely visible behind the clouds of white and blue smoke and started with “Into the Painted Grey” of their 2010 album “Marrow of the Spirit”. It took not even a second for John Haughm and his men to warm up or convince the audience but it was instant energy, fire, atmosphere – this amazing moment that (only) live music can create when you wish that your body would dissolve and you’d be freed from the limitations of the corpse and could immerse yourself completely and absolutely into the music and the atmosphere, guided by the guitar melodies and John’s unique voice up to the stars and beyond. Yes, you are reading these words correctly, the concert was amazing! They played songs throughout their discography from “Dead Winter Days” from their 1999 album “Pale Folklore” which they dedicated to Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki to 2010’s “Marrow of the Spirit”. The goose bump moments kept on coming and did not stop until the show was over because the encores were destined to be sending shivers down your spine: As the first encore they finally played a song from “The Mantle” : “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” and then as the last song “Kneel to the Cross” , a Sol Invictus cover: When the drum beat started and John began shouting “Summer is a-coming in, arise arise” and the shout was repeated by the whole crowd ….. it was one of these times were words are just not enough to describe the intensity and magic of the moment. It just takes your breath away (and not only because by that time the percentage of oxygen in the air was minimal) to witness such beauty. The only thing missing from this evening was “A Desolation Song”. But maybe next time and maybe it is better that they didn’t play this song because it might have been just too much to take in. The only thing left to say is that I have waited 10 years to see this band live since I first heard “The Mantle” and it was worth the wait!
Nina Ratavaara, Photos: Eija Mäkivuoti