Sonata Arctica with Thunderstone and Striker at Club Academy Manchester – 22 March 2017
There is a drawback to having a fantastic amount of live music to attend in Manchester most nights of any given week. While rock and metal fans are very well-treated by promoters, unfortunately not all can be well-attended. In a week where there was a live rock/metal show (at least 1) on each of the previous 6/7 nights, there is always a point reached where fans, due to simple economics, must take a break and have a night in. Such it proved on a night where legendary band Sonata Arctica played in the smaller of all the Academy venues. I initially thought that the chosen venue would prove an underestimation of the band’s legendary status. I had not factored in the impact of the packed Manchester gig schedule. Singer Tony Kakko had indicated to me in a pre-show interview that he was also quite surprised regarding the choice of venue. Unfortunately, the venue was only half-full; however, the few that did venture out on a cold Manchester evening were passionate and enthusiastic for all bands. It is also to the bands’ credit that they all gave 100% in their live performance with no holding back in terms of their energy and commitment. First gig on the UK tour, and I certainly hope that attendance increases on the later dates.
Canadian retro thrashers Striker were first up and they are a band that have certainly long-served their musical apprenticeship. Striker wear their hearts firmly on the sleeves of their tattered denim jackets. They soak up all the influences and power of the very best in classic rock and metal. Although at times, both visually and sonically, it was as if I had just stepped into a musical time warp, I still have a soft spot for that era of classic thrash and metal. As such, I neither loved or hated their set. It left me a tad ambivalent – good in parts and generic in others. Maybe also it’s just my increasing age as they seemed to go down an absolute storm with the largely younger elements of the crowd. They do however possess a unique element to their sound in that all band members have a vocal mike which helped to give the band a multi-layered vocal aspect to their sound. Their set list traversed the band’s extensive back catalogue and generally was well-received by the majority of the crowd.
Thunderstone are another band who have been around the musical block a few times. Constantly evolving their sound but also developing what they do. A pre-show chat with bassist Titus Hjelm had informed me he was also a teacher when he wasn’t powering through the band’s melodic metal anthems. Their set would prove to be quite a sonic education. Promoting their latest album Apocalypse Again, the band showed how much they have changed musical direction from their first couple of albums. Visually extremely entertaining and in frontman Pasi Rantanen, an incredible set of lungs – both versatile in terms of range and style. Definitely a band worth checking out if you are not previously familiar with them.
On to the night’s headliners, and while the small venue had not managed to draw in many more punters from the start of the night, the Sonata Arctica band members devoted the same passion as they had shown on larger stages supporting many bigger bands over their ten-year history. Genre-wise I would put them quite firmly in the power metal style, while illustrating both subtle melodic nuances and other songs that proved a much harder edge. While they have a long musical pedigree, this would be an intimate gig for the band and they tended to view it positively. Being used to generally playing larger venues around the world, they appeared to visibly relish getting up close and personal with their fans. Despite the audience being thin in numbers they were passionate in their response and very vocal as the Sonata Arctica set progressed during the evening.
They definitely won me over as a new convert, and their live show proved to be more powerful and heavier than their recorded output would have reflected. I feel that it’s a very difficult time for bands to financially survive and make a comfortable living solely from music as a single source of income. Singer Tony Kakko had indicated in the pre-show interview that Sonata Arctica were able to do this. Given that many other artists who have been around for a similar length of time had told me that they had to take an additional second job while not touring, it’s to Sonata Arctica’s credit that they have a strong business model in place which allows them to exist. Sonata Arctica’s musical legacy should dictate that they should be playing larger UK venues, it’s to the band’s immense sense of professionalism that they accepted the hand that they were dealt with on the opening night of their UK tour, and entertained to the best of their unified musical ability despite the lack of crowd numbers.