Words: Brady Irwin
Photos: Michael Gow

On a balmy and searing evening that is more reflective of South-East Asia than one of our southernmost Australian cities, there was a background level of ambient exhaustion that seemed hard for opener folk-death-metal act Stormtide to pierce through initially. Nevertheless, after storming (pun intended) through a series of raucously mystical and symphonic tunes, the lofty but hard-hitting support slot were aided by a warming crowd, garnering a steadily growing applause as heat-struck folk metal nerds trickled downstairs, Melbourne Bitter mead in hand. Gruff vocals and hard-hitting riffs flanked the synth-heavy tunes, earning quite the reception from the small crowd as the set progressed. Definitely an appropriate sound to introduce the night.

Contrastingly, the cyberpunk synth introduction of Espionage’s set, lifted more from retro sci-fi than fantasy worlds, was nevertheless immediately well received with a powerfully energetic homage to traditional and power metal with a thrash backing. The vocalist/bassists’ dulcet high shrieks and wails complemented the dual-guitar shredding histrionics and rollicking, high-octane drumming. Awoken from a somber summer stupor, the crowd were punching out round after round of applause. With high pitched shrieks, wails and rockstar posturing, the band channelled a mid-slot Iron Maiden/3 Inches Of Blood feel which roused the audience appropriately. The requisite over-the-top outro was met with thundering feedback from the beer-waving crowd before them.

Even with the youthful energy and throwback rockstar antics, there was no matching the capital F Fun of headliners Ensiferum’s set. Opening cautiously with obligatory folky interlude Ajattomasta Unesta, the group launched into ‘Two Paths’ ripper track For Those About To Fight For Metal with furious kinetic force. Painted for war and looking like rogue characters from a Dungeons and Dragons session, the band nevertheless brought a modern fierceness to their melodic metal infused folk-metal. Growler and guitarist Petri Lindroos’ calls for us to “get ready to party!” in between focused roars and riffing set the tone nicely, alongside clean vocalists/guitarist Markus Toivonen and bassist Sami Hinkka’s melodic gang choruses. The perpetual proverbial-eating grin of the former and the passionate rabble-rousing of the latter helped whip the washing machine moshpit into a froth, which never abated once. It helped that the relentless and watertight battery of Janne Parivianen set an uptempo backdrop for their endless windmilling, chanting and fist-pumping. Playing efficiently, tightly and with all the gesticulation, headbanging and movement of rockstars, it was clear this was one very well-oiled and tightly-run ship. Having been a band since 1995, there was not one momentary lapse of energy, appreciation or focus from the current onstage incarnation. Backdropped by synth, flute and other flourishes, these ambient touches did not detract from the solid melodic death framework – even acoustic interludes were met with swirling moshpits, to the bands’ grinning acknowledgement.

The ecstatic applause from the opener, well wishes and thanks from the band just set the stage for what was a damn plain fun set. Effortlessly riffing and soloing through Two Paths, Heathen Horde and the passionately received back-and-forth refrains of Twilight Tavern, it didn’t matter whether the lyrics were in Suomi or English – the crowd had it passionately covered. Surely a few cases of tennis elbow would erupt following tonight, if the endlessly upward swinging arms of fist-pumping, horns-sporting fans was anything to go by. Proving their mettle as a battle metal outfit, the band cleaved through In My Sword I Trust, Way Of The Warrior, Warrior Without A War and other war-ready hits with one hundred percent audience participation. Grooving on some classic rock basslines, the band jaunted into a very disco-inspired Two Of Spades which, alongside singalong numbers like Lai Lai Hei were rapturously received by the endlessly moshing, beer-soaked moshpit horde.

Closing out with multiple encores including the feverishly received Guardians of Fate, it was a sad but well-appreciated sight to finally see the band riff and solo as long as they could for a theatrical rock god ending. The whooping and cheers on both sides reflected a night that was equally fun for both parties. Heads will be hung downwards today – not in sorrow, but in grateful remembrance of last night’s epic revelry with one of the most energetic and lively bands on the folk metal scene.