Dance on the Graves: A Celebration of & a Tribute to Sentenced – The Circus, Helsinki – January 10, 2015
When Crimson came out fifteen years ago, I was a clueless pre-teen living in the backwoods of Lehmijärvi, only starting to take my first dips into the vast dark pool of heavy metal music. Being at an impressionable age, heavy consumption of the album – along with the cover-seasoned reissue of Frozen and the Greatest Kills compilation – served as my gateway into Sentenced’s funereal world. The last two albums that followed didn’t hinder my enthusiasm either, and further explorations into the band’s earlier works kept them in regular rotation even during times when I could hardly be bothered with much else than black and death metal.
Traveling out of town for a gig – let alone a festival – didn’t feel like a simple task for a minor small-towner, so when the Northernmost Killers lowered their coffin into the frozen ground with the extensive Funeral Tour in 2005, I somehow managed to let it pass me by. Talk about (guilt and) regret! Seeing the Sentenced cover band Forever One at Nummirock ’07 and ’09 was about as good a substitute as I could imagine, as those Southern Ostrobothnians nailed the sound of the originals in a stunning fashion. It’s too bad that they apparently called it quits as well a few years later, but I guess that makes my two encounters with them seem all the more special in retrospect, and merely milking a tribute band concept for years on end would seem somewhat cheap from a group of skilled musicians anyway.
So, with close to a decade having passed since Sentenced’s last appearance on stage, I warmly welcomed another opportunity to hear their everdying tunes live at the release party of Matti Riekki’s (mostly known as the editor-in-chief of Inferno Magazine) brand new biographical book Täältä pohjoiseen: Sentencedin tarina, as the event date was announced in late 2014. Despite the first given details being quite vague, I knew it wasn’t going to be a reunion, with my trust in the integrity and honesty of Sentenced being too firm to think that they would betray themselves and their followers by digging up the corpse after having already given it the most proper burial. As more specs surfaced, it was revealed that some of the band members would be climbing onto the stage, but only for an interview, followed by a lengthy tribute spectacle from a specifically assembled line-up of rising talents from the Finnish metal underground. Now this was starting to sound like a night I couldn’t afford to miss.
Once the S-day had dawned, our itinerary before the 8pm showtime of the interview consisted of trudging through selected works from Sentenced’s discography while working on a buzz. I guess the author and the artists needed some more time to work on theirs, with none of them being seen on stage until about half an hour later, but as the entrance to The Circus had been fast and smooth, and there were a lot of familiar folks around to catch up with in the meantime, the evening was off to a fair start already. The interrogation was conducted by the event organizer Stephen Burgess, asking questions about the creation of the book and the milestones of Sentenced’s career from author Matti Riekki, latter-day vocalist Ville Laihiala and surviving guitarist-mastermind Sami Lopakka. Knowing the band’s journey well and having followed the recent media coverage of Täältä pohjoiseen, but not having laid my hands on the book yet, this little session had a lot of informational and entertainment value. Sentenced’s interviews on Metalliliitto still remain among my favorites – Diane, remind me to dig out those tapes from the closet – being such unholy grails of dark Northern humor and bittersweet wisdom, and enjoying the same live was simply exhilarating. With the guys offering priceless insights into the band’s history while downing A. Le Coq, occasionally interrupted by random drunken hollerings from the audience, it came close to a stand-up show that was to be the highlight of the night.
The next two hours had been reserved for a signing session with Riekki and the whole band, but getting some scribblings on paper or my butt didn’t feel like enough of a priority to stand in the ridiculously long line that soon formed. This seemed like a good time to pay a visit to the nearby Pub Ikkuna for some more affordable beers, but the venue had a clever way of preventing such indiscretion by not letting anyone leave and come back without having to buy their way in again. Just to play it safe, they also wouldn’t let anyone enter without a coat – as experienced first-hand by two of our friends who had left theirs at a pre-party nearby – and the bouncers seemed to have no interest in solving the situation. After all, these guys had paid for their tickets already, so no harm done if they don’t get in, right? After looking up the phone number of the manager, succeeding in reaching his deputy, and presenting their case, they were finally permitted to attend. Got to hand it to The Circus; they have picked a fitting name for the venue, as the place seems to be run by a bunch of clowns.
Being stuck in the realm of overpriced alcohol for a few hours wasn’t the end of the world, though, as the house was packed with friends, some of which we see around way too seldom these days. After plenty of babble and brews, it was finally time for the tribute performance to crown this celebration of one of the greatest bands to ever come out of Finland. Or so we thought. At first I was surprised not to recognize any of these “amazing up-and-coming musicians from the Finnish Metal Underground” on stage, apart from Mr. Burgess behind the mic, who I don’t recall ever having seen or heard of before the earlier interview either. I guess I’m not as diligently following the “scene” as I’d like to think? Well, at least this would allow Sentenced’s wondrous music to remain in the main role, without it just becoming some all-star show of rotating personnel boosting their egos.
Unfortunately, the interpretation did not do justice to the material. Instrumentally, the songs were executed well, but it was the vocals that made it crumble down, sounding more like something that I’d expect to hear next door in the karaoke of Satumaa instead. Not that we haven’t defiled “Excuse Me While I Kill Myself” every once in a while as well, but at least we’ve done that in some Malminkartano karaoke joint, and not on the stage of The Circus in front of hundreds of fans who had opened their wallets in hopes of an honorable tribute to one of their favorite bands. Mr. Burgess had seemingly rehearsed his part as well, but simply didn’t have the skill or charisma to even half-fill the big boots of Ville Laihiala and Taneli Jarva, and his attempts at engaging the audience for sing-alongs and hey-hey-heys didn’t sit right with my mopey no-bullshit vision of Sentenced either. I really wanted to like the show, expecting a nostalgic ride of melancholic glory, but even with my beerplugs on, occasional moments of enjoyment were overpowered by a crippling feeling of disappointment.
The set had been obviously compiled with deep understanding and appreciation for the legacy of Sentenced, spanning their career from the first demo to The Funeral Album, and including gems like the EP-only masterpiece “Desert by Night.” However, with the performance stumbling in the vocal department so significantly, there was no denying the sad fact that this came closer to a desecration than a celebration. About an hour into it, me and my comrade’s disenchantment had reached the critical “fuck it” level, and we decided to save what was left of the night by heading back home to drink our own beer and listen to Klamydia. Earwitness accounts confirmed that we didn’t end up missing much, and this sorry case was unceremoniously closed with the deletion of the Facebook event page the next day, following a flood of negative comments.
“We will piss upon your graves!” – Enough said.
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Photography by Lady Enslain, more photos to come.