Wintersun’s North American Tour Visits House Of Blues Sunset Strip

By Andrew Bansal

August 26th 2013, House Of Blues Sunset Strip, West Hollywood CA: It had been quite a while since I visited the House Of Blues Sunset Strip on a Monday night for a show that wasn’t Steel Panther. Those shows are such sure-shot guarantees for the venue in terms of the turnouts that for them to book a different show on a Monday night has to mean it’s a hugely popular event, and last night it sure was as Finnish epic metal band Wintersun returned to LA as part of their first ever proper North American headline tour, promising a ‘special set’ for all of their eagerly awaiting fans. Along with them they brought the rapidly rising symphonic extreme metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse from Italy, Virginia tech-death group Arsis, and Starkill from Chicago. The doors opened early at 6 PM, the crowds flocked in, and the stage was set for a great evening.

Promptly at 7 PM, Starkill hit the stage and played a 25-minute set. This melodic death metal band comes from Chicago IL, which is weird and interesting in itself because that part of the country hasn’t been known to produce bands in this sub-genre. I was looking forward to seeing them as I enjoyed their debut album ‘Fires Of Life’ which came out on Century Media earlier this year, but unfortunately I missed their set entirely because my interview with Wintersun clashed with Starkill’s set. Based on what I heard from other people though, they did put on a good show and impressed a fair few of the Wintersun fans. I’ll hope to catch them next time around.

Set List:
1. New Infernal Rebirth
2. Immortal Hunt
3. Fires of Life
4. Below the Darkest Depths
5. Wash Away the Blood with Rain

Next up at 7:50 were Arsis. Their set last May at the Vex left me largely underwhelmed, but in all honesty that’s a terrible sounding venue and it certainly played a big part in the lack of impact Arsis’ music had that night. Well, this time Arsis came across a lot better in all aspects and got the crowd moving for a majority of their set, during the older songs in particular. I’m still not able to get into their new material as much as the old stuff, even in the live setting. A good portion of the crowd was digging Arsis’ set and gave the band a good response. James Malone did a great job fronting the band on vocals and guitar while bassist Noah Martin carried the band’s stage presence with his high-energy performance and intense head-banging. They ended their set at 8:15, and it felt like a premature end because that’s just when people were really starting to get into it. Anyhow, a solid set by Arsis, this.

Set List:
1. Handbook for the Recently Deceased
2. Maddening Disdain
3. A Diamond for Disease
4. Seven Whispers Fell Silent
5. Unwelcome
6. The Face of My Innocence

The Italian symphonic death metal ensemble Fleshgod Apocalypse arrived on stage at 8:40 and absolutely annihilated this venue with 40 minutes of pure, hellish brutality. This band has worked hard to build a following in North America, touring regularly as an opening band. But on this tour, they are finally able to reap the results of what they sowed during the past few years, as they were the main support act on this lineup, and very much deservingly so. They beefed up their live show in comparison to their past visits here, as this time they had a live pianist and female singer performing with the main group of musicians. It definitely made a big difference and gave the show a more real, human touch. The pianist in particular added an element that’s not usually seen at metal shows. He sat there with his back facing the crowd, putting his 100 per cent and more into that piano, and got up from his seat at the end of songs to acknowledge the applause. It was beautiful.

Musically, they kept a constant rhythm through the drums and symphonic arrangements, and the lead parts of the music worked perfectly over it. It so relentless that there wasn’t a single dull moment in their set. Their song selection was brilliant to say the least, as the set had a fantastic flow to the extent that 40 minutes flew by before anyone realized it. Led by vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi’s ferocious vocal delivery, the band’s sound was monstrous as all hell. Their new album ‘Labyrinth’ is an excellent slab of extreme metal, and by all means they portrayed an extremely strong live version of it through the two new tunes they played. I’ll go as far as saying that I’ve never enjoyed an extreme metal band in the live setting as much as Fleshgod Apocalypse last night, and even though the headliner was still to follow, I had a feeling I had already seen the best band of the night. All we need now is for Fleshgod Apocalypse to come back as headliners themselves.

Set List:
1. The Hypocrisy
2. Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon)
3. The Deceit
4. The Violation
5. The Egoism
6. Elegy
7. The Forsaking

The wait for Wintersun fans was over at 9:50 as the curtains were pulled apart and the intro ‘When Time Fades Away’ from the new album ‘Time I’ started playing on the PA. It was a bit of an anti-climax to be honest, as the four-minute tune seemed too long to be a PA-intro. But finally towards the end of it, the band members appeared on stage one by one amidst huge cheers, frontman Jari Mäenpää being the last one to come out and drawing the loudest cheer. As expected, they laid into the new album and performed the next two tracks ‘Sons Of Winter And Stars’ and ‘Land Of Snow And Sorrow’. I was surprised they didn’t play the entire Time I album straight through, but the fact that they broke it up with the older song ‘Beautiful Death’ thrown in between turned out to be a good thing in my opinion. The Time I album is just too epic to be grasped as one piece of music, and it made more sense to play it in two parts.

‘Beautiful Death’ was actually one of the highlights of the set for me, and the crowd certainly enjoyed it more than anything on the new album. With that said, the title track ‘Time’ sounded amazing and was easily the best of the new songs. More than anything the band did musically on that stage last night, Jari’s screams were the most epic element of the set for me, and him constantly raising both his arms to address the crowd was extremely funny. I was turned off by the excessive use of orchestral samples, even samples of the guitar parts at times, specially for the new songs. With the new album being as intricately layered as it is, this was to be expected. But then again, the one thing that most endears us all towards the metal genre is the fact that bands keep it real and write music which can be played live. Unfortunately, this aspect was missing from a sizable portion of Wintersun’s set. I can’t believe they don’t even use a live keyboard player. Despite that, it was an impressive set because whenever the four humans on stage did play their respective instruments, they sounded amazing. Wintersun played a comprehensive 100-minute set which might have been a little too much to handle for the casual fan, but there were hardly any casual fans in this audience as they gleefully gobbled up this enormous Wintersun treat.

Related Interviews: Wintersun | Fleshgod Apocalypse | Starkill

Set List (might be missing a song; will be updated when that info is available):
1. When Time Fades Away
2. Sons of Winter and Stars
3. Land of Snow and Sorrow
4. Beautiful Death
5. Darkness and Frost
6. Time
7. Death and Healing
8. Winter Madness
9. Beyond the Dark Sun
10.Bullet with Butterfly Wings
11.The Way of the Fire

Remaining Tour Dates:
27.08.2013 US Anaheim, CA – House of Blues
28.08.2013 US San Diego, CA – House of Blues
29.08.2013 US Tempe, AZ – Joe’s Grotto
31.08.2013 US Dallas, TX – House of Blues
01.09.2013 US Houston, TX – House of Blues
03.09.2013 US Fort Lauderdale, FL – Revolution
04.09.2013 US Orlando, FL – House of Blues
05.09.2013 US Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
06.09.2013 US Charlotte, NC – The Fillmore