It feels like I was just talking about an Insomnium tour only a few short months ago. Oh, wait…I was. You know the Finnish melodic death metal crew have earned themselves a special place among my favorites when I’ve seen them twice in a calendar year. The first time around, they opened for Dark Tranquillity at the Worcester Palladium, back in January. This time, they headlined an incredible performance with support from the very-closely-related Omnium Gatherum at the same venue. Yes, that’s right. I’ve seen Insomnium twice in barely eight months at the same damn venue. And you know what? If they were right back there tonight…I’d be there for a third. Let’s go over some highlights from last night.
The Palladium’s always been that venue I love to hate. (Or hate to love; I can’t decide which.) I could never outright hate it, as there’s no denying the access it’s given me to some of my all-time favorite acts, including Behemoth, Opeth, In Flames, Devin Townsend, Katatonia, and countless others. But the fact is, the place is a pain in the goddamn ass. I live in Portsmouth. Boston is convenient enough. Worcester is not. There is no public transportation; it’s a long ass drive (about an hour and half); and it might be one of the worst-managed venues I’ve ever been to. Usually there is a single bartender to hundreds, if not thousands, of concertgoers, asking six bucks a pop for a friggin’ PBR pounder. They usually overfill the place and there is never enough staff. Also, I think the last time any of the bathrooms were cleaned was during the first ever New England Metal and Hardcore Festival back in 1999. It’s not the best. But it’s long been a part of my life, so there I found myself once again. Last night’s show was held in the smaller, standing-room-only, upstairs venue, just like back in January. This is a good thing; I appreciate being closer to the stage in a more condensed environment. It adds a little extra to the performance.
I got there just in time to see Boston’s My Missing Half who, appropriately enough, seem to open for about half the shows I see at The Palladium — including the January show. They label themselves as melodic death metal, but I think categorizing themselves under that genre is as pointless as giving yourself a nickname; nobody’s going to use it and it probably doesn’t have a logical reason for existence. But really, they sounded fine. Not my thing, but I appreciated the opportunity to lurk in the shadows throwing back one Narragansett lagers after another. (Note: this is an atrocious beer. But when that’s the only light pounder you can get — they didn’t have PBR for some fuck reason — sacrifices need to be made.) Anyway, that was my experience with My Missing Half. It came and went quickly enough.
And then came Omnium Gatherum. I’d never really gotten into these guys before, but not due to lack of interest or anything, just lack of familiarity. I’ve gotta say, they kicked an ass or two. It was quality melodic death metal. I managed to weasel my way to the front row and it was totally worth it. The entire band was full of energy and clearly having a ton of fun, especially lead guitarist Markus Vanhala (who would end up having a busy night doing double duty for Insomnium) and vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, who I’m pretty sure drank all the booze in Worcester before the show. (Seriously, he was all over the place) Opening with “Everfields” giving way to “New Dynamic”, they set the trend for a setlist that would be heavily focused on 2011’s New World Shadows and 2013’s Beyond. But, lucky for us, they included a new song, “Skyline,” right in the middle of the set, which combined a melodic intensity with something far more rhythmic and percussive. These guys have basically been on the road since Beyond dropped, and have a new album slated to drop next spring. Anyway, it was a killer set, a very entertaining performance that was extremely well received by the audience in the front. It all set the stage for Insomnium quite nicely…
I’ll preface this part of the night by saying I was extremely skeptical. I was prepared for a show performed by 1/2 of Insomnium, and to be completely honest, a part of the reason I made the journey was simple curiosity. And when the stage crew wheeled out a second mic stand strictly to hold an iPad showing the lyrics to the songs for the dude filling in for Niilo Sevänen… my skepticism didn’t exactly fade. For those unaware, Niilo had to make a shock trip back home to care for his family. Instead of calling off the tour, the band did the commendable thing and pushed on with an emergency substitution. There is no reason to be upset by this; family always comes first, and if they had called off the tour, we might have been disappointed but it’d be understandable. Insomnium showing a willingness to still please the fans speaks volumes.
Anyway, the band tapped Mike Bear, who I am completely unfamiliar with, to handle the bass and growl duties and fill the void left by Niilo’s absence. And I need to give him credit: he killed it. It was awkward seeing those crazy Finns with their long, flowing blond hair (and the bald Markus Hirvonen) and then Mike Bear, who didn’t fit that visual mold at all. To put it simply, he has a fitting last name. But once the set began with “Primeval Dark” and transitioned to “While We Sleep” (which I’m still convinced is the most epic way to open a set), it was clear he knew what he was doing. His growl was impressively deep, he hit the bass lines perfectly, and really did an impressive job overall given the last minute nature of his presence. But the real highlight was the guitar duo of Markus Vanhala, who appeared to be having even more fun during his second set of the night, and Nick Cordle of Arch Enemy (filling in for Ville Friman), who was spot on throughout and took care of the clean vocals brilliantly. These guys were all over the place — running around the stage and engaging the audience in every way they could. They had so much energy and were smiling, laughing, and clearly loving every second of what they were doing. And that all directly translated to the crowd. Even with Niilo and Ville’s absences, the performance was extremely cohesive and it was obvious they all managed to get, and stay, in perfect harmony through the set. Very impressive indeed.
The set itself was incredible. And I would know… I managed to snag it after the show ended. Obviously it was still heavy on Shadows of the Dying Sun, which only dropped last year. “Revelation,” “Blackheart Rebellion,” and “Ephemeral” were all featured, among others. But the highlight tracks were the ones that stepped back in time a bit. We got some Across the Dark in “Down with the Sun” and the incredible closer, “Weighed Down with Sorrow.” But they even went all the way back to their debut full-length, In the Halls of Awaiting and broke out “The Elder,” which was easily the quintessential moment of my night. Everything was performed with so much energy and passion, with the guitar duo flying all over the place and Markus Hirvonen whipping beer cans across the stage as he pounded them down one after another. And then we go back to Mike Bear one more time, who deserves all the credit in the world for tying everything together.
Given my expectations going into this show and circumstances, I can only give this show the highest of ratings. Was it perfect? No. The acoustics could have been a little better (though this might have been where I was standing) and obviously Insomnium’s primary personality wasn’t even there. But still, it was an incredible show — one of the better I’ve seen this year. A huge “thank you” goes out to all the guys in Insomnium who pushed on for their fans. Positive vibes were sent, and will continue to be sent, Niilo’s way as we all hope for the best for him and his family. But there wasn’t a moment of this show I didn’t enjoy. Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium made for one hell of a night and I encourage you all check this tour out if the opportunity presents itself.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”