GIG REVIEW: Ensiferum, Valhalore & Elkenwood Live at The Zoo, Brisbane
It always seems mid-week shows can be hit or miss in Brisbane. While many people endeavor to get out, there is a certain stigma with shows in the middle of the week that for some reason keeps the crowds away, a point that only gets exacerbated at this point in time by people trying to save money for the incoming influx of heavy shows the city will have over the coming weeks. With that in mind, it was with trepidation that I attended Ensiferum at The Zoo with local supports Valhalore and Elkenwood, unsure of the crowd that might attend, especially with Zeal and Ardor, one of the most unique acts in metal right now, performing at a venue only one hundred meters away. Luckily, it was refreshing to see that a sizable crowd had turned out upon arrival at the venue, which thankfully kept growing as the night progressed.
The first act on stage for the evening was Elkenwood, who were an appropriate choice to open the night. The atmospheric black metal band might not have the strongest folk metal ties, but they do manage to incorporate folk elements into their music to create a sound which is really quite unique. Visually on stage, they were a bit restricted with where they could move, but thankfully their style of music focuses more on an aural rather than a visual engagement. While the band was only able to perform three songs due to their short set time and lengthy track durations, the crowd that had turned out early still engaged with the band by headbanging along to their catchy rhythms. It was also impressive to see the bassist and guitarist/vocalist take up multi-instrument duties on the night, with the bassist doubling on cello, and the guitarist doubling on a keyboard.
Second act for the evening Valhalore have been kicking around for a few years now, and have quietly been honing their craft to become one of the premiere bands to watch on the Australian circuit. There is a chemistry and organic feel that the band brings to the stage which was once again on high display, and given their stylistic similarities, Valhalore was a perfect choice for support of Ensiferum. By offering the crowd the opportunity to select an acoustic track or a heavier track during the middle of their set, Valhalore engaged with the crowd and the heavier track that was eventually selected certainly got a suitable response-in-kind. Given the relatively small stage, the six-person outfit was quite confined in their ability to move around, and although their performance was every bit as energetic and engaging as they have become known for, especially in front of their home crowd – it was not without its faults. Specifically, there was a moment during their opening song where you could tell that there was an issue with the foldbacks that looked like it could affect the guitar performance for the track, but the sound guys rectified this quickly and managed to get the band back on track seamlessly, and thankfully the remainder of their set ran smoothly.
The crowd had well and truly filled out by the time that Ensiferum had taken the stage, and while it had been almost six years to the day since the band had performed on Australian soil there wasn’t much coaxing needed to get a reaction from the crowd. Walking out to cheers and applause and a sea of horns and fists in the air, the band brought immense momentum in with them from their opening salvo.
Those that had been waiting for several years to catch Ensiferum again were not left disappointed, with the band sounding as tight and proficient as they are recorded while managing the enthrall the crowd with their stage presence. Whether it was Markus Toivonen’s guitar or backing vocal work, Sami Hinkka’s crowd-rousing engagement, Janne Parvainen’s stoic drumming, or Petri Lindroos’ sharpened harsh vocals, the band put on one of the tightest performances that have been through Brisbane in recent memory. The sound at The Zoo can quite often be hit or miss due to the acoustics of the venue, but the mix was managed perfectly for Ensiferum which only helped enhance their performance.
There are so many things that could be said about Ensiferum’s show, but perhaps their greatest asset was their showmanship. The live spectacle of the band was a shared experience amongst each of its members and is something you can tell they have been working on for the duration of their career, with highlights including shared harsh and clean vocal duties amongst the three guitar players and the different crowd engagement efforts from each member some of the key elements that just made this performance fun, a sentiment resonated throughout the crowd!
While on the subject of the crowd, this would have had to have been one of the more enjoyable crowds at a show recently, and while they were still quite rowdy, they were also respectful of each other. The crowd often guided crowd surfers away from the stage when they saw that they were getting to close and could potentially be thrown on stage or cause an accident, and they were also swift to pick each other up if someone fell down in the pit. This was something that you could see the band being appreciative of and ensured that nobody got injured and that everyone was looked after. Petri took some time out in-between songs mid-set to sum up how crazy the show was commenting that it was a first for the band “to see people drinking beer while crowd surfing”, and later adding onto that after a wheelchair-bound fan was hoisted into the air that he doesn’t remember seeing a person in a wheelchair crowd surfing either.
The set list covered the entirety of the band’s discography, sampling at least one track of every one of their studio albums, all while keeping a heavy focus on their latest release “Two Paths”. Classics such as Lai Lai Hei, Twilight Tavern and From Afar all made an appearance and garnered the greatest responses in a well-balanced setlist, but the band also threw in a cover of a Guns N’ Roses classic to close out their set which was also really well received.
Many people wouldn’t pick a city in Australia as a community that is passionate about folk metal, but by the end of Ensiferum’s set Brisbane proved that this is exactly what they are passionate about. Given the crowd reception and Ensiferum’s elation at how well the performance was received, one can only hope that it isn’t six more years before the band returns.