The day could scarcely have been any less suitable. It was a balmy, bright evening along the quays, and inside the small venue of the Pint the temperature was staggering. This was all a bit incongruent for a band like Wintersun, whose epic metal majesty would be more at home in a Viking longhall than a sweaty little upstairs venue.
As the Pint started to fill up to uncomfortable levels, support act Darkest Era took to the stage. The northern Irish band delivered a stirring set of melodic and rousing power metal – all with a distinctly Celtic flavour. Nowhere is the debt the band owes to Irish mythology more evident than in the closing song of their set, The Morrigan. This is combined with a knowing nod to bands like Iron Maiden. -Bearded and barrel-chested frontman Krum did his best Bruce Dickenson impression, with a loud cry of “scream for me Dublin”.
As the Finnish headline act prepared to take the stage, a tinny warble of When Time Fades Away (the instrumental opening track of their latest album ‘Time I’) it became evident that the sound system was somewhat lacking. The folky harp and flute backing track was quickly drowned out by cheers as Wintersun emerged through the crowd and took to the stage, led by grinning frontman Jari Mäenpää, who paused to take a photograph of the crowd before picking up his guitar.
Mäenpää started out as lead singer and guitarist of folk metal band Ensiferum, and it is clear that he possess a gift for showmanship. As When Time Fades Away faded away, he hit the majestic first notes of Sons of Winter and Stars with a measured yet majestic charisma. As the song burst into a rush of metal fury the crowd started to swell in moshing circles, directed by frenzied guitar-work and Mäenpää growling, rasping, almost demonic vocals.
But there is more to Wintersun than sheer energy and speed. As their set unfolded the sheer epic scope of their music unfolded. Thirty minutes later they were only on their second song of the night, with the music rising and falling across a series of lengthy and highly technical guitar solos, melodic interludes, banshee wails, and catchy clean choruses.
This would have been all the more impressive were it not for the problems with the sound quality. The twin guitars and bass all bled together through struggling speakers, and this was furthered drowned out by the thunderous, ever-present crash of the drummers double bass pedal.
Added to this was the sheer weight of the hot, stuffy venue, which quickly put an end to any sustained moshing, leaving the crowd somewhat lethargic and ambivalent. More than a few people slipped out before the end in search of fresh air.
But if Mäenpää and co. were effected by any of this, they give no sign. Wintersun segued form one song to the next with a practiced grace, moving with ease from the epic swell of Time to the feverish chaos of Winter Madness.
By the time the show culminated in the spacey vigour of Starchild, the heat was almost unbearable. The band played on even though they were dripping with sweat, long hair plastered to their skulls. Several members of the audience were shirtless, breathless and exhausted. But despite everything, Wintersun still managed to transport their audience on a journey beyond the stars and through time.
They may be used to far larger venues in their home country and across Europe. They may be used to better sound quality and bigger crowds, but that didn’t matter. To Wintersun, nothing mattered but the music.