On Wednesday night, Gas Monkey Bar n’ Grill hosted Wintersun’s North American Forest Tour. With opening acts Ne Obliviscaris and Sarah Longfield, the night promised to deliver a wide array of hypnotizing musical talents. A sizable crowd gathered at the inside bar to find refuge from the Texas heat when the venue opened at 6pm. Anticipation filled the air as the crowd carried on conversations reminiscing about Wintersun’s last US tour, which was five years ago.
Spilling from the inside bar to the outdoor venue, the floor filled up as fans heard Sarah Longfield take the stage. Technical guitar melodies echoed from the venues PA as Longfield demonstrated her unique playing style. Traditionally a solo artist, Sarah brought along a second guitarist and drummer to enhance the live sound. The guitar driven prog-like instrumental tracks resonated well with the audience. Symphonic, synthesized backing tracks were well mixed with Longfield’s tapping solos that had the crowd in awe. Thirty minutes was all the band needed to gain fans with their offerings of progressive tracks, saturated with solos influenced from technical death metal. The set was a fascinating display of musical talent that had me wanting more. If you’re a fan of progressive metal or instrumental compositions, go to this tour and check this trio out.
The sun vanished and darkness shrouded the stage as the time had come for Ne Obliviscaris. With an electronic backdrop displaying the Ne Obliviscaris logo, the crowds energy level grew dramatically as the Australians walked on stage. The blackened death screams of lead vocalist Xen were balanced beautifully with the clean vocals of Tim Charles. I’m typically not a fan of a dual vocal attacks but this performance was an exception. Adding to the appeal of the well balanced vocals was the incorporation of violin which was also provided by Charles. Bringing in the folk element of violin really set Ne Obliviscaris apart from the other artists on the bill. However, this did not detract from the heaviness of the music. Thunderous bass and drum rhythms kept the crowd moving from the first song to the last. Often times, violin is not mixed well in a live setting but this was not a problem for Ne Obliviscaris. Continuous touring over the years has helped the band fine tune their sound. The future is bright for this group of blackened death artists and their hard work is paying off.
After 5 years of waiting, Wintersun finally took the stage in Texas again. Chants of “Wintersun!” transitioned to screeching screams as frontman Jari Mäenpää ran on stage. This time, however, Jari wasn’t wielding his guitar. After transitioning from guitar to vocals over a year ago, the band hasn’t missed a beat and Jari continues to improve his stage presence behind the mic. Jari’s vocals were as powerful as ever. From black metal screams to orchestral clean vocals, his vocal delivery didn’t miss a note. Asim Searah joined the band in 2017 to fill the massive shoes of Jari’s guitar expertise, but he has integrated into the band seamlessly. Banners displaying the cover of their latest release The Forest Seasons lined the stage and had the crowd imagining they were in some kind of enchanted woods.
The set began with the track “Awaken From the Dark Slumber (Spring),” which instantly had the crowd moshing and throwing their hair around. I’m not sure I’ve heard a better live sound than what Wintersun delivered this night. The guitars sounded crisp and the atmosphere was rounded out with symphonic backing tracks. I didn’t think it was possible, but Teemu Mäntysaari seems to get better and better with each performance. The Finnish guitarist even offered VIP one on one guitar lessons before the show for fans who wanted to purchase the special ticket. The set continued on with classic tracks “Winter Madness,” “Sleeping Stars,” and “Starchild,” from the 2004 self-titled release. A set of ten songs seems short until you realize that some of the epic tracks are 10+ minutes long. After stepping off stage for a breather, the band returned for a two song encore consisting of tracks “Battle Against Time” and “Time.” The fact that Wintersun isn’t touring or releasing albums every year will always make seeing them a special experience. Don’t sleep on this tour if it comes to a town near you.
– Corey Smith
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