4th December 2021
John Smith Rock Frozen 2021 Day 2 with Stratovarius, Amorphis, Samy Elbanna, Omnium Gatherum, Rotting Christ, Bloodred Hourglass, Mors Subita
I already missed summertime festival feeling a lot, when I boarded the train from Lahti to Jyväskylä and I was really looking for a good mix of all kinds of Metal music. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there in time for taking pictures of MORS SUBITA, but I can assure you, that their gig was really great.
While the stage was being rebuild for BLOODRED HOURGLASS, I had time to take a look at the premisses. Paviljonki was a few minutes’ walk from the station and app. 10 minutes from the city centre, upon arrival I had to present my Coronapass and my ID, before dropping all my winter gear at the coat-check (it was app -15*C outdoors and the windchill made it even colder). Next was a brief security check and I entered the main hall, that came with a pit for standing, an area with standing tables, so you could lean on them and enjoy your drink and an area with seats and tables. The adjoining hall on the right was reserved for merchandise shops as well as a shop that sold hamburger and one that offered hotdogs.
The restrooms were upstairs and were really clean, a rare thing at large events all over the world. In the back of the main hall, a small room was attached which hosted a lounge, with seats and a few tables and a smaller stage, that was used for acoustic shows. On the left of the main venue, there was the VIP area that offered special drinks, seats and a warm buffet to those who had purchased a ticket in advance. The large doors on the left of the hall led to the smoker’s area and whenever the doors were opened a gush of icy air came into the main hall. After a while, I realized why so many people were wearing thick leather jackets or other warm jackets for it seemed that the venue was unheated tonight and since nor warm drinks were sold (I think it was my first festival ever without a coffee bar) I had no other choice than to buy a hoodie at the merch… for my thick down parka was definitely not the best choice for working in the media pit.
Some people were wearing masks, others didn’t. Some remained standing in the back, others chose to be in the pit. There was enough space for everybody and so the overall feeling was absolutely safe. The organizers had spared no effort before the festival kicked off and informed the metalheads via various channels about the current regulations. Due to travel restrictions D-A-D and ENSIFERUM had to cancel their shows, but OMNIUM GATHERUM jumped in and SAMY ELBANNA (LOST SOCIETY) presented to amazing acoustic sets, but I will talk about that, later.
I spotted many BLOODRED HOURGLASS (BRHG) fans in the crowd and the band had a grip on the crowd, from the second they came on stage. If you like the LAMB OF GOD, CHILDREN OF BODOM or INFLAMES you should really check out their music, some of the best Melodic Death Metal I ever heard.
Next were ROTTING CHRIST who came all the way from Greece to perform for the metalheads who had gathered here tonight. The bands style varies from Black, via Gothic to Melodic Black Metal, but nowadays style is mainly Melodic Black Metal and the band obviously had a dedicated fanbase in Finland.
I got quite hungry, but to be honest, the two food choices were not exactly what I was looking for, and so I took a short walk through the ice-cold air, to a downtown restaurant. I missed a bit of OMNIUM GATHERUM’s gig due to that, but since I have attended many of their gigs over the years, I’m sure the opening of the show was as fantastic as the remaining part I attended. Honestly, I was quite happy to see that Jani Liimatainen (INSOMNIUM) joined the band live on stage, taking over guitar duties. The audience went really wild and when the band made attempts to leave the stage for tonight, the crowd called for an encore, that was granted immediately.
As soon as OMNIUM GATHERUM left the main stage, people directed their steps towards the lounge, where the small stage was being made ready for SAMY ELBANNA, guitar wizard and vocalist of Finnish Thrash Metal band LOST SOCIETY from Jyväskylä. Most people might know him from LOST SOCIETY, but he also played bass in the legendary local band, where he also performed backing vocals in clear voice. How good his clear voice sounds, you can hear on the single ‘Into Eternity’ LOST SOCIETY released together with APOCALYPTICA and obviously the music fans who were at John Smith Frozen tonight came to the same result as the author, Samy’s show is a must. And SAMY ELBANA delivered a perfect gig, in a man-and-his-guitar style, he had brought a wonderful setlist, that consisted of songs he had written for LOST SOCIETY and covers od classic Rock songs like BON JOVI’s ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ or MR.BIG’s ballad ‘To Be With You’ and asked the crowd to join him vocal wise, which got him lots of cheering and loud backing vocals from the crowd. I’m not sure, who enjoyed this acoustic solo set more, Samy or the crowd, but I was determined to come back, for his second solo set tonight.
I made it to the main stage just in time for my favourite bands from Finland: AMORPHIS. The band had recently signed a deal with ATOMIC FIRE RECORDS and released the first single called ‘The Moon’ from their upcoming album ‘Halo’ (out on Feb. 11th 2022) on December 3rd (check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU5A5nqojYo). It had been over a year, since I had seen the band live on stage at Tavastia during their anniversary shows, and I had to look twice at Tomi Koivusaari, because he suddenly a different hairstyle. AMORPHIS are a band who never let me down during a live performance during all these years and even brought Waltteri Väyrynen (PARADISE LOST) to Metalfest Pilsen in 2018, when Jan Rechberger was sick, just to make sure, that their fans will experience a flawless live performance.
Tonight ‘The Moon’ was not on the setlist, but a fireworks of older and newer “classics” from their enormous back catalogue, such as ‘Black Winter Day’ (1994), ‘Silver Bride’ (2009) as well as songs, that had rarely been on the setlist during the past years like ‘Drowned Maid’ (1994) and current songs like ‘The Bee’ or ‘Golden Elk’. The crowd really enjoyed the gig, you saw headbanging, raised hands and vocal assistance whenever required from the band. From the media pit, I could see the smiles on the musicians faces and how much they enjoyed playing live for the fans. No need to say, that guitar magicians ESA HOLOPAINEN gave us wonderful guitar solos, that get me stunned every time I see him performing live on stage. From what I witnessed in Jyväskylä, I can only say that if, they put all the shown skills and the dedication they showed tonight on the upcoming album, it’s gonna be a blast.
Time for a drink and a short walk to the lounge later, I enjoyed Samy Elbanna’s acoustic gig again, to make it back to the main stage in perfect time to observe the last 5 minutes of STRATOVARIUS’ soundcheck. These guys ae perfectionists and so are their crew members, every element of the drumkit was being checked, until it was in perfect tune, same applying to every other instrument and micro. Then it was time for real Power Metal, and I was glad to see STRATOVARIUS live on stage, it had been 3 years, since I saw them at Metalfest in Pilsen and same as AMORPHIS, they had a grip on the crowd immediately. A thing that always fascinates me and that I really appreciate is to hear a loud ‘Kiitos’ from somebody in the crowd, who addresses the artists on stage.
I never heard anybody on this planet screaming “Thank You” to the musicians on stage, except in Finland. STRATOVARIUS played a firework of songs for us tonight and brought an energy to the crowd, that only few bands can evoke. I was really happy to hear ‘4000 Rainy Nights’ live, for it had been absent from live setlists for a long time, until it made it back to live shows around 2018. Jens Johansson gave us a wonderful solo on keyboard and if you think keyboards are boring, then you should pay close attention, Jens Johansson can shred on a keyboard like the best guitar shredders on this planet can play their strings. Jens gave us a second to breathe, before he only played a few tunes, that led to a loud cheering from the crowd, it was time for ‘Black Diamond’. Tonight, I also saw one of the most moving performances of ‘Forever’, I know that Timo Kotipelto’s voice can have a severe impact on me, but tonight, you could see a bunch of Metalheads swallowing hard.
‘Speed of Light’ brought us back to straight Power Metal, warming us up for ‘Unbreakable’ and the crowd really gave all they could singing the vocals along and the line “Until ‘morrow we’re unbreakable” was on my mind for quite a while. Tonight, the band was obviously in a good mood, guitarist Matias Kupiainen and keyboarder Jens Johansson had a few instrumental battles, vocalist Timo Kotipelto stole a drumstick once in a while, to beat some of drummer Rolf Pilve’s cymbals and bass player Lauri Porra was a smile and gave us the beat, a band that really proves, that you can be professional and have fun at the same time. If you have seen STRATOVARIUS live, then you know, that every band member gets some space for a solo part and drummer Rolf Pilve used it for ‘Hunting High and Low’. I must admit that I was a bit worried that it would not be performed tonight and I thought “You can’t leave it out, can you? You can’t do that to me…” but finally the first keyboard tunes were in the air and Timo Kotipelto climbed on the drum platform, just to climb down in the media pit and get in touch with the people in the front row.
Trust me, that gesture meant a lot to the fans after all these “social distancing” times. Timo asked the crowd to perform the chorus and the whole venue was more than ready to join in. Tonight, we got an extended version of ‘Hunting High and Low’ and suddenly OMNIUM GATHERUM came on stage and while the instrumentalists played bridge parts, they got ready to join the chorus and both the musicians on stage and the crowd down in the pit had lots of fun. Then it was over and I arrived at the hotel at around 1:30 am, determined to come back to Jyväskylä next winter and to John Smith Rock Festival in the summer, for I had been a simply perfect Metal Day.
All pictures by Munich Vampire