Stratovarius / Firewind / Eden’s Curse
18 May 2009
Islington Academy, London

The multinational Eden’s Curse were first to take the stage and having read that the band were looking forward to hitting the stage with Masquerade Ball, showing us what Eden’s Curse were all about, it was disappointing that the often disappointing sound in the Islington Academy was up to its usual poor standards. Perhaps the same was true on stage, as frontman Michael Eden looked hesitant.

A few pumping fists greeted Just Like Judas and the more mid paced nature of the song gave the soundman chance to twiddle the knobs as Eden and bassist Paul Logue traded vocal lines. Ferdy Doernberg then provided some background keyboards as Eden explained there was indeed a technical fault and took the time to talk about the band.

Finally permitted to continue, Fly Away included a shred fest guitar solo from Thorsten Koehne whereas Sail On opened like a syrupy ballad morphing into a stomping anthem. The band’s latest video Angels & Demons, which features Pamela Moore, wrapped up the set.

Eden’s Curse melodic rock on CD is slick and this hasn’t yet translated to the live performance. Eden’s high pitch voice is something of an acquired taste and the vocal harmonies, so key to the melodic sheen, were a little bit wayward. Having said that there was an abundance of talent on stage and if the combination of Scottish, English, American and Germans can arrange more shows together there is potential for a quality live act.

Eden’s Curse set list:
Reign Of Terror (Intro) / Masquerade Ball / Just Like Judas / Fly Away / Don’t Bring Me Down / Sail On / Angels & Demons

Firewind were headlining this venue at the Hellfire festival just three months ago. Seemingly never ones to pass on the opportunity of a tour in the UK, they were back once again and the cheer that greeted Mark Cross hanging over the front of his drum kit showed they were very welcome.

Once again the sound is less than perfect with the P.A. struggling with the volume and Apollo Papathanasio’s vocals popping in and out of the mix as Head Up High opened the set. Some of his fellow countrymen at the front in the crowd tossed Apollo a Greek flag which he wore on his shoulders for the rest of the song.

Following the catchy Tyranny, guitarist Gus G suggested to the crowd, “How about something faster?” as the band head back to Firewind’s debut album for Destination Forever. Working the crowd Apollo got us to cheer at appropriate points during the instrumental sections.

The single Mercenary Man kicks off like Thin Lizzy melting into Bryan Adams Summer of 69 riff, before once again the harmonies of Gus G and Bob Katsionis take over. As usual Katsionis, who was wearing a comical “iBob kats” t-shirt, seamlessly switched between guitar and keyboard during the songs. The sound improved for Angels Forgive Me with Apollo sounding like Dio at times.

Gus G confirmed Firewind are working on new material and a new song Losing Faith was previewed. With its catchy “Days Of No Trust” refrain it was well received. Revving up for the final run-in, Apollo repeatedly asked us “Can you feel the power?” before I Am The Anger.

Firewind’s cover of Maniac from the Flashdance movie shouldn’t work, but it strangely does. The very hairy Petros Christo comically danced on the spot each time the “Dancing like she’s never danced before” line was sung. I somehow can’t see him upstaging Robert Webb’s Flashdance routine!

As requested by Gus G, clapping descended into jumping for closer Falling To Pieces, with Firewind leaving to a headliners response. Firewind showed tonight how constant gigging pays off with a very tight and solid performance that took the honours tonight.

Firewind set list:
Head Up High / Tyranny / Destination Forever / Mercenary Man / Angels Forgive Me / Losing Faith / I Am the Anger / Maniac / Falling to Pieces

You really have to feel for the members of Stratovarius, who have seemingly been put through a number of years of hell by their erstwhile leader Timo Tolkki, dragging the band’s name through the mud. Finally free of Tolkki’s control, with a new young guitarist Matias Kupiainen and a brand new album out this very day, there’s an air of expectancy about tonight’s performance.

It should be remembered however that these UK shows were put together as a low key introduction of the new line-up, giving them chance to find their feet. As such this is not the tightest of performances by the band and at times it was obvious that they are still working their way up through the gears. What was clear by the end however was that this line-up has a lot of potential perhaps even to surpass previous achievements.

With the new album Polaris only just out, Stratovarius wisely chose not to saturate the set with its songs, instead previewing just three tracks. The first of these, Higher We Go, is Stratovarius by numbers featuring a racing drum beat and soaring catchy chorus. Jens Johansson’s epic Winter Skies comes across well live, mixing light and shade with an overall brooding nature. Best of the lot though is Deep Unknown, which was more familiar on this crowd due to it being the lead video track. Taking in some twists like those used by Symphony X, this Matias Kupiainen penned song sees Stratovarius stretching themselves and the young guitarist should definitely be given reign to write more based on this quality.

Tellingly there is nothing played from 2005’s Stratovarius album and only Eagleheart made an appearance from the Elements albums. The rest of the set is drawn from Infinite, Visions and Episode. We get the fast stuff (Speed Of Light, Will The Sun Rise), the mid paced (Kiss Of Judas, A Million Light Years Away), a ballad (Forever) and an epic (Visions).

The overall feel is of a band more comfortable with each other. Bassist Lauri Porra, who looks uncannily like Lee Dorian including the 1970s clothes, stalks the entire stage. Johansson’s keyboards are set up right at the front of the stage. Jörg Michael sits at the back behind a translucent drum kit and Timo Kotipelto leads proceedings centre stage, with his trademark wide legged stance. Of course there’s great interest in guitarist Matias Kupiainen. Nailing the solo during second song Speed Of Light led to a cheer from the crowd and the trade off with Johansson during Will The Sun Rise was impressive.

As said, this wasn’t the tightest of performances and the sound did Stratovarius no favours. It is however early days for the new line up and I look forward to hearing Polaris in full and seeing how the band develops.

Stratovarius set list:
Intro (Clockwork Orange) / Hunting High and Low / Speed of Light / The Kiss of Judas / Higher We Go / A Million Light Years Away / Will The Sun Rise / Winter Skies / Phoenix / Forever / Visions / Eagleheart / Deep Unknown / Black Diamond

Eden’s Curse