ARTmania Festival Report: Sonata Arctica, Tarja

The ARTmania festival, which takes place each summer in the medieval city of Sibiu, Romania, has quickly become the favorite local event for the fans of Finnish metal. Having debuted in 2006, Finnish bands were the only foreign bands playing at the festival that year; HIM, Amorphis, Carmen Gray and Silentium – the last two bands performing live outside Finland for the first time ever. The following years brought even more famous Finnish bands; Tarot in 2007, Nightwish as a headliner in 2009, and Swallow The Sun in 2010. In 2011, Tarja Turunen performed live for the fourth time in Romania on the 12th of August, while Sonata Arctica played for the first time ever for Romanian fans on the 13th of August.

Three different stages were set up for 2011’s edition; the main stage for foreign artists in the Large Square, in the center of Sibiu, a smaller stage for local bands, a few minutes’ walk, in the Small Square, and a third stage, for afterparties and concerts taking place during the night, 8 kilometers away from the city center, in the middle of a forest. In addition to concerts, the festival included several other events; meet and greets, painting and concert pictures exhibitions, workshops, free entry to local museums, book releases, a Harley Davidson motorcycle exhibition and parade, and free entry to the Transylvania Tattoo Expo, taking place in the same weekend.

One great thing about ARTmania festival is that the audience is allowed to stay in the concert area during the whole day, as they are kicked out and let right back in to check the tickets before the concerts start in the evening. The people who arrive early are sometimes lucky enough to be able to watch the soundchecks, in those cases when the musicians show up and participate in them. At 13:00, Tarja’s musicians got on stage, and she also appeared later. Around 100 people were in front of the stage at that time, and the band played three songs; “Dark Star”, “My Little Phoenix” and “Where Were You Last Night”. Both the band and the audience seemed to really enjoy the experience, as fans are not usually allowed to attend soundchecks.

Tarja appeared 30 minutes later to the press conference, apologizing for being late and explaining that this is something that happens often to her. Even though, unfortunately, most of the questions asked were not too original; about the new album, the songwriting process, the setlist of the concert, she revealed for the first time the name of her new classical album, which is “Ave Maria”, mentioning that it will not be a Christmas album, but something that can be listened to the whole year. Asked if there is any chance of her to perform with Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica during the festival, Tarja became visibly excited by the idea, but unfortunately Tony was going to arrive only the second day, after she would have left the city, so it was not possible. The question asked by Metal From Finland was if there are any recent albums or concerts from Finnish metal bands that she has liked; and the singer mentioned Sonata Arctica’s “The Days of Grays” and the rock band Poets of The Fall. Even though the festival had previously announced a meet and greet with her, the tight schedule made it impossible and it had to be canceled. However, Tarja went outisde to meet her fans after the press conference, and everybody who was waiting for her had the chance to get a picture and/or an autograph.

The first day of concerts debuted with German gothic metal band Lacrimas Profundere. Even though their music was not exactly original, and at times repetitive, they were enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. However, they were the perfect band for an opening act, and they managed to be appreciated even by the people who were listening to them for the first time. Close to the end of the concert, the singer, Rob Vitacca, announced that the band will go in the festival’s drinking area for a few beers later, and invited the fans to join them.

Thirty minutes later it was time for one of the festival’s most expected acts; Helloween. The band practically jumped on stage and started playing “Are You Metal?”, managing to keep the audience entertained throughout their whole setlist. It would have been impossible for anybody not to admit that Helloween is one of the bands that can perform an awesome show, even for the people who do not neccesarily like them or the type of metal they are playing. As someone who is only slightly familiar to their music, it was great to hear songs like “If I Could Fly” or “I Want Out”, and, even though I would have absolutely loved to hear them play “Forever And One”, they definitely convinced me to listen to their music more. “Dr. Stein”, “Eagle Fly Free”, “March of Time” and a medley of “Keeper of the Seven Keys”, “The King for a 1000 Years” and “Halloween” made the concert an experience that everyone should attend at least once in their lifetime. The communication between the band and the audience was very good, Andi Deris constantly encouraging the fans to sing and shout, and even telling a funny story about the drummer, who had had mixed expensive, 20-years old whiskey with Coca Cola.

Since this was my 16th Tarja concert, it is just impossible to write anything about it without being subjective. The concert started almost 40 minutes later than it had been announced, which was probably the reason why the intro was skipped. Tarja’s musicians, Mike Terrana (drums), Christian Kretschmar (keyboards), Max Lilja (cello), Alex Scholpp (guitar) and Doug Wimbish (bass) were already on the dark stage when the started to play “Dark Star”, and Tarja joined them a minute later. Having seen these musicians live so many times, I know they are always giving their best on stage, and every single time they manage to amaze me. No matter if there are sound problems, they start playing late, or they do not feel well, it is always a joy to see them perform together and the great chemistry between them. Most of the songs were from Tarja’s solo albums, “My Winter Storm” and “what Lies Beneath”, but the setlist also included two songs Tarja had played with Nightwish earlier; “End of All Hope” and “Over The Hills And Far Away” (Gary Moore cover). In addition, they also covered “Where Were You Last Night”, incorporating the choruses of “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and “Living On A Prayer” into it. Other highlights of the concert were “I Walk Alone”, “Falling Awake”, an impressive drum solo by Mike Terrana, the only ballad that was played, “Underneath”, and Tarja’s own version of a James Bond song, “In For A Kill”. Tarja’s voice was as good as always, and she interacted a lot with the audience, showed off her pronounciation in Romanian, which is almost perfect, and promised to come back soon. The evening ended with “Until My Last Breath”, a song inspired by the events taking place after Michael Jackson’s death.

The next day, Saturday, the 13th of August, a press conference and a meet and greet were organized with Sonata Arctica in the afternoon, even though the band had played a show the previous evening in Slovakia and were going to perform in Budapest on the next evening. The band members of Sonata Arctica answered questions about video games, their concerts, older songs, the latest albums and mentioned the work on the next album without giving out too many details. When asked by Metal From Finland to mention something about recent Finnish metal, Tony Kakko answered that there are many good Finnish metal bands, and told about Battle Beast, explaining that the singer “is a lady, but sounds like a guy”. All in all, not many news were revealed at the press conference, but the guys’ jokes made it a nice experience. In the end, the fans were allowed to come in, and the band remained seated to give autographs and when this was done, every fan was allowed to take one picture with the whole band.

The second and last day of concerts opened with Republica, with singer Saffron. Republica is a band from England, labeled as “techno-pop punk rock”, and later “electronica”, which was something that did not exactly fit with the music of the other bands playing at the festival. However, their fans could definitely be spotted in the audience, and even to people who are not into the certain kind of music they are playing, this concert was a different experience, and it can’t be denied that the band’s musicians are definitely good at what they are doing.

Even though it had been previously announced that Sonata Arctica will headline the second day, the schedule was changed a few days before the event. However, this did not affect their show, and many people in the audience had prepared many banners and later believed that their performance was still the best one from all the ones taking place in that day. The first songs played were “Flag In The Ground” and “The Last Amazing Grays”, both from their latest album, “The Days of Grays”, but older songs, like “Victoria’s Secret” or “Black Sheep” were not forgotten. Because of playing at a festival, the setlist was slightly different than the setlist that had been performed a few months before, during the Finnish tour. “Blinded No More” and “Last Drop Falls” were added and were without a doubt some of the highlights of the concert. Tony Kakko communicated a lot with the audience, shortly introducing some of the songs and definitely impressed the audience with his powerful voice. As darkness fell over the festival area, and the full moon appeared on the sky, Tony pointed to it and dedicated it the song “Full Moon”. Overall, Sonata Arctica’s performance was full of energy, a long-awaited concert that did not disappoint, and the band returned on stage for an encore of four songs. They promised to come back to Romania after releasing the new album and ended the concert with “Don’t Say A Word” and the well-known “Vodka” song.

The last band performing at this year’s edition of the ARTmania festival was Lacuna Coil, from Italy. The band’s singers, Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro are a good combination on stage, and even though, once again, the band was not quite the type of music I usually listen to, it was a good concert nevertheless. They also interacted really well with the people in the audience and asked them to join and sing “Happy Birthday” to Criz, the band’s drummer. Songs like “Heaven’s A Lie” or “Spellbound” were part of the setlist, and so was a cover by Depeche Mode, “Enjoy The Silence”. In the end of the concert, Cristina Scabbia surprised the audience when she was brought on stage on a Harley Davidson, mentioning that it was “her personal tribute to Rob Halford”.


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