Hell just froze over...a perfect end to the first night

Sonata Arctica arrive like an icy blast of wind into the tired, overheated main arena. It’s amazing how the right band at the right time can revive your enthusiasm even when you thought you had no energy left. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a relief to have a quarter of the room disappear elsewhere for a while, but I was surprised at just how many people didn’t stay for this show. It’s a strange feeling as their set starts. You have to get used to the idea that headliners are never the last band on. This is a somewhat inspired and yet mystifying idea because on one hand these guys are fantastic, but on the other hand you think they’d want to start clearing people out. It also means that the bands that play this set have to be established enough to maintain interest but obscure enough for the crowd to disperse a bit.

Having had the time and space to travel around the room a bit, we could determine that the seating actually had the best sound quality this time. Arctica’s sonic soundscapes didn’t quite make it all around the room with the keyboards sometimes ending up dull or the drums too loud. But as ever these were such minor technical issues that it was merely a case of finding the right spot and enjoying. As ever, it was a technically magnificent performance with the right mix of energy and chilled musicianship for 1 o’clock in the morning.

Having well and truly woken the crowd up with some enthusiastic arm-waving and keyboard widdling, frontman Tony Kakko reminds us all that Sonata Arctica are now ten years old. In the grand scheme of bands that have played this festival, that’s a mere drop in the ocean, but it’s enough to illicit a decent mixture of cheers and slightly depressed groans from the older fans.

With an album to promote in the form of ‘Days of Grays’ the set was heavy on new material, which could have been slightly offputting for the more established fans. They would have been happier with more along the lines of ‘Full Moon’ and ‘8th Commandment’ as part of the total of four oldies. But the benefit of having a mixed crowd is that they did better by playing the new material and trying to draw in some new fans. Sometimes the older pop-metal and the newer more progressive style didn’t sit comfortably side-by-side, and there was a clear divide in the fans, but you couldn’t fault the enthusiasm and drive of the new tracks.

‘The Last Amazing Grays’ and ‘Juliet’ were particularly memorable as stand-out live performances, especially once the keyboard sound improved about halfway through. Shame the set was ultimately so short. If you wanted to leave the evening on a high, you should have seen Sonata Arctica.