After a long, long winter and a spring that seemed to never come, Steelfest opened the summer festival season on a beautiful spring weekend. Sun, warmth but not heat and a blue sky turned the thought of enjoying good music, atmosphere and company into an as delicious idea as the cold beer to go along with the two day festival. From May 24 to May 25 the black clad crowds came out of the woodwork and caves they had been hibernating in, blinking at the bright Finnish sun and following not the path of flowers but rather the call to arms: put on your spikes, rangers, band shirts. Grab your sun glasses and beer, and off to Hyvinkää. They came from all over Finland as well as other countries to this small town approximately 50 kilometers north of Helsinki where the Steelfest open air took place for the second time at the area of the Villatehdas, an old wool factory.
The festival was already well-visited, organized and perceived the previous year and this year promised to be even better. First of all, the weather especially on Friday was predicted to be less chilly hence minimizing the need to warm oneself up with Fireball shots – this delicious cinnamon devil’s brew and consequentially reducing elements of blurriness in the later evening. (Speaking theoretically of course…) Second, instead of having dedicated beer areas as it is common at most Finnish festival to allow an audience of all ages to come to the festival, this year an age limit of 18 was set for Steelfest 2013. So one was not forced to quickly down the just started beer upon realizing the next band you wanted to see up close was starting. This decision did not reduce the number of festival goers that must have ranged at around 1300 during Friday with the area holding a total of approximately 1500.
The set up was also slightly different this year and in my opinion an improvement. Instead of a small and big outdoor stage opposite each other there was a bigger indoor stage, aptly named Hanneman stage after the recently deceased Slayer guitarist. The hall the stage was set in was spacious and offered a bar and massive wooden cable reels to use as tables – or at least that was most likely meant to be their main purpose but they quickly were converted to chairs if one could master the slightly challenging act of climbing or jumping up (one more reason to wear high heels!) This proved to not only create funny moments of awkward movements (=entertainment for others) but also some dangerous situation when misjudging the height and stumbling into the next cable reel hitting the head on the sharp wooden edges. The organizers were fast at recognizing the fact that people wanted to sit in the hall as well for drinks, to warm up and to not miss the indoor bands so on Saturday they had put up a sitting area with benches and tables, mirroring the one outdoors just without the pavilions.
The outdoor area also offered a bar, the mentioned sitting area, located under trees giving the whole festival a very relaxed and truly open air festival feeling. Food booths from ice cream to Heavy burgers – Alice in Cheese, Satyribacon, Chicken of Bodom and the obvious Dimmu Burger were on the menu- as well as the merchandise were also to be found outside. The bars were well stocked and offered the usual suspects from beer (0,5l; 5€), ciders (0,33l; 5€) to shots (5€) and wine (18cl; 6€) which they unfortunately ran out off on Saturday evening. As always in Finland, there was the luxury of a narikka or wardrobe but instead of having the typical man-staffed ones with clothing racks and numbers, Steelfest went modern with a wardrobe truck with lockers. You could get a card for 5€/day that opened your locker as many times as you wanted – a much appreciated system. The only confusion arose on Friday when entering the area as there were no instructions about the new system and that you could get the cards at the ticket booth before the security control so for many the way lead them right back where they came from after coming into the area. But again, the Steelfest crew proved to be attentive and fast-acting as on Saturday noon there were signs and instructions everywhere. The only setback this year was that there were no indoor toilets for women anymore – a highly appreciated luxury at an outdoor festival. Maybe next year again…
The Steelfest all around package was also in place this time around with the possibility to book a festival package including a hotel room, breakfast and the festival ticket (75€ for two days) at Cumulus Hotel Hyvinkää and Hotel Rantasipi (package prices vary depending on what you book) as well as afterparties at Jalostamo Club on both days with tickets at 10€ each. Hats off to the hotels and their staff – my stay at the Cumulus was great, the staff was nice, well prepared and after walking through the hall way at 4 a.m. and seeing an array of food and clothes leftovers scattered all around I can only imagine what they have to deal with in some rooms. Wisely, they then had emptied the minibars (at least mine) beforehand – the only thing I still wonder is why they keep the bibles in the room and why there was no bacon at the breakfast buffet.
New this year was the direct bus that took the festival goers to and from the area to PRKL Club in Helsinki where they could continue to party in the city center of Helsinki. This might be a reason why the afterparties at Jalostamo that is located a few minutes’ walk from the festival area were not as well-visited as the previous year or then it might have been that the venue just was not as atmospheric anymore as it had undergone a renovation and was less dark and cozy but bright and modern instead with the band playing in a side room where you could not just relax on a sofa to watch the band. It was still worth going there, not only for the refreshing Gin Tonic but on Friday especially for Vorum, the Neanderthals from the Åland islands that drove all the tiredness out of my bones despite them being delayed and starting to play only at 3 a.m.
But enough of the program and amenities around the festival – let’s talk about the real deal. From the rail way station or the Cumulus hotel it took only a relaxed 5 minutes’ walk to the festival area in slightly changing but dry and overall nice weather. The usual suspects were already running around covered in fake blood and corpse paints, sometimes looking so young I was wondering if they actually were 18. Other than that, one thing that caught my eye was that the day’s theme seemed to be 50 shades of red and pink and for once not only in the fake blood or women’s hair color but also guys leggings and woolly hats (Satanic Warmaster and a pink woolly hat – THE combo of the summer…) and even a guy in a hot red body was wandering around. Red is the new black?! The love for these colors however came to an abrupt end when it came to the securities guarding the doors to the hall with the inside stage as they would not even let people in with a strawberry ice cream – no food inside the hall was the slightly odd rule that was strictly enforced.
Enough of colors and possible metal fashion trends – the Friday started off with an afternoon snack of fries with a side of Gorephilia who already had drawn some audience and guided the crowd into festival mood. Next up were the Finnish veterans of Satanic Warmaster on the Hanneman Stage and the inside venue not only proved to be comfortable but also provide a maybe better suited atmosphere for black metal bands than blue sky and sunshine outside. The sound was decent for such a venue and as always Werwolf and his men drew a crowd of dedicated fans tough some of them were already quite inebriated so that head banging proved to be a challenge for some. The band delivered what was expected, the crowd liked it, Werwolf was dressed up in his finest stage clothes including a set of new pentagram arm patches and left the stage with what seems to be the new black metal way to exit a gig – by throwing the mic to the ground and walking off.
Purtenance on the outside stage were next and despite the quite small crowd they gathered their death metal slowly but surely drove the people into weekend and festival mood. The soap bubbles flying that someone in the audience blew out created an interesting contrast and watching people chasing those to pop them was quite entertaining. (Where did that thing or trend come from that at festivals soap bubbles are dispersed?) Again inside The Crescent was up next. The Crescent is the new name of former Enochian Crescent minus singer Wrath who left the band in 2012. New singer Hellwind Tuonenjoki came on stage in an outfit that at first looked a bit like a white onesie but turned out to be a white shirt and pants. It does not do any good to compare Hellwind with Wrath as Wrath’s stage performances were unique, aesthetic pieces of art – one of the last official gigs of Enochian Crescent actually took place at Steelfest 2012 where Wrath burned an omega sign into his chest. But no matter how one goes about it, this gig was not the best one of The Crescent – while a performance I saw a few weeks earlier was a quite ok one even though not comparable to what Enochian Crescent were before, the sound this time was quite terrible for the most part of the set. If all bands playing inside would have had that issue one could say it was just a matter of the venue but most bands managed to create a decent sound on that stage but unfortunately not The Crescent which resulted in many people heading back outside again. Lyijysiipi (for all non-Finnish speakers this song title is quite a mouth full, it is pronounced something like lüiiüsiipi and means Wings of Lead) then was the first song that sounded kinda ok but it could not save the gig.
Next up on our schedule were Horna who also played on the Hanneman stage. Spellgoth with a new short haircut acted as the master of ceremonies clad in a cowl with a pentagram rosary at hand. The crowd that gathered was not massive but still quite all right and it was a well worth while gig with a good atmosphere – Spellgoth’s almost regal and sharp gestures created a nice contrast with the more dynamic, classical stage movements of the rest of the band. Yet, it seemed to be a bit challenging to light the fire in the audience; the spark did not seem to jump over completely despite the energetic performance of the band and Werwolf from Satanic Warmaster coming on stage for a guest performance. Still, it was a very enjoyable gig that gathered intensity throughout the set.
Due to an acute hunger attack most of Vomitory went by enjoying them more passively while devouring a Satyribacon burger very actively. Clearly most people had scheduled their dinner breaks earlier or later as right from a start a big crowd gathered with an instant mosh pit where youngsters and elder gentlemen with grey hair moshed shoulder to shoulder. And again, shades of red was the theme as one of the youngsters was moshing only in his pink-purple-checkered boxer shorts.
The blond German demon Onielar descended on the Hanneman stage with her troops of Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult and their no frills black metal in blood, black and white. Having seen them many times before it was an energetic and atmospheric show, one of the better ones I have seen from them. The Germanic alliance continued outside with Belphegor though they displayed a very Americanized style of addressing the audience with lots of talk to and about motherfuckers. Helmuth still was off vocals after the life threatening lung infection he caught in South America in 2011 so the amount of Helmuth-typical grimaces and facial expressions that have entertained me many a Belphegor shows was slightly reduced with him not standing center stage. They played a tight set that was better than I remembered them and especially their classic Lucifer Incestus and when they dedicated Justine: Soaked in Blood to Jeff Hanneman the crowd got going.
It was clear however that a majority of the festival goers eagerly awaited Friday’s headliner: Sodom. Very untypical for usual Finnish black, thrash and death events, the first rows in front of the indoor stage were already fully crowded long before the gig and more came marching in to the beat of the drums of the intro. And they certainly were not disappointed as not only did Sodom play a very long set but also their classics such as Outbreak of Evil, Sodomy and Lust and Bombenhagel. They did not reinvent the wheel but you got what you wanted from Sodom. Some only hardly could contain their excitement which ended up in something I decided to call expressional head banging – if you could learn do head bang/dance your name or maybe song lyrics at Waldorf schools, it probably would look something like that.
Saturday presented itself with perfect festival weather – a soft breeze whispering of the summer to come, blue sky with the odd white could and sun shine. The day started off with surprise after surprise with the new benches and tables in the indoor hall and Barathrum being sober enough to not fall off stage which seemed like quite an achievement after the state of the guys the day before. The inside stage then was taken on by Tyranex from Sweden who last year played at Friday’s after show party. And apparently they stayed in good memory as a crowd gathered in front of the stage despite that Linnea’s high pitched screams might be a bit too much for hung over ears. But she is a power package on stage and one can only hear her young age and slight stage awkwardness when she is making the announcements. Not being a fan of guitar solos a.k.a. instrumental masturbation in general, Tyranex surprised me positively – I liked the versatility, the solos and others seemed to think alike as instead of leaving after a few songs to enjoy the beautiful weather more and more people kept coming inside.
Outside Kadotus were up next and with their cowls and slow, driving rhythms the atmosphere might have been better on the inside stage while Tyranex would have worked equally well outside. But nonetheless, Kadotus were doing their thing and the sun shine did not damage the intensity of their set – how had Abbath put it neatly during an Immortal gig at Tuska festival several years ago: Fuck the sun! While Flame provided me with the musical background for my burger dinner, Lie In Ruins demanded the full attention inside (also because you were not allowed to bring food in there) and people swarmed to the Hanneman stage. The mixture of slow, almost sticky parts alternating with fast ones drove the energy throughout the set and one could see tattoo artist Roni Ärling creating a different kind of art on the guitar. The other Roni (S.) then continued the new stage exit fashion at the end by throwing the mic to the ground and storming off stage. Still, a good gig.
The siren intro to National Napalm Syndicate was a good warning sign as I could not warm up to the band at all – they did not sound organic so instead, the last available wine had to take over the task of warming me up. And while the wine as sold out at the time Blood Red Throne were playing, it did not matter as the Norwegians certainly had enough energy to heat up the audience in front of the outside stage. It was their first gig ever in Finland and the festival goers were clearly interested to see them and prove vocalist Yngve that they should come back to Finland as he had asked of them. Yngve then was also the most prominent figure on stage, troll like in appearance and vocals and a very chatty one at that. Maybe whiskey makes trolls talk which they according to Yngve had been consuming since 5 a.m. so water was the drink of choice on stage. The whole gig just came together perfectly, the music and the atmosphere with the swallows flying back and forth to their nests that were located in the brick walls of the surrounding buildings, their white bellies reddened by the rays of the setting sun – how poetic a good death metal show can be! Less poetic but not the least bit less intense was the mosh pit during the gig which then ended in an accident in which apparently a person at the outer boarders of the pit circle accidentally got hit in the head by an elbow so bad that the ambulance had to take him away. Kudos to the security that stopped too curious photographers from taking images and Yngve who came down to talk to the security guys and paramedics after the gig to check upon injured person.
The tribe of Tsjuder was next to invade the Hanneman stage and they had been clearly awaited and the crowd was ready to go from note one on, clapping, shouting, the full package. And they got what they longed for: atmospheric parts broken by full force black metal. Draugluin’s old school spikes were so long that they seemed to lead their own life on his arms – black metal porcupines brought to life by each of his movements. Spellgoth joined for a guest performance and while it was an absolutely decent show they could not reach the energy level of Blood Red Throne before.
The last German act of the festival was Destruction and if you know Destruction, you got what you had waited for – nothing more, nothing less. But it seemed obvious that a many festival goer was waiting for the last act of Steelfest 2013: Mayhem. And wait they had to, as Mayhem were the only band I noticed starting late and 20 minutes by that. At least the stage set up with all the flags and pigs’ heads and other decorations offered some distraction. But the audience did not seem to mind as the biggest crowd so far gathered in front of the Hanneman stage. The stage entry along to the intro then was equally dramatic as the stage set up and Attila positioned himself behind the fire altar to start the ceremony. Mayhem pulled all the stops and Attila seemed to have many hamlet-ian moments with presenting and interacting with a skull in every possible way. The whole fire and smoke effects then lead to this gig being cut short at least for me as the air inside got so bad that it was a question of to be, or not to be (inside) and the promise of fresh night air outside was too tempting to resist. The comments of the gig range from the “worst gig of the year” to “just perfect” while for me it was a less extreme case with it being decent enough that I would have continued watching if not for the air quality but not good enough to stay inside and suffer. The walk back to the hotel under the majestic full moon was the perfect ending to two great festival days that made for a fantastic opening of the festival summer 2013.
Nina Ratavaara, Photos: Eija Mäkivuoti
For more photos check out the Steelfest 2013 Gallery