In the middle of May Hyvinkää was again the place to be for friends of harshly distorted guitars, growls, screams and blast beats: Steelfest no.4 was set to open its gates for two days on May 15 and start off the summer festival season. As in the last years, accommodation close to the festival area in the old wool spinning mill had sold out already by early winter, and the festival with a capacity of 1500 metal heads itself was close to selling out one week before with two day passes going for 82€, one day tickets for 57€. The set up was also the same: one stage outside, one inside; age limit 18 so you could take your drink everywhere (except to the food area and directly in front of the outside stage). What was not as promising as in the past years was the weather forecast. A week before, it looked like it would rain for two days with temperatures around 10°C during the day and minus degrees during the night – welcome to Finnish spring! So when packing for the festival, out came the winter gloves, warm scarfs and thick hoodies. Luckily for us the forecasters were not very exact with their predictions and they kept changing almost hourly – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. And as in years past, the weather gods smiled on the black clad crowd making their way to the small town situated a good 60km north from Helsinki. The rain-hail-shower welcoming us at the railway station on Friday was the only one for the whole weekend and during the daytime with the sun shining through the few clouds for the most part it almost felt like a summer festival, if it weren’t for the temperatures that were about 10°C degrees too cold which led to it being quite chilly during the night. Luckily, there was the indoor stage where one could go to have a sit down and warm up. And with the very convenient wardrobe truck where you could store some warmer clothes for the night in lockers and get them whenever you needed, it was not too bad. Especially as the festival organizers apparently had also listened to feedback and opened the indoor toilets this year: No more port-a-potties! Hooray! (Though, of course they had those as well.)
With spirits high (and some in our hands) we made our way to see Ketzer who turned out to be the perfect start for the festival with their black thrash. Clad in simple, clean cut black clothes with some white smears their appearance fit the show: straight forward, no frills – just what you need to get into festival mood. And with their T-Shirts and singer Infernal Destroyer in a leather vest they even created the illusion that it was summer. Next up were Satanic Warmaster indoors and as usual they drew quite a crowd especially as a lot of people were eager to see them live after the 2014 release Fimbulwinter. And they seemed to deliver what the audience expected as the vibe was good, and the atmosphere with the frosty blue lights, corpse paints, chains and spikes was black metal winterish. Maybe to get the festival goers prepared for the cold night to come. Outside, it was more Germans on stage: Mor Dagor. With getting into the (festival) spirit(s) more and more, what I remember of their show is that it was nice, all good, but nothing new or exciting. Perfect for enjoying them at a festival hanging with friends in the beer area though. And due to that atmosphere (I blame Mor Dagor!) and just maybe also because the sun was shining and the beers and ciders tasted too good, Dim Aura from Israel remained a faint sound backdrop from the inside stage while we were taking other festival duties very seriously: socializing with friends, looking cool (at least in our own mind) with sun glasses and leather jackets on, faces in the warm sun shine, cold beer in hand.
As this atmosphere carried over to Vorum, they had a bit of a tough time gathering a crowd but since they played outside, a lot of people were enjoying their show from the beer area. Remembering the last time I saw them in Hyvinkää which was at the Steelfest after show gig at Jalostamo 2013 that was about two hours late so they played at 3 am for 30 minutes til the bar had to close, this was much nicer in terms of having more energy to watch them but having seen them several times since then the impression they left was not as big as back in 2013. Still, the guys from the Åland islands always work and are worth listening to.
Inside Evil Angel were on stage and as it was getting quite cold outside, why not check them out. It was decent and enjoyable enough, but the show itself and especially vocalist Orgasmatrons outfit were what maybe stood out most. While spike studded bras have been out there for a while now, and bands like Nifelheim have sported spike studded crotches for years, he took it to the next level with what only can be described as a spike studded sumo belt. Outside, it was then time for the Finnish death metal legends Demilich. After a long break, they resurfaced in 2014 with their 20th Adversary of Emptiness compilation and had started to play some shows again as well. As I had seen them just two weeks before in Kuopio at Henry’s Pub where they opened for Forgotten Horror at their CD release party for the second album Aeon of the Shadow Goddess I was excited to see them again but maybe not as eager as the rest of the festival so I took a a bit more relaxed approach to the show. The gig in Kuopio had been amazing and also this show delivered and proved that they are more than worthy of their death metal cult status. Singer Antti Bomans deep growls perforate every pore of your skin, crawl into your guts and open up the way for the music to grip your heart and hold it in an iron fist of guitars, bass lines and blast beats – you don’t stand a chance, you are at their mercy and your heartbeat slows down or quickens with the music. Death Metal at its best.
Temnozor from Russia were a band that split the audience and evoked mixed feelings. While musically and visually pleasing with their hooded capes, animal skull and bones-accessories, the political discussions surrounding them and the parts of the audience that were attracted to them because of that and made this very clear for everyone to see, made this an ambivalent show to watch. Next up were the mighty Unleashed as the last band of the day on the outside stage, and they just killed it. It had been a while since I had seen them but it was absolutely worth standing in the cold, though they set the stage on fire in a way that if one could measure the temperature of music and gigs, it would have been hot as hell in Hyvinkää. The audience thawed like the snow in Lapland once the snowmelt starts, and the atmosphere turned from a well to a stream, sweeping everyone along. Another long-awaited highlight of the festival was Dark Funeral’s special show playing the whole The Secret Of The Dark Arts album. The first time I had seen them was about 15 years ago at a club show in Switzerland at a time when I had just started to listen to metal and everything was exciting and amazing so I will always remember that show and having been very impressed. Because of that while I was curious and also excited to see them again, I was also a bit reserved. As they were the last band of a long festival day that had involved a drink or two it maybe wasn’t the best outset to begin with anyway. The show was tight as expected but it won’t stay in my memory like this first show did. A worthy last act of day one nonetheless.
On Saturday, the organizers once again proved that they are actually listening to what people had to say and were fast to react to feedback: Already on Saturday noon before the doors opened for the second day they apologized for the long queues at the bars on Friday and let people know via the Facebook event that there would be more bars and more staff on Saturday – respect! With that news, the sun shining and Torture Killer kicking any hangover to the curb (afterparties are not always a good idea, especially not if the devil’s brew called Gambina is involved), the second day could start. (Gambina is the drink of choice of many professional drinkers, is a mix of red vermouth and gin, and bands like Rytmihäiriö have dedicated several songs to it.) Torture Killer managed to attract quite a crowd and it was only a matter of time until there was a mosh pit going and arms were in the air, everyone bathing in the sun and the sound wall that was being blasted out from the stage. The slower parts of the songs gave the chance to catch ones breath a bit but even during those it was just impossible to not dive right into the music – it was just good.
Inside a different atmosphere awaited with Sargeist, and it took a moment to adjust the mind to black metal. I had seen them two times before I think, and had always been looking forward to it but every time the sound had been so bad that it was quite a disappointment because their trademark cold melodies and the varied vocal styles were almost undistinguishable so I was both hopeful and wary. The crowd in front of the stage was not massive but there was one, and from the start the sound was already a lot better than at previous shows. It is, as most things are, a question of taste but the mix of Hoath Torog raw, harsh vocals that alternate between screams and growls mixed with the music and the lights – it was a black metal thunderstorm of the good kind. It looked like he also got more into it the longer the gig lasted, and the sound improved a bit as well, though e.g. during Black Fucking Murder the vocals were a bit too loud. And while the gig had some lengths, it was as always with Sargeist: suddenly there is a part of a song that captures my attention again, gets to me and sweeps me away.
Outside, the death metal party that Torture Killer had started continued with Sotajumala so we spent the time listening to them from afar, festivaling with friends because the next band inside was Wyrd and I was very curious to see them. Having listened to them for a long time, I had not believed I would ever see them live so this might well have been a once in a life time chance. The crowd inside was quite small but grew during the show. I had been slightly worried about how well the music would work on stage and how it would play out, but it worked just fine. The melodies were there to enchant and after a while also the keyboard parts that hadn’t really convince me at first – maybe because they were too prominent soundwise – started to blend into the music more and the sound came together. The gig was a more quiet and atmospheric than the others of the day so far, and it was easy to let myself drift in the music, and feel the energy that I had felt on the records for so many years now finally live. And in Finland. For some reason, Wyrd had always been a band that had connected me to the longing for Finland before I had moved here which I had almost forgotten at the point of the show because what I had longed for 10 years back had become reality for many years now. This quiet excitement connected to these almost forgotten feelings from the past had been lingering from the moment that the show had been announced and I was not disappointed. And while for others the gig might have not been anything spectacular, for me they awoke everything this music had meant to me, brought it to life on stage and wove a net of magic into the air.
Kawir and Cosmic Church offered the time to have a short break because after them the evening’s schedule was packed. Kawir played outside but could not lure our group away from drinks, hanging out with friends and enjoying the last rays of sun for the day even though (or maybe because of?) we were told that one guitarist was showing off a belly worthy of Tankard’s Gerre in his best times. Cosmic Church sounded ok, nothing worldshaking. But as the gig continued, they grew on me and I appreciated the intensity that seemed to emerge from the stage. I didn’t envy the photographers though, trying to get shots, as the stage was bathed in all red lights for most of the gig. An interesting detail was that the band members except for the drummer were facing each other on the two sides of the stage instead of the audience which created interesting dynamics. Dead Congregation were next and they didn’t joke around: Playing at full throttle from the start, the small but enthusiastic crowd burst into a mosh pit. That combined with the triple head banging choreography on stage is an image that warmed my little black (metal) heart, which was good as the evening was getting chilly again.
Therefore, it was good that Moonsorrow were playing inside. After a phase during which it felt that I was seeing them everywhere I went, it had been a while now since the last time so it was great to see my old-time favorites again. Clearly, most of the audience shared this feeling as they were greeted by cheers and shouts when they came on stage. Ville’s voice sounded a lot deeper and fuller than I had remembered – it seemed like this would to turn out to be a good one. After a quiet start with 1065: Aika during which Moonsorrow showed off why they are the masters of beautiful harmonies combined with powerful music and an intense atmosphere without letting it get to the tipping point, the sound got louder with Taistelu Pohjolasta from the 1999 demo. Fitting the song title, it got darker on stage during Pimeä – maybe also so the audience could not see the possibly suppressed smirk on Ville’s face as he certainly caused several hearts to skip a beat and most of the audience to wonder if this festival now had finally ruined their hearing completely: After barely 30 minutes into the one hour set, Ville announced that they would now play their last song because they had to get back to Helsinki to party. Well, that last song turned out to be Tulimyrsky with a length of 30 minutes. A courageous choice for a live show but the song’s dramaturgy and Moonsorrow’s stage presence whisked away all doubts if this would work.
After that, leaving the hall to see Asphyx outside felt like entering the heart of winter, but oh my, was it worth it. I don’t think I have ever seen a bad Asphyx show but this one was one of the best, and easily one of this festival’s absolute highlights. Not only did their music steamroll every last corner of the wool factory area but singer Martin van Drunen was spreading his charm on stage, creating an image of party, lonkero and death metal: he declared his love for the Finnish grape longdrink Lonkero (over and over), talked about the ladies, was entertaining the audience and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself so that the talking did not come across forced or too much like it sometimes happens.
From songs like MS Bismarck to Last One on Earth that they dedicated to Ronnie James Dio, the show had everything. And their connection to Finland goes beyond Lonkero, as they also played We Doom You to Death from the 2011 split with Hooded Menace. Of course, this power package was welcomed with applause, shouts and a mosh pit. With the daylight disappearing, the crowd turned into silhouettes. And this image of hair flying, silhouettes of the sign of the horn in the air against the lit up stage exuding intensity and strength was the one that was etched into my mind when going back inside to see the festival’s final act: Nokturnal Mortum.
The band was supposed to play already last year but had to cancel because of the political situation in the Ukraine – this year, they made it. As expected, the politics didn’t fully keep out and again there were parts of the audience that made their ideologies clear. Nonetheless, the band was obviously long awaited as even 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the show people were bringing themselves into position in the front row. Once they started playing, it was easy to ignore all politics at least for the time being as they played a very atmospheric gig mixing pagan sounds and prog. The mic stand made of decorated skulls and bones was also impressive – a piece of art I would not mind having in my living room. The audience was with them, singing along and mesmerized by the lights, the music, the mood.
And just like that, it was over. Time to return to the hotel, take off the dusty boots and the bullet belt and give the tired feet a rest – eyes, ears, soul and heart filled with music, impressions and memories. It was again an extremely well organized festival with fast reacting organizers, great bands, friends and overall atmosphere. Let’s do it all again in a year! Kippis & Kiitos!
by Nina Ratavaara, Photos: Eija Mäkivuoti