The set up for the Steelfest weekend of May 20 and 21 couldn’t have been better this year: The line-up was promising, the weather forecast perfect and the list of friends attending long. At 88€ for a two-day ticket and 6€ for a pint, prices remained fair. Only the close-by hotel had raised its prices again which sucks but is understandable as they are the only hotel really close by – and that I mean a slow 5 minutes’ walk with a beer in your hand and chatting with friends that you run into along the way through the little park, a popular pre-festival drinks location with weather like this.
But I’d wish they would then at least offer special festival services if they set festival prices, such as changing the breakfast time to last til noon – a luxury I have come to appreciate a lot after experiencing it at Inferno Festival in Oslo last year. But I don’t want to complain (too much) here – Steelfest is one of the best metal festivals in Finland at the moment and a pleasure to attend every year, especially on a weekend like this with the sun shining and temperatures at a summery 20 °C.
This of course only increased the already very strong ‘summer-festival-season-opening’- feeling that goes along with Steelfest, and that led to a some less bands seen and instead a few more beverages with friends consumed– cheers to that! As I already wrote the weather was just perfect upon arriving in Hyvinkää on Friday afternoon, and the festival was close to reaching its capacity of 1500 but wasn’t completely sold out. On the positive side: It was always possible to find seats in the beer areas.
Steelfest was again located on the grounds of the old wool factory with one stage outdoors and one inside, a food and shopping area as well as two main bars and a few smaller pop-ups. While the hotel doesn’t offer the late festival breakfast luxury (yes yes, I’ll now stop mentioning that), the festival itself certainly does offer two things I come to miss very much at other festivals: Proper indoor toilets and the fantastic wardrobe system where you rent a locker for the duration of the festival and in which you can store all your things, go back to take something out or store all your merch shopping during the day with no additional fees.
Steelfest also keeps it innovative when it comes to making life (and drinking) easier for the festival goers so they don’t have to queue anymore: This year you could order your drinks via the app Yonoton (a play on the Finnish word ‘jonoton’ meaning ‘queueless’) and then pick them up from the bar when you got the pick-up-notification. I personally didn’t try it as queues weren’t that long anyway but what a great service!
We got to the area in time for the last songs of Inferno who were playing inside but as the atmosphere was so nice and the sun was shining we got stuck enjoying our first drinks, talking to friends and doing what you do at summer festivals. What could be heard from the inside stage however sounded nice. People were slowly arriving and it just felt great to be at Steelfest again. Demonical were up next on the outdoor stage and they brought a good mood to the area, just the right groovy, heavy death metal soundtrack to warm-up, leave the week, the journey and for some the work day behind and let yourself be drawn into a metal weekend.
The next few hours were spent with the slogan ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, and suddenly Finnish black metal legends Horna started playing on the outdoor stage. They sounded really good, just as good as a few weeks back when they played with Profanatica in Tampere. Therefore, realizing there were still several bands to go I decided it was time to fill my stomach with something else than just liquids. And what better dinner music could one wish for than Horna delivering a great live performance?
By the time Blasphemy started, Finnish summer showed off one of its best sides: It was still bright out and warm enough to keep on floating through the festival experience filled with joy by the fantastic atmosphere, all the music and watching all these metal heads gathered together, having a great time and good conversations. And as it felt like Blasphemy have played every festival I’ve been to in the past year we kept ourselves stationed in the beer area, the crowds’ Blasphemy chants providing the background sound. The Finnish metal heads certainly do love Blasphemy and turn up in numbers no matter how often they play.
Starting to feeling guilty cos this was after all a music festival and night slowly approached, it was time to check out Kroda playing inside. The crowd was enjoying them and while they had a few nice moments and some decent (pagan) melodies, I didn’t really connect with them other than it being ok to watch. But I got rather drawn in by the green and white lights that made me think of mojitos – clearly I had fully succumbed to the summer festival mood.
Up next were Sadistic Intent, a festival favorite for many. The stage bathed in purple light shone bright in the night and the crowd enthusiastically welcomed the band who blasted a powerful, raw sound through the Hyvinkäänian darkness. The energies of the band on stage and the audience’s seemed to connect and set the night on fire – head banging everywhere. One of the highlights for sure.
1349 brought Hellfire to the indoor stage to end the first Steelfest day– just without fire unfortunately. 1349 are band where I can never fully decide how much I like them – there are times and songs I am really into but then something keeps me from fully clicking with them, the same goes for their live shows. But after having seen a fantastic, intense and pyro-heavy gig at the aforementioned Inferno Festival 2015, I was looking forward to seeing them at Steelfest again. I don’t know if it was me or the show but we just didn’t hit it off. It was overall a decent gig, and a few songs were really quite good but the energy was just not of the same power. Despite that, the day had been great and we headed back to the hotel very happy and ready for the second day.
Well, almost ready at least – we needed a few hours of sleep, breakfast, some more sleep and some first drinks to get Day 2 started after all, so we made it to the area just in time for Skyforger playing outdoors under a slightly cloudy but otherwise warm and summery sky. It is always a pleasure to see Skyforger as they forever hold a place in my heart after I saw them over ten years ago in Switzerland at one of their first ever concerts in Europe. I don’t think I’ve since seen a band so excited and as honestly touched by the positive audience response as Skyforger on that gig – singer P?teris couldn’t stop thanking everyone with the sweetest Latvian accent. And while Skyforger have taken the metal world quite by storm since then and have become old pros playing festivals and big crowds, they still seem to be truly enjoying themselves on stage, bassist Zirgs forever doing his trademark grimaces as he is plunging into the music and the moment.
The show started with a heavy metal vibe, the sound sometimes a bit blown apart by gusts of wind. The festival goers were slowly gearing up with a decent crowd in front of the stage and lots of people in the beer area. Skyforger continued with some groovy tunes to keep the audience going before also incorporating some of their beautiful pagan chants, and showing off some triple ax action. Not before long I realized I had been just enjoying myself and the gig so much that I had forgotten to get a drink – but worry not, this was quickly rectified.
After some festivaling and socializing in the sun while Necromancer celebrated their 30th anniversary/goodbye concert on stage, we went to check out Finnish metal institution Impaled Nazarene inside where quite a crowd had gathered – the band is clearly an all-time favorite and the audience enjoyed themselves, being bathed in the sound blasting from the stage.
Next up it was time for some black metal in the sunshine with Azagahl. The crowd in front of the stage was not huge but the atmosphere was nice non the less. I’ve always liked Azagahl and I’ve been really excited to see them live a few times but for some reason they’re never as good as I want them to be at gigs. Even one of my favorites Agios O Baphomet couldn’t make up for that. Maybe it would have been a more atmospheric show on the indoor stage, who knows. But I still like Azagahl, just maybe rather on CD than live.
The evening continued black with Denial of God who kept getting more and more intriguing and intensity picked up throughout their set. No wonder the crowd didn’t thin out after the middle of the set as so often is the case but kept their boots and heels parked in front of the stage and let themselves be steamrolled by this powerful, bestial performance. Singer Ustumallagam was visibly into it, feeling the music, hair and arms flying.
Outside, the queues were getting a bit longer and people seemed a bit distracted with all the festivaling they had to do when Ragnarok served up some more black metal outdoors. Singer Jontho and guitarist Bolverk seemed to have a competition who could wear the bigger inverted cross – Bolverk won. It was a decent maybe slightly uninspired gig and they couldn’t keep me interested for the whole duration of their show, so more drinks it was, before Batushka – one of my festival highlights – would ring the bells to call the Steelfest crowd to mass. (Also, for the first time ever I bought a white (band) shirt as Batushka only had white merch with them – that should make it clear how excited I was to see this band.)
Not surprising, the gig was off to an atmospheric start with a three men strong hooded choir set up on the left of the stage, the whole band clad in ornamented robes. A big part of the audience, myself included, seem ready do dive in and soak up this musical experience and even the slightly spotty volumes of the vocals at the beginning and the green in the lighting color scheme couldn’t take away from that. The bells rang, the chords sounded, my heart beat aligned with the rhythm and goosebumps drew the melody lines all over my body only for the music to turn into a wave of deep throbbing darkness that fully engulfed me while deep chants guided the way through the abyss, outside a full moon rising over Steelfest, intensifying the magickal atmosphere. “And let us be put to the test, deliver us to the Evil One. Watch and pray so that you will enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, and the body is weak.” I hope to soon attend the next Batushka led mass is all I can say – I am a black metal faithful.
Another highly anticipated band was closing down the outdoor stage for this year: Graveland. And not surprisingly, a big crowd was awaiting them eagerly. The show went from atmospheric moments with Shaman drums, white lights on the otherwise dark stage, revealing cloaked silhouettes and an intense but at first restrained energy to a full-on blast. They delivered what their fans have been waiting for.
Closing the festival this year were Gorgoroth with Hoest on vocals, again in front of a big crowd providing the perfect (black metal) moment for some last drinks and festival silliness with friends before heading back to the hotel via the Taco truck for a late night snack – the best decision ever! And now it’s less than a year to go til the next Steelfest, I’m counting the days!
by Nina Ratavaara