On a warm and sunny Friday afternoon, the Helsinki railway station and its surroundings are completely packed with people wearing leather, band shirts and corsets. All dressed up for the 2010-edition of TUSKA Open Air Metal Festival, taking place just a stone’s throw from the heart of Helsinki in the Kaisaniemi park. TUSKA was sold out once again this year, and the tickets tend to run out annually already in May or early June.
On any other festival, excessive drinking and unusually cheerful laughter and screaming outside the gates before their opening would suggest massive queues to the beer tent and its 5,5 EUR 0,4L pints after you get in, but what really characterizes Tuska is that they allow you to bring your own alcohol with you, as long as they’re not in glass bottles or cans. This means that most festival-goers have prepared themselves with carry-on provisions; popular choices include three litre cardboard boxes of wine, vodka or liquor mixes in big plastic bottles, local ciders as well as the Finnish speciality “lonkero”, a mixture of gin and grapefruit.
Tuska‘s organization has learned their lesson from the previous years, as the queue flows in fast from the area’s only gate facing the railway station, despite the fact that most people try to squeeze into the area within one hour when the first bands kick off.
Testament opens up the main stage to a surprisingly warm response considering the early playing time and relatively heavy focus in the set on the band’s more recent studio outings. The circle pit is a whirlwind from the start, with the always heartwarmingly happy Chuck Billy commanding those who flow in through the gates straight Into The Pit.
In addition to the main stage, Tuska has two tent stages, where there’s always two bands playing simultaneously during the changeover on the main stage. The Kaisaniemi park is basically just a flat field of sand that the organizers water every night to minimize the amount of dust in the area. Those who want to rest and take a break from seeing the bands – or simply not watch the bands at all – head up on a grass field near the Sue stage, the only place where you can hide from the sun apart from the tents over the side stages.
Finnish Rytmihäiriö plays an interesting mixture of metal, hardcore and even a hint of punk. With lyrical themes
revolving around drinking and beyond, this aggressive wolfpack fits in Tuska and the Inferno tent even better than a fist in the eye. The band’s signature drink, “Gambina“, a repulsive but efficient mix of of vermuth and gin, is often on the band’s lips during the gig, as well as in their song titles. Hell – even the most epic song of their set that plays homage to slayer is entitled “Sataa Gambinaa” (translates into Raining Gambina). The closer of their energetic set “Paluu Raittiusleiriltä” is Rytmihäiriö at its finest – catchy yet neckbreaking.
At about 4PM the first fallen hero sleeping face first in the sand is spotted during the Rytmihäiriö gig, and the next one is found five minutes after outside the toilets. Considering it’s Tuska, it was about the time. A wise man once said that most people come to Tuska to watch the bands, but everybody comes there to drink. While it’s an exaggeration, there’s definitely a hint of truth in it.
Next up on main stage is Tarot led by Nightwish‘s own Marco Hietala. While unknown to many foreigners, Tarot rightfully enjoys a cult status in Finland having released their classic album Spell Of Iron in 1986. These true pioneers of traditional heavy metal have never really enjoyed massive success in Finland, but made a very solid career over the years. With their set leaning solely on their newer material they leave the crowd cold despite a solid performance. It’s easy to forget yet every time hard to comprehend how the keyboardist and second underrated vocalist Tupla Salmela is able to sing right on par with Marco‘s incredible voice.
Satyricon takes the main stage next, and does an alright job in getting the crowd excited. 75 minute slot was probably a little too much for them – or at least it felt like an eternity to wait 70 minutes for Mother North.
Friday’s headliner slot this year was given to Devin Townsend‘s world exclusive performance of his concept album Ziltoid The Omniscient. Devin is one of those love him or hate him artists, and I unfortunately belong to the latter group. A somewhat small but very enthusiastic crowd followed the whole Ziltoid spectacle closely and saw Devin have a guitar duel with the ET named Ziltoid who appeared on the large screen next to the stage. Also Chuck Billy from Testament did one of the roles in this, well, musical, and sang one of the songs.
The bands have to stop playing at 10 on Friday and Saturday, and at 9 on Sunday due to the festivals close location to the city centre. The action, however, does not stop here, as the crowd flows into all of Helsinki’s most important clubs and metal bars for more or less official Tuska afterparties.
Finnish powerhouse Sotajumala kicks the day off at the Sue stage. The band climbed to the 6th position of the Finnish album chart with their new album “Kuolemanpalvelus”. This is arguably the best chart position for a really extreme metal
band in Finnish music history. Children Of Bodom tends to top the charts with their most approachable sound, but Sotajumala‘s brutal death metal has little hooks in their music but a lot of blastbeat. The band’s frontman Mynni Luukkainen is one of the most dangerous looking frontmen to perform on a Tuska stage during the 13-yearlong history of the festival. The band grinds convincingly through their set, starting with the opening cut “Syvyydessä” from “Kuolemanpalvelus” and ending with their biggest hit “Kuolinjulistus” from 2008’s “Teloitus”. Drummer Timo Häkkinen plays once again in such an accurate manner, that I’m sensing that there will be exceptionally many second hand drumsets for sale next week.
Tuska‘s food stands are nothing to write home about much like on every other festival , but they do offer a reasonable variety of choice with everything from tex mex platters to kebabs, and grilled sausages to woks at about 6 to 8 euros per portion, which is average for Finnish standards. A speciality on the festival is the popular Alepa – a local super market chain – truck, which boasts a small selection of baguettes, candies, chips and drinks at the same price level. This is the place to go to grab a cheap snack or for a restock for whichever you ran out if you can beat the lengthy queue in, that is.
Survivors Zero is one of Finland’s most promising new bands. It’s easy to tell that they’re all experienced chaps in the field of metal as they take the Sue stage in their control with confidence. Opener “Armageddon Cult” showcases well what SZ is all about; melodic yet heavy death metal with catchy choruses. Tapio Wilska (ex-Finntroll etc) backs up one of Finland’s best growlers Tommi “Rotten” Virranta (Winterwolf, ex-Deathchain) with his deep growls in almost each song. SZ has plenty of potential and while their debut had its moments, as a whole album it was somehow blend. These guys need to release another one! They play almost their whole debut with the hit song “Reclaim My Heritage” getting
the most horns up in the crowd.
Nevermore replaced Mastodon on a short notice. Is it just me, or didn’t this year’s headliners really cut it? By the looks of all the people leaving the area like on Friday, I would say yes. It would’ve been fun to see Loomis shred for the first two minutes when it still doesn’t get boring, but I had to hurry to Virgin Oil to see Lithuria, a promising brutal technical metal band still bubbling under.
Imagine constant breakdown-like riffage with every riff after another feeling like the high point of the song. I used to love breakdowns but then all these generic deathcore bands managed to kill the concept of them by overdoing the whole thing and just chugging through their songs. It’s hard to imagine something like this would not get boring after the first five minutes, but with Niko Kalliojärvi (ex-Amoral) on one guitar and screaming vocals, and Tuomas Yli-Jaskari (Tracedawn) on the other, Lithuria has made the impossible possible. If there’s any justice in this world, you’ll hear from these guys in no-time!
Finntroll has become one of Finland’s most internationally successfully bands as of late, and their performance at the Inferno stage on Sunday afternoon proved well why. They’ve managed to integrate their somewhat new singer Vrethto the band really well, and it has got to the point that you really have no reason to miss their old singers Wilska and Katla. The mandatory hit “Trollhammaren” blew the roof off the tent, but more interesting choices like “Svartberg” and “Maktens Spira” were also heard.
It was the third day of Tuska and a Sunday, but the party on the grassfields near the Sue stage was still going strong. Early in the day someone shirtless with his face covered in (presumably fake) blood figured it would be a good idea to climb up one of the trees, although in his condition that probably wasn’t the best idea. The security guards kindly tried to convince the jolly festival-goer to come down, but at the first glance it looked like an operation that would’ve required the firing squad to arrive.
One thing very notable about Tuska is the friendliness of the security – people drink really heavily, but in Tuska the guards seem to have nerves of steel whether you’re sleeping on the ground or just plain too drunk to even walk. Perhaps the friendliness comes naturally from the great Tuska atmosphere created by the people there. Tuska is proud to be one of Finland’s calmest festivals, and the police has been very thankful to see very little trouble from the event. The only time I’ve seen anything like a fight escalating at the area was a few years back when a few guys started pushing each other around. Some random people came in between stopping them, and someone summed the attitute up pretty well by screaming “Hey, it’s TUSKA! We don’t fight here”.
WASP was up next on the main stage. With zero expectations, I have to admit that they blew me away. WASP has been criticized for using a lot of tapes for the vocals, but this time at least the verses were clearly untouched. Their great, energetic performance was only shadowed by the fact that basically all chorus vocals came from the tape. Not that I mind a reasonable amount of backing vocals, but if I wanted to sing a long to “Wild Child” with a tape, I would’ve stayed home. But geez, at 54 years of age Blackie is still on fire!
Most fun show this year was without a doubt Warmen‘s rare performance at the Inferno tent. What started out as Children Of Bodom keyboardist Janne Warman‘s solo project has evolved into a fun-loving band of his and some of his very best friends. Warmen started their set with the title track of their latest album “Japanese Hospitality”, which left no questions open about the playing abilities of Janne and his brother Antti on lead guitar. After the jaw dropping shred fest start, the band invited guest singers on the stage. Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius fame did “Eye Of The Storm” and “Spark” like a real pro and Jonna Geagea handled “They All Blame Me” and “Goodbye” really well. Next up was Finland’s own Steve Perry Pasi Rantanen, who sang three songs of which most notable was the Journey cover “Separate Ways”. Children Of Bodom boss Alexi Laiho had prepared himself for the last song, Rockwell cut “Somebody’s Watching Me”, with the appropriate attire – green sunglasses, a Hawaii shirt and a good mood. The crowd was singing so loud that someone seriously needs to take a look at Children Of Bodom‘s touring calendar and book these guys for a guaranteed cheer up of any event!
Cannibal Corpse played probably the best show of the festival on the main stage. There’s not much to a Cannibal Corpse stage show – Corpsegrinder just stands there and headbangs with the help of his five feet thick neck but the songs speak for themselves. “Hammer Smashed Face” got the crowd wild, as did the super mean opening riff of “Stripped, Raped and Strangled”.
For many Nile on Sue stage was one of the most anticipated bands this year. Could there be a better start for any concert than “Kafir!” and “Sacrifice Unto Sebek” in a row? There’s not much I could say that hasn’t been said before about the playing of George Kollias behind the Nile drumset, but he is indeed one mean machine. With the gig ending with “Black Seeds At Vengeance”, no Nile fan could have left the show disappointed.
Dave Mustaine seemed to be on a pretty good mood with Megadeth closing the festival. He seemed genuinely appreciative of the response they got. There’s not much to say about a Megadeth show; they’re always well executed and offer little surprises. Take a wild guess if they played “Hangar 18” or “Symphony Of Destruction”? Correct. Chris Broderick was pretty damn good though.
Closing words by the festival’s announcer Jone Nikula were shocking: This was the last Tuska in the Kaisaniemi park, as the city has other plans for the area starting next year.
There’s no doubt that the legendary Kaisaniemi park has a lot of sentimental value to most avid Tuska-goers, but the fact of remains that Kaisaniemi has become too small to provide the required facilities for Tuska‘s full potential. Tuska was really packed this year, and they could’ve easily sold a few thousand more tickets with this lineup. “Of course there’s some melancholy in the air, but all in all we’re [moving to Suvilahti] with high spirits. The resources of the Kaisaniemi park have been maxed out, and Suvilahti is simply a better setting for taking the festival to its next level”, confirmed producer Niklas Nuppola from Finnish Metal Events to local newspaper Vartti.
LH / Photos: Amelie Lund