With 10 years of shared history, Tuska announced going separate ways with the Kaisaniemi park in Helsinki for the 2011 edition of the festival, relocating to a new area with a bigger capacity. Tuska, however, remains an urban city festival; the new location in the industrial area of Suvilahti is easy to reach by public transport, as it’s located right next to the Kalasatama underground station, reachable in just 10 minutes from the central station by underground.
The new Tuska area in Suvilahti boasts two large open air stages, a mid-sized tent stage and a small club stage indoors, which showcased a variety of less commercial acts. The 2011 edition of Tuska did not feature any stadium class megastars on the billing despite the new venue with a bigger capacity and the 3 day ticket price upped to 110 EUR from the previous year. Instead, a comprehensive package of interesting acts performed on four different stages on a hot July weekend.
Tuska veterans were this year particularly concerned about the alcohol policy imposed by the festival at the new area. An important part of Tuska‘s brand in Kaisaniemi had been the special allowance to bring your own alcohol drinks to the festival premises. A policy like this had been very exceptional for a Finnish festival, as the law prohibits the possession of your own alcohol drinks inside a festival area. However, with a special grant from the local police, Tuska-goers had been allowed to have their alco-picnics in Kaisaniemi. As a tradeoff, you weren’t allowed to enter the area more than once per day.
Coming to Tuska hadn’t been just about the quality of the bands, as people gladly bought their 3-day tickets 6 months in advance, knowing that even if the bands wouldn’t deliver, a jolly beer bash would be guaranteed. With this in mind, the Tuska organization did everything in their power to get a similar permit from the authorities for the new Suvilahti area, but their request was denied. This left hundreds if not thousands of Tuska fans outside the area to enjoy their own beverages, when the most cost-effective drinking option inside the gates was 5,50 EUR lukewarm beers.
This year’s Tuska kicked off already during business hours on Friday at 12:45 with Omnium Gatherum in the Inferno tent stage. Karhula’s melo-metal patrol is currently at the peak of their success with their last two, highly acclaimed chart hitting albums bringing them finally the kind of attention they deserve. The OG members have grinded tiny pubs for a good decade, and they were seemingly enthusiastic to be playing at a major event for a bigger crowd than what they’re used to. Despite having gone through a few lineup changes, Markus Vanhala (lead guitar) remains the driving force of the band, and an excellent performer yet still an underrated guitarist.
Speaking of excellent guitarists, the Amott brothers were some of the most technically able musicians at this year’s Tuska. The Arch Enemy studio albums have never really impressed me; just like the band’s latest release “Khaos Legions”, the Arch Enemy discography is well produced and executed melodeath, but there’s not really anything that would be particularly memorable or make them stand out from other bands in their genre. However, on Tuska‘s mainstage on a sunny Friday afternoon, the furious execution the quintet rolled through their set was thoroughly convincing. For a band touring their in their volumes it must have been just another show, but it certainly did not look like it. Angela (vocals) was pumping up the crowd with high energy, and especially Christopher Amott‘s guitar work was mindblowing. Forgive my complete ignorance, but I was always under the impression that his brother was the sole shredmaster in this band. All around a very entertaining show by true professionals who knew how to take their audience.
Cause For Effect was one of the unorthodox bands booked on the festival’s club stage. This fusion grind(?) band consists of a drummer and a growling bassplayer, who grind through 15-60 second tracks as a duo. They’ve managed to reach some kind of cult status by being the ‘house band’ previously in Finnish Metal Expo and some Tuska club shows. Awkward, yet somehow quite endearing.
One of the most distinctive cons of Suvilahti was the lack of an area where you could chill out, or, to be more precise, sit down. The Kaisaniemi area had a large grassfield near one of the tent stages where people gathered to catch their breath and socialize when no bands of interest were on stage; in Suvilahti the only place to do this was just a bunch of benches near the food stands. However, with a new policy of issuing wristbands for everyone, you could leave the area for a moment to sit at the grass outside the area, where ticketless music lovers were having their bandless spin-off Tuska in the memory of Kaisaniemi.
At The Gates played their “last” (reunion) shows three years ago, but yet here they are again. Well, why not? Slaughter of The Soul is undenieably one of the most important milestones in melodic death metal, and there’s few bands in the genre that would not owe some of their sound to the legendary Gothenburg act. An At The Gates liveshow is unfortunately fairly stale. There’s really not so much going on on the stage, but just to hear these tracks live is enough to please most fans. Tomas Lindberg has one mean raspy voice, and there was something heartwarming in his grin as he bounced from one side of the stage to another. Hearing nearly every single track from Slaughter Of The Soul live, topped with “Raped by The Light Of Christ”, “Terminal Spirit Disease” and “Kingdom Come” is one of those things you just want to ‘check off your list’, but once you’ve done that once, seeing At The Gates live won’t do that much for you anymore, I’m afraid.
Friday’s headliner Morbid Angel was arguably the biggest name on this year’s Tuska billing. They were missing out on Pete Sandoval behind the drums as he’s recovering from a back surgery, and Tim Yeung was the friend in need to fill in for him. The set leaned heavily on the older Morbid Angel albums and David Vincent led his band through the show with good marks. Yet, it felt like Morbid Angel was not enough of a crowd favorite for this 90 minute slot to make the first Tuska day ever in Suvilahti particularly memorable.
Epica was the first band to play on the mainstage on Saturday. Simone Simons (vocals) was enchanting as always, but Epica‘s songs are like Nightwish songs that aren’t really going anywhere. With massive backdrops and lights the show was visually pleasing, but the musical merits were very thin.
Moonsorrow was one of the unlucky bands that just couldn’t get the sound mix right at the acoustically challenging Inferno tent. The pagan metallers are frequently on Finnish festivals and the show was a fairly standard performance, except for the band’s songwriter Henri Sorvali, who’s not overly fond of touring or live shows, gracing the Tuska audience with his presence on the rhythm guitar and backing vocals. The band opened with “Köyliönjärven Jäällä” and played a good mix of their discography, with strong songs like “Kivenkantaja” and “Aurinko Ja Kuu” but unfortunately the poor mix made it all sound like a big blur which made the show difficult to enjoy.
The facilities in Suvilahti were fairly good. There were plenty of toilets (or just fewer visitors than expected?) and the food stands were what you should expect from a festival; slightly overpriced ethnic food, paninis, some sweeter stuff, and the savior of all Finnish festivals – the Alepa truck with normal supermarket pricing on groceries. There were two bar areas, one facing the mainstage and one positioned next to the club stage. Both located quite conveniently. A deposit of 2 EUR was asked for each purchased can, and you could get this deposit back at a separate booth. Beer was 5,50 EUR (+ deposit) and cider + long drinks started from 6 EUR. A liter of beer (in a can) was 11 EUR.
To say that Wintersun has had some major difficulties in getting their new album “Time”, follow-up to their highly acclaimed self-titled album, recorded and mixed would be an understatement. Due to various technical and financial difficulties, the band has been trying to get the album finished for the last five years, and it’s been equally as long since the band played in Tuska (or Finland for that matter) the last time. With “Time” still under works, the band took some time to play in Tuska in the meantime. Wintersun started the show with a piece of new song as an intro, and moved through the 2+ minute “Beyond The Dark Sun” into “Battle Against Time” to end the 5-year wait of the Finnish fans. The crowd response was overwhelming right from the start, as the band played songs from their only album with breathtaking accuracy, and introduced a new song, “The Way Of The Fire”, a very Wintersun-esque tune clocking beyond the 10 minute mark. Wintersun mastermind Jari Mäenpää introduced “Winter Madness” as “Summer Madness” to go better with the extreme heat that plagued (or blessed) Suvilahti the whole weekend. All in all, a very welcome return and definitely one of the best shows this year.
Devin Townsend did two shows at last year’s Tuska (special Ziltoid show + Devin Townsend Project), but yet the man was booked again to headline Tuska 2011’s Saturday. He had brought Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) along to take care of the female vocal duties. Well, we did not see that in last Tuska, but we did see that on the Finnish tour last December.. Come on. Enough is enough. Descriptive is that some several hardcore Devin fans felt like they could have done without this appearance. This year’s Tuska was definitely lacking big name headliners that haven’t been to Finland too often.
Impaled Nazarene was Sunday’s early bird at the Inferno tent. Regretfully, just like with Moonsorrow, the sound was off and at the liveshow of a band like Impaled Nazarene it is crucial that you can actually make out something else except the blastbeat. The singer Mika Luttinen was screaming his lungs off through songs like Ghettoblaster but the show just wasn’t enjoyable to watch due to the extremely poor sound.
At a time when every new hyped up band feels even worse than the other, it is extremely refreshing to come across bands like Kvelertak that bring your faith back to new music. Mixing a dirty punk/hardcore sound and even black metal elements with heavy rock and roll, Kvelertak simply crushed everything on their way with three guitar players who treat their instruments like percussionists by beating the living shit out of them. One of the guys didn’t even seem to need a pick. The songs are catchy yet very primal, and the 6 Norwegian friends just tore the stage apart with their sheer energy. With the tragedy in Norway taking place the same weekend, the band wore black mourning bands on their arms. Finnish fans also showed their respect by bringing a bunch of Norwegian flags to the audience. Yet, the show must go on, and that’s exactly what Kvelertak did by delivering an intense show which saw the singer dive off the stage and the crowd go completely bananas. Kvelertak shirts were perhaps the most common shirt on the festival grounds, despite the fact that they weren’t even for sale on the merch booth!
Shining must be one of the only good bands Spinefarm Records has signed in the last 5 years. Swedish sung atmospheric black metal is the name of the game here, and they’re NOT to be mixed with the Norwegian metal band Shining that has their roots in jazz and electronic music. Fronted by the controversial Niklas Kvarforth, Shining took to the club stage in early Sunday afternoon when most were still recovering from their hangovers. Music like this definitely fits better for initimate club gigs than festival afternoons, but Shining did what they could to make up for the setting, and convincingly presented strong tracks from their discography. Faithful to his ways, Kvarforth engaged with some trash talk with people in the attendance during the show.
While my first impression was that there was no way that Amon Amarth could fill the massive headliner boots (last year Megadeth was playing on their slot), I have to admit that I was quite surprised by the enthusiasm that the Finnish crowd met the Swedish vikings with, even if a large share of the festival visitors had already left the area as they started their set. 90 minutes of mythology, melodies and circle pits, and it was time to call it a festival for 2011. After the Amon Amarth show the announcers confirmed that next year’s Tuska would be held in Suvilahti at dates that would be confirmed later this fall.
The festival unfortunately did not reach last year’s attendee figures despite having moved to a bigger area with even bigger plans. The reasons for this are fairly obvious: new restrictive alcohol policy and lack of big headliners. Alcohol policy seems to be something the Tuska organization can’t do anything about, but if they only fix the headliner part for next year, and organize more seats or benches to catch your breath in – or hell, even a fake grass field for flashbacks from Kaisaniemi – I am optimistic that next year’s Tuska will be a success again.
LH / Photos: Amelie Lund