On Friday, June 26 it finally was that time of the year again: Tuska Open Air Metal Festival opened its gates at Suvilahti for three days and for 25000 metal heads. 42 bands played on the three stages and made sure everyone would find something to their liking and the festival sauna offered the chance to take a refreshing, truly Finnish break. There were a variety of ticket options available: from 255 € for the three day Tuska Turbo VIP package to 125€ for a normal three day ticket and 100€ respectively 70€ for a two or one day ticket. To make sure everyone got into Tuska mood, there were several Tuska pre- and warm-up concerts as well as interviews and events at the Tuska-kiska kiosk in the center of Helsinki the week of the festival. The Tuska team also started what I hope will become an international movement: the first official Corspe Paint Friday. If you put on corpse paint that Friday, went to work with it, took a picture with your boss and uploaded that with the hashtag #corpsefriday, you could win festival tickets. But you could not only win a ticket, at the Play Tuska-contest German metal bands had the chance to win a gig at the festival. In the end, Aeons Confer were the most listened to band and played the Club Stage on Friday. Also the food options had stepped up their game: From tasty falafels to the stylish and delicious Black Dining restaurant the only thing you had to do to get a nice meal was make sure Helsinki’s infamous seagulls didn’t steal it.
Both the seagulls and the festival crowd were enjoying the fact that Finnish summer finally seemed to be approaching. Despite a slightly chilly wind the sun was shining, the skies were blue and people were enjoying the first drinks outside the festival and inside at the beer areas and the cocktail bar. By the time Ghost Brigade were ready to take the Inferno Stage there was already quite a crowd in the area and the sun was making itself felt as some t-shirts had already come off and I was predicting that some red backs would be wandering the grounds tomorrow. Ghost Brigade’s melancholic tunes might not have been the perfect soundtrack to this summer festival feeling but the remaining empty spaces in front of the stage were filling up slowly and the music’s groove started to take hold of the audience. With the faster and more powerful parts of the songs the arms started shooting up into the air and it felt right that Finnish melancholy translated into beautiful melodies would start off one of the most important metal festivals in Scandinavia. And that Tuska still is.
Despite all the criticism about its atmosphere changing after moving away from Kaisaniemi park and this year’s (for some too) versatile line-up, Tuska will forever be important to many, including myself because of its history and the many memories connected to it. And one can arrange oneself with the new Suvilahti area – there is space to sit outside for a drink and it’s even possible to enjoy a cool drink you brought along almost inside the festival as in the area after the ticket check and before the security check where the cloakroom is situated, you are allowed to drink your own drinks that you (against a fee) can store and take out from the cloakroom. This started a nice festival tradition we like to refer to as narikka drinks (narikka is cloakroom in Finnish). There are also always some must-see bands at Tuska and having one’s schedule not packed completely with bands to watch also allows for an equally important festival part-time: hanging around with your friends that traveled to the festival from near and far.
But I digress, Ghost Brigade was in sync with the audience and crowd favorites like Into The Black Light got cheers. During the gig the energy on stage grew and especially guitarist Tommi Kiviniemi seemed to fully give himself to the music, having an intense way of playing with his whole body.
Later that afternoon, again on the Inferno Stage it was time for the next festival highlight: Blues Pills from Sweden promised to make sure everyone got into summer festival mood – the wine drank at the narikka certainly did its part going into this gig with lots of good energy. Having listened to Blues Pills a bit before this show, I did not get the hype as I prefer bands like Jex Thoth and Jess and the Ancient Ones but live they fully convinced me. Personally, Jex Thoth still hold more magick in their music but the show was great. The sound was grooving, I felt like dancing in the sun, having an inner hippie moment at Tuska with songs like Ain’t No Change. The Astralplane was taking off and singer Elin Larsson was the pilot guiding the crowd up to the sky with her powerful, smooth, sexy, grooving, coaxing and rocking voice. The whole gig evoked a feeling of being in the countryside at a lake during midsummer (that took place just a week before), the air shimmering with the enchantment of white nights despite being in an industrial area in the center of Helsinki. With No Hope Left For Me things got a bit heavier and fittingly some dark clouds were approaching.
With that scenery of impending doom on the sky and the tunes of Black Smoke and Devil Man in my ear the mood was set for some dirty rock from Blues Pills’ fellow countrymen Alfahanne. In the semi-darkness of the Club Stage inside the Kattilahalli building suddenly a flame could be seen: drummer Niklas Åström was setting the atmosphere before the rest of the guys took the stage in front of a quite small audience. But it is tough to compete with Exodus who played at the same time and were really great as I was told, but Alfahanne rocked e.g. with Ormar Af Satan and Indiehora. They seem to be a band that you either quite like or dislike and I happen to really dig them – one of these bands I can listen to non-stop so it was great to see them live as well. A bleak, dark island of black rock metal in the sunny festival day – just what the doctor prescribed or as the Swedes say: Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! to that gig. In between Blues Pills and Alfahanne unfortunately Lamb of God went unseen due to other festival work related duties but I have it on good authority that they were really pretty good, even one of the best bands of the festival.
Time is flying when you are having fun and suddenly it was already time for the last concert of the day with Sabaton. Well, what can one say about Sabaton… they are not a band I particularly like but rather one I try to avoid when and wherever possible but seeing them in Finland is always fairly interesting because the Finns just love them despite them being Swedish and emphasizing that fact as well. But Joakim Brodén is a true entertainer and knows how to wrap an audience around his little finger, and of course songs like Talvisota and White Death help, appealing to the proud Finnish soul. And one has to hand it to Sabaton, their gigs are a real performance from comedic elements to tanks on stage and pyros flying off stage. So ignoring the fact that their music just doesn’t cater to my taste and instead focusing on being there with friends, it was just fun and entertaining to watch one of their shows, experiencing the crowd going crazy around you, jumping with their arms in the air. A worthy headliner for the first day.
Saturday started off with the perfect weather and an opening act that kicked you right where it hurts. It’s not easy to make it to a festival for the first band on the second day but never had it been more worth it: Bloodbath killed it! And ignoring any possible tiredness, hangovers, sunburns and other festival ailments people enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Despite the sound at times being gone with the wind, a deep power was radiating from the stage, blasting out rough and arid with gale-force. Old Nick Holmes’ vocals were riding on a pulsating rhythm beast, mean guitar melodies as reins, trudging and stomping its way across Suvilahti, leaving a path of sweet destruction behind. Accordingly, the circle pit was going strong and Nick even paid homage to Immortal and Abbath in a way, announcing that this would be the last time anyone would see Bloodbath in the sun.
Bombus had the very difficult task to pick up the pieces of Bloodbath’s gig aftermath so the crowd in front of their stage was very small and despite them putting on a good show and getting better throughout, the audience and the band somehow just didn’t connect. A shame as I quite liked their stuff listening to them beforehand so I wanted to check them out live but for whatever reasons it just wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully, the next time will work out better because I am still intrigued by them. On the Club Stage, Shiraz Lane played up a rock whirlwind. The young guys seem to be bursting at the seams with energy, running around on stage, letting their hair fly. One could see why they won the Finnish Wacken Metal Battle and will be heading to Wacken Open Air later this summer. Their enthusiasm transferred to the crowd that had gathered in front of the stage and people left the gig feeling more awake. Outside Ne Obliviscaris were on the Radio Rock main stage, playing in front of a happy audience. As they didn’t really do anything for me, I decided it was time for some festivaling with narikka drinks – happiness all around!
Einherjer were unfortunately almost done with their set when making our way back, though as the Inferno Stage was located just behind the cloakroom it was possible to enjoy them from a distance as well. And catching up with friends that were celebrating their one year wedding anniversary at Tuska – after having gotten married at last year’s Tuska – with some Austrian bubbly just took priority. But upon walking back to the area Einherjer played my old time favorites Ironbound so there was a moment with them too. From their hit it was a smooth transition to one of Loudness’ well known songs: Crazy Nights. Their sound was just right for the whole summer, sun and rock’n’roll feeling and the guys seemed to enjoy themselves on stage which the crowd appreciated and repaid by having a good time. To We Could Be Together everyone was putting their hands up, clapping to the beat, dancing in the golden afternoon sun. For those who needed a break from all the bright stage and sun light, Morbid Evils offered total change of style on the Club Stage with their doomy sludge rhythms slowly weaving a veil of heavy darkness over the audience. A perfect musical palate cleanser.
One could tell by just looking at the audience in front of the main stage that something special was up next. Amorphis would play the Tales From A Thousand Lakes album in its entirety to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The excitement was tangible and the clapping started with the intro and did not really stop til the end. The guys – Tomi Joutsen wearing a huge metal mjölnir around his neck – got on stage and were welcomed with a huge applause. Their view from the stage must have been one to relish – the area was packed til the end of the beer area. The light of the slowly descending sun created the perfect atmosphere to enjoy Finnish music from a legendary album at a Finnish festival – metal summer festival romanticism at its best. And the gig was worthy of the album classic. It was beautiful, full of energy and enchanting – the magick of the music lives on and the album holds the same power nowadays as back then. Songs like Black Winter Day were a clear crowd favorite and as if Amorphis had signed a pact with the Finnish gods to the first notes of the familiar melody a chillier wind was erupting, clouds were covering the sun… nature’s reminder that the black winter days were coming again. As the energy on stage kept intensifying, the audience transformed into a sea of bobbing heads and arms all the way to the back. I have seen Amorphis many times now, and they are never dull. They are veterans on stage but compared to many bands that have played live as much and as long as they have, they never seemed tired or bored of it, and even if I don’t pay that much attention to them all the time because I have seen them so often, a riff or a beautiful melody always catches me and draws me back in.
From one classic to another, the Inferno Stage was prepared to host Abbath’s world premiere. With a wall of Marshall amps and the classic intro playing, anticipation grew as the master himself walked on stage and greeted the audience like a Norwegian black metal king. Despite some sound troubles throughout the first songs hair was flying on-stage to the heavy rhythms of Warriors and the crowd was cheering in the strobe light storm especially for Immortal songs like Tyrants. But as always with Abbath, music is – if the main – not the only important part. Some black metal humor is an equally significant program point and the crowd was like putty in his hands, cheering on his command. And he rewarded them with the legendary Tuska “Fuck the sun!”, Immortal running and a new one: the probably funniest way one can pronounce Abbath. It is hard to describe but basically try saying it as fast as you can, emphasizing each syllable as much as you can while imagining getting electro shocks at the same time and all that with an Abbath voice. Throughout the gig the sound got better and the different elements of the songs became more distinctive. Of course, also the new song Fenrir Hunts was played and the first ever Abbath gig fittingly ended with fire breathing. All hail, Abbath (read in funny way described above)! The headliner of the day were In Flames who performed with high energy in front of a jumping and moshing crowd. But for us it was time to head to the after party to make sure waking up on Sunday wouldn’t be too easy.
And well, it wasn’t. It would have been nice to make it to see Mors Subita play their biggest stage so far but 2.10 pm on the third festival day is just too early. The weather was nice again but a chilly wind was accompanying the summer sunshine. We made it to the area for Mokoma in the end: 3.30 pm seemed to be the magic time as suddenly everyone wanted to get in and you had to queue for a few minutes to get through the security check. Inside, the area was quite packed already and it became apparent once again that Mokoma are Finnish crowd favorites. People liked it and the band delivered music befitting the festival mood.
But what I had been really looking forward to was the At The Hollow gig on the Club Stage. It was only a short 30-minutes show but as soon as I set foot inside the Kattilahalli, the atmosphere changed from the happy-go-lucky, loud festivaling outside to one of delicate and intimate melancholy inside. Already the stage set up made it clear that this would be a different gig: a gleaming white contra bass on the left, a still empty mic stand in the middle and percussion on the right – all on the same level at the front of the stage. Then Kalle Koo, Juho Martikainen and Risto Järvelin got on stage and Kalle’s black and green guitar, Juho’s suit and Risto’s white shirt completed the coherent color scheme and overall visuals of the stage set up. But all this was just a nice aesthetical bonus to what was to come: a haven of quiet intensity and mesmerizing melodies. My way to discover the beauty of this music hadn’t been a straight one. After hearing their name suddenly pop up in several places I thought that they were another one of these suddenly hyped bands whose name appears out of nothing and is everywhere in a matter of weeks. But I was curious so I started listening to them and my first reaction was to hit the stop button immediately. Kalle’s voice reminded me too much of some nu-metal style vocals at first that I usually cannot stand. But something in the music, the combination of the instruments, vocals, melodies and dynamics had me hooked so I kept going and I am very glad I did.
Their show was straightforward, simple and reduced and nothing more was needed or would have befitted the music’s atmosphere. To me their music sounds as if longing, wanderlust, and dreaminess full of melancholy were welded together into music, sometimes using very delicate techniques for the thinnest most fragile filament, at other times the dynamic fire was being turned up to blend those stronger wires together but always adding a little hopeful note, like a ray of sunshine peeking out from behind storm clouds or reflecting off a raindrop at the end of a downpour – a sadness of leaving hovering above everything. Fragile, melancholic music with a strong backbone and a menacing hint at times. Songs like Was It Worth It enthralled the quite big audience that had gathered and earned them cheers, and Echoes was the perfect song to end their (too) short set: starting off groovy, slow and velvety it seduces you to sway and stroll along with it before it sneakily speeds up, intensifies to build up to a frenzied storm, dragging you with it only to evaporate into nothingness.
It took a bit of adjusting to step out into the sunshine after the At The Hollow gig, but The Sirens a.k.a. Liv Kristine, Anneke van Giersbergen, and Kari Rueslåtten continued the melodic theme and brought female power to the Inferno Stage and wrapped the crowd around their little fingers. They looked like they were having a blast on stage and while musically it was not really my cup of tea the mood and the sound were good, and the ladies looked beautiful and cool on stage. And yes, too often it is the case that with female artists (business women, politicians etc. for that matter as well) their appearances are talked about too much in comparison to their skills and their male counterparts, but as I write equally much about the looks of the guys on stage and it’s not that often you see three such influential female singers on stage together at a metal festival, I take the liberty to comment on that. The three sirens alternated from singing together as a trio, a duo or solo, performing songs from The 3rd And The Mortal, The Gathering and Theatre Of Tragedy as well as their solo songs.
On the Radio Rock main stage people were already getting into position for the Opeth gig. The area was packed and with the intro the crowd was into the show already. It had been a while since I had seen them live but the signs were that this would be a good one with the sun shining its special golden late afternoon light over the stage and the audience, once again creating the perfect summer festival atmosphere suiting very well to the groovy parts of Opeth’s music and the warm, full-bodied bass lines. Opeth’s atmospheric music lived on the melodies and the juxtapositions, from prog to metal. In between, the mood was broken or lightened up depending how you look at it by singer Mikael Åkerfeldt shit talking about everything from color matching his shoes to his guitar to Swedish ice hockey, which earned him some catcalls as he talked about Sweden as the supreme ice hockey nation. It was a good gig, for some reason though I just didn’t connect with it but many other people did and the show was a highlight for them.
As Stratovarious would never become a highlight for us, it was time for some narikka enjoyment again. But the big crowd that had gathered in front of the stage to hear them play the whole Visions album really enjoyed the show. Some very excited and cheerful people must have been those that managed to get into the front row for the day’s and festival’s final act: Alice Cooper. And they earned their spot as they were standing there waiting during Stratovarius already. The build-up on stage promised a great rock’n’roll show to come and once the first curtain at the front of the stage was lifted and a pair of overdimentional Alice-eyes were staring onto the massive audience the cheers and clapping started. And then the moment was there, the curtain dropped and was carried off by hooded figures. When Alice Cooper entered the stage to Hello Hooray in a black and red striped suit he was greeted like royalty. And he wasn’t stingy with his hits, playing House of Fire, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Hey Stoopid and the lot. Him and his band swept across the stage like dervishes, jumping into the air with their guitars, doing Angus Young walks and posing like, well, rock stars. Especially guitarist Nita Strauss was unstoppable, giving it her all and surely turning heads left and right with her skills, performance and yes, looks. I surely developed a bit of a girl crush. Alice also made many fans very happy, throwing his cane, fake money and pearls into the audience. The rock show just kept going with outfit changes and more crowd favorites and even a real snake that didn’t really want to stay where Alice Cooper wanted it to. For the absolute final song, School’s Out the audience was in for another treat: Michael Monroe came on stage to perform with Alice. After that, the only thing left to say was: Wow, that was something and hell of a way to end the 18th Tuska Festival. The three days had gone by as fast as lightning again and they had been great. Kiitos, Tuska!
by Nina Ratavaara, Photos: Eija Mäkivuoti