After having such a good time at Sotkamon Syke last year, there was no question as to whether or not we’d be back in 2016, especially with a pretty nice looking collection of bands on the roster. The venue had changed and the festival was altered so that there were smaller warm-up bands on Friday and the festival itself on Saturday, as well as a much more rock/metal-oriented line-up, so the festival promised to offer a completely different experience than what we got in 2015. We headed to Vuokatinhovi on August 13th, 2016, to see what the updated Syke had to offer!
This has been a rather poor summer on the festival front, not due to the quality of the shows, but the weather. Since we were traveling on Friday, we didn’t catch the pre-party, and Saturday promised some great bands and a grey, wet day. We arrived at Vuokatinhovi at 16:30, a short while before Turmion Kätilöt took the stage, unfortunately missing Pit of Eternity. The new venue was smaller than last year’s Break Sokos Hotel parking lot, and I worried that the festival isn’t getting a lot of love, since it’s now at a smaller location with only one day of music. However, it offered several drink spots, merchandise, a coffee shop or two, and to our delight, indoor toilets and a restaurant, which are always well-appreciated.
First up was Turmion Kätilöt, who seem to be able to get the party going no matter what sort of environment you’re in. To my continued delight, they kicked things off with “Kirottujen karnevaalit,” which is a hard-hitting party song from last year’s Diskovibrator. The band, as per normal, kept the energy high and told their share of stories between sets; for example, they explained Bobby Undertaker’s interesting attire (a cosy-looking onesy) as a result of him not washing his stage clothing recently. This is the second time I’ve seen TK this summer and I’ve been consistently enjoying the experience. On this occasion, I started to notice how the vocalists have their own physical way of expressing themselves while singing. MC Raaka Pee has a sturdier presence that can be seen in, for example, his arm movements, while Spellgoth has some delightfully peculiar dance moves, like the strange moonwalking in “Jalopiina.” These guys are a great band to listen to when you want to start you night on a high point, so even though it might’ve seemed odd on paper, it was good that they got to take the stage before Shiraz Lane. In spite of their set being plagued by a few feedback issues that worsened towards the end, this is still a band that has good command of the stage and their material, and knows how to interact with the crowd and one another. No matter what your sense of humor is, they’ll likely get a laugh out of you at least once, whether it’s from Spellgoth mooning the crowd or them saying that the audience should tell their children to worship Satan. They did have to stop talking and finish their set though, and closed out with “Lataa ja varmista.” Overall, they were able to put on yet another great show this summer, in spite of the feedback issues.
Shiraz Lane was the next to take the stage, with their fresh take on hard rock. We caught them once at South Park already this summer and they are simply a joy to see on stage, even if their music isn’t up your alley. With their debut album now behind them, they again kicked things off with “Wake Up” and “Mama’s Boy,” neither of which I could complain about. This was their first time in Sotkamo and they really took over the stage. I particularly love vocalist Hannes Kett’s dance moves in “Story to Tell” – he’s somehow the perfect mix of Michael Jackson and Axl Rose, if you can imagine it. And to praise him some more, he wasn’t afraid at all to go out on the little walkway into the rain to get up close and personal with the crowd. Quite frankly, these guys are getting better and better every time I see them. I feel as though word hadn’t reached the north about Shiraz Lane just yet, as they had the smallest crowd of the four bands we watched, which is a shame because they probably had the best overall sound of the whole day and left us feeling seriously impressed. Naturally, they closed out with “Mental Slavery” with Kett in the faux straight-jacket, meaning they sandwiched their set again between some of their best songs, starting and ending on a high note!
With the unfamiliar Radiopuhelimet playing next, we decided this was a good opportunity to go inside and see what Vuokatinhovi was offering. They had two menus, the first of which offered the Syke Mättö [stodge] – a board with an assortment of meats and salads, likely sponsored by the Amarillo restaurant from the Break Sokos Hotel. The second offered burgers, hot dogs, and some fried sausage and potatoes. We ordered the Mättö and were quite disappointed with the amount of food for the cost. The board for three that we ordered had enough food to be too much for one person, which meant that we were all given a rather measly portion of food. For the 9,90€ price tag, we felt fairly ripped off. It seemed as though the clerk was pushing it on other people in the queue as well, encouraging groups to get their food together on the board, which seemed like a shady way of giving less food to more people. However, the indoor area was a nice respite from the rain and if you were so inclined, between the sets on the outdoor stage, two bands were playing decent covers on the smaller indoor stage – Get Heavy doing some general hard rock/heavy metal covers up first, and Maiden Invasion playing some pretty decent Iron Maiden tracks later in the evening.
After a narrow miss with disaster when we had a camera malfunction (a big thanks to the bar and kitchen staff for helping us out), we headed outside to watch Turisas. This was their only Finnish show this year, which was made abundantly clear throughout vocalist Mathias Nygård’s speeches. To my immense delight, they started off the show with “March of the Varangian Guards” – one of my all-time favorites of theirs that only sometimes makes it into the set, and continued with “A Portage to the Unknown” and “To Holmgard and Beyond,” off one of my all-time favorite albums, The Varangian Way. I was just soaking up the performance and the sweet, sweet nostalgia of those old songs when they played “For Your Own Good.” I don’t hate that song by any means, but all of the songs off Turisas2013 tend to ruin my groove during their live shows. The uninspired riffs and rather neutral sound has the power to knock me right out of my high, which then builds up every time they play a good song, creating a rather unbalanced vibe overall. Also, why does Olli Vänskä (violin) disappear from stage so much? I wasn’t sure if he was feeling unwell or if he just sees no point in being on stage when he has so few parts in some songs. He has a great stage presence and he’s very enthusiastic, so I like seeing him there. He did come back for his parts in “As Torches Rise,” which is a song I can’t say if I’ve ever heard live before, so that was cool. Nygård seemed to be particularly chatty this night, perhaps unnecessarily so, and seemed to get progressively drunker on The Famous Grouse whisky throughout the gig. He encouraged the crowd to help them empty out their rehearsal space by buying up their drastically discounted hoodies, which was to my knowledge a success, as the next time we passed the merch booth, there were no more on display. Toward the end they played an interesting medley of “Sahti Waari,” “The Court of Jarisleif,” and “Rasputin” – the latter being a song I was again quite pleased to hear. By the end of their set, they seemed to have some time left over, so Nygård drank and chatted with the crowd to waste time before they closed things out with “Stand Up and Fight.” That was a questionable decision, as it was chilly and rainy and the crowd likely wouldn’t have minded if they had ended a few minutes early. They performed very well, as always, though the excessive chatting and mere existence of Turisas2013 tracks were, in my opinion, a hindrance to the overall feeling of their show. Nevertheless, I do still love to see these guys on stage and was glad to have been able to see them once this year.
It was completely dark by the time Amorphis took the stage, continuing their conquest of nearly every Finnish festival. Clearly all that live practice is paying off, as these guys look like they were born and belong on stage. They started strong with three songs from Under the Red Cloud – the title track, “Sacrifice,” and “Bad Blood.” They had an impressive 16-or-so song setlist with plenty of material from UtRC, which I am still not sick of. That number of songs allowed for a perfect blend of new and old, with a few classics like “On Rich and Poor” and “My Kantele” to appease the fans of the classics. Since all of the other bands had been quite chatty during their sets, we were quite relieved at how brief Tomi Joutsen (vocals) was keeping his speeches, limiting them to brief stories or simply announcing the next song. We also noted how humble Joutsen is when he speaks between songs – he seemed quite grateful to the crowd for their support and has a generally pleasing presence overall… strong but not obnoxious or egotistical. When we were taken back in time to the Tales from the Thousand Lakes -era, Tomi Koivusaari (guitars) joined Joutsen on vocals, which was a nice treat. “House of Sleep” made a comeback at this show, one that they’ve been leaving out from time to time on the UtRC Tour, and “Death of a King” continues to be a personal favorite. I wouldn’t mind hearing a few different songs from UtRC, such as “White Night,” but I’m not complaining. One might think they’re using these gigs to practice for their Helsingin Juhlatviikot performance, but to my knowledge, they’ve been playing more or less the same new songs consistently on this tour. If I have one complaint, it might be that – when Amorphis tours a new album, they don’t change up their set very often, so if you see them repeatedly, you’re not likely to get much of anything different each time. However, it’s fairly forgivable because they write great music and they know how to perform like professionals. Overall, this was another on this list of nice shows we’ve seen from them this summer!
And so, another Syke has passed us by. I personally like these smaller festivals that allow for a more intimate experience. While perhaps Break Sokos Hotel was bigger and had a more traditional festival feel, the smaller venue had the advantage of a respite from the rain and clean(er) toilets. While the food here was a disappointment at least in quantity, the band selection far made up for it. Every band we were able to watch was great in their own way, with Shiraz Lane being perhaps the surprise favorite of the night – though I’ve seen them a few times, Rob (our photographer) was really blown away by their set. The rain may have been a bummer, but as luck would have it, the Sotkamo area has plenty of saunas, so at least we were able to go back to our mökki [summer cottage] and relax afterwards.
So was it a good festival this year? Yes. Yes it was.