(2017) Interviews

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Our collection of interview photos from 2017.

(2017) Leprous: Malina

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Artist: Leprous
Album: Malina
Release: 25.08.2017
Label: Inside Out Music

 

Ever since I joined this site, we’ve been keeping a close eye on Leprous. The melancholic Norwegian prog metal group has been busy touring and giving interviews all year, but still found the time to complete a full-length album. 2015’s The Congregation was a hit with critics and fans alike, leaving tensions high for the followup. After a long summer of deliberation and a brief chat with singer and synth player Einar Solberg, I finally felt ready review it for you.

 

01. Bonneville
The album begins with “Bonneville”, which sounds like the name of a place in which to set a Stephen King story. It starts off with a jazzy prog rock groove like you wouldn’t believe. The whole sound is muted and quiet. Even the drums are using brushes. One would be forgiven for assuming that they put in the wrong disc… at least until Solberg’s signature falsetto vocals come in at 00:19. The understated tone gives out a haunting feel. It immediately took away any expectations I had for the album. The distorted guitars come in halfway through and the pace picks up slightly. It’s an interesting subversion of easygoing music, to make it feel uneasy.

02. Stuck
“Stuck” is more like classic Leprous in terms of composition. It’s lead by strong guitar riffs and it plays with the tempo… all that good prog metal stuff. Most importantly, it has a powerful and catchy chorus. It’s this combination that fans come to expect from them. That being said, the sound is completely different from The Congregation. It’s not bombastic and metal with distorted guitars. The sound is about as clean as can be. Every instrument comes through clearly and is separate instead of a being a wall of noise. I’m going to have to classify this as more prog rock than metal.

03. From the Flame
The intro to “From the Flame” is reminiscent of earlier songs like “Flood” or “Slave” with just a weird synth sound and Solberg’s vocals soloed. They keep coming to it because it works. It sounds like a plea echoing in an empty hall. Once the band joins in it creates the illusion of heaviness without actually generating any. Yes, the sound is still very clean but the song is just so damn catchy and energetic it doesn’t seem to dampen the impact.

04. Captive – 05. Illuminate
“Captive” and “Illuminate” are built around the synth. Just simple one-hand staccato riffs. The sound is a bit distorted but not overwhelmingly so. Just like the guitars, it’s pretty muted. The rhythms are very complex but all the instruments are doing the exact same thing, playing in perfect unison, so it doesn’t sound like a big soundscape but rather one united entity.

06. Leashes
On the other end of the spectrum we have “Leashes.” Here the guitars are prominent but still simple. At the beginning it’s slow and moody, but starts to build. The chorus is loud and uninhibited. It throws everything at you. After while you can even hear a bit of cello in the background.

07. Mirage
“Mirage” is the epitome of the prog epic. It has the most bombastic sounds on the album, the trickiest time signatures, and the most energetic guitars. The grooves themselves would already have made a great song but that chorus is the best on the album. The usual broodiness takes a backseat to a triumphant and hopeful message. It confidently bellows out “I found my path when I thought that I was wrong.” It’s exactly the kind of statement that comes from having wandered in a wasteland (metaphorical or otherwise) and coming out the other end stronger than ever.

08. Malina
Weirdly enough, the album then takes a 180 with the title track. “Malina” is the moodiest thing on the album so far. For the most part it’s an airy cello sound accompanying more solemn falsetto vocals. They break the tension with the occasional jazz section but the general tone is still despair. Really it seems more like it should have been a 2 minute intermission instead of a 6 minute slog. Since it’s the title track I’m a bit confused as to what they were going for.

09. Coma
More bizarre still, the next track is titled “Coma” but sounds more like the soundtrack to a panic attack. It’s the first instance of double bass being used on the record – a fast metal track full of action. For once the vocals aren’t that interesting, but the urgency and pace are interesting enough to make this a great song.

10. The Weight of Disaster
I always love a strong bass line. It lays a good foundation to a song. “The Weight of Disaster” understands this well. Much unlike the previous track, this one is slow and contemplative with a great chorus. It has one very good, albeit simple, guitar riff to it but mostly it alternates between quiet and loud. From what I can gather from the lyrics, it feels like a dip into the mind of someone who’s submissive to an oppressive force, be it a dominant person, a god, or a substance. Whatever it is, it’s something that can control you and make you do something you know is wrong. I like a song that tells a story even if that’s not the original idea.

11. The Last Milestone
The finale is “The Last Milestone”, which is by far the most solemn Leprous song of all time. From start to finish, it keeps the same slow and depressing tone. It doesn’t play around with the tempo or throw any curve balls. It doesn’t even have the band, per se. What it has though, is vocals and cello, that’s it. The cellos are layered so that multiple parts can be played at once. It’s atmospheric and doesn’t have any distinct repeating melodies. It was apparently originally intended as just a string composition and finally ended up on this album. The piece is haunting and beautiful, for sure.

 

In the end, Malina is the definition of a mixed bag. It alternates between gloomy and energetic, simple and complex. The thinking behind it is prog metal but it doesn’t sound even remotely heavy. It works best as a mellow album with occasional toe-tapping high points. I can’t even compare it to previous Leprous albums because even though the same techniques are being employed, it sticks out like a sore thumb. However, standing out isn’t in itself a bad thing. It has it’s own mood and it’s own place in their discography. Really, it’s rare when an album only feels padded in one song. Malina is a great slow burn book-ended by two of the most subversive tracks Leprous have ever done.

Rating: 8/10, 4 stars

Tracklist:
1. Bonneville
2. Stuck
3. From The Flame
4. Captive
5. Illuminate
6. Leashes
7. Mirage
8. Malina
9. Coma
10. The Weight Of Disaster
11. The Last Milestone

(2017) Eluveitie: Evocation II – Pantheon

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Artist: Eluveitie
Album: Evocation II – Pantheon
Release: 18.08.2017
Label: Nuclear Blast Records

 

The time has come! Eluveitie had what seemed to be a rather rough division in members last year, resulting in the formation of Cellar Darling and in Eluveitie revealing a vast new line-up. Not only have fans been waiting to hear what this new mix would sound like, but Evocation II has been a long time in the making, with Eluveitie having released a whopping three albums since its predecessor in 2009, Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion. Seeing as how there are a great number of people in this band, let’s briefly list the full personnel since the line-up change (not in the photo order):

Chrigel Glanzmann – growling vocals, mandola, whistles, pipes, gaita, acoustic guitar, bodhrán, harp
Kay Brem – bass
Rafael Salzmann – lead guitar
Nicole Ansperger – violin, backing vocals
Matteo Sisti – bagpipes, whistles, mandola
Alain Ackermann – drums
Jonas Wolf – rhythm guitar
Michalina Malisz – hurdy-gurdy
Fabienne Erni – vocals, celtic harp, mandola

I for one am a fairly big fan of Eluveitie and have been enjoying their music pretty much since their inception, and have found very few disappointments in their discography. In spite of me being a big fan of the members who left, I am aware that it is Glanzmann who holds the reins during composition, and as such, I had every faith that this album would hold their standard.

 

The album starts with the sound of a light wind, accompanied by looming music and the invocation, which you can read about in our interview with Glanzmann to get the translation of the welcome. It’s short and sweet though, going straight into the second track. The first release was titled “Epona”, and it is worth noting that they already have a song called “A Rose for Epona.” One has to assume though, that the newer song is about the goddess herself, while the elder is more a tragic song about faith and the diminishing thereof, so I can easily forgive the repetition. Epona is not simply the name of the horse in The Legend of Zelda – that series did name her appropriately though, as Epona is the guardian of horses, mules, donkeys, and ponies.

The first impression I had of the song, and the new line-up as a whole, is one I expect that many of you shared: “… That’s just not Anna Murphy.” Murphy – the former hurdy-gurdy player and vocalist, for those of you a few steps behind – was very well beloved by fans, and her departure probably stung a bit more than many other departures in recent years. However, on my second listen to the song, the shock of the change had already passed and I was able to appreciate the song in its entirety, and the impression it left was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, it would be a disservice to say that Fabienne Erni‘s voice is not lovely. It is merely different from Murphy’s. I’d actually consider her a very nice replacement, all things considered.

“Svcellos II” is the first of two sequel tracks on the album, in this case referring to Origins (2014). At this point, as someone who is only familiar in passing with the Celtic pantheon, I’m quite certain that I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of this album’s concept. The song itself features a soft, whispering intro, slightly eerie but still hopeful, featuring flutes/whistles. It transitions very smoothly into “Nantosvelta”, which introduces more instruments. This is a neat pairing, as Sucellos and Nantosuelta are partners in the pantheon, so the fact that their songs nearly blend into one is perfect. There are some soft female spoken parts towards the end in Gaulish, of course. The song kicks off into a quicker, dancing pace about two thirds of the way it, making for a lively and fun track overall. Sucellos is often portrayed as a middle-aged bearded man with a hammer (or beer keg on a pole) and is associated with wine and agriculture, while Nantosuelta is the goddess of earth, fire, and fertility.

A hurdy-gurdy drone, accompanied by female spoken words, makes up the entirety of “Tovtatis”, the tribal protector. “Lvgvs” is the other advanced release track from the album. It continues the trend of sweet and powerful vocals from Erni, though I have to say that vocally, this track is rather repetitive. It appears to be limited to a verse or two and then a chorus that is repeated more or less until the end, and while the music is incredibly bright and catchy, the song does get a bit old after a while, working better as a background track than something to listen to actively. As a god, Lugus is considered to be similar to or the same as Mercury in the Roman pantheon.

An interesting change from there, Grannus was known for sun, spas, and healing springs (hot springs, I suppose). “Grannos” has a mid-tempo, gentle feel to it, with a lot of flutes and possibly violin. I do confess that I have a bit of trouble pinpointing which instrument I’m hearing, so do take my thoughts with a grain of salt – these guys blend instruments masterfully. There is some light guitar in there back as well. Like “Nantosvelta”, it kicks up into a faster reel about two thirds of the way through, into a cheerful and quick, dance-able tune.

The horned god, Cernunnos, represented the underworld, as well as wealth, life, animals, and fertility. Spoken female words open his song with some gentle harp to follow before the rest join in. It’s a very peaceful and soft song and avoids sounding ominous or melancholic, like one might expect of an underworld deity. There is a beautiful violin part that is paired with a scream from Glanzmann that holds a certain power. If you want something a bit creepier and more ominous, the following track, “Catvrix” will definitely satiate that desire. With both eerie lower vocals from Glanzmann and wild higher vocals from Erni, as well as a strong drum presence, this tribute to the war god sounds exactly like you might expect it to.

The bear goddess is none other than “Artio”, and the pattering of rain and female vocals open her song, contrasting starkly with the previous, more aggressive track. Rather than using instruments, this track uses wind in the woods and other ambient noises to emphasize the vocals, only adding in a low drone around 2 minutes in. The instruments only enter into the picture towards the very end for a short moment.

I had a much harder time finding any information on Aventia than most of the others, but what I did learn was that she was associated with Grannus. The song is a rather pretty one though, with flute in the forefront before the violin kicks in about halfway through, sounding like a traditional Celtic fiddle tune (which I’m sure it must be – Glanzmann has never shied away from using traditional tunes) – props to Nicole Ansperger for her performance!. There is a whisper of a scream in the background, though on the whole, this track remains lyric-free.

“Ogmios” was immediately a familiar track to me for several reasons, and should be to you for at least one reason: it’s an alternate version of the same tune that founded Eluveitie’s “Inis Mona” back in 2008. My history with this song involves a friend from the Celtic region of France informing me that this is a old Celtic song, and she played me a French version in the traditional manner. Some time later, I came across this song, by Nolwenn Leroy:

This version is extremely similar to the new Eluveitie version, though Eluveitie’s version has an incredible little breakdown about three quarters of the way through, and is also sung in what I must assume is Gaulish, since it’s not French. I’d love to hear some history on how this tune made it into “Inis Mona” and why they chose to reuse it now. Ogmios is the god of eloquence. You may also recognize his name from the Origins album.

Moving on from that, we reach “Esvs.” Not much is known of this particular god, though he is always portrayed trimming branches from trees with an axe. The song has some tapping sounds within, as well as a blend of chants that slowly evolve into vocals. It is haunting, in a beautiful way. The vocals toward the end get particularly interesting, with the lead switching back and forth with a… I don’t exactly want to call it a choir, but some group vocals. “Antvmnos” was another god I couldn’t find much of anything about online, though it is cited several times on the Origins album and may be associated with Annwn. The song is a very sweet and lovely piece, with flutes and harp creating a lovely ambiance.

The second sequel of the album, “Tarvos II”, has the pipes at the forefront, helping it stand out a bit from the others, and reflects all the way back again to Slania, where one will find the original “Tarvos.” The drums are also noteworthy on this track, which may relate to his depiction as a bull with three cranes on his back. He can be found in one of the same images as Esus.

The ‘fair shining one’, Belenus, was the patron deity of ancient Roman city, Aquileia. “Belenos” combines soft flutes and background ambient noise to create yet another on the long list of lovely tracks on this album. The shaman drums are again very gentle and pleasant, and at this point I really need to give a shout out to Merlin Sutter’s replacement, Alain Ackermann, for his performance. Of course, everyone wants a thunder god, and that’s where “Taranis” comes in. The music almost sounds like a clashing of a storm, with violin in the back as the flutes take off and soar. This bright and lively song is less like the hyper-macho depictions of Thor, and avoids any and all stereotypes and preconceptions, maintaining a strong Celtic sound. The vocals are a bit odd in this track, reminding me of the effect they used on dark Galadriel in Fellowship of the Ring.

The album ends with “Nemeton”, which to my knowledge was more of a sacred ritual space, as opposed to a deity. The song indeed feels more like a place than a person, and lasts less than 2 minutes, working effectively as an outro to the adventure that was this album.

 

Ultimately, I’m glad I had only given Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion a 9/10, as I wanted to suggest that this album still has the same issue relating to some songs not standing alone so well, but I also wanted to make it clear that this album is definitely a step up thematically, musically, and potentially even vocally from its predecessor. If you enjoy Eluveitie and in particular, the previous Evocation album, I would find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t enjoy this one as much, if not more. Some might hold back their appreciation due to the loss of Murphy on vocals, but I would consider that foolish – Erni (and the others, for that matter) have certainly earned their place in the band and then some on this album.

Rating: 9.5/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Dvressu
2. Epona
3. Svcellos II (sequel)
4. Nantosvelta
5. Tovtatis
6. Lvgvs
7. Grannos
8. Cernvnnos
9. Catvrix
10. Artio
11. Aventia
12. Ogmios
13. Esvs
14. Antvmnos
15. Tarvos II (sequel)
16. Belenos
17. Taranis
18. Nemeton

(2009) Eluveitie: Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion

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Artist: Eluveitie
Album: Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion
Released: 17.04.2009
Label: Nuclear Blast Records

 

With the long-awaited release of the sequel, Evocation II – Pantheon, soon upon us, we felt as though it would be prudent to take a step back in time to listen to the original Evocation album and see how it feels a whopping 8 years after its release (has it really been that long?). Evocation I was Eluveitie’s first fully acoustic album, and therefore marked a fairly sizeable step away from their usual sound.

Feel free to listen along on Spotify:

The Arcane Dominion is an impressive 15 tracks long, but while that may seem like a lot, in actuality, only five of those clock in at over 4 minutes in length. Rather than having a focus on heaviness or guitars and bass, the album focuses more on creating a certain ambience and feels very Celtic and forest-like. It opens with a droning hurdy-gurdy intro with soft spoken words performed by A.A. Nemtheanga [Primordial] – and the only English language lyrics on the album. It then opens into the bright and catchy “Brictom” – a solid start to the album with a very Celtic feel that features Anna Murphy on lead vocals with Chrigel Glanzmann‘s growls as an added emphasis in the chorus. “A Girl’s Oath” again stars Murphy on vocals, speaking her Gaulish parts softly.

The partial title track, “The Arcane Dominion”, starts with a solid growl from Glanzmann and is perhaps one of the heavier-sounding songs on the album, though still remains entirely acoustic and mystical in ambience; this song also features guest Oli S. Tyr on the long-necked lute. “Within the Grove” and “The Cauldron of Renascence” are both instrumentals. The former is a very flute-centric song, with soft shamanistic drums in the back and a level hurdy-gurdy drone, featuring Fredy Schnyder on hammered dulcimer and Mina the Fiddler on 5-stringed viola. The latter picks up the energy into a livelier pace with a blending of many instruments and some backing growls.

“Nata” sees the return of Nemtheanga on additional vocals, which are sang mostly over a hurdy-gurdy drone, and this track opens with some bagpipes (either Scottish or uilleann, I’m not sure). More instruments join in after a long break toward the end, giving the song a nice overall feel. “Omnos” returns to the earlier feel of “Brictom” with its pleasant peppy energy, excellent blend of instruments, and Murphy’s lovely vocals.

“Carnutian Forest” has very little in the way of words, but focuses a lot on flutes/whistles, and I love the way it progresses, starting slowly and picking up. The violin shines through on this track a bit more as well, as it can sometimes be hard to separate from the hurdy-gurdy. “Dessumiis Luge” is a rather eerie and almost creepy song, with its whispers and the layering of vocals. Like “Carnutian Forest”, the song picks up, though does not lose its eerie quality, almost invoking the feelings of a ritual of some sort through movement and feeling. The female scream at the end is quite brutal.

“Gobanno” is so far unique in its emphasis on guitar in the beginning. Along with featuring Schnyder and Fiddler again, it also has Sarah Wauquiez on zugerörgeli, which appears to be some type of accordion. This track has a bit of a different vibe from the others, but it’s hard to explain the difference. It does highlight the different feelings on this album though and helps the concept feel more expansive than one might originally notice. In the same vein, “Voveso in Mori” also has an entirely new atmosphere, lacking the hurdy-gurdy drone that is in most songs and focusing more on traditional instruments like guitar.

“Memento” is the last upbeat instrumental, focusing again on more ‘regular’ instruments, and “Ne Regv Na” is a gentle, dynamic whistle/flute-oriented track that starts to wind things down. The hurdy-gurdy brings things full circle again with “Sacrapos – The Disparaging Last Gaze.” This is a very simple yet effective instrumental, and continuing from “Ne Regv Na”, slows the album down perfectly to its close.

 

This is a very atmospheric and mystical album, almost better listened to as a whole concept rather than individual tracks, as some of the simpler songs like “Nata” and “Dessumiis Luge” don’t work well on their own. However, the general feeling of the album is excellent across the board, and the blending of all the instruments is fantastic. I have no complaints about the vocals either, as they sound great no matter what. I applaud their continued use of traditional music in their concepts. Overall, I think this is an excellent album and it sets the bar quite high for its followup!

Rating: 9/10, 4.5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Sacrapos – At First Glance
2. Brictom
3. A Girl’s Oath
4. The Arcane Dominion
5. Within the Grove
6. The Cauldron of Renascence
7. Nata
8. Omnos
9. Carnutian Forest
10. Dessumiis Luge
11. Gobanno
12. Voveso in Mori
13. Memento
14. Ne Regv Na
15. Sacrapos – The Disparaging Last Gaze

ELUVEITIE – Chrigel Glanzmann, 2017

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chrigel interview 2017

Seems like nothing can stop the Swiss folk metallers from Eluveitie from pursuing their path. One might think that the departure of three members would suffice to make them at least break a sweat, but thankfully, they didn’t give up and managed to navigate out of those stormy waters. With the upcoming release of Evocation II: Pantheon on the horizon, we took some time to speak with their leader, Chrigel Glanzmann, about how they found their new members, and got some details on the new album as well.

 

So you’ve just released the clip for “Epona”, the new album is coming out in a few weeks, and there’s an upcoming tour through Europe and Russia. What is the vibe, what are you hyped for, and how do you feel about it?
Of course we’re hyped and we’re a much-touring band, and [by our standard] we’ve had rather a long break, so yeah, we’re super excited to finally hit the road again. And we’re excited to tour Europe and tour Russia again. Of course we’re hyped!

Do you have any further plans, like Finland maybe?
Yeah, I mean, at the moment we are working on quite a lot of, in my opinion, pretty cool things regarding the upcoming album, which of course I cannot let out, otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. We are also working on our further plans, which I also cannot talk about [laughs] but we might come up with some nice surprises within the next couple of months.

Do you plan to film any more clips at this point or is it still in a conceptual stage?
Yeah, we are working on some.

Your lips are sealed, right?
[laughs] Yeah, we’re working at the moment; I don’t wanna tell. You’ll see!

Moving on to the album itself then, was there any reason, other than musically, to start with “Epona” as a single?
To be honest, we haven’t really thought about it that much. It was a very intuitive decision that “Epona” would be the first. But to be fair, actually I have to say “Epona” was the first song ever written for Evocation II. So, I don’t know, it just felt right.

I’m kind of a history nerd too, so I wondered if it’s because of her significance and that’s why you went for her first.
Not necessarily. I mean, she generally is. That’s probably one of the reasons why she is on more than one of our albums. But it didn’t have much to do with the fact that it was the first one to be released.

It’s also a very cheerful song overall, very bright – the overall feel is very different than the previous Evocation album, I’d say.
Evocation II – Pantheon carries the spirit and vibe of Evocation I pretty well, I think. It’s probably even folkier, closer to tradition, and rougher. But overall it’s a pretty mystical, partly lugubrious, and dark album. But yeah, you’re right, “Epona” is rather surging forward. We’ve tried to not only deal with the particular deities lyrically, but to also express their character musically. That’s where the ‘galloping’ character of “Epona” comes from.

So, the pantheon! Let’s start with the cover. Usually before I do interviews I try to do some research, but I couldn’t research this cover… so what does it depict?
I just tried to create something that represents the tone of the album. The concept of the album is basically the Celtic pantheon, the otherworld. I mean, it’s the main theme on the Evocation concept cycle generally – pristine Celtic mythology put into songs. So I wanted to create something that can express that. The cover is a rather complex icon; there’s a lot symbolism in it, but I can give you a quick summary.

So, this four-corner symbol you see at the very back is the great wheel, which is crucial in Celtic culture and, if you want to say it in a cheesy way, represents nature’s rhythm, the natural cycle of the year, the seasons, the equinoxes, solstices, and so on. Above that you have a tripartite Enneagram, three triangles to form a nine-pointed star, with three groups of three points each, representing the trinities within the Celtic pantheon. This all frames the figure in the center, which is a combination of various different deep and important symbols of Celtic mythology. The figure itself is a depiction of the god Lugus, who is a tri-cephalic deity – often addressed in plural – as the trinity of the Lugoves. The lower part of his depiction is framed with the so-called lord of the animals symbol, expressing a rather deep concept of Celtic mythology; it basically shows man’s role among all creatures, which is not described in a manner as today’s society unfortunately sees it, but in short and simple words rather expresses something like a symbiosis between all creatures. The upper half of Lugus is framed by the symbolism of high-kingship, which was also a very deep and crucial spiritual concept in Celtic culture (but since it’s rather complex it would probably go beyond the space of an interview to explain it in detail).

Now, where the lines of the great wheel and the circles cross, they create fields, which are filled with capitals of the names of the gods and goddesses that are presented on the album, in the order they relate to each others.

Are the letters in the outer circle in Gaulish or Latin?
Nooo, of course Gaulish. Everything you have there is Gaulish.

So that’s why I couldn’t research it…
Actually those are the lyrics of the opening track of the album. This is a very short track and the lyrics are basically a kind of an invitation. Because, you look at the album it’s like a journey through the Celtic pantheon. So this text is an invitation for the one who dares to set forth on this journey. At the same time, it’s also sort of a magical blessing for the traveler. The lyrics mean, “May you come in. May your journey be safe. May you find blessing. May you find wisdom and knowledge. May you see yourself.”

Continuing with the album then – do you think that the departure of Anna, Ivo, and Merlin had a creative impact on the new record?
I will have to say yes and no. On one hand no, in the sense that Eluveitie is still Eluveitie, always has been and will always be. The core didn’t change. It was a tough, hard time for everybody… hard for us all as people, emotionally. We’d been together for nearly 10 years! But now looking back after nearly 1.5 years after our split, I think that was really good, and Anna, Ivo, and Merlin will also say the same. In that sense, their departure didn’t affect the music. It rather made space for many new good things – for them and for Eluveitie.

What really did affect it was how Eluveitie as a band developed new members, which was kind of a lucky turn and at the same time was pretty unexpected. The way [the relationship with the new members] developed over the last 12 months… I don’t know how to describe it. Really familial, also very dedicated at the same time. For instance, we’d been in the studio recording the album and during the whole production time, nearly the full band was there at all times. Even those members who weren’t recording at the time, they were still there, just to be there or to cook for everybody else or so on. It was a very dedicated atmosphere; every day, morning to evening, every corner of the studio had some band members just sitting together, jamming and brooding over details of the songs. There was so much room for spontaneous creativity and three tracks off the new album were actually even fully created this way in the studio. That’s a rather new thing for Eluveitie. I mean, we haven’t worked together so closely as a band, as a group of musicians, for a very long time. And that’s really good in my opinion. So that’s affected the music somehow. I think you can hear this unity and organic-ness and this space for spontaneous creativity on the album.

Was it difficult to find replacements?
Yes and no. It was rather unexpected. I mean, on one hand it was kind of difficult in the beginning, because Anna, Ivo, and Merlin left big shoes to fill. Especially Anna, in my opinion, is one of the greatest vocalists of the time. To find someone even half as good as her… The thing is, when the
three left, we really wanted to search well and choose wisely, and really take as much time as it needs to find the right people.

But we already had shitloads of festivals, open-airs, and tours already booked and confirmed by then, so we actually did not have much time. And it was very clear to us that we’re not going to cancel even one single show. So we quickly decided to hire live session musicians to play all the upcoming shows and take the [necessary] time to search for new members. This is how it came across to the people that actually are in the band now. We didn’t know any of them, but they got recommended to us by friends, musicians, and so on. They all have reputations for being among the very best on their instruments. We contacted them, asked them if they were available for a few months, and they all were.

So we started playing all our summer festivals last year and it was really great. They came in and did their jobs as if they had not done anything else in years. Musically speaking, in our situation, getting those guys was like hitting the fucking jackpot. We started playing the summer festivals and it really rocked. We still kept searching, but the relationships between us grew in a really amazing way. The atmosphere in the band developed in a really amazing way. So this is how we got to the point fall last year where we needed to ask ourselves, “Why the fuck are we still looking for new people if we’ve already found them months ago?” We sat with them then and we asked if they could imagine to not only help us out as session musicians for some months, but to actually become part of our band. Luckily for us, they all said yes. And that’s how we got our current lineup.

Now on to the other songs – was it difficult to illustrate a god’s character musically?
I wouldn’t call it difficult. I can’t really describe that. It’s something that grows and there’s a lot of emotion and feeling and intuition. The tracks on the album don’t really just talk about the respective goddess or god in the lyrics, but they express the characters of the deities musically. I don’t know, it was almost like a spiritual experience or something like that. I don’t really know how to explain it.

I mean, with “Epona” it was quite obvious, as it’s kind of a galloping song, but I wondered how you’d depict other gods?
It’s not that we had songs and then just divided the songs between gods and goddesses, it was other way around. There was somehow a list of gods and goddesses that would be on the album. I mean, there are many more deities in the Celtic pantheon. I cannot say why exactly these gods and
goddesses are on the album. It’s something we never thought about, it just kind of happened. Only then we started writing the music. If I express it in a rather stupid way, I would say we wrote the soundtrack to each of these deities 😉 We explore their characters. I can’t really explain it. It was a very organic process, with much intuition involved, almost spiritual.

Do you think you’ve raised the bar with Evocation II compared to the first one?
I want to say that Evocation II captures the spirit of the first one really well. But still, from a musician’s perspective, playing-wise the second one is obviously on a much higher level.

Do you think that, because it took so long to complete, Evocation II it is more thought-out and developed? Like a fine wine?
[laughs] Actually, I never looked at it that way. Maybe it is, maybe not. I have no idea.

I wondered – don’t get me wrong, I’m just curious – since you put so much time and effort into your research, do you sometimes halfass any phrases?
No. Everything we do conceptually – like Celtic culture and history and also the language – are very accurate. I don’t really know, maybe because we’re nerds or something, but it is very important to us. I believe that if you deal with history, you owe it to history itself, to the people who lived back then do actually do it accurately and conscientiously. It’s a matter of respect, I think, so I put as much effort into that, as I put into the music. It also resembles a scientific project a lot. From the start we always worked with scientists from various universities across Europe.

[Regarding Gaulish in the lyrics], what we do is often something like… let’s take Katy Perry for instance. She has the song called “Unconditionally.”

I honestly wouldn’t know…
I mean, check it out. But in the chorus she actually sings one word and stretches it. So she goes [sings the chorus of “Unconditionally”]. When you write it down, it’s not really “unconditionally,” it’s more like “uncondition-aahl.” We do similar things with Gaulish in our lyrics [to make it fit the music].

Again, since you put so much value into your material, do you think it has an educational value? Or does it create an impact?
[laughs] First thing – we don’t really give a fuck. We don’t want to ‘educate’ anyone; we do it because we like it, it’s our personal passion, and it means a lot to us. We don’t really care if people read our lyrics or not. Also, I’m not actually a fan of ‘spreading’ something. We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, and when you go to metal show, you do that to bang your head off and have a great time – not to learn and to be educated.

But around 2 weeks ago, some days after the release of the “Epona” video clip, we posted the Gaulish song lyrics with translations on our Facebook page – and our fans really appreciated it. There were a lot of people referring to the Gaulish language, having some linguistic questions, even inputs, etc. And that was really amazing to see. Back in the day, 15 years ago when we started and released our Gaulish songs for the first time, no one even knew what Gaulish was. Now there are people on Facebook discussing fucking linguistics! There is growing interest apparently, and this is very, very cool and overwhelming.

To wrap things up – as musician, music is an essential part of your life, obviously, but what would you name as something(s) that would be important to you, as a person?
Well, outside Eluveitie, there’s unfortunately not much time for other things. I mean, obviously music is a huge part of my life. Besides music, being out in nature is important to me.

Any last words?
Thank you for the interview and to everybody reading it. Thanks for supporting Eluveitie!

SAARIHELVETTI – Viikinsaari, Tampere, 05.08.2017 (English)

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SaariHelvetti, a metal festival run by the Tampere-based Nem Agency and arranged this year for the third time, intrigued me with its concept and lineup already a year ago, but as a long-time Jurassic Rock attendee, I, for some reason, went on to spend my first August weekend last year in Mikkeli. What used to be an interesting ‘something for everyone’ approach to booking bands, the festival’s selection has since sunk to the abysmal level of playlist radio stations and Vain elämää, making me rethink my choice to skip SaariHelvetti and, for example, its Deathchain oldies show. This year, SaariHelvetti’s lineup really gave me no choice, as in addition to some interesting Finnish bands and the legendary Rotting Christ from Greece, the festival had snagged Austrian Harakiri for the Sky, so on August 5th, 2017, I jumped on a bus to Tampere. As of the day of the event, nearly the full 2000-ticket quota was sold, so a good party was to be expected.

Viikinsaari, the event location, is an island in Pyhäjärvi, so the only way to get there is by ferry from Tampere’s Laukontori. I only arrived at the docks about 10 minutes before the first boat was set to embark, but fortunately the queue wasn’t very long. The ticket booth didn’t have press passes to hand out, but I managed to get mine when we got to Viikinsaari – apparently there had been a small mix-up, to which I even received an apologetic email afterwards. No biggie, these things happen! The boat ride went by quickly, and once we arrived, I had to spend a moment scrutinizing the location – Viikinsaari hosts a chapel, a festivity building, a dance hall, a playground, a miniature golf course and volleyball court, a hiking trail (unfortunately not in use), a kiosk stall… you name it. It’s an amazing location for an event like this!

 

Galvanizer

The first band on the running order and the winner of the Battle of the Bands from Hell contest was Laitila-Tammela based deathgrind group, Galvanizer. They took the second stage at 15:30 and bashed away for a good 30 minutes in the dance hall. Despite their young age, all three of them were incredibly good players – drummer Nico Niemikko’s performance was particularly jaw-dropping. The songs had a good number of great riffs and a sense of danger to them, and the show managed to attract a decent-sized crowd, even if all the VIP ticket-holders had apparently decided to spend their time drinking beer on the opposite terrace. It’s definitely shows like this that reward you for showing up early, even if you haven’t heard of the bands beforehand – a great show from Galvanizer indeed!

Evil Drive

During the 30-minute transition time, one had the opportunity to observe the show at the Rock’n’Tits stage, placed behind the VIP terrace and boasting a variety of sideshow activities, from burlesque shows to a Speden Spelit tribute (a TV game show from a couple decades back). I can’t say that I know too much about burlesque, but – not to diminish the show in any way – I believe that striptease isn’t a traditional part of it, as opposed to the introduction the host gave the audience. At 16:30, Evil Drive began their half-hour set on the second stage. Compared to the Elmun baari show from the night before, their slight stiffness had vanished overnight and SaariHelvetti presented a band with a lighter mood, led by their snarky vocalist, Viktoria Viren. Because of their only 30-minute slot, the band had had to cut their setlist short, and, as a second show over the course of 2 days, it didn’t offer anything new to me personally, but the audience, filling over half of the hall space, appeared to enjoy it greatly. Not bad at all.

Fear of Domination

I had to cut Evil Drive a bit short to get to the main stage on time. Fear of Domination’s line-up grew to eight members earlier in the summer, as Sara Strömmer’s place as the second vocalist was made official mid-set at Tuska, and her presence clearly fits the band. The whole band seemed to have a lot of fun on stage throughout the 30-minute set; their percussionist in particular ran back and forth anytime he didn’t have to play. He also threw at least two pairs of drum sticks into the audience, the first time in a pretty low arc – hopefully no one got hit in the face. The band surely will have to put up with comparisons to Turmion Kätilöt until the end of time, but there were so many fans in the audience knowing all their songs’ lyrics that I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation turned around at some point in time. Even if Fear of Domination still doesn’t appeal to me musically that much (sorry, Jinx!), one cannot deny their entertainment value – FoD clearly is a party group and you had to be pretty cynical if the final song, the cover of The Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch”, wouldn’t have brought a smile to your face. The only -1 points from the show goes to the mixing booth – being as strong-voiced as Strömmer, it takes a lot of talent to lose her vocals somewhere between her microphone and the stage’s sound system.

Harakiri for the Sky

Coming up next: the main monkey business! Harakiri for the Sky was visiting Finland for the first time over this weekend, but the crowd was surprisingly large at Elmun baari on Friday already. This time around, the second stage was already half-full before the Austrians had even begun their show, which allowed for only 30 minutes of showtime for some mind-boggling reason; almost all of their songs being around 8-9 minutes in length, HftS only had time to play three songs. As with the previous night’s show, during “Calling the Rain”, “Funeral Dreams”, and “Jhator”, the band didn’t try to make contact with the audience, but they needn’t have bothered, as almost everyone started clapping and singing along spontaneously during the more mellow passages; the cheering between songs was so loud that you would’ve thought you were in a considerably larger venue; and I believe the “we want more!” shouts after the show were the only ones we heard that day. I was dead certain after Friday that HftS would have to return to Finland, and after Saturday the feeling grew even stronger – as of writing this review, the band has already commented on the issue on Facebook and revealed that something will happen in the future – we’ll be waiting!

Rotten Sound

Next up on main stage was the crown jewel of Finnish grind, Rotten Sound. I never would have thought it possible to see anything other than good or excellent shows from these guys, but this time the main stage’s sound really didn’t do any justice to the band’s material. The sound tech managed to twist the knobs in such a way that anything else than Sami Latva’s bass drum didn’t stand out… not even his snare. Fortunately, what Rotten Sound lost with the horrible sound, they made up with their as-strong-as-ever stage presence, courtesy of their long experience. Keijo Niinimaa was his mellow self during his speeches. On top of the difficult circumstances, the band’s merchandise apparently hadn’t arrived to the location, as a car had broken down on the way, so Niinimaa encouraged everyone to buy Rotting Christ shirts, as they “had the almost same band name on them.” The setlist, similar to the ones on previous shows this summer, had a decent mix of newer and older favorites, even “Decay” from the Consumer to Contaminate EP. The moshpit was active throughout and the audience seemed to enjoy it to the fullest, so ultimately the show wasn’t a miss.

Shade Empire

From the domestic acts, I anticipated Shade Empire’s show the most beforehand. This Kuopio-based (and one of the most criminally underrated Finnish metal groups) finally released a successor to their 2013 masterpiece, Omega Arcane – Poetry of the Ill-Minded – a month and a half ago; they also played a crowded show at Nummirock. Unfortunately, the show started out as a total pancake – if Rotten Sound had suffered from bad sound, the second stage’s sound tech made watching the show absolutely impossible. I haven’t worn earplugs at a metal show in years, and because the rhythm guitar was mixed incredibly loudly and was extremely grating, burying everything else, I had to go back outside and order a beer instead. What I could make out from the wall of screeching guitar sounds, the song seemed to be the new album’s opener, “Lecter (Welcome).” Still, Shade Empire clearly interested the crowd, because the dance hall was almost full throughout the set – hopefully everyone came back out with their hearing still intact.

Battle Beast

The main stage’s third performer was the Helsinki-based power metal extravaganza (or abomination, depending on who you ask), Battle Beast. I saw the band for the first time around their debut album, Steel (2011), and got blown away by the charisma and voice of Nitte Valo, their singer at the time. After the ensuing European tour, Valo announced that she would leave the band, and I haven’t been able to get excited about them since, even if the current frontwoman, Noora Louhimo, doesn’t pale in comparison to Valo one bit. The group’s history hasn’t been devoid of drama, as the founding member, Anton Kabanen, got kicked out of his own band a few years back under questionable circumstances. But enough with the babbling. How did Battle Beast do in Louhimo’s home town? I’d like to say ‘excellently’, but much like the other Beast shows I’ve seen this summer, this one was lukewarm at best. Judging from the amount of Battle Beast shirts in the audience, a lot of fans were present, but most of the time, keyboardist Janne Björkroth looked like he’d rather be backstage drinking beer. Louhimo, guitarist Juuso Soinio and bassist Eero Sipilä had a good vibe going on though, and Louhimo deserves appreciation – the day marked a year without alcohol for her, making her a winner of a 500€ bet she had going on with a friend. The set was inclined towards their latest Bringer of Pain album, and the record clearly has cheerful live hits to choose from. As a conclusion, I still have to present a completely unnecessary complaint: why bring two bass drums on stage for looks, if the other one gets left without a microphone and the drummer only kicks the other with a double pedal?

Mørket

I had to skip the probably the most deviant band when compared to the festival’s musical theme, the Helsinki-based death/black/punk hybrid, Mørket, for a compulsory food break before Rotting Christ’s show. If there’s something about SaariHelvetti that deserves a special mention, it was the selection of food. The new de facto price for festival food servings seems to be 10€ a pop, but unlike this year’s Nummirock for example, you’d definitely get your money’s worth at SaariHelvetti. A large flamed salmon grill was present, along with a huge frying pan for pork belly and falafel. The side dish was a spelt tabouleh (onion, cucumber, tomato, spices) with tzatziki, which you could also order vegan. The pork dish was incredibly tasty! The Tex-mex themed stall also seemed to boast good-looking dishes, and the fans of more traditional sausage-with-fries stuff weren’t forgotten, as Viikinsaari’s own kiosk sold fries with sausages or meatballs for the really affordable price of 7€.

Rotting Christ

Even though Rotting Christ have been to Finland on several occasions, I’ve never been able to see the Greek extreme metal legends of Sakis and Themis Tolis live before. The evening had already started to darken when Rotting Christ, formed back in 1987, got on the main stage and bombarded the audience for 50 minutes with simple but ingenious riffs and creative drum work. We got to hear new – as well as really old – material from the band’s lengthy recording career: “The Sign of Evil Existence” from their debut, Thy Mighty Contract (1993), was played, and if I’m not completely mistaken, “The Forest of N’Gai” from the very first EP as well. Their latest effort, Rituals, struck me as slightly dull when it came out, at least when compared to its predecessor, the excellent Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού, but especially ”Ἄπαγε Σατανά” worked flawlessly live. The actual bangers were saved for the end – first ”In Yumen/Xibalba”, and as a conclusion, ”Grandis Spiritus Diavolos.” Aww yiss! The audience was on fire throughout the set, and Sakis Tolis used every opportunity to thank Finland in Finnish and Greek. A great band and an excellent show, and this time the sound was on point as well – Rotting Christ probably had their own sound tech.

Whispered

I possibly cannot comprehend why the Tampere-based samurai metal group, Whispered, still has to settle for smaller stages at festivals, as well as clubs. All the pieces for total world domination have been in place since their second album, Shogunate Macabre (2014), and their latest Metsutan – Songs of the Void pushed the boundaries even further. The band had attracted a dance hall full of people, and the moshpit circled around for practically the full 40-minute set in such a way that I thought it best to go stand right next to the mixing booth – the fence had a sharp corner and someone could easily bump into it when shoved out of the pit. Probably because of the hometown show, the setlist was a bit different: “Lady of the Wind” was featured for the first time in a while that I’ve seen, along with two covers (the theme from Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin and “Samurai” by Matti Nykänen), because why not? The final song was, as usual, “Hold the Sword.” The audience knew the lyrics to an admirable extent and cheered spontaneously, so let’s cut the crap – I’m willing to bet that Whispered will be the next big thing the instant that promoters of bigger festivals have the courage to look through the band’s makeup and costumes and realize that they’ve been outplaying all the more well-known melodeath bands for several years. I mean it, it’d be great.

Turmion Kätilöt

As with last year, Turmiön Kätilöt had the honor of wrapping up the main stage in this year’s SaariHelvetti. The band’s always been a bit of an issue for me, because while they have a few decent (older) songs, the vast majority of their material doesn’t do a thing for me, and in addition, I don’t like the character type of their average fan one bit. Then again, I haven’t seen a whole Kätilöt show in years, so I decided to give them a chance this time. The festival’s announcer and the band’s former vocalist, Tuomas Rytkönen, pointed out that the situation was peculiar – a year back, he would’ve been backstage waiting for the intro tape to begin playing. Instead, it was Saku “Shaq-U” Solin that pulled off a double shift tonight, as he had already been on stage with Fear of Domination. Kätilöt kicked things off promisingly with “Minä määrään”, but they didn’t manage to keep their grip on me until the end, despite “Pirun nyrkki” being played halfway through and “Tirehtööri” being fun to sing along to. Hunger had started to take hold again, so I had to leave towards the second stage near the end of the show. Along the way, I heard surprisingly many conversations on how the band’s newer songs aren’t that good as the old ones. Go figure.

Rytmihäiriö

Over the course of the evening, the event had completely sold out, so after gorging through a set of fries, it started to be practical to move towards the boat dock to avoid the biggest crowd. As the last show of the evening, Rytmihäiriö began their set on the second stage, but even if I wouldn’t have been in a hurry, I still wouldn’t have the interest to watch their set for longer than a few songs – I’ve never found anything worth listening to from their material, and I have to say that I’d have suspected the crowd in the dance hall to be larger than it was.

The boat queue was close to 100 meters, but it shrunk pretty quickly, as a new ferry arrived to the dock right after the previous one had embarked. A couple of ill-fated festival goers that had sprained their ankles were brought along as well. Considering the weather, everyone was lucky – the island had only a few drops of rain in the afternoon, but once our ferry got to Laukontori and we stepped out of it, it started raining, and even if we only had a few blocks to walk afterwards, I was soaking wet once we got to our apartment. At least no shower was needed.

Rytmihäiriö

 

In conclusion, SaariHelvetti was an amazing event all-around, at least for a first-timer like me. Viikinsaari offers an excellent venue to host happenings like this, the event itself was organized so well that you didn’t even pay attention to the staff or security, the beer queues weren’t long despite the festival being sold out, and the lineup was great. The thing that surprised me the most was the bathroom policies – the buildings on the island had two bathroom sections, and in addition to them, I counted a total of only six (!) portable toilets, but absolutely no queueing was needed at any time – men were able to take a leak in the bushes without anyone coming to tell them not to. With the food section being on point, I cannot think of anything to criticize, and unless something really weird happens to me or to the festival’s organization, I suspect that we’ll see each other next year as well!

Photos: Janne Puronen

SAARIHELVETTI – Viikinsaari, Tampere, 05.08.2017 (suomeksi)

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Tamperelaisen Nem Agencyn pyörittämä, tänä vuonna kolmatta kertaa järjestetty SaariHelvetti-metallifestivaali houkutteli konseptillaan ja bändikattauksellaan jo viime vuonna, mutta pitkän linjan Jurassic Rock –kävijänä menin jonkinlaisessa mielenhäiriössä valitsemaan Mikkelin. Takavuosien mielenkiintoisesta jokaiselle jotain –bändikattauksesta valahdettiin jo viime vuonna Vain elämää –helvettiin, joten en oikeastaan edes tiedä miksi jätin SaariHelvetin ja sitä myöten esimerkiksi Deathchainin oldies-keikan väliin. Tänä vuonna tosiasioita ei enää voinut sivuuttaa, sillä Helvetin esiintyjäkaartiin oli saatu kiinnitettyä muutaman kovan kotimaisen sekä kreikkalaisen Rotting Christin lisäksi itävaltalainen Harakiri for the Sky, joten 5. elokuuta 2017 Onnibusin nokka suuntasi kohti Tamperetta. Festivaaliliput olivat käyneet kaupaksi hyvää tahtia, ja tapahtumapäivänä lippuja oli jäljellä enää muutamia, joten en ollut asiassa yksin.

Festivaalin tapahtumapaikka, Viikinsaari, on Pyhäjärven selällä, jääden länsi-itäsuunnassa Epilän ja Pispalan väliin, ja ainoa tapa siirtyä saareen on laivalla Laukontorilta. Torille siirtyminen ja ensimmäiseen, kahdelta lähtevään laivaan, nouseminen jäi hieman viime tippaan, mutta jonoa ei paikalla onneksi ollut. Lipunmyyntitiskillä ei ollut jakaa lehdistölippuja erikseen, mutta sain moisen lopulta järjestettyä Viikinsaaren päässä – tässä oli ilmeisesti käynyt pieni sekaannus, jota myöhemmin erikseen pahoiteltiin ja joka ei todellakaan menoa haitannut. Laivamatka sujui nopeasti, ja paikalle päästyäni täytyi välittömästi kuluttaa hetki aikaa pelkästään tapahtuma-alueen ihastelemiseen: saaresta löytyy kappeli, juhlatila, tanssilava, leikkipuisto, minigolf-rata, beach volley –kenttä, luontopolku (joka ei tosin ollut käytössä), kioski ja vaikka mitä. Huikeat puitteet!

 

Päivän ensimmäinen esiintyjä oli vuorossa puoli neljältä, kun Bändikilpailu helvetistä –kisan voittanut laitilalais-tammelalainen deathgrind-jyrä Galvanizer paiskoi todella äkäisen puolen tunnin setin tanssipaviljonkiin sijoitetulla kakkoslavalla. Nuoresta iästään huolimatta äijät olivat kaikki todella kovia soittajia, ja varsinkin rumpali Nico Niemikon menoa katsoi täysin monttu auki. Biisimateriaalissa oli mukavasti koukkua ja vaaran tunnetta. Paikalle oli ehtinyt jo hyvänkokoinen joukko keikkaa todistamaan, vaikka VIP-lippujen ostajat olivatkin jumiutuneet omalle terassilleen kaljaa lipittämään. Juuri tällaisten keikkojen takia kannattaa välillä raahautua paikalle aikaisin, vaikkei bändistä olisikaan etukäteen mitään käsitystä. Galvanizer ehdottomasti jatkoon!

Puolen tunnin roudaustauon aikana oli hyvää aikaa luoda katseensa VIP-terassin takana sijaitsevalle Rock’n’Tits –lavalle, jossa pyöri päivän aikana erinäistä oheisohjelmaa burleskiesityksistä Speden spelit –tribuuttiin. Vaikken aihepiiristä kovin paljoa tiedäkään, niin – mitenkään meininkiä väheksymättä – tietääkseni strippaaminen ei kuulu burleskitanssin perinteiseen määritelmään, vaikka näin lavalla kerrottiin. Puoli viideltä vuorossa oli edellisenä iltanakin Harakiri for the Skyta lämmitellyt Evil Drive. Elmun baarin jähmeys oli hävinnyt yön aikana tietymättömiin, ja lavalla oli selkeästi hyväntuulisempi yhtye räväkän vokalisti Viktoria Virenin johdolla. Puolen tunnin soittoajasta johtuen settiä oli jouduttu lyhentämään, eikä keikka toisena nähtynä kahden päivän sisään tarjonnut uutta, mutta SaariHelvetin yleisöön se tuntui uppoavan varsin hyvin. Ei huono, kuten Jorma Uotinen asian laittaisi.

Evil Driven keikan lopusta täytyi nipistää hetkinen, jotta ehdin siirtymään ajoissa päälavan kulmalle viideksi. Fear of Dominationin jäsenistö kasvoi aiemmin kesällä kahdeksanhenkiseksi, kun Sara Strömmerin laulajanpesti vakinaistettiin kesken Tuskan-keikan, ja Strömmer kyllä sopii habitukseltaan bändiin kuin nenä päähän. Meininki lavalla tuntui olevan koko puolituntisen ajan erittäin korkealla, varsinkin perkussionistilla, joka käytti kaiken vapaa-aikansa lavaa pitkin poikin juoksemiseen ja eturivin kosiskeluun. Rumpukapuloitakin lensi yleisöön kovaa tahtia, välillä ei edes kovin suuressa kaaressa – toivottavasti kukaan ei ottanut osumaa. Bändi joutuu varmasti kuuntelemaan maailman loppuun asti vertailua astetta tunnetumpaan Turmion Kätilöihin, mutta paikalla tuntui olevan sen verran kappaleiden sanat ulkoa osaavia faneja, etten ihmettelisi jos tilanne joskus kääntyisi päälaelleen. Vaikkei Fear of Domination edelleenkään puhuttele musiikillisesti aivan täysin (sori Jinkku!), ei bändin taitoja viihdyttää silti voi kiistää – onhan FoD selkeästi bilebändi, ja viimeisenä soitettu The Bloodhound Gang -laina ”The Bad Touch” viimeistään toi leveän hymyn naamalle. Ainoat miinukset keikasta menevät miksaajalle, joka jotenkin onnistui kadottamaan Strömmerin laulusoundin mikrofonin ja PA-kaiuttimien väliin, niin hiljaiselle ja paljaaksi oli säädöt jätetty.

Sitten itse asiaan! Harakiri for the Sky oli viikonloppuna Suomessa ensimmäistä kertaa, mutta edellisenä iltana Elmun baarissa oli todella hyvin porukkaa paikalla. Nytkin kakkoslavan eteen oli pakkautunut hyvänkokoinen joukko odottamaan itävaltalaisbändin settiä, joka jostain täysin järjenvastaisesta syystä oli jouduttu puristamaan vain puolen tunnin mittaiseksi. HftS ehtikin sisällyttää slottiinsa ainoastaan kolme kappaletta, sillä bändin tuotannon keskipituudet taitavat huidella jossain kahdeksan-yhdeksän minuutin tietämillä. ”Calling the Rainin”, ”Funeral Dreamsin”, ja ”Jhatorin” aikana bändi ei edellisillan tapaan juuri ottanut kontaktia yleisöön, mutta sille ei ollut tarvettakaan, sillä hoilaukset ja taputukset lähtivät spontaanisti liikkeelle käytännössä kaikissa suvantokohdissa, kappaleiden välillä hurrattiin aivan kuin oltaisiin oltu kokoluokkaa isommalla keikalla, ja keikan päätteeksi taidettiin kuulla illan ainoat ”we want more!” –huudotkin. Äijät vaikuttivat myös yllättävän hyvävointisilta ottaen huomioon, että edellisenä iltana he olivat kuuleman mukaan juoneet viinaa aamuneljään kaverini luona järjestetyillä jatkoilla. Olin jo perjantain keikan jälkeen satavarma siitä, että HftS:n Suomen-visiitti ei jää bändin ensimmäiseksi ja viimeiseksi, ja SaariHelvetin keikan jälkeen tunne vain vahvistui. Tätä kirjoittaessa Facebookista saikin lukea, että tulevat suunnitelmat on jo lyöty lukkoon, joten jäämme odottamaan!

Seuraavaksi oli vuorossa pälavalla Suomen grind-ylpeys Rotten Sound. En olisi ikinä uskonut joutuvani todistamaan Rotiskolta mitään muita kuin hyviä tai erittäin hyviä keikkoja, mutta tällä kertaa päälavan soundit tekivät bändille kyllä todella pahan kepposen. Miksaaja ei saanut koko neljänkymmenen minuutin aikana väännettyä potikoita sellaisiin asentoihin, että lavalta olisi erottunut edukseen mikään muu kuin Sami Latvan bassorumpusoundi – edes virveli ei paukkunut toivotulla teholla. Musiikillisesti keikan teho jäi täysin puolitiehen, mutta onneksi bändi paikkasi tilannetta parhaansa mukaan pitkän kokemuksen tuomalla varmuudella, ja olihan Kiisseli-Keijo oma leppoisa itsensä välispiikeissä. Aivan kuin vaikea keikkatilanne ei olisi jo ollut tarpeeksi, bändin paidat olivat kuulemma myös jääneet matkalle niitä kuljettaneen auton hajottua tielle. Yleisöä kehotettiinkin ostamaan Rotting Christin paitoja, onhan niissä melkein samanlainen bändin nimi. Kesän aiempia keikkoja mukaillut settilista sisälsi hyvässä suhteessa uutta ja vanhaa, ja onpa bändi kaivanut Consume to Contaminate -EP:n ”Decaynkin” mukaan hetkisen soittotauon jälkeen. Pitti pyöri ja yleisöllä oli selkeästi kivaa, joten ei tässä kuitenkaan tyhjin käsin poistuttu paikalta.

Kakkoslavalla aloittavaa Shade Empireä odotin SaariHelvetin kotimaisista esiintyjistä eniten. Suomen aliarvostetuimpiin yhtyeisiin lukeutuva kuopiolaisbändi julkaisi alkukesästä pitkän odotuksen jälkeen Poetry of the Ill-Minded -levynsä jatkona edelliselle Omega Arcanelle (2013), ja Nummirockin kaljatelttaillan keikkakin oli silkkaa mannaa. Odotukset kuitenkin lässähtivät täysin: jos Rotten Sound kärsi huonoista soundeista, kakkoslavan äänikuva teki Shade Empiren seuraamisesta täysin mahdotonta. En ole käyttänyt korvatulppia keikoilla vuosiin, joten koska komppikitara oli niin kovalla ja miksattu niin viiltäväksi että se peitti kaiken muun alleen, tanssilavan sisätiloista oli pakko poistua pihalle kaljajonoon. Sen verran sain moisesta puurosta selvää, että ensimmäinen kappale taisi olla uuden levyn ”Lecter (Welcome)”. Shade Empire kuitenkin selkeästi kiinnosti, sillä tanssilava oli täynnä porukkaa – toivottavasti kaikki poistuivat keikan jälkeen kuuloaisti tallella.

Päälavan kolmas esiintyjä oli Helsingin power metal -ylpeys (tai häväistys, vähän riippuen keneltä kysyy) Battle Beast. Näin bändin livenä ensi kerran debyyttilevynsä Steelin (2011) aikoihin ja vaikutuin bändin tuolloisen laulajan Nitte Valon karismasta. Levyä seuranneen Euroopan-kiertueen jälkeen Valo kuitenkin ilmoitti jättävänsä bändin, eikä hommasta oikein ole tullut sen jälkeen innostuttua, vaikkei nykyinen keulakuva Noora Louhimo ainakaan laulutaidoiltaan jää Valolle yhtään kakkoseksi. Draamaa yhtyeen historiasta ei ole puuttunut, sillä perustajajäsen Anton Kabanen potkittiin muutama vuosi sitten pihalle hämäriksi jääneiden olosuhteiden vallitessa. Lätinä kuitenkin sikseen: miten suoriutui Battle Beast Louhimon kotikaupungissa? Haluaisin sanoa ”todella hyvin”, mutta muiden tänä kesänä nähtyjen Beast-keikkojen tapaan homma jätti ainakin allekirjoittaneen vähän kylmäksi. Paikalla oli paitamuodista päätellen todella paljon bändin faneja, mutta lavalla synisti Janne Björkroth näytti suurimman osan ajasta siltä kuin olisi ollut mieluummin bäkkärillä juomassa kaljaa. Louhimolla, kitaristi Juuso Soiniolla ja basisti Eero Sipilällä oli sentään kova taistelutahto päällä, ja Louhimolle täytyy nostaa hattua: tuona päivänä tuli kuulemma vuosi täyteen ilman alkoholia, ja kaverin kanssa lyöty viidensadan euron veto oli sitä myöten voitettu. Setti painottui selkeästi uusimman Bringer of Pain -levyn biiseihin, ja kyllähän levyltä selkeästi hyväntuulista keikkahittiä löytyy useampikin. Loppuun tosin on pakko esittää täysin ulkomusiikillista kitinää: miksi raahata paikalle näön vuoksi kaksi bassorumpua, jos niistä toinen jätetään mikittämättä ja rumpali polkee niistä tuplapedaalin avulla ainoastaan toista?

Mørket

Festivaalin musiikillisesta linjasta ehkä hieman poikkeava, helsinkiläinen death/black/punk –sekasikiö Mørket joutui toimittamaan taustamusiikkibändin virkaa, sillä ennen Rotting Christia oli pakko pitää ruokatauko. Jos jotain täytyy vielä erikseen SaariHelvetissä kehaista, niin sen ruokatarjontaa: festarimättöjen uudeksi de facto –hinnaksi on tuntunut asettuvan 10 euroa, mutta toisin kuin vaikkapa tämän vuoden Nummirockissa, SaariHelvetissä rahoille sai todellakin vastinetta. Paikalle oli roudattu iso loimulohigrilli ja muurikkapannu, jossa paistettiin ylikypsää possunkylkeä ja falafeleja. Kylkeen annosteltiin spelttipohjaista taboulehia (sipulia, kurkkua, tomaattia, mausteita) sekä tsatsikia, jonka sai halutessaan myös vegaanisena. Kyllä muuten todellakin toimi! Vieressä ollut texmex-tyyppinen kojukin tarjoili hyvänkuuloisia annoksia, eikä makkispekkisten ystäviäkään oltu unohdettu: Viikinsaaren oma kioski myi makkara- ja lihapullaperunoita sangen kilpailukykyiseen 7 euron hintaan.

Vaikka Rotting Christ on vieraillut Suomessa useaan otteeseen, en ole ikinä päässyt tätä Sakis ja Themis Tolisin jo vuodesta 1987 luotsaamaa äärimetallilegendaa livenä todistamaan. Ilta oli jo alkanut hämärtyä kun Rotting Christ nousi lavalle, ja yleisö sai 50-minuuttisen täyslaidallisen yksinkertaisia mutta nerokkaita riffejä ja rumputulta. Bändin mittavalta levytysuralta saatiin kuulla niin uutta kuin todella vanhaa materiaalia: mukana olivat debyyttilevy Thy Mighty Contractin (1993) ”The Sign of Evil Existence” sekä – mikäli en täysin erehdy – jopa ensimmäisen EP:n ”The Forest of N’Gai”. Pidin tuoreinta levyä, Ritualsia, ilmestyessään hieman tylsänä verrattuna edelliseen, loistavaan Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτούhun, mutta livenä varsinkin ” Ἄπαγε Σατανά” toimi loistavasti. Parhaat menorallit oli säästetty loppuun: ensin ”In Yumen/Xibalba” ja setin päätteeksi ”Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”. Oi kyllä! Yleisö oli läpi keikan todella hyvin mukana, ja Sakis Tolis kiittelikin Suomea vuolaasti milloin suomeksi, milloin kreikaksi. Hieno bändi ja hieno keikka, ja tällä kertaa päälavan sounditkin olivat kohdallaan – ilmeisesti Rotting Christilla oli oma miksaaja mukana.

En voi käsittää, miksi tamperelainen samuraimetalliretkue Whispered joutuu edelleen tyytymään festareiden kakkoslavoihin ja pienempiin keikkapaikkoihin. Kaikki ainekset maailmanvalloitukseen ovat olleet kasassa jo kakkoslevy Shogunate Macabresta (2014) lähtien, ja tuorein levy Metsutan – Songs of the Void kiristi ruuvia entisestään. Bändi oli tälläkin kertaa houkutellut tanssilavan täyteen porukkaa, ja pitti pyöri käytännössä läpi koko 40-minuuttisen setin siihen malliin, että päätin varmuuden vuoksi siirtyä mikseripöydän viereen jätetyn terävän mellakka-aidan kulman eteen seisomaan, jottei kukaan pitistä pihalle lentävä joudu sairaalaan. Kotiyleisön edessä esiintymisestä johtuen settilista oli vähintäänkin hämmentävä, sillä mukaan oltiin otettu viime aikoina harvemmin kuultu ”Lady of the Wind” sekä jopa kaksi coveria: Hopeanuoli-animen tunnari sekä Matti Nykäsen (mikäs muu kuin) ”Samurai”. Viimeisenä kuultiin tuttuun tapaan ”Hold the Sword”. Yleisö lauloi biisit mukana ihailtavalla prosentilla ja taputukset irtosivat pyytämättä, joten mitä tässä lätisemään: Whisperedistä tulee saman tien se seuraava iso juttu, jos isompien festareiden promoottorit vain uskaltavat nähdä bändin sotamaalien ja puvustuksen läpi ja ymmärtää, että äijät ovat jo useamman vuoden ajan soittaneet kaiken maailman bodomit suohon. Arvostaisin.

Päälavan annin SaariHelvetissä vuosimallia 2017 sai luvan paketoida Turmion Kätilöt edellisvuoden tapaan. Bändi on ollut aina vähän vaikea aihe, sillä siinä missä Kätilöillä on muutama ihan menevä (vanhempi) ralli, suurin osa tuotannosta ei puhuttele millään tapaa, minkä lisäksi koen bändin keskimääräisen fanin ihmistyypin melko sietämättömänä. Toisaalta en ole vuosiin katsonutkaan kokonaista Kätilöt-keikkaa, joten päätin tällä kertaa antaa tilanteelle mahdollisuuden. Festivaalia juontamassa ollut Tuomas ”Spekkeli” Rytkönen totesikin tilanteen olevan eriskummallinen bändiä lavalle spiikatessaan, sillä vielä vuotta takaperin mies olisi ollut lavan takana odottamassa intronauhan pyörähtämistä. Saku ”Shaq-U” Solin sen sijaan urakoi tänään tuplavuoron, sillä mies ehti olla lavalla jo alkuillasta Fear of Dominationin keulilla. Setti pyörähti lupaavasti käyntiin kappaleella ”Minä määrään”, mutta bändi ei pystynyt pitämään väsynyttä raportoijaa otteessaan loppuun saakka – ei, vaikka ”Pirun nyrkki” olikin mukana setin keskivaiheilla, ja kyllähän sen ”Tirehtöörinkin” mukana lauloi ihan mielikseen. Tie vei takaisin kohti kakkoslavaa setin loppuvaiheilla, sillä nälkä oli päässyt yllättämään uudemman kerran. Matkalla tunnuttiin puhuvan muissa porukoissa yllättävän paljon siitä, etteivät Kätilöiden uudet biisit enää säväytä vanhojen tapaan – tiedä tuosta sitten.

Päivän aikana oli lippuluukulta kiirinyt tieto siitä, että SaariHelvetti oli myyty loppuun, joten makkaraperuna-annoksen tuhoamisen jälkeen alkoi olla jo järkevää lähteä kohti Viikinsaaren satamalaituria, jottei saaresta poistuminen venähtäisi 2000 kävijän pamahtaessa samanaikaisesti jonottamaan. Kakkoslavalla Rytmihäiriö aloitti vielä illan viimeisen keikan, mutta vaikkei paikalta olisikaan ollut ”kiire” poistua, en olisi silti jaksanut jäädä todistamaan bändiä paria kappaletta pidempään. En löydä hc-kohkauksesta sitten yhtään mitään kuuntelemisen arvoista, eikä tanssilava kyllä muutenkaan ollut niin täynnä kuin sen olisi voinut kuvitella olevan. Vaikka lauttajono oli lähemmäs sadan metrin mittainen, se kuitenkin veti nopeasti, sillä uusi laiva saapui laituriin heti kun edellinen oli lähtenyt. Järjestäjät ajoivat paikalle mönkijällä pari nilkkansa nyrjäyttänyttä festarikävijääkin. Sään puolesta ei olisi parempi tuuri voinut sattua, sillä koko päivän aikana saatiin vettä vain muutama tippa, mutta heti kun lautta karahti Laukontorin laituriin, vesisade alkoi siihen malliin että muutaman korttelin päähän kävelyn päätteeksi oli jo litimärkä. Eipähän tarvinnut käydä suihkussa.

Rytmihäiriö

 

SaariHelvetti oli, ainakin näin ensimmäistä kertaa käytynä, kaikin puolin loistava tapahtuma. Viikinsaaren luonto tarjoaa loistavat puitteet yleisötapahtumille, järjestelyt toimivat sen verran hyvin ettei niitä oikeastaan edes paikalla ollessaan huomannut, anniskelualueilla ei loppuunmyydystä tapahtumasta huolimatta tarvinnut juurikaan jonottaa ja bänditarjonta oli mainio. Eniten kuitenkin yllätti vessapolitiikka: saaressa on kaksi vesivessaosastoa, joiden lisäksi paikalle oli raahattu kai ainoastaan kuusi (!) bajamajaa, mutta missään vaiheessa päivää ei esiintynyt vessajonoja, sillä miehet pystyivät suorittamaan nopeammat tarpeensa pusikoihin ilman, että kukaan tuli asiasta huomauttamaan. Ruokapuolenkin ollessa kohdillaan en keksi SaariHelvetistä kerrassaan mitään kritisoitavaa, ja ellei mitään mullistavaa tapahdu puolin ja toisin, tulen melko suurella varmuudella paikalle myös ensi vuonna.

Kuvat: Janne Puronen

SAARIHELVETTI @ Viikinsaari, Tampere, 05.08.2017

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Saarihelvetti-festival at Viikinsaari, Tampere, 2017.
Photos By Janne Puronen.

HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY w/ EVIL DRIVE – Elmun baari, Helsinki, 04.08.2017 (English)

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For some reason, it has been hugely difficult to get excited about new or new-ish metal bands over the last few years. While my taste has become more and more polarized between the more extreme or technical metal and almost ambient music, more traditional metal tunes haven’t found their way to my playlists like before. During last year’s spring, however, a friend of mine had picked up the Austrian band, Harakiri for the Sky, from his Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, and it blew me away instantly – it was almost as if one was listening to a more black metal-ish Insomnium. I ended up buying both their vinyls twice and pre-ordering their third album, III: Trauma, released last fall, the second it became available. I even threw their name on some lists when festivals asked who the crowd would like to see in the summer.

The pleas of myself and many others were answered when Tampere-based Nem Agency announced that Harakiri for the Sky would play at their SaariHelvetti festival in August. The anticipation went through the roof only to fall back down upon the announcement of the timetables, specifying a measly 30 minutes worth of showtime for HftS. Nem managed to turn the situation around with a second show the night before at Helsinki’s Elmun baari, marketing the event with an extra-long setlist compared to the SaariHelvetti set. Of course I eventually attended both shows, but let’s cover Friday night first.

Check out the full gallery HERE!
Raportti suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!

 

Considering my upcoming Tampere journey, the showtimes were pleasant, as HFTS was to begin at 22:00, and the Helsinki-Kotka-Hamina-Kouvola –based melodeath/thrash act, Evil Drive  currently working on their sophomore album – was to warm up the stage at 21:00. I got in about 15 minutes before Evil Drive’s showtime, which eventually was delayed to 21:10 due to the pretty scarce audience. The band began their set with their latest single, ”Anti-Genocide”, and the attention was naturally focused on singer Viktoria Viren, delivering vocals that easily hold up against the ladies of Arch Enemy, for example. As the show progressed, Viren did her best to get the audience to participate, ending up being visibly frustrated as the fists only pumped for a short while at a time.

During the show, I found it really difficult to get a hold of the band’s lasting theme, but then again, I can only blame myself for not listening to a single track beforehand. The function of the Indian headdress that Viren wore during ”Anti-Genocide” was left a bit blurry in that moment, but afterwards I looked the song up and found out that it’s about the history of America’s indigenous people. There was a Nazi EDIT: Russian army cap on stage at some point, so I guess I should also check out the themes from their debut album. The stage that was set up in Nosturi’s lobby didn’t actually help Evil Drive’s music either, as the space isn’t meant for playing metal shows – the sound was brutal and really bare, badly mushing up Viren’s microphone at times. The spotlights were static as well. Still, the show wasn’t bad in any way – the Motörhead cover, “Killed by Death”, played near the end of the set (possibly on the fly), managed to finally activate the front-rowers, and the band played a couple of to-be-released tracks as well. Having been present at the show, Viren’s primary school -aged son in his large earmuffs served as a nice ending to the show by climbing on stage and shredding a few chords – wonder when his band’s first demo is coming out?

 

And then we waited. On record, Harakiri for the Sky is a two-man band, being known only by their initials: M.S. plays all instruments, J.J. does the vocals. Considering that almost everyone present was certainly a fan of the band, the guys got to smoke their cigarettes on the bar’s terrace surprisingly uninterrupted. The band climbed on stage at about 22:15 with their intro tape playing the sound of rainfall. Things were expectantly kicked off with “Calling the Rain” from III: Trauma, yielding a good deal of accepting nods from the audience. J.J’s voice wasn’t quite on point from the start, but the situation improved as the 11 minute song went on, bringing the much-needed harshness to his bellowing voice.

The man didn’t waste time on speeches, letting the band continue straight to the second album Aokigahara’s “69 Dead Birds for Utøya” and back to the new record with “Funeral Dreams.” The five-piece band played with great synchronization, and their bassist was especially interesting to watch, since he slapped away with his six-stringer without a pick. As the fifth song, HftS made a trip to their self-titled debut with “Dancing on Debris”, and later on, even “Lungs Filled with Water” was played. The set was concluded with the band’s The Best Song™, Aokigahara’s ”Jhator” – the song’s only fault is that the magnificent guitar lead in the end doesn’t go on for longer. As silently as they began, HftS also left the stage and there were no encores, but no one probably would’ve needed more; it was a great set!

 

It’s always unsettling to attend a show from one of your favorite bands for the first time. Will they be as good live as on the records? Will the set include all the good songs? Though I could’ve swapped a couple of tracks from the new record for older ones, Harakiri for the Sky still fulfilled all of my expectations. J.J. clearly isn’t a showman, even appearing a bit shy on stage at times and refraining from making contact with the audience, but (post) black metal isn’t a genre you’d first associate sucking up with. If I’d have to find something to improve from the show, it would be the drummer’s habit of slowing things down for blastbeat passages – every time you tried to mosh away, you’d first have to find out on how much slower you’d need to do it. More practice, I’d say! Judging by next morning’s headache, I had chugged a good deal of beer during the event, making the decision to leave for Tampere by bus instead of by car a really welcome one; I probably couldn’t have made the trip if I’d had to drive myself. A big thank you to Nem Agency for this opportunity – let’s do this again real soon, please!

Photos: Janne Puronen

HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY w/ EVIL DRIVE – Elmun baari, Helsinki, 4.8.2017 (suomeksi)

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Aivan viime vuosina uusista tai uudehkoista metallibändeistä innostuminen on ollut työn ja tuskan takana. Perinteisempää metallijunttaa on tullut kuunneltua koko ajan vähemmän musiikkimaun ääripäistyessä teknisten dödisbändien ja jopa ambientin välillä. Viime vuoden keväällä kaverin Spotifyn Discover Weekly –listalta bongattu, itävaltalainen Harakiri for the Sky vei kuitenkin saman tien täysin mukanaan: aivan kuin Insomnium, jos se soittaisi vähän enemmän black metaliin kallellaan olevaa räimettä. Bändin vinyylit tuli ostettua kahteen kertaan ja viime vuoden loppupuolella ilmestynyt kolmas levy III: Traumakin ennakkotilattua välittömästi. Toivoin bändiä alkukesän festareille esiintymään, turhaan.

Allekirjoittaneen sekä monen muun asiasta Internetissä ääntä pitäneen huutoihin kuitenkin vastattiin, kun tamperelainen Nem Agency ilmoitti Harakiri for the Skyn saapuvan elokuussa järjestettävään SaariHelvettiin. Odotukset ampaisivat saman tien kattoon, mistä ne ropisivat yhtä nopeasti takaisin lattialle kun tapahtuman aikataulut julkistettiin ja HFTS:n soittoajaksi oli määritetty vaivaiset puoli tuntia. Erinomaista pelisilmää osoittanut ohjelmatoimisto paikkasi kuitenkin tilanteen julkistamalla edeltävälle illalle Helsingin Elmun baarissa tapahtuvan keikan, jota etukäteismarkkinoitiin erikoispitkänä verrattuna SaariHelvetin vetoon. Olin lopulta totta kai paikalla molemmilla keikoilla, mutta pureudutaan ensin perjantai-illan antiin.

Kuvagalleria TÄÄLLÄ!
Or read in English HERE!

 

Illan soittoajat olivat seuraavan päivän Tampereen-matkaa ajatellen miellyttävät, sillä HFTS:n oli määrä nousta lavalle kymmeneltä. Illan yhdeksältä aloittavaksi lämmittelijäksi oli valikoitunut helsinkiläis-kotkalais-haminalais-kouvolalainen melodeath/thrash –pumppu Evil Drive, joka työstää parhaillaan kakkoslevyään. Pääsin paikalle noin varttia ennen Evil Driven soittoaikaa, joka tosin myöhästyi lopulta noin kymmenellä minuutilla, sillä yleisöä oli ehtinyt soittoaikaan mennessä paikalle vasta kohtuullisen harvalukuinen joukko. Bändi aloitti settinsä viimevuotisella ”Anti-Genocide”-sinkullaan, ja huomio kiinnittyi luonnollisesti ensimmäisenä vokalisti Viktoria Vireniin, jonka ääni kestää helposti vertailua eräänkin Arch Enemyn keulilla vaikuttaneisiin solisteihin. Keikan edetessä Viren teki parhaansa saadakseen jähmeään yleisöön liikettä, ja lopulta ilmassa oli aistittavissa selkeää turhautumista, kun nyrkkejä jaksettiin puida aina vain hetkisen kerrallaan.

Keikan aikana tuotti eniten vaikeuksia saada kiinni bändin kantavasta teemasta, mutta toisaalta tästä voi allekirjoittanut syyttää vain itseään, sillä en ollut ehtinyt kuunnella ensimmäistäkään kappaletta. Virenin ”Anti-Genociden” aikana käyttämä intiaanipäähine jäi tuossa hetkessä funktioltaan arvoitukseksi, mutta jälkeenpäin sen totta kai tajusi liittyvän kappaleen amerikkalaisen alkuperäisväestön historiaan. Jossain vaiheessa lavalla vilahti myös natsilakki EDIT: Venäjään armeijan lakki, joten pitänee kahlata debyyttilevyn teemoja tarkemmin läpi. Nosturin aulaan rakennettu esiintymislavakaan ei varsinaisesti tarjonnut apuja Evil Driven musiikille, sillä eihän tilaa hevikeikkojen soittamiseen ole tarkoitettu; soundi oli rujo ja hyvin paljas, ja paikoitellen Virenin mikrofoni puuroutui pahasti – taustavalotkin olivat staattiset. Ei keikka silti missään nimessä huono ollut; setin loppupuolella (mahdollisesti lennosta) soitettu Motörhead-laina ”Killed by Death” aktivoi eturivin hevikörmyjä kiitettävästi, ja pari tulevan albumin raitaakin kuultiin. Loppukevennyksen keikalle tarjosi paikalla ollut Virenin alakouluikäinen poika, joka viimeisen kappaleen päätteeksi kiipesi Peltorit päässä lavalle ja sahasi pari sointua – jäämme odottelemaan ensimmäistä demoa!

 

Sitten vain odoteltiin. Studiossa Harakiri for the Sky on pelkillä nimikirjaimilla esiintyvien kahden miehen bändi: M.S. soittaa kaikki instrumentit, J.J. taas laulaa. Ottaen huomioon, että keikalle oli lähes varmasti tullut paikalle pelkästään faneja, pojat saivat polttaa röökinsä yllättävänkin rauhassa baarin terassilla. Bändi kipusi lavalle lopulta noin varttia yli kymmenen intronauhan toistaessa vesisateen ääntä. Setti aloitettiin odotetusti III: Trauman ”Calling the Rainilla”, joka kirvoitti yleisöstä runsaasti hyväksyvää nyökyttelyä. J.J:n ääni ei ollut aluksi aivan parhaassa terässä, mutta 11-minuuttisen järkäleen edetessä tilanne parani ja huutoon saatiin mukaan myös kaivattua korinaa.

Välispiikkeihin ei aikaa käytetty, vaan ”Calling the Rainista” siirryttiin suoraan kakkoslevy Aokigaharan ”69 Dead Birds for Utøyaan” ja takaisin uudelle levylle ”Funeral Dreamsiin”. Viisihenkisen bändin yhteissoitto toimi loistavasti, ja eritoten basistia oli ilo seurata miehen peukuttaessa kuusikielistä soittopeliään. Viidentenä kappaleena päästiin jopa ensimmäiselle levylle ”Dancing on Debrisin” myötä, ja myöhemmin kuultiin vielä ”Lungs Filled with Water”. Keikan päätti itseoikeutetusti bändin Se Paras Biisi™, Aokigaharan ”Jhator”, jonka ainoa vika on sen loppuosan upean kitaraliidin loppuminen liian lyhyeen. Bändi ei sanonut mitään keikan päätteeksikään, vaan poistui lavalta, eikä encoreja kuultu. Tällä kertaa niille ei kyllä olisi ollut mitään tarvettakaan, loistava setti!

 

On aina etukäteen hiukan kuumottavaa mennä suosikkibändinsä keikalle ensimmäistä kertaa: onko se livenä yhtä hyvä kuin levyllä? Onko setissä kaikki hyvät biisit? Vaikka olisin voinut pari uuden levyn kappaletta itse vaihtaa muihinkin, Harakiri for the Sky lunasti silti kaikki odotukset esityksellään. J.J. ei selkeästi ole mikään showmies ja vaikutti paikoitellen jopa ujolta lavalla pidättäytyessään kontaktin ottamisesta yleisöön, mutta eipä nuoleskelu (post-)black metaliin kuulukaan. Jos keikasta jotain parantamisen varaa pitää kaivaa, niin rumpalin tapa hidastaa tempoa kappaleiden blastbeat-kohdissa hämmensi – aina kun yritti pyörittää hiuksia, piti hetkisen kuulostella, kuinka paljon hitaammin se pitää tehdä. Lisää treeniä, kiitos! Oluttakin tuli ilmeisesti särvittyä siihen tahtiin, että Tampereelle lähtö bussilla auton sijaan tuli tarpeeseen; ajokuntoa ei todennäköisesti olisi ollut. Kiitos Nem Agencylle tästä mahdollisuudesta, ja otetaanhan pian uusiksi?

Kuvat: Janne Puronen

HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY w/ EVIL DRIVE @ Elmun Baari, Helsinki, 04.08.2017

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Harakiri For The Sky with Evil Drive at Elmun Baari, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos By Janne Puronen.
Read the gig report in English HERE!
Raportti suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!

(2017) The Haunted: Strength in Numbers

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Artist: The Haunted
Album: Strength in Numbers
Release: 25.08.2017
Label: Century Media

 

I’ve been a fan of The Haunted (without knowing it) since I heard “Dark Intentions”, the legendary intro track from …Made Me Do It (2000), when it was used as a jingle on an internet radio station back in 2001. I had no idea at the time that it was a real track from a band until a friend brought the album to work and the band immediately found a new fan in me. By the time Revolver came out, I was ravenous for more, and they did not disappoint.

Fast forward to 2017 – the eagerly anticipated followup to the brilliant (and aptly titled) 2014 album, Exit Wounds, is almost upon us. Strength in Numbers continues where that album left off, while also drawing on the diverse styles of previous releases. All of these (perhaps disparate) elements are tied together with the interwoven thread of Ola Englund‘s [ex-Six Feet Under, Feared] input. I was unfamiliar with Englund until he joined the band, but anyone who doesn’t know his other work should definitely check out Feared (and his YouTube channel). Guitarist Patrik Jensen has commented on the new album that, “You have to throw curveballs every once in a while.” This they have done, but still managed to keep true to the spirit of The Haunted. Englund too has mentioned that he had the opportunity to do a lot more of the writing on this album, so for anyone who is familiar with his work, it’s quite fun to try to pick out where he has had input.

 

The Haunted have a very special relationship with intro tracks. “Fill the Darkness with Black” kicks the album off beautifully, with an amazing – and perhaps surprising – acoustic guitar riff. This leads perfectly into the heavy part and the scene is set. “Brute Force” feels like it would fit in very well on Exit Wounds, but by no means is it a reject from those sessions. This song carries its own weight and plows on mercilessly. The sudden burst of right hand tapping, mid-riff, in the chorus took me by surprise but it all fits really well.

You can see the official music video here:

And Englund’s playthrough here:

The next track, “Spark”, feels for me like it’s going to to become a firm favorite from this album. The clean intro sets up the main riff perfectly. I feel this song has stylistic elements from 2006’s The Dead Eye, and there are also some audible elements that I could only describe as Feared-esque (Synder era).

Check out the official video here:

“Preachers of Death” is going to be doing battle with “Spark” for the title of my favorite track, however. “Preachers” thrashes in with a riff reminiscent of 99 (from 2004’s Revolver), and the chorus seems to have elements that would have fit in well on The Dead Eye (2006). The interlude jumps in out of nowhere and takes you on a brief journey, floating in the air before the solo comes in and takes it even higher. The solo on this one is monstrously epic! This is the longest track on the album, at almost 5 minutes, and goes nearly everywhere. It does come to a bit of a sudden stop at the end, just as the solo is getting going, which is a little odd (hopefully this is just an issue with the promo files and will be fixed on the album itself). Jonas Björler gets a mention here too, as during the clean part before the ending solo, he manages some bass-work worthy of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris.

Next up is the title track, “Strength in Numbers.” Before the first verse, there’s a part that will be great for a round of “AY! AY! AY!” from the crowd in a live setting. There is also an awesome breakdown in the middle that will get the crowd going crazy! Tracks 6-9 all have a very Revolver type of vibe to them. “This is the End” feels almost like a sequel to “Abysmal” – still wish they’d play that one live! You may also notice a nod to “The Guilt Trip” (from The Dead Eye, 2006) at the 1:50 mark. “Means to an End” is a great headbanger. Jensen does some mean chord riffing under Englund’s higher rhythm parts on this one. Meanwhile, “Tighten the Noose” has a super fast riff that hearkens back to “…Made Me Do It.”

The final track, “Monuments”, has a very suspenseful intro which quickly changes into a driving riff that pushes you on through the song. There is a highly emotive solo, full of feeling, and a beautiful, clean interlude that comes in again that I find quite reminiscent of Dream Theater. Englund, is that you again?

I realize I’ve spoken almost exclusively about the guitar parts but this is definitely a guitar-driven album. I should point out that Adrian Erlandsson’s drums are tight and powerful throughout, and Marco Aro’s vocals are absolutely on point.

 

Englund, on his Facebook page, had stated that, “If you like solos, you’re going to love this album” – he’s not wrong! So many bands choose their best track as the first single and then fail to live up to it when the album comes along. This, for me, is an example of how to lead with a fantastic track and then have the rest of the album STILL blow you away. It has also been said that Englund has written quite a lot of this album. As a fan of his material outside of the Haunted, I can certainly see how that is true, but it still sounds like The Haunted I’ve always loved in all of their various guises.

Where Exit Wounds is an immediately accessible entry into the new lineup, Strength in Numbers manages to take that sound and explore new territory whilst still keeping everything relevant. A worthy addition to The Haunted’s back catalogue, one that delivers on every track. Can’t wait to see them on the tour for this album!

Rating: 10/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Fill the Darkness with Black
2. Brute Force
3. Spark
4. Preachers of Death
5. Strength in Numbers
6. Tighten the Noose
7. This is the End
8. The Fall
9. Means to an End
10. Monuments

Text: Marc Taylor

Jolly Roger Festival @ Arena, Wien, 02.08.2017

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Jolly Roger Festival at Arena, Wien, Austria.
Photos by Maria Sawicka

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS (RHCP) – Kaisafest, Helsinki, 29.07.2017

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In spite of having just been here twice last summer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to return to Finland once again this year. The Getaway 2017 Tour came to Kaisafest in Helsinki’s Kaisaniemenpuisto on July 29th, 2017… or perhaps Kaisafest was named because RHCP were returning. Either way, with a few openers on board and a big stage set up, we decided to go and see what the American rockers had to offer!

Stay tuned for the photos and gallery, which will come at a later date.

Listen along with the setlist (minus covers) on Spotify here:

I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of RHCP. I used to listen to them in my teen years, and they’ve certainly got a few good tracks. I enjoy their funky musical style a fair bit, but I’ve never been big on Anthony Kiedis’ vocals – sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don’t. Regardless, they are a bit of a bucket list band, so… why not, right?

 

The park’s set-up was both interesting and not that awesome at the same time. For one, you had to pay extra to access the K18 drinking area, which took up a solid 80% of the area… which means that most people probably paid it. This didn’t stop people from smuggling booze into the cheaper area either though. On one hand, it did mean there was lots of room for the drinkers, but on the other hand, the area available to the under-18s and those uninterested in paying to be in front of the stage were shafted to a place hidden beyond the toilets, without much access to the stage unless you showed up very early. A bit of a ripoff, if you ask me. They also boasted a fancy tented VIP area that had a dining room. Goodness knows how much that cost, but I hope it was worth it, because from within the tented area, you couldn’t really see the stage.

The stage itself was rather unusually embellished – the back-center had a large iron semi-circle (same make as the Heartagram that used to be at Nosturi, for the locals), with a few smaller circles above and on the sides, which had lights all around them. As well, before the show we caught some more light risers going up, with the light techs sitting right up in the rafters of the stage, working the lights manually. That’s some dedication, right there.

The show started at 21:31 sharp, as everyone sans Kiedis came on stage for a warm-up jam. At first I wasn’t certain if this was the show, or if it was just a really good final sound check. In hindsight, it could’ve been both. The show officially kicked off with “Around the World”, and immediately I was not impressed with the vocals. I’m not sure if the sound was unbalanced, but Kiedis and whoever was singing backing vocals were totally out of balance. Over the next few songs this became a consistent problem – Kiedis was either totally out of tune, or he and the backing vocals were completely out of sync with each other. The problem persisted until about “Aeroplane” (give or take a few songs), when they seemed to finally get in the groove of things.

Second up was “Dani California” from Stadium Arcadium (2006), and the last single that I liked enough to be excited to hear, though Kiedis completely failed on the high notes midway through the song. “Scar Tissue” worked pretty well live, though I’ve personally always hated that song. Among those greatest hits, they also played “Californication” (the last song to still have some minor vocal struggles as far as I recall), “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, “Aeroplane”, and “Suck My Kiss.” The crowd wasn’t afraid to show their enthusiasm in any way – nearly everyone there was dancing. I saw preppy blonde girls trying to headbang, and moms rocking out with their kids, and older couples dancing away. Everyone was having a ton of fun. I even saw a few girls get angry because the guards were making them get down from their friends’ shoulders – sad, but pretty standard practice in Finland.

The band wasn’t afraid to jam a bit either and play with their music – Chad Smith got an outro drum solo (and a personal introduction) at the end of “Scar Tissue”, as well as “By the Way.” “Californication” had a long guitar/bass faceoff for an intro, while their cover of Funkadelic’s “What is Soul” had a purely bass intro, though I can’t say I much liked the song otherwise – it was a bit boring and the vocals were just strange. Lastly, of course, Josh Klinghoffer got his own solo during the cover of the Pixies “Debaser”, which opened up the encores. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As for the band, well, if you didn’t look at the screens, you’d wonder if these guys are in their teens, particularly based on how bassist Flea was dressed. The only word I can use to describe it is ‘flamboyant.’ These guys are in their 50s now, but their attire and hair (though perhaps not Kiedis’ thick black ‘stache) all suggest that they haven’t aged a day since their inception (1983 – man, has it been that long?). Their interaction with one another was frequent and good, but the energy seemed to come and go at random. Flea had the most enthusiasm, running to and fro and acting crazy, but even then, he wasn’t like that the entire show. Klinghoffer on guitar was completely on and off, and Kiedis was not much of a frontman – though I’m not actually sure if the band considers Flea their real frontman. If they don’t, maybe they should. Chad Smith, however, was perhaps my favorite part of the band in a live context. He had a great deal of energy and clearly enjoys what he does, as he was all-in, from start to finish (and really does look a lot like Will Ferrell!).

There was a small amount of stage banter, but most of it was bland and/or boring. Flea did most of it, saying hello, talking about peeing his Underdog sheets while discussing how much he loved Underdog as a kid, and commenting on how the pinkness of the setting sun matched the pinkness of someone’s heart, or something to that effect. Most importantly though, he thanked the crowd wholeheartedly for their continued support.

After they said their farewells following “By the Way” (a perfect song to end the set on, incidentally), they returned to play three more tracks, starting with a cover of “Debaser” by the Pixies. This was followed by another new song from The Getaway, “Goodbye Angels”, and then they ended the night with “Give it Away.” I had hoped to see some fireworks or pyrotechnics of some sort during the encore, but on that front I was sadly disappointed. But, I guess that stuff isn’t for every band.

 

On the whole, this was an interesting show and worth seeing once to check off the bucket list. As for the overall quality-to-cost ratio, I definitely don’t think it was worth the 90€+ price tag. You can see bigger and better bands, with higher quality stage setups, for less or equal to that. While the stage and the screens were cool, visually the band offered a mediocre+ show, and musically they pulled through in the end, but at least for me, they only got their shit together vocally once they had already played all of my favorite songs.

One aspect that I do have to give them considerable praise for, however, is the fact that if you look at their setlists from this summer, at least for the past ten gigs or so, there hasn’t been a single repeat set. Every show has featured a differing mix of hits and covers, and I was fortunate enough to get to hear everything I wanted to hear, which isn’t always the case at shows like this.

Overall? I think if you like the band, you’ll like them live. The music holds the standard you’d hope for, and the energy is easily enough if you’re too busy dancing to give them your full attention, and at least on this occasion, most of the people in the crowd fell into that category. I do hope they clean up the vocals a bit, but otherwise, it was worth the one-time go. For myself personally? I doubt I’d go again, but I’m glad I went this once.

Tracklist:
1. Intro Jam
2. Around the World
3. Dani California
4. Scar Tissue
5. Dark Necessities
6. Wet Sand
7. Me & My Friends
8. Go Robot
9. Californication
10. What is Soul (Funkadelic cover)
11. Aeroplane
12. Blood Sugar Sex Magik
13. Sick Love
14. Suck My Kiss
15. Soul to Squeeze
16. By the Way

Encore:
17. Debaser (Pixies cover)
18. Goodbye Angels
19. Give it Away

Photos by Marco Manzi

SAUNA CLASSIC – Eteläpuisto, Tampere, 28-29.07.2017

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Sauna Classic in Tampere was introduced as a successor to the late Sauna Open Air and celebrated for the first time on July 28-29th, 2017. We were curious to see this smaller-scale version, which was advertised as a ‘Heavy Metal Garden Party’, and it did sound very promising with a line-up consisting of some great Finnish bands. Mira and Lene set off to Eteläpuisto to find out if the garden party lived up to its name, and what kind of a show Turisas, Brother Firetribe, Stratovarius, and Ensiferum, among others, would put on for the party people!

Be sure to check out the galleries from Day 1 and Day 2!

 

Day 1 – Friday

One Desire

Lene: While waiting for the other half of our crew to arrive, I checked out One Desire, the newcomers from the west coast. They released their first, self-titled album last March, and play catchy, Reckless Love -like hard rock with some hints of ‘Brother Firetribeness’, for lack of a more descriptive word. The group features members from, for example, Cain’s Offering and the teen metal sensation from a few years back, Sturm und Drang, so they’re not exactly newcomers in the usual sense. However, because of the latter band I mentioned, I did have my preconceptions towards them. On listening to their debut before the festival, I was more than a little skeptical as to whether singer André Linman would be able to pull off the songs nicely, but turns out that he sounds more pleasing live. It makes one wonder why on earth the lead vocals on the album were deep-fried in autotune, but I guess that’s a whole other story. The song material itself is nothing new or special in the scene – in fact, it used pretty much every trick in the AOR book – but the tracks can and will get stuck in your head like bubblegum in your hair. All kidding aside, this bunch was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise to catch live. Linman’s lengthy speeches were amusing, as he expressed in a heartfelt manner how nice it was to play in Tampere again, and took his time to introduce the band, with no jokes left behind from that. I indeed had my doubts but the band left an overall good impression, and I especially enjoyed how the last track of the set, “Buried Alive”, sounded live, being more purely heavy metal than easy-listening hard rock. It’s always nice to get surprised like this, and I hope to hear more catchy tunes with less autotune from these guys in the future.

Shiraz Lane

Mira: As I finally made my way to the festival site, the garden party atmosphere got to me right away. I had a little time to stroll around before Shiraz Lane hit the stage and the festival area seemed to be very cozy. People were hanging out here and there, some in the bar by the lake, some sitting on the grass enjoying their drinks and, of course, a bunch of people were waiting in front of the stage. Personally, I didn’t know much about the band; I only had a vague idea about their style and genre. It was actually quite fun to see the band without knowing what to expect. And damn, if I wasn’t positively surprised! As the band members are quite young, they had the most amazing energy! The boys seemed to enjoy themselves on stage and the audience was having a blast. It might have rained a little at some point, but in the end, it bothered absolutely no one, or if it did, we didn’t notice. The way the band got the audience to jump and sing along was quite brilliant. Towards the end of the set, bassist Joel Alex hopped down from the stage to mingle with the audience in front of the stage, and also went to say hi to the people lounging in the beach bar. The perks of a small festival areas!

New Jersey

The second stage, Cover Garden, was located in the bigger bar area and provided some rather enjoyable background noise for hanging out between the bands on main stage. It almost felt like there were bands playing in your own backyard – as confusing as it was at first, it really was kind of cool. What we saw on Cover Garden stage, was Dear Victims making their tribute to KISS, and New Jersey getting the crowd to sing along to the hits of Bon Jovi. And there were some seriously loud and impressive singalongs happening! Festivals have been getting more into cover/tribute bands in the past couple of years and they do seem to make people gravitate towards smaller stages, as we have noticed at a few festivals. The stage might have been tiny but the songs played there certainly were not. We certainly appreciated the concept of the Cover Garden.

Ensiferum

After a pleasant hang-out in the Cover Garden we headed back toward the main stage where Ensiferum was up next. When it comes to Ensiferum live, they very rarely let you down, and this gig was no exception. There were some backing track mishaps right after the intro, and after a little bit of more or less confused shuffling, the band re-entered the stage in a true ‘like a boss’ manner. The set opener, ”From Afar”, got the audience right on track and during ”Ahti” there was a mini-moshpit – an impressive mini-moshpit, to be exact. ”Stone Cold Metal” and the dish brushes as drumsticks had made a comeback this summer, and yes, the song works ever so nicely! The setlist was leaning a little on the heavier side and the songs were gathered from all of their albums. Solo-wise you can’t not mention Netta Skog and her accordion; what is a Finnish summer festival without ”Säkkijärven Polkka?” – and a very speedy version of it, no less. Naturally, a metal gig needs a bit of disco, which was provided in the form of ”Two of Spades.” The band was having a blast with it and that song never fails to elicit a smile – it might not be a masterpiece but it certainly is very entertaining. ”Lai Lai Hei” ended the set, and as cliché as the song might be, it still works after all these years. Since it’s been taking a break from the regular setlist, it was a nice addition to the festival edition.

Brother Firetribe

The headliner for Friday was Brother Firetribe, who have been celebrating their 15th anniversary and their latest album, Sunbound, that came out earlier this year. While a lot of the festival-goers had been scattered all over the festival area throughout the day, at this point the front of the main stage was packed. The set was built around the new material with some appearances of oldies, such as ”One Single Breath”, ”I’m on Fire”, and ”Heart Full of Fire.” As I had completely neglected to listen to Sunbound, I didn’t know what to expect from the new stuff. And as much as I am digging the older BFT, the new songs did not disappoint. Tracks that stood out for me were ”Shock” and ”Last Forever”, the latter being very classic Brother Firetribe. Since it was late enough in the summer, it was actually dark enough for the lights and smoke effects to be seen properly and weren’t they neat! The only downside was the wind, which kind of ruined the smoke effects a bit, but they were cool nevertheless. The energy on stage was on point, the audience was swimming in good vibes, and the interaction between the band members was, to put it simply, adorable. There was quite a lot of interaction with the audience as well and it seems that singer Pekka Heino hears the most random stuff from the audience and isn’t afraid to comment on it. The set ended with the oldie but goodie, ”I am Rock”, which ended up being stuck in my head for days afterwards. Nothing to complain about though – the song is great. One more notion we had about Brother Firetribe while walking toward the gates to avoid the crowd, was that their outro was clearly the most epic we had heard this summer. Not a bad way to end the night, right?

 

Day 2 – Saturday

Kill With Cover

The second day of the festival started bright and early for us, as the Finnish summer showed us its best side with sunshine and delicious warmth, and early for us as we headed to see the opening act of Cover Garden. We missed most of the Kill With Cover – in their own words, the most ultimate Manowar tribute band in the world – gig in Nummirock and we felt that we need to see full set from them. When I arrived to the festival area, the first thing I saw was a butt. A bare butt, mind you. Yes, this is important to mention, because the drummer of Kill With Cover wears assless leather chaps and a thong on stage, and naturally, the rest of the band was also wearing leather in true Manowar fashion. There were a handful of people ready to witness the true metal in all its glory, and they seemed to be really into it. Even though we’re not too familiar with Manowar, the gig was entertaining and the songs weren’t bad at all. ”Kings of Metal” got the audience quite excited. I have to say though, that for a Manowar tribute, Kill With Cover did not play loud enough, due to sound restrictions. According to Kill With Cover, we were all there for three reasons: booze, sex, and heavy fucking metal. It’s quite hard to argue with that when there are bubbles floating around. Yes, they had a bubble machine, and you can’t get more metal than that!

Run For Cover

After all that ‘true metal,’ it was time for the opening band of the main stage. Run for Cover, fronted by the very talented Netta Laurenne, was the only cover band on the main stage, and they also were only one of the cover bands who didn’t stick with just one band. And really, you can’t go wrong with such classics as Dio, Deep Purple, and Pantera. Their Dream Theater cover was a bit of an unexpected one, since you don’t hear Dream Theater covers too often. At this point, Sauna Classic was totally living up to its name with the heat and classic songs played on stage by amazing musicians such as Rolf Pilve [Stratovarius, Status Minor], Teemu Mäntysaari [Wintersun], Tuomas Yli-Jaskari [Tracedawn], and Vili Itäpelto. With such people on stage, you can expect nothing less than amazingness, and that’s exactly what we got. And it can’t be mentioned too often, that beyond her energetic stage presence, Netta’s sound truly is something else!

Cover Garden turned out to be as good a hang out place as it was on Friday, despite a bit heavier rain. There truly was something fun in it – yes, I’m saying that the rain was fun – while Luca Fly played ”Thunderstruck”, ”Highway to Hell”, and other AC/DC hits. People were bundled up under the trees and bar and food tents, but everyone seemed very cozy. And luckily, the rain didn’t bother us for too long and the party was up again. On both days, there were jam-based 80’s karaoke where anyone could hop up on the stage and sing some classics with a live band. The funny part was that it really wasn’t a karaoke since you had no screens to help you with the lyrics but, man, there were some brilliant performances by the festival-goers. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that, so respect and kudos to all of the people who did so! My personal favorite of the Cover Garden gigs was Iron Mates ft. Taage Laiho doing justice to Iron Maiden songs. Absolutely fantastic!

Omnium Gatherum

The first non-cover act of our day was Omnium Gatherum, with their only festival show in Finland this summer. They broke the line-up’s folk-y and power-y vibe, which is right up my alley, with their melodic death metal. When the line-up was announced I wasn’t too excited about them, and I never gave them much attention since I thought that they wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I had seen them live once before, and as I remember, I mainly thought that they’re okay as a support band. This time, maybe it was the festival magic, but something clicked in my head and I was truly enjoying myself and the music. The setlist seemed to be built around the latest album, Grey Heavens, and some songs that stood out were ”Skyline” and ”Storm Front.” The audience was very much into the gig and it truly showed on stage. The amount of love that went back and forth was great. All the smiling faces – not to mention singer Jukka Pelkonen and his bright and bubbly personality – on stage were somewhat clashing with the music, and the melancholy of it, but I found that absolutely brilliant. There was a lot of guitar wankery (in a good way) and loads of great energy. At some point I found myself sitting by the lake, just looking at nothing, and truly feeling the music. And yes, after seeing Omnium Gatherum live again, they are becoming my cup of tea.

Turisas

Turisas was something we had been looking forward to. It had been a while since they last played in Finland, and the setlist from other shows this summer was looking very exciting. Their second album, The Varangian Way, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – what better way to celebrate an album than playing it in all its glory? Aside from the set and show in general, we were quite interested to see how Turisas were going to fit on such a small stage. It was quite tiny, especially for a main stage, and Turisas tends to be huge and somewhat dramatic, but as you would expect from any great live band, they made it work. Turisas is one of my all-time favorite live bands, and they delivered once again. “To Holmgard and Beyond” worked like magic as a set opener and the audience was enjoying themselves from the beginning. Obviously, the highlights were the songs that you don’t hear live that much – “Cursed be Iron” has been out of the setlist for quite some time and same goes for “In the Court of Jarisleif” which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songs that Mathias Nygård has ever created. There was even a proper party pit going on! And not only during that particular song – it was an hour of intense partying. I could keep rambling about the set being amazing from the start to finish, but I think that you got the memo already. They did exclude ”Rasputin”, which is in fact a bonus track on the album, and that was a shame – yes, they might be a bit done with it, but it would have fit the anniversary set. While ”Miklagard Overture” would’ve been a great song to end with, they treated us with one more song which was none other than the very anthem-esque ”Stand Up And Fight.” In conclusion, The Varangian Way is an amazing album, and Turisas still haven’t lost their game when it comes to live performances.

Stratovarius

Stratovarius had the honor to headline Saturday night and wrap up the festival. As appeared to be the overall trend of the weekend, they did put on a nice show as well. I have seen my fair share of Stratovarius shows and can honestly say that their live quality is very consistent. Like on Friday, most of the festival-goers made their way from all over the festival area to the main stage for the headliner. The atmosphere was good, the weather was back to lovely, and there was nothing much to complain about. Setlist-wise, there wasn’t anything too exciting – hit after hit, more or less. While it’s nicer to have the well-known songs on the festival set, a little change probably wouldn’t hurt. Luckily though, a rare treat came in the form of ”Visions.” Usually Stratovarius is quite fond of all kinds of solos but this time the only one was the keyboard solo by Jens Johansson that lead to ”Black Diamond.” When it comes to older and newer material, it was quite close to 50-50, so there was something for everyone! ”Coming Home” brought me back in time properly, since my love for festivals originally started from that very same place 10 years ago. Being back in Eteläpuisto at a festival under the name of Sauna, it truly felt like coming home. As it tends to be a tradition nowadays, the set and the festival ended with ”Hunting High and Low.” Can’t go wrong with that, and the audience seemed to agree, if the volume of singing and screaming is anything to go by!

 

In general, the first Sauna Classic was a success. We have no complaints about the way it was organized – the Eteläpuisto park area was as lovely as it’s always been, and the way things – such as stages and bar and food areas – were set up worked nicely. There were hardly any queues, even though the food and beverage stalls were in good use all of the time. The FOH booth did cause some difficulties if you wanted to see the main stage from the main bar, but it was easily avoided by moving one’s butt a little. The lake view is always a nice addition to a festival area, as it makes everything feel a bit more summer-y.

On food side of things, there was a good selection to choose from for a small festival. Two café booths catered for the ones looking for hot beverages, sweet stuff, and little snacks, as well as the Ruisherkku booth that serves their rye-bread based snacks at several festivals. In the bar area, you could get burgers and hot dogs from Public House Huurre’s booth – both vegan and meat versions. On Friday, we tried out the vegan wrap from Tönö café (good, but not quite excellent), and were planning on getting vegan burgers on Saturday, but due to its popularity, only vegan hot dogs were left, so we went for the pork neck burger instead. From the omnivorous point of view, we weren’t disappointed – Lene named it the best festival burger this year, so we do recommend checking out Public House Huurre in Tampere! Another pleasant note about bar area was that the beers from two local breweries were the same price as the regular bulk option, and we hope to see that at other festivals in the future as well.

 

To conclude, even though the audience needed to take a little time to adjust to the concept of the festival, the garden party atmosphere was well achieved on Saturday at the latest, and well enjoyed too. We truly had a blast, and would definitely go again!

Text: Mira Penttilä, Lene L. | Photos: Lene L.

SAUNA CLASSIC – Day 2 @ Eteläpuisto, Tampere, 29.07.2017

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Day 2 of Sauna Classic in Tampere, 2017.
Photos by Lene L.
Check out the photos from day 1 HERE.
Stay tuned for the festival report tomorrow!

SAUNA CLASSIC – Day 1 @ Eteläpuisto, Tampere, 28.07.2017

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Day 1 of Sauna Classic in Tampere, 2017.
Photos by Lene L.
Check out the photos from day 2 tomorrow.
Stay tuned for the festival report the day after!

(2017) Shaman’s Harvest: Red Hands Black Deeds

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Artist: Shaman’s Harvest
Album: Red Hands Black Deeds
Release: 28.07.2017
Label: Mascot Label Group

 

This album showed up in the mail a few weeks ago, and has been sitting on my desk ever since. I’ve never heard of the band, had no idea what genre they were, and no idea when the album was coming out. It got buried in a pile of things, as my computer does not have a disc drive; I tend to build up a stack of albums before firing up my ancient and abysmally slow older computer for the sole purpose of ripping CDs. And so, a few days ago, when I finally ripped my latest pile, I threw the album on. Usually these unfamiliar albums get nothing more than one listen, and then if it doesn’t catch my attention, it goes back into the pile and never resurfaces. So it already says something, since I’m writing right now. As it turned out, I had a few days before the release day still, and so I thought it was worth a review.

So who and what are Shaman’s Harvest? They’re an alternative rock band from Missouri, USA, formed by Matt Fisher (bass), Nathan “Drake” Hunt (vocals), and Josh Hamler (rhythm guitar) all the way back in 1996. They’ve cycled though a handful of lead guitarists and a plethora of drummers before arriving at their current lineup back in 2015, and this is their first album since 2014.

 

As for the album itself, what can I say? I was very impressed. I listen to very little alternative music these days, which is intentional but also somewhat a shame. My familiarity with alternative rock is entirely linked to the 90s – bands like The Tea Party, Moist, Bush (X), Alice in Chains, No Doubt, and Garbage were never passions, but always bands that I very much enjoyed in my youth, in my pre-pop and post-country era.

Red Hands Black Deeds has a very nice collection of songs that remind me about what’s great about alternative music. The title track is only 2:13 long, with a slow build-up, functioning largely as an atmospheric intro track, marching along with little backing music and focusing on the droning vocals, with a bit of simple guitar adding emphasis in the background. There are some elements of country in Hunt’s vocals, which I appreciate, as it makes it sound a bit western.

They speed things up immediately with “Broken Ones”, a song that sounds like it was designed to be a single. The song makes interesting use of layered vocals and grungy guitars, metaphorically referencing Icarus flying too close to the sun. You can imagine my amusement when I found out that the day before I first listened to the album, this had been released:

Okay, it’s not necessarily a single, but it was the first release. The song does feel like an obvious single though, sounding a bit like a generic alternative song, and while not by any means a bad song, it’s definitely my least favorite. The lyrics might be a bit political too, which I can’t deny that I enjoy. If you want something more my speed though, try the first official actual single, “The Come Up”, which has nice riffing and a really catchy tune, while coming across as less aggressive and generic than the previous track. Plus, it has a nice solo. At this point, it became evident that there is also a female vocalist in the backing vocals, though I can’t say I could find out who she was. This is a nice, positive response to depression, as opposed to a lot of the negative stuff in out there these days.

The first ballad of the album follows in “A Longer View”, which again shows off the gentler side of alternative, with softer vocals without any distortion like in the previous track, but still plenty of power and dynamics as it builds up towards the end. “Soul Crusher” immediately brings in a more funky rhythm, showing stylistic variety, and Hunt is not afraid to try some different singing styles – in this one it’s a nice execution of some rapidly-sung lines.

The band then takes a more country-style turn with “Off the Tracks” and starts up with a good old stompin’ beat, that then almost switches to a punk rhythm in the chorus. The guitarists are not afraid to make bountiful use of the whammy bar either. Lyrically, this one sounds a little dirty, from what I can gather, wink wink.

If this hasn’t been enough stylistic experimentation, “Long Way Home” feels a bit bluesy in style, slow in speed with no drums or bass in the beginning, before turning things up in the chorus. I wish I knew more technical terms to describe the styles used in this song, but let’s just say that there are a few familiar sounds and they put them together nicely. Also, there’s a little bit of 70s-style keyboard floating in the background here as well.

A slow, ambient intro precedes “The Devil in Our Wake”, building up into a surprisingly heavy guitar line (with a bit of shred mixed in here and there) and some strong, deep vocals. It then goes full alternative in the chorus and reminds me of everything I loved about alternative back in the 90s without sounding too obvious. This is definitely another personal favorite, and I’m missing the word to describe the vocal style Hunt uses this, but I really love it. On my first listen-through I found myself dancing along in my chair before I even realized I was doing it. That’s the sign of a good song right there.

The bass is featured in the intro to the interestingly-titled “Blood Trophies”, with some gentle chords to accompany them until Hunt comes in. This mid-tempo track has some funky riffs and a subtle warbling effect on the vocals in the verses. There are hints of The Eagles -style classic rock and even stoner rock riffing in this. Sharp, repeated notes open up “So Long”, taking it in yet another direction, including yet another catchy chorus that’s begging for a singalong during live shows.

“Tusk and Bone” is another slower track, guitar-driven with some mildly warbling vocals, which takes the album’s speed down a level as it heads towards the end. The acoustic guitar is particularly nice, with damping and tapping interspersed throughout, and there’s a hint of country in the vocals. It’s a bit reminiscent in feel of “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, if that song kicked up later on – the song has a very passionate solo towards the end that builds things up to an excellent climax before the vocals take it to fade out. Another soft, atmospheric piece, “Scavengers”, which again has that wild west feel to it (similar to the vibe in the opener) then acts as the closer, making the album feel like one cohesive unit.

Oh, but don’t forget to listen to the song at the end of the album, which I have gone ahead and entitled “Hookers and Blow”, which is straight-up country and pretty hilarious. I missed it twice because I was so enthusiastically restarting the album when the last song faded out, but on the third time I found it and had a good laugh.

 

So indeed, Red Hands Black Deeds turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! The vocals and guitarwork particularly shine on this very diverse piece, with enjoyable riffing and a variety of singing styles. They have no shortage of genre inspirations and aren’t afraid to blend them – they take some risks with it, but I can’t say that I think they fail in any of their efforts. You can easily rock out to and/or dance along with most of the songs on the album. The only real failing for me was the first release, as it was the most ‘standard’ song, with nothing new or interesting in it, feeling like every other alternative song ever. However, honestly, I can’t say if I’ve ever really been ‘into’ an alternative album before, so this might be a first for me, and that certainly says something! Well done!

Rating: 9.5/10, 5 stars

Tracklist:
1. Red Hands Black Deeds
2. Broken Ones
3. The Come Up
4. A Longer View
5. Soul Crusher
6. Off the Tracks
7. Long Way Home
8. The Devil in Our Wake
9. Blood Trophies
10. So Long
11. Tusk and Bone
12. Scavengers

JOHN SMITH FESTIVAL – Peurunka, Laukaa, 21-22.07.2017

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For the second year in a row, we made the trip to Central Finland to see what the good people at John Smith Festival had cooked up. Armed with raincoats and caffeine, we survived the terrible weather and long days, and brought you back a detailed report of what went down on July 21-22nd – what was great and what the festival could do better next time. Read up what Sara wrote about Friday, and what Lene had to say about Saturday!

Check out the galleries from day 1 and day 2 as well!

 

Friday – Day 1

The recurring theme for our weekend getaway was weather: when we left for our trip, it was bright and pretty, even hot, but the minute we arrived in Jyväskylä, we were greeted with a happy hailstorm. Needless to say, we were royally soaked while switching buses to Laukaa in spite of our raincoats, and unfortunately the rain didn’t stop in between either. So, upon our arrival to the festival site, we were more than happy to notice that some of the spa hotel’s faciloties were free to use for festival goers, and took a little breather indoors before heading down to the park area for the first bands.

Dynazty

The first to step on stage were the guys of Dynazty, a Swedish powerhouse fronted by a man with all the hair, Nils Molin (who now also sings clean vocals with Amaranthe, replacing Jake E.). Established in Stockholm in 2007, Dynazty has released five albums and even participated in Melodifestivalen in 2011 and 2012. My introduction to Dynazty was when they released a single, “The Human Paradox”, from their latest album, Titanic Mass, in spring 2016. I kept hearing the song on Radio Rock and each time I was hooked. After seeing Molin perform with Amaranthe this previous spring, I knew I wanted to see how he performs songs he’s more familiar with. I wasn’t disappointed. From the very first song, “Run Amok”, all five guys were pumped and ready to entertain. Even though it was raining cats and dogs at this point, it didn’t matter – the area in front of the Soundi stage was busy and the crowd was having a blast. Dynazty had chosen a good variety of songs from their albums, each song showcasing their talents: catchy riffs, fast guitars, and impressive singing. The title song from Titanic Mass had everyone with their fists in the air singing, “FIRE, FLAMES, FURY,” and by the last song, “Starlight”, I was hoping to hear more, and I bet I wasn’t the only one. The guys spiced up their set with Molin’s hip movements and hair tosses, drummer George Egg’s enthusiastic facial expressions, and bassist Jonathan Olsson’s bass solos. All-in-all it was an excellent start to the day.

Before the Dawn

Next up, kicking things off on the City Stage was Before the Dawn. Formed by one-man Finnish metal phenomenon Tuomas Saukkonen, the band called it quits in 2013, but returned to the scene to play this special one-time show at John Smith. Personally I wasn’t at all familiar with this band and was excited to find out what they would bring to us. I quickly learned that the band has gone through many changes over the years and their road has been a bit rocky. Lars Eikind, who had left the band in 2011 and returned to play this gig with his former band members, quickly announced that this would be his last time performing with Before the Dawn and he was grateful so many people had arrived (some even from abroad) to witness this particular show. Like I said, I hadn’t heard any of their material before, so it was quite bittersweet to see them for the first AND the last time. Style-wise, Before the Dawn isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I found myself enjoying some the songs with Eikind’s clean vocals, such as “Faithless.” Due to Eikind’s presence, they played songs from the albums where his singing plays a role. They finished off their set with an emotional “Deadsong” and some lucky person got a souvenir when Eikind threw his signature cap into the crowd.

S-tool

It was then back to the Soundi stage and ready for S-tool. I’ve always been a fan of Ville Laihiala’s voice and I’m pretty sure I would find myself listening to anything he comes up with. He brings that special something with his singing and I’ve always enjoyed listening to him. I’d seen Poisonblack live plenty of times, and after hearing comments about S-tool’s songs, I was looking forward to hearing if they were as similar sound-wise as people said. I wasn’t expecting to see Poisonblack and I’m very glad I got S-tool instead. Yes, the songs resemble some of the material Laihiala has released before, but it could be just because of his style of singing and his trademark guitar sound. S-tool is gruff, even a bit dirty. It’s hard and fast and fun to watch. At this point even the rain stopped and let us fully enjoy the band. The guys entertained us with their singles “Shovel Man” and “Hammering”, and also played some new songs from their upcoming debut album. Midway through the set, Laihiala started playing the intro to “Noose”, the Sentenced classic. This had everyone in the crowd going absolutely crazy, but Laihiala cut it short and just said it was in memory of the late Miika Tenkula. As we had heard the news of the Linkin Park singer’s passing only the day before, this hit me in the heart. Luckily Laihiala lightened things up with his running commentary and his thank you to Will Smith (John Smith Festival), had everyone cracking up. Thanking his band mates, he pointed out that if he was a member of the opposite sex, he would very much like to have premarital relationship quarrels with his beautiful drummer, Aksu Hanttu. The crowd gave extra applause to their bassist, Kimmo Hiltunen, who called himself a one-legged Donald Duck as he was on stage with broken toes covered in a big boot. I wouldn’t have noticed, as they were all having a blast. When it was time to play the last song, Laihiala said this would be the time his friend would tell him, “Go get some pizza and then beat off” [Hae pizza ja lähe runkkaan]. In my opinion it was the perfect finish to an entertaining show.

Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus

Another band I didn’t know much about was Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus. Like any Finn, I had obviously heard the name of the band, but I wasn’t familiar with their material. I made the conscious choice to stay further back in the crowd, wanting a fuller experience. Since this show was part of their comeback tour, after calling it quits in 2004, it was no surprise almost everyone at the festival area showed up for this particular event. Timo Rautiainen and his fellow musicians commanded the stage from the very first second and the crowd was singing along as loud as they could. They played a lot of their old classics like “Rajaton rakkaus”, “Elegia”, “Nyt on mies!” and even spiced things up with some pyrotechnics. We also heard a song from the upcoming album called “Suomi sata vuotta.” Unfortunately, towards the end of the set, the electricity was cut from the stage midway through “Pitkän kaavan mukaan.” At first the crowd was trying to make up for it by singing the lyrics, but they gave up after a while. For a second it looked like that was it and some people left the stage area. In about 15 minutes, the power was back on and the band was back on stage! We were rewarded with a couple more songs, with the first being “Lumessakahlaajat.” When the final notes of “Viimeinen päivä taivaan?” drifted off and the crowd roared, I couldn’t help but feel that I had witnessed something quite special. That right there is the reason why Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus came back.

Delain

Closing things up on the Soundi stage and ending our first day was the Dutch Delain. Personally, I’ve been a fan of the band since 2010, mostly because of Marco Hietala and his appearance on their April Rain album, which was released the year before. Since April Rain, I’ve enjoyed their music and I’ve been sad that they don’t tour in Finland. I was able to see them live for the first time in London a few years back, when they supported Sabaton. Maybe it was the fact that they were a supporting act or maybe their setlist was off, but back then I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I thought I would. So going to John Smith I was a bit skeptical, but also ready to give their live performance another chance. And this time they delivered! From the very first song, the opening track, “Hands of Gold”, from their latest album, Moonbathers, the energy level was high and stayed there throughout the show. Next up we heard the first single from Moonbathers, “Suckerpunch”, and it was followed by another track from the new album, “The Glory and the Scum.” After the introduction to their new album, the crowd was treated to some of their older songs, such as “Get the Devil Out of Me” and my personal favorite, “Army of Dolls.” Singer Charlotte Wessels did a great job of engaging with the audience, while jumping up and down on stage. By “The Gathering”, almost everyone was jumping with her, myself included. During “Hurricane” and “Pristine”, Delain slowed it down and let us enjoy Wessel’s gorgeous voice, which to me sounds almost as good live as recorded. I would very much like to be able to headbang while I sing flawlessly, so kudos to her! A short intermission had me scared that the show was already over, but luckily the intro to “Mother Machine” started playing and we were rewarded with more of their older material. “Don’t Let Go” and “We Are the Others” closed out the energetic show, and I for one can’t wait for them to return to Finland.

 

Saturday – Day 2

Psychework

Like in Nummirock this year, we started our second day of John Smith with the melodic metallers of Psychework. Introduced as “definitely not a local band” (with band members coming from neighboring towns), the six-piece kicked off their game with “Tear of the Phoenix.” Besides moving that track up front, the setlist followed the same trail as their Nummi set, only leaving out the unreleased track “Reflection Unknown.” As opposed to Nummirock, the weather seemed to be favoring the band at first with lovely sunshine, but lo and behold – the skies opened up right at the end of their third song and it was more or less pouring for the rest of the set and then some, threatening to be too much for our raincoats. Speaking of which, we want to give a big round of applause to the audience and especially the front row, who stayed in their spots the whole gig, singing along and enjoying the show no matter what was coming down from the sky. Some real troopers there! With the same attitude, Psychework surely delivered, as they played an unfalteringly energetic set, perhaps even with a dash more vigor than usual. Even when there’s no extra shenanigans or specialties in their gig, they are always a joy to see, especially if you need a little pick-me-up (which some certainly do on the second or third day of festivals). In general, Psychework won’t fail to get you psyched about seeing live shows – and no, I have no intention of apologizing for that pun.

Antony Parviainen Trio ft. Marco Hietala and Tuple Salmela

Antony Parviainen Trio – though not exactly a trio that evening – was our next pick after surviving the worst of what the weather had to offer that day, and it was soon clear that we had discovered the hidden gem of the festival. Reinforced with Marco Hietala [Nightwish, Tarot] and Tuple Salmela [Tarot, Lazy Bonez], the band played a set of classics ranging from Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark” to Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years”, seasoned with some tracks that are more rarely heard on troubadour-type gigs. What made the show so much more than a regular troubadour gig was, without a doubt, the vocal performances by Parviainen, Hietala, and Salmela. The harmonies the three singers belted out were nothing short of astonishing, and the impeccable quality of the singing alone would had been a reason enough to see them, but the combination of acoustic and electric guitars, cello, drums, and a double bass with their voices cooked up a combination that was simply irresistible. For instance, in the sense of enjoying the vocal rendition, Tarot’s “I Walk Forever” left us in awe. The untimely passing of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell before him seemed to be looming over the whole weekend, as after “Wasted Years” Hietala spoke of the sad fates musicians have faced, some more lately, and continued the set with Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” The Cult’s “Fire Woman” spiced things up as a more purely fun-time piece, but we would still need to give the honor of being our favorite to Nightwish’s “The Islander”, where the cello especially got a good moment in the spotlight. We hated to be in such a rush for the next band that we missed the last song, but “The Islander” made up for that with ease. The only downside we could think of was that the gig took place in the VIP tent, which restricted the regular festival goers from going to see it, and that was truly a shame – as intimate as it was like this, these kinds of things are best shared.

Therapy?

The rush wasn’t all in vain, though: the Northern-Ireland based cross-section of genres, Therapy?, was my choice of previously unfamiliar bands at John Smith; by the end of their set, they were my new favorite thing to come from the Emerald Island. I mean, if a band starts their show by making the crowd shout, “Fuck you Donald Trump!”, the rest just needs to be good – and my oh my, was it even! In short, Therapy?’s sound and songs were a perfect match to my affinity towards punk, post-punk, and grunge, so I would have been sold by that alone, but they also turned out to be a joyful bunch on stage. Having been around since 1989, they are great proof that you don’t stop being punk when you get older, and I can only wish that I could be as punk as they are at the same age! I’ll also give them points for the most creative clapping and chanting any band made the audience do on Saturday, including bits like “Neil, Neil, drum like a motherfucker!” to cheer drummer Neil Cooper on. The crowd, of course, was clearly into it, allowing for a few singalongs: I may have had a lump in my throat when the audience chanted “I can’t remember” during “Die Laughing”, which was dedicated to Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. At the end of the set, I caught myself thinking that Therapy?’s riot of a show truly made me wish they had been a part of my teenage years, so take that as you may. While they finished off with songs I was happy to recognize, “Nowhere” and “Screamager”, I decided that it’s still better to get on this train later than never.

Children of Bodom

The next band to take over the main stage was good old Children of Bodom, whom I had more or less skipped last year at Nummirock. They’re one of those bands I used to listen to a ton some 10 years ago, but lost my interest along the way. With this in mind, their 20th anniversary retro set was the best possible opportunity to catch them, and was nothing short of awesome – there was no song newer than the Hate Crew Deathroll album. It a setlist comprised of oldies and goldies, hit after hit after hit. What’s not to love about that? The audience seemed to agree with us 100%, and I’m willing to bet I was definitely not the only one on a wheel trip to their teenage years. On that note, it was great to watch other people my age and older singing along to the same songs I still remembered the words to (much to my surprise) after not listening to them for years, or recalling exactly how the solos went; shared memories are indeed the best kind. Alexi Laiho’s speeches may make one chuckle a bit after reaching a certain age, but I know that teenage me would have just been like, “Fuck yeah!”, shouting along. In order to not use my space entirely on praising the excellent atmosphere and bathing in nostalgia, I’ll need to add that Children of Bodom earned the title of visually most pleasing main stage band of the day – they had brought their own huge lights, that along with the stage’s lights, painted almost watercolor-like hues on everything. And, after the last notes of “Walking Towards Dead End” had faded into the evening, the crowd was treated with the sight of fireworks from the shore, which on the other hand was slightly anticlimactic, since there were still bands left to play. But all-in-all, Children of Bodom’s nostalgia trip was a delight to experience.

Sonata Arctica

As was the case with Children of Bodom, while I’m not too inclined to see Sonata Arctica on any given occasion these days, it’s interesting to see how my childhood favorites are holding up every now and then. The night had rapidly fallen over the festival area, which made for nice mood lighting wherever there were light bulb strings sitting on fences and hanging from trees, but in all honesty, the headliner starting their set at 00:30 is a little bit late. That, however, didn’t seem to affect the audience in front of the main stage, at least not by much. It’s probably safe to say that Sonata Arctica shows haven’t really changed a lot in the past 7 years or so; if you’ve been to more than two or three, it’s easy to predict what will happen next, and that was the case in John Smith as well. Setlist-wise, I confess to not having listened to the latest album with proper attention, so I don’t have much to say about its tracks. While the new songs may not be utter masterpieces in their repertoire, the band knows how to produce them live; that’s pretty much a given. What really disappointed me was the realization of how right I had been when I had guessed they would play exactly the most predictable, boring selection of old songs everyone would expect them playing – with one exception. It had been 11 years since I last heard “Misplaced” live, and even though it didn’t quite reach the level of greatness it should’ve (or the silver lining provided by nostalgia), it had been so dearly missed over the years that it made up for quite a lot in a not-so-top-notch gig. And in spite of everything, it’s entertaining to watch Sonata put on a show on a big stage for a big crowd – and most of the audience seemed to enjoy it, so we’ll let this one pass.

 

Regarding the overall festival experience, we deem John Smith Festival to be quite a good one. No event can predict weather or stop it from being awful, but as John Smith was arranged in the park of Spa Hotel Peurunka, the regular festival goers also had the chance to get indoors when the heavy rain was a tad too much, charge their phones, and so on, which is definitely a plus. Unfortunately, the rain forced us to skip some bands, but we still managed to have a good time, as did seemingly everyone else. The park area and scenery across the lake, at least when it wasn’t raining, were lovely, and having a K18-event had its upside as the area wasn’t abruptly cut by fences, nor did it separate the audience so much. Of course, with a line-up like that, John Smith would likely attract quite a few minors as well, but if we once agree that it’s kind of nice to have an event only for people of legal age, that’s probably not too bad. One more thing we’ll need to give some praise for is the selection of food: most, if not all, dietary needs were well met, the range of different options was impressive for a festival of this scale, and we have no complaints about the quality either.

What we do have some negative notions about were the schedules and logistics. While it is nice to have a large selection of bands, it does lose a bit of the point when some of the gigs start at 02:00 in the morning, because at that point you’re bound to be a bit too tired to enjoy them so much anymore, if you even bother to watch them at all. In Nummirock, that kind of thing works, since everyone will wander the 2 minute walk back to the camping area anyway, and even there, no band starts at 02:00. The schedule also meant that if you were staying in Jyväskylä, you probably would have been back there sometime before 05:00, as there were surprisingly few buses driving to and from (and all of them were jam-packed). We don’t regret staying back to see the afterparty show with Swallow the Sun and Juha Raivio’s return to their ranks on Saturday, but the nearly hour-and-a-half wait before we were in the city center of Jyväskylä instead of the half an hour (give or take) did make us question it a bit. On the topic of logistics, we heard that last year the car parking was considerably more accessible, which raised some eyebrows after wandering a good while through forest to the field serving as the parking lot on Friday evening. So while the festival itself left a positive impression, getting out of there could use some touch-ups.

To conclude, we do feel like coming back again next year – the ticket sales for John Smith Festival 2018 started at the site already on Saturday with a special batch, and the first band for the next edition, CyHra, was announced on the spot before Children of Bodom too. Here’s hoping we’ll see you there once again!

Text: Sara Kangasniemi, Lene L. | Photos: Lene L.

JOHN SMITH FESTIVAL – Day 2 @ Peurunka, Laukaa, 22.07.2017

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Day 2 of John Smith Festival in Laukaa, 2017.
Photos by Lene L.
Check out the photos from day 1 HERE.
And read the festival report HERE!

JOHN SMITH FESTIVAL – Day 1 @ Peurunka, Laukaa, 21.07.2017

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Day 1 of John Smith Festival in Laukaa, 2017.
Photos by Lene L.
Check out day 2 HERE.
And read the festival report HERE!

DARK HELSINKI – Who is In Strict Confidence?

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Earlier this year, Dark Helsinki planned to host a gig by Germany’s In Strict Confidence at Gloria in Helsinki. Unfortunately, due to illness, the show had to be postponed for several months. Rescheduled for September 23rd again Gloria, with Forgotten Sunrise and Kuroshio confirmed again as openers, its getting closer to the date! Hopefully this time, the show will go on no matter what, and if you want some more information on the bands, here is our mini-interview with In Strict Confidence about the upcoming show:

(You can read the same mini-interview from Forgotten Sunrise HERE and Kuroshio HERE).

 

1. First off, tell us a bit about yourselves?
We’re some naïve guys from Germany, doing music without knowing any notes, but love composing electronic sounds.

2. For anyone who hasn’t heard your music before, can tell us a little bit about your sound?
Music should not be talked about, should be listened to. Those who don’t know us, give it a try om the internet. If you like what you hear, come to the show and listen to some more – if you don’t like it, let’s still come anyway and have a drink with us.

3. Have you ever played in Finland before? If so, what’s your best/worst memory there? If not, is there anything you’re interested in or excited about in playing there?
Exactly 10 years ago we played our one and only show yet in Finland: Tampere. We still have a nice memories, when we think of it. Ok, it was very cold – but the nights were bright.

4. What do you think is going to be the highlight of the upcoming show?
The aftershow party? 😀

5. Do you have any last words for potential viewers about the upcoming shows?
Glad that after such a long time we can visit Finland again. Hope you will like this special setlist of our vintage-show. Remember, only songs older than 10 years will be performed. Acoustic time-traveling…

 

For details about the upcoming event, click HERE!
For tickets to the show, click HERE!
For details from the venue, click HERE!

LEPROUS – Einar Solberg, 2017

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The Norwegian prog masterminds Leprous are in full swing on tour and promoting their upcoming album, Malina. Hot off the heels of their appearance in Ilosaarirock, vocalist and synth player Einar Solberg was kind enough to extend us a phone call.

 

Hello?
Hello! You’ll never guess where I am!

I have no idea, dude…
I’m in a water park near Helsinki. All of Leprous is here, actually. What was it called…

Serena?
Yeah, that’s the one! [laughter]

I never thought of you guys as the waterpark-type.
You’d be surprised. I mean, we write melancholic music but we’re not that melancholic in our daily lives. The other guys are in the water right now.

I see, I’ll try not to keep you then.
No, I planned for this, it’s fine.

You guys just played Ilosaarirock. How did that go?
Really really nice! It’s a nice festival, very well organized. The staff was super nice and the location was just beautiful. It’s really nice for us to play something other than a metal or prog festival. This was something different. It was really cool.

So that’s what, two shows in Finland already this year?
Three! And we’re gonna do three more later.

Oh yeah, that’s right you did two with Devin and Between the Buried and Me before this. That was February.
Exactly!

I saw you in Helsinki – that show was amazing. The atmosphere in there was just electric!
Oh, thank you. Helsinki is one of our cult cities! Just following on Spotify, I think Helsinki has like the most streams of us, for some reason. We have a following there, that’s very nice.

Definitely. Seeing you live, your performances are always absolutely impeccable – you never miss a beat! And considering that it’s practically impossible to tap along to anything you do, so everyone’s mostly standing there in stunned silence.
Yeah, some of the songs are really rough time signatures live, but others are a bit more straightforward. We love the mix between simplicity and complexity – mellow and aggressive. Yeah, we’re a pretty dynamic band.

I would say so. You seem to always be on-key. I’m starting to notice a pattern of synth and/or piano players being very consistently on-key singers.
Maybe [laughs]. Maybe because, like guitars can more easily go out of tune. With the piano it’s something I’ve put a lot of work into; just finding the right balance. Sometimes I’ve been thinking that I’ve been singing perfectly in tune but then I listen to it afterwards and it’s not! Sometimes it’s just that I’ve been singing too loud. I think now I’ve found the right level – that it’s a little bit lower but not so low that I’d strain my voice. You know, people who generally sing in tune can always do that if they have all the proper conditions for it. Know what I mean?

Yeah, I know exactly! As a singer myself I’ve noticed you don’t always have to hear yourself. As long as you can hear at least some of the musical cues that can tell you where you’re supposed to be.
Yeah, exactly. And it helps us a lot that we’ve started using our own in-ear monitors. If you look closely, you can see that I have an iPad on stage. That’s my mixer, so I don’t need a monitor-technician.

Right, because it gives you direct control!
Yeah, and it gives you a lot of confidence for even those bad days. You know, how singers – almost all singers I know – are not confident [laughs].

No argument here. Before I get to the new album, I have to ask about Ihsahn. You know, a lot of us know you guys through him, as you guys are credited as his backing band. Besides that though, do you have any further involvement with him?
Nothing except that he’s, well, family to me! I’m also doing some shows with Emperor this summer and last year I did some Ihsahn shows. We still have a working relationship, mostly as friends helping each-other out a bit. On a regular basis, however, we do not work together.

Right, but it does to the listener seem like you guys have a lot of the same ways of thinking. So much so that I’m almost surprised you don’t literally work on the Ihsahn albums.
I have to disagree with you a bit there. I don’t think we have that similar of a sound these days. There are similarities, yes. But he’s more interested in that gritty, dark sound. Much more distorted guitars and that growl… We have kind of matured more into prog. We’re a bit more atmospheric with more alternative rock sounds while he’s still much more extreme metal. The thinking and how the compositions are made are also very different; I know that from playing in both of those bands.

There is a bit of the same, some integration. There are moments, like “Foe” from the album Coal. That sounds a lot like what Ihsahn was doing at the time. Aside from a few incidents like that, I think his latest album and ours are very different.

Getting into that upcoming album, Malina. I’ve been listening to it for a bit now and I’m really into it. It’s a bit of a departure from The Congregation. I’d say if The Congregation was prog metal then Malina would be more prog rock, wouldn’t you say?
Yeah, the sound has more elements from indie rock, but just sound-wise not composition-wise. The guitar sound especially is very clean. It’s a big change from The Congregation, where the sound was just kind of tight. This one is more open, more organic. It sounds more like we’re a band playing together.

Was that a conscious decision?
It didn’t start like that! We started with a vision of perfecting what we started with The Congregation. But then gradually we started to think it was the wrong direction. Eventually we just started following the vibe and gradually moved towards that open, atmospheric sound. There are some songs that could fit more on the last one, like “Captive” – it has that rhythm. Mostly it’s very different, though. The first thing on that album is “Bonneville”…

Yeah, the first time I heard that, in that first 15 seconds before your vocals started, I was sure they’d sent me the wrong link!
[Laughs] Great! It’s good we surprised you.

Yeah, there are some really outside-the-box sounds on that album. Especially on “Mirage.”
Yeah, the sound is something else. In terms of time signatures, it’s definitely the most prog. The chorus does have some very Leprous-vibes. In a way, I think it’s the safest song for the Leprous fans that have been with us for the earlier stuff.

Hey, in “The Last Milestone”, are those real strings?
That’s a cello, actually. It’s a real cello that’s been layered. All the strings on the album were played with a real cello. There are no samples or anything. It’s a fantastic cellist from Canada. We saw him there and we flew him over. We thought we needed him immediately for the new album. I’d already written some sting-arrangements, so we got him.

That song is very solemn, even for you guys. How did that come about?
I made it as a string composition at first, with the thought that I’d develop it into something more. It was one of the hardest songs I’d ever written. The lyrics are super personal, very sad; so much so that I don’t want to talk about it. It was very difficult to record because it was very emotional for me. So, I realized it had to be pure and clean – it was the way it was meant to be.

That song has been very intriguing to many people. Like “is this Leprous?” To me, music is music – it’s not genres. It’s different moods and atmospheres. Imagine the spectrum of human emotion; it would be weird to just play some of them, if you understand what I mean?

I hear you. You guys have a few albums now and it’s good that you’re changing them up. It’s not like some bands that shall remain nameless who have like 14 or so albums that are exactly the same
Yes exactly! For us it has always been a natural change. We’re always listening to the previous album and thinking what do we want to do different this time. For me, each piece has its own identity, and if it loses that identity, I don’t see the point in releasing it. It’s important for us to create an atmosphere for each album that we won’t do again on other albums.

So I’ve been meaning to ask you guys – last year you came out with Live at Rockefeller Music Hall and it has a nifty little feature titled “13 Years Earlier”…
[Laughs] I was sure nobody noticed it was there.

Now, I recognize you, but how much of Leprous is in that?
Tor [Oddmund Shurke]! Me and Tor are the only ones who have been there from the beginning.

Is that still Leprous, though?
Yeah, that wasn’t even the beginning. We started 2 years earlier. We started out as a local youth band, called Leprous.

Cool, there were elements of Leprous there. It wasn’t quite the well-oiled machine you are now…
Definitely not, yeah! We had the attitude but that was pretty much it. We kind of started with too high ambitions, considering what we could do at the time. But in a way, it was good for us to push ourselves like that. If you dare to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, you gradually get somewhere.

Agreed. So you are coming back to Finland later this year?
Yeah, to Helsinki, Tampere, and Jyväskylä. That’s the venue everybody’s been talking about; I’m looking forward to it. This will be the first time we’re doing a proper headlining tour in Finland. It’s gonna be cool.

Great, we will be looking forward to those shows and also the new album, Malina, out on August 25th. I’ll let you get back to your swim!
Thanks, but we’re really just waiting to get to the airport; we already checked out. But it’s been really nice talking to you!

And you as well. We will see you in Helsinki then, cheers!
Bye!

DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT (DTP) – Devin Townsend, Tuska Open Air, 2017

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"The horns broke." "[laughs] Yeah, about 20 years ago!"

The Devin Townsend Project brought their Transcendence Tour through Finland back in February, but alas, he was only doing two interviews per show and we were too late to the game to be one of those interviewers. Fortunately for us, he did have a little spare time at Tuska Open Air though, so we whipped up a few questions (and trust me, in 10 minutes, a few is all you need) to ask while he was around for the festival.

 

So Transcendence has been out for nearly a year now and you’ve done some touring for it – how are you feeling about the album at this point, now that it’s been out and getting familiar?
It’s okay. I mean, it’s been so many records now that I don’t necessarily think of one over the other at all. It’s like a thing that I did last year that was accurate, so… hurray.

Especially with the band collaboration and all, do you think that went well? Will you keep doing it?
Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of what makes this whole thing work is that you get a bunch of people together in this fundamentally chaotic environment – which this is – and then you try and work your way through the social engineering of it all, and it’s really challenging, right? My role in this has become inadvertently… I have to lead it and that involves a lot of talking to everybody and trying to get everybody else to talk to each other and it’s a healthy situation, but I think with that sort of constant influx of learning to communicate, that sort of collaboration, artistically, is just inevitable.

You’ve spoken about needing to have a reaction to a song before it makes it onto an album. I’m curious then, do you have any examples you’re willing to share of reactions you had to songs on Transcedence?
Transcendence, yeah. The song “From the Heart”, I was in a yoga class. A yin-yoga class. The last move, they were playing that song, basically. It was written by [??] and then it was redone by a husband and wife team, and they were playing that during the last [pose]… and it’s like stretching is really hard for me in general, so that pose when you have to put the block on your back and you’re lying up, it was like… a lot of things were released, in a weird way. It was painful and there was a lot of release to it, and I remember thinking, “God, I’ve got to figure out who this is, because I just want to hear it again.” I asked the person at the front desk and they gave me the information, and I found it, and I was like, “I’d like to try doing that.” So we contacted the [??] Foundation in Australia, I think it is, and we said, “Here’s the song, here’s what I’m doing with it, would you allow us to redo it?” and he said, “Yes,” so there’s a real tangible example of that.

I was curious, because you did the Ween cover on the album, and I know you don’t like to loan your voice to other people’s work, so how do you feel about covers; I’m also curious about how you ended up doing the Frank Sinatra “New York, New York” cover (because it’s amazing)?
Well, I mean… thank you. The “New York, New York” thing was something that, I think in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done again because I didn’t know the guy. I get asked so often and I predicate my involvement with people on my relationships with them, and without a relationship with them it seems like such a farce, which in a lot of ways, it was for me, and I’ve taken the piss out of it as a result. But it’s cool.

Ween’s a little different because it’s a cover tune. I didn’t get asked to do it. It’s just, I remember when I first heard that song, I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s probably one of the best songs I’ve ever heard,” and I don’t think that the version I did is anywhere near as cool as the one they did, but the statement of it meant a lot to me in the scope of the record, because it takes the control away from it again. It’s like ending it with something that you didn’t write… it’s healthy for that process.

That’s really interesting. I remember listening to the album and seeing the cover, and then I thought, “Okay, I have to listen to the original,” and I did, and I thought, “That sounds a bit like a DTP song, but in a different style,” so it was a really cool bit of movement there.
Thanks!

I’ve heard you talking about firsts and how there are fewer and fewer of them as life goes on, so I’m curious if you’ve had any firsts recently and what excites you still, if there aren’t so many firsts left in life?
I think you’re excited by what you choose to be excited about, in a way. Well, to answer that, I think the easiest way to say it is, the things I get excited about are less and less novel and so that’s really convenient, because I can be really excited about a cup of coffee now in ways that [it] would’ve taken heavy experiences for me to be excited about when I was younger. So the long and short of it is, I’m happy and I think that I’m not as reliant on firsts to get a kick now.

That’s an interesting take on it. You don’t need a first of something to still be excited by it anymore.
Yeah, it’s great! And the more subtle it gets, the better it gets too. It can go one of two ways, but the fact that I’m interested in subtlety makes it interesting because any one of those firsts contains a lot of subtlety that you haven’t explored, right?

Fair enough. Do you ever feel as though you can get away with anything? Like recording an hour of…
Farts?

Yeah, exactly, and sell it?
Musically, I could, but I think the thing I can’t get away with is twofold: one would be doing things for reasons other than authentically being compelled to do it, because I think the audience would pick up on it; and number two, I think accountability is a big thing for me. I think, when it comes to what sounds I create or what style of music, sure, I can get away with whatever, but in terms of life, I can’t get away with shit! Like nothing, because it’s so public now. Everything I do, is like…

Everyone is watching, all the time.
All the time! You have a drink or you have a piece of chicken or whatever, and you’re going to have people up your ass for the next 2 months, right [laughter]? You can’t get away with anything. But it’s okay.

You’re doing the Ocean Machine show in Bulgaria in September – was the only reason you or whoever chose Bulgaria because the orchestras are cheaper there, or were there any other reasons?
I think that’s a significant part of it, but I think it’s also convenient, because the venue’s amazing and they’ve done a lot of shows there, so there are not a lot of places that we could (1) afford, and (2) they’d know how to handle a situation like that. So for me, it doesn’t matter why, it’s just as long as I can do it and get cannons, I’m good.

Well, we’ll be there, so we’re looking forward to it!
Awesome!

I think this is a good place to stop then – have a great gig today and we’ll see you again next time!
Thanks!

Photos: Jana Blomqvist

VUUR – Anneke van Giersbergen, Tuska Open Air, 2017

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With Vuur’s upcoming debut approaching us slowly on the horizon, we’ve been dying for any chance we can get to learn more about the album and the sound, and with “London” now released to the public and their set at Tuska Open Air behind us, that anticipation has only grown. As such, we managed to grab 10 minutes with the mastermind herself at the aforementioned festival, where we learned more about the music and its creation, as well as how one vital piece of Vuur news had completely escaped our notice!

 

Welcome back yet again! How are you feeling about how everything is progressing with Vuur and the new album?
Thanks! I’m very excited, because the album turned out super good, if I can say so myself. Not because of me, but because of the band and the production and producer and everything. The songwriting went well. We wrote together also with Esa Holopainen from Amorphis, so we had some really cool people working on this. I’m ecstatic! It’s done, it’s finished, so we are focusing on the shows and the whole album release, which is going to be after the summer.

You’ve said that the upcoming album is loosely based on the places you’ve been and now the first song is “London” – can you tell a little bit about your experiences in London and how they relate to the words and the music?
There’s 11 songs and there’s 11 cities on the album. Sometimes I see… because we travel a lot, and every time you’re back in a country or city, you feel the same, like, “Oh yeah, this is what it feels like when I’m here.” When I was here last year, it felt the same. It’s strange, because you [spend] a year away, but every place has a certain energy. So that’s what I’m writing about. Also, some cities I see, as a person or entity, I write more stories about it, and some cities like London, there’s actually been stuff going on that I write about, like something in history. There’s a few songs about during or after the second world war, so there are multiple inspirations, really.

I’m interested in the vocal dynamics on the upcoming album between you and Marcela…
Actually, Marcela left the band.

Did she?
Yeah, you were not informed [laughs].

And she left before the recordings and everything, so she won’t be on the album?
No. That’s news for you!

So it seems! Rather, then, what happened?
She left when we were recording the album. We did the whole pre-production and everything and when we were recording it, it started before… she was kind of doubting whether she wanted to be a second vocalist in a band, because as you know, she is a frontwoman to her band and with a solo project as well. Apart from when we were doing The Gentle Storm, I did the album with Arjen [Lucassen; Ayreon] and she was not on it – she was there live – and then I wanted the whole band to do Vuur. Then the energy changed from being, like, helping us out with the backing vocals to being in a band as a member, and I think she felt that it was too much in the background for her. Which I understand and agree with, and I would say the same thing, but we do miss her because, as you know, she’s wonderful. But I think she made a good decision and now she has the freedom to do everything she wants for herself.

That makes perfect sense. You participated in our Tuska Special Feature last year and you said that you’ve been here with so many other bands, and you were hoping to get to come here with your new band, and now here you are already!
Yes, I did it! The thing is, our album is not out yet, and usually the festivals only want a band – usually – when the have a record out. I asked Jouni [Markkanen], the big man of this festival, to give me a chance, and the festival was booked now half a year in advance, so we had no music for him, and I said to him, “I’ve been here with Devin, and with The Sirens, and everything. I love this festival and I want to play here,” and he gave me a chance without listening to one of our songs, because he trusts me and the music and he trusts that it’s going to be fitting to this festival. So he gave me a chance, which is grand of him because he can have any band he wants, because this is a fantastic festival. So I’m happy-happy to play here on my own.

That’s really exciting! Also, last time we spoke you were planning to see the Devin Townsend Project’s Transcendence Tour in the Netherlands – did you end up going, and did you end up performing or just watching?
Yeah, I did! I sang two shows with Devin.

Perfect, how’d it go?
Great! I was also in a period when I didn’t play that much because I was in the studio and I was in the middle of everything, so to be on the stage, and with Devin no less, it was fantastic.

Are you going to stay around Tuska to see any of the other bands performing?
I have my gig, and then I have a solo acoustic gig, and then I have the Devin gig, so actually I’m kind of all over the place myself, but if I do have time, I’d like to check out what’s going on.

You said you were really enjoying Mastodon’s latest album – will you be able to see their set on Sunday or will you have to leave before then?
We have to leave tomorrow really early, but I saw Mastodon in Holland 2-3 days ago and they were on fire! They are great! So they’re here this weekend? Fantastic!

Then my last question is, we’ve been noticing on Instagram that a lot of the female vocalists have a really cool fellowship, you’re always so supportive of each other, commenting and chatting on each other’s posts, and we had asked Cristina Scabbia about this and how she felt about it and she was very enthusiastic, and then we asked her if she would consider doing a female-fronted vocalist collaboration someday, and she thought it would be cool. So I was curious what your thoughts on all that might be?
Are you forming a band [laughter]? Of course it’s great, because they are all really great vocalists. We did that a little bit with The Sirens, but I also kind of see happening that all that we did in the female-fronted scene, so all the collaboration and mixing up, maybe it’s time for something new, you know what I mean? Because now in this scene there are some really cool female vocalists who have the growling and the screaming thing going on, and also they can sing very well. I like that it’s moving around now. So you have the female festivals and so on, and they are all collaborating, and I think it’s been done. We did it with The Sirens, and I feel that chapter, for me, is kind of closed. But I’m never saying never, because the chances to sing with someone like her is of course would be great. But I’m focusing on Vuur.

Fair enough! Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us once again, and best of luck with your set at the festival!
Thanks!

(2017) Wintersun: The Forest Seasons

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Artist: Wintersun
Album: The Forest Seasons
Release: 21.07.2017
Label: Nuclear Blast Records

 

And so the climax of Wintersun’s controversy is finally upon us! For those of you who are late to the party, Wintersun has been spending their fair share of time in the news due to vocalist/guitarist Jari Mäenpää‘s insistence that he can’t finish the long-awaited followup to Time I without having his own serecording studio. After what seemed like eternal negotiations with Nuclear Blast, these Finnish folk metallers were able to launch an IndieGoGo campaign, with the proceeds going toward this studio. The crowdfunding campaign ran throughout the month of March this year, and on April 1st, completed at a whopping 464,330€, which was 285% of what they had hoped to raise. What did the funders get in return for their contribution? The Forest Seasons.

I’ve had my reservations about what The Forest Seasons might be like – will it be true to Wintersun’s sound, or will it be a half-assed attempt to gather cash for the studio so they can finish the album they really want to make? If they can’t make Time II without a studio, will this be any better? Well, some of my fears were assuaged by bassist Jukka Koskinen in an interview from earlier this year, and so I awaited the new album with an open mind, hoping for the best.

 

The album is, in recent Wintersun fashion, a mere four tracks, but four extremely long tracks at that, each clocking in at 12+ minutes in length and corresponding to a season of the year. On my first encounter with “Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)”, I felt as though this album might nicely bridge the gap between their self-titled debut (2004) and Time I (2012) – the track is clearly less complex than the latter album, but has a bit more of the heavy feel of the original guitar-driven Wintersun album. It has a slow burn, and perhaps feels a tad repetitive at times, but it picks up very nicely; I suppose I can see the relation to spring – it starts out murky and dark, but picks up and gets better as time goes on. Not what I’d have expected or even hoped for when thinking of spring, but not a bad representation either.

“The Forest that Weeps (Summer)” isn’t quite as bright and sunny as you’d expect of a song relating to that particular season (unless that’s the gloomy Finnish perspective?). The glorious Wintersun-style chants are back as well, standing strong in this track. While Time I was notably lacking in any guitar solos, “The Forest that Weeps (Summer)” features a long guitar-driven segment or two (or more); I wouldn’t call them solos exactly, but the highly emphasized riff-work does bring some of that old flavor back into the mix, and it sounds ever so ‘Mäenpää.’

If you really want to hear a solo though, and a long one at that, you’ll have to wait for “Eternal Darkness (Autumn)”, which provides a great deal of shred while balanced with an almost Castlevania-esque background. As well, if you’ve missed those monkey blasts from Wintersun (I have not, personally), never fear, “Eternal Darkness (Autumn)” has brought them back. On the whole, this is a pretty dark and ominous song – not the way I personally see autumn. The cold echoes around the 9:30 mark feel like the depths of winter, not the chill of autumn. However, the aforementioned guitar parts do work very nicely. The one near 11:00 could have lasted longer, in my opinion. The song ends quite abruptly, without any form of transition into its follower, sadly. Fans of their first album will likely appreciate this song more than I did.

The album comes to its full climax in “Loneliness (Winter)” though, with the only track that truly suits its theme, at least by my standards. This songs reminds me of a cloudless, cool winter’s night after a fresh snow, with its twinkling sounds and slow pacing. The vocals, both harsh and clean, work to create a gorgeous ambience, and in particular, I love the blending of mid-range and lower growls – something I’ve never really noticed a band do before, but sounds phenomenal in execution. This is perhaps also the most reminiscent in style to Time I, so for those who long for more of that album’s feeling, you’ll hopefully get it in this one – I know I did!

 

On the whole? This album feels a bit weirdly dark to be about the seasons, as I consider seasons to be rather varied in mood, while the album isn’t (again, unless that’s the Finnish cynicism showing through, or they’re just trying to be way too metal). For example, I don’t see spring as a dark and grungy time, but light and hopeful; for an example, try this YouTube video of “Celtic Dream” by Ron Hardiman. “Summer” again too feels too dark, and I think the biggest energy and clearest sound should be coming through in summer, unless you want to go the Kiuas route, like in their “Summer’s End.” “Autumn” was all wrong, as I find autumn relaxing and mellow, yet powerful, like a Type O Negative song. Winter, on the other hand, I think they got exactly right. So thematically, I’m not really on board, though I won’t fault an album too much for not fitting my own specific ideas about a concept that could be taken in many ways.

Musically, however, you can’t turn your head up at this one. They cover a lot of ground with this, perfectly blending the styles they’re most known for. The vocals are excellent throughout, shining through particularly in the final track, which is by far the high point on the album, at least by my standards. And the guitarwork is great – I’m glad to see a bigger focus on it for a change of pace. If I can compel myself to ignore the thematic issues, which may or may not be personal to me alone, I rather like the album. You’ll find out soon in our festival report that I had trouble getting into the new material at Tuska, but I can comfortably say that I’m looking forward to their club show at the end of the summer now that the music is more familiar to me.

Rating: 8.5/10, 4 stars
[ed: some have been commenting that the rating is too high for the review – most of my complaints about the album relate entirely to personal feelings towards what seasons ‘sound like’, and my own distaste towards monkey blasts and thrashier metal; those who worry less about the ‘feeling’ and like thrashier metal (like Wintersun’s first album) will likely enjoy this album more than I, and I wanted to rating to reflect that]

Tracklist:
1. Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)
2. The Forest that Weeps (Summer)
3. Eternal Darkness (Autumn)
4. Loneliness (Winter)

NEUROSIS w/ DARK BUDDHA RISING – Tavastia, Helsinki, 04.07.2017

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Just when I thought I had a few days to recover after Tuska Open Air, I had to go see yet another great band. Titans of a genre I could only hesitantly shorten as post-hardore atmospheric sludge, Neurosis came to do a club show at Tavastia in Helsinki on July 4th, 2017. Having performed at Tuska twice in the last 10 years, it seemed a fitting epilogue. Opening for them was Laitila-bred Dark Buddha Rising, brandishing their own brand of psychedelic sludge/doom metal. A veritable banquet of gloom was no doubt in store.

 

The reason the club show by Neurosis seemed appealing to me is that, even though they have played in Finland in the past and I have seen them two or three times, those were all festivals such as Tuska and Ruisrock. Even though their genre may be difficult to place, their sound definitely doesn’t benefit from blue skies and a warm summer breeze; they are best enjoyed under the cover of darkness.

 

From the minute the doors opened, the place filled up at a constant rate, right up until the first band started playing. I heard from the coat check that they had sold 500 tickets in advance; clearly the audience was hungry for both bands. The atmosphere was absolutely tailor-made for the night. Even the playlist was a perfect selection of music in which the crowd might be interested. Groups like Trees of Eternity, Conan, or Avatarium; generally slow, low, and depressing. Tavastia has hosted audiences like this before and the event was organized by Blow Up the Gramophone, whom you may recognize for their annual Blow Up Festivals, which celebrate gloom and doom in their many forms.

Starting off the night was the one and only opening act, Dark Buddha Rising. I wasn’t a big fan of them – I’d heard some of their stuff and I liked them, but didn’t think they were all that special. Yet here they were, facing a full house. The lights went pitch black. It was complete darkness, absolute silence. As the band walked on stage, a gut churning, droning hum began to sound. The drummer counted the band in. To my surprise they laid down a fat psychedelic jam. It was the perfect mix of prog and gloom. The low-end of the sound was overwhelming. Every hair, every follicle on my body shook and resonated with it. Most of that seemed to come out of this infernal noise box the synth player, J. Saarivuori (also known from Hexvessel), possessed.

Then the lead vocalist ascended. The band was back-lit and their appearances were very much shrouded in darkness; therefore, it was difficult to ascertain who the singer was. I heard they had a new one and based on the voice and overall demeanor I’d guess it’s a woman. I couldn’t find who it was because every site insists that it was their current singer is M. Neuman, a man. Assuming it was him, he did a thousand times better than he did on Inversum, their last release. The vocals were interesting, diverse, and powerful. He also spent half the show on his knees, as if pleasing the dark lord. It was awesome either way.

The audience, myself included, was so stunned that they didn’t even flinch during the performance. Everyone simply stood there in awe. Just when I thought I’d be in for another mediocre opening act, they gave us this fantastic show. It only lasted 30 minutes, leaving us all wanting more, but it was spectacularly bloodcurdling nonetheless.

 

Neurosis themselves were up next. They also began in pitch-black. They came up one by one as the intro tape to “Lost”, from the classic Enemy of the Sun played. The existential recording really set the mood. Played in their current style, with their current line up, it was a spectacular way to open. They followed soon after with “A Shadow Memory” from the new album, Fires Within Fires. It was a good song to showcase the true weirdness of the group: slow and contemplative crossed with pure hardcore brutality.

Directly after that, they played a classic from Through Silver in Blood, namely “Locust Star.” It was all the right kinds of weird. It uses some bizarre effects, which synth player Noah Landis decided to recreate live. He not only handled the keyboards, but he also had a laptop open at all times, presumably controlling both the backing-tracks and the band’s own click-track. His set-up also included a box with inwardly protruding prongs. He hit said prongs rhythmically to produce whatever sound the song needed at the time. From a purely technical stance I can see how it should be some two steps too much effort, but in the moment I felt all the more appreciative of their craft when I saw them do these things as live as they possibly could. It was also downright mind-boggling to watch Landis merely gesture these effects into being.

They went on to play a few of these backtrack-heavy songs like “Takeahnase” to enforce their prowess in the field, but continued to focus on songs from the new album, such as “Fire is the End Lesson”, “Broken Ground”, and “Bending Light.” In between songs, they dimmed the lights to build atmosphere; this would not have been possible at an open air festival. It did leave the band in an awkward position wherein they needed to use flashlights just to find their various guitar pedals and wires, etc. They also played as loud as loud could be. I was wearing my best earplugs and at times I felt like I wasn’t wearing any at all.

Neurosis had three vocalists, as usual. The two lead vocalists were guitar players Scott Kelly and Steve von Till, with backing vocals (exclusively low growls) from bass player Dave Edwardson. Kelly and von Till demonstrated their prowess in hardcore screaming and yelling that night, but fans of theirs will know they can do so much more. Near the end of the set we got to witness a fun moment in which Kelly was having feedback issues with his mic and he knocked it over in rage, never letting it hinder his guitarwork. The poor technicians rushed over in a panic whilst Kelly just jammed with the rest of the band like nothing had ever happened. It was hilarious.

 

Neurosis were once again the masters of their craft. They walked the line between artsy and heavy… and stuck the landing. The performance was, from a practical standpoint, perfect. On the other hand, I can’t forget that first time I saw them, in Tuska ’09. Not only did they play more of my favorites like “The Sun that Never Sets” and “Through Silver in Blood”, of which the latter was complete with extra tribal percussion by Kelly and von Till. On that show, Kelly and von Till also voluntarily knocked down mic stands all the time and even smashed the mics on their foreheads leaving visible marks. I can’t endorse artists to actively harm themselves, but it did display a sort of passion that was lacking in this performance.

Also, Tavastia seemed a small venue for them but fortunately they had the foresight to adjust ticket prices to a whopping €52 at the door. This had me a bit worried about how successful the night would be, but the enthusiasm of the fans proved me wrong yet again. Never bet against the fans, they are the ones who make this scene. Dark Buddha Rising also showed me they were a force to reckon with. They did, however, only play for 30 minutes and Neurosis for a meager 1h 20 min. Overall, it was a great night, but for the casual fan it was easily overpriced. Perhaps if next time they took a risk at say, The Circus, they could bring the price down a bit. I would recommend seeing the bands themselves and I personally will surely check them both out next time they are in town.

TUSKA OPEN AIR: 20th Anniversary – Suvilahti, Helsinki, 06.30-07.02.2017

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The end of June has come and gone, which means that another one of our favorite festivals has come and gone with it. Tuska Open Air celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, from June 30th to July 2nd, and with a decent line-up present for the celebration, it was only natural for us to be back once more.

If you missed it last year, we did a special feature on Tuska Open Air, and considering Tuska is celebrating their own special occasion this year, you might like to check it out HERE!

Click for the galleries from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and the Festival Extras!
Head HERE for our interview with Anneke van Giersbergen.
Or try HERE tomorrow for our interview with Devin Townsend.

 

Day 1: Friday

Huora, Tuska 2017

We showed up bright and early on Friday in order to sneak in a quick interview with Anneke van Giersbergen before her first Finnish show with Vuur. The first band we watched, however, was Huora. Fronted by the totally adorable and badass Anni Lötjönen, these thrashy punk rockers impressed me with their pleasant melodies and strong stage presence, in spite of their style being one that I usually avoid. I didn’t stay too long, but anyone into 80s thrash might want to check these guys out. Or perhaps you already have, as they had a very impressive crowd for Kattilahalli so early on day 1.

Brother Firetribe, Tuska 2017

Next on our list was, of course, Brother Firetribe. This style of AOR was huge back in the 80s, but I can’t say that I was ever into it. However, I can’t deny that Brother Firetribe is a total blast to see live and their music is really fun. It’s exactly the sort of thing you want to see in the summer – perky, sunny music, and people on stage who are clearly having an awesome time. One of the new tracks, “Indelible Heroes”, proved to be even better live than on the album, as were, perhaps, most of the songs. I couldn’t help dancing to their music, and I found myself disappointed that so few people in their ample crowd were doing the same.

Vuur, Tuska 2017

One of the bands I was most excited to hear was Anneke van Giersbergen‘s newest project, Vuur. I love this lady and her incredible voice, though I can’t say I’ve ever been able to get into any of her solo stuff. However, with the release of “London” not too long ago as the first single and sample of Vuur’s sound and style, I had high hopes for their music; and Vuur did not disappoint! Immediately grasping my attention with a solid marching beat, they proved to be very fun and energetic on stage, with excellent live chemistry. They are probably one of the heaviest bands in which van Giersbergen is an official member, and musically they piqued my attention with ease. And of course, the vocals were incredible. Van Giersbergen is, as always, a very sweet and charming frontman (frontwoman?) and won the crowd over effortlessly. “London” was a blast to hear live, but I can’t say that it was even the best song they played. I am very enthusiastic to hear the album, now more than ever! I am not the only one, it seems – her crowd was massive, equally huge on the bar side and sober side. The music did a great job of emphasizing her vocal style and all of the feedback I heard was overwhelmingly positive.

Wintersun, Tuska 2017

Wintersun was already getting going as Vuur’s show ended on the tent stage, and so we hurried over to catch the beginning of their set. I was bummed out that our interview with Devin Townsend crossed over with Wintersun’s show, as I was hoping to catch some tracks from The Forest Seasons live. They started their set off with “Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)”, but I have to say, I have trouble getting into live Wintersun songs when I don’t know them. That said, in the end it wasn’t too big a deal that I missed the first half of their set. I’ve never been a big fan of their eponymous album, so by the time I was able to get out to watch again, they were just starting “Sons of Winter and Stars” from Time I, and followed it with “Time”, which are the two songs on their set I knew and liked best. Of note, this was the first gig I’ve seen with Asim Searah replacing Jari Mäenpää on guitars – I’m not a fan of Searah following some of his performances with Kiuas a few years back; however, Searah performed Mäenpää’s parts admirably, and while it was quite visually odd to see Mäenpää without a guitar, his vocals were top notch and I can understand why he opted to focus on them on stage. If you saw this show, it’s likely that you’re eagerly awaiting the release of The Forest Seasons so you can familiarize yourself with the material!

At this point, it was time to check out the food stands. Tuska really upped their game with the quality this year, bringing a variety of burger places, vegetarian and Indian options, ice cream and hot dogs, as well as a booth called “Healthy Shit”, which I found pretty entertaining. We visited the Fafa’s Smokery each day over the weekend (not to be confused with the Fafa’s falafel joint), for their pulled pork, beef, and chicken burgers, all of which were sublime, though the other smoked and/or pulled meat place was also awesome. We then popped by the booth of a security group, where you could spin a wheel and win some prizes, all seemingly involved in making sure you never lose your keys, such as those balls that you put on your keys when boating so you don’t lose them if they fall in the water, or a keychain that ensures you that if you lose your keys, they’ll be returned. They were a fun bunch with a nice concept, so we hope you had a chance to stop by and check it out.

At this point I’ll also mention that I was very disappointed with the bar this year – while the traditional 1L Karhu and tall Koff beers were standard price, they dropped the Garage long drink and Crowmoor ciders down to the 0.33L cans, but only dropped the price by a little, meaning you have to spend a lot more money on a lot less booze. There was a lot of bad blood in the bar area about this, as not everyone out there likes beer, and making us pay more is not appreciated. On the other hand, props to the vast selection of other things to drink – they’re all quite expensive and again, you won’t get as much for your buck as you will with a beer, but if you don’t want the same old Koff-Karhu-Crowmoor-Garage, there are other options, like Jallu long drinks (I heard they were excellent) and what I believe was the famous Napue gin and tonic.

Suicidal Tendencies, Tuska 2017

We got back into the swing of things a bit with Suicidal Tendencies. This is one of those bands that’s never managed to get my attention, so we watched from the bar. While musically I can’t say much personally, my friends insisted that these guys were on point and doing great. Visually, they had a ton of energy and I’m quite sure that if you were looking forward to their set, you wouldn’t have been disappointed. They had perky, energetic, heavy music, with a hint of funk now and then. For their last song, they invited a whole ton of people onto the stage – I’m not sure what that was, but they filled it up with a wild, cheering crowd. Perhaps they were celebrating Tuska’s anniversary?

Insomnium, Tuska 2017

Insomnium was next up in the tent stage, and I was surprised to find out that they’re still playing Winter’s Gate in its entirety, especially in festival scenarios. Ultimately, I think that was really cool – people who’ve traveled to Finland or who might not’ve been able to see the full song/album in its entirety live got an opportunity on this day. Having seen it once already, at first I thought, “Oh no, this again,” but after listening for a very short time, I found myself once more enthralled and entranced by that vivid and magical song, it’s cold and brutal soundscapes, and the wonderful performances of all the guys on stage. It reminded me that I should definitely listen to that album more often, because it is truly a masterpiece. Once you start listening, it feels nearly impossible to stop. Also, I need to mention that the solos in that song are absolutely fantastic, and Niilo Sevänen’s vocals were on point! They closed out their set afterwards with a few of their hits, ending with “While We Sleep” and I left the show feeling a renewed appreciation for Insomnium.

Devin Townsend Project, Tuska 2017

Of course, if you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that the band I was most looking forward to – possibly over the whole weekend – was the Devin Townsend Project. I had promised a friend, who was seeing Dev for the first time, that it would be like watching an episode of Rick and Morty – lots of penis/balls jokes combined with awkward nerdiness; and of course, Devin Townsend delivered: “Are you ready to suck it?” he shouted as he took the stage, then said we look more like, “the nibbling types.” They kicked off their set with “Rejoice”, which I can now say I’ve heard with Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals live – something I’ve been dying for, and of course you can’t have these two at a festival together without her making a few cameos. Of course, Townsend talked of “tales of love, nerdiness, and penis jokes” in his speeches, and also asked if we wanted to hear something beautiful before “Stormbending” from the latest album and went straight into “Failure” without a break in between. “My name is Devin. I’ve been married for 27 years, kids, the whole works. Here’s a song about it,” he said, before “Deadhead.” The set was a little bit laid-back for a festival, but the collection of tracks were good, so no complaints there. Van Giersbergen returned again for “Supercrush” and “Kingdom”, always looking either super happy or like she can’t keep a straight face around Townsend. Townsend, of course, encouraged some guy to whip out his balls, before saying that he and Van Giersbergen would sing a slow song together, though he didn’t bring an acoustic guitar, which was rude of him. “I need you to sing so loud that this guy won’t show you his balls!” he shouted before they got into “Ih-Ah”; Townsend then paused a ways through, disappointed in the crowd’s lack of engagement, saying he had hoped it would become a Scorpions moment where everyone would come together to sing two words that mean nothing and sound like donkey noises, but was now enraged because it didn’t work and he failed to gain the validation he so desperately requires, and demanded a death metal growl instead, before continuing to sing in weird yet totally successful falsetto. “Grab convention by the pendulous sack!” he said, before ending the show with “Higher”; this is my least favorite song from Transcendence, but I do think it worked a lot better live and with a few helping notes from van Giersbergen to start it off. Overall, again, everyone was thrilled with this set and it was by far my favorite of the night, and in hindsight, the entire weekend.

Over on the tent stage, Mayhem was up next, but I’ll let Vincent tell you about their set, as black metal isn’t really my thing…

Mayhem, Tuska 2017

Vincent: “Mayhem had come that night to celebrate their 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, one of the absolute staples of the black metal genre. They had the album cover as a backdrop, the dark blue-tinned castle fit absolutely perfectly with the blue lights and the excessive use of fog machines. The band even wore cloaks of black and (most of them) had corpse paint on. The atmosphere could not have been more perfect. The first song was, appropriately enough, “Funeral Fog”, as it was on the record, but they seemed to have a lot of trouble getting the tempo right. Everyone seemed to be on a different time. The vocals should have started quite quickly but could not be heard through the noise. Halfway through the song, however, the vocals came out and the audience cheered in wonder. Soon after that, the band began to play at the same pace. Up until that point, I had considered moving to a different location, but clearly that was not the crucial factor. It was evidently not something that was in their control and it only lasted half a song, so we can’t exactly crucify them for it.

Following that was “Freezing Moon.” The slow and trudging parts worked best in a live environment and the crowd was captivated. Some of the faster songs like “Pagan Fears” and “From the Dark Past” even inspired mosh pits. As usual, however, the black metal pits were modest at best, with most people preferring to keep their personal space. They played the album in it’s entirety, which was a treat to fans (like myself) for sure. A piece of black metal history was re-animated that night, and I’m glad to have witnessed it.”

Sabaton, Tuska 2017

Lastly, the night was closed out by a clear Tuska favorite, Sabaton. These guys have headlined Tuska quite a few times, even as recently as 2015 and 2012. They kicked things off at dusk with the traditional “Ghost Division”, and proceeded to play a high-energy, hard-hitting set. As far as Sabaton shows go, this was nothing too shocking – they played the collection of old standards, such as “Art of War”, “Swedish Pagans”, “Gott mit uns” (in Swedish), and “Carolus Rex”, as well as the standard three Finland songs, “White Death”, the newer “Soldier of 3 Armies”, and in the encore, “Talvisota.” The biggest event, perhaps, was that they played “Screaming Eagles” for the first time ever in Finland. I don’t even think they played it at Provinssi the day before, which really made it a special event for the long-time fans. “Shiroyama” remains a guilty pleasure for me, and I can’t deny dancing to it (while hating myself a bit) in the encore. All-in-all, Sabaton is just a great live band – they’ve got big energy, they put on a big show, big screens, big explosions, and really, that’s what you need from a festival headliner. These guys have got performance down to an art at this point, and I’ll never be sorry to see these beasts on the roster!

Sabaton, Tuska 2017

 

Day 2: Saturday

We decided to take it a bit easier on Saturday, as Friday had been so fantastic. Word on the street was that Lik put on a pretty awesome show early in the day in Kattilahalli, and Mokoma upheld their usual standard of festival excellence as per usual.

Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalautaus, Tuska 2017

We showed up in time to get a tour of the festival area from Eeka Mäkynen and Heta Hyttinen, the CEO and one of the announcers (respectively). They brought us to the backstage where we could see the stage from the side during Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus‘ performance, before moving on to see more of the festival area, where we learned about some of the inside jokes they play on each other behind the scenes. We popped by the tent sauna and met Timo Martikainen, the local sauna expert, who received some very enthusiastic praise from our host, before we headed over to the dining hall to see what the Black Dining was all about, and learned about the new things Tuska tries to incorporate each year. We closed out the tour in the VIP bar, where they showed us some artwork by a local metal smith done just for the 20th anniversary event.

Soilwork, Tuska 2017

After the tour was over, our next stop was to see Soilwork on the main stage. I’ve never had an issue with the way these guys perform, but the main concern always relates to the sound quality of their shows. The last time I saw them at Tuska in 2013 was a pure disaster – the sound was all over the place and was, as I recall, freakishly and even painfully loud for a festival, even with earplugs in. On this occasion, I won’t say that the sound was perfect, but it was a big improvement over the last time, and I’ll have to assume that it was better than the rough quality of their last show here with Kreator in the winter. Björn “Speed” Strid was, as always, a very warm and pleasant frontman, greeting the crowd enthusiastically with a “How the fuck are you guys doing?” and expressing that he’s enjoying the cooler weather in Finland, far preferring it to the 35 degrees they were recently experiencing at Hellfest in France. The set was pretty balanced as well, with some new stuff, but a lot of classics as well, ending, of course, with “Stabbing the Drama”, if I recall correctly.

Fear of Domination, Tuska 2017

The tent stage hosted stoner rock band Electric Wizard next, but before trying them out, we had to sneak back into Kattilahalli to check out Fear of Domination. The others have been raving about these guys for a while, so they were on the top of my list of bands to try out on Saturday, and I was clearly not alone – Kattilahalli ended up filled to capacity and beyond, to the point that there were people way outside the venue, trying and failing to get in. These guys definitely deserved a bigger stage, what with their crazy attire and glow paint, as well as their fun, energetic music and straight-up cool stage presence making them shoe-ins for a better slot in the future! On stage with them was guest vocalist Sara Strömmer, whom you might know from other bands in the past such as Crimfall and End of Aeon, and who, in a shockingly cool turn of events was no longer a guest musician by the end of the set! It was a memorable and perhaps even emotional moment, but Strömmer and FoD are clearly a match made in heaven as they worked perfectly together live and I can say with certainty that they are going to be a band to watch out for!

As for Electric Wizard… well, that’s not really my thing. While those on drugs may appreciate the repetition of a riff for many, many minutes, I find this type of music to be almost painfully dull. The riffs may have been nice, and the performing may have been all right, but I just can’t listen to this stuff that drags on and on with seemingly no end in sight.

Amorphis, Tuska 2017

Amorphis took the main stage next though, and they’ve been nothing short of a delight to watch live ever since the release of Under the Red Cloud. Every show has been fun, and I mean every show (and we have seen A LOT of Amorphis in the last year and a half). When they started their set up with “Under the Red Cloud” and “Sacrifice”, which are both good live tracks, though the sound was warbly and going all over the place in the former. This got fixed by the end of the first song, fortunately, and they continued with a surprisingly varied set, considering they’re still touring the same album. I was pretty happy to hear “The Smoke”, which… I could be wrong but I think that’s been absent from their set for a while. I also can’t recall if/when was the last time I’ve heard “Into Hiding” live, so that was a nice treat. “Death of a King” remains a live favorite, and one that I hope remains indefinitely on their setlist. Like many others over the weekend, they congratulated Tuska on their 20th anniversary, having been one of the most frequent bands to play at the festival. On the whole, I don’t have much left to say about these guys that I haven’t said in the last few reports – they’re a great live band and if you haven’t seen them yet, there’s no excuse.

Triptykon, Tuska 2017

Back so soon, having been at last year’s South Park, was Triptykon on the tent stage. Since I’m not a black metal fan, but had appreciated them last year, I made sure to get a drink in the tent-side bar so I could keep an ear on the show. Much in the same vein, it wasn’t something I would call myself a fan of, but I very much enjoyed the lights, the ambience, and the amiable stage presence. Oh, and also, my girl crush on Vanja Slajh continues – she’s so cool! The music didn’t even grate on me the way Electric Wizard had, and though it didn’t get my full attention, I enjoyed what I heard for the most part.

HIM, Tuska 2017

And then it was time for the main event, perhaps of the whole weekend: HIM. These guys recently announced their impending retirement, and so this year’s festival Saturday was sold out by people eagerly hoping for the change to see them one last time. Myself, I’ve never actually seen HIM live before, having passed or missed out on the few opportunities to hear them play since I’ve lived in Finland. And you should’ve seen that crowd, oh man! Everyone loves, or at very least appreciates these guys in some way – the people in front of the stage were from all walks of life: young and old, male, female, punk, Goth, black metal, or street clothes, you name it, someone was there representing! And with that in mind then, I have to say that the show was a total disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, they played all the hits, including the one song I had hoped to hear – their cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” – and they sounded phenomenal while doing it. But the reason the set was a disappointment was more related to the performance itself. At one point I looked up at the screen and Burton Puurtinen (keyboards) looked like he was so bored that he was ready to blow his brains out. I’m talking exasperated eye-rolling and the whole works. Mige Paananen (bass) was putting in a reasonable effort, but Ville Valo (vocals) and Linde Lindström (guitar) were more or less the living dead; every movement screamed, “We’re doing this because we have to, not because we want to,” and while Valo’s smiles seemed genuinely appreciative, he looked like a man who’s ready to say “fuck it” and be done with music forever. As such, after a few songs we abandoned the crowd and headed back to the bar, where the show became far more enjoyable – the music sounded great and as I said, all the favorites came out, even including another cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”, but I have to say that I was able to enjoy myself so much more without watching them half-assedly slogging around the stage. The best part of their set, visually, was the fireworks that ripped up the sky in the end – now that was worth turning your head for!

HIM, Tuska 2017

 

Day 3: Sunday

Battle Beast, Provinssi 2017, photo by Feng Deng

And so the last day had finally arrived. After having taken my time on Saturday, I made an effort to try to be in town in time to catch at least part of Battle Beast‘s set, but the local transit disagreed with me and did its utmost to prevent my arrival. This was a shame for two reasons: (A) I’ve always kind of hated Battle Beast, until recently I’ve had to admit they’ve been growing on me and I’ve wanted to see them at a festival to give them another chance; and (B) I really like “King for a Day” and wanted to hear it. Much to my chagrin, their set ended 4 minutes early, which meant that “King for a Day” was playing as I was just reaching Suvilahti, and ended literally the second I dropped my backpack at the coach check. The last song, “Beyond the Burning Skies”, was not one that I was familiar with, but the show they put on was definitely lively and fun, and while I don’t like it when Noora Louhimo (vocals) does that angry scream-talking thing that she does, that woman has got some pipes on her when she sings! As someone who’s not into Baroness or Mastodon, this might have actually been the best performance (visually, at least) of the day, even though I only saw one song.

Dirkschneider was the first band we caught on the main stage. If you don’t know him, he was the original singer for Accept, whom we saw opening for Sabaton earlier this year. If you like your sweet, sweet 80s metal, you probably would’ve loved this set. Along with his solo material, Dirkschneider played some Accept classics like “London Leatherboys” (my favorite), as well as “Metal Heart” and “Balls to the Wall.” I have to say, after this show, I really can’t understand why people have a problem with Mark Tornillo (Accept’s current vocalist), because he and Dirkschneider sound pretty much the exact same. It seems age has not held this guy up, because he brought us back a few decades with full force. I don’t know anything about Dirkschneider’s own music, but it was a fun set and worth showing up for.

Baroness wasn’t for me, so again, I’ll let Vincent give you some thoughts on their set:
Vincent: “Baroness came on stage, beginning their set with “Kerosene” from the album Purple, and I immediately noticed the lighting was entirely purple. Sure enough, the second song was “March to the Sea” from Yellow and Green and yes, the lighting turned yellow. Despite their modest appearance, the band was full of spunk and had everything to prove. They used two-and-three-part harmonies with the two guitarists and bass player to the point of absolute perfection. Did I mention the new lead guitarist? Gina Gleason may have seemed like a Kristen Stewart clone at first glance, but she was a veritable metal goddess on stage. She not only provided some of the best guitar-licks of the night but also expertly complimented the two male singers with her vocals. She even growled later on in the set. A friend of mine literally showed me the chills he got. Her performance elevated the whole show.

For the remainder of the gig, the lighting continued to correspond with the albums from whence the songs had come (the well-known ones being color-themed). Baizley’s banter between songs was very polite and to the point, which fit with their Georgia (“the please and thank you state”) background. Some of their lyrics have always perplexed me. They speak of gasoline and milk and chlorine and wine. These things I wouldn’t mix but if that’s what these guys have been consuming, it would explain some of these rhythm choices. Speaking of prog-metal, I spotted at least three members of Mastodon in the audience. Having seen this show, it would hardly be a stretch to imagine them fans, if not friends.”

Apocalyptica, Tuska 2017

One of the ‘events’ of the weekend was another special performance by Apocalyptica, who have been celebrating the anniversary of Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. Before the band hit the stage, there were two things of note: the first was that there were four spots for cellists, and the second was the crazy-looking drum kit. When the guys took the stage, again, we noticed two things – Mikko Sirén did not take his throne, but none other than Antero “Mr. Cool” Manninen took the fourth cello spot. If you don’t know the name, he was the original fourth cellist on their aforementioned debut album, so it was really cool that they got him for this tour; I had assumed this might be the case, but wasn’t sure as I had decided not to see their club show. Much as his name would suggest, Manninen does not have the same stage antics of the other three, but he did look pretty damn cool sitting there in his sunglasses (looking a little bit like Vash the Stampede), shredding like it was nothing. Of course, as this was a Metallica cover show but there were no vocals (with the exception of the chorus of “Seek and Destroy”), the crowd was given the task of singing. Sirén joined forces after “Master of Puppets”, and we got to hear the cool percussion attachments in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, which made a really awesome and industrial effect; I confess I liked it better than the original (full disclosure: I’m not a big Metallica fan). I have to say though, that I was a little disappointed that they didn’t actually play the entire Plays Metallica album. I thought that was the whole kind of point and purpose of these anniversary tours, and I was all hyped up to hear “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and that happened to be one of the ones they left out. It was a great set, but… that did leave me feeling kind of let down.

And suddenly, we were at the last band to play on Sunday. Before I get into this, I have to say that Sunday just blew past. I don’t think it’s correct to say that Sunday was boring, but Sunday was… even the high energy bands didn’t mask the fact that it went by really quickly and energy-wise felt kind of limp. I mean, the best set of the day, arguably, was by Battle Beast, and they’re a band I’m not even sure if I like. Okay, if you’re a fan of Baroness and Mastodon, I bet you really enjoyed Sunday, but those bands aren’t my style and without a good for-everyone headliner, the whole day felt kind of slow in energy, fast in execution, and anticlimactic.

Sonata Arctica, Tuska 2017

So why didn’t Sonata Arctica make this feel better, being good high-energy performers? They played a pretty tight set and they performed very well, so what was it? The answer is, simply, the setlist. As a fan of mid-era Sonata, and my friend who is a fan of the old era, we were both disappointed in the songs they played, as it was nearly exclusively all the new generic hits, and frankly, very few of their actually good songs. Okay, sure, “Fullmoon” is a fun track and always gets people moving, but really, the combination of “Closer to an Animal”, “The Wolves Die Young”, and “I Have a Right” in the first four was really disappointing. I still don’t understand why Finns get moist and/or slow dance when “Tallulah” plays, and while some people love “Black Sheep”, I’ve never counted myself among them (although getting all the EMP balls into the crowd for it helped). The highlight of the set was by far “Misplaced”, which they haven’t played for a while, and after that, all that was left was “Life”, which is kind of a guilty pleasure song at best considering its awful lyrics, and “Don’t Say a Word” with the “Vodka” outro, which, like “Fullmoon”, is a Sonata live staple that we’ve all heard a million times. So even though the show itself was great and full of sparks and stage effects (as much as they could manage on the tent stage), it just didn’t deliver in the way I might have hoped.

And so all we were left with was Mastodon, and while I promised my friends I’d give it a chance, I can’t say I had the energy left to listen to the whole let. Here’s what Vincent had to say:
Vincent: “At this point, the audience had had time to recover form Apocalyptica’s stunning live renditions of “Battery” and “Orion”, and Mastodon were poised to begin. Their first song was met with immediate praise as it was the opening track of their new album, Emperor of the Sands, “The Sultan’s Curse.” The song was a fantastic mix of everything we all loved about the band to begin with. It was heavy, proggy, and kinda catchy as well. The new album cover adorned the stage in a way the lighting could scarcely compliment.

The set went up and down their discography to find the gems. Some of the newer ones, such as “Ancient Kingdom”, “Ember City”, and “Black Tongue” were interspersed with more classic tracks such as “Divinations”, “Mother Puncher”, and “Megalodon” in a way that seemed fair. Many surely came for the new album and they were no doubt satisfied without alienating the old audience.

The band itself had two lead vocalists at first glance but even the bass player and drummer got full vocal solos at times. If KISS could be described as a band full of Ringo Starrs, then Mastodon were Michael Åkerfelds… the lot. The big screens had trouble keeping up with whom was singing, but to their credit, it would have taken more than a casual fan to nail it. The sound-guy, however, had it down pat. Never was the sound of any lesser quality than that of the records themselves.

The gig ended in an encore, wherein they played the classic “Blood and Thunder.” It was beyond a doubt a perfect performance. The sound was exemplary, the playing impeccable, the set inspired. Though not quite yet legendary, these guys proved they are well on their way to becoming such. For me it was the perfect end to my tenth Tuska.”

Mastodon, Tuska 2017

 

With that, Tuska’s 20th anniversary year was over. Overall, it was a great weekend, as it always is, though it’s a shame that it peaked on Friday. It seems Finns the country over were torn between Guns N’ Roses at Kantolan Tapahtumapuisto and HIM on Saturday, but they got their fair share of the business, as the crowds were admirable for all three days – even for the early time slots (which in the past have had weak crowds even on the main stage) and at the Kattilahalli club stage!

Ups and downs? Well, as I mentioned, the bands, particularly early on in the day, brought in crowds, even around 14:00 in the afternoon, which is impressive, as I’ve seen Ensiferum play at 15:00 in the past with shockingly few people present. Some said that the line-up was shit this year; I’ll say that there wasn’t much that was shocking, per se, or maybe creative in the schedule, but that didn’t stop it from being a good selection. Moreover, the food selection was fantastic, and the food court was in a nice location, as was the associated bar with the sauna and green space. Also, props for the ever-improving drink selection, though seriously – do not fuck over the cider/lonkero drinkers next year, please! And, considering that Suvilahti had some construction going on this summer, they still made admirable use of the space given.

In the end, I hope that they put a little more effort into giving Sunday some more oomph next year; I’d even go so far as to say that they should’ve had HIM’s show on Sunday to make more of a thing of it (like they did last year), so it feels like less of a wind-down day, but alas, such was not the case in 2017. Either way, I’m sure that I’ll be ready to rock n’ roll again next year when it’s time for Tuska once more! Thanks again to the organizers, the bands, and of course, the festival-goers. Cheers, and see you in 2018!

Text: Amy W., Vincent Parkkonen | Photos: Jana Blomqvist

TUSKA OPEN AIR – Festival Extras @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 30.06-02.07.2017

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Tuska Open Air crowd and festival area, Suvilahti 2017.
Photos by Jana Blomqvist.
Check out the galleries from day 1 HERE, day 2 HERE, and day 3 HERE.
Or read the full festival report HERE!

TUSKA OPEN AIR – Day 3 @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 02.07.2017

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Tuska Open Air Sunday @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos: Jana Blomqvist
Photos of Dirkschneider & Baroness to be added later.
Read the festival report HERE!
Check out the photos from day 1 HERE and day 2 HERE, and the Festival Extras HERE!

 

TUSKA OPEN AIR – Day 2 @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 01.07.2017

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Tuska Open Air Saturday @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos: Jana Blomqvist
More photos of Triptykon to be added later.
Read the festival report HERE!
Check out the photos from day 1 HERE, day 3 HERE, as well as the Festival Extras HERE!

TUSKA OPEN AIR – Day 1 @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 30.06.2017

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Tuska Open Air Friday @ Suvilahti, Helsinki, 2017.
Photos: Jana Blomqvist
Read the festival report HERE!
Check out photos from day 2 HERE and day 3 HERE, as well as the Festival Extras HERE!