Our collection of interview photos from 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, 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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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€.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
10. What is Soul (Funkadelic cover)
12. Blood Sugar Sex Magik
13. Sick Love
14. Suck My Kiss
15. Soul to Squeeze
16. By the Way
17. Debaser (Pixies cover)
18. Goodbye Angels
19. Give it Away
Photos by Marco Manzi
Artist: Shaman’s Harvest
Album: Red Hands Black Deeds
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
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! 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…
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
I think this is a good place to stop then – have a great gig today and we’ll see you again next time!
Photos: Jana Blomqvist
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.
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!
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.