For several years already, the Helsinki-based production agency, Blow Up That Gramophone, has brought the newer and older relevant names of stoner, sludge, and doom metal to perform in Finland. In addition to single shows, the agency has organized their eponymous Blow Up festival twice before, at Korjaamo here in Helsinki, to great success. Not unlike in previous years, the third Blow Up was celebrated in mid-October, giving a total of ten bands a chance to shake the main hall’s roof and walls. Two-day tickets were sold out a good while beforehand, and single day tickets were practically sold out on Friday, so one could have easily called the weekend a success before it even began.
As I arrived at the venue a bit before 19:00, a nice 50-meter queue had already formed behind the front doors. Once the doors opened, the entrance was swift and one had plenty of time to check out the merchandise booths and the bar, before the Russian Phurpa was to kick things off at 19:30. The booths featured a wide selection of heavy music on vinyl cassettes and CDs, both bars were well-tended, plus an additional beer-only counter was set up on the right side of the hall. The DJs played background music traditionally with turntables from their own vinyl records. Everything seemed to be in order!
As the clock struck half past seven, the PA system started playing an ominous ambient tune, and the two-man Phurpa climbed on stage. Having created a respectable discography over course of 10 years, the group defines themselves more as a performance group instead of a band, and one really couldn’t call the events that were to occur in any way ordinary. The guys spent the first 5 minutes dressing up in silk robes and scarves, and then took their places behind the large horns set up on the stage. A highly amplified throat singing voice filled the space and the concept of time seemed to disappear. At times, the singing was backed up with drumming or cymbals, and the set featured a section played with the metal horns. However, for the most part, the chanting alone was enough to make your innards shake from the wall of sound. The front of the stage was pretty empty at the beginning of the set, but the number of people had multiplied quickly and nobody seemed to leave before the set was over and Phurpa started to disrobe. What an immensely bewildering, but excellent start to the evening, and one doesn’t get to witness stuff like this every month, or even every year. If I had to think of something to nag about, Korjaamo’s stage is not that high up, so you had to be in the first three rows to see anything – Phurpa was sitting for the whole set.
From rituals to more traditional band music: the British Warning is a doom metal legend. The band gained their cult status with their debut album, The Strength to Dream (1999), and the sophomore Watching from a Distance is regarded as one of the metal milestones of the 2000s. I don’t know how the Blow Up crew had convinced the band to reconsider, as singer-guitarist Patrick Walker reassembled the band, which had disbanded in 2009, only for a one-off show in this year’s Roadburn Festival. The Korjaamo show could be described best as magnificent – the audience lived through the show with such commitment that Walker seemed to be genuinely confused about the warm welcome they received. As at Roadburn, Warning played the 50-minute Watching from a Distance in full; Walker spent the rest of the slot by chatting with the audience as sympathetically as a British gentleman possibly can. The harrowing, beautiful music got additional power from the hopelessly-themed monochronous background visuals. I’d totally understand if Walker, who records with his band 40 Watt Sun these days, doesn’t want to continue with Warning, but I sincerely hope that this won’t be the end of the band. I also believe that Warning might have gathered the largest audience of the evening.
Friday’s rowdiest part happened midway through, as Japan’s gift to doom metal, Church of Misery, took the stage to the interest of many, as the hall was totally packed to at least halfway full. The band has had its share of lineup changes in the past, and 3 years ago the founding member, Tatsu Mikami, was left alone as the rest of the band collectively quit after a summer tour. The latest album, And Then There Was None, was recorded with the help of session musicians, but this year the lineup was finally completed and the journey continues. For some reason, I’ve managed to skip all of the band’s shows in Finland so far, but I guess it’s better late than never, as Church of Misery was a blast to see live. Mikami, hanging his bass almost obscenely low, couldn’t keep still for a second, and the new-ish vocalist, Hiroyuki Takano, was an entertaining showman as well. The set leaned towards their older material, as only one song was played from And Then There Were None. The fourth record and the most familiar to me, Houses of the Unholy, was featured with two songs, but much to my dismay, “Shotgun Boogie” wasn’t one of them.
Usnea was up second to last. I hadn’t heard of them beforehand, and a large portion of Church of Misery’s audience seemed to have vanished during the changeover, but it was their loss. Usnea ended up wiping the floor with the rest of the bands fair and square. Having been formed ‘only’ in 2011, the Oregon-based four-man group’s extremely crushing doom metal hit the audience like a sledgehammer. Bassist Joel Banishing and guitarist Justin Cory split the vocal duties, as Banishing growled and Cory screamed – Cory’s technique was especially on point, as his voice was immensely strong but effortless. If Warning’s songs were slow and they only got to play five of them, Usnea’s set had only four songs: three from the brand new Portals into Futility, and “Detritus” from Random Cosmic Violence. The shortest of the bunch, “Lathe of Heaven”, clocks at nearly 10 minutes, while the set-ender, “A Crown of Desolation”, almost 20. If Ahab’s your thing, I’d definitely recommend checking out Usnea! The band’s feats weren’t limited to music though, as I don’t recall being at a metal show with similarly simple but awesome background visuals. Usnea’s backdrop featured a sun-like form with an eye in the center – found on the cover of their self-titled debut – and various effects were projected over it. At one point, the eye was in flames, and at another, a smoldering blue fireball circled around it, to name a few.
The Italian doom metal beast Ufomammut had the honor to wrap up Blowup’s Friday. As with Church of Misery, the band has been to Finland numerous times – for example at the same festival 2 years ago – and I’ve likewise never seen them before. Unfortunately, Usnea had taken away the element of surprise with their immensely strong set, which somehow prevented me from getting as hyped about Ufomammut’s show as I probably would’ve been otherwise. This doesn’t mean in any way that Ufomammut wouldn’t have been great, I just probably wasn’t in the most receiving of moods. I have to admit though, that the band’s discography isn’t that familiar to me through and through, so I would’ve suspected the set to be a little less violent, in vein of EVE, as I know it best. Instead, the band blasted away and definitely unclogged my ears with their huge force. Ufomammut was probably the only act of the day during which the use of earplugs would’ve been beneficial. As I had worked a full 8 hours and watched four great shows, I didn’t have the energy to witness the whole set, so I guess I’ll have to attend Ufomammut’s next show that comes by!
Considering that I had probably drunk one beer too many the previous night, Saturday morning presented itself surprisingly peacefully. After filling up on food and a couple of drinks, we headed back to Korjaamo with good energy levels to check out Saturday’s selection of bands, with our own PH being first up. The doors were once again opened at 19:00 sharp, but as we got there at maybe 19:15, a considerably lower number of attendees were present when compared to the same time the day before.
PH climbed on stage at 19:30 to a pretty scarce audience. Fortunately, the situation improved as the show went on, as PH, once again pretty unknown to me, revealed themselves to be an excellent blend of post-/doom metal, and their hour-long set seemed to go by at an instant. The band changed pace with ease, as it was hard to tell when one song ended and the next began. The round DIY lighting structure with the PH logo, set up behind the drumset, worked nicely alongside Korjaamo’s own lights, and the video projector was also used for additional effect. I don’t know who operated the PH logo lighting, though, as it seemed to shut down and light up randomly, not in rhythm or during passage changes. All in all, the five-piece band left me with a nice need to hear more, so the new Eternal Hayden record is probably something I should check out.
The mood took a steep change of pace from PH’s psychedelia, as second up was the Swedish sludge band, Domkraft. The three-piece band from Stockholm relied heavily on crushing riffs and tight group play, as their performance didn’t include any additional elements. Domkraft’s material, with songs easily reaching over the 5-minute mark, worked flawlessly live even though this isn’t the type of stuff I usually listen to at home. The bassist-vocalist, Martin Wegeland, who by the way played with an obscenely buzzing sound, thanked the audience and the Blow Up crew numerous times during the set. Despite the fact that the amount of people had doubled since PH, Domkraft should’ve had a bigger crowd to see them – I guess they aren’t that well-known (yet). A definite ‘yes’ from me.
Things continued on with sludge, but the atmosphere couldn’t have changed more as Noothgrush, all the way from California, took the stage. The band managed to be entertaining already during their soundcheck, as vocalist Dino Sommese asked the sound tech to mute the vocals from his monitors, as he didn’t want to listen to himself. The showtime was at least 5 minutes away, but the band decided to begin the set straight after the soundcheck, because why climb off the stage only to return 3 minutes later? And the show… that shit was the bomb! Musically, Noothgrush was extremely gruesome and slow, even for sludge, and Sommese’s dedication to his craft was amazing. The drummer, Chiyo Nukaga, seemed to beat her set with such force that I totally understand the use of 20-something-inch crash cymbals; anything smaller and thinner would’ve been in pieces 5 minutes in. The band’s discography consists almost entirely of split EPs, and I cannot say I’m familiar with their work, but I’m sure that the set offered a nice selection for people more into the subject. Noothgrush also thanked the Blow Up crew for a nicely organized festival near the end of their set. The band probably won’t return to Finland for a while, so if you weren’t present, your loss!
Continuing on with the United States of America! A real doom metal veteran, Saint Vitus, took the stage second to last. The band was supposed to conclude the evening, but guitarist Dave Chandler had injured his leg only a few days before the show, so they decided to switch places with Spiritus Mortis to allow Chandler to rest. There has been some changes in the band’s lineup: Pat Bruders of Crowbar fame had filled in for Mark Adams for some time now, and Wino Weinrich, who got caught in possession of drugs a few years ago, was replaced by the band’s original vocalist, Scott Reagers, for this year’s tour.
The Korjaamo hall was already almost full a good 15 minutes before Saint Vitus’ showtime, so it was pretty clear which band the audience had come to see. The band, as well as the audience, seemed to be on fire for the full hour – Bruders’ stage presence was really confident, drummer Henry Vasquez almost bent his cymbal stands from the force he used to bash his set, and Chandler grinned insanely towards the audience. His leg injury might have been a factor to this, of course. The setlist was justifiably built around the Reagers-era material, but also featured one completely new song, “Bloodshed.” In conclusion, Saint Vitus was a great watch, and the number of sweat-drenched people returning from the front rows indicated that the show will surely rise to people’s personal highlights of 2017.
Having been formed already in 1987 and regarded as the first Finnish doom metal band, Spiritus Mortis had the honor of concluding Blowup’s Saturday. The show was special for the band beforehand, as their vocalist, Sami “Albert Witchfinder” Hynninen, had decided to step down. Spiritus Mortis used their sudden headliner slot quite well, playing a set of slower songs to emphasize Hynninen’s passing of sorts. If the rest of the band performed with little rowdiness, one couldn’t have said the same about Hynninen, who sang a part of the show by lying on his back on the stage or twitching on his knees behind a red book he had brought with him. He has mentioned in an interview that it’s not enough if the music is beautiful or not, but it also has to include conflicts and contrast, and that’s what his performance was all about.
The set was comprised of mostly Hynninen-era material, but also featured older well-known songs. The audience, having already given their everything to Saint Vitus, would probably have wanted to hear faster songs, but considering the sort of funeral theme, the selection was understandable. To much surprise, the latest album was only featured with one track. Hynninen focused on his character, leaving speeches to the rest of the band, until disbanding the theatrics before the final song and thanking the band for the years spent as himself. It’s interesting to see the direction the band is going to take after he’s gone – if they’d decided to call it quits, I’m sure it would’ve been announced beforehand.
To wrap things up, I have to say that Blowup vol. 3 was an excellently organized and well-thought-out event. The lineup was meticulously crafted, allowing a wide spectrum of styles to be seen during a single evening, but also by dividing the bands into Friday’s more recent names and Saturday’s older legends. Initially, I was a bit skeptical of the long changeovers, as they were always 30 minutes long, but the loose schedule made beer runs feel less hurried and also gave time to catch up with old friends, who were present in large numbers. Especially, I’d like to thank Teemu for providing a good deal of additional points to back up my limited knowledge on Saint Vitus and Spiritus Mortis.
Korjaamo is always a pleasurable venue to come to see shows, as the crew is really professional and nice. With the festival being sold out, it probably came as a surprise to no one that the next year’s date was already set during Saturday, so it’s possible to enjoy quality buzzing sounds in 2018 around the same time in October. Mark it up! Literally the only thing that can be improved on is to stock up on beer for next year, as the IV-grade Kukko was sold out already on Friday, even when the brewery, Laitila Soda Factory, was partnered with the event.
Photos: Marco Manzi