HELSINKI BLACK MASS – Ääniwalli, Helsinki, 3.12.2016 (English)

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Black Mass, a black metal event held in Tampere for the third time this year, expanded into Helsinki this month; in addition to the mass held in Kuivaamo, Tampere, six bands took the stage in Ääniwalli here in Helsinki. Three of the six bands from the Tampere event had traveled to Helsinki: the 1994-founded Norwegian Ragnarok, our own Baptism, and Thyrane, the latter having made somewhat of a comeback this year after a 10-year hiatus. The line-up was completed with the legendary Turku-based Archgoat who were founded already in 1989, Tampere-based Sacrificium Carmen, as well as Graveborne from Helsinki, called to replace Vorum with only a few days’ notice after a sudden death amongst the Åland Islands -based band’s family. I personally haven’t been listening to black metal lately, at least not as much as I used to during my teenage years, which made attending the event a welcomed breeze of nostalgia.

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Being mainly known as a venue for electronic music and more indie-ish stuff, Ääniwalli felt like a peculiar choice to host a black metal event, but as I arrived to the location, the old factorial building turned out to be an excellent choice in terms of size and atmosphere. Only the main stage closest to the entrance was set up, already holding Graveborne’s instruments and backdrop. The bar on the left side of the stage was open, with the merchandise booth, run by the Tampere-based record store, Heretic Underground, set up on the right side, serving vinyl and CD records, cassettes, shirts, and other related goods.

As Graveborne started their set, the venue was still moderately empty and the band certainly had an ungrateful position to fill out for Vorum, as many attenders probably had anticipated to see them instead. Graveborne’s coarse but melodic black metal represents the genre’s standard quality, and the setlist, containing a good deal of variation between slower and faster passages, worked nicely as an opener for the evening. The vocalist, Raato, didn’t waste his time on speeches between songs, but instead let the band blast away the whole 45 minutes without any breaks. The only small interruptions happened when the band had to start two songs over, apparently because of bad stage mix. Didn’t the drummer actually hear the guitars at all, or had Graveborne skipped a rehearsal or two? One can never tell, but I’ll doubt that anyone was bummed about the ordeal. As a whole, Graveborne’s set was a decent opening act, even if the (still relatively small-numbered) crowd didn’t light up completely.

The second band up was Sacrificium Carmen from Tampere. Only familiar to me by name, the band, having released their debut album, Ikuisen tulen kammiossa, played a tightly-packed 45 minutes’ worth of their current as well as new material. The first thing to catch the eye was the band’s vocalist, Hoath Cambion, wearing a bloodied priest’s collar, screaming with admirable intensity throughout the set and eyeballing the audience as if completely deranged. The bassist, Hypnos, was a decent showman as well, constantly making contact with the front row. Much like Graveborne, Sacrificium Carmen’s interval speeches were kept to a minimum, with Cambion only screaming out the names of the songs, but the band’s presence on stage probably would have suffered from additional verbosity. We’ll be waiting for the sophomore album with interest!

Thyrane, based in the northern Finland town of Kemi, ended their career in 2006, but to everyone’s surprise, did a comeback at this year’s Jalometalli ´Festival. Having shifted from the early ages’ black metal sound a bit towards industrial, Thyrane played a tight set of lightning-fast, yet melodic black metal, even if their vocalist, Blastmor, according to himself, suffered from pharyngitis. Thyrane clearly was a wildly anticipated act to see – there was a great deal of totally ecstatic fans in the audience, and the show was without a doubt the best of the evening, with the setlist spanning all the way to the band’s first demo. Near the end of their show, Blastmor thanked the audience and lamented about their time being limited, compared to the time it takes to drive all the way from Kemi, and I sure would have wanted to see the band perform for a longer time than the 45 minutes they had. Thyrane, with their reformed lineup and despite Blastmor’s throat issues, was in top condition, so I sincerely hope that their comeback will last. Decent!

After Thyrane, the evening’s planned schedule met some delays, as Ragnarok’s setup break was 15 minutes longer than it should have been. Their intro tape began playing a few minutes after eleven, but nothing happened after the tape stopped, and for a good 10 minutes, only an ambient track with static lights was seen. Was there something fishy going on back stage? At 15 minutes past eleven the intro tape began for the second time, and soon after Ragnarok climbed on stage. I saw Ragnarok live for the first time in (now RIP) Dante’s Highlight, when they were touring with Marduk, and the band’s raw and crushing black metal can be easily compared with their Swedish brothers in arms. The theme of the evening clearly was digging through really old material, as Ragnarok played “Pagan Land”, their first song ever composed, halfway through their set. A number of tracks from their latest output, Psychopathology, were played, but for myself, the peak of Ragnarok’s set was “It’s War”, the opening track of Diabolical Age, one of my favorites from my teenage years. The audience was flaming throughout the show, and Ragnarok’s vocalist, Jontho, thanked everyone wholeheartedly before retreating backstage.

The rest of the evening was covered domestically, as Baptism took the stage after the excellent show by the Norwegians. For several years, Baptism – led by Lord Sarcofagian since 1998 – has performed live with a lineup consisting of prominent musicians: sg.7 (Turmion Kätilöt, Horna, etc.), LRH (Deathchain, Horna, etc.), with TG and Syphon (both from True Black Dawn). Compared to the earlier bands that night, Baptism’s more mid-tempo black metal has never been one of my favorites from the genre, and their show didn’t completely appeal to me this time either. Yours truly’s heavy fatigue that hit near the end of Ragnarok’s show, might have been a contributing factor, since the rest of the audience seemed to have enjoyed the show. On paper, there’s really nothing wrong about Baptism; the band performed with the type of confidence you’ll only get from extensive touring, and Lord Sarcofagian was a charismatic frontman, dressed in his signature black cowl. In addition to Lord Sarcofagian and sg.7 sharing vocal duties, Mynni Luukkainen of Sotajumala and Horna, joined the band on stage to sing clean passages in two songs.

Turku’s black metal legend, Archgoat, had the honor of concluding the 2016 Black Mass. The band, in the course of their almost 30-year career, has released only three full-length albums, but the number of EPs and split releases greatly compensates. Because of the timetables having slipped earlier, Archgoat began their set half an hour later than intended, and I had to call it quits half way through because of my eyelids constantly shutting themselves because of the fatigue. The show was great until that point, and it was daunting to leave since I hadn’t seen Archgoat live before, but what can you do? As I retreated to the coatroom, Ääniwalli’s main hall was almost full and there was a great number of Archgoat T-shirts to be seen in the audience.

 

As a whole, Helsinki Black Mass was an honest metal event of good quality. Ääniwalli’s coarse interior look served the music nicely, and (to my knowledge) the best sound-system in town didn’t let the sound technicians down – the stage sound was clear and balanced throughout the evening. The pricing of Ääniwalli’s bar deserves a thank you, since you could buy a can of beer for 5€ – a greedier event organizer would surely have bumped the price up to 6€, which was the case the last time I attended a show there. The bartenders seemed to have their hands pretty full for the whole show; with alcohol still being the number one substance of black metal fans, an additional pair of hands behind the counter wouldn’t have hurt. The only thing that really struck me as odd was the timetable, since, as the only foreign act, Ragnarok should have had the privilege to play last.

The ticket price for six bands was only a bit above 20€, so the friends of black metal shouldn’t really have had a reason to skip the event. Helsinki Black Mass probably wasn’t sold out, but apparently the target was reached, since the return to Ääniwalli next year with (at least) Ajattara, Saturnian Mist, Asagraum, and Clamosun, was announced already on the following day. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Photos: Marco Manzi

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