The self-proclaimed “dumbest idea ever” was for a new band to host their own festival, so that is just what Oceanhoarse did to celebrate the release of their debut EP, Voluntary Bends. Not to restrained by what is “smart” and rather leaning into what is “fun,” these guys hosted a mini-festival at On the Rocks on December 28th, 2019, with musical clinics and a giveaway by Jackson Guitars to look forward to!
Thy Row was first up on stage at 19:00, but due to the surprisingly long and/or slow-moving and/or late opening basement, we didn’t get down until they were already started. Man, they had a fun show. I admit that I’m a big Mikael Salo fan up front, but you hear me repeating the same things for a reason. He has a lot of bands and projects but each band/project showcases a little more of what he can do. Thy Row is the grittier rock n’ roll side of him. He’s the definition of a multidimensional vocalist. Really though, the whole band gave off this fun heavy metal/hard rock energy that made me feel as if I was watching Iron Maiden in a club back before the fame and golden age of heavy metal picked up. The classic riff style and general smiles and fun made it so easy to enjoy the music and performance, even if we weren’t familiar with the songs. “Just Fine” and “The Round” were just a few great live tracks from throughout the night, and we also heard the live premiere of “Fragments of Memory” as well as a cover of X JAPAN’s “Blue Blood.” It’s just the right combination of rock, cheese, and honesty… and a really great opener for the night as seen by the impressive crowd that gathered around within the first few songs once the queues cleared out.
Next up was a short guitar clinic with Asim Searah (Wintersun), who played on the small stage upstairs in the bar, which was still open to the public. Having seen his troubador show at Old Story in Vantaa a month or two ago, I was already familiar with his notoriously cheeky stage presence, though he didn’t tease the crowd too much this time around. He played parts of “Battle Against Time” among other classic Wintersun hits and talked briefly about things like keeping time on stage. There were a lot of people upstairs watching him more intently than they were drinking, actually paying careful attention as he demonstrated the songs. There was a Q&A after though it seemed a lot of Finns were too shy to ask anything, leaving the only question to be about the impressive flexibility of his little finger.
Wake Up Frankie had the next set on the basement stage. We hadn’t listened to them before the night but their name has been popping up on our radar from time to time. They had a pretty strong stage presence with their young tattooed vocalist Kasperi Meriläinen roaring around all over the stage and the rest of them headbanging equally hard. While the thrashy, heavy, punk metal has it’s audience, it’s not really my genre; nevertheless, they put on a pretty good show and the people who came out to see their set were all moving to the music. It seems to be no coincidence that their name has been showing up on our radar more and more these days.
Another unfamiliar name came next: Dirt. Having never heard of them before, they were a complete mystery for us. They were certainly more on the groovy rock n’ roll side of things and it was easy to get into the sound. Again, props to the venue, once notorious fof bad sound, now had a really nice night of… not perfect sound but some of the best Helsinki is offering at the moment. Dirt managed to put on a pretty strong show, despite the long solos that might’ve been otherwise boring, had the band not been so wonderfully enthusiastic. The venue had veritably filled up during their show. The vocals and backing vocals were a bit rough at times, but ultimately they delivered a fun and funky performance of six new songs (and old ones?) that we really enjoyed.
Sara Strömmer (Fear of Domination] was the other clinic we attended. As this was in Finnish, we didn’t catch what she was discussing, but like before, she also did some demonstrations and man can she ever sing. She sang a bit of “Call of Schizophrenia” by Fear of Domination, and showed off some different techniques and explained a bit about how they were used.
Since I Revolt is pretty thrashy (ergo not my jam), we used their set as an opportunity to go out to eat, but did stay for a few songs – long enough to confirm a good balance between amps feeding back, stomping heaviness, and a pretty powerful stage show. Not a band for me, but the fans of the style were definitely moshing to it.
We made it back to On the Rocks in time to catch the main event of the evening: Oceanhoarse, who decided to celebrate the release of their debut EP with a festival. A legendary idea and thus far surprisingly well-executed! It appeared as though the band was hard at work at their own festival, as each band member was seen repeatedly bustling around and helping out. However, this was their time to shine.
An industrial-like intro played as their logo flickered on the backing screen at 23:00. They came out hard and heavy with “Maze of Death” and everything was sharp and on point right off the bat. They were full of energy and from where I was positioned the sound was clear and Joonas Kosonen was fucking ferocious. The rhythm section helped elevate the material in power and energy, and Ben Varon‘s guitar solos in “Fading Neons” were great. Kosonen climbed all over the stage, putting every inch of On the Rocks to use.
“Death Row Center” was first up after Kosonen introduced the event as the official EP release show. The riffs in this track were some of my favorites this year, making this an easy highlight of the night for me. Props to Oskari Niemi too for the burst of energy right at the end. A fierce cry smacked us all awake for the next track, not that we needed it. It slowed down the speed, trading it in for pure roaring heaviness. Jyri Helko on bass was then given a moment to shred and we got to see first-hand what an incredible bassist he is. “Feed the Sirens” was another personal favorite, with its memorable and powerful chorus. Of course the tentacled oceanhoarse made its appearance in the final song.
The band then pulled a girl named Mai out of the crowd to draw the number 51 to win the Jackson guitar. Right after this, Kosonen announced the All-Star Jam and brought Meriläinen back to the stage to play “Duality” by Slipknot with a little added oomph.
Kosonen then begged for a break and let some of the members of Dirt, Aleksi Tiainen and Sebastian Frigren, come in for “Them Bones” by Alice in Chains. Again, we enjoyed everything except the growling/grittier parts of the vocalist’s voice, which sounded rather strained, though on the song was great. Interestingly, it was this part of the night that actually got some sound from the crowd. Next up Kosonen joined Mikael Salo and Antti Wirman (from the clinic) doing “Bark at the Moon” (Ozzy Osbourne cover).
We stuck around for one more song to hear Strömmer and Juhani Mac Flinck (who had also done a clinic) come out for “Only the Good Die Young” by Iron Maiden. I usually hate when people cover Iron Maiden, but this was very well done (though the harmonization in the chorus could’ve been better arranged). Sara Strömmer remains a beast to be reckoned with and the vocal solos were harmonized gorgeously. Strömmer and Kosonen had a little wailing match at the end that was fantastic and quite hilarious. The last song of the night was a cover of something that I didn’t recognize, featuring Ville Jantunen from I Revolt as the last guest of the night.
Honestly, we had no idea what sort of night this was going to be. A festival held by a band who have only released an EP is ludicrous, and yet I would call the night a raging success. Each band is new on the scene and each were different from the others, offering a wide variety of really strong music for a very reasonable ticket price. The 40-minute sets were perfect for a mini-festival, allowing bands like Thy Row and Oceanhoarse enough time to show what they’ve got, without necessitating more material then they might have. The event seemed to have sold well as the crowd was big, and while they weren’t noisy, they were moving a lot. The All-Star Jam at the end was a definite highlight as well, allowing all of the bands to mix and match and just let loose and have fun together. They played a good selection of songs and we got a rare chance to hear a few really cool musicians playing/singing together. If there’s going to be a Hoarsefest 2020, we’ll definitely do our best to be there!