Last year the godfathers of metal, Black Sabbath, announced that their 2016 tour would be their last. In Finland, a mini-festival called Monsters of Rock was built around Sabbath’s final visit to Helsinki. Besides the main attraction itself and the farewell tour’s regular support band, Rival Sons, the Finnish fans got to check out Opeth and Amorphis live in Kaisaniemi. For me, the thought of seeing Black Sabbath for the first and last time was attractive in itself, but when two other great bands were announced for the event, even the slightest considerations of skipping the show vanished immediately.
Full gallery HERE (except Sabbath).
You can listen to the setlists of all four bands here:
There were quite a lot of people waiting to get into the venue outside the gates before they were opened at 16:30. I was amused by the Christians who were preaching the word of Jesus in the nearby street – I don’t know whether they had picked the occasion because of the headliner band’s reputation or the big audience, but either way they were never going to be very successful at converting metalheads. After getting in, I visited both of the merch stands in the hopes of getting a copy of Black Sabbath’s The End CD, which was only available at the shows, but unfortunately only signed copies were left and they cost 90€. Luckily my disappointment didn’t last too long, as the fun was about to begin.
Amorphis is no stranger to opening for legends, having supported Metallica in 2012 and Iron Maiden in 2013. While the setlist offered nothing new for me and was just a condensed version of the one they played last year in Tampere, Amorphis made a bold and surprising move by squeezing in five songs from last year’s Under the Red Cloud and ignored Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Eclipse completely. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, as new songs like “Bad Blood” were received the best. However, the audience was still warming up and didn’t really participate in the chanting during “Death of a King.” This makes me doubt that even “House of Sleep” would’ve roused people into a huge sing-along, so maybe its omission was for the best. It was a pity that the wind affected the sound so much, leaving the rhythm guitar and keyboards almost inaudible at times and turning the double kicks in “The Four Wise Ones” into a muddy mess. Despite these little aural shortcomings, Amorphis played professionally and confidently as always, though Tomi Joutsen‘s Black Sabbath T-shirt was an acknowledgement that they weren’t the festival’s main attraction. The only hint of nervousness could be detected in “Hopeless Days,” during which Joutsen sang the last two verses with the same lyrics – he made up for it by rocking his tambourine during the middle eight though. “My Kantele” was slightly anticlimactic as the closer without ending with the 2010 remake, but on the other hand, “Black Winter Day” might’ve been an inappropriate song to play on a July evening.
A little before Rival Sons hit the stage, it started raining – not heavily, but enough to make you want to put on your raincoat if you had one. However, the weather didn’t stop people from moving and clapping their hands to the Californian group’s Zeppelin-style brand of hard rock. I found the appearance of keyboardist Todd Örgen-Brooks a little amusing, because he looked like the long lost cousin of Kie von Hertzen who had joined ZZ Top. Unfortunately, despite his aggressive playing, the keyboards were the underdog in the mix, though the sound was clearer and more balanced than during Amorphis’ set. I was rather unfamiliar with Rival Sons’ material, having listened to just a few songs before the show, but I was positively surprised with the band’s energetic performance. The song “Torture” in the middle of the set won me over with its infectious groove and cool extended jamming. I’m curious to hear what a club show by these guys would sound like because their music really comes alive in concert.
The rain stopped – almost magically – at the end of Rival Sons’ set, so Opeth didn’t have to play in less-than-ideal weather. The Swedish proggers kicked off their set with two songs from the latest couple of albums before moving on to their death metal material. Opeth’s music was a great fit for the occasion, as the newer songs were quite 70s-influenced, while the old song picks were dissonant in the vein of Black Sabbath’s more evil tunes. Once again the sound was far from perfect: during the first two songs, Martin Mendez‘s bass was unnecessarily loud and during the fast sections of “Heir Apparent,” the double bass drumming drowned everything else, just like with Amorphis. Mikael Åkerfeldt‘s humor was more self-deprecating than at Opeth’s headlining shows, clearly due to the support band status – he joked that his band was “just another commercial break before the main feature.” An hour of Opeth is never enough, but the advantage of a short set was that the energy level remained high throughout – my ears may have been lying, but at least “The Grand Conjuration” and “Deliverance” didn’t sound as plodding as usual. Luckily Finnish fans won’t have to wait for a headlining gig for too long, as Åkerfeldt promised Opeth would return to Helsinki after the release of their upcoming album, Sorceress, to play at “the big hall,” the name of which he couldn’t remember.
Finally at 21:15, it was time for the band everyone had waited for. Black Sabbath‘s show started with an intro video, the audio of which boomed massively even through our earplugs. After that, the legends made their entrance and started with their title song, arguably the first heavy metal song ever written. Ozzy Osbourne‘s timing was slightly off when he started singing, but I was positively surprised at how well he managed to stay in key. When the song’s faster second half started, the pious and ritualistic atmosphere changed completely: the audience went wild and people in the first few rows started jumping, encouraged by Osbourne.
After the devilishly great start, things got psychedelic with “Fairies Wear Boots,” which was enhanced by trippy effects on the huge video screens. Unfortunately it also marked a change for the worse for Ozzy, who sang the song in a totally different key than the one his bandmates were playing in. His pitch problems continued with “After Forever,” but luckily he got back on track just in time for my favorite song, “Into the Void,” which the band absolutely nailed. How could anybody not headbang to Tony Iommi‘s monster riffs on this classic? Ozzy handled the fast-paced vocals with grace, and the a cappella verses of “War Pigs” didn’t sound bad either, although I’d expected them to be challenging for him. “War Pigs” also gave the audience a chance to sing along, as did “Iron Man” later on in the set.
Ozzy made the audience of 20,000 people clap and wave their hands on numerous occasions during the night – whether you like his voice or not, you can’t deny that he’s an excellent frontman who knows how to wrap even the biggest crowd around his little finger. Geezer Butler had a short-but-sweet bass solo spot before launching into “N.I.B.,” and his instrument was the leading one on the rarely played “Hand of Doom” as well. A fellow spectator later pointed out that Butler had messed up at the end of “Dirty Women,” but I didn’t notice anything, probably because Iommi was playing a solo at that point. Speaking of Iommi, his playing showed no signs of the cancer he’s been battling in recent years – he truly is the Iron Man! During the band introduction, Osbourne said Iommi’s name three times and he got the loudest applause, so his importance regarding the birth of heavy metal and status as the heart and soul of Black Sabbath wasn’t lost on anyone. The weak link of the line-up was drummer Tommy Clufetos, whose style I found too heavy-handed for 70s Sabbath. The man was a good player at the wrong gig because he simply lacks Bill Ward’s jazzy touch. His drum solo following the instrumental “Rat Salad” wasn’t particularly imaginative, but it served its purpose as a break for the founding members.
After the main set had come to an end with “Children of the Grave,” Ozzy had barely left the stage when he already asked the fans to scream for one more song. A few “Paranoid” (the equivalent of “Freebird” for Finnish concertgoers) shouts had already been heard before that, so it wasn’t hard to guess which song would be the encore. “Paranoid” was the correct way to end the show and made the crowd ecstatic, though by that point of the night Ozzy wasn’t in his best form anymore. The band left the stage while “Zeitgeist” from their (apparently) final studio album, 13 (2013), was playing. While the 14-song setlist was satisfying and I know songs from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) and Sabotage (1975) might’ve been too difficult for Ozzy to sing, it would’ve been nice to hear at least one cut from 13 actually played by the band in order to have the farewell album represented in the farewell set. I’m just nitpicking though, because Sabbath put on a great show – at no point did I think I was watching a bunch of washed-up musicians past their prime. If this truly is the last Black Sabbath tour, they’re stopping while they still can pull it off live.
During his last speech before Black Sabbath, MC Jone Nikula had blamed the festival visitors for not using their brains while lining up for the bar areas (or at least the one closest to the stage) and toilets. I can’t comment on these issues myself, as I had a half-liter water bottle and some chocolate with me and managed to control my bladder so that I didn’t need to visit those areas. However, I’d like to criticize the jerks who tried to push their way to the front during Black Sabbath’s set. I know this behavior tends to happen at concerts, but it’s especially annoying at big events like these and unfair to those who have waited for hours. If you don’t have the patience to listen to all the bands, then you should suck it up and settle for the spot you have, even if the view isn’t great.
All-in-all, I was very happy with the first Finnish edition of Monsters of Rock – the weather was fairly good and the number of bands and the set lengths left me satisfied. If the festival is held again next year and Ritchie Blackmore decides to play more rock shows, maybe Rainbow could be the headliner, as they were in Germany this summer?
Photos: Jana Blomqvist