Midsummer, along with Christmas, is probably the holiest of annual festivities for us Finns. Celebrated on the shores of Kauhajoki’s lake, Nummijärvi, Nummirock has offered an alternative for a quiet weekend at the summer cabin for over 30 years already. Over the years, the event has become a concept for its attendees, as people arrive to the camping area several days before the festival even starts, the party continues throughout the Midsummer week, and it’s a respectable feat to see three or more bands. This year’s Nummirock was already the tenth for me, and we began our journey towards Southern Ostrobothnia on Wednesday morning.
When I was young, Nummirock used to be a 2½ day festival: on Thursday evening, the beer tent hosted a couple of bands, and two whole festival days followed. A couple of years ago, Nummirock decided to expand to a 4-day event to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and the situation has remained the same since, so this year the beer tent evening was Wednesday. Mikkeli-based Hanging Garden had the honor of opening the festival; I’ve had numerous (unused) chances to see them live before, so I decided to go check them out, and the band’s hour-long set went by smoothly. Their melodic doom metal isn’t the most original type of stuff out there, but their compositions and arrangements were quite exquisite and the stage presence excellent.
Nummirock is about optimizing one’s alcohol intake, so I had to skip Verikalpa in favor of drinking beer at our camp, but Barathrum couldn’t be missed. Quite a few festivalgoers had the same thought, as the beer tent was totally packed – I had trouble fitting in, let alone seeing anything that was going on at the stage. Barathrum is a kind of Finnish legend – the list of the band’s former members is enormous, but the group, led by Janne “Demonos” Sova, has made a decently consistent career of their mid-tempo black metal. The last time I saw them, Sova had to do the show sitting in a wheelchair after breaking his leg, but this time the man was in good shape and the rest of the band also played better than a few years ago. The set featured songs from their first demos all the way to the latest Fanatiko record, classics like “Last Day in Heaven” naturally included. According to Sova, this was his 19th Nummirock: congratulations for the track record!
Thursday presented itself as partly cloudy, and all the wind and rainfall forecasted for the rest of the week hadn’t fortunately shown itself yet. We had time to go swimming at the beach camp, and Nummijärvi didn’t fail this year around – the water was as cold as last year. We had a few hours to prepare for the first band of the day, Kalmah, but I was already worried about my stamina… no matter how you looked at the timetables, it seemed that almost every band on Thursday was worth seeing.
Kalmah started off on the Inferno stage at 15:00. The band decided to start with a bang and played “Swamphell” first, but the effect was drowned because of the stage mix – it sounded like literally nothing was being done at the mixing booth. Fortunately, Pekka Kokko was just as cringe-worthy with his in-between jokes, and it’s just an established fact that Kalmah can play anything they wish live and every song is still a hit. Their latest Palo record was nicely featured in the set, and even though it has polarized their fanbase, I feel that the album is a good continuation to their already of-quality discography. Traditionally, “Hades” was their last song. A good show once again!
I had seen Havukruunu in Steelfest last month, and this time around they seemed to be even more intense. I only had time to check out the first few songs before returning to our camp, but the brand new track, ”Ja kohta on yö”, surely nods towards a strong followup to their latest Kelle surut soi record from last year.
The Tampere-based Medeia was in a pinch on the Inferno stage. Their previous vocalist, Keijo Niinimaa [Rotten Sound], quit the band because of his other commitments, and the band snatched Frans Aalto to replace him, as Aalto had done quite convincing vocal covers of their songs on YouTube. Medeia played as the first main stage band in 2014’s Nummirock, and Aalto was quite a shy performer back then, so I was enthusiastic to see how he’d improved… and unfortunately I have to say not that much. As a growler, Aalto is clearly on par with Niinimaa, but any kind of interaction with the audience is still pretty challenging – his speeches were awkwardly apologetic, and his overall silliness was pretty unneeded, as everyone present was committed to support Medeia in the light-showering rain. The rest of the band played their stuff as convincingly as ever and their setlist was a great mix of old and new songs, so as a whole, the show had a positive vibe to it. As an act of pure idiotism during the show, someone threw their still lit cigarette to a hollowed-out birch stump near the stage. When extinguished, the cavity already let out a lot of smoke and the inside was totally charred. We’re smarter than this, all right?
Before going for a refill at the camp, I checked out a few songs from Mors Subita’s set. The band’s stage presence and material were clearly top-notch, though totally uninteresting for me – had I been 10 years younger, their snarky melodeath would surely have hit like a million volts. I also had to skip The Unguided in favor of Red Moon Architect, up next on the Kaaos stage. As it had already started raining a few hours earlier, the setting for the band’s sluggish doom metal was perfect, and even if their audience wasn’t that huge, the show was still excellent. The vocalists, Ville Rutanen and Anni Viljanen, make an excellent match, and for once Viljanen had positioned herself in the front row, as her voice is the band’s soul. Jukka Jauhiainen with his wide stance was also a formidable sight once again. If you’re into slow music, checking Red Moon Architect out is absolutely recommendable.
Up next was probably the most requested band in the near history of the festival, as someone even fired up a petition to get Alestorm to perform in Nummirock. This year, the Scotsmen were finally here, and the band threw their 1-hour set to an almost ecstatic crowd in the drenching rainfall. Almost everyone seemed to know their totally goofy pirate themes by heart, and it’s safe to assume that a lot of people had come to Nummirock only to see Alestorm. I’d seen them live for the first time almost 10 years ago, and the development clearly shows, as the band was almost laughably bad live back then, but today Christopher Bowes and co. were a full-fledged party machine. The setlist had stuff from all of their records, and I was delighted to notice that the title track of Captain Morgan’s Revenge is still a staple. The Taio Cruz cover, ”Hangover”, was also played. Near the end of the set, Alestorm’s roadie threw a giant inflatable rubber duck to the audience, and the poor thing was slated back and forth in such fashion that after the last song, it didn’t seem to have any air left inside. If it’s totally futile to even try to take a band seriously, Alestorm is a prime example. Fuck you with a fucking anchor indeed!
Before the festival, I was committed to watch Demonic Death Judge’s set, but Alestorm was so awesome that I had to choose having a beer at the camp instead. Although, at 23:00, one just had to return to the band area, as Septicflesh wasn’t something to be missed. The vocalist-bassist Spiros Antoniou had injured his arm, but played throughout the set with his hand apparently in a cast – though a free E-string seems to be a prominent factor in the band’s songs. Still, Antoniou is a wonderful performer and frontman. The hour-long slot went by in a flash, even with the light rainfall, as the band has a lot of killer songs to pick from: ”The Vampire from Nazareth”, ”Pyramid God”, ”Communion”, ”Anubis”, ”Dark Art”… Orchestrations were bellowing and drummer Krimh, who changed bands from Decapitated a few years ago, kept everything together. What a blast!
As Nummirock had done the right choice in placing Finland’s all-time best, Moonsorrow, as Thursday’s final act, I had to skip Fear of Domination to prepare for the show. Their set, as I heard, wasn’t devoid of dangerous situations, as vocalist Sara Strömmer had accidentally taken a boot to the face, and percussionist Miikki Kunttu had stage-dived and landed straight on the rootsy ground. At 1:00, the Inferno stage was packed when Moonsorrow began their set with ”Pimeä” off Verisäkeet, continuing straight to ”Ruttolehto” and ”Suden tunti” off the latest Jumalten aika. It’s really easy to lose track of time during Moonsorrow’s shows, as after ”Kivenkantaja” – played fourth – the show had already gone on for a good 45 minutes. Things were far from over, though: ”Mimisbrunn” (so far scarcely played live) and the monumental ”Kuolleiden maa” were played next, with both songs spanning over 15 minutes. And because this hadn’t caused enough shivers, Moonsorrow returned to play ”Sankaritarina” as an encore. What a way to conclude the Nummirock Thursday.
The rainfall continued on throughout the night, leaving the forest camp totally soaked on Friday morning. Foul weather hasn’t prevented celebration in Nummirock, but a little less would’ve sufficed this year… our tent had had a small hole in the bottom and my girlfriend’s clothes bag had sucked everything in – changing clothes is way overrated anyway. There were large puddles everywhere, so as a precaution, we had to dig trenches around our tents. I would’ve wanted to see Barbe-Q-Barbies, but didn’t make it because of the hassle.
I can only wonder where in the hell did Tero Viertola, Nummirock’s promoter, dig the American Vixen from to perform at the festival. Founded already in the 80s and – I hope that the world evolves so that this isn’t needed to be mentioned as a curiosity in the future – consisting solely of women, the band has visited Finland last in 2006, so this just had to be seen. The rain had clearly affected the number of people present, but Vixen didn’t care and easily earned the Biggest Surprise award of the weekend. The band’s material holds up with ease in comparison to pretty much every 80s or 90s hard rock act, so I can only wonder why hits like ”Rev It Up”, ”Cryin’”, or ”Edge of a Broken Heart” aren’t played alongside Bon Jovi and others on domestic radio stations. Also when considering the band’s playing and performance skills, I could easily imagine Vixen being an interesting band at other Finnish rock events. They even stepped on Deep Purple’s and Beatles’ toes by extending ”I Want You to Rock Me” with pretty decent versions of ”Perfect Strangers” and ”Come Together”, respectively. I exited the stage with a wide grin – a great show, no question about it.
I decided to check a couple of songs from the young thrash band, Maniac Abductor, up next on the Kaaos stage, before going back to the camp. They had a lot of energy on stage, but literally everything in their visual appearance was straight from the genre’s textbook. The audience seemed to like it, but thrash metal just hasn’t ever cut it for me, so I left for camp. I enjoyed my time past Rytmihäiriö as well; not my cup of tea, not at the slightest.
“Power metal is always at least bearable live”, I remember thinking as I walked towards the main stage to check out Beast in Black. The ‘new’ band of Anton Kabanen, who got kicked out of his own band, Battle Beast, a few years ago, released their debut album, Berserker, last year, and the summer festivals seem to keep them busy these days. Kabanen surely hasn’t tried to ration the cheesiness, as Beast in Black’s material is about as over-the-top as it can be. Still, reason enough to go see them live at least once is their vocalist, Yannis Papadopoulos – his voice and vocal range are inhuman. In addition to their own stuff, the setlist featured selected cuts from Kabanen’s Battle Beast years. If you hadn’t heard either band beforehand, you wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart, that’s how conventional the man is as a composer. Either you like Beast in Black or you hate it, but it’s an entertaining live act nonetheless.
I managed to get stuck at the campsite, and even when I had decided to go see the Finnish synthwave group, Megahammer, I only returned to the band area just in time for Sodom, which was up next. The German thrash metal legends had their slot right in the middle of the day’s highest winds, but the crowd in front of the stage didn’t mind the weather one bit, and it seemed that Sodom was the most anticipated band on Friday. As frontman Tom Angelripper had decided to collectively sack the rest of the band around New Years and found new members, I had no idea what to expect. The first few songs that I managed to put myself through seemed to work decently, but later on I heard that guitarist Frank Blackfire, who had returned to the band after decades of absence, wasn’t quite on point. I pivoted towards the main stage’s beer tent, because the other synthwave band, Nightstop, was already going full force with their set. The weather might’ve been a factor, but the tent was pretty crowded and the audience was really into the show. In a sense, Nightstop played the best gig of the evening.
The British heavy metal legends Saxon were up next on the main stage. If Sodom took the heavy winds to the face, the heaviest rainfall seemed to happen during Saxon’s set. Compared to the sheer size of the band, an almost regrettably small crowd had come to see them, but Saxon didn’t care and steamed through their hour-and-15-minute slot with immense confidence. I only had time to watch the first five songs or so, but already at that time it was clear that Saxon was in excellent shape, and Bill Byford’s voice is still top-notch, even in his late sixties.
After a quick detour to our camp, it was time for Friday’s last band on the Kaaos stage, our own Barren Earth. Consisting of members of Amorphis, Moonsorrow, and Kreator to name a few, the band can be seen as a supergroup of sorts, but the main attraction is Jón Aldará from Hamferð, who has nailed the growling and clean vocals for two albums in the running. The last time I’d seen them was in 2012 with their previous vocalist, and with the latest, almost obscenely good album, A Complex of Cages, under their belt, a rerun was totally in order. The weather had culled the audience to only thirty or so people in the beginning of the set, but the band was immensely good nonetheless. Aldará jokingly described the setting as the most Finnish ever: a forest, lake, people are shitfaced… he even claimed to have brought the foul weather along from the Faroe Islands. His drink of choice was Gambina, and he received a hefty applause when the bottle first appeared on stage – I wonder if the guitarist, Janne Perttilä, had anything to do with it, as he had already played with Rytmihäiriö earlier on? Barren Earth performed with a stand-in guitarist, Kimmo Korhonen, as Sami Yli-Sirniö was on stage with Kreator in Copenhagen at the same time.
When the Swedish black metal act Tsjuder started their set on the Inferno stage, only a handful of people were present, but the front of the stage started to fill up quickly. The band hasn’t ever seemed to be as well-known as their countrymen Dark Funeral or Marduk, even when their material isn’t put to shame by either band, and I have to say that Tsjuder cranks the snarkiness scale one step higher. Unfortunately, Tsjuder suffered from (I believe) the only technical difficulties of the whole weekend, as guitarist Draugluin’s wireless transmitter went mute for a while mid-set. The band had a brief council on how to continue, and decided to do a couple of songs with only bass and drums. The Inferno stage seems to bring bad luck to black metal bands – I remember Watain breaking their bass amp in 2008 in the same fashion.
Abbath concluded the main stage on Friday. The importance of the former Immortal vocalist’s solo project in today’s metal scene is something that I’m not completely sure of. The eponymous debut album wasn’t that great, and it was evident beforehand that the set would also include some Immortal tunes. The show ended up being really entertaining, but not in a completely good way: Abbath’s vibe on stage was pretty identical to his Immortal years – even his gestures were the same – and his in-between speeches were almost incomprehensible because of his croaking voice. Abbath’s solo material doesn’t differentiate too much from the Immortal songs, and at times I felt like I was watching an ‘Abbath plays Immortal’ gig. Still, hearing “In My Kingdom Cold”, “One by One”, or “Tyrants” live is always heartwarming, so the show was a positive experience in the end, and it was great to watch our own Ukri Suvilehto being the drummer wizard that he is.
Checking out Before the Dawn, risen from the dead once again, would have, in a sense, been recommendable as the last act of the Inferno stage, but Tuomas Saukkonen’s fairly generic melodeath hasn’t ever appealed to me, so I declared Friday as done after Abbath and went back to camp to get some sleep.
“Like, Hevisaurus is the only thing that matters today!” seemed to be a popular opinion in the camping area on Saturday. Having won the Facebook poll by a large margin, Nummirock’s legendary hangover slot – the first main stage band on Saturday – featured Hevisaurus, a Finnish dinosaur-themed children’s metal band. The festival had capitalized on the situation ingeniously by also selling family group tickets for Saturday, allowing entry to the band area until the end of the show, and the area also boasted two bouncy castles, a cotton candy machine, and everyone could also receive a black Nummirock balloon.
The early afternoon was honest beer drinking time, so One Desire on the Inferno satge went past me – their playing carried to the campsite, sounding like decent melodic metal. Once we got to the main stage, the sight was really heartwarming – Hevisaurus had gathered the largest audience of the weekend, as a huge number of families had turned up. The front of the stage was full of balloons and children with brightly-colored earmuffs, and actual festival-goers seemed to be in the minority. At a quarter to three, the band climbed on stage dressed as different species of dinosaur (and one dragon).
I have seen Hevisaurus live once before, but the show a few years ago was nothing compared to this one. It’s almost futile to even try to describe the atmosphere that took over the area during the 1-hour show – during “Viimeinen mammutti”, grown men seemed to be in a more susceptible state than on any for-adults show I’ve seen in a while. Vocalist Herra Hevisaurus threw ironic jokes at the adults relentlessly, and he introduced the last song, “Hirmuliskojen yö”, to honestly be about the night between Sunday and Monday. The absolute highlights were “Liskodisko”, sung by the keyboardist, Milli Pilli, and the last song of the actual set, “Jurahevarit”, during which we witnessed the most polite circle pit ever – everyone was really careful not to bump on nearby children, who looked at the situation with round eyes, clearly not understanding why the adults ran around like that.
Hevisaurus was something incredibly beautiful. Their material is heavy metal made by hardened professionals and clearly of better quality than roughly 95% of comparable Finnish stuff. It’s also evident that Nummirock won’t experience anything like this show for a while, unless Hevisaurus themselves return and do it again. Actually, I demand Hevisaurus to return to Nummirock in 2019, because “Pirkolla on purkkaa” and “Laika-koira” were not played!
As we returned to camp, everyone was so stoked about what had just happened that we just had to spend some time listening to their songs on every portable speaker available. As the moment went on, seeing any of the upcoming bands felt completely indifferent. I only got back to the band area to check out Bloodred Hourglass, couldn’t bring myself to get interested of their fairly decent melodeath, returned to camp, and didn’t even try again. In all the previous years I’ve tried seeing something every night, but this time around, all the partying at the campsite was so much more fun that the only thing I saw from the headliner, Turmion Kätilöt, was the fireworks that ignited right after their show.
My personal 10th Nummirock was once again – despite the usual midsummer weather on Friday – a wonderful experience. Thursday was a festival day of the utmost quality, Friday featured a bunch of great shows, but Hevisaurus hit the jackpot on Saturday. For the first time ever, I had to sit and wait for a while before starting up our car, as I apparently had gone to bed at such hour that the info booth’s breathalyzer reported me still being a bit fuzzy.
Once again, Nummirock was organized smoothly. The truck full of toilet booths wasn’t around the camp this year, but the portable toilets brought out to replace it were probably in the cleanest condition that I’ve seen at any festival. There were virtually no queues in the main gate or at any bar area, and the food stalls were thought through far better than last year as a reaction to last year’s pouring of angry complaints about the horrible quality of the dishes. They were far from perfect, though – ‘all condiments’ doesn’t mean the same thing in a kebab plate than in a sausage hash. The only clear negativity that comes to mind goes towards raised prices in the bar areas, as a can of beer cost a hefty 7€ this year.
Considering the Finnish festival scene, Nummirock is a one-of-a-kind event and should be experienced at least once. The feared Post-Nummirock Depression hit me as soon as I got home, so we’ll lick our wounds for a while, and we’ll see each other again next year!
Photos: Janne Puronen, Sander Burmeister