It’s been 3 years since Rockfest appeared on the Finnish festival scene, but only 2 years since we’ve begun to follow along. Musicalypse had a blast in 2018 watching Judas Priest, Marilyn Manson, Megadeth, and Avenged Sevenfold, and 2019 boasted an equally impressive line-up, including big names like Slipknot, Disturbed, and KISS. Even though there were some severe issues with the organization last year, we thought we’d give the festival another shot.
We had done a day trip to Hyvinkää for the Rainbow gig the day before, and had about as many problems as you can possibly imagine holding up our return on Friday. We had hoped to arrive in time to see the clusterfuck disaster that is Santa Cruz‘ new incarnation, but alas, we were only able to hear what a genuine mess it was secondhand.
The festival area was much the same as the last year. The restaurant area was a bit inconvenient to get to, unfortunately, with a bunch of random merch booths in between it (not festival or band merch, mind you; just the generic low-quality festival merch) and the stages. We enjoyed the Kantis Baari that made a triangle with the main stage and the carnival area for it’s comfortable seats and proximity to other places, and they stepped up their game with the carnival rides this year, though admittedly the price increase kept us from trying any of them out this time. What cost 5€ last year was now either 10€ or more, so it was really up to the festival-goers to decide if they wanted to spend the money.
It was a shame the central area of the festival was so convoluted, mixing up the luxury toilets (which cost an overwhelmingly overpriced 3€ to use) with the water area, a couple of random mediocre food places, the generic merch booths, and the card recharge stations into one place, meaning that some of the biggest queues of the weekend were all pretty much right next to each other. With a bit of finesse, they’d be able to better structure the whole place so that people wouldn’t get stuck behind either huge lines or fences whenever trying to get to and from the restaurant carts. Otherwise, there’s not much to complain about with the general layout.
The first band we caught was Amaranthe, who took the stage right at golden hour with their bouncy electronic dance music. They opened with “Maximize” from their newest album, and I have to say that for a band that plays fast pop/electronica, they aren’t very lively on stage. Even with full reign of the Radio City main stage, Elize Ryd (vocals) was doing little beyond walking around and squatting, and vocalists Nils Molin and Henrik Wilhelmsson mostly posed with an occasional hair flip. Frankly, for a gorgeous summer day, it was a very limp performance. Maybe they were wilting in the 28 degree heat?
Their set was fairly mixed, including a few old favorites like “Hunger.” It was nice to see that Ryd sounded much better than she did at the last club show we saw. “Amaranthine” had a singalong that I think we were too far from the stage to hear, but the piano was nice and that’s the best part of the song. Once Molin and Ryd began to harmonize, then it really came together. We watched about half of their show – which was musically fine but performance-wise pretty disappointing – before leaving to check out the food selection. We made it back in order to catch “Nexus” – one of their better older tracks – at the very end, before they finished their set and it was time for Powerwolf.
The burger selection in the restaurant area was decent, so we hit the gourmet hot dogs and Treffi Pub’s burgers. The gourmet hot dogs were the clear winners, though a few more toppings (onion and pickle, esim) would’ve been enough to make Treffi’s 12€ price tag quite reasonable.
Powerwolf was meant to take the stage at 21:15, but seemed to be having some technical problems. At 21:20 the crowd was cheering, but it almost seemed as though they were still getting things ready. Fortunately, it was only 21:22 when they made it to the stage. The speedy drums and grim face paint set the stage and the band seemed immediately forgiven for their tardiness and the crowd was loud between songs. I’ve always found Powerwolf interesting because they look closer to black metal in their visuals, yet their music is straight-up heavy power metal.
We couldn’t see the stage very well through the huge crowd, but we seemed to be catching a lot of theatrical moments, like the keyboardist coming out front and evilly caressing the decorations on his stand. The singer later got a great response from an early singalong to start “Demons are a Girl’s Best Friend.” He was excellent at connecting with the audience, getting everyone to raise their arms in an X for “Killers With the Cross” and starting another long repeat-after-me singalong to construct the melody of “Armata Strigoi.”
They ended the set with “We Drink Your Blood,” and unfortunately they didn’t play some of our favorites like “Sacred & Wild” or “Sanctified by Dynamite,” but we should have another chance to hear them soon when they return in November. I only know Powerwolf from Tuska 2014 and South Park 2016, and I knew they were great live. The stage performance, though, was the best part of their show, with the singer perhaps being the least dramatic of them all (and he’s still pretty dramatic). I think we’ll certainly be back to see them in the fall.
Even though there was a fairly long break before Slipknot, we made our way to the main stage after Powerwolf to find a spot nearish to the stage. It seemed that on request from the band and/or their management, the bars had to stop selling beers in cans in case people began to throw them around. Even 10 minutes prior to their set, the crowd had packed full and swapped out their cans for plastic cups, filling pretty much the entire stage area.
Slipknot came on stage as their curtain dropped and was sucked into a box at the top of the stage, which was strange and visually pleasing. They opened up with “People = Shit,” which immediately had everyone screaming and moshpits forming all over. Their stage set-up was brilliant, with big platforms so you could see the band no matter where you were. The drums were really cool, designed like kegs – I had no idea Slipknot had two drummers, what an amateur I am – and I didn’t realize the band has such different masks from one another. I have to say, they look pretty cool on stage… except perhaps Corey Taylor, whose mask, I may say, was a bit boring compared to the others.
Taylor greeted the crowd and spoke about how it’s been a long time since Slipknot’s been in Finland (not strictly true – it’s only been 3 years), and this is the first of their shows on this leg of their tour. While Slipknot isn’t a band I know too well, it was nevertheless effortlessly easy to get mesmerized by Taylor’s voice and feel that moshing spirit. Performance-wise, there seemed to be an awful lot of people on the stage, with one of the musicians turning into a creepy monk by the second or third song. We weren’t in a good place to see the nuances of the stage, but nevertheless, they put on a show.
Perhaps the best part about Slipknot’s gig was the crowd’s reaction. Taylor’s intensity had the crowd going full wild, and the audience turned to mayhem mode with pits opening up where you could burn off the last of your energy for the night. The set was made up largely of their best-known material, like “Before I Forget” and “Psychosocial,” but they did tease the crowd with the new track, “Unsainted.” They closed out the night with “Duality,” but returned for an encore of “Spit it Out” and “Surfacing.”
The biggest mass of the crowd left after Slipknot, but we were a bit surprised to see that Turmion Kätilöt and Enslaved were both playing at the same time and an impressive amount of the crowd had remained for them (the majority at TK’s show). Still, Enslaved‘s small crowd was enthusiastic when the vocalist addressed them. We caught “The River’s Mouth,” and the light show was quite impressive for the tent stage in the evening. As a visual band, they were fairly motionless but I think that’s standard for their genre, and they all played fiercely, like seasoned professionals.
Turmion Kätilöt is pretty much a guaranteed party; perhaps they may have goofed around and chatted a bit too much between songs, but the music was great and the energy was awesome. We were pretty far back but we noticed a guest female growler on stage for one song, and a shirtless guy with some sort of spark gun who was blasting the band in another. Later in the set, they hooked the spark gun guy into some rings and let him bounce around on stage dangling from his back skin. Another song or two after that, they hooked the female growler up to the spark gun guy, and let them both dangle from their skin. It’s been a while since they’ve brought the Freak Show to their live gigs, but it was fun (and gnarly, obviously) to see it again. Ultimately, they’re a pretty safe bet for an awesome energy-filled weird gig to end your night.
And so we left our first day (or second, if you count Rainbow), we were all messed up from moshing and ready to take it easy and hear more bands on Saturday.
Despite Fridays debauchery, we managed to get ourselves together in order to get back to the airfield for Within Temptation‘s set at 15:30. We had passed by the smaller Prkl Stage and heard a bit of Rave the Reqviem, and made note that we should listen to them sometime because their music wasn’t half bad.
The sun was already ablaze as WT opened up with a couple of new tracks from this year’s Resist, much like they did during their Resist Tour in Helsinki back in October 2018, before hopping back to “Stand My Ground” and then some even older songs, like “The Heart of Everything.”
The mix was a little murky behind the sound booth, likely as a result of the wind, but due to the heat and huge crowd, we opted to stay at the back. Sharon den Adel addressed the crowd a couple times, such as when they brought out an acoustic guitar to help with the summer feel before “Ice Queen.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard them do this old classic acoustically before, so this was a unique and rare treat, at least for us.
They kicked it back up with “Faster”; it’s one of their poppier, less respectable songs, but us so damn catchy that people love it, no matter how not-metal it is. It’s a surefire crowd-pleaser and really works on a hot summer day like Saturday. I confess too, the band seems to really love these songs, so even if they’re not my favorites, it’s still hard to avoid getting infected by the band’s joy.
Every time WT’s been in Finland, I’ve had my fingers crossed in hopes that Tarja Turunen will make an appearance for “What About Us?”, but alas, I was again disappointed. When the song ended though, den Adel shouted, “If you see Tarja, tell her I said hi!”, which was adorable.
They closed up their set with “What Have You Done,” which is always a great finale as per usual. However, they were given an extra song, so they played “Mother Earth,” their usual closer. I’ll never complain about getting one more song from a band I love, so this was a treat. We left the show feeling like the day was off to a great start. These guys aren’t the ultimate live experience, but they are solid performers. With a few live guests, I think they would be pretty much perfect, so I’ll still hold out hope. Just… with In Flames playing later in the day, it was a wasted opportunity not to have Anders Fríden with them for “Raise Your Banners.”
We then all had a joint disappointed experience, shared between the BBQ Smoker and Hot Dog Heaven. The former’s 12€ pulled pork and coleslaw, made of the cheapest imaginable ingredients and newspaper floury buns had no taste at all, while the latter had really generic sausages and buns but tried to overcompensate with a heap-ton of generic sauces. At least Hot Dog Heaven was only about 8€.
We were able to hear a bit of One Morning Left on the tent stage and it sounded like they were having their usual wild party of a show. The crowd was busting out the sides of the tent, but we opted to preserve our energy for some of the later bands. After our meal, we went to get a decent spot for Dream Theater.
A bombastic and exciting intro played while an AI browsed Dream Theater‘s albums on the screen before the band took the stage to the new track, “Untethered Angel.” As has always been my experience with Dream Theater, the focus of the musicians is always on playing well first, and moving second. So they will never be my favorite live band for their showmanship, but likewise, I’ll never skip one of their shows because they play so well. The sound was the most balanced of the day and everything was crisp and clear to start, though as the show progressed there were some mic problems and Labrie couldn’t be heard on a few occasions.
Labrie called for some cheers as the band transitioned into the second song, “As I Am,” and ran double-duty on wailing the vocals and making sure the crowd didn’t get bored. Likewise, Jordan Rudess has his keyboards on a 3D swivel, and Mike Mangini’s incredibly sci-fi cool drum kit were fun to watch. Labrie commented on the gorgeous weather, saying the present weather back in Canada is crap, and then introduced their latest album from earlier this year, Distance Over Time, before they played the new song, “Fall into the Light.”
There was then another food break, and one of my friends wasn’t feeling well, so I had to skip Diablo to take her home. I was luckily able to make it back for In Flames to start their set at 20:30. We’ve been skeptical to attend In Flames shows in recent years due to the decrease in album quality; but we know they put on a good show, so it was nice to get the chance to reassess whether or not we should still be going to their gigs.
Vocalist Anders Fríden greeted the crowd after two songs, and congratulated Finland on their world hockey victory, saying if Sweden doesn’t win, Finland should, and got a roaring cheer as thanks. He then introduced the classic, “Pinball Map.”
Bryce Tanner is a new addition to the band since I last saw them, and he brought a bit of fresh life (and a beautiful red beard) to the live show. I was surprised to see that Niklas Engelin was nowhere to be seen, with whom I believe to be Chris Broderick [Megadeth] in his place.
Fríden spoke with the crowd a bit between songs, inviting us all to their festival in Sweden in August, and introducing “Monsters in the Ballroom” as a song about the crowd. I had a bit of the same feeling with In Flames as Within Temptation – I might not like some of the music, but the band clearly likes their own material and it shows in the performance. “Our House” wasn’t quite as terrible live as on the album and they also immediately made up for it by playing “Deep Inside,” which is one of the few genuinely good songs from I, the Mask.
The other thing of interest was that Fríden got suddenly quite angry about 3 songs before the end of their set. At first he was saying something about how he hates when people “do that” and said that people were just trying to have fun and to leave them alone. After the next song, Fríden said, “Don’t worry, you guys aren’t in trouble,” but then immediately got angry again when whoever it was started doing whatever it was again. Word on the street was that perhaps the security was being a bit overzealous, but we couldn’t say for sure what the problem was. It did leave the show on a bit of an odd note though, as Fríden didn’t really stick around to say goodbye.
We went straight over to Blind Channel after this, in the tent stage. They started with a rambunctious rendition of “Enemy for Me,” which may have been a little sloppy but was very lively. It seems our boys have changed up their look a bit, no longer in Backstreet Boys full white, though Niko Moilanen (vocals) was in a massive white faux fur coat that I have no idea how he handled in the heat. They went right into “Alone Against All,” and they really put their all into drawing in a crowd with their energy. They went back to the first album with “Bullet (with Your Name on It)” and a party pit formed in front of the sound booth. They had a singalong (more like screamalong) at the end, and I’m always kind of impressed with how well Moilanen growls. Tommi Lalli got to have the spotlight during the opening of “Sharks Love Blood,” which is a far better live song due to the band kicking up the heaviness.
They played fan favorites like “Deja FU” and they brought Alex Mattson out to perform his part in “Timebomb.” I was excited that they brought the dramatic “Giants” back to their live shows, and the crowd also seemed pleased, with a very loud singalong to the melody. They were glad to continue it into the opening melody for “Darker than Black” too.
Moilanen then talked about drinking and brought their tour manager out on stage to have a drinking contest with the drummer and Lalli easily wiped the floor with him. They followed that with “I.D.F.U.” and “Wolfpack,” one of their worst and best new songs respectively. They even played something new that we didn’t know, which was their newest single, “Snake,” and brought Henrik Englund [Amaranthe] as GG6.
There was no time to rest though, because there was only a short break before Disturbed‘s timeslot. A few minutes before 23:00, the “music as a weapon” video began to play on the main stage backdrop, getting the crowd prepared for “Are You Ready?”
After a couple of songs, David Draiman gave a rather moving speech about how music unites us and how their shows are a place where everyone is welcome and no one gives a fuck about your politics or sexuality. It stupifies. Naturally, that dad joke led to “Stupify.” And suddenly, like the slow opening of a great maw, a massive pit formed behind us and threatened to swallow us all. The crowd, I feel, were doing their best to be brotherly, in spite of the presence of many drunken front-row crusaders and frat boys.
After a few more songs, including their amazing cover of Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” Draiman took some time to talk about addiction and depression, and how no matter how much goodness in your life, you can still be affected, and how there are incorrect perceptions that you can simply be “strong enough” to get passed it, that we should be invincible. He mentioned the names of many people who are no longer with us, like Chester [Bennington] and Chris [Cornell], as well as Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, and so many others. He stated that everyone in the band had experience with these conditions, either personally or through friends/family, and then asked the crowd who among them knew people who suffered from addiction and/or depression. Based on the cameras, it didn’t look like there were many hands that stayed down. Draiman then went on to talk about how we are not alone and together we can rid ourselves of the doubt in our minds and save as many people as we can from these issues. They then went on to play an acoustic rendition of “A Reason to Fight.”
Draiman eventually went on to say that music brings people together and helps make memories, and they shared a photo montage of their touring over the years to “Hold on to Memories,” but then brought the energy back up where it should be with “Indestructible” and “Inside the Fire.” They did two encores, the first with the Simon & Garfunkel cover, “The Sound of Silence,” and then returned again for “The Light,” “Stricken,” and of course, “Down with the Sickness.”
Running on steam with one day to go, we didn’t watch Turbonegro for long, opting rather to head back to refuel for the final day!
It was a miracle that we arrived at the venue before the end of Lordi’s set, because we were truly exhausted after Saturday. But the show must go on and if we had to miss Lordi, at least we could trust that they would end their set with “Hard Rock Hallelujah,” so we were able to join the crowd in some Eurovision victory nostalgia and throw our horns up for their classic hit. Lordi is pretty hit or miss for people, but the crowd was ample and the people who made the effort to show up clearly know the music beyond Eurovision.
We then moved over to the tent stage to see Sara, a band we had never heard of before. The music was sort of rock electronica, more on the electronica side of things, but I liked the feel of their music. For a band I don’t know in a festival, the best thing I can say is that I’ll check them out again, and while the lights weren’t great, the show was pretty decent.
We moved over to the Prkl stage for the first official time for Oceanhoarse. These guys have been on my radar for at least a year but I haven’t quite gotten to them yet. Ben Varon [ex-Amoral], of course, should be familiar to you if you know your Finnish guitarists. And this Finnish hard rock is clearly made by people who know their stuff. I was surprised that bassist Jyri Helko was the stand-out performer to me. Looking like a wee young Santtu Hämäläinen [Mokoma], he let out some really interesting bass riffs and was probably the biggest element to draw me to the music. Overall, they put on a really energetic show and Varon is still a very stylish and cool musician. It’ll be worth our while to keep a closer eye on these guys in the future. The last song we caught was a rather good cover of “Bark at the Moon.”
So who here knows Ugly Kid Joe? Yeah, us neither. In fact, the main intrigue for this band was that we all knew one or two of their songs, but none of us knew the same song. It was so known, yet unknown, that we were all bursting with curiosity.
Our very immediate impression was that this was feel good party music by rocker dads. Like the dads who got over the sex and drugs when they had kids, but still take those kids to rock shows and let them ride on the back of their motorbikes. The drummer was in his boxers looking like macho Animal from The Muppets with his wild enthusiasm, and vocalist Whitfield Crane was singing surprisingly well. It felt like a pleasant nostalgia trip, even if we didn’t know most of the songs; it felt very 90s.
We had a great laugh when Crane brought out a paper and read, “pitäkää vitun metalli” – a clear Google translation of “stay fuckin’ metal” that reads like “keep the fucking metal.” Again… the cool rocker dads vibe was fantastically high. Crane had the crowd scream when he “leaned in” to the audience, and they played one of the coolest songs of the night, “No One Survives.” By the next song, we were full into everything they were giving us. It was fantastic.
Crane spoke about how the band had quit back in ’97 and were so grateful to be able to do this sort of thing still. The cover of “Cats in the Cradle” was a top moment of the day. They also did a singalong to the audience to “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and performed a song for Klaus Eichstadt’s grandfather, “Goddamn Devil,” which was the one song I knew by the band. The audience then explained who “mörkö” was after they did a cover of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Oh, and they brought a guy in an alligator costume on stage to dance, and promised the crowd that the louder they screamed, the better he would dance. They then dedicated their final song to “Eska” (?) in the costume, which was their other well-known song, “I Hate Everything About You.”
Social Burger Joint winners of the weekend on the food frontier. The choice for final taste test was between the Poppamies stand and Social Burger Joint; the later had a marginally shorter queue and less risk of stomach aggravation. Their burgers would have benefited from a few greens, like lettuce and/or pickle, in order for them to claim full scores. Both the Bronx (meat) and Veggie burgers had quality patties and excellent buns, and weren’t even the most expensive burgers at 12€. And if we’re not talking main courses, we want to give a bonus mention to Quickies – not only were the halloumi fries amazing, but the staff are incredibly cool.
Def Leppard took the stage as the sun began to get low and the wind was getting chilly. These seasoned rockers took the stage and brought the classics in a mellow and nostalgic performance. They had no trouble getting the crowd to put their hands up or sing along, and the whole crowd knew the words.
The band plays with as much enthusiasm as we could reasonably expect from performers who have been at it so long. Rick Allen, know for drumming with one arm, was given a solo, which was pretty cool. They also played big hit classics like “Hysteria,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Photograph,” so even if you weren’t a die-hard fan, you would’ve at least been able to enjoy the fun radio hits.
The 69 Eyes were the next to play in the tent stage, but we needed one more break to survive 2 full hours of KISS on the main stage, so we listened from afar as we took a seat in Kantis Baari. At 23:00, they began to play “Rock n’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin as an intro as the “KISS Army” graphics lit up on the screens. The KISS screen rose dramatically, while backstage images of KISS coming out played. They started with “Detroit Rock City,” descending to the stage from spiked platforms, while fireworks went off. Okay yeah, it was a pretty good start.
First things first: Gene Simmons’ tongue is everything the legends say, and he’s still more than happy to show it off. I do wonder though… is it really necessary for him to slobber all over himself all the time? The man is full of drool.
They continued with “Shout it Out Loud,” and the crowd size reach ridiculous levels. I was impressed to see that – unlike some bands of KISS’ age and caliber – these guys haven’t been skimping on the costume budget. The face paint and costumes were elaborate, and there was nearly no smearing in spite of the sweating on stage during the whole 2-hour set.
In a bit of a foreigner’s foible, Paul Stanley kept referring to the crowd as Helsinki, confusing the festival’s location of Hyvinkää with the capital (even the videos on the screen were saying “Thank you, Helsinki” at the end of the gig), though he later fixed his mistake. He had the crowd screaming along to “Say Yeah,” and he was pretty funny to listen to, as his speaking voice has the stage drama amped up to 11.
At first the gig appeared to be the “Stanley and Simmons show,” with Tommy Thayer (guitar), and Eric Singer (drums) taking care of their parts but not getting to do more than play. The original KISS were extremely campy at all times, which made for a pretty funny performance. Simmons brought a torch out after “War Machine” so he could blow some fire.
However, around the hour-mark into the set, the songs started to get a bit on the wanky side and the newer members got their time in the spotlight. Singer was given a very long drum solo, his kit rising up on a lift so everyone could see: he stopped to dry his hands and arms slowly, and spinning the sticks wildly and generally showing that he could keep up with the others. Then it was Thayer’s turn, his solo segments corresponding to spark shots from his guitar and the lighting rig. And Simmons naturally needed a chance in the spotlight, getting on one of the spiked platforms that descended from above to spit blood and sing “God of Thunder.” After that, they were back to the hits with “Psycho Circus.” Point being, even if the show reminds you that Stanley and Simmons can play, it’s worth noting that KISS didn’t pick amateurs for their band.
With but a few songs left in the show, Stanley was soloing and we saw some sort of zip cord approaching the stage. He then rode it out to the sound booth and performed two songs from there before riding the zip line back to the stage for “Black Diamond.” As the song wound down, spinning sparklers started to go and the drum kit rose up once more.
The band left the stage, but were quickly called back, and Eric Singer came out to sing “Beth” self-accompanied on a very sparkly piano. The band said their goodbyes, and then Stanley admitted he had the city wrong, then asked us to get… crazy. They closed out the set with “Crazy Nights” and “I Wanna Rock n’ Roll All Night” and a crap-ton of fireworks.
So, Rockfest 2019 was indeed another spectacle. While on the organization front, things seem to be slowly improving, there were still quite a few issues with how things were moving behind the scenes. Nevertheless, it did seem that whenever there was a problem, they did their best to sort it out quickly. The girls running the entrance and the media booth were particularly helpful.
The food area has really worked to up the higher end of the food game, but it must be said that the low end was pretty bad. We hope the BBQ Smoker never gets invited back to any festival, as they had the highest prices and the worst quality food. However, Treffi Pub and Social Burger Joint are welcome back anytime! The festival improved the carnival rides, though the cost was maybe a bit harder to justify, and the recharge stations for the cashless wristbands were a good inclusion, even if the location was a bit too central and the queues got in the way of everything.
And mainly, the bands were great. The selection was varied and suited everyone, and everyone got to see a few favorites. If this was the last gig anyone sees of KISS, I doubt anyone will be sorry. The headliners throughout the weekend gave it their all, and there were plenty of favorites playing throughout the day that it was never boring. Here’s hoping that they announce next year’s headliners soon!
Photos: Janne Puronen, Jana Blomqvist