South Park -festivaali, held in Eteläpuisto (literally South Park – imaginative) in Tampere, was June 8-9th’s gift to festivals. Musicalypse has always had a fondness for this festival, since its inception in 2014. Though the line-up was much more mainstream in its artists than others, we nevertheless hopped to Tampere to check it out; especially since the festival had been on hiatus in 2017 and you never know if festivals will return after breaks.
South Park was the first major festival I managed to attend this summer, with a rather cozy milieu. Right next to Pyhäjärvi in Tampere’s Eteläpuisto, there was a great view of the lake from the festival grounds. As well, it felt calm and relaxing to be situated in a tranquil park, in spite of the thousands of visitors and constant hullabaloo.
Arriving around half an hour early, there already was a small crowd waiting for the gates to open. The area itself was quite big, not surprising since there were over ten thousand visitors throughout the weekend. Settling near the mixing booth for the first band, the festival was ready to commence.
As an aside, I still don’t know why MCs are needed in festivals. We’re all big boys and girls – we know how to get hyped on our own.
One Desire had the honor of opening up the festival. Bringing to mind a power ballad that was stretched out into a complete record, the troupe had a decently good presence and energy on stage, yet seemed forced at times. Nevertheless they did do a good job in warming up the festival-goers, and since their line-up is fairly fresh, there’s a lot of time to dial in their performance and presence.
Canadian Thor cannot quite be reviewed the same way as the other bands, so I’ll rather just describe my entire thought process during their set:
“So the presenter said that this show is like nothing I’ve ever seen before… we’ll see! Huh, well, there are two burlesque dancers on stage, they’re pretty hot. I liked the ones at the Master’s Hammer gig better though. Whoa, is that a plastic Sutton Hoo helmet? This is pretty okay musically, pretty solid hard rock, but the singer kinda ruins it for me. Oh hey, third song, the dancers are back and this Guy Fieri -looking singer has switched masks for like, the third time. The man is hammy as hell and chews the scenery like no-one’s business. Wait, who the hell is this shirtless bodybuilder dude, why are they dragging this mad scientist looking bastard off the stage?”
Then it hit me: I’m watching wrestling; I’m watching WWE by the way of hard rock. It was so absolutely cheesy, campy, and ridiculous that I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could the people I was watching it with. In this regard, Thor was great; it was a great reminder to never take ourselves too seriously and just have fun with the things we’ve chosen to do. Sadly, the classic and 1984 Thors both wielded hammers; missed completely the opportunity to wield a hockey stick as the Canadian Mjölnir.
Continuing on was Brother Firetribe with their trademark Adult-Oriented Rock- style that brought great, positive energy to the festival with them. Their choice of intro was rather reminiscent of Rush’s proggy style. They were very much a feel-good live band; their performance’s positivity was only overshadowed by that of the audience, which without any need for encouragement went along with the songs at full force. Even though the music itself is a little bit too ‘iskelmä’ for me, I can’t deny that BF is entertaining, capable, and funny on stage.
Getting up on stage during an Air Force training session, Stam1na managed to score one hell of an entrance. Every bit insane as ever before, they easily grasped the audience during and between songs. Loud and aggressively unique when playing, entertaining and gregarious between, Stam1na is a staple of Finnish festivals and it’s not hard to understand why. Their set was nicely balanced between their newer and older stuff to cater to the longer-standing fans as well as the new, which personally is a big deal. Finishing off their set with Lääke, Antti “Hyrde” Hyyrynen never fails to impress with his ability to perform vocals and his excellent guitar-playing at the same time.
Diablo BLVD from Belgium left me extremely cold. There was a similar feel to the one Silent Circus created, where the music is technically perfectly functional, but didn’t have any soul behind it. They did their best at getting the crowd going – with moderate success – but I can’t help but feel that they’re lacking that spark that ignites their band and elevates it to a new level. Maybe they just don’t translate well to an outdoor stage, but the (subjective) fact of the matter is, I didn’t enjoy their set, which was a first for the festival.
Sonata Arctica is now an extremely long-running band with a pretty vast reach around the globe. Walking a much more mainstream path since around Winterheart’s Guild or so, it wasn’t great to hear them live playing their newer stuff. Granted, I’m exactly the worst listener for it, since Successor and Ecliptica were integral to me when learning about different genres of metal… but I digress. Regardless, they’re a solid live act. Frontman Tony Kakko self-deprecatingly joked about “Tallulah”, was a little touch I really liked, but then never actually playing that is just cruel. Focusing on their newer productions is par the course, but throw a bone for the older fans as well, please? Also, why would you want pyrotechnics at your show?
I’m a fan of the saying, “If you think you’re too old to rock, you are.” This seems to be what Michael Monroe thinks as well, since there doesn’t seem to be a single old part in his body. The man is surprisingly sprightly being the only living person to see Keith Richards being born and remains an extremely good showman on top of that. Commanding the stage with absolutely zero effort, he easily supercharged the audience that happily sang and went along with the songs, borrowing some from Demolition 23. and Hanoi Rocks. Most memorably, even the stage supports were not safe from Monroe’s energy, as he started climbing them to show them who’s boss during the show. MM was great, he truly shows how much you can still rock out when you don’t give a damn. I’ll be taking that lesson to heart.
The extravaganza that is Ghost has been on a stellar popularity trajectory for some years now. Having an extremely well-realized sense of theatricality and knack for the dramatic, they certainly conjure up a great live show. Seeing them in Hellfest 2011, their performance was – of course – a lot more subdued back then, but now that they have more resources at their disposal, it has turned into a complete blowout of a show, complete with fancy cathedral-style props on stage, customized masks, and pyrotechnics. That aspect of their gig worked perfectly well, but here’s the rub: I don’t actually like their music. I do get it. They have disturbingly catchy music alongside great vocal melodies and flawless playing. The theater performance they put up on stage is world-class, complete with great aesthetics for the Ghouls and Cardinal Copia, incorporating the set pieces with the backdrop perfectly. Still, it just doesn’t seem to click for me on any level. Maybe it’s because they’re Swedish and thus provoke unearned animosity from me. Their performance, however, was great, doing an excellent job for their audience, having a ton of crowd-pleasers, which unsurprisingly pleased the crowd. I’m fairly certain that Papa Emeritus himself showed up in the smoke on at least one occasion (and not just on the backdrop). Ghost is a treat to see live and I do recommend their performances, since they have great vision, both doing their thing and beyond it.
The weather on the second day was a bit chillier than the first, but that cleared out before the first band even hit the stage. Settling in at the same place as Friday, it was only after 10 minutes that I realized that the first performer was on the main stage and not the secondary. That’ll teach me to assume and buy beer before checking the schedule.
Beast in Black started off the second day and was easily my most anticipated performance. Drawing lyrical inspiration from the manga Berserk – which I love, incidentally – it was safe to dweeb out and enjoy the hell out of them. As for their performance, it had a somewhat rough mix and imperfect sound, but the absolutely energizing show they put on was so good, it was a tertiary issue at best. Frontman Yannis Papadopoulos – or Papa-Y as I’ve come to call him – is an absolutely fantastic vocalist with great range, control over his voice, and mic technique. Anton Kabanen being the uncrowned king of cheesy 80s-style power metal as well, they brought it to life with great gusto. The drummer, Atte Palokangas, as well had his share of the fun, smiling throughout all of the gig, twirling his sticks, and in general seemed to be having an absolute blast. During Crazy, Mad, Insane the bassist and guitarist (Máté Molnár and Kasperi Heikkinen, respectively) donned Mario and Luigi masks to emphasize that only weirdos play video games. BiB was fantastic and it seemed the crowd agreed, since there were a lot of people watching it with me.
On a completely different note, Night Nurse was scheduled next. Their performance itself was quite subdued, in stagemanship as well as in volume, but it would’ve been detrimental otherwise. Mixing-wise they were on point and style-wise the pseudo-50s aesthetic and sound was very enjoyable, complete with a ‘läskibasso’ (slang for contrabass/upright bass), which was nicely entertaining to hear. This might also be a strange thing to pick up on, but their lead guitarist, Mice the bone saw, lifts. They reminded me of Jess and the Ancient Ones in a really good way, with a nicely strong idea of what they want to play and how they bring that across, complete with great audio-visual style, as well as the nicely straightforward, honest, and relaxed attitude of their lead, Nurse Camy.
Amorphis is one of the older active metal bands in Finland, which have their own unique style of music. Their genre is pretty hard to pin down exactly, which is quite apropos to their name itself. Ever the veterans, they have a great presence on stage with no need to posture or grandstand. Vocalist Tomi Joutsen has excellent technique when switching between growls and cleans, alongside with a superb voice itself. The overall feel of the music is just a tad too serious for bright sunny days and loses a lot of its emotional charge. Regardless of that, Amorphis is well worth getting into and checking out.
There’s a saying that goes somewhere along the lines of ‘aggressive music is the domain of young men.’ Lost Society quite nicely showed why that saying has some credence. Playing loud, fast, and energetic, these guys don’t lack any drive to prove themselves. Drawing their inspiration from thrash metal legends, they certainly do those legends proud with the vitality of youth, and it seems the audience was on board with this as well, forming a wall of death followed by a (short-lived) circle pit on at least one occasion. Very orthodox and old-school in their style, it was nevertheless delightful to see the youngsters giving it their all.
Quite a big name in the more mainstream metal circles, Mustasch had a somewhat rough start to their show when vocalist-guitarist Ralf Gyllenhammar had some trouble finding his voice for the first few songs, but easily settled in after a while. Importing their well-produced sound to the live stage, the show didn’t leave a whole lot to complain about, even if their style isn’t for me. Maybe because it was rated M for Manly.
Speaking of manliness, S-Tool had quite the machismo-loaded show as well. They too returned to the thrashier side of metal, even playing “Hit the Lights” by Metallica. Getting some amusement out of the fact that their bass drum had a picture of Colonel Sandels, as well as drummer Aksu Hanttu having a ton of fun in the back, the seriousness of their music itself didn’t overshadow the objective of having a great time. It’s a bit sad that the crunch they have on their albums didn’t translate all too well to the outdoor stage, but they did the best they could considering the circumstances.
The legendary Accept needs zero introduction. Rocking out before some of the festival-goers were even born, they took the space under their control as easily and naturally as breathing. There isn’t that much to even say about their set. It was top-notch – mixing and performance -wise – with nothing wasted, except maybe goosebumps while “Metal Heart” started playing in the latter half. The industrial style props were really badass as well, befitting the image of heavy German industry. Finishing off with “Balls to the Wall”, they did exactly that, a figure of speech that is somehow as bizarre as it is funny, but I digress again. As I said, Accept is a legendary band, worthy of their reputation and pioneering heavy metal that is nowadays enjoyed by millions. Hats off to you.
Mokoma is the other half of the Finnish festival staple bands. They too have a somewhat legendary reputation in Finnish metal circles, but that mostly consists of the fact that they play everywhere. They are reliably entertaining, having dialed in their sound from the hundreds – if not thousands – of gigs they’ve played. Unsurprisingly, again, they focused much more on the newer stuff they’ve produced, which is sad since Kuoleman Laulukunnaat ranks pretty highly in Finnish metal albums to me. Frontman Marko Annala being talkative between songs is a given and he consistently seems to be having a great time on stage, even if his speeches seem somewhat premeditated.
Alright, so: Helloween. What much is there to say about them? Like Accept, they were pioneers of a brave new musical style way back when, and countless bands draw inspiration from their works. Alongside the absolutely epochal former members who guest-starred on this Pumpkins United tour, such as Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen, performing alongside the brilliant current line-up of Andi Deris and co., the ‘seven vegetables of hell’ (as Kiske put it) did a hell of a job of entertaining their audience. Making heavy use of the animated backdrop as well, there wasn’t a dull moment visually either, especially when darkness started falling and it stood out even more. Fanboy moments were had quite liberally during “Eagle Fly Free”, “If I Could Fly”, “Future World”, and “I Want Out.” Again, as with Accept, it’s quite hard to say anything about Helloween that hasn’t been said before. They’re a hell of a band, full of demigod-like musicians who have rehearsed their craft into perfection. If you haven’t seen Helloween yet, do so. You’re actively doing harm to yourself if you don’t.
After all this, I left South Park extremely satisfied. The organization was very functional and the ample options of different festivals foods was greatly appreciated. The distances between the stages weren’t too bad either, so there wasn’t any rush. As with all the metal festivals I’ve attended so far, the people were extremely friendly and easy to chat with, so going out by yourself wasn’t a big deal. In fact, as I was heading into Tampere after Helloween, a fellow festival-goer quoted some Rytmihäiriö at me, so I had to quote some back. He called me brother, took me out to some boat bar, and I noticed I was explaining to his friends about what the differences between heavy and doom metal were.
Metal – Connecting People.
Photos: Miia Collander