The annual summer festival, Steelfest, is a place for black, thrash, and grunge metallers to get down and dirty. Not satisfied with one festival this year, however, Steelfest Open Air hosted a second fall festival at Nosturi, from the 10th-11th of November, called SteelChaos. Musicalypse decided to check it out and see what kind of show they’d put on.
Being a first-timer is never particularly easy. This festival was my first time at a full-fledged black/death metal festival and also my first time covering anything of any sort. Thus armed with double the usual amount of anxiety and excitement reserved for new things, I set out for Nosturi. Mostly a passing acquaintance to black metal, I was eager to find out more of what’s happening in and around the scene. Apparently the scene is very much alive, judging by the sheer number of people that were present in Nosturi.
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Arriving at Nosturi shortly after the venue had opened, I noticed that the doors to the upper level were still closed, so I headed to the terrace to grab a breath of fresh air (and a drink) and was struck up in conversation by another fellow festival-goer. We discussed the bands we wanted to see and were both bummed out by the fact that Bölzer had cancelled their appearance at SteelChaos due to a back injury, but their replacement, Archgoat, was very much up to the task of filling their shoes. After about 10 minutes of small-talk and pleasantries, both of us headed upstairs to find a spot. I chose the balcony, right in the middle so I could get a clear view of the stage and the bands.
First up was Sawhill Sacrifice, a Hyvinkää-based domestic band which, unsurprisingly, plays black metal with some thrashy elements. The start of their set was a bit stiff, mostly on purpose due to the statuesque poses the artists on stage had adapted during the intro. As the singer came out, the stillness was present only for a short while longer, the tempo was set, and the first song started to play. At the start, everyone on stage seemed a bit nervous – their singer most of all – but as the set continued, the band visibly relaxed and got into their groove. Their lead guitarist in particular was a lot of fun to watch, particularly during the latter half of their set. During their penultimate song, a guest singer emerged from the darkened stage, tearing up a book (presumably a bible) and throwing it into a bucket and then proceeding defecate into it. I’m fairly certain that this was staged, but I wasn’t honestly looking all that intently. Further gestures during the last two songs consisted of eating/drinking out of the bucket and it remains a mystery to me if there was anything in there other than ripped pages. The stage was thus set for the rest of the festival and Sawhill Sacrifice left us with a memorable impression, if not from the music, at least in performance. Overall, their set was above average, yet I personally had a terrible time disassociating their singer from a friend I knew a dozen years ago, who was the kindest man that ever lived, and thus had trouble taking all the grimness seriously.
Next up was Urn, a black/thrash metal band from Tampere. The start of their set was visibly more relaxed and their presence more energetic. While their music was as catchy as black metal gets, the thing that caught my attention were the speeches in between songs. The guys on stage were obviously having fun up there playing. The very down-to-earth attitude of frontman Sulphur was endearing and he seemed like a funny guy to be around. Urn’s set was pretty enjoyable and I’d recommend catching one of their gigs, if straightforward BM suits your interests.
Third under the spotlight was Crimson Moon, our first foreign import from the US/Germany. While high volumes are expected at metal gigs, these guys took a page out of Spinal Tap’s book and cranked their equipment up to 11 and it had a definite impact on the audience. Things were a bit livelier in the crowd, people had shuffled in to fill the empty spaces in the venue, and chants and fists were more common than they had been earlier on. Someone in the crowd was even holding up an inverted cross made with the help of a crutch. There were some technical difficulties during the second-to-last song (I recall something about a bass drum), but otherwise the set was good. The band’s overall feel on stage was more natural than some of the others.
Following Crimson Moon, Heretic from the Netherlands – one of the many, many bands to carry the name of Heretic – was set to take the stage. The practiced ease of years of live performing showed through, as the trio easily took control of the crowd and proceeded to share the joys of their Luciferian gospel. The black’n’roll style was a breath of fresh air after the unrelenting blast beats from the former bands and it seemed the rest of the audience agreed with me. This old-school group had the honor of the first mosh pit of the festival and there was an energy in the audience that hadn’t been there before. “The drunker you are, the better we sound,” claimed the frontman, Thomas Goat. The one thought that I had throughout their time on stage was, “This is a bit too American for me,” even though they hail from continental Europe. While definitely not to my tastes, Heretic was energetic and had a firm grip of the stage and the crowd – a solid performance by obvious professionals.
Deströyer 666 was (to me at least) the first big name of the festival, being the only band I could actually name a song from beforehand, hailing all the way from Australia. The start of their set was surprisingly low volume and it gradually grew into that glorious wall-shaking madness that one associates with heavy shows. Predictably, with a band of this caliber, they had no problems capturing the audience and owning the stage. The band’s frontman, K.K. Warslut, was visibly intoxicated, but knowing his way around a stage, it had no impact on his performance and we were all richer for it. A person I had previously struck a conversation with described D.666 as, “almost exactly like Metallica,” but I didn’t hear the resemblance, nor had I hoped to. For the last song, Warslut ditched his guitar and switched his arsenal over to a microphone. An excellent performance by these long-timers, Deströyer 666 was definitely my favorite of the evening.
Bölzer was supposed to be the penultimate band for the evening, but unfortunately had to cancel their appearance, so the speedy replacement for them was Archgoat. These guys have had some buzz about them for a while now and the trio on this night took the stage with ease and confidence in their music. There was a solid wall of bass reverberating out from the stage, even though I had backed out of my spot to rest at this point. Casual headbanging through fast beats and shredding strings dominated the stage. I had heard good things about their live performances, but aside from being flawless in execution, I couldn’t see anything special enough to warrant the high praise. Maybe it was because of the lack of preparation time (the Bölzer cancellation happened early in the morning on the same day they were supposed to be playing) or perhaps due to the smallness of the stage. Regardless of the reasons, I owe it to Archgoat to cover them properly and with thought the next time they’re playing.
The headliner for the first night was Nifelheim from Sweden. If the other bands had pros among their ranks, Nifelheim was the ‘first company’ and it showed. I’ve said a lot about the ease of taking the stage and casual occupation of it, but Nifelheim showed everyone how it was done. Their legendary reputation and respect for their music heard was heard in the crowd’s chants of “NI-FEL-HEIM” between songs. The energy in the audience throughout the venue did justice to these giants of black metal. Exhausted, I headed home a bit early, before their set had ended. With Friday thus over, I gathered my thoughts for the evening and prepared for the next day.
Having arrived a bit later in the day than Friday, I did the same round as before: a quiet contemplative quarter hour with a drink in my hand and the cool autumn wind coming off the harbor. Having learned the my lesson the previous day, I decided to sit whenever possible to conserve my energy and attention for Saturday’s bands.
Finnish Malum were the ones to kick off the evening, and while I have positive memories of their stage presence, I am hard-pressed to really recall any specifics about them. Their movements under the spotlights were minimal and their music, while excellent if unoriginal, started to merge together with everything else I had already heard. The hooded figures with their instruments on stage were likewise interchangeable with every other hooded figure already seen during the festival.
Havukruunu, our next domestic group, was instantly a relief with their straightforward appearance, no-nonsense attitude towards their craft, and very humble style of speaking between songs, similar to the way Urn had done it on the first day. Their frontman – jokingly or not, it’s hard to be sure – trying to remember what was their next song was funny. “What the hell was it again?” he exclaimed, and so the artists seemed to be having a lot fun playing and being on stage, headbanging throughout their setlist and enjoying the short timeslot they were given.
Antimateria, the third band to fly the Finnish flag that day, was different from the nine that preceded them, having some doom metal elements in their songs, being more contemplative and slower paced than their predecessors. Very much a welcome change of pace, I remember taking the atmosphere in as much as possible. Incidentally, this particular Antimateria shares a name with a terrible Finnish rock troupe and a Spanish(?) hipster alt-rock band, neither being very high on my enjoyment scale, but I digress. Overall Antimateria was very entertaining and a likewise refreshing change of pace at that point in the night.
Speaking of hard-to-find bands, Ride for Revenge/Bizarre Uproar were a total mystery to me beforehand. Being under-prepared was nothing new to me during this festival, but even if I had listened to RfR/BU beforehand, it wouldn’t have prepared me for the show they put up. Musically, they were somewhat akin to cult favorite Sunn O))). A solid wave of sound and bass assailed the space, distressed and distorted screaming was heard through the microphone, and droning guitar and bass repeated the same hypnotic and mesmerizing riffs to an entranced crowd. However, their music wasn’t what caught everyone’s attention – it was the stage show, which would have been more at home in a BDSM-cave or at Sexhibition. Rubber-clad and masked, bizarre domination rituals were performed and grotesque acts involving bodily excretions and fluids followed. Watching intently, if not excitedly, my interest seemed to be shared by everyone else in the room. There were a lot of phones in the air, taking footage of the performance. The spell was broken, however, when one of the subjugated proceeded to defecate on stage and throw it into the audience. The reaction from the concert-goers was predictably to disperse and avoid getting hit. Apparently there was a dead rat in there somewhere as well, but it managed to evade me. This put me in a somewhat philosophical mood, but RfR/BU had done what they aimed to: shock and awe. Grossing out an audience used to, and indeed expecting to be shocked by the performers was an unforgettable experience, I would suggest seeing them if they’re playing somewhere near you. Just don’t stand too close to the stage.
The festival promoter, Jani Laine, came on stage after the performance and apologized to everyone, offering to reimburse cleaning costs, if needed. Respect is due for the fast and upstanding response to such unexpected events.
Entrails from Sweden were next to take the stage, resurrected in 2008 after a decade of hiatus, with a surprisingly good and clear sound, playing straightforward and enjoyable death metal. With catchy music, their playing formed the first mosh pit of the second evening. During the later half of their set, Markus Makkonen from Sadistik Forest took over the vocals, freeing up the frontman’s time to focus on his playing and headbanging. An extremely enjoyable live band, their sound was top notch and easily the most polished of these 2 days thus far.
Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult was another very memorable experience, with a combination of good music and showmanship. One of the first noticeable things was the extremely loud bass drum, which penetrated straight through to the core, as well as the roar of sound emanating from the stringed instruments, shaking the walls. Dark and oppressive, the emotion perfectly fit into the performance. While starting the show clad and veiled in white, frontwoman Onielar took off her white veil after the second song, joining the corpse painted visages of her bandmates, her appearance growing more sinister between songs after drinking blood out of a goblet and spitting it on herself and the audience. Her screams during the songs were equal parts haunting, distressed, and otherworldly. It would be an understatement to say that the band had perfect presence on stage; DNS easily climbed to the top performer of the festival for me at that point.
To close out the festival, Czech Master’s Hammer was the headliner for the evening. Emerging with a pair of very scantily-clad women with goat heads, and their stage instructions for the first song being “Don’t move at all,” the ritual was about to begin. Having grown accustomed to a lot of long hair and corpse-painted faces, the appearance of their lead, Franta Štorm, was surprising, wearing an old-timey hat and a stylish jacket. Though with a reputation like his, one doesn’t need to impress anymore. Another unique feature of their composition was a pair of kettle drums on stage, whose effect was lost on me… unsurprisingly as I wasn’t anywhere near the stage. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves, moving and swaying around in time with the music, with even the tympanist joining in the triumphant posing after songs. I took some amusement from the fact that their guitarist’s stage name is Necrocock. The maturity is strong here, right? Being completely spent by the bands and events of the evening, I had to leave early (around the sixth song), but in that time I managed to witness the return of the goat heads. Master’s Hammer was pretty much how I imagined it, unique and a cult-favorite for a reason, very much themselves in sound, in appearance, and in performance. I’d very much like to see them on a bigger stage or maybe at a dedicated show, to really show us how to praise the Adversary.
The festival thus over, I’m still gathering thoughts on the bands and scene. I tremendously enjoyed my time at SteelChaos and the black metal scene in itself is intriguing enough in itself to keep me interested in its happenings. The festival itself was very well organized, the staff friendly and professional. Special shout-out to the bartender with the Mark of Chaos hanging from his shirt – Grandfather Nurgle’s blessings to you, brother. We’ll meet again.
Photos: Marco Manzi