Some of you may be familiar with Svart Records, a Finnish record label that was founded in 2009. SvartFest, then, is the mini-tour of Svart Records (svart meaning ‘black’ in Swedish), which was organized for the second time ever in January 2018 with three domestic groups taking part: Jess and the Ancient Ones, Spiritus Mortis, and Seremonia. The first stop of their tour was in Gong, Turku, and the second we managed to catch was held in Klubi, Tampere on the 6th.
Psychedelic/ambient rock being a bit of an underserved niche, it was pretty hard to resist the call of this particular mini-festival. Being hugely into anything ambient, I think the best quality music or an artist can exhibit is the ability to make people feel. Need something for that cyberpunk night? Tune in to Hol Baumann or H.U.V.A Network and feel the shadows run through you. Want to feel like utter crap on a gloomy evening? Pop in Guilt Machine’s On This Perfect Day or Archive’s Axiom. Craving punching out a bear? While not an ambient band at all, Manowar should provide the testosterone needed. Also please don’t actually do this; you will be mauled to death… but I digress. The point being, ambience and mood can make or break a band, especially in live situations; as such, it is one of the most important things I pay attention to when in a live situation.
Setting the initial mood was left to Seremonia, a psych-rock band which has a pretty good aesthetic sense involving psychedelic imagery and dark lyrical themes, such as nature’s wrath, luciferianism, and other such things. The appeal of such cult-like scenery was mostly lost on stage, sadly. The sound was pretty mushy most of the time and the songs – being from the psych-side of the moon – were hard to follow as a casual listener. However, the drummer, Erno Taipale, never showed any of that, easily following along and showing his mastery of the songs and the style of their music. The maracas wielded by the lead singer, Noora Federley, also seemed very superficial, not making a significant impact on anything except keeping tempo and being a prop, sound-wise unsurprisingly unimpactful. The show on stage was very anemic with minimal movement, but with effective use of stillness and occasional moments of good lighting. It was like watching the cousin of hippie rock who drinks irresponsibly and worships the Devil; and that’s exactly how it should be. Seremonia seems like an unpolished club band, which would benefit greatly from an intimate space (kind of like Klubi), lighting, better mixing, and smoke. If they ever polish that, I think they could become a great live band.
Spiritus Mortis, the artist formerly known as Rigor Mortis, was comparatively a much more straightforward affair. Hailed as supposedly the first doom metal band from Finland, established all the way back in 1987, their tunes were simultaneously hypnotizing and coma-inducing, probably better categorized as stoner metal in this modern day and age. Labeling aside, the music very heavily evoked Black Sabbath in my mind, so everything sounded very familiar and thus could I get into the groove of things much more easily. Smoke deployment on stage was done much better for them, which fit perfectly for this quintet; the air was thick and slowly drifting along to the slow tempo, the voice of their new lead singer, Kimmo Perämäki, clearly pierced through the music and made its mark on the listener. Much simpler to understand – and thus appreciate – Spiritus Mortis was a solid atmospheric performance by these venerable doombringers.
Jess and the Ancient Ones was now set to close out the evening with a somewhat similar stylistic choice as Seremonia, focusing on the psychedelic part of rock’n’roll. As the band started playing, there was an extremely alluring scent, yet with no discernible source. Instantly noticeable was the much more rehearsed and energetic performance by the artists, with frontwoman Jess in particular being very enjoyable to watch as she swayed along to the music and beat the tambourine on her hips to the beat. Surprisingly enough, the tambourine seemed to have an actual, audible effect on the music, not simply being a prop in her hands. Along with supreme microphone technique and a stunning voice, Jess truly deserves her namesake in the troupe. Yussuf, their drummer, also seemed to have a ton of fun, looking extremely satisfied at being behind his kit and playing in front of a crowd. Sounding somewhat like a 60s/70s California rock’n’roll band, it vividly brought to mind Hollywood movies and Americana in general, yet there was something lurking beneath the shallow understanding of the casual listener. The emphasis was very much on the performance and the atmosphere, rather than interaction with the audience; they held their only speech of the evening until after the last song before the encore.
Focusing on a pretty niche audience, Seremonia and Jess and the Ancient Ones do a very good job at catering to them, the latter being more polished and high-profile than the former, yet I feel there’s a ton of untapped potential in Seremonia. Spiritus Mortis also recently had a roster change in their new singer (aforementioned Kimmo Perämäki), so I’m hoping for at least a burst of activity on their part. If there’s a SvartFest III with these same bands, I would definitely try to catch them again, with the hopes that my nitpicks would’ve been addressed, thus
validating my existence giving their audience more bang for their buck. Ambience is a powerful tool for making a performance stand out, if used well… now crank it up to eleven!