As the large traditional Finnish summer festivals are leaning more and more towards EDM and hip-hop, it was a pleasure to hear news of the arrangement of a completely new metal festival, Tampere Metal Meeting. The event, produced by Incancation Agency and Tampere’s YO-talo to name a few, was held at Ratinanniemi on the 17th and 18th of June with a line-up combining prominent and more obscure metal acts from a variety of sub-genres. With teenage favorites (Kalmah and Finntroll), topical ladder-climbers (Whispered), as well as more underground names (Deströyer 666, Demilich), the line-up made TMM a highly anticipated festival for yours truly!
Arvostelu suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!
Our journey from Helsinki began around noon on Friday and we arrived in Tampere about 2 hours later. The weather forecast had predicted clouds and light rain, and as with Radio City South Park, which was celebrated in typical Finnish summer weather a week earlier, the predictions were unfortunately true. We arrived at the gates just after the first act, Nokia-based Convulse, had begun their set on the second stage. Looking at the festival area from the press booth queue, everything seemed quiet and tranquil as Convulse played their set to a scarce audience. The band wasn’t that familiar to me, but once we got inside, I enjoyed their groovy old-school death metal. Convulse’s newer songs, which were made after their comeback a few years ago, have a whole different vibe compared to their old 90’s material.
At half past three it was time to head to battle, as the promising local melodic death metal band, Whispered, took the main stage. I’ve been a fan of the band for several years, and looked forward to hearing songs from the new album, Metsutan – Songs of the Void. Whispered begun their set with the new album’s opening pair, “Chi no Odori” and “Strike!”, but while the band was perfectly on point, the completely abysmal stage mix made enjoying of the gig pretty impossible. During “Strike!” the only thing you could remotely hear was the drums and singer Jouni Valjakka’s guitar, and things didn’t get any better over the course of their 45-minute set – the bass was inaudible the whole time and the guitars only seemed to be working one at a time. Perhaps Lars Ulrich had jumped behind the mix booth? A total bummer for the guys, because the Metal Meeting set was their only summer festival gig this year. They had even included the new album’s gem, “Tsukiakari,” to their set.
Mikkeli’s gift to the world of heavy metal, Lord Fist, was up after Whispered. Contrary to the band’s young age, I’ve managed to see them play numerous times already, and once again Fist was in their element, serving a hefty 30-minutes of guitar harmonies and vocalist Perttu Koivunen’s intentional close-but-no-cigar -singing. Lord Fist has had time to tour Finland for a couple of years now, and the acquired experience can clearly be seen in their stage presence. Too bad that their Greatest Song™, “Super Sailor,” off their first demo, Spark for the Night, hadn’t fit in the set this time, but “Green Eyleen” as well as “Who Wants to Live Forever” were executed marvelously. It was also nice to hear “Headless Rider” off their 12-inch Wordless Wisdom of Lord Fist after a long time!
I didn’t manage to check if Lord Fist had exceeded their stage time, or if Omnium Gatherum started their set earlier than they were meant to, but at the end of Fist’s last song, OG was already in action on the main stage. I’ve been following Omnium Gatherum’s work for almost 10 years now and I have to say that everything they do is always better than the last time. Like Whispered, OG kicked off their set with the two first tracks, “The Pit” and “Skyline,” off their latest album, Grey Heavens, and the audience was in flames from the beginning. OG is a guaranteed hit: vocalist Jukka Pelkonen is one of the most entertaining people out there, not at all taking things seriously but instead chatting with the audience in between his vocal parts. Tuomo Latvala, who has been substituting for Jarmo Pikka on the drummer’s stool for some time now, is an amazing drummer – the man doesn’t do a single unnecessary move while playing but still manages to bring a whole new feel to the band’s songs with inventive fills. During Omnium Gatherum’s set I felt for the first time that the band’s time-slot could’ve be longer – 45 minutes of quality melo-death is not enough!
After OG it was Baptism’s turn, and since I wasn’t familiar with their black metal, we felt it was convenient to do a dinner break outside the festival area. We watched a couple of songs, which left us with a feeling of well-executed Finnish black metal: nothing special, but very good nonetheless. When we got back, The Man-Eating Tree was about halfway through their set. The Man-Eating Tree has always been one of those bands that never have really appealed to me, and I’ve found it condescending that they are always advertised with the fact that their drummer, Vesa Ranta, played in Sentenced. Having seen the band live before, we settled to watch the rest of the set next to the beer tent. In retrospect, the songs of their latest effort, In the Absence of Light, sounded way better than the material of the first two albums – maybe I’ll have to give them an another chance someday.
Because of work-related misfortunes, our photographer didn’t arrive until before Friday’s undisputed cult act, Circle. The Pori-based [insert fitting term here]-rock enigma has been around since 1991 and their two masterminds, Mika Rättö and Jussi Lehtisalo, have produced over fifty studio and live albums. Circle has been one of those bands that I’ve known about for years but never have had the time to get into, and after their set I feel ashamed not having done that. The band climbed on stage dressed in worn and torn jogging or spandex pants and blasted an hour of music that’s really hard to put into words. The songs consisted of hypnotic guitar riffs and Rättö’s utterly insane singing and keyboards, and for the whole time there seemed to be some completely non-related side action going on. If you were at Tuska, I hope you didn’t dare miss Circle’s set! I was thoroughly entertained. An added bonus was that the sun finally starting to shine during the gig!
The stakes got higher and higher as the evening continued, as Moonsorrow – Finland’s greatest band – filled the second-to-last main stage slot. At this point the band probably doesn’t require any introduction, so let’s get to the point: once again, the gig was AWESOME. Unfortunately, the mixing problems that plagued Whispered’s set returned, and while the whole band was distinguishable, someone clearly had forgotten to turn the master volume way up – Moonsorrow’s pagan metal in its skyscraper-sized enormity needs a Spinal Tap-ish setting of 11, not 3! But there is no bad without something good, as Moonsorrow was blessed with an hour and 15 minutes of showtime, which is a perfect festival length for their songs. The band released their latest album, Jumalten Aika, this spring, and Metal Meeting’s setlist followed the set of the album’s release party, mixing old and new effortlessly.
Friday’s last band on the second stage was Kuopio-based death metal cult classic, Demilich. Led by Antti Boman, the band has been buried a couple of times already, but still they occasionally tour and that’s great. Demilich’s only full-length, Nespithe, isn’t as familiar to me as I probably would like it to be, since the band’s complex death metal worked like a charm. Boman clearly had had the time to enjoy the products of the nearby craft beer tent, but even while being visibly hammered, his growls and guitar work were unaffected – that’s some professionalism right there! His interlude speeches were hilarious, and combined with the band’s strong material, their hour-long set felt horribly short. Go see Demilich before they REALLY call it quits!
Finally, the headlining act’s title was bestowed upon Insomnium. The renowned Joensuu-based melo-death act is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their classic third album, Above the Weeping World, playing most of the tracks off that album. On its release year, the record was one of the most-listened albums for me, so the nostalgia effect was strongly present. Insomnium’s second guitarist, Markus Vanhala, worked once again a double shift since he had already played with Omnium Gatherum earlier. The most accurate details from the band’s set were lost on me – I was too busy moshing along with “Mortal Share,” “Change of Heart,” “The Killjoy,” “Last Statement,” and “Devoid of Caring,” among others. Of course, all the jamming backfired the following morning when my neck was so stiff that it didn’t really move in any direction. I’ve been attending Insomnium’s live gigs pretty lightly over the last few years, but at Ratinanniemi the band managed to remind me of the things that make them one of the most successful metal acts in our country.
Saturday morning in Tampere was unsettlingly gray and the forecast didn’t look too good either – there was supposed to be four straight hours of thunderstorm in the afternoon. It had rained considerably overnight, but when we headed off towards Ratinanniemi, the weather was fortunately “only” cloudy. With the burden of Friday still in our shoulders, we had no choice but to skip the first two acts of the day: the local death metal act, Worthless, as well as the surprise hit of last year’s Nummirock, Forever One plays Sentenced.
The first band that we made it to see was Helsinki-based speed metal squad, Ranger. Recording for Rättö’s and Lehtisalo’s (Circle) Ektro Records along with Lord Fist, Ranger has had a considerable amount of wind beneath their wings over the last few years, and not without reason! The band rumbled full speed ahead on the second stage and from drummer Miko Sipilä’s missing resonance drum heads to bassist/vocalist Dimi Pontiac’s mustache, the whole thing REEKS of the 80’s. Ranger is not one those bands that I would listen to at home, but they work very well on stage!
Prior to the festival, I thought that Kuopio-based Jess and the Ancient Ones were the divergent of Tampere Metal Meeting, representing the lightest side of the festival’s line-up. The band’s occult rock has never been that appealing to me, but little did it matter: the predicted thunderstorm was nowhere to be seen and the sun shone down upon Ratinanniemi as JatAO let loose an excellent performance, fitting the festival like a glove. The vocalist, Jess, was an incredibly charismatic frontwoman with her intense gaze and marvelous singing voice, while the bassist, Jake Luomajoki, nailed his groovy bass lines on top of previous evening’s complexities with Demilich. The most perplexing thing was still the guitarist Thomas Corpse’s current state: he has lost at least 30 kilograms when compared to the last Deathchain gig that I’ve seen. All-in-all, JatAO managed to be so good that I might have to dig into their brand new Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes -album!
The transition from JatAO’s crisp occult rock to Barathrum was quite steep. I’ve never personally been a fan of the music of this legendary Finnish black metal act but I believe I was representing a small minority when looking at the audience. The band, unusually equipped with two bassists instead of one, played a tight set, even if everyone on stage was visibly shitfaced. The vocalist, Demonos Sova, was in his usual state: he supported himself with a crutch and looked like he could drop dead to the stage floor at any minute. And some people have the guts to claim that rock ’n’ roll has disappeared from the world? Not while Sova’s still standing. The set, while ending almost safely with “Legions of Perkele,” “Last Day in Heaven,” and “Saatana,” also featured new material from the upcoming album.
Next up was something really nostalgic and highly anticipated when Kalmah took the stage. While some other Finnish melo-death factions (*coughChildrenofBodomcough*) have become obsolete in the past several years, Kalmah still has something that makes them so charming. The band sped through their songs from the first beats of the set’s opener, “Hook the Monster,” to the de facto ending of “Hades” with considerably faster tempos than on their records, and drummer Janne Kusmin had changed the triplets into sixteenth-notes on his bass drum patterns. Kalmah does gigs in their home country very scarcely these days and probably because of this, the band seemed visibly impressed by the audience’s response, even if vocalist Pekka Kokko tried to joke about being bummed about having to play more songs. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Kalmah doesn’t tour in Finland more frequently. I would go to see them again right away should an opportunity present itself.
Up until this point, all the bands in Metal Meeting had been Finnish, so it was high time to have something from abroad. When the clock turned 19:00, Nocturnus A.D. from the United States climbed on the second stage. This was also the point where yours truly’s bank of namedropping had officially emptied, but fortunately the internet revealed that the original Nocturnus was founded in 1987, but in 1992, the founding member Mike Browning was kicked out of his own band. The Nocturnus A.D we saw is some kind of a reformed Nocturnus, playing the old material. Being utterly oblivious to the band’s material, watching the gig was actually very refreshing. The first point of attention was that, at first, I couldn’t see which member was singing, until I realized that it was the drummer, the aforementioned Mike Browning, using a Madonna mic. Incorporating keyboards into a technical death metal sound was also something one doesn’t see every day. As a fan of complex death metal, I enjoyed the gig a lot, even if I didn’t know a single song.
The second to last band to take the main stage was our own messenger of trollish metal, Finntroll. It’d been several years since I had last seen them live, and I haven’t been paying attention to their latest work that much, so the first thing to feel good about was noticing that their set leaned towards their older material. The audience loved classics like “Slaget vid Blodsjälv” and “Nattfödd,” and the opening track from Nifelvind, “Solsagan,” works every time. Once again, I would have loved to go and slap the mixer in the face, since vocalist Vreth’s mic was almost inaudible half the time, while at times, keyboardist Virta’s volumes were so high that it made the whole band sound just plain stupid. Fortunately drummer MörkÖ’s playing, as well as the mix, were perfect as usual.
When Finntroll got halfway through the first verse of “Jaktens Tid,” the worst nightmare of every sound technician came true as something broke down and the stage blacked out completely. The band, as well as the audience, were left confused while the mixing booth panicked, but the staff managed to fix the equipment in about 10 minutes. Of course, Finntroll had to tighten their set, so “Jaktens Tid” was left behind and the band jumped straight into the mandatory “Trollhammaren,” and the crowd went nuts. The set was wrapped up with “Under Bergets Rot” – what a nice conclusion!
The Australian black/speed metal hybrid, Deströyer 666, had the honor of wrapping up the second stage. The band hasn’t been to Finland that many times before, but I’ve still managed to miss all their previous shows. Their latest album, Wildfire, released in the spring of this year, was immensely strong, so the Metal Meeting show was a highly anticipated one for me. The band didn’t let the audience down: the performance was incredibly good. The setlist weighed towards their older Phoenix Rising and Cold Steel… For an Iron Age albums, and they even threw in “Iron Fist” by Motörhead to honor the memory of Lemmy Kilminster. If you had to dig up something to whine about, their 2009 masterpiece, Defiance, was left out of the set completely, but since “I am the Wargod” and “Satanic Speed Metal” were included, one just can’t complain. Being more accustomed to warmer climates, the Aussies lamented the chilly weather, but hey, it didn’t even rain!
This might be a bit of an anticlimactic conclusion for the report, but it felt a bit anticlimactic in general for the Metal Meeting when Swedish Tiamat climbed on the main stage as the final band of the festival. This legendary band – who started off as a death metal act and shifted towards Gothic rock and later to doom metal – was an interesting announcement, but when the Swedes kicked off their set, I had to put an enormous amount of effort toward keeping myself engaged. You would have thought that the band’s material would have worked marvelously in the darkening Saturday night, but I didn’t manage to get anything out of the show. I don’t know if fatigue started to take hold of the audience or what, but people started to move out of the festival area when Tiamat was still in the middle of their set. I kid you not, Insomnium had at least twice as many fans watching their performance on the previous night. Eventually we had to face the facts and start our retreat towards the nearest food joint.
Food and drinks, as well as other non-musical aspects, always play as big of a role in the festival atmosphere as the line-up, so it was a pleasure to notice on how many of these aspects Tampere Metal Meeting had nailed on the first time. The location was perfect, as one had to walk a mere 5 minutes from Keskustori to reach the festival gates. There was no hassle at the entrance at any point and the coatroom as well as the bracelet exchange worked smoothly. At first I thought that the thirty or forty mobile bathrooms weren’t enough for the crowd, but the bathroom area wasn’t too packed at any point. On Friday, there were no urinals present, but on Saturday the area was reorganized and the provided urinals were clearly brand new. However, the bathroom area was placed next to the entrance, so unfortunately one had to leave the beer garden to take a leak.
Usually I don’t consume festival food that much, but based on what I observed, the selection seemed to be quite good. Hervanta’s Varjobaari had their own stall and sold Varjoburgers for 10€, which was a nice deal. Otherwise, the food selection was on the more traditional side of sausage hash and fried vendace – standard Finnish festival grub. The merchandise, record shop, and tattoo and piercings stalls were present as usual.
Tampere Metal Meeting’s drink stalls followed the present trend of expensive beer with an extra charge of 1€, which you get back when returning the empty can or bottle to the stall. A 0.44 liter Fosters for 7€ was a bit steep, but fortunately the local Hopping Brewsters brewery had their own craft beer stall, selling tasty Pale Ales for only a euro more. Apparently the crowd had enjoyed their products, since at least the IPA was already sold out during Nocturnus A.D. All-in-all, the beer garden functioned nicely and the queues weren’t longer than a few minutes. The best thing about the beer area was that it spanned from the front row of the main stage to the front row of the second stage, while the dispenser was in the middle. A great choice and a welcome feature for other festivals as well!
In conclusion, Tampere Metal Meeting was an exceptionally well-functioning metal event and a nice addition to the selection of heavier summer festivals with its line-up covering the full range of light to heavy, as well as more and less known metal acts. Nature was also on the organization’s side as the foul weather forecasts for the weekend turned out to be largely false for the most part. The thunderstorm predicted for Saturday afternoon vanished into thin air, and the only actual moment of rainfall hit between Nocturnus A.D and Finntroll, lasting just a moment. The festival seemed to have attracted a nice-sized crowd, and shortly after Tiamat’s performance, Facebook already had an event for next year’s Metal Meeting. At this point, I can already imagine being there again next June!
Photos: Jukka Rahkonen