Juhannus (re: Nummirock) has come and gone, which means it’s high time for Tuska Open Air once again! In case you didn’t notice, we did a special feature this year about Helsinki’s best and biggest metal festival since this was officially our 10th year covering the event! Regardless of whether or not you like the bands, Tuska is an undeniably fun experience for people of all races, genders, ages, and the like! The festival hit Suvilahti this year on July 1st-3rd and we were excited to see a good number of these bands!
The Tuska-Kiska was back up this year, with plenty of meet ‘n’ greets, RadioRock interviews, and strange events to lure the crowd in. It was nice to see them selling some discounted leftover merchandise from the previous year, as you could snag a shirt or other bit of paraphernalia if you had missed out in 2015. We press couldn’t get our media wristbands, unfortunately, but the regular and VIP crowd could pick up their wristbands to save some time at the actual festival gates. The only event we actually caught at the kiosk was the Musta Jooga (black yoga), which was, at least as long as I stayed to watch, a disappointment. The crowd was big and eccentric, which was pretty cool, but from what I know of (Ashtanga) yoga, all these guys were doing was stretching in public. Either this was a different style of yoga from what I am used to, or they totally half-assed it. I vote next year they have a Black Crossfit session instead!
As much as I like South Park, Tuska is by far the festival I look most forward to each year. This year was particularly busy as we decided to catch a couple of bands for interviews as well as simply covering more bands in general. We arrived at the Suvilahti gates fairly early and were pleased to see that the VIP/press line wasn’t too long and was moving fairly smoothly along. I’ll admit that things worked better a few years ago (2012 or 2013) when the medias had their own entrance off the main road to keep things extremely quick, but it’s not the end of the world.
We got our passes and wandered past Cattle Decapitation on the main stage, who are worlds away from a style I like, though our own Atte Valtonen is a fan and was happy with their show, barring the fact that the wind was blowing their sound around a bit. Instead, we decided to catch the first band on the indoor club stage – Frosttide! I’ve known about these guys for years but have never actually had the opportunity to catch one of their shows, which is a real shame. It was incredible to see how many people had showed up already to catch this Jyväskylä-based folk band. They are on the Mäenpää-era Ensiferum or maybe Wintersun’s original album spectrum of the folk scale, so I definitely see the appeal and understand why people came out of their houses already at 14:00 to be there. Though I haven’t quite gotten into these guys on my own, I was very impressed with some of the melodies I was hearing and though the club stage isn’t the most flattering venue, I left their show with the distinct impression that I should give them another listen sometime ASAP! And serious props for covering “One Night in Bangkok” and playing it live! Even though these guys don’t lean toward my favorite folk style, there’s a lot of skill and technique in their music and I’ll be keeping an eye open for their shows in the future!
One of the bands I was most excited about going into the festival opened up the Helsinki tent stage at 14:55: Delain. I find it hard to believe that this was their first-ever show in Finland because, to my knowledge, they have a rather strong following here. How they’ve never played a club here, even as an opening act, is totally beyond my comprehension. First of all, these guys look good on stage! Charlotte Wessels is an excellent front, with a nice amount of energy, and moves in a far less girlie manner than, say, Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), yet less hardcore than Floor Jansen (Nightwish). She has her own style and she makes it work for her! I also discovered why exactly everyone is madly in love with Merel Bechtold (guitar). She is the cutest thing and she totally rocks! I was big into these guys a few years ago and then my interest in them faded. As of this show, it has completely returned because songs like “Suckerpunch” and “Army of Dolls” confirmed that I need to give their last couple of albums another chance! Unfortunately – and this was a bit of a running theme over the weekend – but the crowd still seemed to be a bit asleep still, because when they called for some jumping, they didn’t get as much of a response as I thought they deserved. Still, I hope these guys get back here on the tour for their upcoming album because I’m dying to see them in a club!
While we were watching Delain in the tent, Atte was in Kattilahalli (the club stage) checking out Whorion. He reported that the sound quality was still pretty weak, but that their set was great. What was even better was that there were clearly a lot of newcomers present amongst the many fans!
Next up on the main stage was the first of Swallow the Sun‘s three sets that spanned the weekend. While the ambience for the show was sub-par, considering the sun was shining and StS is clearly at their best on a cloudy or rainy day, I chilled and listened to their set from the burger point in the bigger bar area and enjoyed it immensely. I haven’t actually listened to Songs from the North at all, but like the last two bands, the show was enjoyable enough that I thought it might be a good idea to give it a try. I might have to wait for autumn though, in the company of a warm blanket and a hot beverage. It was a shame their set wasn’t during some of the rain on Saturday or Sunday because that would’ve made the picture perfect. Also, +10 points to them for having a custom Tuska Songs of the North gig shirt that I pretty much had to have. Anyone who’s a sucker for special edition merch like me knows what a treat it is to see stuff like that! And also – who was the other singer?
Cain’s Offering was another big event, since this was their first-ever gig in Finland and third-ever gig in general (the other two taking place in Japan), which, like with Delain, I found extremely hard to believe. I think I’ve heard that Timo Kotipelto and Jani Liimatainen play acoustic gigs together with relative frequency, but I didn’t actually know that the band as a whole did not. It’s always a delight to see Jens Johansson (keyboards) performing, since that man is a legend, and I enjoy Kotipelto’s vocals a lot more with these guys than with Stratovarius for reasons unknown. As well, it’s lovely to see Liimatainen performing – he writes wonderful music (arguably better than the Sonata guys these days), but it’s particularly nice to get to see him rocking out with an electric guitar in hand. The mix, unfortunately, was pretty bad no matter where you were standing, but the fans didn’t seem to mind. For me, “A Night to Forget” was the highlight of that show – it’s great music with great lyrics. Kotipelto and Liimatainen have really great chemistry together on stage as well, with little shred moments that almost seem like a conversation – “So Jani, what’s going on over here?” “Well, my fingers seem to be out of control.” “And how are you dealing with this?” “I suspect that I’ll manage.”
One of the… let’s call it more “questionable” bands of the weekend, Lordi, was next up on the main stage. This was a band the crowd either seemed to love or hate, but with the awesome Arockalypse Tour castle props on stage and a red confetti canon, you can’t hate them too much. They’re so goofy and fun and their music may be a bit generic but it’s catchy and has a good groove. And, since I’ve been complaining a lot about the mix in some of the other gigs, it’s worth mentioning that their sound quality was glorious. Since I doubt I’d ever bother with these guys in a club, I was actually quite pleased to see their set. It included a few songs that they haven’t played in nearly 10 years, like “Pet the Destroyer” and “Rock the Hell Outta You,” and naturally closed out with “Hard Rock Hallelujah.” Their show might not have been for everyone, but I actually enjoyed myself quite a lot.
Many of my gang were hyped up to a Spinal Tap -level 11 for Kvelertak‘s show, but the response after the fact was actually quite varied. From the back of the tent, my little group was largely unimpressed with the stage performance and we bailed out after just a few songs to go get a drink. This may be because it’s an unfamiliar band to me, but the crowd was quite dead and I couldn’t see a pit at all. However, a few of my friends popped out after they wrapped things up and they looked like they had come out of a bear pit and had massive glowing smiles and claimed that it was epic in there, so perhaps we were just watching from the wrong place. I’ll have to take their word for it since they’re probably better judges than I am since they actually know the music, but for the casual observer, it was a bit dull. On the other hand, the music had some pretty awesome classic old-school hard rock riffs, which was a neat thing to hear in this heavy mosh-style music.
I admit that I don’t have much to say about Testament‘s show. It had some decent pits and good playing, but I don’t have much else to comment on it other than that. I do enjoy watching them perform though. Their style is not for me so I don’t listen to it at home, but they put on a pretty good show and they’re a great festival band. As far as I could tell from my limited experience, they held the standard once again. Going on at the same time, I was told that I had missed out on a great performance by Man with a Mission, a group of Japanese guys in wolf masks who have a really bizarre origin story and play some high-energy party music that is liable to put a smile on your face. Maybe next time!
Having only recently heard of some of the Battle Beast drama, we decided to check out Anton Kabanen’s new band, Beast in Black. I have basically two things to say about these guys. The first is that they sound just like Battle Beast with a male vocalist, because that’s essentially what they are, and they almost exclusively played Battle Beast covers in their set. The second is that I liked their music and their sound far more than I like Battle Beast. I couldn’t exactly say why, but their show annoyed me far less than Battle Beast’s shows do. It was interesting and who knows what will happen with these guys in the future, but they were worth a moment’s watch before the allure of Behemoth took me away.
The Polish black metal legends ended the first night on the tent stage, playing a very satisfying show. Behemoth is one of the most visually incredible bands and they made the tent setting work for them with some epic pyros and lighting. Tuska was promised The Satanist Show, though as I don’t casually listen to these guys, I didn’t know what that meant. However, when they started their set with “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel,” and moved on to “Furor Divinus,” the first two tracks off 2014’s The Satanist, I started to wonder… Then they followed it up with “Messe Noir,” so my suspicions were confirmed: they were playing the album in its entirety! Their music isn’t necessarily up my alley so I can’t say much about the nuances of the set, but I always find myself enjoying their performances at festivals and it’s really hard to ignore them because they have such a commanding presence. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they were called back for an encore twice, at a festival of all places.
Closing out the night with an incredible 2-hour set (thank you, City of Helsinki, for allowing the bands to play until midnight!) was Avantasia, also playing their first-ever gig in Finland! Most fans had been expecting a mini-version of their show, so there was a lot of shock and awe when it soon became clear that we were getting a full Wacken-level performance! Mastermind Tobias Sammet had a full flock of amazing vocalists/guests with him, including Ronnie Atkins, Michael Kiske, Bob Catley, Jørn Lande, Eric Marten, Amanda Somerville, and Herbie Langhans. It’s one thing to hear a single great singer belting it out, but when you hear so many of them harmonizing together… it’s magic. I was particularly excited to see Lande, as he comes here in his guest slots so seldomly. I’m a huge fan of his voice and singing style and he did not disappoint live! Sammet professed his love for Helsinki and enthusiasm to bring Avantasia to these parts, as he spends a great deal of time here. I’m not the biggest fan of power metal, but I have to say that this was some seriously good stuff – even my more hardcore heavy metal friends stuck around and enjoyed themselves, which certainly says something. The backdrops/stage props were great, the lighting was phenomenal in the darkening sky, and the performance was extremely strong as a whole, with fantastic chemistry and interaction on stage. They showed a great deal of appreciation for the audience and Sammet said he had no idea what to expect bringing this project to Finland, but was amazed by the crowd’s response. The final track, “Sign of the Cross,” that featured all of the vocalists was totally epic and a perfect way to end the first night and leave us wanting more on Saturday!
The second day promised more good weather (LIES!) and great music, and we started our day off in the club stage again with Crimson Sun – a band that I’ve known of and been looking forward to seeing live for a while now! These guys did not disappoint either. Though the stage mix was again quite poor, Sini Seppälä is a petite badass on stage with a strong voice who will take command of the stage and your heart. Their years of practice were evident too, as the guys did a great job of both playing and having a good time. It was truly a shame the mix wasn’t doing them justice – I’d love to see these guys in Nosturi, for example. They’ve got a great sound and I expect big things from these guys in the future!
It was hard to miss Turmion Kätilöt on the Radio Rock stage because there was an epic, loud party going on in the crowd, complete with EMP merch balls bouncing in the air. It’s impossible not to dance at a TK festival show – and the crowd was amply doing so! Their set was still heavy on the new material since this was part of the Diskovibratour, which was okay by me. I was told that their version of “Pimeyden morsian” was an updated 2016 version, though I can’t say I know the song or knew the difference. They played plenty of fan favorites alongside the new stuff, such as “Teurastaja” and “Tirehtööri,” and closed up with “Lataa ja varmista.”
We had to duck out to do an interview with Crimson Sun and largely missed Omnium Gatherum and Obscura, though we did already catch the former at both Tampere Metal Meeting and Nummirock, so perhaps you’ll forgive us.
We’re still not sick of seeing Thunderstone back on stage, and after the technical difficulties of South Park, I was really looking forward to seeing them in a proper live format. Unfortunately, the wonderful and charismatic Titus Hjelm had fallen drastically ill earlier in the day and couldn’t make it to the show. He was replaced by the Sonic Pump Studios intern, Tuomas Yli-Jäskäri (Tracedawn), who learned the bass lines as fast as possible to take his place in the show. We lost out on his ever-amusing stage banter, but such is life and we wish him a speedy recovery! Nevertheless, Thunderstone still managed to play a top-notch show without him, and I heard whispers that Pasi Rantanen may be the new Kotipelto when it comes to best power metal voice in Finland. I’d certainly give him my vote! They played the same set as before so we had no new surprises, but I’m not sick of the new tracks just yet. Atte Palokangas kept up his incredible visual flair behind the drum kit and Nino Laurenne and Jukka Karinen undoubtedly kept up the high-quality solos that they’re known for. This was definitely a big improvement over South park and if Titus had been there, I bet it would’ve been their best show so far this year!
When 20:00 rolled in, we were forced to divide our time between Jess and the Ancient Ones and Anthrax, which was really quite a shame, but spent most of it in the Kattilahalli. We went first to the club stage and found a huge crowd present to check out this unique brand of resurrected psychedelic rock from Kuopio. I really dig their music, which a friend aptly likened to The Doors with a female vocalist. I can’t deny that I love how they’ve nailed that fantastic old 70s harpsichord sound. Vocalist Jess worked some serious magic over the crowd and their set was a nice change of pace for an otherwise heavy festival.
From what I heard from the others, Anthrax’s set was quite good and there was some crazy energy in the crowd. No one’s sick of them playing Tuska just yet, it seems! I was only able to catch the end of their set, but they looked like they were killing it up there.
A spontaneous on-and-off downpour decided to greet the unsuspecting crowd as Anthrax closed up shop and Stam1na‘s every-Finnish-festival-ever set began, so if you weren’t in the tent when the thrashers finished up, you were lucky if you got a spot in the tent/could see the stage at all). I had been enjoying the rain, so I was not so fortunate, and as such, can’t speak about the stage show other than that it seemed very lively and that they’re still rockin’ the orange. Their setlist was longer than South Park‘s but shorter than Nummi’s with no encore this time around, unfortunately, and was still strangely missing some classics like “Viisi laukausta päähään,” and the others Essi mentioned in the Nummi report. However, it’s nice that they’ve been changing the set at least a little bit so that it’s not a clone-gig every time you see them at a festival. They’re great performers, so it’d be a true shame if they let things get stale and it’s nice to see that they’re not slipping down that slope.
That left us with Ghost! I’m going to come right out and say that I have never really “gotten” Ghost. I like their music just fine, but I can’t say I have ever really understood why they’re such a big thing all of a sudden. Their music is more ambient and relaxing than something to hype me up and they need the right atmosphere for their gigs to be good – clubs and open air night shows are great but their visual show was super dull opening for Iron Maiden 3 years back in broad daylight. Besides, costumes and satanism aren’t anything new, right? They’re a good band, I just didn’t see how they got to magically be headlining after such a short time in the spotlight. Well, lesson learned. Maybe it was because of the epic downpour that plagued the crowd, but the near-complete cloud cover and moisture in the air made for the perfect gloom and likely helped to thicken their stage fog to create the most incredible, eerie atmosphere. Their music too seemed to have something more to it in this context, as I found myself both rocking out and dancing along without intending to. I didn’t think I’d care or enjoy this set, but it turned out to be nearly impossible for me to pry myself away to go check out the afterparty at Virgin Oil. Well done, Ghost, you proved your point!
So why did I bail on a perfectly excellent gig? I wanted another chance to see Ember Falls. I enjoyed their set at South Park so much that I decided to take the opportunity to see them again. First things first: a massive two thumbs down to the organizers. I’m not sure if this was Tuska’s fault or Virgin Oil’s or whose, but why on earth would you schedule an afterparty to start 30 minutes before the festival ends in a venue that takes 20 minutes minimum to reach from the festival area? These guys got royally screwed because everyone was still watching Ghost when their show started, and by the time Ghost ended and people began arriving to the center, their set was pretty much done (and it probably excluded many fans from buying afterparty tickets, so it’s a lose-lose situation). To their credit though, even though there were probably fifty people at best in the venue, they still gave it their all and performed very energetically. They were plagued by Virgin Oil’s impossible-to-prevent sound quality problems (Thomas Grove on vocals and OneOfHaze on synth were tougher to make out than the others) but certainly didn’t suffer the way Arion and Entwine did last month. I’m getting more and more excited for their album because the songs they’ve been playing are really good… and I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so! There were a few hardcore fans up front rocking out during the show and one guy was even in a replica of Calu’s outfit with some black and red facepaint to show his support. There was a mini-mosh pit for a song called “End of Fear” and everyone that was standing went totally ballistic for “Shut Down with Me,” and you can’t blame them… though I confess that they’re still fine-tuning it as a live song and it had come out much better at South Park.
I had hoped to stick long enough to see Fear of Domination’s set, but the band in between, One Morning Left, didn’t interest me and I was straight-up exhausted. We had to be at Suvilahti bright and early the next day, so I decided to call it a night.
Time flies when you’re having a blast! We had to be at the festival area at a depressing 13:00 to do our interview with Niklas and Daniel of Katatonia, and fortunately the rain held off until we were done. We went to snooze a while in the VIP area but were promptly chased inside by the appearance of the predicted downpour and stayed inside to wait it out until about 16:00.
With that in mind, Hatebreed was our first stop of the day. I had a bit of a mixed reaction to their show. On one hand, the songs were full of energy and the crowd was quite receptive to it – there were clearly some hardcore fans out there that were excited to see them, though they weren’t getting too crazy yet… with the exception of a few who were jumping around in the rain puddles. However, the stage performance was surprisingly dull for a metalcore/thrash band. There was very little beyond a bit of headbanging and the guys weren’t moving around much on stage. That feels a bit wrong in a heavy set like this. Otherwise their set was quite fine. They paid some tribute to Lemmy and expressed their appreciation to the crowd for braving the storm to come see them. They also celebrated one of their album’s anniversaries (I had assumed Supremacy, but a friend thought he heard Jasta mention a 12-year anniversary, so maybe it was The Rise of Brutality) by playing a few extra tracks from it. Fortunately the crowd’s energy grew throughout the show, making it an overall decent set and worth watching.
Next up was Diablo, which was far improved by watching from a closer distance this time around. They had some pretty decent tracks on a rather varied set, with a surprisingly large number of tracks from 2015’s Silvër Horizon, starting the gig off with “The Call” and “Isolation,” with hits like “Living Dead Superstar,” “Icaros,” and “The Preacher” being left to the dedicated fans who stuck it out until the end. Some friends who really love this band said it wasn’t their best show, suggesting that maybe Rainer Nygård was a bit out of tune. For me, not knowing the music, I can’t say I was overly engaged, but that might just be because I don’t know them very well.
Gojira was second last on the main stage, coming all the way over from France for the event. Like Diablo, I’m not familiar with them or their music, but they had some nice marching beats and a good, heavy vibe. They recently released an album, Magma, so in a 12-song or so set, I was surprised that they only played three new tracks. Overall I’d say it was pretty chill, not overly exciting per say, but worth listening to at very least from the bar area.
We neared the end when Katatonia closed out the tent stage for the weekend. I really love this band, especially live, but if you don’t know the music I can imagine that it’s hard to get into. They were perfect in the tent and the misty, rainy day only added to the right feeling (again, Swallow the Sun, you had to be indoors on Sunday…). They opened with “July” and only teased us with, I believe, three songs from The Fall of Hearts – “Serein,” “Serac,” and the one in particular I had been waiting for, “Old Hearts Fall,” which was pretty much everything I dreamed it would be! “My Twin” was sounding really fresh live, not a clone of its album version, reminding me that it’s been far too long since I’ve seen these guys. You wouldn’t think that a doom metal band could get you into a good party/dance mood, but Katatonia proves that preconception incorrect every time. I really enjoyed their set and can’t wait for their club show coming up in November!
The last notes of Katatonia’s set unfortunately meant that we were down to the last band of the event – it was time for Children of Bodom to close out the main stage. I can’t say I was overly hyped about this show on a personal level, admittedly thinking that Tuska could do better headliner-wise. However, my huge-Bodom-fan friend’s enthusiasm burned right through me and by the time they were on stage I was roaring and ready to go. The sky had cleared up, leaving a big muddy puddle right near the stage that became host to perhaps one of the wet ‘n’ wildest moshpits I’ve ever partaken in (and nearly a week later, my boots have still not dried out). I’ll just come out and say it – it was a perfect show. The playing was tight and energetic, that pit was glorious and fun, and the crowd was fucking crazy! Daniel Freyberg seems to have found his place with them and was shredding along with Laiho like he had always been there, even if he wasn’t so bold on stage as the others. Also, we got a guest appearance from a rather common guest star this summer, as Netta Skog (Ensiferum) joined them on stage for “Lake Bodom,” which is always a treat… even if I admittedly couldn’t hear her contribution over all the MOSHING happening all around me. The fireballs coming from stage just added more sweet, sweaty heat to the crowd, who made their best attempts to crowdsurf but were quickly shut down. They played a few new songs, like “Morrigan” (which I was stoked to hear), “I Hate,” and “I Worship Chaos,” and closed out the set with three covers: CCR, The Ramones, and Stan Jones, none of which are my favorite covers of theirs, but were fun nevertheless… particularly because they included a stage choir of familiar faces (I saw Ana and Joel from Shiraz Lane at least) and Skog came back once again! I confess that I’m not much of a Bodom enabler, but this was still an awesome finish to an incredible weekend! A tip of the hat and a round of applause to these guys!
The Festival Area
So now that you’ve heard about the bands, what about Suvilahti’s set-up? The main stage was, as per usual, totally great. I wasn’t sure about the decision to put a tent on the second stage, and the mix in there backs up my hesitation to celebrate it, though when the rain started you could let it slide thanks to the convenience. The club stage was the same as ever – mediocre sound quality but an otherwise decent place to watch the smaller gigs. I heard word of the fourth stage, Solmusali, though it was tucked away near the VIP in a forgettable location – it annoyed me a bit that the events on that stage were in such small print on the program because I forgot about them completely, and I would’ve liked to watch Swallow the Sun’s set on Saturday.
I didn’t manage to get a drink at the Tuska Libre cocktail bar, but the Viinitie/Cham Pain wine bar was a cool addition and an improvement over the weak-ass haunted house thing they had there last year. The Luvil black clothing washing machine area seems comical, though perhaps someday I’ll bite my tongue when someone pukes on me, and it likely comes in handy while some people make use of the free sauna! (Suck it, 20€ for an hour at Tampere Metal Meeting!) The selection of drinks just gets bigger every year though, from the Valhalla (gross) stall, Jaloviina stall, Tuska Libre, moving drink carts, and regular bars, so you’re always liable to find something you want to drink!
I’m also not sure what the appeal to the VIP area is because the inside, while a nice respite from the rain, was poorly ventilated and hot, and offered nothing but shorter drink/food queues and pinball machines, while the outside was nothing but a nice place to sit (when it wasn’t raining) and decent bathroom. I hope the Black Dining (which I have yet to experience) vouchers and merch bags were worth it because otherwise it doesn’t seem worth the cost. You can’t even see any of the stages from the VIP area.
The food selection was quite good again. The burger joint in the bar area has tasty burgers, even if 10€ is perhaps a tad much – it’s a shame they’re only available in the bar area because anyone under 18 would need a guardian to fetch them dinner and the line-up was often pretty long there. The highlight restaurant of the event though was by far Fafa’s Smokehouse, which had absolutely amazing burgers, (pulled?) beef or pulled pork, or a meat plate, all of which were amazing and very filling. They cost a bit more but they kept you from needing anything else to eat for the rest of the festival. Of course, there was also the muikku (fried vendace) and questionable paellas too, if you wanted to save a few bucks.
Overall, I have faith that Eeka Mäkynen is doing a great job with Tuska and will continue to build it into an even more iconic event with more things to experience!
So, as always, our tenth time at Tuska was phenomenal, if not one of the best Tuska experiences yet! We had a decent selection of bands, many of whom were playing their first Finnish gigs, as well as some classics who shook off the dust and proved that they haven’t gotten stale. The festival area continues to grow and impress, more or less, and though there could still be some fine-tuning, all of the reasons that fans and bands alike love Tuska remain steady and as such, I’ll be happy to be back again next year! See you at the end of June 2017!
Photos: Eliza Rask
Tuska-Kiska photo: Amy W.