Tuska Open Air is perhaps Musicalypse’ favorite heavy metal festival, and the one that we never miss. Still going for its 18th year, 2015 offered a full 3 days of epic headliners, solid day shows, and promising club bands, as well as the collection of performances from “Strong Scene Productions.” Maintaining its new location in Suvilahti with a tentative but hopeful weather forecast, the festival promised good times to come and we couldn’t wait to get in there!
2015 was actually the second year there has been a Tuska-Kiska mini-event at Lasipalatsi near Kamppi in Helsinki. It’s apparently a place to buy tickets and exchange them for your wristbands ahead of time, have a bit of food, and meet up with some of the bands who will be playing one of the three stages at the festival. We stopped by on the 25th to have a quick look at what was happening there. It was a small-scale thing and since there wasn’t a meet and greet when we came by, it was mostly just a casual crowd of people passing by. It is nice that they offer it though, so that the ticket exchange lines don’t get too long on the festival day and you can just walk right into the security point.
Though we were tempted to go down early to see Ghost Brigade because we had heard good things about them, life ultimately prevented us from getting to town until a bit later. The area was set up just about exactly the same as last year. I don’t love that they stuff the merch stand between the Inferno stage and the bar next to it – if there’s a gig playing, it’s a complete pain in the ass to get over there and the staff can’t really tell if you’re there to see a show or buy something. I wasn’t impressed with the staff either, because they hardly seemed interested in helping anyone; they were mostly sitting around checking their phones. The merch itself was fairly interesting this time around though. Along with the usual shirts and wristbands, they were offering beer cozies and their own brand of sunglasses – both fun souvenirs and actually useful to have at the festival with you! As well, the burger joint continues to be worth your money and they seem to offer a better selection of drinks every year, from the basic Koff, Crowmoor, and Garage, right up to shots, bottles of wine, and even a cocktail bar this year!
Though Maija showed up to shoot Architects and Blues Pills, Lamb of God was the first band I caught, as I had honestly never heard of any of the others before. It was my first time seeing Lamb of God. They opened up with “Desolation” and I immediately realized that this is a band for a good bone-crunching moshpit! My memory had told me that Lamb of God might be a bit thrashy for my taste, but I was surprised to find that I enjoyed a lot of their material. “Redneck” was a fucking cool song, the kind that’ll leave you sore the next day from all the headbanging.
Exodus was the last to play on Friday on the Inferno stage. They are, actually, not really my thing because of all the thrash, so we spent this one listening from the bar with a cold one (or two) in hand. I can’t deny that they certainly have that classic, old-school thrash sound and I can imagine that anyone who likes that style of music would be into their shows. They’re still going pretty strong after all these years. Their set only had nine tracks in it, but certainly didn’t feel like it was too short.
Sabaton, of course, closed out the night. I can’t get enough of this band live, truly. You just can’t match their energy and enthusiasm, and that love they share with their fans just makes everything so explosive; it’s impossible to not have a good time watching their sets. They had their usual “Final Countdown” intro as well as “The March to War” to get them on stage and of course, started the show with “Ghost Division.” I’d still like to see them play “Night Witches” to open a gig sometime, but it seems like they’re happy to stick with the classic opener. Naturally, they played the three songs devoted to the Finns, and the setlist was actually quite fantastic. “Primo Victoria” and “Metal Crüe,” as always, finished up the night, with “Dead Soldier’s Waltz” and “Masters of the World” playing as they left the stage. It was a pretty standard set for them, no surprises, but they’re all great live tracks. And I assume they learned their lesson in March because they played “Swedish Pagans” this time without the crowd having to chant them into submission! They’re a perfect band to end a festival night because they leave you revved up and ready to go for the rest of the weekend! We left Suvilahti with a fantastic booze-fueled haze and nothing but excitement for the next two days!
Hoping to be a little more thorough on the second day of the festival, I wanted to head down a bit earlier to catch Ne Obliviscaris just after 15:00 on the main stage. Once again, Maija beat me there, already shooting Bloodbath and Bombus before I showed up. I had heard about Ne Obliviscaris from our friends over at Hel Rocks. It was great that they were able to get all the way over here from Australia for the first time ever! I was torn because they were playing at the same time as Shiraz Lane, and since they seemed to be starting late, I bolted over to the club stage in the hopes of catching part of Shiraz Lane’s gig and making it back in time to see the rest of their set.
I only stayed for a few songs, but Shiraz Lane was really cool, much like how I felt about Cruz last year; they are easily as cute with just as good a sound. Do I love this new wave of young Finns bringing back Skid Row -era hard rock? Yes I do! Their singer reminds me a bit, sound-wise, of Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, but without poking fun at the genre. I can absolutely see why they’ve been winning contests lately, and if you’re going to Wacken, I suggest you check them out. It was cool that they spoke a little English, as well as Finnish – I’m sure the other foreigners out there appreciated it. And shit… “Mental Slavery” is just a cool song. I’m glad they played it early on before I went back to the main stage because it was even more fun live!
Ne Obliviscaris completely lived up to my expectations. I had listened to one of their albums once, left with a good feeling, and forgot about them until Tuska. Everyone I knew at the festival agreed on one thing: they had never heard of them before, but they were kind of great. They have the best violinist in a metal band since Olli Vänskä showed up in Turisas and their music manages to be unique in a genre where bands easily blend into one another. I had no idea the violinist was also the clean vocalist and it was interesting to see how he switched, if he kept the violin with him while singing or not, and how it all came together, especially since he also acts as the frontman. He does a lot. The growling vocalist, incidentally, was more visually “gothic” than the others, almost like he was in a different band. Overall, their show was great for those who knew them and a pleasant surprise for those who didn’t.
Einherjer took over the Inferno stage afterwards, but like so many others, I knew them only by name. It was good music. It wasn’t enough to pull me over to get my full attention, but I was happy to listen to it casually in the background, drink in hand, while conversing with friends. If I have one comment, it’s that I like the sound of the singer’s growl. From what I heard from the fans, their newer albums haven’t been so good, but they did play some older material during the show.
Loudness continued the list of bands I didn’t really listen to. They were introduced to the stage as the warriors from the land of the rising sun (Japan), so Ne Obliviscaris wasn’t the only band to make an impressive journey to us. Since I was told this was an older 80s heavy metal band, I was curious to see what they had to offer, but ultimately found them a bit subpar when compared against bands like Accept or Iron Maiden, and lost interest fairly shortly. Maybe it would’ve gone better if I had been familiar with their music.
Next on the Inferno stage was Atomirotta, which was a genuine surprise to me – Finnish hip-hop. That was about the last thing I expected to see at Tuska, a hard rock and heavy metal festival, and it got even weirder when the Radio Rock päivä kuningas (king of the day) was found rocking out to them. I do have some appreciation for the Finnish rappers, but they only way they can pull me in is with catchy music since the lyrics mean next to nothing to me. Unfortunately, their music wasn’t especially catchy and they had a very basic stage performance and mediocre sound quality so once again we headed back to the beer gardens to find something a bit more interesting in a can.
Amorphis promised to be a moment of recovery after a few hours of either unknown or mediocre bands, and it was nice to hear something familiar. They were doing an anniversary gig, so their set covered mainly the older tracks. It was much the same stuff as they played at South Park. The king got to come up on stage to introduce “Black Winter Day,” but shit the bed a little bit with his growl and got teased by Tomi Joutsen, which gave the crowd a good laugh. Amorphis is a very consistent live band. You pretty much always know what you’ll get from them: a solid performance and a selection of songs that you probably like, and it’s been nice to have the set a bit different in these last few festivals because you might get tired of seeing the more or less same show each time.
Abbath ended the night on the Inferno Stage. You might know him from Immortal, but this time he was playing with his own band. I’ve always found Immortal to be pretty goofy and can’t take them especially seriously. Watching Abbath was equally hilarious with the over-exaggerated black metal image, but I am not into their music at all so it lost its amusement factor for me pretty quickly.
In Flames, on the other hand, is exactly what I want in a closing band for the night! I don’t think I’ve ever heard them open a show with “Only for the Weak” before, so I was immediately pumped right up for what would come next. The set itself was fantastic, and I couldn’t help but thinking back to how much fun we had back at their gig in November. They’re easily one of my favorite large-venue live bands and the open-air setting does nothing but add to their shows. Dimming evening light and pyrotechnics, awesome screams, epic moshing, and just great music really pull it all together. To our benefit, they didn’t stay strict to the new material, so for those of us who haven’t liked their last few albums as much as the older stuff, I think we all left pretty satisfied, and just like Sabaton on Friday, they filled us up with good vibes and anticipation for the last day!
I was tempted to head over to see Mors Subita open up the last day of the festival on the Radio Rock stage, but unfortunately we didn’t get inside in time, but we listened a while from outside and they were sounding pretty good. We also happened to notice a Diablo car just outside the gates giving out promotional shots for their upcoming album – that was pretty cool!
The wind was biting and we hoped the weather wouldn’t turn on us as we finished up our business in time to check out Warmen, and came inside just as Pasi Rantanen (Thunderstone) left the stage, leaving me full of regret that I missed their cover of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” by Journey. From what I’ve gathered, this is a band made by Children of Bodom’s keyboardist, and they bring on guest vocalists from time to time, explaining why Pasi Rantanen was there. Every so often, the singer switched, and it seemed like a new band was playing. The musical style seemed to differ between singers, so any viewer might have been thinking either that it was really diverse or really inconsistent. The second vocalist, who did most of the set, was Jonna Geagea, who was known 90s-era in a Finnish pop band I’d never heard of, Nylon Beat. She had a nice voice and with the right music, she might be pretty good, but maybe this wasn’t it. And of course, to the delight of every female teenaged metalhead there, Alexi Laiho came out for the last two songs. What was cool was that in their last track, a cover of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rantanen and Geagea came out to sing backing with them. I don’t know how I felt about the music itself, but the show was decent enough.
I’ve noticed that there are four bands that you’ll find at just about every summer festival in Finland: Amorphis, Stratovarius, Mokoma, and Stam1na. This year we were graced with three of them, and as we headed back to the Koff tent (they offered sunbathing chairs, though you had to get lucky or show up early to claim one) Mokoma started up on the main stage. It’s been a surprisingly long time since I’ve seen them and had kind of forgotten how great (and loud!) they are. Marko Annala has such an interesting and diverse voice. All I really wanted to hear was “Hei Hei Heinäkuu” and they played it, to my delight. When their set finished it left me feeling like I should really see them in a club someday to see how it compares.
Next up was The Sirens, one of the bands I had been most intrigued by. I’m a longstanding fan of Anneke van Giersbergen and Liv Kristine (in voice, if not always in band), though I’d never heard of Kari Rueslåtten before, or her former band, 3rd and the Mortal. Nevertheless, the idea of seeing three of metal’s original and best female vocalists was too good to pass up. The whole concept of their performance was great – they played songs from their own bands, either solo, as duets, or with all three of them, giving us covers of “Image” by Theater of Tragedy, “Death Hymn” by 3rd and the Mortal, and “Strange Machines” by The Gathering, as well as some of their solo work. Even cooler, they had one original track that they finished with, called “Sisters of the Earth.” And really, the harmonizing with two voices was cool, but when all three of them got together, it was nothing short of breathtaking. I’d love to see an album from these guys in the future, but for now, if you get a chance to see them do not miss it!
Opeth was second-to-last on the main stage and I was crushed by the timing of things because the last time I had seen them was in Sauna Open Air 2013 and I’ve missed a few of their shows since. Though I can’t say I listen to Opeth, I have always adored them live. Their music somehow sounds so much better to me on a stage, though maybe it’s just Åkerfeldt’s charming and hilarious stage presence that makes it for me. He’s always poking fun and telling jokes. I only caught a couple songs and it killed me to have to pry myself away.
However, I’m sure there will be more occasions to see Opeth, whereas the Strong Scene Collective was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Strong Scene collective, I’d refer you to this nice little article over HERE. Essentially, each of the “bands” would come on stage, play one song, and have a quick interview with Marja Murunen, who some of you might recognize from Salatut Elämät.
This was the greatest finale the epic troll group could have possibly hoped for. The performances were really musically accurate for the genres and everyone in the room was in on the joke, even to the point that there were a couple people in the crowd singing along to the song by Mystic Triangle in the end! They played with a lot of stereotypes so well too, with Grey’s female vocalist “Magda” bursting into uncontrollable sobbing at the end of their song, and responding to the interview in German, and Eternal Dusk’s “Johny” telling Marja that he hates all audiences and playing live sucks, badly. Perhaps the best part of the set was stoner rock band, Mystic Triangle, who made jokes about doing peyote in a hot room (though they’ve never been to sauna), and when asked about the spirituality of their music, talked about how all people transmit something and it all comes together it forms a circle and sometimes it turns and forms a triangle, and was so beautifully nonsensical that we wondered if he had actually smoked something before going on stage. It was also cool that all the other “bands” came out to finish the show with them in their set. All-in-all, it was a great joke and they played it out masterfully, and it was unquestionably worth seeing.
Stratovarius, another of the famous Finnish festival four, closed out the Inferno stage for the year and were already going strong when we got out from the club. They had a different backdrop from South Park, and the crowd was already going crazy. Interestingly, they played the exact same set from their last Helsinki club gig, but an entirely different set from South Park. I’ve seen these guys so often that I usually don’t feel like there’s anything special going on, but there was some really great energy in this show. I prefer “Hunting High and Low” to “Black Diamond” though, so I was bummed that they only played the latter. Still, great performance by a classic band!
And to close out the weekend, good old Uncle Alice hit up the main stage! I have always enjoyed Alice Cooper’s music, and even more than that, I really enjoy his live shows. His classic hard rock/metal has always been one of my favorites of the 80s-90s era, but it’s his wild stage show that really makes him worth seeing. The show started out with all the fun, familiar songs, like “House of Fire,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “Under My Wheels.” The stage décor was a lot more elaborate than most bands, and I was happy to see he had a trademark snake on stage for “Welcome to My Nightmare” (for interest’s sake, that snake belongs to Mr. Lordi and its name is Alice Cooper), as well as the guillotine for the decapitation! You can’t forget the big monster in “Feed My Frankenstein,” which is also my favorite song of his to hear live. And even if you’re not so into Alice Cooper, but you have a dick and a heartbeat, you probably stuck around to see Nita Strauss in all her glory. So if they played all the classics, what was new and fun in the show? How about a whole bunch of covers: “Break on Through” by The Doors, “Revolution” by The Beatles, “Foxy Lady” by Hendrix, and “My Generation” by The Who. And if hearing “Poison” didn’t leave you satisfied, how about “School’s Out” with a guest appearance by none other than Michael Monroe with a snippet of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd mixed in there? Really, I don’t know how you could ever be disappointed in a show like this. It really had everything you could hope for from an Alice Cooper show and more!
So how was Tuska’s 18th year? Well, it had great headliners every night, fantastic new acts, rock-solid classics, good food, good merch, and great vibes! Having drinks, meeting friends from near and far alike, and hearing great music with fantastic performances… you can’t ask for more in the summer! It continues to be my personal favorite festival and as long as I’ve got a pulse, you’ll find me there year after year. See you next June! \m/
Photos: Maija Lahtinen
Tuska-kiska photo: Bear W.