This report was first published on Allmetalfest.com.
The 17th Tuska Open Air Festival overall and the fourthin Suvilahti took place on the weekend of June 27 to June 29. And while Suvilahti is located centrally enough, every time I go to Tuska there, I am reminded of how much of its unique charm the festival has lost since it moved from Kaisaniemenpuisto park to the former energy production area Suvilahti in 2011. Gone is the lovely family picnic feeling to which you could take your own drinks to, sit on the grass underneath white birch trees with their leaves glistening in the light summer breeze contrasting with the blue sky above – exchanged for a more generic festival on concrete floor with expensive drinking areas and only small patches of grass. But despite everything, Tuska still carries special significance for many and certainly for me. So despite Suvilahti and despite this year’s weather that had been less than summery the weeks before I was really looking forward to another Tuska and this one turned out to be a really good and special one.
Prices have remained constant at a high level for the various ticket categories, drinks and food but Tuska offers a lot of variety. You can get everything from VIP-packages to one day tickets and the festival experience is rounded off with pre- and after-Tuska clubs, a Tuska kiosk in the center where you could exchange your ticket for the wrist band the weeks before and the whole (social media) experience from the festival’s own app to video greetings and signing sessions at the kiosk and the festival itself. After the first year they have also improved the area and tried to imitate a park picnic feeling by including the grass area in Suvilahti into the beer area and create a park bar as well as leave enough space between the ticket control and the security check so you could sit down there and share a few drinks you stored in the coat check located in that pre-area with friends before going in.
With all the build-up on social media channels and seeing more and more metal heads in Helsinki’s streets the days before I could not wait for the weekend to come. For those that wanted to start already on Thursday night, the pre-Tuska club at On the Rocks bar offered a special treat with the Barren Earth show where the band’s new singer, Faroese native Jón Aldará known from the Faroese band Hamferð, gave his debut. With that warm-up it was finally time for the real deal on Friday that started with another special occasion this year as I got to relive the old Kaisaniemi Tuska picnic feeling. This was thanks to the wedding reception of dear friends that was held there which goes to show that Tuska really has this special meaning for many as this couple had met at Tuska, got engaged at Tuska and now they got married (almost) at Tuska! And it seemed the weather gods once again were turning their good eye on the festival.
After weeks of grey, cold and rainy weather with temperatures around 14°C (which is 10 °C below the average for this time of the year) Tuska Friday started off slightly chilly but sunny and with a blue sky that contrasted nicely with the black clad crowd as well as the white dress of the bride. From Kaisaniemi it then was time to head to Suvilahti to see Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals on the Radio Rock Main Stage. A good crowd had already gathered and was enjoying the first moments of Tuska magic. The sound was a bit distorted by the wind but otherwise the energy was good both in the audience and on stage. The rhythmic music was just right to get into festival mood and fists were in the air, hair was flying and mosh pits were happening. Standing there, sun in my face, Helsinki sky over me, metal heads around me, live music to nod along to in front of me, life was good and I was ready to be embraced by the music and the Tuska experience.
This experience took me to said pre-security check area to have drinks with the wedding party which was another of many special moments that Tuska creates: sitting there with the newly married couple having drinks together and enjoying some people watching. This is an essential aspect of Tuska as many dress to the nines especially for this festival and you can see anything from basic metal gear, sexy metal vixens of all styles, Vikings, time ambassadors from the medieval ages to gas mask wearing teenagers and outfits that can be only described as living pieces of art (whether you like that art or not is another question). One thing is for sure, it is never boring at Tuska.
And then it was time for Faroese Hamferð on the Club Stage in the Kattilahalli building which was the perfect set up for their heavy, melodic, melancholic and beautiful doom metal. The hall was quite well filled and it seemed that either word had spread about this band which would be no surprise as they had been touring Europe with Amorphis earlier this year or that the Finns and other international festival goers were curious to see and hear a band that comes from a place that has become more and more prominent on the metal map with bands like Týr playing major tours in Europe and Hamferð having won the overall Wacken Metal Battle in 2012.
The band was bathed in blue and green lights, creating sharp silhouettes in their black suits, ties and white shirts. I think this is the first band I have ever seen dressed like this as a whole and it works. It is simple, slick and does not take attention away from the performance but as the whole band is wearing suits it works aesthetically. The band, their music and their show were elegant and sophisticated but don’t let yourself be fooled into believing the guys in these suits are restrained. Both on record and live you can feel the power and energy that is within them and their music. It almost seems that the suits are needed to keep the raw energy of the music and the band in a certain frame otherwise it would become too intense and swallow everything and everyone up. It was obvious during this gig: sometimes as delicate as a summer night’s breeze, sometimes with the force of a storm the band wove, painted, shouted and blasted their magickal music into the Tuska air.
The crowd seemed smitten with the band, and the songs were followed by loud applauses which showed that this was not just the first Finland show of any other band but that something was happening here. People had consciously or not been waiting to be swept away by the intensity and energy of the gig and let themselves be taken on an emotional journey by the stunning melodies and the magic of the Faroese lyrics.
And that journey was truly how this kind of music should be: touching upon your heart and soul with the sorrowful beauty of the melodies that carry you across the imaginary evening sun bathed musical landscape like birds; with the winds speeding you forward before turning into a storm that throws you into turmoil down to the sandy beach where you stare into the horizon and right into the heart of a thunderstorm; rain and waves gushing into your face only for you to realize these are your own salty tears. But I digress. So if you have not guessed it by now or just skipped over the long ramblings above – to sum it up, it was an intense gig that I quite liked and I was not the only one feeling like this. As serious and intense as the guys had been on stage as friendly and fun they were when we went to meet them backstage for a few drinks, laughs and general Tuska silliness. A whole bunch of Faroese people meeting up with a bunch of (almost) Finns at a metal festival seems to be a recipe for fun, friendships being formed and more magical Tuskamoments. Skál to that!
Time flew and in a good festival mood we made our way to see Dimmu Borgir. While I had not really followed the band in the past few years, I was curious to watch them again as I had seen them with some nice shows many years ago. And I still remember that they were supposed to have been my first metal gig ever but after seeing some of their CD booklets my parents did not feel inclined to let their 13 year old daughter attend their show (and hence, Manowar popped my metal gig cherry as my parents did not see any of their booklets beforehand). So now it was time to see what Dimmu Borgir could still bring to the stage after 21 years of their existence. And it was ok. They did all they should do but left me with nothing more than a shoulder shrug during the show and afterwards. People seemed to enjoy them as it always happens on a festival but personally I was looking forward more to what the rest of the night would hold with after parties, more drinks and friends. Thus, ended the first day of Tuska 2014.
Saturday started with even better weather, it was sunny and warm, and Finnish Thrash veterans Stone were already blowing up the Radio Rock main stage. A big crowd had gathered and a mosh pit of mostly youngsters that had not been born when Stone started was giving it their all. Everyone was clearly in their best summer festival mood with the first red necks and shoulders starting to show and the steps started to zigzag for some that had hailed the sun god with too many shots already.
The cool sunglasses were put on to look after the lovely ladies in the short skirts and the guys with the nice long hair, or the other way round as there certainly were both guys in skirts and ladies with long hair too. Some of that hair was also flying on and off stage. The sound was tight; everything came together from the good dynamics of the vocals to the riffs. The slow start of Back to the Stone Age did not deceive anyone of the intensity that the song would blow up into and the fists were in the air, the crowd shouting along. It was a real generation uniting show with the youngsters in the circle pit and the older guys that knew Stone from their teenage days standing only a little behind nodding their heads in approval.Reached out that they had only played again for the first time after many years in 2013 as vocalist Janne Joutsenniemi explained was also a clear crowd favorite. The great shout and head bang along mood of the song continued to make this gig prefect for a festival with the music and the band’s performance just putting you into a good mood, sun and blue skies above you and a cool drink in your hand. The circle pit kept going all along and it was funny to watch as it was not empty in the middle but the guys and gals were running around a group of people standing in the middle. True precision moshing! For those that had gotten sweaty while moshing, Tuska did not only offer cold drinks afterwards but you could even go wash your shirt at the Bioluvil washing detergent booth and exchange it temporarily for a (of course black) bath robe. Tuska – a full service festival that is only missing a massage place for sore necks and feet.
The next act on the Inferno stage – the second outdoor stage – was also certain to get you sweaty. Masters of Disco Turmion Kätilöt attracted a crowd already before they got on stage, having their PVC clad fans sweat in the hot afternoon sun. As soon as the intro started, the audience started clapping along and when the band entered the stage it got hotter than Hell(sinki) with the pyros going off. Singer Spellgoth looked like he had gotten too close to these pyros or enjoyed the sun a bit too long as his face was painted all black except for a few white high lights, standing in nice contrast with his white clothes. The band delivered their full Turmion Kätilöt show from dancing to comedic intervals between the songs, MC Raaka Pee acting as show master with his cane. The sound started off not too good with the various volumes not playing together as they should and the wind bursts did not help – issues most bands that day suffered from on the Inferno stage.
But with Turmion Kätilöt you can be sure that they would get their audience dancing and into party mood even without any sound coming from them so it did not take long for the band’s energy to swap over and get the first conga line going. The sound got better throughout the gig and crowd favorite Grand Ball got everyone moving. Spellgoth was jumping and sliding over the stage like a too tightly wound up rubber band that was let loose. The rest of the band did not take a back seat except when Spellgoth got it from the back from MC Raaka Pee. As Tuska is an all age festival they kept their show mostly G-rated and when the band asked the crowd to shout for Spellgoth to show “Spekkelin kikkeli” (for the non-Finns here: Spekkeli is a nickname for Spellgoth and kikkeli is a slang term for…well, I am sure you can guess that) he only showed the real deal to the band while the audience had to settle for a finger imitation. So all in all, another great disco party with Turmion Kätilöt that continued backstage for a short while with discussions about how to maintain or abandon body hygiene on a tour with no showers around. Another one of these Tuska moments!
On the main stage another veteran band was on with Metal Church. Seeing them for the first time and having dabbled in listening to them a bit in my teenage years I was curious to see at least a bit of their show. The crowd seemed to like them but was not ecstatic and only warmed up during the course of the gig. During Start the Fire more hands shot up in the air and the applause was becoming louder. The band’s energy was good as was the sound but the whole thing was maybe a bit too routine for it to totally click with me.
On the Club Stage Amoral were next – a band that has gone through more style changes throughout the years than myself and my last conscious memory of them was seeing them with Dark Funeral, Naglfar and Endstille in 2006 – and then of course the whole Ari Koivunen controversy. So I was curious to see where Amoral had ended up 10 years after their debut album. A nice crowd had gathered in the Kattilahalli to find out the same. It took a few minutes to warm up to the band or rather clear my head of all previous thoughts about Amoral but once I did I appreciated the melodies and the play between the two guitars. Ari had a nice handheld mic and the band certainly new how to strike a pose and create a great stage picture. The audience was clapping and after the slow first song the gig was picking up the pace with the next one.The sound got better too, everything became more organic. The blue lighting created a nice atmosphere and the audience seemed very relaxed and pleased to enjoy this gig. During If not here, where?I even warmed up to Ari’s voice – his timbre really has its moments and the song was a nice quiet moment in the three day Tuska madness.
Another special moment we basically walked into by accident. While heading over to the main stage to continue the Amoral theme at a sit down with guitarist and founding member Ben Varon to reflect on Amoral’s 10 year debut album anniversary we caught a glimpse of Bring Me The Horizon and singer Oliver Sykes asking the audience to sit down. I was thinking to myself “What the hell is going on here?” and was even more surprised when people actually did it. But then after a little while everyone jumped up and it was just a surprising, weird, nice, very energetic fun moment that made me laugh. The things you see at Tuska! Energized and smiling it was high time to meet up with Ben Varon who was happy to do the interview because that meant he got out of carrying the gear after Amoral’s fourth gig at a Tuska festival.
Nina: Tuska is quite a special festival to many – what is your Tuska history?
Ben: I think I have been to every Tuska since 1999 when it was still at Makasiini, a small festival. I don’t know if I was even 18 then but I remember us sneaking beers and ciders inside. I came year after year and then 2005 was the first year I played here.
N: That must have been quite cool.
B: Yes, because it is our hometown and there is always a good line up, always some bands you want to see, so many people to meet.
N: Can you take stock of Amoral’s journey – the band’s past, present and future?
B: I think we changed so much in those 10 years compared to a lot of bands that kind of find their path early on or just decide to stick to one thing. It’s not that we did not find our path; we were a technical death metal band for many years. For those three albums we enjoyed doing that. It just felt that we came to the end of the road with that kind of music so we wanted something more melodic, something new – something that excites us again. There is so much variation between every album, especially since the third one and Ari Koivunen joined with the melodic singing. It has definitely been a journey with Ari joining and all the pressure that came with that, the whole Idols thing. For those few months it felt like the whole world hates our band, our decision and we were crucified. That was hard for a while. Then it calmed down. People were actually listening to the songs, saying that it is not half as bad. With every new album with Ari we won some of those people back. Especially this one [Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows] for some reason, I have heard a lot of people saying that they did not like any of those previous ones except for the old death metal ones but this one they actually enjoyed. It’s good to have some of those people back.
N: About the future, where do you see Amoral going? Will you turn into an Iskelmä [Finnish Schlager] band at some point?
B: I highly doubt it but never say never – with us I don’t dare to say never, but I doubt it. Right now it feels that the path we found with this album is comfortable. To be honest, this was the first album when I was thinking about what kind of music fits these five guys and the group best before I started writing it instead of just writing songs and then enjoying them so we play them. This time I thought about it before. Ari is not that much into hard rock or 80ies metal, the same with our drummer but everybody in the band enjoys this prog stuff, more melodic and moody so why not embrace the strength that we all have together instead of doing what I want and play Bon Jovi riffs. If you step aside and focus on the best of the group it pays off. The band likes it, the fans like it and the critics seem to like it.
N: Amoral is a very active live band. How do you keep that energy alive?
B: At least for me, I still get really nervous before the show. Our stuff is pretty hard to play for us still and when we finally become comfortable with the material of the last album we write the next one which is always more difficult for some reason. I don’t know why we keep doing that to ourselves.
N: So you keep yourself on the edge.
B: Yeah, all the time. It’s not even on purpose. I would love to make an album that is easy to play so we don’t have to stress so much going on stage. Every time I think “I don’t know how I am going to do this live.” That is why a lot of times we are just standing, trying to focus on what we are playing because this band is a lot about musicianship. It needs to be precise and we are trying to play it as good as possible. It is not just about head banging like some thrash bands where that’s the main thing and if you hit the right notes that is just a bonus. We try to hit the right notes and try to throw in a head bang here and there.
N: I saw you guys with Dark Funeral many years ago. Today was the first time I paid attention to one of your shows again and I must say it is quite a difference.
B: It is. That was quite a hard tour because it was three black metal bands and us so we did not really fit. There were some tough gigs for sure where people did not get us at all because the other bands had no sense of humor on stage. That was their thing. They were very serious and we were used to joke all the time, especially our old singer Niko Kalliojärvi, he goofs around on stage so in Norway for example they hated us. They asked us “What are you doing? This is not supposed to be fun. Don’t smile on stage.”
N: Talking about inspiration – where does that come from for you?
B: I think is everything and anything really. It is not just one specific thing. A lot of it is other bands, other music. When you listen to some 70s classic rock or prog album and you hear the cool bass melodies and you think “That sounds good, I try something similar” or “I have not played 12 string in a while”. That’s how the 12 string sound for the acoustic track Blueprints started. I just felt like playing the 12 string because it had been too long. I picked up the guitar and after a few minutes the riff came out, and then it just starts rolling. It is not some mythical thing. You need to push it a little; you need to help it along. You need to have a guitar in your hands or take a long walk with pen and paper, sit somewhere and think about what you want to say next. I don’t really believe in that the lightning strikes. Sometimes you have melodies coming out of the blue but it helps to have a guitar in your hand and just play around until you hear something you like and develop that.
N: You got to record the video for Blueprintsin the ball room of the Helsinki City Hall which is a tough venue go book. How was the atmosphere of the shoot?
B: Really nice. It was a fun day. Usually filming videos is a pain in the ass but it was fun hanging out there and playing acoustic, listening to the room. It’s a beautiful place.
From prog rock to black metal – after the interview we rushed to see at least part of the Shining show on the Inferno stage. Shining replaced Devil You Know who had to cancel their performance the week before due to work visa issues. Having seen Shining many times before in their wild days that included blood, sex, drugs & black metal, any show after having pieces of a smashed guitar flying by inches away from your face seems a bit rehearsed, worth while watching non the less though. A decent crowd had gathered when I joined mid-gig and the mood was almost romantic with the sun setting behind the stage.
Niklas was being social, interacting with the audience, doing his usual stunts asking them to beat up a guy he pointed out, but no one obeyed. The sound was ok and the melodies came through, being carried on the rays of the setting sun while the guitar player with the white guitar whirled over the stage shirtless, looking like a dervish. The gig ended with Niklas throwing his shirt into the audience for one (un)lucky person to catch. The good basic Shining show made for a nice transition from the festival day to the festival night which started with drinks with friends in the pre-area before the security check. It got slightly chilly but the asphalt had been warmed up by the sun all day so it was nice to sit down, feel the sun’s warmth slowly subside, have a drink, watch people and enjoy Anthrax playing in the back ground. The sound was powerful and the mood for the evening got pumped up by hearing the crowd chant along to Antisocial and singing along myself when they covered AC/DC’s TNT. What a fantastic way to start the night!
The awakening on Sunday was harsh and not only because of the previous night. A look outside the window revealed a view into a world full of doom and gloom. It was raining, grey, foggy, and cold. Any trace of summer festival feeling had been blown away by the stormy winds that now were lashing rain into your face. This was probably one of the worst weather days I have seen in all my Tuska festival history. But it could not be helped – some great bands were calling so the only thing to do was to put on some more or less rainproof gear and make my way to Suvilahti. The wind carried Insomnium’s tunes throughout the foggy Kallio district on the way there which created an almost surreal atmosphere. Once at the festival area one could see wet but determined faces. This weather would not ruin this day or Tuska! The rustling of plastic raincoats in the cold breeze was the soundtrack of the day.
On the Inferno stage Orphaned Land from Israel probably dreamt themselves back into warmer realms but they did not let it show. They kept on smiling into the rain. There was a surprisingly decent crowd in front of the stage and despite the wind the sound was good as was the mood. The band’s at times exotic melodies warmed the audience up and vocalist Kobi Farhi used the occasion to proof he was not Jesus despite him having been told he looks like him because he did not manage to stop the rain. But the rain got the best of me so I took the chance to go to warm up and check out Church of the Dead in Kattilahalli.
A lot of people seemed to have had the same idea as the hall was packed to the entrance and it was difficult to get through. But once I had made my way past the people only seeking shelter from the elements a really nice heavy sound and deep growls welcomed and embraced me. The hard, fast and deep music was just the right kick on a tired grey Sunday and singer Jukka Pihlajaniemi revealed a nice, deep talking voice between songs that kept the atmosphere of the gig going. The set was tight, the band was moshing on stage and the energy that came from there charged the tired and cold bones up. The moshing in front of the stage certainly helped get warm too and the longer the gig lasted the better it seemed to get. It was everything that good death metal should be – slow and pulsating, fast and driving, deep and all-encompassing.
Re-energized and warmed up like that it was time for Satyricon on the main stage. The rain was starting to really pour down but the crowd that had already gathered in front of the stage was not impressed. A loud bang marked the beginning of their show and woke everyone up, and the crowd was clapping along with the intro. Starting off with Now, Diabolical and decent sound Satyr did his best to engage with the audience and distract them from the weather. He came to the front of the stage from the back where his trident mic stand was set up and the audience indeed started to put their arms into the air and the heads were nodding underneath the raincoat hoods. Some fans even succumbed to the music and let their soon wet hair fly. The set continued to drive onward with Our world, it rumbles tonight and other highlights.
In and Satyr commended the audience for their stamina in the face of the rain because as he put it “Good that the rain does not bother you. What would your forefathers have said if you could have seen Satyricon and Emperor but did not because of the rain.” The sound kept on getting better and Satyricon succeeded in keeping me warm with their music and their energetic performance that made it impossible to just stand still. The blue lights and fog on stage, Satyr posing on the little platform next to the drums while the other guys were grinding their axes in the front of the stage was an image to watch that made many metal hearts jump. The foggy atmosphere on stage was enhanced by the weather and Satyr calming things during The Infinity of Time and Space by sitting down.
Everyone had a chance to catch their breath and let themselves be mesmerized by the moment and linger before a blast of hair exploded on stage when the song picked up pace again. It was a show of a clearly and expectedly experienced band but compared to other bands with similar lengthy history Satyricon seemed to have fun playing despite the bleak weather. And it was necessary for this energy to be there because with the night setting, it started to get so cold you could actually see your breath and people started putting on gloves. But Satyricon kept on rocking the stage and fists could be seen in the air all the way to the back of the audience. The mosh pit that Satyr requested for Fuel for Hatred was a bit short lived but once it was time for Mother North everyone sang along, even the “old, fat people in the back” after Satyr called them out. With these choirs the Satyricon gig ended and it was time to get some liquid warmth in the form of red wine to have energy left to pay enough attention and respect to the final show of the night: Emperor playing a special 20th In the Nightside Eclipse anniversary show.
The rain had stopped in time for Emperor with original drummer Faust to take the stage and the audience had gathered, all hands were in the air, expectations running high. As soon as Ihshan and the band came on stage the energy was there and the crowd started head banging. It was time to celebrate Emperor, music, Tuska’s last day, and all these magical Tuska moments of the past days. From the start I thought this show was better than when I saw them at Tuska in 2007 and the performance that followed proved me right. The set up was simple, everyone in black clothes, the black-white Emperor emblem on the back of the stage – nothing more was needed. The band’s gravitas and presence could be felt throughout the whole festival area and with Into the Infinity of Thoughts the goose bumps feeling just started. By the time they played Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Timesthey had me shaking my hair after all and Ihshan’s white, gold and red guitar was standing out on stage, looking fit for a black metal king. Other bands of this age often play and look spent but they seemed to really enjoy themselves and the audience ran with it. And it seemed really everyone was interested in seeing Emperor because when I turned around Satyr and the guys stood behind us and seemed to like the show.
The performance continued to amaze, mesmerize and capture with its intensity and beauty that turned into almost dark romantic moments with Towards the Pantheon. Everything from sound to aesthetics just came together and this icy cold Norwegian black metal just warmed and captivated your heart and soul. And when the first tones of Inno a Satana could be heard the crowd went wild, people were shouting, screaming, clapping and singing along. The mixture of power, delicacy and magick that was shown in this performance made clear why they had been such an influential band. It was hard to believe but the intensity even got higher with the last encore when Ihshan announced they had been thinking back to their roots and they would play Bathory’s A fine Day to Die….the atmosphere, the magick, the energy and the goose bumps, shivers running down my spine until the last sound had died down. There was not much left to say at this point, it indeed would have been a fine day or moment to die. It had been a truly amazing show, festival and couple of days. A fine day to die – til the next time!