Getting off the train in Hyvinkää, sunshine and warmth - or one could almost say heat - immediately embraced you. This was surprising as just the week before Steelfest, Finland enjoyed a lovely mix of snow, sleet and rain and the coldest temperatures for May since the 1960s. Doubting whether Steelfest 2017 would serve as the traditional summer festival season opening on the weekend on May 19-20 therefore was only natural. But whoever made a deal with the devil for actual summer weather did their job well. With the beer chilled, and sunglasses and bullet belt donned, it was time to plunge into a bright summer weekend filled with the darkest music.
Everyone and your grandma know by now how Steelfest Friday started: The video of Azazel’s now infamous gig has made the rounds through every metal media imaginable, and even found its way to mainstream platforms. But for me, arriving just in time to see Korgonthurus, Friday started at the indoor stage. Quite a crowd had already gathered and with their raw black metal, Korgonthurus provided a chance to cool down from the summer heat outside. Time to take a blackened breath and dive into Steelfest. Korgonthurus delivered their harsh yet at times melancholic brand of black metal with full force – a perfect start into the weekend.
Korgonthurus (Photo by Marco Manzi)
At one point also the coat check truck that had been delayed a few hours finally arrived, and I could stop logging around the extra jacket and scarf that I packed in anticipation of cold nights - and that in the end weren’t needed. It’s also the small things that make a festival, and Steelfest’s coat check system is one of my favorites: you buy a card that gives you access to a locker for the whole weekend, as many times as you want. Pure festival convenience– just like the indoor toilets!
Talking about convenience, this year I also tried out the Yonoton app (which translates to “no queuing”) that allows you to order and pay for drinks that you then can pick up from the bar once you’ve received the notification. Technology helping festival people drinkin a more convenient way – hell yes! And all that while Necrowretch from France blasted away on the outdoor stage, what could one ask for more? Well, maybe for the wind to not scatter the sound that much…
Necrowretch (Photo by Marco Manzi)
The first surprise of the day were Zuriaake from China who sounded far more interesting live than on record. Black silhouettes with Chinese dǒulì hats made for an unusual stage scenery, and the performance was intense. Dense, atmospheric black metal electrified the air and captured the audience. Definitely one of the weekend’s highlights.
Zuriaake (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Outside, Purtenance delivered a powerful death metal set on, the low growls and pulsating rhythms providing the perfect soundtrack to the festival evening. Next up were Sargeist whose music I do like but somehow felt it never really translated as good live as on record the past times I had seen them. It seemed to be the same thing this time, but as the gig went on, some songs really started to sound good, their signature melodies came through and with the smell of incense wafting through the hall this Steelfest day took another loop down the black metal rabbit hole with Sargeist.
Sargeist (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Far traveled from the North of Finland and a blast from the past were Thyrane who took over the outdoor stage next. Despite a lot of people enjoying some evening sun rays in the beer area, there was also a decent crowd gathered in front of the stage. (Because of the oh so logical Finnish alcohol laws, there are no beers allowed directly in front of the outdoor stage so if you want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, you had to remain behind the fenced off area.) Thyrane offered a trip down Finnish black metal memory lane, and one could tell the crowd enjoyed the performance.
So called death metal super group Firespawn were eagerly awaited, and they delivered. One could say they had an underlying fire going (bad pun intended) that was ablaze throughout the set, and many thought vocalist L.G. Petrov worked even better in Firespawn than in Entombed.
Firespawn (Photo by Marco Manzi)
With Nightbringer from the US the rest of evening turned towards black metal again. Two vocalists in ritual robes and guitars that cut through the night made sure you couldn’t escape this performance. Marduk closed the outdoor stage for the day, to the delight of many. Moshing ensued, and Marduk did what Marduk does. As almost always with them, I got caught up in parts of the gig but not throughout the complete set, partly as I have seen Marduk so many times. Still, it was worth watching and feeling the energy of this set.
Marduk (Photo by Marco Manzi)
The first festival day ended with Peste Noire, probably one of the most awaited gigs in a long time, especially after their performance at Blastfest in Bergen was cancelled earlier this year. Having seen them many years back in Oslo with a great gig, my expectations were high. Unfortunately, they weren’t fulfilled as the sound was tinny and the melody lines got buried. Nonetheless, they played the crowds favorite songs, and here and there a glimpse of how they should sound emerged.
My Steelfest Saturday started with Front who sounded good and delivered a gig full of raw energy and aggression. The crowds was not that big yet, and it wasn’t as warm as on Friday, but the beer happy hour and sunshine along with Front’s performance and their driving rhythms that got you into black metal festival mood immediately made it worth to have arrived at the area early.
Front (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Next up inside were ye old faithful black metallers of Baptisms, who invited the crowd inside for an afternoon ritual. And they seemed to be intense today – they kicked ass from the get go and unleashed some extra hate filled black metal over the crowd streaming inside who greeted them with arms up in the air. With songs like Devil’s Fire the drums hit you right in the guts, the gig a musical and physical experience just as I like it and the audience was feeling it too. Only, why was the stage bathed in purple and green lights? Way too colorful for my taste for a band like this…
Baptism (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Then came Anal Blasphemy and all kinds of performance props from singer Molestor Kadotus wearing a purple stole and at times a bear hat of sorts, to a hooded ceremony master wandering the stage with a bone, directing the two female, corpse-painted dancers who shed every piece of clothing throughout the gig….well, it was entertaining for sure.
Another major positive surprise for many was the US-duo FIN who fired off both fast and furious black metal as well as atmospheric melodies upon Steelfest. A great find to follow up on even if the sound at times was slightly too flat for my taste. On the outdoor stage, Cut Up drummed up a death metal storm to go with the summer evening mood. Good death metal and a cold beer enjoyed in a great festival setting is sometimes one of life’s best simple pleasures.
FIN (Photo by Marco Manzi)
But as too much light-heartedness and enjoyment could turn you from evil trve, grumpy metal head into a happy go lucky hippie, it was time for Skepticisim to bring some sweet sorrow to Steelfest. Their performance was truly a moment of pause, a time to slow down and become part of Skepticism bleak but beautiful universe. As the heavy tunes ever so slowly meandered their way through the hall singer Matti oozed intensity and presence in a quiet but compelling way. Pondering the white roses that he then gifted to audience members, a gesture both melancholic and delicate.
In a festival like Steelfest where often the harsh, fast paced and loud tunes rule, a band and performance like this stands out in the best possible way. Two equally worthy and needed sides of the metal coin. Skepticism put on an almost cathartic experience, sluggishly and silently portraying a sense of loss and despair that nonetheless felt like a warm embrace. A moment of music into which you could release all your sadness and let go, be freed from it and be left with a quiet sense of hopefulness within the bleak.
Skepticism (Photo by Marco Manzi)
After that, Lucifyre were the needed kick in the ass to get out of the contemplative, melancholic and almost meditative state Skeptisism had left me with. They sounded hella tight and were greeted by a cheering audience. Following that, Behexen were the last Finnish act of the festival, and delivered another excellent black metal package to a quite packed indoor hall, creating a hypnotic mood.
Behexen (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Steelfest 2017 was slowly drawing to a close, but not before Enthroned ravaged the sparsely lit indoor stage with a brutal set. One of the nights highlight were as always Mgła who were the last band on the outside stage. The night had fallen and the darkness not only enshrouded the packed crowd but also emerged from the stage where the always faceless band delivered a driven, pulsating performance. Exuding excess and power while at the same time being controlled and precise.
Mgła (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Carpathian Forest ended the night with a very black’n’roll attitude which worked perfectly to end the festival with a blast. The crowd in the indoor hall had cleared out a bit but those who stayed in were for a nasty ride, in the good way. Mannequins decorated the stage and Nattefrost took a liking to them, or at least to their nipples. Nattefrost doing Nattefrost things, and Carpathian Forest playing a tight set.
Carpathian Forest (Photo by Marco Manzi)
Walking through the more or less inebriated crowd towards the hotel, Steelfest had once again left me buzzing from two days filled with great music, memories made with old and new friends, and just an overall fantastic festival experience.
Check out the full photo gallery by Marco Manzi here.