This year’s Tuska Open Air Festival was something special as it was the 20th anniversary of the Helsinki festival. For me it was “only” the 13th time at Tuska but still reason enough to celebrate three days of metal and friends at Suvilahti once again from June 30 to July 2.
While proper summer weather was still absent with a cloudy 15°C, the audience for Baptism who were playing at the indoor Inferno Stage was very much present. The hall was packed, the beer queues were long and from the stage the sweet tunes of black metal plus clean vocals by Mikko Kotamäki tried to put a spell on you. You had to make your way closer to the stage and towards the middle though so the sound could fully unfold. With a guest appearance by Infection it was just the black metal performance needed to get this festival weekend started.
Baptism (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
We stayed put at the Inferno Stage as next up were Pekko Käppi & K:H:H:L, not a band you see on a metal festival’s billing usually as their realms lie more in the folk/rock world where Pekko Käppi is known as an expert jouhikko (bowed lyre) player and the one that had electrified the traditional Finnish instrument. But when looking at the stage, one could think next up was the grimmest and trvest black metal band: Skulls as a back drop, human skulls on stage – it looked more (black) metal than many metal bands. The hall wasn’t as packed as for Baptism but a decent crowd had gathered nonetheless to let the driving rhythms and cascading jouhikko tunes wash over them. Pekko was playing his skull decorated jouhikko and the full, warm sound radiated off a stage that was bathed in fog and purple lights. You felt yourself being pulled into dark and mysterious woods where hidden creatures might appear. Rocking music with a shamanic voodoo vibe that combined airy elements whilst being firmly rooted in Mother Earth. And all that delivered with a groove that was hard to resist and got even goth ladies dressed in latex dancing.
Pekko Käppi & K:H:H:L (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
After that it was time to leave the dark cocoon of the Inferno Stage to explore the festival area further. Insomnium were playing their ‘Winter’s Gate’ set in front of a full tent. At first it might have seemed odd to listen to winter tunes in June, but now it seemed quite appropriate with June weather being basically the same as the December weather in Helsinki. The audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves and the band was delivering some serious synchronized head banging action. But then food called so we made our way to the new food court area. One thing that has massively improved over the 20 years of Tuska history is the food. Finnish metal festivals are usually not what you’d consider being at the forefront of culinary festival experiences, and I remember the typical 2€ festival sausages with horror - the term sausage is being used very loosely here as it was a pink mass tasting mostly of oddly sweet nothing and flour. But since then Tuska has come a long way, now offering a variety of very tasty food options, including proper indoor restaurant dining at Black Dining so that I now almost look forward to eating at the festival.
Mayhem (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
With a full stomach, we made our way to the tent stage again where Mayhem were playing the whole ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ album in front of a mesmerized crowd. And this time, finally Mayhem live and myself clicked. I had seen them three times over the past few years and while I found moments in each of those shows, it was never really ‘it’ for me. But now it was impossible to escape the allure of their show and I joined all the people around me in this captivating black metal experience. What followed is the typical after Tuska night: Drinks with friends outside the gates, more drinks at an after party until you are not sure anymore if you should have some more drinks, still do and then wake up the next day wondering where all the time and money went and how you got home…
Tuska Saturday started early and with even chillier weather. So, it was good that Lik delivered a fiery show and woke people up with some Swedish death metal on the main stage. More people were slowly arriving but the area was still far from full on this sold out day. But those that made it to Suvilahti at this early afternoon hour were there to go for it and headbanged in front of the stage. The Lik guys seemed to have a blast playing, and the drum beat and this oh so good death metal groove kicked the tired midday’s ass.
The next highlight of the day were Electric Wizard who took the audience at the tent stage to celebrate a very groovy black mass. As soon as they got on stage, the crowd erupted into applause and the screens were showing video collages of old movies with a lot of naked skin. The tone for the gig was set and the groove instantly took hold of everyone. The energy was vibing between band and audience, and it seemed everyone went with the flow and dove deep into the music. The combination of doom, stoner, blood, sex and groove was just what the high priestess had called upon to warm up this cold Finnish summer day. The musical waves were ebbing and flowing between warm, embracing tunes to more aggressive rhythms that pushed you higher, further.
Electric Wizzard (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
Amorphis wowed the now packed area from the Radio Rock main stage and proved that no matter how often you have seen and heard them, you can always see them one more time because it never gets old. Then it was time for my fellow Swiss countrymen and women from Triptykon to unleash a cold metal storm over the tent stage. Ugh! Three Triptykon crosses at the front of the stage that was bathed in icy colors, black silhouettes on stage – you just knew this show was going to blow your mind. And Triptykon just killed with this intense, tight set. It felt like the air was electrified and energy was flowing through me, recharging my batteries that were getting a bit low towards the evening of the second festival day.
Triptykon (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
Then, a moment that everyone had been waiting for: HIM, who earlier this year had announced the end of the band, were playing at Tuska as part of their farewell world tour. To no one’s surprise the festival grounds were packed and anticipation and (teenage) memories were whirring through the air. As soon as they started playing, the crowd was singing along and a huge nostalgia party erupted. This is not to say that it was just nostalgia that made this gig enjoyable, no, the music and the show were good even if you wouldn’t have heard the band before. But of course all these people coming together, each of them carrying their own HIM story in their hearts (or heartagrams) created a very special atmosphere.
HIM (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
Ville Valo was a smooth, nonchalant operator and the band sounded quite heavy. The night slowly crept in over Tuska during the last songs, but just when the darkness thought it had taken hold of this day completely, the night sky erupted into fireworks celebrating 20 years of Tuska and HIM’s long, successful career in style.
Sunday finally was a sunny day, the first of this year’s Tuska where it felt like an actual summer festival. Of course, this happens on the last day with work looming the next day. But those were tomorrow’s sorrows, for now sun, a cold beer and some tasty food at Black Dining awaited to start the day. Walking towards the beer area, the tent stage erupted into a massive cheering crowd when Battle Beast got on stage – not my kind of music as such, but oh how people love this band which is understandable as they do really rock live no matter if it’s your thing or not.
After two days where the tent provided shelter from cold and rain, on Sunday it offered shade from the hot summer sun while Dirkschneider were playing (their) Balls To The Walls on the main stage. The good mood was continued on the tent stage with Baroness who were playing at Tuska for the first time again since 2012 where the band was in a car accident shortly after. The audience was cheering, the band was all smiles, jumping around…almost a bit too much of merriment for a black metal soul. Baroness’ tunes were the perfect soundtrack to the summer day; the audience was clapping along and the tent was getting fuller. Baroness was feeding off each other’s energy, vocalist and guitarist John Baizley’s facial expressions were worthy of a show of their own, and it was just a pleasure to behold this performance and vibe with this summer groove.
Baroness (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
My last band of the festival set a very different tone, and took their audience down a darker rabbit hole. Finnish masters Oranssi Pazuzu had invited to join them on another black psychedelic journey at the Inferno stage. From the dark shade of the tent into even more obscure dimensions. The hall got quite packed already 20 minutes before they were scheduled to play but as I was early I got a quite good spot which allowed me to see more of the band than ever before as there was still daylight falling onto the stage through the windows. All other times I had seen them darkness had enshrouded them so for the first time I got to see more of the actual playing instead of only feeling the music. Starting slow they worked their way towards explosion only to scale back, and then turn up again.
Oranssi Pazuzu (Photo by Eija Mäkivuoti)
The audience joined them on the journey willingly, while the band moved around like slow-motion dervishes or atoms bouncing, each separate but all united as one organism. What an experience again! Wrapped in this psychedelic blackness, Tuska 2017 ended and we made our way to Majava for the traditional After Tuska White Russians. The rest is history.
Check out the full gallery by Eija Mäkivuoti here.