Review and photos by Justin Richardson
I got to Finland two weeks or so before the Tuska festival. While the festival was the main reason I was traveling overseas, it ended up being the last thing on my to-do list. Taking a side trip to Denmark, spending Midsummer out in a cottage on a lake with friends, and visiting Estonia for a day filled up my vacation. I was lucky enough to attend the festival a few years ago back in 2010 and got the chance to see highlights such as Devin Townsend performing all of Ziltoid, Bloodbath doing their seventh show, Tarot performing with a full choir, and a whole slew of other great bands that I didn’t think I’d ever have a shot at seeing. This year’s lineup was nearly as awesome — though missing some of the exclusives. Big names like King Diamond, Testament, and Nightwish headlined the festival. Lesser (if only slightly lesser…) -known bands like Amorphis, Bolt Thrower, and Ihsahn (of Emperor fame) helped fill out the bill. The schedule was released a few weeks before the show and I had to come to terms with the fact that the first day of the festival, Friday, was easily the strongest day overall, with one killer fucking lineup. I’m used to having some bands here and there that are filler for me so I can go grab a drink or grab some food, but Friday was having none of that.
First up — Leprous. With Dillinger Escape Plan having to drop out of the show and Tesseract filling in instead, the schedule moved around a bit and Leprous ended up opening the whole festival. Leprous was one of the bands I was most excited to see. For those unfamiliar with Leprous, they also serve as the backing band for Ihsahn in his live shows. The band has two new albums under their belt since the first time I saw them a few years ago at ProgPower USA. These two albums were well beyond the songwriting of their debut, Tall Poppy Syndrome. Bilateral and Coal have become household staples of listening for me and to say that I was excited (as was my girlfriend) to see this material played live was an understatement. Despite the fact that the Tuska website and promo materials seem to indicate that Leprous was a higher-slot band, Leprous got stuck playing the smaller Club stage — an indoor stage with decent sound. Leprous only got 25 minutes to play so their set was really short: four songs. But those four songs set the bar for all other bands to compare to for the rest of the weekend.
Rushing out of the Club stage, I made my way to the Inferno stage — a smaller outdoor stage. Abhorrence had come out of retirement not too long ago and this was one of their first shows since then. For those unfamiliar with Amorphis, Abhorrence was Tomi Koivusaari’s band before becoming a founding member of Amorphis. It’s not really any big secret that if Amorphis had not become what they are today, Abhorrence would most likely have fallen to the wayside of metal obscurity. It wasn’t until 2012 that the band even released a full length album — only a 7” and demo tape had any circulation. I won’t lie, the only reason I was interested in seeing the Abhorrence show was due to the history it had in connection to Amorphis. It was really cool to see these guys resurrect their material and play it for an audience who has a larger appreciation for it these days. While I doubt the band will ever escape the shadow that has been cast on them by Amorphis, they could easily continue writing and releasing new material. Their set was fun and totally had the feel of a really old school 90’s death metal jam. White Reebok sneakers and all.
Up next was Wintersun, a band that probably doesn’t need any introduction at this point. They released their debut about 50 years ago and then disappeared. Rumours would ripple across the internet about a new album, and sometimes even Jari would chime in to add credibility. But many people had written off a new Wintersun album much like those in the video gaming world had written off Duke Nukem Forever. But unlike Duke Nukem Forever, when Wintersun finally released Time I, it didn’t end up sucking. In fact, Time I was totally worth the wait. I know that many die-hards would disagree, but I feel that Time I matured on the ideas of the debut album and really refined them. I was definitely excited to see these guys. So after Abhorrence finished, I ran up to the main stage just in time. What sticks in my mind most about this show was that the lighting was perfect for them. The atmosphere of the show really stood out: the purple and blue lights, the breeze in the air, and the small white dandelion seeds that floated around. It just felt like I was standing inside of the cover artwork for Time I itself.
Then there was a run back over to the Inferno stage to catch Ihsahn. I had the opportunity to see Ihsahn a few years ago at ProgPower USA as well, and while that performance was fantastic, I really love the new album and was stoked to hear some new stuff from his latest album, Eremita. There is a certain quiet intensity that resonates in his live show which I feel is extremely reflective of his work. It’s definitely a different kind of intensity than the more noted shows of Emperor. Each album builds on the ideas of the previous one, and while I was initially confused by the first solo offering The Adversary, I’ve grown quite attached to his solo work. I love Emperor as much as the next guy, but I understand an artist wanting to progress and change. Being backed by fantastic musicians of a band that I’m quite fond of (Leprous) also helps.
Running back to the main stage, I caught Bolt Thrower. The setlist hasn’t changed much since the last time I saw them, but every time I see them, they seem to sound stronger and that’s saying a lot for a band that’s been going strong for 20+ years already. These days they mostly stick to the festival circuit, and even if they release a new album some day I don’t really see them doing big tours. What else can really be said about Bolt Thrower that hasn’t been said elsewhere? They’re awesome and they always deliver the goods. On top of that, I have nothing but the utmost respect for these guys. They don’t put up with bullshit from promoters and always make ticket prices very reasonable to see them. They don’t let people overprice their shirts either, so I picked up 5 for about 15 euro. Quite a steal when you realize how much Bolt Thrower shirts can go for on eBay. Plus I had missed out back at Maryland Deathfest in 2009 on getting shirts and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Sadly, due to scheduling, Bolt Thrower was playing the same time as newcomers Kuolemanlaakso. But I would be back…
I promised myself that I would go check out Kuolemanlaakso since I really liked the debut and there’s no way to know if they would ever make it to the USA. It’s another band fronted by Swallow the Sun/Barren Earth singer Mikko Kotamäki, and being a supporter of both bands I felt compelled to attend even though I’d be missing part of one of my favourite bands. However, it is completely unlike the aforementioned bands and Mikko even uses a different style of growl for this material. I liken it to something of a doomier Left Hand Path/Clandestine-era Entombed — a slower chainsaw. I didn’t watch the whole set, but loved the part I saw. I really hope they get a chance to make it out to the States, but with their frontman belonging to two other bands it could prove pretty difficult to find the time to come out this way.
After watching three or four songs of Kuolemanlaakso I ran back out to catch the rest of the Bolt Thrower set. I thought I missed “No Guts, No Glory,” but thankfully I managed to get up to the front right in time. For me it worked out perfectly despite missing a few songs. I hope that at some point in the future I’ll get another opportunity to see them again. Nothing but love for this group.
I made my way back over to the Inferno stage in time for Amorphis. I still loved this band even in their shittier Far From The Sun days. From what I’ve been told, the Pasi era shows were pretty fucking boring. I never had the opportunity to see that incarnation live, but I’ve seen the Tomi era multiple times now. I love the latest album, Circle, and while the new material sounded great, this particular performance just didn’t feel as strong as some of the other ones I’ve seen. Everything should have been there, but something just wasn’t clicking for me fully. Despite not being my favourite performance that I’ve seen of them, it was still fantastic. It was not cool that they were relegated to only 50 minutes, but I guess that when you’re a band that tours your home country often, it just doesn’t become a main draw at a festival in the capital city. I’m really hoping they come back out to do another North American tour, but the current touring environment is pretty abysmal. I can hope.
Finally — the man himself — King Diamond. I remember a Mercyful Fate tour going around long long ago back in 1999 or so, but I wasn’t able to go. That was the last time I recall having an opportunity to see King Diamond. I know he’s had a lot of health problems recently, but in light of those issues I think it’s made people really want to see him again. His “comeback” at Sweden Rock a year or two ago solidified his return, as it was only something rumoured about before then. Calling it a treat to see him would be an understatement and everyone was watching, even other musicians like Ihsahn (whom I spotted observing from a distance). What really needs to be said about King Diamond that hasn’t already been said elsewhere, though? It’s fucking King Diamond. And it was awesome.
The show wrapped up and we headed back to my friends’ house to binge on some sleep and recharge our batteries to prepare for Day Two.