Tuska Open Air Festival 2014
Helsinki, Finland (6/27/14)
Waking up a bit groggy from the Barren Earth show the previous night, I tried to become coherent as quickly as possible so that my cohorts and I could get to the bus station to head into downtown Helsinki as quickly as possible. During the Tuska festival, we forego breakfast in lieu of a Pizza joint at the top of the hill from the festival grounds. During Tuska, swathes of black fabric descends on this one section of Helsinki and nowhere is safe, especially not the Pizza joint! The pizza is decent enough. I’m not a fan of the fact that the pizza is given to you as a whole pie with no easy way of cutting it, but the locals eat pizza with a fork and a knife and rarely did I see anyone lift it with their hands. After cutting my pie into slices, I was finally ready to down my breakfast. After gorging my one and only meal of the day, we spent the next 10 minutes walking down to the festival. It’s been in an industrial park since 2011, but before it was right next to the main train station in a beautiful park. I miss that location a lot, but this one holds more people so it makes sense to have it where it is now.
Ensiferum‘s gear was still being checked on the main Radio Rock stage, so I spent some time walking around and looking at the merch that was still being put up. I fucked up royally back in 2010 when I didn’t get a Ziltoid shirt. Big fucking mistake. And I’ve learned since then that the merch will definitely run out. But since the merch was still being put out, I didn’t get a good look at the stuff that would be for sale. So I went to the tent where my friends and I usually sit and talked with them for a few minutes until it was time for Ensiferum to begin playing.
Ensiferum played a pretty average/safe set. It was fun. I can’t say I’ve ever been to an Ensiferum show that wasn’t. And I realize the band is from Finland, so they’ve played here hundreds of times and there isn’t a reason to play any crazy setlists — or maybe all of their debut. Shit, that would be fantastic, but they got their live chops playing that album over and over in Finland probably. Their most recent album, Unsung Heroes, didn’t do a lot for me. It’s okay — but it’s almost by the numbers for them. There’s a fine line to walk between staying true to your sound and just rehashing the same album over and over. I felt it leaned a bit more towards the rehash issue, but hopefully the next album will avoid being a rehash. Despite that, the songs were great to hear live. The band and crowd energy really had a huge impact on my perception of the new material. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to give Unsung Heroes a listen again! As always, this band is always pure fun to see.
After Ensiferum, I headed over to the Inferno stage to catch Poisonblack. At this point, they are the closest option to ever seeing Sentenced most likely — unless there’s some weird reunion but that just doesn’t seem likely with Miika Tenkula’s passing back in 2009. And while the material is nowhere near as good as Sentenced, it’s a band that I’ve always enjoyed. They aren’t exactly a touring band and end up playing most of their shows in Finland, so this was really the only way to get to see them perform. I really wanted to hear material from the first two albums, Escapexstacy and Lust Stained Despair, but I knew that was really not going to fucking happen. While the first two have a big Sentenced vibe to them, the latter stuff kind of lacks it. I wish that the sound would have gone in the opposite direction since Sentenced is no more — it would have been nice to fill that void. I was still extremely grateful to get the chance to see the band at all though. Drive was represented the most on the setlist, with each album getting at least some play except for Escapextacy. Overall it was a fun set, but I would preferred some earlier material and a little more time.
I headed to the Club stage to check out Shear, a Finnish band still getting their feet wet. Their singer, Alexa Leroux, sings more similarly to a hard rock vocalist than a metal vocalist. I do hear a little bit of Doro in her. They’re fun power metal-ish band without the anthems and fluff. Alexa has great stage presence and a great voice, but sometimes the songs feel like they border on teenage break-up depression which doesn’t really do much for me. The music itself is pretty good, but hearing teenage sadness just grates my nerves. My biggest worry is that they write this way simply to cater to an audience instead of music that is written from their hearts. Jens Johansson from Stratovarius does a guest appearance on their most recent album, Katharsis, and it’s a pretty good track. Pretty good band with a lot of potential — but it remains to be seen where they take this.
Somewhere between the chainsaw guitars of Entombed and hardcore bands lies Nails. The American group was the first non-Finnish band I had seen all day at this point. The band plays really short no-frills hardcore/metal songs. Great energy, but for me there wasn’t a point that really pulled me in and it’s probably because the songs are over by the time they begin. I know a lot of people who love this band, but they don’t do it for me. They had a nice sized crowd though. At some point they heralded Finland as one a Mecca of death metal — maybe they thought they were in Sweden though?
So then I headed back over to the Radio Rock stage to catch Children of Bodom. It was a bit surreal to see these guys playing in their native land which is probably because they were one of the first Finnish bands I listened to and recognized AS Finnish. Sure, I’ve seen them a few times since the days of Something Wild (see my review of them earlier in the year here), but this was a little different for me. On top of that, it was a set that had a weird theme to it — a beach party. That’s right — it was the Bodom Beach Barbeque. This included grills in the back of old Chevy pickup trucks with members of Lost Society “grilling” as well as delivering beer to the various people on stage who were either in the band or the people just relaxing and enjoying the show. It was an interesting take on a stage set for sure. I wish they had actually been cooking something since I was getting pretty fucking hungry. I was happy that the setlist was mostly represented by the first four albums and only a few songs from the last few. Sorry, but I just don’t give a fuck about the last few Bodom albums. The first four are still great to listen to though, and I would never turn down some “Bodom After Midnight.” Alexi and crew know how to throw a party — even a fake one! Some of my friends declared that Alexi tries so hard to be an American and that this stage was further proof of it. With those old Chevy trucks, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with them.
I wanted to catch a bit of the Faroese band, Hamferð, so I ran over to the Club stage during Bodom’s set to see a few songs. Like I mentioned in the Day Zero review, the vocalist for Hamferð is also the new vocalist for Barren Earth. First thing that was pretty noticeable — they’re all in suits. While it was nice and cool outside, the heat was increasing in the Club area and those suits had to be hot and not really comfortable. They’re a death-doom band with clean vocals similar to Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass/ex-Memento Mori) but with a bit less vibrato and everything else residing somewhere between My Dying Bride and a slower Novembers Doom with a dash of Dance of December Souls-era Katatonia. I’m still soaking in their album Evst, which is really fantastic and I recommend it highly to any fans of the death-doom sound. The sound was perfect for these guys and I think that if they were to have played outside, that ambiance that they had would have been lost. I really want to see these guys again — so if you get the opportunity you should go.
I got back outside in time to catch “Bodom After Midnight” and “In Your Face” from Children of Bodom and then walked briskly over to the Inferno stage for Carcass. Does anything really need to be said about these guys? It’s Carcass. They apologized for the whole melodeath thing that happened after Heartwork which was pretty funny. Even if Jeff is honestly sorry, there was and still is a lot of great melodeath that shouldn’t be apologized for. But hey, IT’S CARCASS. They played a bit from every album except Swansong, which I guess doesn’t really fit in with the rest of their material even though I think it’s a fantastic album despite the shit that it gets. The set was a bit heavy on the Surgical Steel and Heartwork albums, but that’s not surprising. From the beginning of 1985 through their closing with Heartwork it was non-stop excitement for the band and crowd. These guys are professionals in every sense of the word. If you get a chance to see Carcass — take it. You never know when they may retire again.
Finally, it was time for Dimmu Borgir. I like the new album, but I can’t say I was super excited to see them play. That was until my friend informed me that they would be doing all of Death Cult Armageddon. That definitely excited me. I got in the Dimmu camp right as Enthrone Darkness Triumphant was released and I still enjoy most of Dimmu’s material. Sure, the last album was a bit weak and there’s a bit of drama behind all of it but overall it’s got some good material, plus the track “Dimmu Borgir” is really fantastic to these ears. It seems like a lot of bands are going the ‘play an album’ for a set route. I’m definitely not complaining as there are usually a lot of album tracks that never get any love. On top of Death Cult Armageddon we also got the aforementioned “Dimmu Borgir” as well as “Mourning Palace” and “Kings of the Carnival Creation” plus a few other songs. While it was a great setlist, I have to admit that having them on such a large stage during a sunny evening was a bit jarring and the atmosphere wasn’t nearly as dark and gritty as it should have been (the sun doesn’t set until 1am or so in the Finnish summer). Not really the band’s fault, but it did impact my perception of the show. It just felt too big in some ways to me. But ignoring that, the show was fantastic and it was a great way to wrap up the evening. I realized on my way to the after-show that three of the biggest Norwegian black metal acts were all playing this one festival and all it needed at this point was Immortal.
So the main festival was over for the evening which means that the after shows were getting ready to begin. These all occur at venues in the middle of Helsinki so they’re all really easy to get to. There were a few options and I was torn between Amorphis and Impaled Nazarene. However, Amorphis won out because they’ve been one of my favourite bands since I first heard Tales from the Thousand Lakes so many years ago. This is a band who had a middle period where it looked like the band was doomed. Far From the Sun is by far their darkest hour — their Cold Lake if you will. But they got rid of Pasi and pulled in an unknown Tomi, released one of their best albums in Eclipse, and have been releasing one fantastic album after another since that point. Sometimes I worry that the next album just won’t hold up. I had that fear with Circle but it turned out to be better than the previous two albums in my opinion. Their set was heavy on the Circle material but they did touch on all of the Tomi period albums plus at least one song from the The Karelian Isthmus, Tales from the Thousand Lakes, and Elegy. The venue was so packed that there’s no way this many people would have been allowed in a venue in the States. It definitely violated some fire codes. It took me two full songs to walk from the photo pit to where my friends were and in doing so I tried to use the stairs, but even the stairwell’s were full of people. The show was fucking great, but I would have been happy if there had been just a few people less. And hey, for those who might be unaware, the band is going to be doing all of Tales from the Thousand Lakes next year at plenty of festivals, not least of which is the fantastic Maryland Deathfest. So go see it if you can afford the trip.
Stay tuned for HELLBOUND @ TUSKA OPEN AIR 2014: DAY TWO featuring Anthrax, Stone, Tankard, and more …