The annual Tuska Open Air festival in Helsinki has become my most traveled metal festival aside from ProgPower USA in Atlanta, Georgia. People go nuts over the bigger festivals in Germany like Wacken and Summer Breeze as well as others like Hellfest in France, but I think the Finnish people have it right. It’s just enough variety and just the right size to not feel like you’re missing out or that you’ve got to cut out of one bands set just to see another. And this years festival had a lot of special treats like Abbath‘s first appearance as a solo act, Amorphis playing all of Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Stratovarius playing all of Visions, as well as other acts like Bloodbath and fucking Alice Cooper.
Day 0 – Arriving in Finland
My first day in Finland was an incredibly memorable one – meeting up with our new friend Aki, who took us on a brief tour of Finland, which of course included metal bar hopping (yes, there’s enough metal bars to go metal bar hopping). Walking into a posh-looking cocktail bar and hearing King Diamond through the speakers is something I won’t soon forget. After a day of travel and a few pints of European in our bellies, we called it an early night and prepped for our first Tuska experience. -Adam
Day 1 – Friday
The group I roll with has somehow become some weird mishmash of people from all of the world. It’s been building up over the years and this time we even had resident Canadians Adam and Laura to join us! It was great to finally meet up with them after so many years. We quickly grabbed our gear and passes and made our way to our ‘usual spot’ in one of the beer tents. This would serve as our meeting area over the next few days.
First up was Ghost Brigade — a band that’s fit in well with the Sentenced/Insomnium vibe it’s had over the years. They’re about as Finnish as it gets for their sound as well as personality. They’re not exactly a talkative band — no banter between songs. This allowed them to squeeze in the 10 minute “Electra Complex” in the set. Opening with “Wretched Blues” off their latest album IV: One with the Storm — the band pummeled through 45 minutes worth of material. Fucking great.
UK based metalcore Architects made an energetic appearance. Fun to shoot — but I just can’t get into any core acts. Maybe I’m just an old arrogant asshole who wants metal in very specific forms. But then again I fucking love bands like Diablo Swing Orchestra so who really knows.
Blues Pills was next. Honestly I have no idea who these guys are and didn’t really take the time to listen to them beforehand. They ended up being a bit of a psychedelic throwback sounding band. Not my thing. Sometimes Tuska books weird shit and I’m always curious about those decisions. Decent sounding — but I got bored and sat down in the beer tent to relax a bit. Between Architects and Blues Pills — I had a bit of time to kill before Lamb of God.
At this point most people in the metal community are acutely aware of the whole shitstorm that occurred a few years back for Randy Blythe and a fan dying at a show. I won’t go into that here as it’s covered all over the fucking internet at this point. However, that particular incident forced Lamb of God to cancel their appearance a few years back. Finally the band was able to make it and boy were people excited. You would’ve thought we’d all been listening to metalcore and psychedelic acts all da — oh. Well shit — I was just happy to have something heavy playing. I’m not a Lamb of God fan and I don’t think there’s any part of me that will be. But I respect the commitment and energy these guys put forward.
Like I said — I’m not the biggest LoG fan. I don’t even own an album from them. But do you know who I do own an album from? Fucking Enforcer! Their latest album From Beyond is such a catchy throwback nostalgia fest of traditional metal that I can’t help but love it. It’s not the most original thing by far, but it’s done so well that it’s hard to ignore it. I went into the ‘Club Stage’ to catch them and a crowd full of battle vests. I look forward to them coming to the States one day!
Up next were thrash masters Exodus. Somehow I’ve never been able to see these guys live for whatever reason. Fuck — at this point I’ve seen Emperor, Bolt Thrower, and Bloodbath (TWICE!). That’s not exactly easy to accomplish for an American. And yet — no Exodus. But finally I was able to remedy that on the other side of the world! Steve “Zetro” Souza wasn’t fucking around up there on stage and got right down to business. They mostly played material from the last album as well as some of the band’s early output. With Exodus — you knew what you were going to get.
Ahh — glorious Sabaton. You either love them or hate them. For me they embody everything I love about the late 90’s and early 00’s take on Power Metal. Pure unadulterated catchy cheesy Power Metal. This is a band that keeps moving up the festival food chain. Headlining massive Euro festivals — and yet only a few short years ago I was with 30 others in a club in Charlotte, NC. And no matter how small or large the crowd is — they always play as if the whole world were their audience. And this time I was able to enjoy the ‘full’ Sabaton experience which included a god damn tank.
First day was down — most of the crew made its way to a place to get drinks or catch some early sleep.
I was pretty excited to see Bloodbath again. I’ll always be disappointed that I was unable to see them in the pure lineup with Mikael and Dan in the band at the same time. But I can at least count myself lucky to have seen them with Mikael. Grand Morbid Funeral saw the introduction of Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes take lead for Bloodbath. But who really knew how he would do live with the old material? Like Peter T. before him, the shoes he had to fill were massive and I thought he did an acceptable job. I’m shitty for pining for Mikael though. Still a great show and I’m glad to have been able to see the band twice!
Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris were next with their brand of proggy tech death metal — and fucking violins! I’m glad the band were given the opportunity to play the festival as I’ve been a fan for a long time and didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity to see them live. There are weirder bands out there for sure — but the weird ones can be really difficult to book.
Einherjer — a band that seems to fly just under the radar for many. Blot remains one of my favourite albums of the early 2000’s and yet it’s so rare for me to even meet others who know the band’s material these days. I’m sure their disbandment for the last few years can explain that to some degree. Thankfully the Tuska organizers are well aware of the band and I finally heard “Ironbound” live.
I remember way back in High School — a close friend of mine brought in a Loudness album. Who the hell even knows which one it was? He just bought it used somewhere and thought it was goofy as shit. Who would have thought I’d be seeing this classic Japanese band nearly 20 years later? I wish I could say I was more familiar with their material — but they’re one of those bands that just has so much material (like Rage) that it makes it difficult to get into them unless you’ve been listening to them for a really long time. Still — there was a significant crowd for these guys and they sounded fantastic.
It’s Amorphis. It’s Tales from the Thousand Lakes. What else needs to be said? It’s the album solely responsible for my travels to Finland in the first place. I don’t even feel words would do it justice to try to describe how important this one show was for me.
Sadly I never managed to see the mighty Immortal. Maybe the ice will thaw within the band in a few years again and we’ll get a few more reunion shows. But until then — this is the best I’ll get. But that’s not doing Abbath credit really. The new material sounded great and really we can just be honest here. It’s still Immortal. Abbath has always been the face and charisma of the band. Plus we got fire breathing and crab walking galore. Abbath just wants a nice black metal dance party.
In Flames — sigh. Does anything really need to be said? The band that released Lunar Strain and Jester Race is just a shell of its former self. They’ve got their live show down but I’d trade all the pyro at Tuska to get to hear just ONE song from the first three albums. I know they still have a very large fanbase — but I’m just not part of it anymore.
Saturday complete! The crew hit up the nearest McDonalds and then the bar for our own little after party! The exhaustion has begun to kick in. One more day to make it through!
Got to the festival grounds just as Mors Subita hit the stage. Pretty much only known to the Finns — this melodeath quartet has catchy hooks and an energetic live show. The vocals nearly border on a ‘core’ sound but always manage to stay just far enough away from it to not annoy the absolute fuck out of me. They made it to my Spotify playlist after the show for further investigation
Warmen is just the side project of key-shredder Janne Wirman who is the man behind the keys for Children of Bodom. Warmen has always served as an outlet for Janne to cut lose and play whatever he wants without worrying about sticking to Bodom-ness. Guests such as Alexi Laiho and Pasi Rantanen are common in the project and share vocal duties live. If you’re into Bodom — you’d probably enjoy the project. If you don’t — just take it for what it is — a live show that’s really just a way to party on stage with friends and keyboards.
Unknown to those beyond Finland — Mokoma just likes to play good ol’ plain heavy metal with some Finnish flourishes thrown in. At this point I’ve seen the band a few times and they always put on a great energetic show. The lack of English lyrics might throw some off — but I’ve never been a lyrics person. Worth checking out. Not a nostalgia or throwback act.
The Sirens is a project between Anneke (ex-The Gathering), Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre of Tragedy/Leaves Eyes), and Kari Rueslåtten (ex-The Third and the Mortal). I think the ladies wanted a way to still play some of the songs of their former bands that helped make names for themselves and write songs together and be able to play new material that they develop themselves with their backing band. Honestly, I was just happy to finally see a Theatre of Tragedy song. And Anneke must taste like Unicorn because damn does she eek stage presence and beauty.
It’s fucking Opeth.
Second time I’ve seen Stratovarius play Visions in its entirety and I have to say that I prefer the version I saw in the States. I felt that it was just by the numbers and it lacked the magic that their USA version had. Maybe it was the additional songs that we got and it wasn’t JUST Visions. Maybe it was because I already had the experience. Jens is a goofy motherfucker.
You know — I listened to a lot of Alice Cooper long ago and just haven’t really kept up with anything he’s been doing. I thought I’d be ho-hum over the live show — but it was so much fun that I couldn’t help but relax and just enjoy it. The band is a treat to shoot live. Alice Cooper runs a very well oiled machine and it really shines through. At first I thought it was an odd pick for a metal festival but afterwards I realized I was wrong. Everyone loved it. The last month has had a lot of Spotify plays from me for ol’ Alice.
That wraps up this years Tuska. We all headed to a bar and then said our goodbyes until next year. Another great festival has passed but hopefully there will be plenty more in the future!
Every metal festival I’ve been to has it’s own personality and appeal. Heavy Montreal is a wonderful glimpse of the European metal festival in North America (with a bit more of a corporate/mainstream feel); Maryland Deathfest celebrates more chaotic and obscure music from across the globe in downtown Baltimore; and the sheer size of Hellfest and Wacken make them a spectacle in themselves. However, in most of these festivals, it feels as though “the metalheads” are invading these cities. In Helsinki, it simply feels that you’re joining the crowd that’s already there. If you haven’t yet been to Tuska, please do so. Finland is a beautiful place that has to be seen and the Helsinki metal scene has to be experienced by any fan of the genre. -Adam