Once again I find myself in Helsinki to attend the Tuska Open Air Festival, which has become a staple in my yearly concert plans. The weather called for rain, but for the most part we were lucky to dodge shit weather — mostly. One thing I love and admire about this festival is that the organizers are dedicated to its success. Every year these folks try to come up with new ideas for the festival. For instance, many years ago the second stage was just another outdoor stage placed on the opposite side of the main sound board, but a few years ago they replaced it with a covered tent, and isn’t exactly your Daddy’s Coleman tent from the 1980’s either. And what a time to reflect upon the way things were, and the way things are since Tuska celebrated their 20th anniversary this year.
Pulling no punches, Tuska had Finnish stalwarts Rotten Sound open this shindig. It’s been years since I’ve heard so much as a peep from these guys — in fact it was probably back around 2011 or so when I last had the chance to see them. So getting some early morning grindcore really got the juices flowing and got us pumped for some serious leg and back pain for the next three days.
After the pummeling from Rotten Sound, I headed over to the main stage to check out Brother Firetribe. While I’ve been aware of them for many years in the Finnish scene, the band’s main claim to fame is the inclusion of Nightwish’s guitarist, Emppu Vuorinen. It’s always been a band that I’ve meant to check out and just kept in the back of my head — unfortunately for me I never got around to it before the show. The band’s slick AOR catchiness is sure to turn off a lot of metalheads, but I’ve got a soft spot for AOR — probably due to the fact that it’s been dead in any kind of popular sense since the 80’s in North America. But thankfully that sound isn’t dead in Finland — and I’d recommend not making the same mistake I made and accidentally ignoring these guys.
As a longtime The Gathering fan (and just a fan of Anneke in general), the opportunity to see her latest project VUUR was something I couldn’t miss. At the point of this writing, the album hasn’t been released. So how does a band with no album get on the bill? Well — I’d say that’s a good mix of being a well known vocalist plus the fact that she would be appearing with Devin Townsend later in the day. While I enjoyed the set immensely, it sucked a bit to not really know any of the songs except a few from her days with The Gathering. But this show had me really wanting more — so I’m looking forward to the albums release soon!
Let’s get this out of the way, Wintersun has been a pretty polarizing band. I won’t even go into all the drama surrounding the band either because it’s pretty well documented on the interwebs — it’s just not worth going over for the millionth time. That said — I absolutely loved Time I and consider myself a fan of the band. Seeing them a few years ago at Tuska was one of my more memorable Tuska memories for reasons that I won’t go into. Unfortunately, that energy was not there this go-round. Maybe it had something to do with Jari seemingly learning how to be a frontman without his trusty guitar. It was a bit awkward to watch — and I’m pretty sure he just wears the same shirt to every show. I’m down with using the same “look” for a tour or two, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same shirt he wore a few years ago. I really hope he washed it at some point.
I’m not trying to knock Jari’s fashion sense — he can do what he wants with his band, but I just felt that there was a struggle to be something that he isn’t quite comfortable with, at least not yet. The music itself was good, but it just seemed that the band lacked cohesion which sucks since it really affected my ability to enjoy the set.
I headed over to find some food as I had not had the opportunity to get food earlier in the day due to some mild stomach illness which meant that I missed out on Brujeria. I know they were spouting a lot of anti-Donald Trump propaganda and I really wish I had been there to enjoy every moment of it.
After grabbing some food I headed back over to catch Suicidal Tendencies — they’re not really my thing on record but their live set was so full of energy that it was hard to not be impressed and enjoy the show even if the music wasn’t really my thing. The band invited the audience to climb the stage and join them for their final song which was pretty insane to see. It ended up being a pretty memorable set and there was plenty of moshing to go around for everyone.
After seeing the main stage swarming with people, I decided to head over to catch Insomnium perform the entirety of their latest album, Winter’s Gate. The last few albums from these guys have been so fantastic that it puts so many other melo-death bands to shame at this point. This was definitely a special set that might only happen once or twice. The addition of a few songs after the main spectacle was just icing on the cake. I’m glad other bands have taken up the mantle from some of the father’s of the genre — and happier that the quality just keeps getting better. I wish they got more attention in the States, but it’s a long road to get to that point for them.
I was super stoked to get to see the ol’ Devin Townsend Band play with Anneke. Having seen them together a few months prior at Atlanta’s ProgPower USA, it just wasn’t enough.
The charisma between them is insanely palpable. The chemistry they share is undeniable, and it makes me sad that she isn’t a full member of the band — but that does make these times truly special. I don’t know if and when I’ll get to see them together again so I made sure to soak the whole thing in. I’m so happy to have been able to be there for some of Devin’s notable moments, such as the Ziltoid performance back in 2010 or the very first performance of the Devin Townsend Band many years before in 2002. It’s been one hell of a ride and I’m looking forward to the next 10 years from him!
I mean — it’s Mayhem. Everyone knows the stories and turmoil surrounding them. It was my first opportunity to see them live, and what better way than the performance of the entire De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Each member was cloaked in black with skulls and candles adorning the landscape. There was just enough stage light to inform the audience that there was a band playing but not enough to make out much detail beyond that. It was a perfect atmosphere for some classic black metal — but certainly pretty hellacious to photograph in. While the album itself is fantastic, I found that I enjoyed the live version a bit more. There was something about the live energy that gave it depth that doesn’t really come through on the album. I’m assuming (or maybe just hoping) that there are plans in the works to bring this over the pond.
Sabaton — didn’t they just play Tuska? I guess it was back in 2015. I love these guys, but even I feel like they’ve just been playing way too much. Multiple tours in the States (I literally saw them a month and a half before Tuska) probably add to that feeling despite my affection for the band. I understand why, but I’m more concerned with possible burnout from the band and it just makes the shows seem a little less special than they used to be. Despite that, the show was still a shitload of fun. The band continues full-steam ahead at this point with no end in sight — and fans are certainly happy to see them even if it’s the fifteenth time. That may say something about the staying power of this band and it will be interesting to look back 10 years from now, and I expect them to be enshrined with power metal greats like Blind Guardian and Helloween.
After a rough morning and partying a little too hard, my group headed to our annual pizza shop, Sivuraide. Chowing down an entire pizza usually fills us up for the entire day. Due to the late start, we had to scarf it down as quickly as we could and hope to god that we wouldn’t puke while we walked briskly down to the festival grounds. Luckily, we avoided giving Helsinki some street food.
While I was unaware of Lik until seeing them announced for Tuska, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s stylistically some old school Swedish death metal. Since Niklas Sandin from Katatonia is a member of the group, one can’t help but make obvious comparisons to Bloodbath. They’ve only got one album out right now but it’s a fantastic nod to that old Swedish chainsaw sound. If you’re wondering, Lik means corpse(s) in Swedish; imagery that the band certainly tries to evoke. The crowd wasn’t as large as I would have liked, but Saturday is the longest day and the band is still relatively unknown. But for those of us there, it was a great way to start the morning — pizza, coffee, and death metal. Yum.
Next up was another band that I wasn’t really familiar with, Avatarium. They’re a progressive rock/doom metal (progressive doom?) group based in Sweden and founded by Candlemass bassist and founding member, Leif Edling. Additionally, guitarist Marcus Jidell (Soen, ex-Evergrey, ex-Royal Hunt) is flanked alongside his charismatic wife and frontwoman, Jennie-Ann Smith. Thankfully my friends threw on a Tuska playlist earlier in the week so I had a small idea of what to expect from the show. Imagine Candlemass with a dash of 70’s prog rock with female leads and you’ve got Avatarium. The band ripped through their set with a haze filled tent — and I’m pretty sure the only thing really missing was a few bong rips to do us all in.
Never in my life did I expect that I’d eventually get to see Finnish black metal legends, Impaled Nazarene. Without their album, “Suomi Finland Perkele”, it’s possible that I might not have ended up in Finland at all. There was a mystique to that album that fascinated me in my teenage years alongside Amorphis’s “Tales from the Thousand Lakes.” If you’re unaware, their sound has always been a bit different from the more typical Norwegian sound (Emperor, Immortal, Mayhem, etc.) and has always been a bit more thrashy sounding — a bit closer to something like Aura Noir. For me, getting to see Impaled Nazarene finally checks off another band on my shortlist of “bands that I never thought I’d see but damn — here I am!”
I headed back over to the Inferno stage for Mokoma, a band nearly completely unknown outside of Finland’s scene. This band has so much fucking energy every time I see them, and even though I have absolutely no idea what they’re singing about, it certainly doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the band. It’s actually refreshing to hear bands sing in their native tongue, and there are certainly a lot of Finnish bands who prefer that. I like to think of Mokoma as “melodic thrash.” Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Mokoma pretty much sticks to Finland — so Tuska is pretty much the only opportunity that I’ll have to see them play live. It would be great if they were to venture out a bit more, but it doesn’t seem likely that that will ever happen. Fantastic show as always though from these guys!
Tuska celebrates it’s 20th year, and with that they brought back Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus. Now if you’re like me, you probably have no idea about the band. The only reason I had any clue was due to the fact that they appeared more frequently than probably any other band at Tuska on Wikipedia. But the music itself was not readily available until a few years ago with Spotify. But the group disbanded a few years ago and only recently got back together. A friend explained that without Timo R. and his merry band, there might not really even be a true Finnish metal scene. Without them, every metal band in Finland would most likely be singing in English. These guys made it cool to sing in their native tongue, which very much relates to my thoughts on Mokoma (and quite a few others). Metal is a global scene and restricting it to English seems short sighted.
The large crowd really indicated how important this band was, and the band certainly enjoyed every moment of it. Since they’ve regrouped, I fully expect to see them more frequently at Tuska.
Next up was Lost Society — a band I was completely unaware of years ago, but have now seen three times and each time has been a blast. Not only do they try to replicate the early 90’s thrash scene, they also imitate the fashion down to the sneaker choices themselves. These kids are hard working and put everything they’ve got into it. Launching off stage set pieces like Bruce Dickinson on crack, it’s a wonder they don’t pass out from the sheer workout of it all. On album, the energy that they have live just doesn’t quite match up, which really sucks. The albums are good, but the live show is significantly better. Ideally they could get hooked up on a touring package in the States supporting Kreator or something. I feel they could gain traction here if they had a good package opportunity.
So after getting hit on by multiple Finnish bands in a row, it was time for Soilwork. The band, in my opinion, had some missteps after “Stabbing the Drama” but really hit it home again with the “The Living Infinite” and “The Ride Majestic”. It’s once again exciting for me to see them after years of just not really caring. While Dark Tranquillity remains my favourite of the original Swedish melodeath bands, Soilwork definitely closes in at number 2. Many of the early albums are classics, and they’ve stayed true to their sound for the most part while still trying new things. The band got a pretty sizable response, but I think that since they played Tuska and Finland not long before, that it had an effect on the excitement of the crowd. The band played through quite a few of their well known songs, and the audience ate it up — but on the other side of the tent one could see the looming storm overhead from the Baltic Sea.
Rain drops began to fall as I hoofed it to catch Electric Wizard. The screens set up in the Inferno Stage played weird drug-induced Satanic looking 70’s porn. Yeah — I don’t know either, but it felt right for the ambiance. The band cloaked themselves in green and red for most of their set — the stage fog continued to pour in rarely giving glimpses of the bands faces. This is not a band concerned with showing off their soloing skills — this is a band that wants to create an experience. It was mesmerizing to watch. And then the clouds opened up and began to drench the festival. Fuck.
Of course it would begin pouring right as Amorphis went on. God. Fucking. Damn it. The disappointment I experienced was pretty high since it made shooting a bit more precarious and a pain in the ass. I wear glasses so having rain on my glasses and my camera lens really makes it difficult to get the shots I’m wanting. But I can’t complain about seeing one of my favourite bands. These guys just don’t seem to have a bad album in them since getting Tomi Joutsen in the band back in 2005 and they’ve continued to pump out tons of material since then. While I want a new album soon, I definitely worry about them rushing through and putting a disappointing album out — but so far they show no signs of slowing down. And to top it all off, I had seen them a few months before during their tour with Swallow the Sun here in the States, so I managed to double down on some quality Amorphis time this year.
So I fucked up many years ago when Celtic Frost got back together. I had three opportunities to see them, but things came up (as they do) and I said that I would see them next time. But then they disbanded once again and I realized how stupid I was. But this time was different. I was not going to miss Triptykon. While I do enjoy the Triptykon material, I really just wanted to hear some shit from “Morbid Tales” and “To Mega Therion” and I was really thankful that Tom doesn’t hate the old CF material. The entire experience left me with chills, and the ambiance was somewhat similar to Electric Wizard with the massive amount of back lighting and stage fog. Top notch performance and I hope I get at least one more chance to see them.
Wrapping it all up with a nice bow on Saturday was HIM. I have never gotten into them and I don’t think I ever will — but god damn the amount of women losing their shit over Ville was impressive. I stayed through about half the set and felt that the band still wasn’t going to click for me. But I’m pretty sure that the audience certainly didn’t give a shit about how I felt about them. This was also HIM’s last tour, so it was a pretty big deal that this was happening. It would also help to explain why people might seem to have gone a bit more overboard in their love of the band.
I decided to get some much needed rest after the past few days and skipped the opening acts. Instead I opted to head down to see Battle Beast.
The first time I saw them was 2013, and since then they’ve been making waves here in the States supporting Sabaton just a few months ago. But they finally clicked when I saw them with Sabaton. I think the songwriting has improved overall and they’re more open to experimenting with their sound instead of trying to channel their inner Doro Pesch. I’ve found myself listening to them more and more since that point so that made this particular show a bit more exciting for me than the last few I’ve seen. A fantastic show full of high energy which is just what I needed to help me push through the rest of the festival as by this point my legs and back were on the struggle bus.
Are you Fast as a Shark? Because at Udo’s age, I’m not sure he is &mdash at least not these days. Dirkschneider was next — and even though Udo swore up and down that there would be no more Accept material performed by him or his new band, the entire set ended up being a classic Accept set. As a huge Accept fan, you’ll get no complains from me about that. Seeing Accept for the the first time in 2011 was fantastic, but I always wanted to hear Udo play them live as I would’ve been too young to enjoy them in the early 80’s. So thank god for Tuska and making this one happen!
You’d think that given how close Baroness is to me in the States that I would have seen these guys play dozens of times — even locally perhaps. But the truth is that I just seem to miss the opportunity when they manage to pass through. Top that all off with the accident a few years ago and you can understand in a weird way just how it happened that the first time I saw them play it was in another country on the other side of the world. One thing I absolutely loved about the show was that the lights were synced to bathe the stage in the colour of the album for the song being played. Purple might not have been my favourite album, but damn did they look good in it. The energy these guys had was most certainly to make up for the lost time over the past few years of not having played Helsinki. The band just seems like they’re on fire lately and I was stoked that they didn’t let us down.
Apocalyptica was next with a full run-through of their Metallica with Four Cello’s album. As much as I enjoy the songs, even with a different band doing covers of them, it just felt weird to me without a vocalist. It felt more like something I would’ve wanted to sit on a nice chair and just soak in rather than getting the blood pumping. A great performance overall, I would have just preferred some vocals. The crowd still went nuts for it and it was pretty cool to watch since Metallica is just one of those universal bands where everyone knows the words.
Sonata Arctica is not quite the same band that put out power metal classics like “Ecliptica” or “Reckoning Night” these days. While I applaud the experimentation, I just find a lot of the latest material a bit uninspired. I had no idea what to expect from a live show these days from the band. The last time I saw them was after “Unia” so I was just hoping for a few older songs. Luckily for me, we got a good balance of old and new. But I never thought I’d hear these guys play Tallulah. That was a complete and welcome surprise (as cheesy as the song is). It ended up feeling like old friends, or maybe comfort food would make more sense too. While I may not care much about their releases as of late, I was still happy with the set and I’m now hoping they’ll do a North American tour sooner rather than later.
The end of the road. For me, it seemed fitting that Mastodon closed the show as the guys are from Atlanta, Georgia and that’s only about two hours from where I live. It gave me a painful reminder that it was getting nearly time to head back home. My friends said that the band had not played Finland in a really long time so there was some serious excitement in the air especially after the latest album. Many members of other bands that played earlier in the weekend were in the audience checking them out too. And these fuckers brought the house down.
Tuska continues to be a perfectly sized festival for my tastes. I rarely am forced to make a choice between two bands I want to see and I certainly appreciate that as I’m sure many others do. The work that the organization has done over the past 20 years is impressive and I really look forward to seeing how they continue to change and shape the festival. The Finnish people always make me feel at home with their incredible hospitality and Tuska always caps off my vacation time with an even more memorable experience. My hats off to these guys and hopefully I’ll be there at 21 to capture all those highlights in text and in photo.