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Helsinki Metal Meeting 2012

Friday, Feb 17, 2012 
Interactive photo gallery at the bottom
Die Apokalyptischen Reiter were the opening act of the 2012 Finnish Metal Expo/ Helsinki Metal Meeting. Interestingly, quite many photographers were already present at this time (17:30 pm) and roughly half of them seemed to be German. I recognized a similar proportion of German speaking fans in the audience and I became suspicious that I should have heard of this band before. The first songs, i.e. “Revolution” was played, confirmed my suspicion about a big gap in my knowledge. I was immediately fascinated by Dr. Prest, the keyboarder, who reminded me of my favourite band Turmion Kätilöt. However, the lyrics of many songs were pretty sanguine (“Der Weg”) although I expected more medieval darkness from the band’s name.

Frontman Fuchs impressed my with his vocals and his ability to easily animate the fans to show their hands, jump and to close ranks. He asked for a female support from the audience for the song “Seemann” and actually expected a Finnish lady. But he got a girl from Germany who took a bath in the crowd with a rubber boat. Everybody who showed up this early did it on purpose. And by the way, due to free WLAN I was able close my knowledge gap immediately…
The next band performed at the Puristamo stage, which was located on the other end of the exhibition centre. On my way through the stands I could recognize a lot of interesting things worth of a second glimpse. (GK)

Walking from the main stage over to the little one, the most striking observation was how small the Expo had become. Already last year there hadn´t been quite as many exhibitors anymore as in the past – I fondly remember 2006, when there had been almost 70 stands in three halls – but now there were less than forty left, all of them in one room. Fortunately, there were some newcomers among them. The esoteric perfume stand was of more aesthetic than practical value, but there were several new low-threshold support services for bands, from posters and merchandise (, Sound Industries) to rehearsal rooms and PA rental (Sound-Inn, SoundHire).

Photo: Tina Solda
The most interesting of all was Music Kickstarter, a new cloud-based record label determined to establish itself as, by their own definition, “a community platform for musicians and the music industry, to create, collaborate, and support their art; to commercially publish any and everything they create, while retaining all rights.” For a small annual service fee, the company offers contract handling, rights management, industry connections, collaboration tools and commercial publishing including physical and digital distribution – worldwide. As the internet-fearing traditional record industry appears to be on its way out, the time seems ripe for artist-oriented grassroots endeavors such as this, and I wish them the best of luck.

The downsizing of the event was justified by the smaller number of visitors – for the second year in a row, clearly below 4000 on both days combined, where there used to be 5000 or more – which gives some reason to worry about the future of the FME. On the upside, the new layout allowed for the very welcome addition of a drinking area opposite the small stage.

Photo: Tina Solda

The first band here was Artificial Heart from Tuusula, who played death metal with more than a touch of metalcore and sounded bigger than they looked. I had missed their performance at the Century Media band contest last year but remember they had brought a bunch of quite visible supporters there. They didn´t win, but their demo was subsequently voted best of the year in the Finnish Metal Awards (see below) and helped them to secure a deal with Spinefarm. Their debut album is expected to be out later this year. An interesting young band with decent live potential, thanks in particular to energetic frontman Matias Jyläskoski. (TS)
It seemed that Artificial Heartneeded to wait a few minutes until at least a handful of people found their way to the second stage as well. But then they started immediately yelling into their microphones like berserks. Unfortunately, the clean harmonies and shouts of the second vocals and the actually quite good compositions got lost in this noise. For a better impression, listen to “City of Lights” and “Broken Bones & Buried Dreams” on myspace. (GK)

Photo: Tina Solda

Back to the main stage for Oldschool – gotta admit that I had never heard of them before, but the same seemed to be true for most of the audience, not that there was much of it anyway. Turns out they are from St. Petersburg and apparently quite popular there, but fact is that even the biggest Russian bands are only marginally known on this side of the border. As for Oldschool, true to their name they looked and sounded like a classic hard rock band from the seventies, and they were undeniably good at it. It just wasn´t really my cup of vodka musically; they sounded like a cover band to me in spite of playing their own material. [TS]

The Swedish guys Deals Death got a call from their label Spinefarm telling them that another band had canceled and they managed to rock the stage at 19:30. In my opinion they were a very alternative and little by little more and more people found their way to this ungratefully situated second stage. My ears were blessed with decent bass … well, I confess … my eyes were blessed and I was rather watching than listening.

Soen is the new project around ex-Opeth-drummer Martin Lopez, bassist Steve DiGiorgio (played with Death or Testament amongst others), singer Joel Ekelöf (previously Willowtree) and guitarist Kim Platbarzdis. After the first shaky sounds we were welcomed to “our premire gig or thank you for coming”. However, then Soen presented songs from their debut-album “Cognitive” amazingly sensitive surrounded by partly hard beats or glentle, slow notes or simply by the sentimental second vocals of Kim Platbarzdis. (GK)

Photo: Tina Solda
Meanwhile at the Sound Shop stand, a table was laid out for the Pearl signing session featuring drummers Adrian Erlandsson (Paradise Lost), Kai Hahto (Swallow the Sun), Jan Rechberger (Amorphis) and Heikki Saari (Norther). The fifth seat in the middle was left empty: it would have been the place of Tonmi Lillman (Lordi, Ajattara and many more) who had passed away only a couple of days earlier. His sudden death at the age of 38 came as a complete surprise to everyone who knew him, his colleagues at the table included. The double-sided photo cards distributed in his memory were a tactful tribute to a talented and versatile musician who left the drum throne far too early. [TS]

Axegressor lived up to their name. The sound was loud and aggressive. Moreover, entering the media pitch, I got “baptized”, most likely in proper style with beer. This time quite a lot of people found their way to this gig on Puristamo stage. And finally I could see some movements in the audience which was otherwise pretty reserved this year. However, the real party was on stage where the movement frequency of Johnny Nuclear Winter & Co was as high as the drum’s frequency. (GK)

Photo: Tina Solda

The FME´s second debut gig again showcased the new project of a legendary Scandinavian band´s ex-member: ICS Vortex. But where Soen sounded quite Opethian in places, Vortex didn´t give much of a hint at his Dimmu past. His solo material is difficult to categorize; it might be roughly described as groove metal with a strong progressive edge. Not surprisingly, the bass took a very active role. It was played by Steinar Gundersen, while Vortex himself played guitar and sang. The audience reaction was pretty mixed – the comments I witnessed ranged from “awesome” to “crap”. Personally I was a pretty skeptical in the beginning but liked the gig more and more as it went on. Not an instant winner, but an interesting project capable of carving out a niche of its very own.

Photo: Tina Solda

Timetable reasons are the only possible explanation as to why on earth Swallow the Sun had been relegated to the small stage. The six-piece band hardly fit on it and the hall, or rather room, was clearly not dimensioned for a band of headliner qualities whose new album had entered the charts at #2 a week earlier. The set itself consisted mostly of new songs and was preceded by a not-so-common intro: the lullaby “Sininen Uni”, which Juha Raivio has said to be the original inspiration behind the concept of the new album. But there was no danger of anyone falling asleep at this passionate and intense gig. Given the major role of the female vocals on “Cathedral Walls”, it would have been cool if they had brought a guest singer to do them instead of using playback, but to have original performer Anette Olzon fly in from Sweden would have been asked a bit too much, and a proper replacement may not be that easy to find…

Photo: Tina Solda
STS played slightly longer than their allocated 45 minutes, so I left before they finished in order to avoid missing the first song of Paradise Lost. Atmosphere-wise it was a good combination to have these two bands playing right after one another, and it actually seemed that quite many had come for this pair only. In other words, it was finally quite full in front of the main stage. Nick Holmes clearly enjoyed being back – “I´ve never left Helsinki sober, the hospitality is second to none!” – and in my opinion, the gig was even better than the one at Nosturi a couple of years ago. The only slight letdown was that my favorite PL album, Icon, was not represented in the setlist, but a few choice cuts from Draconian Times and One Second easily made up for that. We even got to hear a new song, although the new album won´t be out until April. “Honesty in Death” blended seamlessly with the older songs and was a promising foretaste of things to come.

Photo: Tina Solda
After all the melancholic beauty offered by Swallow The Sun and Paradise Lost, I just couldn´t force myself into the mood for German power metal, all the more since it wasn´t midnight yet and Edguy were not supposed to start until 00:30. Instead, we went to Virgin Oil downtown to see Waltari, who played a set of cover versions. This came as no surprise, as their recent 25th anniversary album had also been a collection of remakes, but in all honesty the show was more of novelty than of musical value. I wouldn´t have awfully minded if Paradise Lost had played half an hour longer instead… [TS]

After 6 years of absence, finally Edguy had found their way back to Finland. And they were eagerly awaited. In the first rows was a big crowd and some fans appeared to get squeezed. The audience patiently endured all animation games such as cheering after hand signs or hey-shouting. Well, I felt really flattered when lead singer Tobias Sammet told that this would be the best Heavy-Metal Location. Metal is regarded as culture in Finland, whereas in Germany it is rather a muscle disease. And in-between the band also played some music, mainly from their latest albums “Age of the Joker” and “Fucking with Fire”. More of that – the show was absolutely freaky – and you should come more often. (GK)
Setlist: Nobodys Hero / The Arcane Guild / Tears of Mandrake / Rock of Cashel / Lavatory / Robin Hood / Drumsolo / Ministry of Saints / Save Me / Babylon / Superheroes / Encore: Vain Glory Opera / King of Fools

Saturday, February 18, 2012
The second FME day didn´t start far from where Paradise Lost had left off – Evergrey. offered such a fine mix of melody, atmosphere and power that it was a pity they played so early, starting at half past three in the afternoon.

Photo: Tina Solda

I wanted to catch them from the beginning but didn´t quite manage; they were already in the midst of “Masterplan” when I arrived. After a couple of songs more, the Swedes already quit the stage and left me wondering – weren´t they supposed to play a longer set? Fortunately they soon came back, resuming with the beautiful long keyboard intro of “Recreation Day”. The subsequent “Broken Wings” was guitarist Marcus Jidell´s shining moment; it also included some public display of affection between him and Tom S. Englund. Alas, after this it was really time for the last song – in Englund´s words, “thank you so very much, get fuckin´ drunk, stay gay, this one´s called A Touch Of Blessing!” [TS]

I was a bit late for Pressure Points, because Evergrey exceeded their performance time a little bit. However, after a while some more people found their way; those that did not got stuck at the exhibition stands. After half a year of a creative break, this was the first concert with Timo Ruokala as official permanent member of the band. I think that this decision was very wise. I really enjoyed the interplay of guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocals. This cooperation culminated in quite long instrumental sessions, which gave much possibility for extensive headbanging.

For Ghoul Patrol I was right in time and got to hear the last puff from the sound check. But because of the very strict timetable of the FME, the gig started with almost no delay. However, there were still some problems with the technical equipment/ the instruments. During the second song guitarist Jani Rapo disappeared from the stage. Lead vocalist Pekka Okuloff commented the unwanted breaks very Finnish with “vittu” [fuck]. Otherwise he tried to overcome the problems with some extra stunts on the boxes close to the audience. However, Jani Rapo was back for the third song with another guitar and from then on we got completely hammered by growls, bass and thrashing guitar sound. Nevertheless, the gig finished suddenly and very abruptly.

For the Imperium started immediately with full power. They brought incredibly much motion onto the Puristamo stage, even the tower of boxes was not spared out by the rush of movements. Also the face of singer Hakim Hietikko showed lots of (e)motions. In contrast, the audience seemed to be absolutely steamrolled. There was only one single loud reply to the band’s welcoming words “Hyvää ilta” [Good evening]. However, the hall was pretty full and the people were applauding after every song.

From the viewpoint of the media pitch, I absolutely dislike the extensive use of fog machines. It’s very difficult to shoot a high-contrast photo. But with Amoral I have to admit, that they created a very nice atmosphere with the fog. And very practically they also used their wind machines extensively, which let the hair waft dramatically, but even better, they were blowing away the fog. Additionally, most of the time the light was very good for taking pictures, which was allowed only during the first three songs (as usual). By the end of the third song, the strobo lights was jittering, so that I was afraid to end up having an epileptic seizure and left the pitch. I enjoyed the rest of the gig at the bar from the balcony and especially the parts with guitars. (GK)

A year ago, the presentation of the annual Finnish Metal Awards had ended with the announcement that in 2012, the whole thing would be remodeled, new categories introduced and whatnot. But when the ballot was opened in November, the voting form looked just the same as before. The only thing that was different was that the winners weren´t known in advance, since neither Mokoma nor Stam1na had released new albums last year. In their absence Nightwish would normally have been a safe bet, but obviously their album was either released too late in the year or not metal enough, for the big winner instead was Turisas.

Photo: Tina Solda
The biggest surprise was actually not the four awards they scored, but the one they missed out by less than half a dozen votes: never was a classically-trained violinist as close to being voted Best Instrumentalist in Finnish Metal as Olli Vänskä was this year. Honorable mention also to Insomnium, who in my opinion would have deserved to win in at least one of the categories they finished second in.

So here´s the Top 3 for each category:
01. Turisas
02. Insomnium
03. Nightwish

01. Turisas – Stand Up And Fight
02. Insomnium – One For Sorrow
03. Nightwish – Imaginaerum

01. Mathias D.G. “Warlord” Nygård (Turisas)
02. Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis, Sinisthra)
03. Niilo Sevänen (Insomnium)

01. Tuomas Saukkonen (guitar/drums/keys, Before The Dawn, Black Sun Aeon, RoutaSielu)
02. Olli Vänskä (violin, Turisas)
03. Alexi Laiho (guitar, Children Of Bodom)

01. Constantine
02. RoutaSielu
03. Battle Beast

01. Artificial Heart – Broken Bones & Buried Dreams
02. Nerve End – Axis
03. Standing Ovation – Scars Suit Me

…cover artwork:
01. Turisas – Stand Up And Fight (Album art by Pasi Juhola & Titanik Helsinki)
02. Insomnium – One For Sorrow
03. Nightwish – Imaginaerum

Photo: Tina Solda
One pretty cool album released in 2011 that was way too far out to score any awards was Kosmonument by Oranssi Pazuzu, who played right after the award ceremony over on the little stage. I´m not sure if there is such a thing as psychedelic space metal, but at least I cannot think of a better description for this band´s music. Live, it has a trance-like quality to it that tempts you to close your eyes and just go with the flow of the universe, all the more since the songs have no clear structure, vocals are few and hard to discern. Very different from everything else heard at the Expo, and interesting enough to gather quite a crowd. [TS]

My first impression when the angels … sorry … when Engel entered the stage was simply pandemonium. The drums sounded like constant roar of guns. After the first song of only humming the microphones at the drums were adjusted again and then I realized also the energetic and powerful voice of god … sorry again, of the singer Mangan, of course, which was also reflected by his movements. During the last song, finally also the audience awoke from its freeze and the first row started headbanging. However, a few rows behind only three people joined a poging-round, which they stopped soon after. (GK)

Photo: Tina Solda

During the FMA presentation, #2 vocalist of the year Tomi Joutsen was only mentioned as the singer of Amorphis, but his actual performance at this year´s FME was with his lesser-known band Sinisthra. Given Joutsen´s popularity with the former, you´d have expected more people to show up for this gig, but since Sinisthra have been without a record deal for years and rarely perform live, the general public can hardly be blamed for being unaware of their existence. The sextet released one album back in 2005, but no songs from it were played. Instead, the setlist consisted of three tracks from their 2008 demo and one new song, tentatively titled “The Shining Transience”, if I got it right. Those four songs were enough to fill the given half hour, as the opener “Closely Guarded Distance” alone took up almost half of it. Maybe not the easiest introduction, but this meandering epic beautifully demonstrates all of Sinisthra´s assets – complex and dynamic song structures with a good sense of dramatic effect, haunting melodies and artful lyrics delivered by one of Finland´s best singers alive. I really hope they´ll get that second album out some day. [TS]

The guys from Fleshgod Apocalypse looked very elegant in their tailcoats when they showed us their backs in the beginning of the show. But they turned around with the first sounds and then they mutated into zombies. Trousers and shirts were ripped and their faces had a scary make-up. This zombie-impression intensified after the first round of headbanging, which vehemently stirred up their hair. The aim of their music and growling was simply to wake up all dead bodies within a radius of at least 50 km. Anyhow, some people were in fact teetering, but for my impression the mass was still too shy. I was extremely impressed by the drummer Francesco Paolo and his ability to work on his instruments in an incredible beat-rate … this one was definitely un-dead.

Last year at FME there was a band competition. And the winner was Oddland. I have to admit that the sound needs getting used to. Especially during the first song I had the impression that vocalist Sakari Ojanen still tried to find the right sound for himself. But it went better with the next song. Oddland seemed to perform very concentrated, in other words there was no action on stage. Also the songs sounded all very similar. The audience was a quite small group, but they were applauding at least after every song. This can be regarded as declaration of affection by this year’s audience temperament. (GK)

Photo: Tina Solda

The awards ceremony had been a rare occasion to see Turisas in civilian garb, but now the multiple winners were back in full battle attire to celebrate their triumph. It was the first time I saw them since their line-up change last fall, and it felt strange and rather sad to see them without Netta Skog. In the 3 ½ years that she had been with the band, her disarming stage presence and her hi-tech accordion (which was more of a portable synthesizer) had become something of a trademark. But with Olli Vänskä and Warlord Nygård in the front line, Turisas are still one of the most charismatic bands in the scene, and the gig as such was excellent. The set featured four songs from the latest album and five older ones, the acoustic version of “One More” standing out in particular. Unfortunately I didn´t see much of it – I had just gone upstairs to watch from the balcony, but there was now an extra safety barrier too far from the actual guardrail to allow for a view of the stage. Bummer. Back downstairs, however, my friend and I managed to score a reasonably good spot, where we stayed until the band finished the set with “End Of An Empire”. Which fortunately does not seem to be a programmatic title for their career at this point.

Photo: Tina Solda

The last show of the night was Stam1na´s release gig of their new album, Nocebo, which had been released the week before and, not surprisingly, gone straight to #1. They played the album in its entirety, a special gift to the fans only planned for this one show. I hadn´t heard any of the new songs yet, but like all of Stam1na´s oeuvre, they work really well live. They also seemed to offer more variety than what I know of the older stuff, the melodic vocals on “Lepositeet” being a case in point. After the last song of the album, the band was presented with gold records for the fresh release. But the gig was far from over yet; after the short break it continued with a whole bunch of old songs. For “Lääke”, they were joined by a surprise guest, Perttu Kivilaakso of Apocalyptica. A cello is not the first instrument that would come to mind when thinking of possible additions to Stam1na´s sound, but after all, there are no boundaries in metal… [TS]

text & photos: Grit Kabiersch, Tina Solda

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Tina Solda - concert and festival reports, photos, interviews - - - Favorite genres: I don't care much about genres, but on a grossly generalized level I like melancholic death, unconventional black, melodic doom, dramatic folk and smart pagan metal (main regions: Iceland, Finland & Norway) - - - Other interests: guitar, books, beer, movies, cats.