8.-9.8.2014 Oulu, Messuaukio, Finland
(Interactive photo gallery at the bottom)
Contrary to advance information, the weather in Oulu was just as great as it had been in Helsinki for the past few weeks, as I was happy to observe upon leaving the train on Friday afternoon. It had been a more than seven-hour ride, which meant missing the first few bands but I caught the last bit of Dark Angel’s set while exploring the area. The two main stages were facing each other, with a small third stage a little bit to the side.
In between were several vendor tents with good selections of black metal vinyl; on the downside, there was only one single food stand, and a quick look at the menu revealed only meat alternatives – no serious option for a vegetarian of more than thirty years. Too bad, but after all, I hadn’t come for culinary experiences but for the music.
Such was next offered by High On Fire, which – I swear to Thor – was the loudest band I’ve ever heard at a festival. I don’t know how this is physically possible, but it felt as if the bass from the subwoofers was strangling my throat. On top of that I found that I had forgotten my earplugs at home, so I fled the photo pit as soon as I had scored the mandatory pictures. The singer’s tattoos were in fact quite photogenic – about his voice, on the other hand, I cannot say a thing because it was lost in a mud of drum and bass. As was the guitar.
Driven by the dire need of makeshift earplugs, my search for tissue led me back to the food stand. I had to admit that the scent was extremely tempting, and after the long train ride I was undeniably hungry, so I took heart and asked for a veggie portion. Surprise, surprise – they did have a pan of carcass-free paella, it just wasn’t advertised anywhere. Total lack of marketing skills here, as the stuff was pretty damn awesome. With my plate, I sat down on the lawn in front of the small stage, where Woland had just begun their set.
Too bad that it was very difficult to hear them because of the overpowering noise from the main stage, but what I heard was nice melodic black metal, very much to my liking. Let me state right away that the volume balance improved quickly in the course of the weekend, and the initial problems were fairly natural: in past years, Jalometalli had been at Teatria, but with that legendary venue being sacrificed to residential construction, a replacement had to be found, and the first day at a new place is always a challenge.
If High on Fire were just loud, Loudness were certainly on fire – and not troubled by sound issues at all. The Japanese veterans had never visited Finland before, so booking them for Jalometalli was a remarkable cultural feat. Right from the opener “Crazy Nights”, it was evident that their legendary status was not founded on their long history alone – the old material still sounds fresh, but the new songs do not pale in comparison, and the live show was perfect. Singer Minoru Niihara was in total control of the audience – whose choir in “Heavy Chains” was impressive – and Akira Takasaki confirmed his reputation as the ultimate guitar samurai with outstanding solos, for example in “The Stronger”. His most dedicated fan in the front row had even brought a guitar replica with Takasaki’s portrait on one side and a “Loudness at Jalometalli” inscription on the other! The set was well constructed not only with regard to the band’s history but also in purely dramaturgical terms; the faster songs dominated but were effectively balanced with more tender moments, particularly the larger-than-life ballad “So Lonely”.
Sacred Reich singer Phil Rind paid his respects to both Loudness and Dark Angel right in the beginning of the set, and while it took people a few moments to move from one stage to the other, crowd action was well under way by the second song, “Love…Hate”. That was already the last I saw of their set, though, because Algazanth then started to play on the small stage.
I had just missed them at Steelfest this spring due to their impossible slot in the middle of the day and their gigs are still a rarity, so this time around I made sure to catch them from start to finish. Fortunately they were better to hear than Woland before them and their sound was mostly okay, although I still had to strain my ears to make out the keyboards and lead guitar. On the upside, Thasmorg’s deep clean vocals stood out enough to form the required contrast to his growls, and in my opinion they are Algazanth’s strongest asset.
The true monarch of awe-inspiring vocals, though, was the one and only King Diamond, whose show was just as perfectly staged as his Tuska gig last year. Speaking of Tuska comparisons, one of this year’s most expected acts there had left me rather disappointed, namely Dimmu Borgir, who made the mistake of overemphasizing dramatics at the expense of musical excitement. King Diamond, much to the contrary, proved that it is quite possible to do a full-blown theater performance and a powerhouse metal gig at the same time. Of course he was accompanied by his crazy old Grandma again, who this time not only haunted the stage during “Welcome home” but also got a proper burial during “Cremation”, which was part of the encore. The main set, in good tradition, also contained a couple of Merciful Fate tracks, “Evil” and “Come To The Sabbath”. The band, including brand new bass player Pontus Egberg, did a flawless job as well, despite having to content themselves with supporting roles. The ruler of the evening was undisputed – all hail the King!
The evening didn’t end with him, though, although a majority of the audience left after King Diamond. Their loss, says I – missing Kuolemanlaakso is not something I’d recommend to a friend.
They’re one of the best things Finnish doom metal currently has to offer, and one of the few representatives of the genre who actually sing in Finnish. While a bigger audience would have been deserved, otherwise the timing was perfect, as it coincided with nightfall. Some bands simply work best when it’s dark, and if “Verihaaksi” was perhaps a bit too slow for those who battled sleepiness at this point – I love this song but had only slept one hour the night before… – the following “Me vaellamme yössä” was as uptempo as this band gets. Kuolemanlaakso may not have been the evening’s true headliner, but without doubt an excellent closer for the first Jalometalli day.
Instead of spending the rest of the night drinking downtown, I went for a good long late-night run – blame it on Oulu’s underdeveloped public transport rather than my enthusiasm for exercise – and then went straight to bed. Which had the positive effect of being awake and un-hungover when Insomnium hit the stage in early afternoon on Saturday.
Nevertheless I wonder, why on Earth do these guy always get those early afternoon slots? Not to mention the rain – seriously, we’ve had the most awesome summer in decades, with heat and sunshine nonstop from late June to almost mid-August, but both Tuska Sunday and Jalometalli Saturday saw Insomnium playing in the rain. Ain’t there no fairness in this world? On the upside, said rain was still fairly harmless at that point and only developed into a proper nuisance later on. And the relative scarcity of the audience had the rare benefit that after leaving the photo pit it was easy to get a central spot in the front row and enough place to mosh, which I particularly appreciated during “Ephemeral” and “Unsung”. The choice of songs was mostly the same as it had been at Suvilahti a few weeks ago, but this time “Promethean Song” didn’t close the set but was followed by two more gems – “Mortal Share” and “One For Sorrow”. Sweetness!
Jalometalli has long been on my list of festivals to check out some day, but in the past it always lost out to events that were closer to home. The 2014 line-up, however, was so strong that there simply would have been no excuse for not going. Yet there were no annoying clashes: the bands that played simultaneously were dissimilar enough to cater to different tastes. The first band on the other big stage for example, Ranger, was a safe bet for connoisseurs of classic heavy and thrash metal, but not a lamentable loss for me who went to watch Behexen on the small stage instead.
They were responsible for some of the weekend’s best black metal and also looked the part, although right after Insomnium their show was perhaps a bit too static. So was the audience for the most part, but at least the faster “Under The Eye Of Lord” elicited some movement. At this point I spotted a friend who complained that she could not get a cup of coffee anywhere – a major oversight by the organizers given the notably chillier temperatures on Saturday and the fact that people tend to be tired and hungover on the second day of a metal festival. I for my part was a bit hungry but didn’t want to eat the same as the day before; since no alternative was available on the festival grounds, I joined my friend for a trip to the nearby supermarket. Both of us were first-time visitors to Oulu’s extensive sports complex, so we got somewhat lost on the way.
By the time we finally got back, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats were almost done, but their pychedelic-oriented hardrock would have been better suited to Friday’s sunshine anyway.
On Saturday, the rain never stopped completely – to the contrary, it slowly intensified in the course of the evening. I am anything but fond of getting wet, yet ignoring the inconvenience required no effort as long as Omnium Gatherum played. Just what in seven hells was one of Finland’s currently leading bands doing on that small stage? On the big one, some marginal duo from Germany entertained a mere handful of people (judging from a photo I saw on the internet afterwards – obviously, I wasn’t the only one who had never heard of Mantar), while the sixpiece from Kotka had no more room to move about than its audience, and the lawn on which I had enjoyed such a relaxed picknick the day before was now packed all the way to the beer area a good way behind the mixing desk. And it was possibly the most enthusiastic crowd of the day, no wonder given Jukka Pelkonen’s supreme talent for interaction. It is hard to upstage guitar hero Markus Vanhala, but the curly-haired vocalist seemed to dedicate himself 150% to every single spectator and was rewarded in kind. The line-up had changed slightly since I had last seen the band: the drums were played by Toni Paananen (Malpractie, To/Die/For), but apparently he is just substituting while Jarmo Pikka is on paternity leave. The set relied heavily – and rightfully – on the two latest albums, and from the opening bars of “Luoto” to the epic closer “Deep Cold”, there was not a single weak moment.
At a metal festival in northern Finland, you wouldn’t necessarily expect two major acts from Switzerland on the same day, but in this case both were classics in their own right. Samael started deftly with “My Saviour”, Vorph’s near motionless performance contrasted notably by energy bundle Mas, whose exercise regime of jumping up and down while playing bass might yet become a fitness trend. The gig as such was solid despite falling somewhat short of their club gig at Nosturi a few years ago, but the weather may have influenced my impression. Not sure if it was deliberate irony on part of the band, but they actually played “Rain” during the set…
At this point the genius of the venue designers manifested itself. Right in the middle between the open concrete fields in front of each main stage was a huge long tent with open sides, from which it was possible to watch both stages without exposing oneself to the rain. A major portion of the beer areas at each end was sheltered by the roof as well. And Kvelertak offered an appropriate soundtrack for drinking on those nice dry benches, the existence of which I was highly grateful for after having been on my feet the whole day.
My peace with the rain wasn’t for long, though, and the blame for its breach lies not with me: I was back outside to photograph Testament – a pure joy under normal circumstances, as Chuck Billy and his men enjoy a good flirt with the camera – but noticed after a few clicks that the display of my Nikon refused to function properly. Unable to check my settings and afraid of worsening the damage, I retreated back under the roof to enjoy at least the music, but admittedly most of my attention was dedicated to getting the camera dry and back into working order. Unfortunately the wiping was to no avail, so when Triptykon entered the stage, I only attempted a few shots for the sake of this report and otherwise simply concentrated on the show, which didn’t need photographs to be utterly memorable.
Or magic might be a better word, right from the moment when the intro gave way to the monumental “Black Snow”. Speaking of precipitation, the rain was pouring down even harder by then. Yet somehow it enhanced the atmosphere instead of diminishing it, providing the finishing touch to the heavyweight darkness of the music and Tom Fischer’s bleak lyrics. The set included a couple of nods to his former bands – Celtic Frost’s “Circle Of The Tyrants” and Hellhammer’s “Messiah” – but they were a kind favor to long-standing fans rather than a necessity. Triptykon’s own material is by far strong enough to carry a set on its own, and I hope to see them back for a full-length club gig before long. An hour is not quite enough for a band whose songs last up to twenty minutes, as did the slow but menacing closer “The Prolonging”. After that, I was almost relieved that the rain made for a good excuse to miss any possible after-hours clubs downtown – after Triptykon, any of them would have been a mere anticlimax…