Tuska Festival 2018
29.6.-1.7.2018 Helsinki, Suvilahti, Finland
It seems a certain decline of Metal festivals and other live events came to a halt; this year’s Tuska festival statistics have returned to those good old times with record numbers. Saturday was sold out, Friday was getting close to that mark with 12.000 people – 34.000 fans altogether in 3 days, respect. Despite the fact that strong winds and rather low temperatures dominated on this weekend, there was hardly any rain! Below my impressions, and I keep it short and rather let my PHOTOS do the talking …
Crowbar and their massive yet still pleasing Doom Metal opened the main stage on Friday, after Baest on the Helsinki and Gloomy Grim on the Inferno Stage. Same procedure as every year – three stages and two people, several acts play at the same time, not to mention all the extras (Solmusali presentations and movies), therefore it’s a question of task-splitting and making decisions.
My choice – after Hard Action and the obviously very popular Black’n’Rollers Tribulation (photo) – was to watch the Tuska Torstai competition winner Keoma instead of Turmion Kätilöt, well, as the latter I had just recently enjoyed at NUMMIROCK … The Keoma guys were all smiles facing a full venue, unfortunately only a handful of their songs fit into the short slot. But the audience was eager to hear more – well, so hopefully the Tuska organizers noticed that too and – errrr – do something about that, maybe?
Mantar were hardly visible in all that fog, yet quite a fitting performance style for their aggressive sound. My attempt to take some photos of Glamrockers Shiraz Lane failed as there were way too many people. Charm The Fury – musically a kind of Arch Enemy / Guano Apes crossover – were not quite my cup of tea therefore I chose, in all those cases mentioned, to attend what was left of the shows on the other stages. And more about those by my Tuska-partner-in-crime … (KW)
Once a hippie, always a hippie. Prior to discovering the joys of heavy metal I listened to bands like Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, and basic instinct took over when upon arrival on Friday I scanned the main drinking area for familiar faces and spotted – a flower stand. The plan had been to check out Keoma but instead my friend and I ended up making lovely purple-and-pink flower wreaths while listening to Turmion Kätilöt blasting the main stage. We both had zero experience in floristics but the girls at the booth patiently taught us, as well as many more Tuska guests of all age and gender throughout the weekend. As far as I’m aware there was no official Tuska song this year, but an unofficial one could have been “If you’re going to Suvilahti, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” – or in your beard, which was the favored option for many a big bald dude.
Folk art and nature worship was also offered by Moonsorrow, albeit in darker tones. Their one-hour set contained no more than five songs, but only two of them shorter than a quarter hour. Apart from the opener “Pimeä” and the classic “Kivenkantaja”, the content was entirely taken from the latest album. Its hypnotic and doom-laden atmosphere was most impressively represented by the powerful “Ruttolehto/Päivättömän päivän kansa”, which manages to capture all the multiple facts of Moonsorrow and even carry them to new heights. Steam columns and red lights further enhanced the atmosphere – this band would have been big enough for the main stage, but the tent in which they played did them far more justice.
As mentioned above the beer areas were still there, in spite of the recent alcohol law reform which in advance had raised hopes for their abolition. However, they were now bigger than ever and with good views to the stages; especially the bands on the two smaller stages (tent and indoor) could now be watched from a fairly close-up perspective while enjoying drink. After Moonsorrow, we stayed in the drinking zone on the tent stage side, where we found space at a table and could watch the next band on the main stage with our lazy butts on a bench. From a distance, granted, but that was just fine because Dead Cross did not even tempt us to go any closer. The California combo contains two living legends, Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo, but their music lacked excitement and the songs didn’t do Patton’s voice justice. I’m glad to have seen him on earlier occasions with Faith No More and Mondo Cane, which both were far more entertaining.
Much more up my alley were Leprous, who visit Finland on a semi-regular basis and never disappoint. Their new album Malina doesn’t grab me the same way as The Congregation and especially Tall Poppy Syndrome, but it has nonetheless all the ingredients that give this band its special flavour and live they are even better. Intricate, intense and despite their undeniable perfectionism never sterile – and never boring.
Over the past few years, the Tuska stages had been graced by a slowly but steadily increasing number of female musicians, and not just singers. Unfortunately the trend didn’t continue this year but let’s hope this was just an involuntary glitch and not another sign of the backlash seen at so scaringly many fronts these days. However, the one woman who entered the main stage with her band this weekend certainly made sure she would not be overlooked or overheard. Quite to the contrary – Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy effortlessly dominated the show and proved herself the rightful successor to the former ruling Queen of Swedish melodeath, Angela Gossow. For me it was the first time to see the band with its current line-up and it had been well worth the wait. What made this gig even more enjoyable was the sunshine – earlier in the day it had been raining, but towards the evening it cleared up and the remaining two days were mercifully dry. (TS)
Meshuggah proved the meaning of their name once again… and in this massive light show it was not that easy to capture a few of those “meschugge” faces of singer Jens ….
The headliner of the day had not made an impact on me “back then” 25 years ago, although Mr. Ice-T is a very familiar face for me – because of this Law & Order TV series … Well, I was aware of the existence of this band but I never really gave Body Count a try. And bloody hell, that was a mistake. Heavy riffs that pull your face off plus dirty Rap / clean / shout vocals, brutal political messages, explicit statements and a fantastic light show – WOW! I was more than impressed! The son of Ice-T supported his dad on vocals, and another special guest popped up behind the drums during the first song: Dave Lombardo added perfect blast beats to the BC Slayer rendering. No wonder the audience freaked out and formed a motherfucking mosh pit, pussies keep away! Lotsa “presidential” speeches indeed, Ice-T should become the next president of the USA … Body Count kept me mesmerised until the encore part that followed pretty much immediately – “I’m 60 years old – let’s forget that bullshit & simply pretend we walk off the stage and then back on again” (Ice-T quoted freely). Hell what a show, entertaining in every aspect! (KW)
Saturday June 30, 2018
A sold-out festival day with 13000 people – yet most of them appeared 1-2 hours later, only a few hundred gathered at the main stage to cheer Tyrantti. Let’s hope that those Old-School Thrashers still won some new fans.
Galactic Empire combines two successful concepts – Metal and Star Wars, which means all those legendary tunes are performed in a Metal-Prog-Rock version. In order to keep this instrumental performance entertaining, the band quotes from the movies or recreates legendary scenes on stage, e.g. Darth Vader’s Force choking:
Naturally not just Stormtroopers but also rebels attended this event – and they even “blew up the Death Star” – well, OK, to be more precise, a balloon version of it … (KW)
On Saturday I met early because Crimfall were not to be missed. They are one of the, if not the, finest symphonic folk metal bands Finland has to offer today and the main reason why they are not better known is that they not particularly active when it comes to playing shows and releasing material. In fact I had thought that the band no longer existed when all of a sudden last year they were back with a new album, Amain. But good as the studio versions are, its live on stage that Crimfall’s songs work best, powered by the dramatic interplay of the two vocalists Mikko Häkkinen and Helena Haaparanta. The opener “Last of Stands” was the kind of hymn that other bands would be glad to crown the end of their set with, but this show only grew from there, all through the folky “Wildfire Season” and the epic “Until Falls The Rain” at the end. Hope this wasn’t their only Helsinki show for this year, but on the other hand quality beats quantity.
The Crimfall gig had been a fine medicine against the hangover that had mysteriously plagued me all morning, but I still didn’t feel particularly fit and decided to get some food. Tuska has come a long way from the early years when the culinary selection was limited to one sausage stand and vegeterians like me had to bring our own provisions or go hungry. Now there was a large variety of food offered all over the area, I opted for a huge Indian curry plate accompanied by a mango lassi. Speaking of the area, for the first time now there were two separate chill-out zones with lawn and trees, the old one behind the club stage building (which had been fenced off last year due to renovation) plus the one south of the main stage that had first been introduced in 2017. The sauna tent was placed in the latter and both were well equipped with beer and cocktail bars. Though I don’t know the actual figures, I almost had the feeling that there might have been more park than in Kaisaniemi where Tuska was held in the first decade of the century. The famous “Kaisaniemi feeling”, however, was even more present around the coat/backpack storage tent – between ticket control gate and security check there was a large area where it was allowed to drink own alcohol, and some swore that this was where the best party of the weekend took place. (TS)
Well, Beast in Black are appealing and drew a big crowd, almost as big as the one that later gathered in the tent for The 69 Eyes (photo below) – and yes, it is better to have some shade to enjoy the Best-Of-Hits program of those legendary Helsinki Vampires. It was way too sunny outside … and at this point the sold-out situation became quite obvious, the area was nicely filled already and a huge crowd was still on the way in … (KW)
Flowers were not only abundant among the audience but also appeared on the main stage – to be presented to Jussi Stoor, mayor of Lemi which had just scored the title “Capital of Metal” for a density of 13 metal bands in a municipality of only 3000 inhabitants. Of course the contest had been for fun and mainly showed that the smaller the village, the more eager its citizens to enter even their least-known local bands (a quick look at capitalofmetal.fi shows that not even all the Helsinki bands who played at Tuska were counted) but on the other hand Lemi, similar to Kitee, is made a worthy candidate by the fact that the one export article that has made the town known outside of Finland is a metal band, namely Stam1na.
The metal capital contest had been initiated by Tuomo Saikkonen of Stam1na’s label mates Mokoma, who coincidentally played next on the main stage. They recently released a new album and about half of the set consisted of songs from this one and its predecessor; as usual the older hits such as “Kuu saa valtansa auringolta” and “Hei hei heinäkuu” were the biggest favorites but the new stuff was also well received, particularly “Tahdon ihmeet takaisin” ja “Kesytä perkeleet”. It was particularly nice to see Marko Annala dancing around the stage and apparently having a good time – I sincerely hope his depressions are finally a memory of the past. (TS)
Instead of Mokoma’s tough sounds I listened to the crossover of Foreseen a bit, before Carpenter Brut created some electro-dance feeling and even quoted a legendary movie (Flashdance) – and yes, some Metalheads enjoy dancing, too. For many this band was the highlight of this festival day! After listening to Hexhammer‘s old-school metal, I preferred to enjoy the last songs in the Hallatar set… (KW)
The biggest name of this year’s festival for me was the mighty Emperor, who had last played Tuska four years ago on the anniversary tour for In The Nightside Eclipse with Faust on drums. Now they were back with Trym to celebrate two decades of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. At the end of the set the band also played three other songs (of course there cannot be an Emperor concert without “Inno A Santana”) but first the monumental album was played in full, patiently building up suspense from “Alsvartr” through “Ye Entrancemperium” to the sublime “Thus Spake The Nightspirit” and onwards until the dramatic climax of “With Strength I Burn” and the soothing outro “The Wanderer”. Nostalgia, you ask? Nope. Okay, some of that, too – but most of all a demonstration of how unbelievably far ahead of its time this album was in 1997. Not a single riff sounded antiquated, in fact if Anthems had just come out it would sound as fresh as any progressive black metal album released this year and probably fresher than most. The question is rather, would progressive black metal as we know it in 2018 even exist without Emperor?
After the untimely death of exceptional Swedish songwriter Aleah Starbridge in 2016, her partner in life and art, Juha Raivio, decided to honor her memory in the most powerful and lasting way possible: by ensuring that her musical and poetic legacy should live on. The couple had managed to record one album together as Trees Of Eternity (released after Aleah’s passing), but to bring the remaining songs to life, Juha formed a new band called Hallatar. When the trio released the album No Stars Upon The Bridge last year, I assumed it to remain a studio project, but to my surprise they played a club gig in Helsinki earlier this year. Live on stage with candlelight the haunting songs became even more poignant and the band managed to preserve this magic in the much bigger Tuska tent, calming down the festival audience for an hour of cathartic reflection on the fragility of life. Tomi Joutsen mastered the challenging lyrics with grace and piety, delving deeper into the extremes of tenderness and despair than even in his best work with Amorphis. Aleah’s own voice was heard in “Dreams Burn Down” and the two Trees Of Eternity songs played at the end, “Broken Mirror” and “Gallows Bird”, and indeed the largest presence on stage was the one that was missing. Gone, but not forgotten. (TS)
Kreator (photo) didn’t need this massive stage show with stage set, LED wall, flames and paper cannon – the Finns love this band and cannot get enough of Mille & Co. Equally popular here are Swedish acts like At The Gates – although of a mature age, they delivered their melo-death with so much energy that it was actually difficult to capture images of them…
Only when Gojira (start photo) thanked the Tuska organizers for their assistance it became public knowledge that this was an “emergency show” – as the band’s equipment got stuck in Germany due to a broken-down truck. What they presented had been put together quickly by an army of helpers, in a few hours before the gig – WOW. Kudos to everybody involved! It is difficult to believe that their “regular” headliner show would have been even more impressive than this “emergency version”. A massive performance on a huge scale – gigantic, just like their namesake Godzilla, the French Prog masters flattened everything in their wake, musically and show-wise, although it was not that easy on this day after so many awesome acts!
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Finally a perfect festival day – mainly sunny yet not too much of it … and hardly any queuing anywhere as on this day “only” 9000 people would be attending. Stick to Your Guns felt like a perfect act for resurrecting the party spirit on a Sunday morning with their HC/metalcore.
Blind Channel (photo) made me feel old – well, basically the metal version of a boy band playing “violent pop”. Not bad indeed, but for me it felt too much like Backstreet Boys in terms of both music and stageshow, and I was definitely far beyond the age of their target audience… Hence I switched to the more mature boy band Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus who are always a pleasure. After that the prog fans had to choose between Lauri Porra Flyover Ensemble and Ihsahn. Lauri Porra may have dressed in hippie style, but the music drifted quite often towards pretty rough metal riffing, which the audience enjoyed just as enthusiastically as the more progressive-experimental sounds. (KW)
After his majestic show with Emperor on Saturday, Ihsahn also played a gig with his solo project on Sunday. I was an instant fan of his first three solo albums but only half satisfied with Eremita, and I never got into Das Seelenbrechen despite multiple efforts. Arktis somehow missed my radar when it came out a couple of years ago but the three songs from this album that were played at Tuska (especially “Mass Darkness”) ensured my determination to make up for this neglect asap. The new opus Ámr has already been on heavy rotation since it came out a few weeks ago, and when Ihsahn started the show with a trio of songs from it I knew I was in for a treat. And I can say without hesitation that it it was the best of the three Ihsahn solo gigs I’ve seen so far, although his first Tuska appearance in 2010 was one of that year’s highlights as well. The backing band this time were not his Notodden homeboys of Leprous but the second guitarist was their ex-member Øystein Landsverk, who for “The Paranoid” switched to a classic Fender Telecaster – an amusingly down-to-earth contrast to his and the maestro’s own futuristic Aristides beauties. To my delight, the set closed with the old gems “Frozen Lakes On Mars” and “A Grave Inversed”, but in the context of the whole even the two songs from Seelenbrechen that were played before them no longer sounded half as weird as I remembered them.
From the tent I walked over to the indoor stage to see Grave Pleasures – for the first time, and obviously with wrong expectations. I knew Mat McNerney from Hexvessel and somehow assumed that this band was in a similar vein, but were the latter are fave a strong psychedelic vibe with a nice folky touch, Grave Pleasures played straightforward rock that despite Mat’s fine voice went in one ear and out the other. To be fair, not much would have impressed me right after Ihsahn and they delivered a fine soundtrach for drinking beer with my friend, which at that point was all that really wanted to do. But the feeling remains that I would have been more keen on seeing Belzebubs – which, alas, were only present in cartoon form. They just got signed by Century Media, though, and have released their first single. So maybe next year? (TS)
Well, what to say about Europe? Those guys have matured a bit, not so huge and long hair styles any more – but their songs still kick ass and have you sing along immediately. And naturally they remember how to work a big stage and a festival audience. Plus, who doesn’t know their songs – especially THAT one, naturally performed at the end of the gig?? That was the time when you saw lotsa middle-aged people standing on tables singing shouting clapping along …
After the very entertaining set of Punk’n’Rollers Clutch it was time for the last headliner of the festival, Parkway Drive (photo). I assume it was because of noise regulations that the festival had to shut down pretty early … well, those Australians blew away their fans indeed, not only with a massive sound but also with those pyros and fire effects. The perfect way to wrap up another successful Tuska festival season. Thank you, I have nothing to complain about – see you next year! (KW)