Tuska, the Open Air Metal Festival celebrating its 20th Anniversary with record high ticket sales adding up to 37 000 visitors during the weekend, presents us many legendary bands on its second day, including HIM on its farewell tour.
Mokoma 4/5 45min
Mokoma, in Finnish language, stands for “damned”, “accursed” or “son of a bitch” in a slightly more gracious or in an obsoletely corny tone, as it is rarely used in actually serious situations. Nomen est omen: the band, even though performing solidly today at the Väkevä Tent Stage, doesn’t seem to take being Thrash Metal very seriously. As the whole show starts the riff based mayhem with “Kuollut, kuolleempi, kuollein” (Dead, deader, deadest) and people are already trying out a pit in the very large crowd, I am anticipating that the song title exuding gallows humour is only paving the way for a lot more ironic business.
At “Hei hei heinäkuu” (Bye bye July), after a proper and decent moshpit, the band starts summoning some community singing to the chorus. The twist is, though, that the calm and low-volume background is vastly different from the expected conventional metal-singalong: the guitarists play a reggae arrangement of the chords, as the singer Marko Annala gets people’s arms waving in the air as if we were in a The Capital Beat concert – even the lights play their part by switching colours to the Jamaican-Ethiopian palette to complete the makeover. I find it also funny, that Annala’s Doom (1993 video game) T-shirt is matching to the same exact colours, and providing an absolutely opposite yet likewise fringely-biblical ambience, in comparison to the Rastafari gag being performed. Whether the shirt is a coincidence or an ultimately deep meta-skit, we will probably never know, but people are singing loudly and enjoying themselves, that is for sure.
The band will also stir controversy and mixed feelings by doing things like playing the most recent pop-rock hit song “Lunnaat” (Ransom) as everyone calmly claps along to the guitarist Tuomo Saikkonen’s cue, and then doing a full 180° with the wall of death in the beginning of “Pahaa verta” (Bad blood) that switches gears towards a real rampage in the pit, and also on the stage. Overall the band has a stage presence that is laid-back in a good way, and is able to execute the songs containing rhythmically tricky riff work very well. In the last song “Sinne missä aamu sarastaa” Annala makes the audience sing so loudly that the reverb of the huge tent is blaring and his own voice, amplified by a formidable PA system, seems to meet its match in volume level by the chanting crowd.
Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus 3,5/5 60min
Folk poetry chanting from the Radio Rock Main Stage speakers indicate the arrival of the long time Tuska performers the legendary Timo Rautianen & Trio Niskalaukaus, who in the past used to perform their riff based Finnish Heavy Metal on the festival every single year.
They ended their career in 2004, only recently did a comeback, and are now releasing a new album this autumn of 2017. This is without a doubt one of the most important gigs of the Tuska 20th Anniversary: it marks the historic return of the iconic Tuska-band from the dead, as they arrive from their long trip to the underworld to celebrate their home festival’s great day.
The gig starts and I get instant goosebumps as my neck starts inexorably moshing when the first riff of “Rajaton Rakkaus” (Limitless Love) gets the nostalgia pumping in my veins. The bass drum is very loud, probably on purpose, and the slow heavy riffs make possible for it to be loud without a problem. The crowd is relatively passive in the beginning, but the applause for the first song shows that the faith to the striking power of the old champion is being restored. After a couple of songs the dry humour and strong song material warms the audience up and people are clapping along at “Rekkamies” (Trucker).
Each band member takes turns to engage with the crowd, and the performance is a bit restrained yet filled with decent headbanging, and features some planned out synchronized stage moves. In the song “Kuusikymmentäkaksi” (Sixtytwo) people are starting to sing quite loudly. It is worth mentioning that this show is much more about the chanting than shaking one’s fists in the air. “Nyt on mies!” (Now [that] is [a] man!) is my own favourite of the singalong bunch.
Then they play the new song “Suomi sata vuotta” (Finland one hundred years) while EMP’s beach balls bounce in the audience, and I have to say it sounds just like the good old Niskalaukaus, though the amount of backing vocals give it a surprising angle. This is followed by another new piece “Pitkän kaavan mukaan” (According to the long format), which brings to mind Children of Bodom frontman Alexi Laiho’s composing style in its harmonic choices and main riff, even though the arrangement is unmistakably of that tried and true classic Niskalaukaus style. Timo asks how did the new material sound, and gets a loud approval only after a little bit of additional interrogation since the audience seems to be still more baffled and bemused than ablazedly amused, as the crowd response for the gig is, while definitely positive and even loud at times, relatively timid as a whole.
And after grabbing attention and inciting a good laugh from everyone by feinting with the intro riff of “Walk”, they proceed to end the show with “Lumessakahlaajat” (Snow-waders) and “Alavilla mailla” (These Lowlands), and now the audience is suddenly participating commendably, and even the central serving area is clapping along, being cheered up by the Pantera skit.
I would love to give a higher score for the band, since they have charisma and I also have some personal bias, but the overall tightness, albeit decent, leaves more to be desired for, and certain avoidable blunders show that the band needs more practice to polish away the rust of a decade from the exhaust pipes, and to throttle itself back to where it was in its days of glory. I wholeheartedly hope they will restart the tradition and return to the Tuska main stage already next year 2018, and after regaining their old routine by playing intensively this following year, shake the ground in the manner I know they are capable of. Because I would very much like to see that, and see no reason for why it couldn’t happen!
Fear Of Domination 4,5/5 45min
The Inferno Stage building brings to Tuska a largish club venue, which is packed with people from wall to wall when the host appears to ask “only one question” from the crowd before the first ever Fear Of Domination Tuska gig: “Aletaanko v**** bailaamaan?” (“Are we going to f***ing party?”). The answer is really a no brainer, and most of the audience already claps along to the intro tape.
The Industrial Melodic Death Metal style of the band is unique, as we find out when “Paperdoll” hits with its ultimate Party Metal(?!) intro-chorus just to dive into a diverse verse, and the UV-active facepaint adds to the original atmosphere. The band is playing pretty loud, but the mix seems to be quite clear.
In “II” there’s a nice solo section by the guitarist Johannes Niemi and the keyboard player Lassi Raelahti, also the chorus seems to be made for singing along as everybody seems to do just that. The intro for “Tool of God” makes the crowd go wild and the vocalist Saku Solin summons even more participation in the bridge as the light show gets crazy. The drummer Vesa Ahlroth plays very tightly throughout the gig. A very traditional collision-chaos-moshpit starts at “Call of Schizophrenia” and it explodes into new heights at Johannes’s guitar solo. The band shows good chemistry on stage in the Bloodhound Gang cover “The Bad Touch” as the audience raves and chants.
The band has really atmospheric song transitions and the vocalists handle them in their majestic yet intimate manner. Before “Messiah” they split the audience in two teams, one for shouting “HU!” and the other for “HA!”, to compete in volume level. In the song’s bridge Saku announces that the other vocalist, a long time collab Sara Strömmer, is now part of the band’s official line up and thus the band now has seven members. The moment is emotional, not solely due to the fact that this was a surprise for the songstress, as I found out later that day.
The material of the group seems to be tailored for Sara, as she is capable of using a lot of her tonal palette in it; it’s amazing how many different sounds one woman can produce. And the band is evidently very happy about their new vocalist, as she commands a lot of charisma, sings with precision and emotion, yet most importantly does seamlessly coordinated intercourse, uh, vocal dialogue throughout the gig with Saku.
I’m looking forward to seeing them live again and hearing new material composed specifically for this line-up, which proceeds to play yet a couple of more songs to the ever more energetic audience, ending with “Final Transmission”.
Amorphis 4/5 60min
Amorphis, that launched Finnish Melodic Metal to world prominence with their 1994 album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, is still going strong and a lot of people have gathered to hear them at Radio Rock Main Stage despite of the drizzle. The slight rain doesn’t even cool off the enthusiasm of the crowd, and the gig starts solidly with “Under The Red Cloud”. The vocalist Tomi Joutsen sings to his trademark-mic-thing, and his bullet belts bring back memories of the 90’s Melodic Death Metal promo shoots. His stage movement is at times reminiscent of Devin Townsend, even though the word choices aren’t.
At “Silver Bride” and “Death Of A King” the crowd’s response is great. The band has succeeded in renewing their music time and time again, while still managing to maintain their distinctive style, but the live show, even though being well played and now also boosted with pyros, has remained principally the same over the recent years, and does not offer any mind blowing progression or other show element. The song material is of course in a class by itself, but I would like the gig to have more twists and turns, as this steady and strong song focused setlist that ends in “House Of Sleep” can’t get much better at the execution front itself.
HIM 5/5 110min
On their farewell tour after a 26-year career, HIM enters the Radio Rock Main Stage to celebrate their departure and the Tuska 20th Anniversary, greeted by an enormous cheering crowd, and immediately starts playing “Buried Alive By Love”. Playing even the biggest venues as intimately and calmly as a living room concert is undoubtedly a part of the band’s characteristic charisma, but that doesn’t stop the singer Ville Valo from wandering into some extreme vocal tones reminiscent of AC/DC already in the first song.
The audience is getting more involved in the next piece, “Heartache Every Moment”, and I notice that the large Heartagram-shaped truss, known from the club venue Nosturi, is now holding its place as the main back wall decoration for the group instead of a standard backdrop. On this gig the main form of crowd participation is singing along, even though “My Sweet Six Six Six” gets everyone’s hands in the air. The bass drum is very loud, but it works for the mix.
At “Wings Of A Butterfly” it’s becoming clear that the setlist is a full-blown hit marathon, that inexorably presses forward, without breaks and speaks in between. A few times Ville says a word or two to the mic, but it’s unclear if the words are meant to be a subliminal message rather than consciously heard. The lightshow is quite discreet, but works well with the self-contained performance style of the band.
“It’s All Tears (Drown In This Love)” demands razor-sharp microphone technique, which Ville indeed delivers, thus showcasing his amazingly broad tonal range easily making him one of the most versatile vocalists of this Tuska-edition. And as if the singing finesse wouldn’t be startling enough, the song also features a “Black Sabbath” insert to throw people off-guard. “Killing loneliness” is another mic-wielding masterpiece.
“Wicked Game” features a solo spot for the guitarist Mikko “Linde” Lindström, that is almost a song inside a song. The axeman has shown lively and expressive lead playing throughout the concert, but now plays some very fast stuff, which might be surprising for some. My only question though, is the amount of Wah-pedal used, because it’s literally on every guitar solo part played on this gig! Wah is like ketchup for solos: if you are putting it on every dish, aren’t you wasting your potential as a master chef? But in rock ‘n’ roll there are no rules, and some of us like ketchup, so moving on. If you’d like to hear his other works, I’d suggest checking out Daniel Lioneye, where he also sings.
The light show gets better as the evening is darkening, I can occasionally get a glimpse of the fans in the front from the screen, who have waited there against the fence the whole day. In “Join Me In Death” everybody goes nuts, and even the intro is accompanied by loud singing. ”Right Here In My Arms” is another crowd favourite, that gets everyone clapping along. People seem to also enjoy the Billy Idol cover choice “Rebel Yell”, that is the second last song from the 2 hour joyride.
Finally before the last song Ville Valo does the first and last proper speech of HIM’s first and last Tuska gig ever. He goes to lengths in thanking everybody: the festival audience, organizers, hosts, crew etc., and wishes everyone good night. As he explains his preceding quietness with shyness, I cannot help but to think that this was not only timidness, but ultimately a successful strategy in pulling off a metal festival headliner slot with what many would consider a “rock band”, by letting the music speak for itself. Also, they truly played a maximal amount of music with this kind of setlist approach, which cannot be said about many bands that play two-hour concerts.
However it may be, the first chord of the last song hits like the horns of apocalypse, and HIM says goodbye “When Love and Death Embrace”. In the outro Ville thanks and departs as people are screaming very loudly and after Linde opens his Wah pedal for the last time, the song ending is enhanced by the lightshow that goes crazy, and pyros exploding high up, followed by fireworks that leave the sky sparkling with red and orange, as the drummer Jukka Kröger beats the battery as if this was the last day of his life. After that, as the blinders blast white light to the audience, the band exits the stage enveloped in blue glow leaving their instruments to feedback, mics open to their amplifiers. A low pitched speech seems to be coming from the PA as a subconscious message below the scream of guitar and bass left unattended, as the monumental Heartagram of stainless steel stands above all. The self-made Kings of Love Metal have truly made this night unforgettable.
Did you miss out on the review of the first day at Tuska festival? Check it out here!
Written by Arti Waine
© All photographs are distributed by Tuska Festival – Jesse Kämäräinen & Denis Goria