10-11.6.2022 Helsinki Metal Horizons @ Ääniwalli, Helsinki

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If ever anyone was to make a bold move, debuting a new festival right after a pandemic certainly counts. Helsinki Metal Horizons took place at Ääniwalli on June 10th and 11th, 2022, promising a variety of interesting acts, ranging from Norwegian black-jazz to Canadian speed metal, a variety of extreme/folk artists, and more. Our crew decided to check it out and see how it holds up compared to other festivals!

The festival did have a pre-event that took place at On the Rocks on Thursday, June 9th, 2022, featuring bands like SATAN’S FALL, CANNIBAL ACCIDENT, THE HIRVI, and EXCITER. Even better, the bands all had meet ‘n’ greets throughout the evening, meaning attendees were able to get autographs from (nearly) everyone they hoped for, not just this day, but every day!

Day 1

The first official festival day started at about 19:15, which was great, as it allowed people to finish their workdays and head to the festival on time. We got to the venue a little early so we could check things out. This was our first time at Ääniwalli, so it took us a little time to figure out the venue – the two stages in different rooms were slightly confusing, but we were able to figure everything out quickly, and we thought it was cool to have the extra stage so the next band could get ready while the current one performs. This is typical for outdoor festivals, but a bit hard to pull off for your typical indoor show.

There was also a large outside yard where concert goers could smoke and even bring their drinks outside. This was a great addition, as it gave an open air summer festival -vibe, even though it was an indoor show. We don’t get too many nice summer days in Finland, so while the weather was great, it was awesome that we could use that area to take a quick break and get some fresh (but smoky) air. There was even the Mex-Man food truck outside, from which we would later enjoy some delicious burritos; of note, they were pre-made so attendees were able to grab a burrito fast, since everything was prepped and ready to hand out right away.

The first band of the night was the local Helsinki band, OMNIVORTEX. Formed in 2019, OMNIVORTEX play technical death metal. They definitely earned calling themselves “technical,” because they were all extremely talented musicians and were not afraid to show it through their music. The vocals from guitarist Severi Saarioja and drummer Aaro Koskinen were just as impressive as the instruments, with the double vocal setup working well for them. The crowd started off small and a bit backed off from the stage, but after the first song, the singer welcomed everyone to come closer and the crowd obliged. OMNIVORTEX had good stage presence, but every once in a while, instead of headbanging, some of the members would bob their heads like a chicken… I would suggest sticking to classic headbanging for next time. It was also nice to see the chemistry of the band together, as they seemed to be having a good time and seemed to be smiling a lot for a death metal band! I would say this band is definitely worth keeping an eye on in the future!

After OMNIVORTEX, everyone headed to the main stage, as pagan death metal band KALMAH came out of the swamp to play in Helsinki for the first time in quite a while. Since KALMAH is such a well-known and celebrated band in Finland, it was surprising to find their play-time was so early. By then, the crowd was not so big, but we felt lucky because we were able to get a great spot and have the band more to ourselves! Being so close to them on stage, we could really notice their amazing musicianship – Antti Kokko’s sweep picking was smooth as butter! It was also great to see them have fun on stage by interacting with each other and even playing each other’s instruments. In between songs, Pekka Kokko joked the audience pretty regularly. I couldn’t pick up everything he was saying in Finnish, but he certainly said “perkele” a lot, and there was a lot of laughter from the audience. It was also great they were able to play some of their classic songs like “The Black Waltz,” and “Groan of Wind.” “Groan of Wind” now seems like the perfect song to play, as it has got to be the most metal song about COVID that was written 16 years too early. Now they just need to replace the line “H5N1 lethal timebomb” to something COVID related – maybe “COVID-19 killing machine?” They can thank us later for the suggestion.

ODDLAND was next to play on the Black Planet Stage. It was great timing for them, as they released their new album, Vermilion,” just 3 months ago. They were able to play some older songs, as well as plenty from the new album. Their music is interesting to hear live, since its progressive nature includes the sounds of many different instruments that are mostly not found in traditional metal. ODDLAND definitely lives up to their name, as I felt like they had a very unique stage presence and way of interacting with themselves and the audience. Since ODDLAND is not as heavy as some of the other bands, it was nice to give our bodies a break and enjoy their (comparatively) chill and relaxed music.

The happy surprise of the night had to be VULTURE INDUSTRIES. We had heard some of their music previously, but were not sure exactly what to expect from a live show, yet they absolutely blew us away with their music and energy. From the first seconds of the show, they captured our interest by dressing quite sharply in button-up shirts, while vocalist Bjørnar Nilsen also wore red suspenders. The nice dress shirts mixed with bare feet from everyone in the band besides Bjørnar and Tor Helge Gjengedal was a nice juxtaposition. They then proceeded to captivate us with the music. Everyone in the band seemed to be very talented with their instruments, and the way they occasionally added harsh vocals to the normal clean vocals was very effective. It seems like Bjørnar fully committed to the feeling of each song, as you could tell he was giving it his all with every line. At one point in the show, he even sang from the top of a ladder and jumped off in the middle of the song! This is something I have never seen at a show before. This was their first show outside of Norway since the pandemic, so we are lucky they decided to play in Helsinki.

After the impressive performance by VULTURE INDUSTRIES, we went to the other stage to watch MANTICORA, the Danish progressive power metal band. It looked like many people came to see them – we heard it was their debut show in Finland ever, despite having been around for some time – and the Black Planet stage was quite full. Although the stage was small, they seemed to be doing their best to make it look big by using all of it. It was fun to see them rock out by weaving in and out of each other’s way. The vocalist, Lars F. Larsen, in particular did a great job with his impressive vocal range and stage presence, really making sure the audience was having fun. The music was very technical and executed flawlessly. MANTICORA was great at this stage of the evening, being a bit heavier than VULTURE INDUSTRIES but not quite as heavy as the next band…

HUMANITY’S LAST BREATH from Sweden were the next to play on the Enslain stage. By this time of the night, it seemed like the crowd had finally all arrived and the stages were getting fuller and livelier. HUMANITY’S LAST BREATH had a great entrance to the stage with the guitars and drums out first, and the lead singer, Filip Danielsson, entering the stage after a few minutes wearing a black hood and cloak. The lighting definitely added to the mood of the show, as it created shadows that made it difficult to see their faces, especially Filip wearing a hood, contributing to the ominous vibe. The music is a unique brand of extreme metal, sometimes referred to as “djent deathcore.” Regardless of genre, their set was the heaviest of the night, and clearly a fan favorite based on the enthusiastic audience reaction.

MYGRAIN was the last main performance of the night to hit the Black Planet stage. Another local band, MYGRAIN, were a big hit and there was almost not enough room for everyone to fit in the viewing area – it seems fans are still very enthusiastic about the band’s comeback after they broke up a few years back. These guys really seemed to be enjoying themselves and the crowd was as well! Vocalist Tommy Tuovinen had great stage presence and the whole band was clearly enjoying the set. Their melodic death metal was well-executed and entertaining. We met the band at the meet ‘n’ greet area earlier in the evening and they were very nice, making us look forward to their set even more! They did not disappoint and were one of the many highlights of day 1.

Last up on the Enslain stage was SHINING from Norway, which is important because there is another very different band from Sweden by the same name. To be honest, we thought it was going to be the Swedish one and we were rather surprised by this kind of funky, jazzy, rock/metal. Regardless, the show was a hit, with good fan energy and an engaging live performance. Saxophonist and vocalist Jørgen Munkeby was thoroughly entertaining. We’ve heard saxophone used in more of a backing role before, but this was the first time seeing the saxophone used like a lead instrument. It sounds oddly similar to a guitar at times, while fitting in great with the rest of the heavy instruments. One way or another, SHINING was thoroughly different to every band that came before it and not what we expected, but a great end to a wonderful evening of awesome rock and metal.

However, the night was not completely finished with SHINING‘s set, as the afterparty still took place at the whopping hour of 1:20 in the morning. NESTRUCTION recently appeared on our radar when they played their debut public live show with BEAST IN BLACK not too long ago. These two lovely nerds – Emil Pohjalainen and Otto Närhi – perform heavy interpretations of SID-music from classic retro gaming, like Castlevania and Contra, but with high energy, heavy shredding, and a bigass LED backing screen. Emil – who we’ve heard from other bands like AMBERIAN DAWN and formerly THAUROROD – has always been a guitarist in the past, but here he also acted as frontman and really blew us away with his charisma and silliness, before they kept blowing our socks right out of our shoes with their loud Nintendo/Amiga-y sound. In fact, we were impressed by just how big and thunderous their sound was, coming from two people. The guys looked like they were having a blast shredding on stage – songs like the Mario 2 theme hit hard and heavy with nostalgia all at once, and they included some modern gaming in their set as well with some excerpts from, for example, “Dragonborn” from Skyrim. They finished up the set and closed out our night with the only song they have officially released so far: “Cyber Shadow: Chapter 1.”

Day 2

If I had to describe the Saturday lineup with one word, “contrasts” is the most accurate, as the evening was jam-packed with playful voices, heavy growls, aggressive riffs, and harmonious synthesizers that all together created a playful ambiance on this early day of the summer festival season.

The festival was opened by KEOMA on the Black Planet Stage at 19:00 with the excellent voice of their lead singer, Katri Hiovain, and the progressive assembly of the whole band making them a really good fit to start the festival schedule on Saturday. Their music had a smooth ambiance that seemed to welcome the attendees as they arrived. Progressive metal is not exactly my cup of tea, but I did enjoy their set, as it was modest in terms of the use of different sounding contrasts, with the melodic female voices blending together with the growling tones of Eero Saikku and Jaakko Saloranta – probably a formula that has been well-explored by many metal bands; however, this did not feel old-fashioned, but on the contrary, it worked to make the festival atmosphere warm and welcoming.

Soon after KEOMA’s set was finished, ASSEMBLE THE CHARIOTS took over the Enslain Stage with technical death metal that uses symphonic resources to create a simultaneously aggressive and merciful ambience. The band took charge of uplifting the festival’s atmosphere as the first headbanging movements began among the attendees, while many others started to approach the main area of the venue where the stage was located in order to get a better view. The band spoke to the festival-goers constantly, asking them to move around, and the vocalist even invited his dad to step into the crowd, a gesture that reminds us all that metal and festivals are for everyone, no matter the age!

Right after ASSEMBLE THE CHARIOTS were done, HUMAVOID seized the second stage with the groovy sound of keyboards, rough female voices, and growls – the band contrasted with a different sound from ASSEMBLE THE CHARIOTS, while not reaching too far from KEOMA‘s sound. What made HUMAVOID truly special was the character that keyboards took on, as they were placed right at the center of the stage. Even while only listening and not seeing their show up close, it was possible to notice the peculiarity, as the keyboard sound contrasted with the vocal tones of the band. This created an innovative way of re-locating this instrument from a secondary/side component to the leading melodic point of the songs. In general, they were an interesting addition to the line-up and a good halftime performer within the festival schedule.

At this point, the first bands were all from Finland and it is always great to check out the local music scene where one is located, though I also appreciate changing the scenario a little bit and exploring artists coming from elsewhere with different concepts. Luckily, CELESTE hailing from France were next up with a show that, in my opinion, was the highlight of the festival on Saturday. The band sounded quite different from the rest of the performers, as their music is under the doom metal category, which brought a gloomy feeling to the venue, with a performance that was modest on elements but still interesting to the eye and ear. On a dark and densely foggy main stage, only lit by a few red lights, each band member stepped onto the stage wearing some type of face shield, from which a red light emerged, pointing straight at the audience’s faces. They all wore these face shields throughout their set and if that is not being committed to a performance, I do not know what it is… how can they manage to wear that while still playing all of their songs so neatly? They played in a very mystic way by constantly changing stage lighting from white to red, so the red lights were superimposed all around the venue right at the moment the singing howls came into play. Between the fog, face shields, howls, and growls, it was difficult to see their silhouettes clearly, but that was the main idea of the show: to transport the audience to a fight between light and darkness. The band had very little interaction with the crowd and they seemed to be mainly focused on efficiently executing the gloomy essence of their performance. Intrinsically keeping themselves silent in between songs added a shadowy spice to the momentum. CELESTE brought a much-needed moody ambiance to the night in between the first bouncy bands and the aggressive ones that were coming up next.

After CELESTE’s show, there was a bit of confusion among the attendees, as KHROMA was supposed to be the next band playing, though they canceled last minute due to a sudden illness. A replacement had to be found quite soon and that is when ENRAGEMENT stepped up to the second stage. I must admit that at first, I mixed up both bands as I was not familiar with any of them both, so it took some minutes to realize the band at the venue was not the same that was expected (silly me, I know!). Regardless of this misconception, ENRAGEMENT did not disappoint at all! On the contrary, they were a great punch of energy. As a local band from the Helsinki area, ENRAGEMENT brought some fine brutal tunes to give room to the first moshpit of the night. Looking like a typical death metal band in all of their bearded and long-haired glory, they were a contrast to CELESTE’s show as, besides giving all their energy in the growls, riffs, and blasts, they constantly interacted with the audience and encouraged them to fight each other within the mosh pit. At some point, they mentioned that the feeling was too hot in the venue, which coincided with the golden hour of the evening, and as the stage was located right next to the outside yard – the sneaky sunlight streamed in through the windows, adding clarity to the scene that included the energetic fandom, the band, the red lights on the stage, and the disco balls on the ceiling.

Once ENRAGEMENT was over with their set, VILDHJARTA took the main stage. Admittedly, at that moment it was necessary to have a break in the outdoor area as it was, as the last band had mentioned, already too hot inside. That 20°C temperature on this Saturday came as a surprise for everyone indeed, as Äänniwalli is a venue that is a bit more appropriate for cold days due to its black walls and narrow height, so it was refreshing to have an outdoor area to escape to. After some minutes of soaking up the sunlight, I headed back indoors to catch the remainder of VILDHJARTA‘s set. The band hails from Sweden and plays groovy metal that mixes minor chord progressions, dual lead vocalists, and strong guitars. They were, in fact, the first band that packed the main area of the venue and it made perfect sense, as they possessed an unapologetic personality that seemed to really work for the crowd. Speaking of their personality, they were wearing bright-colored shirts with beach mood prints, something very amusing, as they completely tried to make a playful and amicable show. 

Little-by-little, the festival was coming to an end and it was time to close the second stage with …AND OCEANS, one of the most highly-anticipated bands of the evening. As their most fervent fandom knows, they reemerged in 2020 after a 17-year hiatus with the new album “Cosmic World Mother.” …AND OCEANS was a nostalgic addition to the line-up, as they were one of the first black metal bands to draw my attention got into back in the days when one used to discover new music on MySpace (yes, I am that old), and although I have seen them a couple of times, this was my favorite of their gigs thus far. Not only did the very compact second stage made it for an intimate coexistence between the band and the fans, but also vocalist Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns [FINNTROLL] seemed to be very centered on the dramatic character of the lyrics, as he was swinging from headbanging to crouching in different positions as if he was getting attacked by invisible beings. Between Mathias’ growls and the aggressive riffs, all of the songs in their set were reenacted as if in a symphony of sorrows. The band really made an energetic show to close off the Black Planet Stage and introduced some extra stamina to the attendees for the big conclusion of the festival with DECAPITATED.

DECAPITATED took over the Enslain Stage close to midnight, they opened their set with “Cancer Culture” from their latest album. DECAPITATED’s set included a good selection of pieces from all across their career, taking the fandom on a journey from their early years of “Wind of Creation” (2000) to “Cancer Culture” (2022). The band brilliantly encouraged the audience to open up the mosh pit as the venue was filled to the fullest at that very moment, so among sweat, beer splits, sticky surfaces, and long-haired attendees, the last set roared to the fullest energy potential. I must admit that by that point, my body was already sore from the past seven sets, but nevertheless, I did enjoy DECAPITATED‘s brutal death metal within the moshpit, with some moderation as to survive to see the closing act. DECAPITATED were a brutal conclusion to the line-up, and my ruined body the next morning really did approve!

Last but not least, TALBOT were in charge of summoning the festival-goers during the after-party at 1:00 in the morning. Incidentally, if there was one complaint about the festival, it was that it concluded at quite a late time for an urban event, which meant that many attendees either had to leave after DECAPITATED finished, as there is not much public transport available at this time to reach areas outside of Helsinki. This was a shame, as TALBOT truly deserved a better playtime, as they were highlight of the night. Regardless, the Estonian duo held some mysticism in their performance, very appropriate to the late nighttime, as their music was atmospheric and noisy, with stoner punches that blended well with the sweet synth tunes and the contrast of the band’s vocalists, Magnus Andre and Evgeny Mikhailov, which was both aggressive and melodic. They are certainly a band worth checking out if you are into the more serene side of metal.

Hellsinki Metal Horizons was a tranquil and springy start to the early days of the festival season in Finland and a place to discover interesting new band names from Finland and beyond. As people who genuinely enjoy small-scale festivals with fewer attendees, where there are no huge band names, but rather obscure bands are the leading figures of the event, we hope to see this festival return again next year!

Written by Bear W, Sarah & Luke dW, & Hector S