13.8.2021 – Day 1 – Dark River Festival @ Honkalan Hiihtostadion, Kotka


While the Finnish government still struggles to get control over the populace and the coronavirus pandemic, we managed to sneak a few festivals in this August thanks to limited capacities and the second round of vaccinations coming out. Tuonela Magazine managed to get our crew to both SaariHelvetti and Dark River Festival this year, with the latter happening in its traditional location in Kumijärvi, Kotka, on August 13-14th, 2021. Who could possibly turn up the chance to see a KIUAS reunion show?

Check out the gallery here and read about day 2 here.

Our morning started at noon sharp with an interview with AURI about their sophomore release, so we didn’t get on the road until 13:00. Fortunately, Kotka is only about an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki, so we arrived in good time to get some of us to the festival while the rest of us sorted out our accommodation. That meant that we congregated out front of the festival area in time to catch part of RYTMIHÄIRIÖ‘s set.

If we learned anything behind-the-scenes at SaariHelvetti last weekend, it’s that RYTMIHÄIRIÖ fans need shirts. Yes, that’s right, despite bringing more shirts than any other band (by a lot), they still sold a legendary number of shirts. This means it was no surprise to see plenty of people in the crowd sporting the band’s merch. As expected, this band fully makes up for their lack of… melody, with pure energy and enthusiasm. While it’s hard to really call their music good, there is something deeply infectious about it that’s hard to deny. Though I still can’t see myself putting their albums on to listen to at home, I still fully recommend checking them out live any chance you get.

VORNA have been stirring up some interest in recent years, with a great deal of praise for their most recent release being a big part of this. While we have caught the band in the past a few times, this was the first time getting to see them a bit more closely. Their music was indeed quite heavy yet accessible enough to be enjoyed in a festival setting. While the music was a totally new experience for us, it was easy to find things to like about it and it wasn’t long before we were swaying with the beat and getting into the groove of things. Their vocalist, Vesa Salovaara, was beastly to see, far more ferocious than he might seem at first glance. We’ll definitely have to familiarize ourselves better with them as soon as possible.

Next up and perhaps the main band most people were waiting for, was none other than the legendary epic metallers of KIUAS. Though the band broke up way back in 2013, to the devastation of many, they fortunately decided to reunite for a few brief shows and songs. Is it genuinely because they missed one another or is it a total money grub? Who fucking cares! It’s KIUAS! Okay but seriously, we were pretty amped up for this set. Original vocalist Ilja Jalkanen is personally my most-missed voice in heavy metal (though I can’t fault a man for preferring the blues) so hearing him belt out classics like “Spirit of Ukko,” “Bleeding Strings,” “The New Dark Age,” and “Of Love, Lust, and Human Nature” was a beautiful injection of sweet, sweet nostalgia. While we mostly get our doses of Mikko Salovaara from DAIMONIC, METAL DE FACTO, and LEVERAGE these days, again, there was a little bit of magic in seeing that classic hair metal guitar ripping out those solos we all know and love. Naturally, the crowd went apeshit for “Warrior Soul,” but some of the best singalongs were in the finale, “Across the Snows.” Truly, the band may be a little older, but they’ve still got that beautiful sound and hearing them was a gorgeous flash of wonderful nostalgia. I, for one, really hope they’re able to do a club tour next year. My only question for Dark River is why on earth was this slot so early?

Stay tuned for our festival interview with Mikko Salovaara and Atte Tanskanen soon!

Speaking of comebacks, MYGRAIN reappeared on the scene after playing their final show in May 2015 at Nosturi (R.I.P.). Having been resurrected from the dead a few years ago, the band released a fresh new album, V,” in 2020 to eager listeners. As a consistently terrific live band, this event was surely no different and upkept our high esteem for them as a such. They focused largely on the new material, opening the set with “The Nightmare” and progressed through a nice selection of their best songs. The crowd ate it up and Tommy Tuovinen worked his magic all over the hungry viewers, creating a fabulous exchange between the stage and audience.

If you don’t know the name KALMAH, you don’t really know Finnish melodic death/folk metal. Definitely riding on the heavier spectrum of the local pagan scene, these veterans don’t release albums (their last being “Palo” in 2018) or play live very often, yet never quite let us forget about them either. Sounding delightfully melodic on this day, these guys definitely brought their A-game to the main stage, both regarding song choices and energy. Without knowing their songs very well, I can’t speak for the quality of the set, but the stage vibes were awesome and the crowd seemed to be really enthusiastic.

We mutually discovered Kotka locals MARIANAS REST at Dark River Festival in 2019, so there was a sweet nostalgia to seeing the band again at the same festival 2 years later, as they seem to be quickly becoming a festival staple. Their most recent release was last year’s Fata Morgana,” which meant there was new material to look forward to in this set. It was almost a shame that the flash rain came during a different set, as it would have surely only improved the ambiance of this doomy, melodic set. Again, their material was all new to me, which meant that there were plenty of different song flavors to sample. While it’s a bit musically dark for the middle of the day, at least for a cheery hippy like myself, they nevertheless perform wonderfully. Also, shout-out to those creepy contact lenses!

As I had been working during FINNTROLL‘s set at SaariHelvetti, I got to make up for it at Dark River. That show had debuted a few new songs from last year’s long-awaited followup to 2013’s “Blodsvept,” “Vredesvävd,” making this set all the more intriguing. In particular, I was revved up to see “Ylaren,” which is by far the band’s most creative new song. Never known to bow down to fan-favorite songs, they left out hits like “Trollhammaren” and “Under Bergets Rot” in favor of other equally fun shit, like “Solsagan” and “Jaktens Tid.” Must be nice to have such a great discography to pull from! Naturally though, most of the songs were from Vredesvavd,” such as “Ormfolk,” “Mask,” and the show’s opener, “Att Döda Med En Sten.” They wrapped up with an interesting pick, “Midvinterdraken,” meaning the crowd would have to get up from their row pit and dust themselves off for the next band.

DAMNATION PLAN was another one of the bands I was most excited to see, simply because I’ve known about them forever but never listened to them or seen them live. Knowing some of their band members from other projects like TRUE CULT CLUB, this was a sure curiosity for me. I opted not to prepare beforehand so I would get a blind first impression at the festival. It’s always fun to see Asim Searah on stage; his poppier, melodic band would play on Saturday, so this showed that he has really found his place in this band. They played a nice cover of Dio‘s “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” among a nice collection of their own progressive material. This is definitely another band I need to check out.

Last but not least, the festival managed to get Swedish EVERGREY over as the headliner. Much like DAMNATION PLAN, this is a band I’ve known about for ages but never gotten around to familiarize myself with, so you can imagine that we were really impressed with the incredible performance they gave us. Both of the guitarists really showed their musical chops, with superb soloing, while Tom Englund belted out the words beautifully. They truly earned their headlining slot with pure eagerness, talent, and grit, with such great showmanship coming out so effortlessly. If anyone was on the fence about this band, they were surely sold by this performance. They began to wind up the set with “Recreation Day” and “A Touch of Blessing,” finishing their set and the first night with “King of Errors.” Here’s yet another band I am ashamed to have not paid more attention to before now.

The first day went by in what felt like the blink of an eye. With a great selection of Finnish bands and a really strong headliner, there was consistently something interesting playing. If you needed a break, there is now a designated food area that hosts most of the food carts, as well as more standing space. I had not been impressed with the food in 2019, so it was nice to see that they upped their game this year, with the inclusion of The Van and their burgers, as well as a pizza booth. The addition of the second stage was interesting, allowing for smoother transitions between stands, though the merch booth was kind of a disaster, with a messy display where a lot of the merch couldn’t be seen. Overall though, that cozy atmosphere that made us fall in love with this festival 2 years ago remained one of the best parts of being out in Kotka. We look forward to seeing what Saturday would have in store.

Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Laureline Tilkin