13.8.2022 Dark River Festival – Day 3 @ Honkalan Hiihtostadion, Kotka

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If there’s a festival in Finland that we love to return to time and time again, it’s Dark River Festival in Kotka. Growing and improving year after year, there’s always something new to see and improvements made to make things run smoothly – you have to love a festival that takes feedback and listens! This year, we returned to Honkalan Hihtostadion from August 11-13th, 2022, with the Saturday evening including artists like EMBER FALLS, BRYMIR, METSATÖLL, and FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE.

The last day was even more scorching than Friday, so we had to make a pit stop to buy some Dark River Festival basketball shorts to change into (nice addition to merch!). Speaking of shorts, TYRANTTI was first up on the secondary stage, with exactly the amount of energy you need to bust out of your hangover from the previous day. Admittedly, I’ve avoided this band for some time, on the principle of them being “too much,” but I figured now was the time to give them a shot and… they’re just so goofy that it’s hard not to smile. They clearly don’t take themselves very seriously, so everything about them is just too much, and thus weirdly entertaining. This was exactly the sort of band that’s perfect to play first on the last day of the festival to give attendees a kick in the pants and a laugh. We even saw a guy in suspenders and a kilt having a circle pit by himself.

BRYMIR opened the main stage on Saturday, with Asim Searah acting as MC again. It was a shame to hear that someone had trespassed on the festival grounds, as the warm community is part of this festival’s charm. BRYMIR put on a really excellent show, with a nice collection of new and old material, including some of their really stellar new singles from their upcoming album. “Wings of Fire” is always a great track and we were thoroughly impressed by the drumming throughout. These guys have done a great jobs at a ton of festivals this summer, so this was one more success to cap off our festival season.

EMBER FALLS made their second festival appearance this summer at Dark River, though they’re still not far past the release of their sophomore album, Ruins,” last year. They opened with the title track/album intro, but played it themselves, and went through a strong selection of their new material, with their big debut hit, “Shut Down With Me,” placed not too far from the end. Despite a few random festival setbacks, like some stage tripping, they put on a really great show and chose to commit to their best material and not just play singles. There’s a reason these guys are my favorite, so I hope Kotka enjoyed them as much as I do.

IN MOURNING have been around since about 2008, though their latest album was released last year. We knew nothing about them, so we had been pleasantly surprised to find that they weren’t more moody doom metal, but melodic and pleasant. They were really charismatic and friendly on stage, despite their dark hoodies, making goofy poses and having fun with the audience. We’ll definitely have to check them out because they were a surprise highlight for us.

One of our summer favorites has quickly become LÄHIÖBOTOX, who have been putting on fantastic show after fantastic show this year. They’ve been so consistently good that, at the beginning of the year I didn’t know any of their material, but now I’m recognizing fun tracks like “Nigi nigi,” “Hyvä syy,” and “Mä tuun ja mä lähen,” as well as “Kato mua silmiin (kusipää).” Everyone is raving about these guys right now and we can see why! Here’s hoping they release some more material sooner rather than later.

Yet another familiar face was BLOODRED HOURGLASS, who put on yet another great show. We’ve seen them plenty of times, yet it’s always a pleasure to hear great new material like “Drag Me the Rain” and “Veritas” mixed in with older stuff like “Where the Sinners Crawl.” The guys from BRYMIR popped up again now and then, much the same as at Saarihelvetti last weekend. If you haven’t seen them live yet, for shame.

If there was ever a band to put a smile on your face at a festival, it’s METSATÖLL. There’s just something soothing yet forceful in their well-constructed folk sound that seems to work so well for anyone with any love for folk metal. Lauri Öunapuu‘s fluency in so many instruments is marvelous to watch and Rabapagan‘s stage presence was as cheerful as ever. Droning drums, pagan chants, and fog were perfectly timed in the later afternoon warmth as the sun was getting low, and the crowd was all about it.

We heard a really great set from MOONSORROW at Saarihelvetti the previous weekend, so they were also a must-see this weekend, especially since they’ve been playing duch a good selection of their material this summer. That said, I’m still disappointed that they never play “Huuto” live. Otherwise, they had some of the best lighting of the year and the evening was only made better by the inclusion of tracks like “Kivenkantaja,” “Ruttolehto,” and “Suden tunti.”

THE CROWN was a fully unknown name to us, opening their set with shredding guitars, into some fast, thrashy heavy metal. The singer has a pretty powerful growl, making really sharp, crisp sounds. This relentless, pounding sound is definitely not my favorite metal genre, yet they put on a pretty impressive and ferocious performance.

Finally, Dark River Festival and our 2022 festival season all wrapped up with the legendary Italian artists of FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE. It was our first time seeing the band, despite our love for their latest album “Veleno.” The first one to enter the stage was the mighty operatic singer Veronica Bordacchini and the rest of the band joined on stage as well and they started up their set with “Fury.”

Despite their dark, theatrical music, and their incredible focus on stage, Francesco Paoli and Veronica Bordacchini often spoke to the crowd; bonus points for trying to speak Finnish and expressing affection for playing in Finland! This created a cheery atmosphere among the audience. Although, that also could have had something to do with the varied setlist sampled from different albums, mostly focused on fan favorites. We were excited by “Sugar,” “Monnalisa,” “Minotaur (The Wrath of Poseidon),” but we really hoped to hear their latest track, “No.” Thankfully they did, and it was easily one of their best live tracks; having Easter eggs like Mozart‘s “Requiem” and “Baby One More Time” is just genius altogether. Admittedly, we were low-key hoping they’d also end up playing their EIFFEL 65 cover, “Blue (Turns to Red),” but I can see why that would break the flow of the setlist completely. The show ended with two excellent tracks from “Agony”: “The Egoism” and “The Forsaking,” of which the latter provided a dramatic ending to what felt to us like a perfect festival experience. If there is a killer act to end a festival in style, it’s definitely the Italian symphonic death metal act from Perugia.

Thus concludes Dark River Festival 2022. Once again, this festival boasted a warm atmosphere, great food, and a really strong selection of artists. As someone who finds Tuska Festival to be a bit too big these days, I feel like Dark River is perhaps my new favorite festival that I want to return to every year, as it’s always a pleasure to be here. This was truly the ultimate way to wrap up this year, and it really says something as I attended eight other festivals to compare it to. See you next year for sure!

Text by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Laureline Tilkin