2.7.2023 Tuska Festival – Day 3 @ Suvilahti, Helsinki

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In the span of a year, Tuska Festival managed to intrigue us with a lot of exciting acts added here and there every month or so to their huge lineup, hosting juggernauts like GOJIRA, GHOST, and VV as headliners, inviting bands on the rise like ORBIT CULTURE, ELECTRIC CALLBOY, and LORNA SHORE, being the place to be for Finnish classics like TURMION KÄTILÖT, MOKOMA, LOST SOCIETY, and FINNTROLL, but also having an eye for local talents like VANSIDIAN, DIRT, SILVER BULLET, SMACKBOUND, and many more! With a lineup like this, we knew we had to be there! Tuska‘s final day included bands like IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT, LORNA SHORE, ELECTRIC CALLBOY, THE HU, and GHOST.

The last day at Tuska 2023 started with a peculiar footing: IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT was the first band at the Tent Stage and they set things rolling into dimensions that were not from this earth. Wearing golden masks that resonated with the air of some ancient Sumerian gods of the netherworld, this avant-garde trio embarked on a sonic journey that surely left a lot of people gasping for air. After a few songs, all I could make of this bunch was an impression of a band in the act of making a black-metal rendition of the 1969 psychedelia extravaganza, “Trout Mask Replica,” originally released by CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND. Also, I could not avoid sensing some kind of spiritual kinship with John Zorn‘s most far-out endeavors, such as the awe-inspiring fusion of extreme metal and fusion jazz on NAKED CITY‘s notorious “Torture Garden” album from 1990. Perhaps, I should have familiarized myself with this stuff in advance because, quite frankly, being exposed to this type of sensory overload without a warning was the closest thing to being hit in the face with a plank. Judging by the smell of yesterday’s booze floating in the air where I was standing, some people must have been suffering quite a bit from a hangover – I wonder how well it mixed with this sort of sonic pounding. I mean, if an LSD trip gone by the wayside could be sculptured into music, THIS would be it – transformative, no doubt, but very demanding on the psyche unless you’re already a seasoned psychonaut! Halfway through the set or so, I must admit, my head was spinning like a merry-go-round so I reckoned I’d better try to catch the last few songs from SMACKBOUND‘s show at the Inferno Stage when I still could. Nonetheless, these experimentalists sure made an impression, so I’m going to have to check out their albums later. Well, y’know, you can never have too many avant-garde albums in your collection.

After this sonic vivisection of the soul, SMACKBOUND‘s energetic show felt as if I’d come back from beyond the grave or something. Hearing more traditional melodies and song structures felt like a bit of fresh air; however, that is not to say that IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT was bland, far from it! With a line-up comprised of A-list musicians from the upper echelons of the Finnish metal fraternity and the strong-voiced vocalist, Netta Laurenne, it was a no-brainer that the SMACKBOUND show was destined to be a blast. I made it to the venue just in time to catch some of their best bangers, such as “Drive It Like You Stole It.” Once again, the bands playing on the Tent Stage and Inferno Stage were stylistically so different that I don’t think too many people struggled with the decision about which stage to head to. Quite a few seemed to do what I did: first, they checked out what was on offer at the Tent Stage and then, completely bewildered by what they had just experienced, headed for the Inferno Stage.

Sunday’s first act on the main stage was LORNA SHORE, which I kind of knew to be the hottest thing that deathcore has to offer at the moment. Still, I was pretty impressed by the size of the crowd that seemed to have shown up precisely for this band. I had no idea deathcore was so popular among the younger metalheads. Then again, when the band started playing, it began to dawn on me why the crowd was so drawn to this bunch. While I’m not sure if deathcore is my cup of tea exactly, the band was bloody amazing. Vocalist Will Ramos was phenomenal – not only were his metalcore screams top-notch but when he went for the lower-register goblin growls, it was goddamned unreal. How was that even humanly possible?! From what I overheard, it seems that the band is returning to Finland in November with RIVERS OF NIHIL as the warm-up act, so there’s plenty of time to get familiar with this bunch… because, the latter band alone is a reason enough to go (and there will yet be two more bands to foot the bill, I heard).

My original plan was to catch ELECTRIC CALLBOY at the Tent Stage next and I thought I could get quite close to the stage because I had no idea these German metalcore humorists were so popular right now. I could not even get inside the tent. ELECTRIC CALLBOY pulled the same stunt that JINJER did in 2022: they practically exploded the venue. Who would have thought that the coolest shit in 2023 is the mixture of metalcore, tongue-in-cheek humor, and EDM?! At the same time, the Finnish legends of artsy stoner-punk, XYSMA, were playing at the Inferno Stage, so I decided to catch a little bit of both and headed there halfway through ELECTRIC CALLBOY‘s set. So, I missed one of their most uplifting songs; as I was already drawing closer to the Inferno Stage, I could recognize the iconic synthcore throbbing of “Hypa Hypa” bellowing from a distance. The rumor has it that the whole Suvilahti area is going to have a facelift and, perhaps already in 2024, the Tent Stage will be bigger. If this streak keeps going, it sure needs to be! As an afterthought, maybe I should have surmised that such a feel-good band as ELECTRIC CALLBOY would appeal to the Finnish metal crowd, especially; mixing mullets, aerobic moves, and questionable humor in tight metal conduct was obviously going to be a winning combo in a country that had given birth to ELÄKELÄISET.

The absolute treat at the Inferno Stage, XYSMA, was a genuine cult outfit back in the day, hailing from the dark dungeons of the early 1990s. It started out as a grindcore band but soon evolved into a strange brew of stoner rock, old-school punk, and artsy lounge music. It seems to have remained relatively unknown to the greater public to this day, so I guess I was lucky enough to have weird friends in those Olden days because I was introduced to their music quite early on. I never got to see them live, though. So, even if I had been lucky enough to secure a good spot close to the stage in the tent for ELECTRIC CALLBOY‘s show, it would have been imperative for me to leave a bit early to catch a few songs from this bunch too. You don’t see cult bands on stage every day. XYSMA had pulled quite a good crowd at the venue and these gray-haired punk gentlemen seemed genuinely overwhelmed by this perhaps somewhat unexpected success. The show was a nostalgia trip some 30 years back in time and I’m sure glad that I had the chance to see these legends in action.

Then it was time to head to the main stage again. There are very few things in the world that sound cooler than khoomei [Tuvan throat singing] – it just tickles the ears in such a way that very few other sounds can. So, when the Mongolian phenomenon, THE HU, took the stage, the air was thick with excitement and anticipation. It was almost surreal just think about it: a bunch of Mongolian warriors blasting off old-school heavy metal with ancient folk instruments and singing in Mongolian at a metal festival! When the thundering riffs and throaty khoomei drones started to roll out from the massive speakers, the crowd was instantly captivated. The band played all their biggest bangers, of course – “Wolf Totem,” “Shoog Shoog,” and “Yuve Yuve Yu.” What really hit the audience’s sweet spot was the cover rendition of METALLICA‘s “Through the Never.” For one thing, it sure proved that music is a universal language – the band sang it in Mongolian, obviously, and it still bulldozed over the crowd like a ton of bricks. There’s warrior metal and then, there’s THE HU, whose stage presence charged the very meaning of the term with an added layer of ancient, if not primordial magic.

Then, it was time to make some executive-level decisions again; I would suppose that DELAIN and URNE appeal to different crowds but I wanted to see them both, so I chose to catch the first half of DELAIN‘s symphonic set at the Tent Stage and then head out to the Inferno Stage to get a taste of URNE‘s beautiful sludge sounds. Luckily, I got to hear “April Rain” before changing venues (among a bunch of other beauties, of course, but this particular song works wonders for me, personally), so that’ll keep me happy for quite some time. I believe the band has been through some line-up hassles in recent years – heck, I’m not even sure what the line-up it was that played at Tuska 2023 – but, nonetheless, they pulled a sublime show and if I could have multiplied myself, I would very much have liked to stay and watch the rest of the show as well. Our editor mentioned that local vocalist Paolo Ribaldini (SERAPHIEL) was the guest du jour, who did a spectacular job of Marko Hietala‘s vocal parts, among others.

URNE is a relatively new find for me but I reckon they are a relatively new band, since they are about to release their sophomore album in August. There’s something endearingly hypnotic about the band’s riff-driven sludge metal and the way they delivered it live was spotless and immaculate. After just a few songs, it was easy to see why Joe Duplantier of GOJIRA offered to produce the upcoming album. I’m pretty sure the show got everyone really hyped up about it already. In the meantime, I think it’s in order to have a few more spins of their brilliant debut, “Serpent & Spirit.” If this bunch is coming to Finland again anytime soon, it is going to be a show you don’t want to miss.

The honor of bringing the whole festival to a close befell the Swedish grandmasters of Gothic-yet-prominently pop-tinged metal, GHOST. I’d never seen them live before, only some old video footage from way back, so I wasn’t really prepared for the scope of their theatrical live show. Pardon my French but – fuck me sideways, it was just incredible! Yeah, I reckon the drama was scripted to the finest detail but the band delivered the goods like a well-oiled machine. It was flawless on all counts.

The hooded cloaks the Nameless Ghouls were wearing in the early years had given way to some sort of state-of-the-art, science-fiction helmets that looked like the heads of some steampunk alien insects. Then, apparently, there were additional keyboardists and backing singers, as well. Working in tandem with the massive decorations and superb lights, everything about the performance screamed in neon letters: BIG. Then, as you should have guessed, the setlist was a rundown of the band’s greatest hits, ending in an encore of three songs.

Perhaps the two biggest hits of theirs, “Dance Macabre” and “Square Hammer,” wrapped it all up, ending the Tuska 2023 on a high note of the sort that ensured everyone left the premises with a broad smile on their faces. Judging by the chats that I had with a few random metalheads on the way out, the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that coming back next year was non-negotiable – it was a must. I must admit that it was exactly the feeling I had. So, unless the organizers are going to bring artists such as Danny (the Finnish boomer-music icon from the 1960s) as the headliners next year, I’ll see you guys there!

Written by Jani Lehtinen
Photos by Laureline Tilkin