I arrived in Tampere on Saturday well before the festival started in order to get together with my festigroup and also to avoid being delayed by any queues or other potential setbacks. Our plan was to arrive at the festival area in time to see the day’s first mainstage act: KALMAH. The harbor was surprisingly near the center and it took only a few minutes of walking to reach our destination. As we neared Laukontori, we began to see an increasing number of other festival-goers heading in the same direction. It was still relatively early and we noted that people seemed a little bit tired and mellow from Friday’s party, but there was nevertheless a lingering atmosphere of excitement in the air.
The first task was getting our tickets, which were conveniently collected from a booth next to the ferry. Being my first time at Saarihelvetti, I felt a bit nervous, knowing how the organization of festivals can sometimes be disastrous. That nervousness was fortunately unfounded and the whole process took a mere handful of seconds. The next task was catching the ferry to the island. There was a ferry leaving at about 15:00 with a medium-sized queue, so again I had concerns as to whether we’d fit or would have to wait for another ferry. Once again, I had worried for nothing because the boarding was swift and the ferries could hold far more people than I had initially thought. The atmosphere was getting more expectant, cheery, and excited as the ferry made its way across the waters towards our destination.
The trip took longer than expected (about 20 minutes) but was still in no way tedious, at least in this good and rowdy company. This gave me time to be nervous about the next thing: because Saturday was completely sold out and the festival was held on an island, I was worried that the area would be packed to the brim, the queues would be huge, and moving in any direction would be a pain in the ass. Saarihelvetti proved itself yet again though and I was happy to find out this was not the case when we got to the shore; as we made our way along the sand road towards the central hub, it became quickly apparent that there was plenty of room to move around. The queues, at least to the drink stalls, were always short when we felt like grabbing something and my friends noted that it had been the same on Friday. The area didn’t feel overly crowded even as more people kept coming throughout the day and it felt as though there was always enough space for a group to sit down somewhere. This, in turn, gave the festival a relaxed atmosphere and we felt like we weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere.
Viikinsaari itself was a beautiful, nature resort-like place full of trees and a park with a playground. This was a welcome change and a breath of fresh air compared to the usual flat fields of many bigger festivals. The mainstage was surprisingly small but this only meant there was more room for people to gather around (and later to goof around). The second stage was in the hall of a beautiful old villa that, in all fairness, gave the impression that it was more suited for traditional Finnish folk dancing and music events. The stage was also quite low and had a few annoying pillars in front of it, unfortunately obstructing the view. Still, this was something unique in the metal scene.
The smallest stage was called the Rock’n’Tits stage and had two bands playing there on Friday and offered striptease/burlesque shows throughout the Saturday. But that’s enough about the area! Let’s talk bands!
When KALMAH started Saturday’s action-packed set on the mainstage, we had no difficulty finding a good spot quite near the stage thanks to how open the area was. A good number of people had gathered around the stage already, though many had decided to chill further back. Even in front of the stage, there was quite a lot of room to move about. The band was really skilled and sounded impressive with their combination of fast melodies that created a bombastic, sinister, and powerful soundscape. Pekka Kokko’s recognizable growling sounded a little bit flat when he was using the higher register of his growling range and there wasn’t a wall of melodies backing it up, but the deeper growling worked well and added even more weight to the music. The band didn’t move a lot on the stage during the gig and instead concentrated on playing and thus let the music shine on its own. Pekka Kokko was humorous and calm but also confident, oozing delightful speeches between the songs that were spoken in a strong Pohjanmaa dialect, and his interaction with the audience seemed natural and sincere. About halfway through their set, it seemed as though both the band and the audience got a little energy boost and you could see more hands rising in the air and even a little weeny moshpit formed suddenly. The stage lighting reminded me of colorful Christmas lights but it was so sunny that it didn’t bother me at all. All-in-all, the band seemed relaxed and in control the whole gig and it was apparent that these guys are professionals who didn’t need to worry too much on stage.
Next up was TYRANTTI on the Tanssilava inside the villa. TYRANTTI’s gig was classic 80s heavy metal nostalgia. Not melodic hard rock, but the dryer, speedier style. In a way, it sounded quite refreshing because it wasn’t done in such a tongue-in-cheek manner with respect to the music of that era. The music actually reminded me of earlier Iron Maiden to some degree. I paid attention especially to the drums that sounded homemade and stale but in a fun and interesting way. The band was lively and enthusiastic but their straightforward Finnish language warrior metal sounded a little bit thin and abrupt for my taste. The singing was maybe a little monotonic but fitted in with the band’s sound. The sound quality inside the villa was also surprisingly clear. The band offered a nice glimpse to the rough, traditional, and plain sound of an earlier era.
OMNIUM GATHERUM continued the festival’s repertoire on the main stage with their atmospheric and thick delivery. The band played with high energy and an all-around positive attitude, which made for a nice contrast to their melancholic melodies and themes. The gig had a nice happy vibe going on and vocalist Jukka Pelkonen upheld the feeling with his cheerful speeches. He also went around the stage pumping up other band members by moshing in front of them and making eye contact, and this energy connected with the audience too. Many songs have these calm parts with nice nuanced details that gave the gig a welcomed variety to heavier parts and an opportunity for festival-goers to just sway gently with the tune of the melodies instead of the usual fist-pumping and headbanging. The song “Soul Journeys” was probably the highlight of the gig for me with its ascending and emotional wall of sound. The band visibly enjoyed playing their brand of emotional and melodic extreme metal and combined with the positive mindset, created a party feeling that’s not always experienced with this type of music.
Our first idea was to go see BLOODRED HOURGLASS but the indoor stage was so full we couldn’t even get in the villa and had to stand on the stairs outside. We couldn’t really see anything that was happening on the stage so we figured that we would try again another time and have a little pause, go sit down in front of Rock ’n’ Tits stage and watch some burlesque performances. In keeping with the festival’s genre, the performers had mostly metal as their show’s background music. There were many different performers dancing sensuously with a variety of stylish clothing and yes – stripping down to nothing but nipple tape and tiny thongs. The performers oozed self-confidence and the shows felt kind of empowering. Not much else for me to say, it was a nice change to see this kind of show during the festival’s music gigs.
KORPIKLAANI was definitely one of the most awaited acts of the day for myself and for many other festival-goers as well. When they started their show on the mainstage, my first impression was that their sound lacked some depth. It may have, however, been due to their unique sound that just took a little time to adjust after the heavier bands; that first impression was quickly washed away as the folk party truly began. Jonne Järvelä’s shamanistic yoiking is satisfying to hear and kind of hypnotizing after a while. The band’s stage appearance was very memorable with their somewhat modernized versions of Finnish folk outfits. The crowd was really pumped up right from the beginning and they knew what band they had come to hear. As the gig went on, the carnival mood just grew bigger and then escalated into a train of dancing people that circulated amongst the crowd like a tipsy snake; naturally, we took part in that fun as well. In the midst of all the fun, you could also hear more serious elements in their lyrics and music that, in turn, appealed to the Finnish melancholy. Everybody had a blast and the audience could have easily continued the party even longer.
If KORPIKLAANI was a popular act, then the crowd kicked things up a few notches more as TURMION KÄTILÖT entered the main stage as the last act of the day. They really are super popular; this was evident already from the beginning as their mad wall of electronic dance metal blasted through the speakers and drove people into a frenzy. It was like a late-night disco for people who love metal: easy to digest, super catchy, and heavy. Also, their chilly synth sound added a nice mischievous edge to the music. Their angry but at the same time humorous music seemed like a great way for people to let out anger in a safe way and rebel against some undefined authorities. The band’s stage presence is showy and confident, but for me, the music combined with their lyrical themes and stage looks comes off also from time to time as a little bit juntti [hillbilly]. Still, they know how to write catchy songs and on a show for the disco-hungry crowd.
MACHINAE SUPREMACY had the privilege of closing the festival on the Inferno stage. We had left the TURMION KÄTILÖT gig a little bit early to be able to get good spots indoors, as we still remembered quite clearly how fully packed the place was during BLOODRED HOURGLASS’ gig. Come to think of it, this was only my second gig of the day at this stage, so it was nice to see more action in this location also. We were really looking forward to their classic video game-oriented metal show, even though we were getting pretty tired. Luckily there was still a lot of room on the floor, albeit many of their devoted fans were already crowding in front of the stage. The gig started a little bland in my opinion, but soon their awesome dynamic drummer started to add some friggin’ energy to the mix and the show really kicked off. The vocalist sounded at points like his nasal style was getting a bit lost in the epicness of video game sound. The playing sounded clear even and the drum sound was soft and pleasing throughout the gig, even during the faster parts. Their loyal fans also loved them and they loved their audience. Visually they were pretty active, at least as much as you can be on a smaller stage, and they were interesting to watch, although those annoying pillars were once again obstructing the view of some of the band members. More and more people kept coming in and soon the Tanssilava was full yet again. The gig was energetic fun with epic, unique soundscapes and we found a little bit of strength to party in the tune of the music despite the fatigue. It was a great musical conclusion for an awesome day. After the show, we decided to grab one more drink and one of our crew decided it was time to dance on a table in his full 80s rocker gear. This behavior came to an end after security approached him and sang in the tune of TWISTED SISTER’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”: “We don’t dance on the tables, oh no, we don’t dance on the tables.” Ultimately, I feel like that summarizes the festival’s atmosphere pretty nicely.
Saarihelvetti was an awesome and different kind of festival with a chill and relaxed atmosphere. The beautiful area, full of nature, played an equally big part in making this festival great as the awesome selection of bands. Another thing that really delighted us was that, although Saturday was sold out, the number of people wasn’t overwhelming but just right. Hopefully next time we get to stay for both days because having only one this time left me hungry for more!
Article by Simo Kuusterä & Bear W.
Archive photos by Laureline Tilkin