30.12.2022 Hoarsefest @ On the Rocks, Helsinki

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Finland knows and loves the delightful shenanigans of OCEANHOARSE quite well by now. From releasing a live-recorded debut album to hosting their own festival in their early years, these guys don’t play by the rules and we love it! As such, we’ve been pretty bummed out that Hoarsefest hasn’t been able to happen for the last few years. Luckily, 2022 brought this mini-fest back to On the Rocks on December 30th, so naturally, we were there to see what the hottest up-and-coming bands are sounding like for our last live event of the year!

2022’s Hoarsefest had naturally expanded on its 2019 predecessor, allowing for two more acts to share the stage, and they still seem to be picking their warm-up acts from Finland’s most up-and-coming artists. There were also more clinics added this year, so there was always something to watch between the sets.

Doors opened at 18:00 and first to take the stage at around 18:35ish (due to some door-related delays) was VERENIAN. Having given their music a spin beforehand, their sound seemed to be in line with melodic death metal with hints of extreme metal influences dashed around here and there. While the genre isn’t particularly original (with a comparable sound to bands like INSOMNIUM), their style within the genre was, managing to keep the melodies in balance with black metal elements in a way that doesn’t overwhelm. Their energy was good for the style of music they were playing and it seemed like the extreme elements were a bit more evident in a live setting. The set was short – the band only released their debut EP, “Echoes of Dissonance,” on December 16th – but the performance was strong and we’ll be interested to see where these guys go from here!

Verenian

As per 2019, the upstairs bar was also where the artist clinics took place, scheduled for approximately the 50-minute mark of every hour. This year’s clinic stage hosted Olli Vänskä (KORPIKLAANI, TURISAS), Joona Björkroth (BATTLE BEAST, BRYMIR), Juhani Flinck (DEAD SHAPE FIGURE, MISTERER), Iivo Kaipainen (ARION), and Joni Lahdenkauppi (BLOODRED HOURGLASS), all of whom showed off their skills in their set. Each clinic offered a little bit of something different, but perhaps the coolest part was the first clinic when we got to see how a variety of different effects worked on the violin – even as a former violinist myself, I’ve never heard such things and it was cool as absolute hell!

Joona Björkroth, Clinic Stage

Another new name for us was VARJOLA, whose name was familiar but it was surprisingly hard to find any information on what they’re all about. Having released their debut self-titled album in 2019, the band has released a myriad of singles ever since, so we put a few of them on to see what we were in for. Singing in Finnish, these guys are stylistically pretty far opposite from VERENIAN, but with a sound that seemed difficult to pin down. Listening to some of their singles, the band wouldn’t be out of place as an opener for HAPPORADIO, but on seeing them live, they felt a little bit closer to a post-punk or pop-punk. Musically they put on a pretty solid performance, but their visual style was pretty chaotic – the vocalist looked like he was stylized after HIM, one guitarist is in full glam metal guyliner, while the rest were just straight-up rockers. A bit of coherence in the style would certainly help comprehend who they are, as it seems like they might still be pinning down their music. That said, there’s a lot of potential in there, so we’ll definitely be curious to see what direction these guys go in!

Varjola

THY ROW have been around for a while now, with their debut album, Unchained,” having been released in September of last year, and they also played at the last iteration of Hoarsefest. Vocalist Mikael Salo has since left the band, which meant that on this night, we’d be seeing how new vocalist Eetu-Pekka “EP” Heiskanen fares in his place. The band burst on stage in a roar of energy, but the sound balance was unfortunately off and it was really hard to hear EP at all unfortunately, though this did improve with a few songs. The band played a nice selection of tracks from the debut, including the title track and a live debut of “Fragments of Memory,” which was a personal highlight. Regarding the vocals, EP did a magnificent job and proved quickly that the high notes were no trouble for him. That said, his lower range didn’t seem quite as diverse as his predecessor’s, leaving the overall feel of the band to be a little more power metal and a little less alternative than it was before. We’ll be very excited to see what any upcoming material will sound like in the future as more music gets stylized to his voice!

Thy Row

SHEREIGN, of course, we know from many singles and a few live shows, like at Saarihelvetti 2021 and… well, not Tuska because their crowd was so big that we couldn’t get in. Their debut release will be out on January 20th, 2023, and we can tell you already that it’s sounding pretty great, so naturally, we were looking forward to hearing some of this material live! Much like THY ROW before them, these guys were packed with energy and maternity leave hasn’t slowed vocalist Sara Strömmer down one bit, as she was all over the stage and moshing along with the rest of us. If there was one complaint, it was that the sound balance was all over the place, so at times it was hard to hear certain parts of the music, like the vocals. We heard some familiar material, like “Against the Odds,” “Losing Sight,” and “Dark Waters,” but were also treated to other new material that you would only know if you’ve been able to catch any of their recent shows, like at Hönö in Tampere. “Strong” was a personal highlight and a show of true mic technique professionalism, as Sara maneuvered perfectly during her ending wail so as not to blow out the crowd’s ears – bravo! The material is working nicely live and they’ve got a palpable hunger for the stage, so definitely stay tuned for Ghost Diaries on January 20th!

Shereign

One of perhaps Finland’s best debut releases of 2023 came from DIRT, who we also saw for the first time at the last Hoarsefest in 2019. Deadbeat has proven to be an alternative rock/metal hit across the boards and, personally, I’ve missed all of their recent club shows, so enough was enough!

Now, first things first… I love this band’s whole look. From the loose-fitting unbuttoned shirts hippy-style all the way to the animal-print bell-bottomed pants, to a full commitment to mustaches from most band members, it’s all very cohesive and works with their sound. Musically, they combine the best parts of alternative, grunge, metal, and classic rock into one coherent sound that really works, whether you’re listening to the album or watching them live. Aleksi Tiainen‘s vocals are really spectacular and he has a magnificent low range, and Kappe Koutonen is a real showman when he’s soloing. The band all had excellent chemistry with one another, constantly interacting and looking like they were having a wonderful time. “Circles” was my favorite album track, so it was thrilling that they played it right up front, though perhaps the best part of their performance was the little things – a small riff or a silly face or a stage quirk – that really made the show memorable. Of note, there was a one-man moshpit for a good chunk of this show, which was followed by a one-couple moshpit that lasted the rest of the night, which was pretty fun to watch. These guys are unquestionably one of Finland’s top bands to keep an eye on right now!

DIRT

Finally, 23:00 rolled around and it was time for the headliners to do what they do best. OCEANHOARSE, as mentioned, have had a very non-standard trajectory in their career, which is a huge part of what makes them so fun to follow. If there’s an adjective that stands out to describe their show, it’s ferocious, like these guys were on the prowl for a good crowd to impress. Though their vocalist Joonas Kosonen was sick, you’d have never known based off the quality of his performance – sick on not, these guys were all-in!

One thing that immediately stood out in OCEANHOARSE‘s set was that, it didn’t seem to matter how badly balanced the sound was, the music still worked. Perhaps it’s because they’re dedicated to not having backing tracks, and they’ve kept it simple with drums-bass-guitar-vocals, but if one part of their sound is amped up or faded out, the overall sound doesn’t suffer much for it. They blasted through a few classics like “The One with the Gun” and “Fading Neons,” along with some newer material to tease their upcoming album for 2023, “Heads Will Roll,” which is out via Atomic Fire Records on February 17th, 2023. Their fierce, dedicated performance was a great cap to the night and the couple mosh pit was full of enthusiasm. Naturally, the Oceanhoarse itself also made an appearance. Here’s to another band to keep an eye on in the coming months!

Oceanhoarse

The draw for the Jackson guitar took place at 23:40, after which a bunch of members of all the bands were brought back to the stage for the All-Star Jam at the end of the night. They played through a few classic with guests from each band: “Only” by ANTHRAX, “Bullet Ride” by IN FLAMES, “Digging the Grave” by FAITH NO MORE, “It’s So Easy” by GUNS ‘N’ ROSES, “The Four Horsemen” by METALLICA, and “Domination” by PANTERA – what a nostalgia set!

All-Star Jam

If there was ever a collection of artists putting on professional yet fun performances, it was at Hoarsefest 2022. Each performance was uniquely chosen from the local up-and-comings and each put on an enthusiastic performance that acted only to increase enthusiasm towards what they all have coming up next. The clinics were fun and we got to hear some familiar riffs, as well as some excellent shredding, alongside some tricks and tips, and despite juggling quite a few artists and the initial delay, the whole event seemed to have run quite smoothly. There were a ton of familiar faces out to support each other from all sorts of bands.

Jackson Guitar draw

Personally, I’d love to see more mini-festivals like this, with more samples of all the artists we’re always hearing about. It’s great to be able to watch a sample set without having to commit to a full hour or half-and-a-half, so rather than showing up just for the favored artist, it’s worthwhile to come and check out everyone. The space is pretty well used and the merch selection was pretty good, with nice opportunities to bump into bands, since many of them stuck around to watch one another. It was a really warm atmosphere where everyone was having fun, leaving us enthusiastically looking forward to there being another Hoarsefest in 2023!

Oceanhoarse

Written by Bear Wiseman