Tuska Open Air is the biggest metal festival in the Nordic region and it’s organized by the Finnish Metal Events. On its 20th birthday this year 2017 it is also celebrating a record high in ticket sales, with 37 000 festival visitors during the weekend.
As I arrive I’m greeted by the year of celebration theme, the Tuska 20 – The Anniversary Song music video playing on the Radio Rock Main Stage screens, and featuring a cornucopia of crème de la crème musicians of the Finnish Metal scene, it’s a very interesting package, so check it out if you still haven’t! I suggest that you close your eyes and play a guessing game: how many musicians can you recognize by their signature sounds? And if you’ve never been to Tuska, the video also provides some good footage of the festival area and atmosphere!
The festival area, in addition to the quality music, has diverse services including but not limited to delicious and plentiful food options and lots of cold beer at the many serving areas. Wine, liquor and mixed drinks are also served, and there’s even a laundry service available for the, uh, dirtiest visitors.
If the tongue watering selection of the Food Garden leaves you craving for even more quality, you can book a table from the Black Dining restaurant for you and your friends to have a proper high-class dinner in a quiet environment, right next to the Whiskey Bar that serves single malt – a welcome break from the hassle of the festival day if you ask me! And if you wouldn’t like to spend that much on food you can always grab some budget friendly snacks from the grocery store Alepa, that is set up in a freight container. Bringing your own food is also allowed and encouraged; the organizers clearly want to make people feel comfortable and at home here.
And wouldn’t a Finnish festival be incomplete without a sauna? Maybe it would, but Tuska certainly isn’t, because not only it is offering an option to go to tent-sauna and enjoy the true spirit of the wood-burning stove, but also feature an actual Master of Heat who is making sure that the experience is optimal and stays that way throughout the day. But wait, there’s more! This year, the once widespread traditional practice of cupping, to take the bad blood out of the sauna-goer, is offered for those who dare, believe it or not. I skipped the cupping, but the sauna was a very good experience!
Rotten Sound 4/5 45min
Rotten Sound has been one of Finland’s prominent Death Metal / Grindcore acts since its launch in the mid-nineties, and today they have the honour to open the Tuska Open Air 20th Anniversary weekend. They manage to attract a reasonably large audience to the Väkevä Tent Stage, even though it is only 2 pm in the Friday afternoon.
And while the crowd may lack in its numbers, they sure as hell make up for it by making noise: there’s no question about it, these people know what they came here for! After a couple of timid and short pits during the first songs, the vocalist Keijo “G” Niinimaa asks how many people actually would like to have a proper moshpit. People seem eager to participate, and thus the next song, Decay, results in a splendid wall of death that erupts into a persistent circle pit, and the chaotic light show stirs it up even more.
The band plays its technically demanding material in a relaxed routine manner, and has a quite energetic stage presence that gets people involved. The guitarist Mika “Q” Aalto plays his solos at the pedal board near the drum riser which seems a bit odd, since it would make more sense to place the solo spot to the front of the stage. It looks as if he didn’t have long enough guitar cables, but in the big picture it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the band is happy to see the people present at the festival so early, and the crowd enjoys the gig in a good humor: the pit even spontaneously gathers for a group photo. The unusual speak with a serious message resonates very well before Corponation, and Sell Your Soul ends the gig with the largest pit thus far.
Rotten Sound did a very good job at kickstarting Tuska for the early birds, and even though their music might not always appeal to the uninitiated, and the first slot meant that the band had to rely solely on its own attractiveness, there were hundreds of people already attending and having a blast!
As I get to the Radio Rock Main Stage to see the next band I’m starting to wake up to the reality, that I’m now actually at Tuska, the main Metal event of the year, and you can meet basically anyone who is somehow involved in the scene here. This gets confirmed as the evident metal-enthusiasts Hydraulic Press Channel’s Lauri and Anni walk past me during the first song, and one of the country’s finest lead guitarists Ben Varon is checking out the gig ten meters to my left.
Brother Firetribe 4/5 50min
Brother Firetribe is known for its cheesy 80’s vibe, and it embraces its trademark by entering the Radio Rock Main Stage during a deliberately ironic over-the-top intro tape. Then it starts its steady march forward with Sunbound / Help Is On The Way and audience is clapping along from the first guitar riff from Emppu Vuorinen, best known from the legendary group Nightwish.
The singer Pekka Heino does a good job communicating with the audience in his subtle and stylish manner, having his hair cut short and wearing sunglasses halfway through the gig doesn’t seem to affect his charisma. The rest of the band performs likewise in a composed and elegant fashion, playing quite solidly throughout the gig and the front part of the crowd sings along.
Then Heino starts summoning “woop”s from the audience, and shortly asks aloud what many people were already wondering: “is this kind of behavior even allowed at a metal concert?” The punch line of the skit is the intro to I’m on Fire, featuring wooping sirens. Heart Full of Fire gets the flames burning even higher and I Am Rock ends the gig with a bang as the band seems to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience is.
The last song also features clearly the best guitar solo of the concert, crowning the whole setlist. It showcases the unexpected side of exploding and fiery virtuosity from the Nightwish axeman, who is more known as the lyrical easygoing lead player type, focused on melody rather than shred. These solos could easily be a little longer if you ask me, I was just starting to get blown away. A very enjoyable gig, and the Sun even shows up in the sky during the last minutes.
Vuur 5/5 45min
As soon as I’d arrived to the festival area I’d started hearing people talking about Anneke: “Are you going to see Anneke?” “I’m going to see Anneke”. Who is this Anneke, I had wondered in my slumber, but now it strikes me as obvious: Of course! The one known for The Gathering, The Gentle Storm, her solo works, and a bunch of other stuff including Ayreon and Devin Townsend Project. And now Lady Van Giersbergen is here with a brand new band, that is yet to release its debut album this fall 2017, and I’m glad that the stream of life carried me here to the Väkevä Tent Stage of Tuska 2017 to witness this amazing fresh act perform live, at its first ever festival concert. The name Vuur stands for fire, while sometimes it’s also used to express passion and drive in Dutch, and as I’m now wide awake I fathom it very well: this is definitely the most Metal side of Anneke.
The line-up shares some members with The Gentle Storm, and anyhow it is clear that they have had a lot of practice together: the band plays very tightly, even though the material is complicated and technically demanding. The gathering of the crowd has now exceeded that of Rotten Sound well and beyond, and people are quite loud and excited despite of the fact that some of the material is literally unheard-of. Vuur also plays many songs from The Gathering, like Strange Machines, to complement their setlist with classics.
Anneke is occasionally ditching her guitar to mosh and rave wholeheartedly in high heels, which is sort of an amazing feat in itself, but the details of the extramusical performance are completely shadowed by the metal queen’s true unearthly talent: the sovereign command over classical vibrato is liberally fused with pop phrasing to create exquisite lines of vocal melody that encapsulate myriad atmospheres, merging seamlessly to the emotional spectrum of the arrangements, all effortlessly carried out in a determinate and relaxed manner.
Her “thank you” speech to the band members seems genuine, who alike its singer, perform awe inspiringly well, and the good chemistry shines through all the time. Special mention goes to the lead guitarist Jord Otto who takes the 7-string multiscale beast to its limits by flawless execution of chops and delicately expressive vibrato. This is also the day’s first act to properly mosh while playing, to switch stage positions a lot and to have some members perform leaps landing on strong accents every now and then.
The lights work very well and the sound is superb. The bass drum seems to be at a perfect volume level as it gives a decent punch without covering anything else from the mix. Unintuitively in a Metal context, leaving the kick untriggered seems to work astonishingly well for the band, as the drummer Ed Warby seems to utilize its dynamic range functionally, giving each song section as much of the bass drum punch as necessary, but none of the dreaded excess, so that every other instrument is heard over it unimpeded, crystal clear.
At the end Anneke asks how many people are coming to see Devin’s gig later, getting a tremendously loud response, and hinting to her possible guest appearance by: “See you there, then!”. She also makes a joke about the band moving to Finland “as they’ve enjoyed being here so much”, before proceeding to play yet another new piece and ending the gig by tossing her plectrum to the crowd and exiting the stage accompanied by a resounding applause. Based on what I now heard and saw, I’m very much looking forward to the debut album, and after giving it some spins, I can’t wait to see them live again.
Wintersun 5/5 60min
Wintersun has recently stirred up some controversy, but it is generally agreed on that they’ve been since their very beginnings one of the most technically sharp live bands in Finland’s Metal scene, if not even the sharpest – according to some enthusiasts they have the best guitarists in the country, which is of course up for debate. And with some recent line-up changes, we will have to see how it goes. One thing is for sure, though, there are helluva lot of people here to see them at Radio Rock Main Stage, and the live sound is very good with every detail audible. Everyone seems to have their hands raised in the standing crowd, and I’m deflected from my trajectory towards the sweet spot at the mixing desk by an impenetrable wall of metalheads, so I decide to observe the event further away and get something to drink instead. And don’t get me wrong, I would love to get closer, but there’s really no room to go.
It’s exciting to see Jari Mäenpää without his guitar, thrashing around in upbeat manner, and somehow it underlines the fact that he’s a very capable singer, easily one of the most versatile vocalists of this Tuska, and in addition to that he’s ablaze with energy. Of course Jari is known to sing and play at the same time, but decided otherwise, and I cannot blame him for that, since his charisma as a frontman is delivered very well now that there’s no guitar in the way, even though his personal touch with the guitar will be missed by many.
The first song is from the new Forest Seasons album, “Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring)”, and it is noteworthy that people have their hands raised towards the sky even though the material is new and – as always – pretty complex. The band is obviously contributing to this with their stage presence, since they are already moving on the stage in a commendable fashion (relative to the amount of notes per second).
The backing vocals hit hard as huge wall of sound and the band is playing extremely tightly, as expected. Timo Häkkinen does a good job with Kai Hahto’s drum parts, there’s no audible difference between the two, and the new live guitarist Asim Searah seems to be up to the task and delivering – not just the necessary barrage of notes, but also stage presence-wise. During “Winter Madness” a moshpit ensues, and we will find out if Teemu Mäntysaari truly can play Jari’s solo with the infamous sweep arpeggios (not to mention the other insane parts of it) – and… yes he can! It goes flawlessly as far as my ears are concerned, and he trades the neoclassical parts in the end with Asim nicely. The crowd is singing along, then the intro for “Beyond the Dark Sun” restarts the pit. The wind is blowing the smoke from the stage, so the light show is thus a bit lackluster, but it seems that nobody is noticing: this audience is as loud as it is ample.
The crowd’s energy is sustained until the end, as Jari summons chants and larks around in the last song “Time”, and the crowd is having a great time (pun intended). Being done, the band gathers to the front of the stage to bow to the audience, and after taking a picture for social media, proceeds to throw a lot of goodies to the front, at least every single guitar pick, drumstick and setlist seem to get distributed to the listeners.
Suicidal Tendencies 4,5/5 60min
Suicidal Tendencies, a classic ’80s Crossover Thrash band from the United States, that has influenced the early metalcore bands; Despite of the mileage indicator that has probably maxed decades ago, this Chevy is still roaring and in shows no sign of malfunction, and is coming towards like a freight train gone haywire. That is to say, the band has an extremely energetic stage presence right from the get go: “You Can’t Bring Me Down” starts the set with a synchronized jump and the the pit starts immediately in the Radio Rock Main Stage crowd. Enough said.
But I’m compelled say more: the original stage moves give the band a distinctive appeal, and after the small break in the middle of the song, the pit continues even more fiercely, there are even shoes flying out of there(!). The audience seems to be completely possessed by the first song. “You – can’t – bring – mother – f*cking – Finland – down!!”. Hell yeah. And the party seems to go on as the first song turns to second, the audience has hands raised high.
The song changes and live arrangements are remarkably well refined and give an extra kick to the already-pedal-to-the-metal kind of show. The guitar solos are fast paced, very traditional Thrash Metal stuff, serve their purpose as such. There is one speak that leaves it’s mark: the vocalist Mike Muir encourages people to follow their hearts, dreams, own selves instead of manipulative assholes: “Freedumb”. The message seems to resonate very well in the crowd and I can relate to that too. Then the band proceeds its merciless killing spree of hardcore-funk-punk-thrash.
Towards the end of the set I peek into the Inferno Stage building to take a quick look at Pekko Käppi. When I return, I am amazed what has happened in the meantime. The whole Radio Rock Main Stage seems to be full of Suicidal Tendencies crowd, like, completely full. It’s a party, they are pledging their allegiance, actual bootleg video linked for you to get the idea! I have never ever seen anything like this!! And the band even manages to play properly though the stage being packed to the max. What a way to end a concert!
I’ve heard some rumours about Pekko Käppi, and sneak into the Inferno Stage building during the end of Suicidal Tendencies show to have a listen. Is this Avantgarde? The small band is set up in a lounge band or chamber music like order on the stage engulfed in moodily lit smoke. Jouhikko, a bowed kantele is at work, the sound is mesmerizing, even spiritual. I stand in trance, jaw open for a while, as the last section of the last song revisits Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, a dreamlike fragment swimming the soundwaves like something mythical from an ancient realm, the group being painted bloodred by the stage lights, light-skulls staring into my soul from the background. The crowd is waiting silently for the last note to vanish into the aether and after it fades out, everyone bursts into crazy applause, screaming. I know only two things: I didn’t understand anything, and number two, I have to get more! I’m back to my normal self just in time to wander outside and witness the mindblowing finale of the Suicidal Tendencies gig.
Insomnium 4,5/5 60min
Insomnium enters the Väkevä Tent Stage amidst of blue smoke, basking in the cold light, and immediately starts moshing to the blast beat. The Melodic Death Metal icons know exactly what they’re doing, and it is noted by the huge crowd, who greets them hands raised high.
The first song turns out to be “Winter’s Gate”, the gargantuan 40 minute one album long epic. The lighting effects definitely deserve praise, even though they aren’t flashy at all. This time less is more, and the atmosphere of the gig is extraordinary, composed of not only the hand picked show technics, but also the blizzard of the bands unyielding metal-show-done-right type of stage performance and subtle yet playful sense of humour. The audience shows if not extraordinary rhythmic talent, at least thorough knowledge of the material, by clapping along to ⅞ time signature readily and naturally somewhere along the ride.
The band is playing quite tightly, and easily makes short work of the challenges this kind of extremely complicated piece represents, and gets a huge crowd response accordingly. Even playing solos and leads doesn’t stop these guys from delivering constant showmanship. After the first song they play still 4 more, starting with the crowd favorite “Change Of Heart” and ending solidly with “While We Sleep” at the 60 minute mark.
Devin Townsend Project 4,5/5 60min
”Rejoice”! And never fear! Since Devin’s here, at Radio Rock Main Stage, and brings Anneke Van Giersbergen to the stage for the kickoff and shoots us to the orbit with his onslaught of eccentric Prog Metal performed in Open-C tuning. From the opening bars of the show, from first speak on, it is certain, that this trip is headed to strange yet Devinly-familiar musical scapes and is spiced up with Mr. Townsend’s trademark self-ironic schizophrenia ranging from “listen to Uncle-Devin now, he knows what’s best for you” and openly nerdy statements ridden with fancy words to a brazen barrage of penis jokes and the kind.
All the band members show amazing musicianship and the song material is absorbing. Devin woos the audience in his charming style and the people are delighted to be present. While most of the crowd are digging it calmly, disregarding the front section that is raving unrestrainedly, the ovation between the pieces is deafening and people will make metric tons of noise when requested from the stage. The wind has subsided, leaving the smoke on the stage, and the light show works surprisingly well for a daylight time concert – a definite silver lining the cloudy weather has.
Devin is incredibly versatile as a vocalist, and switches between scream and clean vocals seamlessly throughout the gig. And featuring Anneke on the stage for some songs virtually doubles the amount of singing prowess on stage, like in the song “Kingdom”, that makes the crowd go wild as the band gathers to the center of the stage to make waves with their instruments.
The dangerous duet then reverts to an acoustic duo line-up, as the vocalists say bye to the band and kick in the clean sound, to perform the love song Ih-Ah, which captures the hearts and tingles the funny bone of the crowd, as Devin savours the delight of breaking the rules: trolling the hell out of a metal festival by not playing metal – just to pause in the middle for some death-metal-roar summonings. And as the theatrical set touches down after the tranquil descent from the last song “Higher”, accompanied by Uncle-Devin’s loving advice to the festival-goers, I am still amused by all the surprising plot-twists – yet this was exactly what we signed up for.
Sabaton 4/5 90min
“In The Army now” plays from the speakers, it’s just like the first day in the military service, but with long hair and beer in hand. The band soon emerges to the Radio Rock Main Stage and attacks the frontline, uh, I mean front row, with the blitzkrieg of “Ghost Division”, with a supporting fire shelling from the pyrotechnics, thus starting today’s world-renowned Sabaton grand lecture of global war history, lasting 90 minutes, that they teach by the means of intensive medium paced melodic Power and Heavy Metal.
Instead of a regular backdrop the double-guitar quintet boasts a huge screen that is running specific graphics for each song. The crowd is cheering and throwing their hands in the air, as the Swedes thank them in Finnish. The pyros roar again into action, and will regularly accompany the songs throughout the concert, at times communicating also with the back screen content. Loud crowd participation is also a recurring theme. The gigantic show technics of Sabaton fill the headliner slot remarkably well, but it is not just that and the music that gets people stoked: the band has also a decent stage presence and a particularly compelling way with words. Towards the end of the set they spend a good time between songs hyping the crowd, and despite of that manage to play 18 songs total.
The stand-up comedy speeches start from the song number six on, when they are announcing the song White Death that’s about the Finnish war hero and world record sniper Simo Häyhä. The song gets the audience even more excited, for obvious reasons. Sabaton is known to change their setlist to play some songs about the country that they are playing in. The dusk of the cloudy day proves to be a lottery win for the lightshow, as it is working like a dream.
During the “Last Stand” the singer Joakim Brodén has some trouble keeping his pants on, at least a part of them, since they are quite badly torn apart at some part of the song, and this of course leads to some more jokes in between the songs. The guitarist Tommy Johansson has apparently hurt his right hand index finger in some other incident, but succeeds in playing even the most difficult parts with a thumb-middle finger grip of his plectrum excellently well. “Swedish Pagans” is kickstarted by a bafflingly loud woo-oo choir by the audience. Joakim is giving credit to Tuska audience for their communal and good natured spirit, and then praises the vibes a good sauna bath gives on the first night of vacation, and the Finns seem to agree on these values.
After organising an acclamation they sing “Gott mit uns” in Swedish, by popular demand. Then another short interlude video follows after which the drummer Hannes Van Dahl starts “Night Witches” his enormous Yamaha gun towers blazing (talk about an endorsement!) and as everything explodes Joakim sprints back to the stage. The guitarist Chris Rörland plays a very emotionally packed solo to the piece, that lifts it to another level. In “Primo Victoria” Joakim suggests: “Jump!” and half of the crowd starts bouncing to the rhythm immediately. Halfway through “Shiroyama” other band members ambush him, and sit on the unsuspecting vocalist. This song resonates very well and gives me goosebumps. At “Talvisota”, the second last song, people are starting to be tired and the crowd response is starting to resemble a regular concert of some other band, despite of the song being about Finnish history.
Somehow the final song, “To Hell and Back”, breaks the bank and people go totally crazy and forget their tiredness, the whole central beer area crowd seems to be clapping along if that is even possible? The song ends the famous Swedish style storytime of metallian war history with a bang, when silvery and green serpentine ribbons shoot to the sky with fireworks, to provide a definite full stop to the raconteuring and to provide something eye catching to wear in afterparties, that will help to recognize others belonging the same inner circle. And into the night we vanish, to be right back tomorrow! The first day of Tuska 2017 seems to have been a great success to the bands and the visitors.
Written by Arti Waine
© All photographs are distributed by Tuska Festival