30.6.2023 Tuska Festival – Day 1 @ 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 first day included bands like AVATAR, LOST SOCIETY, JINJER, ARCH ENEMY, and GOJIRA.

It really paid off showing up early to Tuska 2023; while waiting for the gates to open, there was an extempore pop-up performance by some unsung underground death-metal outfit, Putrid-something – the band’s whole conduct was so old-school that their logo was completely undecipherable, just like it was supposed to be in the Olden Days. So, I couldn’t make out their name on the small placard they had placed behind their amplifiers. Their jovial PR guy was mingling with the Tuska crowd, selling the band’s demos, but he was too far for me to get a reading on that small cardboard sign he was holding. This metal outfit was comprised of just two guitarists and a vocalist, whose growls were pretty damn impressive, by the way. The drums and bass stuff were coming from a tape – but oh, boy! This bunch kicked ass in that good old-fashioned way, setting the perfect mood for entering the Tuska premises! It not only looked like these metal ruffians had figured out a brilliant guerrilla marketing endeavor for themselves but they made the plus-one-hour wait for the gates to open substantially more delightful experience for everyone as well.

The official Tuska Festival 2023 was set in motion by the Swedish metal cabaret, AVATAR, on the main stage. The singer’s KING DIAMOND theatrics charged the air with just the right amount of metal mojo for the festival to kick off with style. Some people might have thought it was a bit odd to put such a huge band as the first one to go on the main stage at such an early hour – but I guess the point was to lure a good number of people to show up early. It seemed to work too: from what I gathered, the queueing times weren’t intolerable and the gates weren’t bottlenecked, say, an hour or two before the bigger acts’ showtime. Quite a few early-comers seemed to sport AVATAR T-shirts and facial paint in homage to the band – and no wonder: their pandemic album “Hunter Gatherer” made quite a good impression a few years back and now, seeing their chops live on stage further proved that these Swedes are master-class when it comes to this sort of theatrical heavy-metal conduct. Their latest single, “The Dirt I’m Buried In,” which was heard at Tuska too, is not that far from the pop-metal aesthetics of, say, GHOST, but, at this point, I thought this group’s stage presence proved to be perhaps a tad more steampunk. (Later, when GHOST wrapped up the whole Tuska experience, on Sunday evening, I learned that they had ditched their old hooded cloaks in favor of a more steampunk-ish look as well…)

While the main stage fell silent for a moment, I dropped by the Tent Stage to check out DANCE WITH THE DEAD, which proved quite an interesting synthwave-cum-metal duo. There was something irresistible about the marriage of hooky metal riffs and retro-vintage analog synth melodies – it was like listening to the soundtracks of some parallel-world version of 1980s aerobic videos in which, instead of Jane Fonda, you could see a couple of sci-fi nerds shredding away on their fretboards and keyboards with reckless abandon. Note to self: check out these guys in full on Spotify, later.

Our photographer decided to go with the flow since she had no clue about either DANCE WITH THE DEAD or VENDED. This lead her all the way to the Inferno Stage where alternative metal act VENDED were set to play. Due to social media, nepo-babies have been on the rise. A fair few celebrities’ kids have followed footsteps of their parent, ending up in show bizz. Knowing nothing of VENDED, we would have probably not noticed the resemblances between Griffin Taylor and Corey Taylor and Simon Crahan and SLIPKNOT‘s Clown. Nevertheless, a lot of people were gathered in front of the stage, perhaps curious to find out just how much these youngsters are like their fathers. It’s safe to say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, the 5-piece totally held up to any expectations we may have had and completely blew us away with tracks like “Ded to Me.” It seems like this band is on the rise and have a bright future ahead of them, while doing their own authentic thing on stage, hopefully we get to see them sometime soon on a bigger stage! (LT)

LOST SOCIETY have been the talk of the town for some time now, and I didn’t have to savor their show on the main stage for very long to figure out the reason why: their mixture of sleazy Los Angeles vibes, thrashy metalcore, and nu-metal with the occasional grunge layering really seemed to get the younger metal demographic going in the pit. I must say that this type of music is not exactly my cup of tea, so I was not instantly blown away, to be honest. Then, the band threw a nice grunge-infested curveball at the audience; “If the Sky Came Down” put nice Seattle vibes front and center, frosted with a modern metalcore topping, so I couldn’t but hand it to the guys: kudos for putting on a killer show. Of course, I would have been happier than a dog with two tails if they had served more of this sort instead of those “metal toddler on a sugar high”-type of numbers. Then again, I’m an old grit who’s way too easily sold on anything if it has grunge writ large over it. Yeah, putting aside the petty differences of opinion about what really makes a metal song tick, I must admit that the band rocked the stage pretty damn well. It really showed they were coming straight from a tour in Europe – the delivery was up to specs: ultra-tight and aggressive.

In a way, it was a bummer that VANSIDIAN was scheduled to play at the same time at the Tuska KVLT Stage. Having checked out their debut album, I knew they would have blown me away perhaps a little bit better than LOST SOCIETY, but as I said, I felt I had to check out what the hubbub surrounding this up-and-coming metal brigade was all about. I must make it a priority, though, to check out VANSIDIAN‘s stage presence as soon as possible; their sci-fi-inspired melodeath is the next-level shit in the whole melodeath genre, so jot that down, my friends. That said, our editor is a big fan and had made it in time to cram into the heavily-packed Tiivistämö, as they were one of her big priorities of the weekend, and she assured us that they put on a bangin’ show that we were sorry to have missed.

Next, I had to choose between WHILE SHE SLEEPS and BLOOD INCANTATION. Very different as they are in their craft, I’d heard only positive things about both, so this was a tough call – but perhaps the impromptu death-metal offering outside the gates had worked its magic and I chose the latter. WHILE SHE SLEEPS was obviously meant to lure the metal younglings while the more tradition-savvy death-metal service was targeted at people closer to my age group – notice how I didn’t say old? BLOOD INCANTATION came to Tuska all the way down from Denver, USA, and their take on death metal was spiced up with such a good pinch of psychedelic seasoning that it really boggled the mind. The band’s drummer deserved an honorable mention for his relentless cardio workout: he did a phenomenal job rolling out those wicked blast-beats, especially considering how the sun was scorching from a cloudless sky. The show served as an appropriate reminder that every once in a while you just need to listen to some old-school death metal with lots of mind-twisting tempo changes, oriental guitar legatos, blast-beats, and lyrics going on about some esoteric stuff of the sort that you usually would only read about in those ominous-looking, weighty tomes they sell at the Unio Mystica bookstore in Helsinki.

Having witnessed JINJER‘s other-worldly performance last year at Tuska, I knew to expect nothing but breathtaking excellence – and the band did not falter when they conquered the main stage. The performance was insanely good. One thing did strike me as different, though: they did not play their biggest song, “Pisces.” Well, it’s perhaps a tad softer song in their repertoire, and this time, the setlist was pronouncedly brutal instead, almost as if they had opted for the “scorched-earth” strategy because ARCH ENEMY was going to play after them on the main stage. Last year, the band practically exploded the Tent Stage, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were headliner material. The slot on the main stage was well-earned – they Rocked with a capital R. The previous show inside the tent had been a tad more intimate, of course, what with those “softer” songs having been included in the set and all, but now that I had the chance to witness the band put on their most brutal conduct, I’m not complaining a bit; quite the opposite.

While grabbing a bite to eat, it was imperative to listen to the Swedish metalcore bunch, IMMINENCE, playing in the background; their 2019 banger, “Lighthouse,” had already asserted that this band is to be placed at the most pleasing end of the metalcore spectrum, so it was quite nice to hear the song played live, finally. At the same, MOKOMA was playing at the Tent Stage, but as the band has been such a mainstay on these Finnish metal festivals since hell knows when and I’ve seen them quite a few times already, it was an easy call to munch some food so that I could check out these Swedes instead. At this point, I thought I figured out the pattern of how the artists had been assigned between the Tent Stage and the Inferno Stage: while one stage offered a band that was most likely going to appeal to the older metal demographic (MOKOMA, BLOOD INCANTATION), the other would be catering to the younger metalheads (IMMINENCE, WHILE SHE SLEEPS). That was a pretty clever move, if you ask me. Of course, insufferable music nerds, like me, were bound to have a hard time choosing between two great bands but I guess the vast majority of the Tuska crowd had no problems there. In general, metal fans are quite open-minded, but still, the modern metalcore seems to be some kind of divide between the original heavy-metal/thrash Gen-Xers and the later metal generations. I did overhear some Gen-Xers dropping the pejorative term “emo” here and there, and I cannot blame them: some metalcore acts do sound a bit too whiny. The Tuska organization had made some excellent choices in this respect, however, and the bands on offer at Suvilahti were absolutely the crème de la crème of modern metalcore. The festival was sold out in advance, so I guess that speaks volumes.

On the main stage, the next not-so-gentle but, as luck would have it, merely an auditory kick in the head was delivered by ARCH ENEMY. The band can be considered elderly statesmen of melodeath, if not a supergroup, with a good reason: eleven studio albums and almost 30 years are on their resume. Vocalist Alissa White-Gluz‘s growls sounded particularly delicious. Sure, her dynamic range did not appear to be as broad as was the case with JINJER‘s Tatiana Schmailyuk but, then again, ARCH ENEMY, does not do impromptu reggae or lounge-jazz breakdowns in their songs either. Well, neither did JINJER this year at Tuska, but they might as well have done, had the planets been aligned differently. The modus operandi with ARCH ENEMY is more about sheer power – and powerful their performance was: poignantly melodic, yes, but still, pure raw power.

Absolutely the toughest call had to be made between DIABLO and Glenn Hughes‘ classic DEEP PURPLE set, as I’ve never seen either one on stage before. Then, I reasoned that I was not going to see a legend of such stature as Hughes very often, so I chose the classic rock option this time around. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see DIABLO at some point in Finland later. The DEEP PURPLE set was, in one word: amazing. His rendition of “Burn” was so lit that it could have literally set the stage on fire. It was nothing short of unbelievable to hear with my own two ears how a heavy-metal legend of my mom’s age could still reach those piercing high notes when he switched to falsetto singing! The guy certainly showed no signs of retiring any time soon! Too bad the set did not include “Child in Time,” though. If there is one guy who could pull it off properly, it would be Hughes. As compensation, we did hear other almost equally spine-chilling gems, such as “Stormbringer” and “Highway Star.” So, overall, it was for the win.

The day culminated in GOJIRA‘s haunting performance on the main stage and it basically re-defined the very meaning of the word “epic.” The show started with the sounds of whales singing, which was more than befitting, considering how out-of-this-world those majestic creatures really sound. The thing is – GOJIRA‘s performance was also something out of this plane of existence. The crowd sandwiched between the main stage and the mixing booth morphed into one massive circle pit in an instant when the brutal riffs kicked in and the vortex of whirling metal dervishes almost sucked everybody else in as well. I chickened out and retreated closer to the mixing booth; closing in on my 50s and being loaded with a lot of personal stuff – you see, old people need all kinds of shit when they go out – a mosh pit did not sound like such a good idea, considering I was supposed to be able to spend 2 more days at Tuska Festival in one piece. A younger friend of mine chose to go and according to his first-hand account, straight from the whirlpool of flesh and bone, it was a sensation of a somewhat oceanic kind, which was only befitting considering GOJIRA‘s fascination with whales. If I recall correctly, the album, “From Mars to Sirius,” was all about astral traveling of some kind. The band played “Flying Whales” off that album, of course, and holding on to the mental image of those animals floating across the night sky, it summed up the whole show, in a way: standing at the event horizon of the circle pit, getting crushed under those haunting other-worldly sounds, it was like being hit by a whale falling from the sky.

It would be pointless to single out the highlights in their setlist because the whole show was but one continuous ecstasy rush: “The Art of Dying,” “Another World,” “Born For One Thing,” “L’Enfant Sauvage,” “The Chant,” and “Amazonia,” during which vocalist Joe Duplantier dropped some haunting throat-singing drones. At some point, he reminisced about the band’s first Tuska show in 2006 when they had been the first band on some small stage – and now, they were the headliner, which prompted him to ask, “What the hell happened?” I don’t know, but my 2 cents on the topic would be that somewhere along the way, the band found its inner voice – a voice that happens to speak so loud that it leaves everyone trembling in awe.

The finale for the first day at Tuska 2023 was pure sonic bliss – raw and brutal, yes, but also so fucking beautiful there are no words for it. After a sweaty day in the sun, GOJIRA laid the icing on the experience by inducing an almost out-of-body feeling. Yeah, we were all a bit tired – I know I was, my feet were already killing me! Yet, all of a sudden, all I could feel was a sense of peace, well-being, and painlessness. Fuck yes! The band must have sent us all astral traveling through the multiverse. This was the very feeling we go to metal festivals for! I don’t know about you guys but this was only my second time at Tuska Festival and I think I already fell in love with the whole thing – the bands, the audience, everything. I’ve heard wild stories about the mythological Tuska Tribe, about how the event has this mystical aura surrounding it, alluring sensible people to attend the festival year after year like drug addicts chasing after the first high in a vicious circle of diminishing returns. Well, if it’s going to be like this then why the hell not! Unlike illegal substances, this particular metal festival seems to be a gift that just keeps on giving!

Written by Jani Lehtinen
Photos by Laureline Tilkin