There was quite a bit of rescheduling and uncertainty as to whether the 4th Nordic Metal Cruise would go forward on September 4th-5th, 2021, due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Finland. Fortunately, to everyone’s delight, we received the news that the event would be able to proceed as planned on the Viking Grace, albeit with added measures like mandatory masks and testing at the port for those without vaccination certificates. For someone like myself, who recently moved to Finland, this was an event not to be missed.
The train from Helsinki to Turku was filled with excitement, as most passengers were there for the festival. When we arrived at the port, non-vaccinated festival goers were able to enter a separate line to get COVID tested, free of charge, and if results were negative, they joined the cue with the fully vaccinated festival goers. The process seemed to run smoothly, as it didn’t take long for everyone to get on the boat. This event was held on the Viking Grace ship, by Viking Line. Once arriving on the boat, it was a metalhead’s paradise, with cheap alcohol in the duty free store. It seems like a lot of festival goers came prepared to stock up for the year.
After getting set up and settled into our cabin, we rushed over to Club Vogue to see MOONSORROW. I was surprised to see the floor area almost empty so close to the gig’s start time. I found out quickly that this was because we weren’t allowed to bring our drinks to the floor. When MOONSORROW started playing, a large number of fans downed their drinks and ran to the stage. It has been a long time since they have played a gig in Finland, so you could tell both the audience and band were ready to go. I was a little concerned that the sound on a boat would be of a lesser quality than at a regular venue and poor sound quality would really put a damper on the show, since they are known for their high-quality musicianship. These concerns faded quickly with their opening song, “Ukkosenjumalan poikaa,” as both the vocals and instruments were flawless. By the time they started their second song, “Kylän Päässä,” the whole floor area was packed with everyone dancing and having a fun time. The great part about MOONSORROW is that they can have quite a heavy, black metal sound, but also folkier instrumental breaks, so it really brings fans across different genres together. These instrumental breaks are when fans really gave their all to dancing and partying. Their next song of “Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän päivän kansa” was another high point of the show. It would have been nice if Jonne Järvelä [KORPIKLAANI] could have come out to sing his part, but it surely would have been overcomplicated for him to travel to Turku and board a boat for the whole weekend just so he could sing his few lines. They were able to manage without him. MOONSORROW spread out the songs they played over several different albums and gave us a real treat by playing “Raunioilla” from their 2003 album, “Kivenkantaja.” They closed their set strongly by playing “Sankaritarina”; the audience enjoyed singing along to the whole song with the band. The downside to a MOONSORROW show is simply that they are not able to play many songs, due to their length. I am not suggesting they change their epic song lengths – that is one of the best parts of their music – but most would agree it would be nice if they were able to play for a longer amount of time! By the end of the set, it was all good vibes from the crowd, as everyone was pumped to continue the party.
STEREO TERROR were successful in keeping the crowd pumped up between sets. I unfortunately was only able to see them for a few minutes each time and was only able to listen to them from a distance for the most part. I can say that the music they played between sets was solid, and it was apparent from the crowd that they made it possible for no energy to be lost during other bands setting up.
Next up was melodic folk metal powerhouse ENSIFERUM. The crowd was already on a high from the MOONSORROW set and happily picked the energy right back up with the opening song, “Andromeda,” one of the singles off their most recent album, “Thalassic.” By the time they got into their second song, “Rum, Women, Victory,” the whole floor area was full and soon turned into a mosh pit that lasted the whole night. It was apparent that everyone has been cooped up without many live music events for a long time, because everyone was partying with maximum enthusiasm. It helped that ENSIFERUM were completely on their game as well, with amazingly tight instruments and vocals. My favorite part of the show was when they played “From Afar” and “One More Magic Potion” back-to-back. During these songs, the circle pit did not stop! The fans were getting pretty rowdy and people were occasionally falling down, so it was nice to see everyone in the audience quickly reacting to these people and helping them up right away. In their last song before the encore, they played “Two of Spades”; since this song has some disco elements, it was convenient that the venue had a giant disco ball over the floor area that lit up, making for some pretty cool and creative dancing. The encore too was enjoyable, because they played older songs “Token of Time” and “Into Battle.” Since we were in the middle of the Baltic sea at that point, I was expecting them to play something like “One with the Sea,” but was not too disappointed, because they ended up playing some solid songs, including some personal favorites. Being a foreigner, it is nice to see how proud everyone at the gig was of these local metal stars.
The performance ended a little after 02:00, with some people going back to their cabins while others kept the party going. As I returned to my cabin, one thing was certain in my mind – topping these performances tomorrow would truly be impossible.
We woke up surprisingly early on Sunday. I looked out the window of the cabin to see that we had arrived in Stockholm. The first band of the day was not playing until 16:00, so there was a lot of time to do other activities during the day. Some of the cruise’s activities included karaoke, meet and greets, and quizzes and bingo at the Rockmore and Retro bars. It would have been nice if these activities were more widely advertised, as they were only shown on small screens at the bars, at least as far as we noticed, so they were easy to miss. Heading out of my cabin, I noticed kids running around and other “normal” looking people who weren’t there last night and must have gotten on the boat in Stockholm to spend the day in Turku. This was all fine, as metalheads know how to share, but it did make me laugh to see a popular area of the Rockmore bar being made into an official “metal free zone.”
Before the gigs started, most people wanted to eat, since bands would be playing around supper time. I was hesitant to try their buffet, since 37€ per person sounded a bit steep. I didn’t realize the price included all you can drink wine, cider, and beer. The food also made it worth it, with mussels and other seafood, salads, cheeses, and more. It would have been nice if the buffet opened earlier than 14:30, as it was hard to get our money’s worth of food and drink while allowing enough time for our stomachs to settle before the first gig. I am happy, however, to report that I did not see anyone at the show throw up whilst windmilling.
The Sunday performances started off strong with VERIKALPA, who have been one of my most recent favorite Finnish metal discoveries. Their style sounds like vintage FINNTROLL with their own special twist. Their Facebook page describes them as “Beer Drenched Troll Metal,” so I don’t believe it was far off! They started their set with a hit off their “Tuoppitanssi” album, “Naulattujen Vaellus.” It was a smaller crowd than the bands the previous night had had, but everyone there was having fun, headbanging and singing along. The band also looked like they were having fun and not taking themselves too seriously. One high point of the show was “Rautatammi” and they finished with another favorite, “Pahan Laulu.” Overall, VERIKALPA was a great fit for the Nordic Metal Cruise, as they are strong musicians who like to have fun and sing about Trolls and getting drunk, so the audience had a lot to relate to! I was slightly surprised there was not a bigger audience, given how solid of a band they are. For only having two studio albums, I was impressed that they could fill their entire 1 hour time slot with such quality. It would have been nice if they sold some merch, as they are the only band who didn’t bring any with them. Every song was perfect for a live show. Hopefully they will bring some shirts next time as I am looking forward to seeing them on land in October for Heavy Metal Heart.
Closing the event was SWALLOW THE SUN. It was easy to tell this was a highly anticipated show, as there were a lot of people on both days wearing the band’s shirts. The venue was completely full, but it was apparent people might be getting slightly tired from the late night before and the other activities from the day. I was surprised they did not start with a song off their newest album, “When a Shadow is Forced into the Light,” but instead chose an older song, “Giant.” Their vocals and musicianship was very good as always, but they had a different crowd vibe than the other bands. Most of the bands were all about fun and partying, but SWALLOW THE SUN was a bit more serious, so there was not a lot of dancing and singing along to their songs. It was nice that they were able to play a variety of songs from different albums, even playing “Swallow (Horror, Part 1)” from their first album. One downside was that they played the same setlist for this show as they did for both SaariHelvetti and Dark River Festivals. Given the small number of festivals that went forward this year, some people surely saw them at all three festivals were hoping for a little more variety than the last times. I would say “Plague of Butterflies: Pt. II: Plague of Butterflies” was the highlight of their show, as the crowd seemed to sing along and get into it a little more. Overall, I think SWALLOW THE SUN is a strong band, with great musicianship and vocals, but the music and vibe of the crowd were different and slower pace than the rest of the acts. That being said, I felt lucky that we get to nitpick at small things, because we were all fortunate to have all these great bands in the lineup this year.
The Nordic Metal Cruise 2021 was a great success overall. The bands and the energy they brought with them were all outstanding, and the Viking Grace was an ideal venue to host the event. The good news is that we do not have to wait a year or more before we get to board the next one. Nordic Metal Cruise 2022 has been announced for February 5th, 2022!