With a wave of the Delta coronavirus variant hitting Finland, there was no certainty that 2021’s SaariHelvetti festival at Viikinsaari in Tampere would go forth. However, with new regulations coming out on August 9th, NEM Agency was able to tighten up the rules for the 2-day event and provide the live-starved metalheads of Finland an opportunity to rock the fuck out a bit and let loose some of that pent-up COVID-19 energy, while still being safe. While the main event took place on August 6-7th, 2021, some of us headed out to the island already on August 5th to see APOCALYPTICA and their guests.
The second day started an hour earlier than the first, with SILVER BULLET as the first on stage. These guys won the festival’s competition slot by having the most votes on social media, giving us the chance to see their new singer, Bruno Proveschi, in action. While clearly a little nervous, he had great stage charisma and really suited the band’s music nicely. Their selection of songs did, unfortunately, completely leave out all the tracks from “Screamworks,” but they made up for it by playing the best tracks from “Mooncult,” like “Eternity in Hell” and “Forever Lost.” (BW)
So here’s a slight digression: I applied for SILVER BULLET‘s singer position a year or so back when Nils Nordling left the band, but couldn’t be arsed to actually record a demo, so the job went to aforementioned Bruno Proveschi, who did a magnificent job. This band was actually fairly high on my personal must-see list because of this and they did really deliver. If there’d be an award for “most potential of the festival,” I’d probably go with this one, since SILVER BULLET really does have good songs, a fairly original style, and a strong lineup. And I’m not just saying this because I’m trying to gain favor in case their singer goes AWOL again. (KU)
RYTMIHÄIRIÖ is a crowdpleaser band as well, highly anticipated by many, since the festival grounds were pretty filled up because of these guys. There’s some sort of strange magic or power that hovers over this band – which might be a blessing from The Hobo King – since it’s now 2/2 times I’ve covered a festival in Tampere and on my way back to town, gotten free drinks because of them. More on that later. So the band is actually really solid live, even if the singer did sound like he was about to die when giving his speeches between songs. Going through some extremely reliable hit songs like “Olen Kännissä,” “Koska Saatana Sanoo Niin,” and “Viinahampaat,” they really don’t have any shortage of songs that get people riled up and craving that sweet vermouth-gin cocktail. RYTMIHÄIRIÖ is a lot of fun and it gets a lot more fun when you piece together the hobo-lore and characters from their songs, the Spurgurillion, if you will. The only downside for this particular gig was that there was no Gambina in the bar tents, even though they apparently had it a previous year… for shame. (KU)
One of my personal highlights of the weekend was, no surprise, EMBER FALLS. The last chance we had to see them was in August 2019 at a legendarily bad venue, so getting the opportunity to see them live in a real venue with good sound was a veritable treat. The local Tampere guys had changed their stage outfits prior to their Japanese shows before the pandemic, meaning this was Finland’s first chance to see their new style live. Really focusing on the color scheme, they looked awesome decked out in red and black, without any face paint this time around. They hit us up with the new singles, “For All,” “Divine,” “The World is Burning,” and “We Are Become Fire,” but included classics like “One More Time,” “Rising Tide,” and of course, their biggest hit, “Shut Down With Me.” The stage performance goes without saying, as these guys know their way around their instruments. If I’m whining, they didn’t play all of their new songs, but I also want to hear all of their songs at every show, so that’s kind of a personal problem. It’s been a long time since they’ve been on stage and it seems both the crowd and band were feeling that connection, as there was a lot of dancing (kept at a surprisingly respectful distance). Here’s hoping that second album comes out sooner rather than later! (BW)
So digressing from that, we had a small contest between a friend and myself, since we didn’t know what genre EMBER FALLS is. My guess was a NIGHTWISH rip-off and hers was like a discount AMBERIAN DAWN, which both are fairly similar I suppose. Well, we were both very, very wrong, since they were… not that. Industrial-ish power? Power-ish industrial? Let’s just call them “modern metal” and save ourselves a headache, since they were okay. Not to my taste, but we already have a different opinion in the paragraph above this one. Their outfits were banger though, that I’ll give them at least. (KU)
LÄHIÖBOTOX, hmmm. Well, at the very least they had good energy on stage and in their music, but that’s pretty much all I can say for positives regarding this band. Personally not the biggest fan of extremely limited and repetitive lyrics, even if that is your whole point. Not my cup of tea, so it just became background noise after a bit. (KU)
SATAN’S FALL was another pretty good nuts’n’bolts kind of band. The music itself felt like a throwback to more ’80s-’90s metal, which it did admirably. Not everything needs to be super flashy or intricate. Sometimes you just need a bunch of workmen, and that’s what we have here. They even shouted out a mutual friend for their song “Juggernaut” which apparently no-one likes, even the band, so that one goes out for you Pade. (KU)
To add my own little anecdote in here, during this set, there had been a few gentlemen at the merch stand under the influence of, surely, several alcoholic beverages during this set. One of them perked up to the music and began an instant rant that was largely centered around the band sounding like IRON MAIDEN. Whether this was a critique or a compliment, I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure… they got his attention. (BW)
LOST SOCIETY is another familiar name, since they were under… scrutiny during South Park -festivaali a few years ago. These guys are known for energy and always live up to it, with no exception on this day. Their latest released was divisive due to its more melodic nature, but the skill and professionalism these guys show is always fantastic to partake of. For the salty fans who aren’t so into “No Absolution,” this set may have been disappointing, as it focused largely on new material. That said, for those of us who loved the new album, this set was a real banger! I mean, just look at Samy Elbanna! How can you not get into that energy? (BW)
VORNA has been steadily gathering popularity during the last few years and it seems that the pouring rain that seemed to suck out the life out of every other band just worked in their favor. Possessing great lyrical aptitude and great post-rock-ish color in their music, it’d be great to catch this band when you’re not freezing your ass off, even with a newly-acquired hoodie. (KU)
DIABLO is a another legitimate blast from the past, since their last full length album release was back in 2015 with “Silvër Horizon.” I personally haven’t even thought about this band since 2011 or so. That said, there was a lot of good old-fashioned nostalgia to hearing “Mimic47,” “Read My Scars,” and of course “The Preacher,” which still work very well. An eternally solid band. (KU)
Alright, I’m fairly torn on this one. ATLAS brings us “northcore,” which is a fairly interesting mix of genres. On the one hand there’s brilliant moody segments that really sell you the band’s ambiance. Then once you think you’re getting into it, it gets screwed over with weird metalcore sections that completely fuck with your brain. Tonal whiplash aside, there’s not much to fault the band with. The music and its influences are imaginative enough to keep you engaged and there is a lot of purely enjoyable material if you’re just after that. The biggest flaw a band can have is to sound average or boring and ATLAS doesn’t do that. If SILVER BULLET at the beginning of the day got the coveted “Most Potential” award, ATLAS gets “Most Misused Potential,” since there are two (maybe three) bands in this package that a bit more focus could bring out separately. (KU)
Speaking of boring and average, MOKOMA was the penultimate band for the festival and mainstage headliner. Joking aside, there’s some discussion to be had when you have a band that has a sound so archetypal that it’s basically a genre unto itself. This is basically Saturday’s version of the INSOMNIUM gig, where you get a bunch of professional musicians to play their music. Then they do and everyone goes home when they’ve gotten exactly what they wanted. We, both journalist and editor, had a chat at the merch booth talking about making a MOKOMA bingo and every song I could name off of the top of my head would’ve been on that bingo chart. But hey, if you wanna listen to tried-and-true Finnish festival metal, there they were, and they played pretty much like they always do. Except this time it was really cold and wet. (KU)
Of note, the biggest stand-out thing in this set for me was the discovery that bassist Santtu Hämäläinen has, at long last, followed in the footsteps of Tomi Joutsen and relieved his head of his impressive dreadlocks. Surely his neck will thank him, though I admit that I’ll miss the way live photos of him were always so epic… mostly because of the hair. (BW)
And finally, the closing band of the festival began. ARION celebrated the release of their third album, “Vultures Die Alone,” earlier this year and were fortunately able to host an album release show at Tavastia in Helsinki in the end of July. Their SaariHelvetti set included more or less a shortened version of that setlist, including classics like “Seven” and “You’re My Melody” alongside a good selection from “Life is Not Beautiful,” like “Punish You,” as well as the big hits, “Unforgivable” and “At the Break of Dawn.” However, the show did contain a lot of new material as well, like “I Love to Be Your Enemy” and “Bloodline.” The performance was decent and they were a worthwhile band to stick around for, if you weren’t too cold and wet to stay on the island so long, at least. The queue for the boat didn’t reach nearly as far as Friday, so it seemed that attendees had petered out a little bit earlier. Safe to blame the rain, as hoodies sold out very quickly once the chill set in. (BW)
Bands at a festival are, at most, half the fun. It’s the people that make it, and man did this festival deliver on that, even with all the restrictions. I may have accidentally intimidated some poor food stall person to give me too much food with one meal ticket and afterwards sat down and conversed with some exercise enthusiasts, wherein we talked about muscles. [ed: he also apparently didn’t know that I was actually also attending, so that was a fun reveal on my behalf] But most importantly, the biggest chunk of the downtime were spent dedicating way too much time trying to locate my friend’s boyfriend at the festival, whose name is Sami. I did find a Sami, just not the correct one. Alas, the mysterious gentleman remains elusive. Sami, if you’re reading this, we all hope you were eventually found.
As far as organization goes, it wouldn’t be surprising to think that the people at NEM Agency may have been a little stressed out by having to add a ton of restrictions at the last moment, but we haven’t noticed any news about the festival spreading the pandemic thus far, so good on them! Though it’s hard to keep people at a safe distance at a public event, everyone seemed to have their masks on and it made a difference. In fact, the event went so well that they were recently nominated for Best Festival of 2021 by Music & Media.
The food selection was pretty strong this year, with everything from basic burgers and fries, to chicken teriyaki pitas and single sausages, all the way to fancy Finnish sausages and hot dogs and the pig roast and VIP buffet. The quality of food and options was really good, as well as the selection of drinks and length of the queues. The only time it seemed crowded was, naturally, when it was raining. Furthermore, the merch booth was a well-oiled machine and while the outhouses became nightmare zones, there were always alternatives if you knewwhere to look. Though the queue for the boats on the first night was so long that it was approaching the stage, the second night went far more swiftly and the staff did a great job of getting people on and off the island in a smooth and timely manner.
On the boat I got on, there was a couple of gentlemen that were on the same morning route – recognized because one of the lads had a Vault-Tec stencil on his gas mask – so we got talking and it was surprising how many people on board were the most stoked about the RYTMIHÄIRIÖ gig, so we discussed that in more detail and hit it off. The guys were magnanimous enough to offer me a ride back to my friend’s apartment and some free Gambina on the side, since apparently they had phoned their club’s secretary to pick them up and he had the foresight to pick up some of that sweet G. As mentioned before, there is some magic surrounding that damn band. This incident marked the 2/2 times when free booze was given to this humble reporter after covering a Tampere festival, so thanks a bunch SaariHelvetti, and you too, New Haven MC. The G’s are on me next time.
Written by Kalle U. and Bear W.