Kotka is home to a strong festival scene with Dark River Festival, which annually hosts a lot of the best bands that Finland has to offer. The festival has been around for years, but it’s only this year that it caught my eye, with acts like FROSTTIDE, BRYMIR, OMNIUM GATHERUM, and ENSIFERUM, I knew I had to be present. Due to other commitments on the second festival day, I was only able to attend Friday 9 August, but it was definitely worth the trip.
Because Kotka was an unfamiliar place for us, we arrived well in advance prior to the festival. We bumped into a festival map sign, which immediately gave the right impression of the festival. The festival feels like a cozy, home-made event that felt very welcoming and warm. We were even allowed to enter the grounds before the doors were even open, and before I start diving deeper into the bands, I have to say that I don’t think I have ever felt as welcome as press than at Dark River Festival. We were even given a goodie bag with a big of foods and a drink. It’s small things like these that make a festival experience from mediocre to fantastic, and this is definitely one of the reasons this festival felt like it’s going to become a tradition.
The first band to play was TORCHIA, I hadn’t heard about the band before, but was nicely surprised by their act. The band put on an energetic show with their dark, and grim songs, and served well as an opening act for the night. Definitely, a band to look out for.
FROSTTIDE was up next, which was part of the reasons why I had come to the festival. For about a year, I have been promising these guys I would attend their shows, but every time I had a conflicting schedule, as a result, I had never been able to see a show of them, even though their most recent EP blew my mind. The wait to see this band finally live was definitely worth the while. It was definitely a great show, but unfortunately way too short. The show was incredibly energetic, the sound definitely was well-balanced and I was just really impressed with how these guys deliver their complex songs with that much energy. Count me in for the next round!
Luck was not on our side with the weather, because as soon as BRYMIR was meant to play, it started raining cats and dogs. In my home country people usually don’t care about the rain and go to see the show anyway, the audience, however, was hiding pretty much underneath the tent. Luckily BRYMIR‘s music must have scared away the rain because it ended right after they started to play their set, allowing the band to deliver an outstanding performance filled with songs from the new album. Unfortunately, the band didn’t have enough time to play their classics “Ragnarok” and “For Those Who Died”, and even though the crowd seemed to be massively disappointed by this fact, the band was not allowed to return to the stage anymore. BRYMIR definitely was one of the best acts of the day, playing a very tight set, with ease.
Up next was MARIANAS REST, who did not get spared by the rain. A decent amount of the audience, however, faced the challenge of getting wet and was enjoying their songs. I decided to go get myself some food and drinks and watch the show from the drinking area. The gloomy and moody music definitely fit in well with the kind of weather, and the guys played a dynamic set.
OMNIUM GATHERUM released their album “The Burning Cold” last year, and we were simply blown away by that release. The festival gave us the opportunity to once again see some of those songs come to live. The band came on stage with an atmospheric intro, building up to the first track. The guys, with Jani Liimatainen replacing Joonas Kotto, seemed like they were having a blast on stage. As usual, it was very entertaining to watch Markus Vanhala swing his guitar around and shred as if it’s nothing. The show came to an end way too soon, but it definitely was an outstanding set, and definitely worth the trip to Kotka.
One of the biggest reasons, however, to go to Dark River Festival, was ENSIFERUM for me. Where I come from these guys are insanely popular, and sell out a lot of shows, as a result, I have only been to three shows, combined in a year. The last show I saw of the band, was the acoustic set they played at Haarlem in The Netherlands. That definitely was one of the most fun performances I have ever been to, and surely I wasn’t sure if this would tip to that, but as the band started playing their set, it was clear that the audience had been waiting for the band to play.
Conga lines, and old classics such as “One More Magic Potion” all passed and as soon as I was done taking photos, I joined the folk metal party to dance the night away. I don’t think I have had that much fun in a long time during a show. Everyone was singing along to songs like “For Those About To Fight For Metal”, “Way of the Warrior”. The party exploded during “In My Sword I Trust”, and ended way too soon with “Lai Lai Hei”. This may just have been the show of the year.