Dark River Festival 2022 is now behind us, as is my full summer festival season, which started with Rockfest back in the beginning of June. Having attended nine music festivals this summer, surely it must be hard for a small festival like this to stand out in the crowd… or is it? Indeed, Kotka’s own metal festival absolutely held its own against the others!
At this point in my life, if you ask me if I want to go to Knotfest or Dark River Festival, the answer is obvious. That’s right, I’ll say it outright: out of eight heavy metal music festivals (one was a psych fest, which is not really comparable), Dark River is by and far my favorite, and no big, fancy names are going to drag me away from this festival. It has all of the warmth and intimacy of a small festival, but with smooth and friendly organization, good food, and really solid band choices that not even bigger festivals have anymore. Yes, okay, maybe we had seen most of the Finnish bands already play this summer at least once, but this was almost a Best-Of of Finnish summer bands of 2022, as many artists finished their summer festival season alongside us: EMBER FALLS, BRYMIR, BLOODRED HOURGLASS, MARIANAS REST, LÄHIÖBOTOX, WOLFHEART, and more all gave great performances, even though this wasn’t the first time we had seen them this summer. However, on that note, something else new this year was Asim Searah acting as MC on the main stage. While I’ve always been a fan of Asim‘s music, I’ve not always been a fan of the way he fronts a stage, so when I saw this happen, I was worried… yes, very worried. However, he actually knocked it out of the park – he was engaged and friendly, and wasn’t remotely rude or obnoxious. Can we give a shout-out to this huge improvement? I’d actually love to see him back next year!
Notably different from last year, upon arrival to the festival on Thursday, we found the guy at the wristband exchange to seem pretty flustered and confused, as it seemed like camping cars were exchanging wristbands at the same place where normal attendees were also getting their wristbands this day… it seemed like a bit of a mess, but fortunately, that seemed to be the only issue on the first day (and only a small percentage of attendees came that day). When Friday came around, we already had our wristbands, so we didn’t need to bother with the masses at the entryway – we just came on in, no trouble and no unnecessary pestering from the guards.
The festival area was set up much the same as last year, though they do seem to have room for more stalls around the back end of the festival, if they were so inclined. Again, this festival wins me over for not having cheap plastic crap merchants, so points for the eco-consciousness on that front. The merch booth was far better run than last year, though the work ethic of the people in the merch booth was still pretty shitty – if you compare to Saarihelvetti, where the merch booth is a tightly-run machine where no customer is ever left waiting for long, at Dark River this year, at least they seemed a little more organized than the 2021 shitshow, but I came by regularly to see if more bands had brought merch and was regularly annoyed to see that there were 3-5 people working there but no one was paying any attention to the customers, because they had “things to do” behind the counter. Inexcusable service, if you ask me. Also, I heard from a few bands that they had some issues (mostly regarding slowness) picking up their merch when they wanted to leave. So it seems the festival does still have a few places where it could improve. Otherwise, the selection of merchants was small but very suitable for the event – maybe Corpse Paint Soaps would be a good inclusion next year?
One area in which Dark River has always excelled is the food. The Van was back this year, though they had a shittier selection than before. Their “smash” burgers were indeed very tasty, but this time around they didn’t have fries, so the selection was worse, along with worse service than they had last year (even though it was largely the same people). However, the Pallas pizza wagon was also back and we went to eat there every day because the food was so good – in fact, it’s in the top-2 pizza places I’ve ever eaten at in Finland (in 13 years of living here), along with Niska in Turku.
The overall organization was really nice as well. There were a few rough moments, like in WOLFHEART‘s set when the sound cut out, but overall the bands seemed to be having a good, relaxed time and the organizers, while busy, seemed to be getting things done. When it comes to size, atmosphere, and music, Dark River seems to be the best festival Finland has to offer, so I, for one, am really glad that I saved the best for last!