GALLERY: 16.5.2024 Steelfest XII – Day 1 @ Villatehdas, Hyvinkää

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As is tradition, the summer festival season began once again with Steelfest from May 16th, 2024 until May 18th, 2024. An exodus of people from all over the world gathered in Hyvinkää for three days packed with live music and debauchery, and as we have gotten used to over the past years, the weekend essentially marked the beginning of the summer weather here at Villatehdas.

The first day began much later and featured a few bands short compared to the following two days, to allow people who still had at least a partial workday to get to the festival reasonably early. Polish BLACK ALTAR opened the celebration of extreme music on the indoor stage in front of the early crowd. The band, comprised of several live members of OFERMOD (who were also scheduled to perform at the festival), didn’t have the best slot, but still delivered to their fans, while people were starting to slowly get into the festival atmosphere.

DEATHCHAIN, with Leper replacing Cult from Hell on guitar, was the first to play in the sun that shone almost the entire weekend on the outdoor stage. They focused their set on their early records (“Deathrash Assault” and “Deadmeat Disciples”), and sounded quite tight for what we saw of their performance, with the vocalist carrying around that bony mic stand of his everywhere.

Next inside was AEGRUS, who got to present some material from their most recent release “Invoking the Abysmal Night.” Their black metal could have worked better at a later stage of the day when darkness would have replaced the heat and sweat, providing the right frame for their music. Nonetheless, it helped to get into the right mindset in time for CRAFT. The Swedes were playing their last show with Nox on vocals before KOLDBRANN’s Mannevond would step in to replace him. Sometimes it can be a bit hard to get fully into a CRAFT gig, but one has to appreciate their chilled, no-nonsense, “I don’t give a fuck” attitude.

Clearly, the most “epic” sounding of the day, COMMANDER AGARES, a solo project of the main man behind the festival, gave the audience exactly what they were expecting. The ambiance and solemn hymns, working as a background for the armored artist’s singing (together with the other vocalist of course), carried the audience, which by now had been growing significantly, and was occasionally chanting “Commander!” During the set, a hooded Markus “Hellwind” Tuonenjoki made his appearance again, and people were really excited when he threw a bone (literally, not figuratively) at them.

HELLBUTCHER was one of the funniest, or at least most entertaining shows of the day, if not of the weekend, at least in terms of raw passion and energy. With a self-titled album just on the way, the band of NIFELHEIM’s vocalist fame truly ignited the crowd thanks to the frontman’s own charisma. The gig also included a few covers, BATHORY’s “Die in Fire” and VENOM’s “Black Metal,” you can’t go wrong with either. But most of all was the impression that the guys on stage were seriously enjoying themselves, and that can really affect the audience as well!

A familiar presence to Steelfest aficionados, ANTIMATERIA reminded us why they tend to pop up often at the festival thanks to their atmospheric black metal, making the minds drift away into space for a while before AETERNUS took the other stage. As a side note, on a day where it was really impossible to get some good lighting on the indoor stage, this was probably the worst moment for that, which at times really spoiled the mood because you would think people come to festivals to also see something on stage and not just listen to music (on the other hand the sound, in general, improved a lot compared to previous years).

So, back to AETERNUS. The Norwegians showed up with a good dose of enthusiasm, and their bearded guitar player with his badass spikes often stole the light. However, it felt like something was not quite in place, or something was missing, in a way, without fully grasping it. It might have been also the focus slowly shifting towards the headlining bands, with HORNA about to play the first of their three sets this weekend, with Nazgul on vocals and a “first-decade” set. Clearly something many were looking forward to. Of course, it’s hard to make everyone happy in terms of the set on these occasions, as there will always be that one guy complaining that they did not play this or that song, but it was pretty nice to go down memory lane while seeing Lauri sing on stage with the guys after a really long time. For the oldest fans of the band, this was obviously something special, and for the youngest ones, something not to miss. The biggest annoyance during the set was once again the difficulty of actually seeing the band, with the lights and smoke constantly making them disappear and reappear as dark silhouettes on stage.

Last to play outside today, while the sky was finally dark and it was no longer hot as hell, was UNLEASHED. With one anthem after another, the band surely gave their crowd what they wanted, and their set was really balanced throughout their vast discography. Despite not being kids anymore, they still performed well and gave a proper closure for those who didn’t have time to see GORGOROTH, if they wanted to go back to Helsinki overnight. The Norwegians were actually the weakest of the three headliners this weekend in terms of engagement. Not that the performance was bad, but INQUISITION and MYSTICUM the following nights were far superior. With Hoest on vocals, the band is not quite the same, but again it’s not the vocalist who is the issue, but one could easily have a “Bruce Dickinson vs. Blaze Bayley” sort of debate here. In a way, Hoest is so deeply associated with TAAKE, that it doesn’t come so automatically to see him in a different context. Still, it was not bad to hear once more songs like “Incipit Satan” or “Forces of Satan Storms.”

In the end, the day went by somewhat faster than expected, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, given how tired everyone was even before starting, and with two longer days ahead, it was good to get a few hours of proper rest.

BLACK ALTAR

DEATHCHAIN

AEGRUS

CRAFT

COMMANDER AGARES

HELLBUTCHER

ANTIMATERIA

AETERNUS

HORNA

UNLEASHED

GORGOROTH