Saarihelvetti 2022: Afterthoughts

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The 2015-born Saarihelvetti festival 2022 edition is finally behind us, with 2 full days on Viikinsaari, aka the festival’s Isle of Hell. Boasting bands like COMBICHRIST, SMACKBOUND, VOLA, BLOODRED HOURGLASS, and many more, we definitely had to be there again to see how the festival holds up to previous years.

Last year’s Saarihelvetti was a killer, busy event, even if I wasn’t interested in many of the bands, and this year was no different. While the return of big festivals meant that ticket sales weren’t what they could have been this year, the festival did a strong job of bringing in stalls and vendors that suited the event. We were delighted to find Corpse Paint Soaps back, for example, as well as some places that sell jewelry or natural clothes – not cheap plastic bullshit, so thank you!

The layout was fairly similar to last year and I’m quite pleased that they are still not using the building that used to host their second stage – it was way too small and the sound was always awful (I wonder if it costs extra to use, because it could be a nice spot to set up a food stall or two, or to just go and eat or sit or hide out from the rain). Nowadays, they have three fully outdoor tents, along with indoor dining places. Merch by Enslain was well-run and organized, and the poor Viikinsaari weather always sells out hoodies when wind or rain pick up (which they did both, heavily, especially on day 2).

More than Makkara

If there was one place where costs seemed to have been cut this year, it was in the food department. While I was THRILLED that the hatsapuri cart was not present, and while More than Makkara is always a delight, the food options were pretty limited and the indoor eating on the first day was really bad dry DIY buffet burgers – surely not worth the hefty price that eating there usually costs (it’s usually 25€, but I didn’t check the price on day 1). There was no pig roast this year, just tasty sausages, but that meant that the two main outdoor food stalls were only sausages and hot dogs – not a very big meal. There was also a place that was selling scrambled eggs with makkaraperunat [sausage potatoes], which was admittedly baffling. There was also a kiosk with decent burgers and chicken strips, but the queue was usually really long, because it was the one place with a warm meal with fries that was also out of the rain.

The boats seemed to go better this year – last year the queue had reached the merch booth and beyond, but this year the queue was never past the main building, so it seemed that the boats were well-arranged and the festival-goers better-attended – nice!

If there’s one real complaint about this festival, it’s only that it often seems like not enough thought was put into the line-up; this is the same reason many of my crew haven’t come back in recent years – there just isn’t a varied enough program. For example, TURMION KÄTILÖT is almost always a headliner, but as a band who plays at basically every festival every year, they aren’t a big or rare enough name to pull a crowd as the headliner, because guests can already see them at almost any other festival. As well, though it makes sense for NEM Agency to largely pull from their band roster, it might not hurt to branch out a little bit more, as it doesn’t hurt to spread the festival’s wings a little further so they don’t end up with more or less the same bands playing year after year. As it stands, VOLA and COMBICHRIST, and up-and-coming acts from their roster like SMACKBOUND were really great choices – it seems the agency’s taste in music is strong – they just don’t seem willing to invest too much in bands from outside Finland. And even staying within the country, there are plenty of really great up-and-coming bands now that could be brought in, likely a bit cheaper, so that more money could be spent on bigger acts.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the Isle of Hell is generally really nice and whatever is going on is relevant – they don’t waste their time on bullshit at Saarihelvetti. If they would expand their roster a little more, this would easily be on of Finland’s top festivals. And even then… it’s still one of the ones I personally enjoy coming back to, even if the weather is garbage!