It’s been a few years since NEM Agency started hosting SaariHelvetti on Viikinsaari in Tampere back in 2016. We’ve popped by a few times in the past, but when they decided to include MACHINAE SUPREMACY this year, we thought it was high time we made a thing of it! This year it was held over the first weekend of August, so we packed our bags once more for an island weekend of heavy metal! Gallery coming soon!
We arrived to Laukontori as the sun was shining and a breeze was keeping the heat to a reasonable level. It was a matter of a few moments to get our wristbands for the weekend, which was a nice change of pace. The boats to Viikinsaari were going a bit more often than once an hour to start with, which was fortunate because otherwise I’d have missed the beginning of FEAR OF DOMINATION‘s set. The journey was smooth and swift, taking less than 20 minutes.
The industrial metal favorites of FEAR OF DOMINATION were kicking off our 2-day festival, though NOMADS were first up on the Inferno stage at 16:30. The host appeared on the main stage at 17:15 to open the festival with a bit too much information about where everything and what everything was, though anyone who had walked to the main stage or taken a cursory glance at their website would already know most of what she said.
FEAR OF DOMINATION‘s intro started at 17:19, and so much dark fog filled the stage that it looked like it was on fire. Saku Solin and Sara Strömmer greeted the crowd with literal open arms, starting the show with “II.” The band didn’t seem quite at their peak energy, but that may have been because the stage was pretty small for two drummer/percussionists and six more people on top of that, and really, that certainly makes it a challenge to let loose. The sound quality was also a bit weird, with Strömmer‘s mic sounding like nothing unless she screamed.
Perhaps my favorite part of their set was earlier on, during “Needle.” It’s an older track that already includes female vocals done by Helena Haaparanta which were now done by Strömmer, and the sound was so “Comalies”-era LACUNA COIL (except possibly better) with those echoing vocal sounds that I was immediately overjoyed. Also regarding the vocals, it’s really awesome that they can easily do beauty and the beast vocals, with either singer in either role.
“Paperdoll” was surprisingly early on in the set, usually in a later position, as was their cover of “The Bad Touch,” which was more or less in the middle of the set. Unfortunately, the clean vocals were still nearly inaudible, but the rest of it was a high energy party that had most of the crowd dancing happily throughout, including us! “Face of Pain” started a 3-track “Metanoia“ party with “Obsession” and “Sick and Beautiful” following, and then they closed out their show with “Pandemonium,” leaving us refreshed and wanting more.
We sat outside the Inferno stage while eating baked potatoes as AWAKE AGAIN played. We weren’t, unfortunately, very impressed. The music, while good, was just inferior FEAR OF DOMINATION, and neither singer could hold a tune. Not convinced to become fans, we headed back to the main stage for RUOSKA. These guys were an entirely new experience for me. The vocalist was pretty unusual, not afraid to use some… creative sounds; it didn’t always work, but I’ve been told that it takes some getting used to. They opened their set with “Synkät soinnut, rujot riimit,” followed by “Kosketa” and “Käärmeenpesä.” Their all-white outfits that certainly make a statement in the heavy metal scene appear to be gone now and for the small stage they were pretty lively and engaging. They closed up their set with “Pakkomielle,” leaving the overall impression that this band isn’t for me, but their show was nevertheless quite fun.
SWALLOW THE SUN‘s set approached ominously on the main stage after RUOSKA had cleared out, as a disturbing pagan god figure with a deer skull head adorned the back of the stage; it was almost hard to watch the stage because it was so creepy and I wondered when this band had become so pagan. The music – and I confess I’ve only been half-following STS for the past few year – sounded surprisingly fresh and interesting, though atmospherically they could have used a later slot to add necessary darkness to the visuals.
It’s a little sad to see these guys without Aleksi Munter on keyboards, but his replacement, Jaani Peuhu, did a very nice job of his material. Juho Räihä (rhythm guitar) and Juuso Raatikainen (drums) also proved themselves to be solid replacements for their predecessors, though to anyone who is not me, this might be old news by now. It was also heartwarming to see Juha Raivio back on stage with the band.
They started with the new track, “When a Shadow is Forced into the Light,” from the album that came out in January, and the set covered mostly the past three albums, stretching back to “New Moon,” and ending with “Swallow (Horror pt. I)” from their 2003 debut, “The Morning Never Came”; a nice treat for longstanding fans. The overall impression of them this time was overwhelmingly positive. Everything felt smooth and melodic, harsh when needed, but also occasionally beautiful.
The last band of Friday was TURISAS, who have been lurking around the Finnish festival scene this summer despite a lack of any news from them in quite some time. The first thought I had when they came on stage was, huh, it really has been a long time since I’ve seen one of their shows. Everything seemed different, particularly since Olli Vänskä (arguably the soul of TURISAS alongside Mathias Nygård and Jussi Wickström) still seems to be on paternity leave. His stand-in, Caitlin de Ville, first caught our eye (it was hard to see the stage because it’s so low) in “A Portage to the Unknown,” though she was sadly muted in the mix.
“We Ride Together” elicited a mosh pit, but it was “To Holmgard and Beyond” that really made the rowdy drunken crowd lose it… and start a fairly huge row pit. By the time the pits for “In the Court of Jarisleif” started, we were totally sold on de Ville. If anyone could possibly replace Vänskä, her skill, style, and enthusiasm proved that it was her.
Nygård thanked the Finnish festival scene in general, as this was their last festival this summer, and they followed this with “Battle Metal,” where the pit got purely insane. They changed up the party in favor of drama with “Miklagard Overture” and you bet your sweet buns that everyone screamed “Konstantinopolis!” along with the band. Nygård‘s speeches were a little long (not unusual), but overall the show was a lot of fun and it elicited a nice nostalgic feeling, despite the mediocre material from “Turisas2013“ still present in the set. They finished up with the classic “Stand Up and Fight,” and we left hoping that their next album is still somewhere in the works.
The first ferry back to Laukontori left just after TURISAS‘ set ended, filling quickly to capacity. Fortunately there was a second ferry not long after, so the first boat left it wasn’t a full hour-long wait until the second ferry. With a crisp wind blowing, we were glad to get on the boat as soon as possible so we could get some rest for the bigger and even more exciting Saturday to come!
We were on the first ferry out on Saturday in order to make sure we didn’t miss EVERWAVE, who share a vocalist with EMBER FALLS. The day was looking a little cooler than Friday, so we hoped that it wouldn’t rain or get too windy as the day went on. Fortunately the woods on the island sheltered us from the breeze a bit, making the day cool but overall pleasant.
As mentioned, EVERWAVE was our first stop of the day on the indoor stage. First of all, we just love Tuomas Välimaa‘s voice, so it was unfortunate that the mix up front was so mushy; moving back toward the sound booth corrected this and he began to stand out as he should. They started with the single, “(E)motionless” and then continued to “In Silence We Escape.” I had been thinking that Välimaa must not be a frequent growler since both of his bands have a second instrumentalist who does growls, so you may imagine my surprise then when he belted out both regular and deeper growls; just another reason to appreciate him. Nice too, that Oskari Koponen‘s (guitars & vocals) growls weren’t the same as Välimaa‘s, keeping the sound nicely diverse.
The Inferno stage is quite strangely set up so it’s really difficult to see the stage. Välimaa did his best to stay engaged with the crowd, climbing up on the wooden beams so he could interact with everyone, while the rest of the band swung their hair enthusiastically from as high up as they could reach, often using the amps for some height. They put on a fun and energetic show, ending with a cover of “Take on Me” by A’HA. Their overall music style was quite diverse and possibly still finding itself to a degree, but there was a lot of potential in their sound and we definitely wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them again.
The next point of interest was the main stage, where KALMAH was playing at 16:00. I might be wrong, but I can’t recall ever seeing KALMAH live before, so it was important to check them out. The first notes sounded like some fierce arpeggios, before vocalist Pekka Kokko joined in. While KALMAH‘s vocals aren’t really my style, bassist Timo Lehtinen‘s classic headbanging alongside the really excellent guitarwork (and cool tattoo) made for a pretty strong show. Lehtinen actually might have been the highlight for me, with excellent bass lines repeatedly throughout their show. Even far from the stage, the bass was really notably stylish the whole time. While they still haven’t made it to my list of favorites, nevertheless they played an enjoyable set and it was nice to finally get a feel for them.
TYRANTTI was up on the Inferno stage next, but their sound was a bit too “new wave of British heavy metal sung in Finnish,” which didn’t do too much for us. The music overall wasn’t much to phone home about and the vocals were more or less awful (mainly the high notes); however, some of the riffs were pretty fun – there was one marching beat that was pretty funky – and they had some energy to work with. After listening to a couple of songs and not being overly impressed, we went to the semi-secret kiosk that had fry plates and burgers; the burgers were also nothing special but only cost 6,50€, which is the cheapest we’ve seen in years.
ARION was our next stop at the Inferno stage, and though we’ve seen them a few times already this summer, it’s always a delight. They were a popular choice, it seemed, as the indoor stage area filled right up and over its capacity. We’ve seen these guys quite a few times this summer already but haven’t gotten sick of them yet. Hearing new favorites like the empowerment anthem of “No One Stands in My Way,” the strong and appropriately punishing “Punish You,” and the popular “Unforgivable” mixed in with classics like “Out of the Ashes,” “Seven,” and “I Am the Storm” made for yet another excellent gig (though can we bring back “Last of Us,” pretty please?) and the indoor stage had filled up to the point where it became hard to get in and out. They’re always a solid bet for a good time at a festival (or a club, for that matter), so it’s always worth it to see their smiles and energy, Iivo Kaipainen‘s guitar solos, and the overall good feelings their shows create.
The next band of interest was OMNIUM GATHERUM, but since we were planning to see them at Dark River Festival as well the following week, we only stayed for a few high energy shredding death metal songs before heading over to check out the burlesque shows on the Rock n’ Tits stage. It’s always a good time watching body-positive women of all shapes and sizes get up on stage and show what they’re made of, and we saw everything from teases to one of the performers in a black tutu devouring the heart of a (plastic) baby and bathing in its blood. There was plenty to see on the small stage if you found yourself bored at any point.
It did feel like – from our perspective as attendees – the Inferno and Rock n’ Tits stages could have been exchanged. Of course, the indoor Inferno stage is farther from the main stage, which helps for the sound, but there was very little crossover between bands on those two stages and there was just so much more room outside there for people to see the stage. As well, the sound balance is pretty terrible indoors, so it might do the bands more justice if they moved this stage outdoors somewhere.
BLOODRED HOURGLASS has been rising in fame in recent years and their latest release was pretty solid, so we made an effort to go to their show. As mentioned, the Inferno stage really isn’t a very good place to put bands with even the popularity of ARION, let alone BLOODRED HOURGLASS or MACHINAE SUPREMACY. It was already packed to capacity by the time OMNIUM GATHERUM had stopped playing on the main stage and we were forced to listen to BRH from outside. The music sounded fantastic even if we couldn’t see what the performance looked like, and we will definitely try to catch them again at a club show soon to get a better idea of what they’re like live.
The Finnish folk shamans of KORPIKLAANI are another on my list of bands that it’s been a while since I’ve seen. The line-up has changed a couple times, though Jonne Järvelä and co. were as delightful as always, and Tuomas Rounakari (violin) and Sami Perttula (accordion) have each clearly found a strong place within the band.
It’s impossible to be glum at a KORPIKLAANI show and we were able to slow dance and join in on some sort of folk metal Korpi-conga-line on a few occasions. They started out with hits like “Viinamäen mies” and it was almost a complete full-force party, though songs like “Sampo” gave the crowd a little time to recharge. We had so much fun in the crowd that we were halfway through the gig before we even noticed the cowboy-hat-clad brass players in the back of the stage. The mosh pit for “Vodka” spread like a plague, and everyone was sweaty and red-faced by “Happy Little Boozer.” There were even a few condom “balloons” floating around – it was quite the party!
We had another rest during MEDEIA‘s set, disappointed to find out that the mustamakkara [black sausage] were all sold out. Settling for the mediocre regular sausage, we sat down in the grass to rest our weary legs until the inevitable party to come.
TURMION KÄTILÖT drew nearly the whole crowd to the main stage one last time for another disco heavy party, opening up with “Grand Ball.” While they actually didn’t play any of my personal favorites, that didn’t mean they held back anything good though, keeping classics like “Tirehtööri” in there and only three new tracks: “Faster than God,” “Helvetin torvet,” and “Sikiö”; the rest of the material was a collection from throughout their discography.
MC Raaka Pee and Shag-U were moving about the stage as much as possible considering its size, and while SaariHelvetti would’ve been the perfect place to include their freakshow guests (what more do you need, beyond metal, burlesque, and a freakshow?), the stage was likely much too small for that sort of thing. Nevertheless we got the usual mix of great music and ridiculous Finnish speeches before the finished up with “Pyhä maa” and “Lataa ja varmista” and we had to rush to the indoor stage for the final act of the night.
I’d like to reiterate once more that it was nonsensical for MACHINAE SUPREMACY to be on the indoor stage at this festival. There wasn’t enough room to host the number of people on this sold-out day who had been hoping for a chance to see the SID-metal kings play their unique brand of gamer metal. They opened up with “Boss 2” from their soundtrack to Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, followed by “Beyond Good and Evil.” The stage was cramped for these guys and even from the front row, the pillars obscured the view of at least one the band members at any given time.
Drummer Nicky Karvonen had brought out something new, as he had lights on his drum sticks, making for a little extra visual flavor on stage. He’s no slouch on those drums either, so the lights were flying around, mesmerizing the audience. They skipped their newest album, “Into the Night World,” with most of the set coming from “A View from the End of the World.” “Republic of Gamers” was well-represented via the title track, as well as the fan anthem “Rise of a Digital Nation” and the high-energy “Laser Speed Force.” Jonas Rörling and Tomi Luoma on guitars each got their chance to show off their skills, and Robert Stjörnström on vocals was, as always, happy to see everyone and greeting and interacting with the crowd as much as possible.
One of the must-hear songs from MASU in Finland is “Indiscriminate Murder is Counterproductive,” and “Player One” was included as a treat from the old material. The set finished up with the traditional closer, “Through the Looking Glass,” and the band passed through the pit to give high fives to the front row as they exited the stage. With their huge fanbase likely being behind the early sell-out of Saturday, it was no wonder that MASU left the festival-goers happy and energized, talking about what a great time it was as they queued for the boat back to the mainland. Hopefully next time they’ll be on the main stage where they belong!
This was our first real and proper experience with SaariHelvetti, which left us wondering why we haven’t come more often in the past. The festival area was limited to approximately 2,500 people, but even throughout the sold-out Saturday, the festival never felt over-crowded or dirty.
The festival offered food from Finland, namely sausages and the aforementioned blood sausages [mustamakkara], as well as teriyaki stir fry and other plate meals, baked potatoes, and really basic burgers. There was a Saturday afternoon brunch, but it was a bit overpriced for our budget. Nevertheless, it was served in the classy indoor restaurant and bar. While we appreciate the effort to bring more variety to festival food areas, the ultimate feel food-wise was mediocre+, as charging 15€ for a plate of festival food, no matter how good, is pretty steep, but the lower-priced foods simply weren’t very good.
Alongside the merch tent, there was also a small tent selling the usual festival clothing and accessories, as well as the two newer additions that seem to be very popular this year: glitter and/or gore make-up and headbands with horns on them. These stands seem to be profitable, as they’ve been present at almost every festival we’ve been to with many people clearly having indulged.
The island itself is a great place to have a small festival, as there was plenty of sitting space, both tables and grass. Some attendees were simply basking in the sun, while others drank at tables while the rest watched the stage. There were a few people in fancy attire playing mölkky near the main stage, and many of the bands were hanging out and taking photos with their fans. The overall atmosphere was fun, with plenty of fellowship, lots of friends meeting up, and no fights that we noticed. If the line-up is half as good next year, chances are we’ll be back again!
Written by Bear Wiseman
Photos by Lene L.