Festival Report: Tuska Open Air 2016
Summer is finally dead. Someone clever might shout ‘Winter is coming! Winter is coming!’ from the top of their still-attached heads, but we here at Teeth know that Game of Thrones references are so last season. Instead, we’re talking about a quantum leap to stranger days back in July. July, when we went to Tuska Open Air Metal Festival in Helsinki and lived to tell about it. So come with us, and longingly remember three days of sun, rain and heavy metal.
Last year, we missed Tuska in its entirety, but figured we’d try to get ourselves back in again this year. And we did. Tuska Open Air is one of the longest-running metal festivals in Finland, and offers three days’ (July 1st to 3rd) worth of metal, mayhem, and fine dining. Instead of boring you right from the beginning with anal minutiae, just check one of our older reports for the basic questions. This time, we’re all about the bands.
I was sad to miss Cattle Decapitation’s festival opening set, as hearsay and elves said that the show was quite possibly the best gig of the weekend. Then again, it’s simply evil to put such a band on a 2 PM timeslot on a Friday when people still haven’t woken up or have “obligations” at work. Pure evil I say!
Swallow the Sun is not one of those bands that play it safe. For Tuska, the band booked three gigs on three separate days in three separate settings, and played through the three CDs of their newest album, Songs from the North I & II & III. Friday’s gig took place on the main stage under a blinding sun that perhaps wasn’t the most appropriate match for the band’s mournful mood. On Saturday, they played inside in a new, much more intimate setting, but access was only granted to those who had won a raffle. And finally on Sunday, the band performed inside on the third stage. I only caught the first and last, but on both accounts the band soldiered on and delivered some crushing notes to take home. Party music? Not so much.
Then it was time for Cain’s Offering. I’d never heard them mentioned before, but then shortly before the show, I overheard some guys talking about the band on the subway. One commented on the other’s homemade Cain’s Offering shirt, and then they debated about where Cain’s Offering had played and had not played. Listening to them debate and out-metal each other, I figured to myself “oh boy, Cain’s Offering must be some good shit.” So I went to the tent stage with a genuine interest. The show started and each of the members stepped on stage one by one. They looked awfully familiar. There was ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen who I’d completely forgotten existed, then there was Jens Johansson… and finally, no other than Timo Kotipelto arrived.
For some, that might be enough of a punchline, but for the rest, if you’re looking back at Sonata Arctica’s past few albums and thought they deviated a bit too much from the first ones, then Cain’s Offering might have something to offer you. Hell, I’ll step up and publicly announce that I think Sonata‘s debut is a goddamn good release, but to me, Cain’s Offering wasn’t offering much. Competent as expected with that member line-up, but I think I found more solace by trying to get to the bottom of my beer mug.
Lordi got some publicity (not all of it good) throughout the metal spectrum around ten years ago, when they picked up the much-cherished first place in the Eurovision song contest. Even the late, great Oderus Urungus talked shit about them. During their Tuska appearance, the band’s set leaned towards their early years, even bringing out old version of the Lordi-character, but the biggest responses came in the end as “Would You Love a Monsterman” and the song that brought them their international, yet short-lived stardom, “Hard Rock Hallelujah” echoed through the festival grounds. Truth be told, the show was entertaining and the songs worked well in the live setting. And no matter how you might feel about their music and antics, you have to show respect to anyone committed enough to wearing tons of latex under the scorching sun.
Last time I saw Kvelertak was at Tuska, in 2011. It was just after some fuckwit had wasted an island of teenagers, and the Norwegian group seemed pretty pissed about it. It was one of the angriest and most physical show I’ve ever seen, and I still think I’ve got a bruise from vocalist Erlend Hjelvik, who jumped on top of me when I wasn’t watching. This time I had my guard up the whole time, but it seemed like things had calmed a bit since that one particular day. The group provided a sweaty, energetic, and rocking gig. Perhaps it’s time I lifted a finger and checked them out on album?
I’ve also lost track of the times I’ve seen Testament play at Tuska. Not that I’m complaining, as the band and especially Chuck Billy were as welcoming and good-spirited as ever. They’re a joy to watch and Alex Skolnick doesn’t seem to be getting tired of thrash metal either. Shame their setlist doesn’t seem to deviate at all anymore. This was almost a repeat of the one they did a few years ago, give or take a few songs. Don’t take this personally Testament, but you realize you’ve got some excellent stuff on albums like Low and Demonic, right?! Play more of those tunes, goddammit!
Luckily, they’ve got a new album coming out! Chuck Billy also gave a nod to the indigenous people of Finland during the show. It may have been a message lost on the many fans waiting for the next wall of death, but it was an important message nonetheless — especially when the Finnish Sami-people are, even today, still fighting for some of their rights.
This year (and maybe last year too? I wouldn’t know — we weren’t there), the second stage was moved inside a huge-ass tent. While the shelter from the light and sun allowed for better stage shows, it also got extremely crowded during the more popular acts. Still, Behemoth took advantage of the plusses, and played through The Satanist (also not exactly a sunshine record). Personally, I think the whole performance leaned a bit too much on spectacle as I was more in the mood for a pure show, but after eavesdropping on a few people, the real fans apparently had their expectations met.
I’ve never understood the appeal of Tobias Sammett’s Edguy, but I consider the The Metal Opera from his other project, Avantasia, to be one of the finest, pure-cheese power metal albums ever released. So I was pleased that the organizers had booked Avantasia to conclude Friday’s metal meeting. Sammett brought a bunch of other notable people with him for the show, from Michael Kiske and Jørn Lande to Ronnie Atkins, Eric Martin and Bob Catley. At some point, the whole thing felt like a sitcom episode where someone famous pops in to the applause and cheers from the audience. Ridiculous. Fun. Yet, all in vain, because goddammit, the fuckers played only like one song off the first album. What a waste.
Oh yeah. Michael Kiske suspiciously looked a lot like Michael Chiklis of The Shield (and The Commish) fame. Just look at the guy. I was constantly expecting Vic Mackey to put a cap in someone’s ass, but alas, that wasn’t meant to be either.
The festival’s main attraction for me was Primordial, who had been slotted into an interesting spot: five minutes short of 3PM, and with it, another scorching sun. Kind of like what Triptykon had to endure some weeks earlier at the South Park festival. Despite the mismatched setting (where was the mist? the gloom? the craggy highland hills?), the band conquered and A.A. Nemtheanga continues to be one of the finest leads in metal. He was able to pull whatever energy there was to be had out of the audience, and sallied forth with the band. It’s a shame I hadn’t set up an interview, as I was curious to hear if he had any thoughts to share about Brexit and the EU. Perhaps the ‘And that is true’ line he threw after “As Rome Burns” was a nod to that.
No matter what stage Turmion Kätilöt plays on, they attract a crowd that fills the space. Tongue firmly in cheek, the combination of metal, pop music flair, dance music energy, and low-brow sexual innuendo has made the band one of the most popular live acts in Finland. Underneath all the glitter, the group (helmed by MC Raaka Pee and Spellgoth, from Horna and various other things) does feature some depth. That’s easy to forget in the midst of unadulterated entertainment, bouncing beach balls that almost piledrived us taking photos over, and of course, flames. I still haven’t figured out why they’re not constantly touring in Germany or Japan, even if they do sing in Finnish and have a very Finnish sense of humor.
I’m a late bloomer when it comes to Omnium Gatherum, but I’ve caught them live a few times over the past few years. Vocalist Jukka Pelkonen always seems like a really nice guy up on the stage, very inviting and welcoming and trying to make the audience happy whilst screaming into the microphone. Among some old surefire hits (such as “The Unknowing”), the band also got to showcase their latest album Grey Heavens. The band has toured quite a bit the past few years and it shows on stage, as no matter the venue, situation, time or weather, Omnium seems to rock and roll without any hiccups of their own doing.
German’s technical death metallers Obscura seemed a tad out of place on the main stage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that the festival gave them a respectable chance to showcase their talent, but they would have worked better inside the tent or in the boiler room (third stage). Despite the band’s good effort, they were an obscure attraction for the crowd. Flawlessly-played technical death metal just isn’t the easiest way to bring in people whose metal shirts scream “I like the classics” or hell, “I’m here for radio friendly.” Now what bands might those be? Tell us in the comments and click the like button and subscribe to our channel. Oh wait, this wasn’t Youtube or some clickbait site. We have standards here!
Years ago, Thunderstone was destined to become one of Finland’s biggest musical exports, but their success never quite materialized. Something just wasn’t there. After seven years, they finally released a somewhat rejuvenated comeback album of sorts (Apocalypse Again) and it actually had a few good tunes on it. In the live setting though, it came off as by-the-numbers. It didn’t offend, but I also think I got my lifetime’s worth from it. Those around me felt differently, as many were happily singing along. Tuomas Yli-Jaskari (from Tracedawn) filled in for usual bassist Titus Hjelm, and had learned all the songs in three hours or something like that. Nice work.
“Do you like thrash metal?” “Guy with the green hair didn’t raise his hands!” “I’m watching you!”
Apparently sponsored by Monster Energy drink, Anthrax arrived to promote their latest effort For All Kings. Their brand of thrash has never stuck with me or made an impression, aside from some of their ‘90s albums. I borrowed those from the library though and they’ve yet to sell me their stuff.Still, they’ve always been enjoyable live, and Saturday’s set was no exception. Joey Belladonna is always a treat and a likeable fellow on stage. Glad to see that the band’s lineup hasn’t had too much drama as of late. While he’s been around three years or so, ‘new’ guitarist Jonathan Donais still seemed quite reserved and subdued, like he’s wondering if he’s still in the band or not. Frank Bello, on the other hand, was just a whirlwind on stage.
I also noticed that Anthrax’s shirts started at 25 euros, like most others at the beginning of the festival, but at some point on Saturday, the price had hiked up to 35 euros. Not sure if it was a pricing mistake or a scheme to nickle-and-dime a few more Monster Energy Drink cans. (When did I turn into such a cynical asshole?)
Despite their visually excellent setting and overpowering lights on the tent stage, Stam1na really should have been on the main stage instead of Obscura. The group seemed even tighter than they were at South Park festival. The tent was bursting at the seams – not the most ideal environment for the claustrophobic. As at South Park, the new songs off the band’s latest Elokuutio sounded as crystal clear as the album versions, but even more harder and more pummelling. Whoever’s responsible for the band’s audiotechnicalmumbojumbo really earns whatever they’re paid. Like ‘em or hate ‘em, Stam1na live are simply a force to be reckoned with — they gave even Anthrax a run for their money, despite vocalist/guitarist Antti Hyyrynen joking about having to play after them.
Then it was time for the festival’s biggest attraction, Grammy®™-award winning Ghost. Say what you will about the music, but in a live setting, the shit works — especially when there’s no sun to poke you in the eye and water down whatever pseudo-satanism you might be peddling. For the first time in the festival’s history at the new Suvilahti-location (6th year thus far, the organizers were able to sell out a day with around 11,000 visitors coming in on Saturday. Entertaining show. I can see the appeal and would possibly see them again. Oh, and did I say they won a Grammy®™?
The weather on Sunday wasn’t promising at first, so I took it slow and only made my way to the show just as Hatebreed was starting their set. Jamey Jasta must have done a rain dance or two — the sky poured down in full force. The moshpit didn’t seem to mind though. They bounced around and earned themselves some pneumonia. God bless.
Things were drier under the second stage tent. I was glad for the chance to finally see Diablo for the first time, since I had missed them at South Park. Their first album in seven years, Lost Horizons, was a decent effort and continued from where the band had left off all those years ago. Unfortunately, the band just felt a bit uninspired live. The song material is strong, the audience was ready and willing, but the performance fell few steps short and wasn’t as tight as I would have guessed. There were strong moments, especially with their classic songs, but the show never achieved the frenzy I had hoped for. The song “Prince of the Machine” was a nice curiosity, though, with greetings sent towards Oulu and a dedication to Tenkula and Lopakka (of Sentenced fame).
The rain stopped pouring by the time for Gojira took the main stage. Their new release Magma turned out to be one of the best albums in their discography, and the songs blended nicely with the rest. Production was top notch, and the pummeling riffs and raffs found a clear path to the listeners’ spines. They were a joy to see in 2009, and still were in 2016. Excellent, excellent stuff that’s not only hypnotizing, compelling but somehow primal as well; it was easy to get lost in their rhythm. And what is it with bass players wrecking around live? Like Frank Bello, Jean-Michel Labadie was also (again as always) spinning, stomping and whirlwinding around the stage as if he was the bus in the first Speed movie.
With the cold, rain and two and a half days of rocking and rolling, I’d decided that Katatonia would be the last band I’d see. On album, they’re great if not amazing. I don’t know what it is though, but they simply don’t work live at all. They played at the same festival some years back and I kind of hoped that the gig back then was a one-off but it was the same result this time. There was just nothing to connect with, even though the song material makes it really easy to sob your worth alone in the comfort of your own home. After trying to get into the show after a handful of songs, I finally admitted defeat and left the festival for a Burger King meal and a helicopter ride back home.
Children of Bodom finished the whole festival but I wouldn’t know anything about that, now would I?
All in all, Tuska continues to be a safe bet if you want a good dose of varying kinds of metal in a safe setting. The best variety can be found on the third stage, but was under-represented in this article. Maybe I’ll do better with that next year! Plus it’s the festival 20th anniversary in 2017, so now we anxiously wait to see how the big year will be celebrated.
Oh yeah. That’s not all. Teeth of the Divine invited a Finnish street photographer Jukka Tilus to capture the crowd at the festival and you can see those, as well as our more traditional band shots at our official Facebook page.