Festival Report: Sauna Open Air 2013

After a year long hiatus, Tampere’s Sauna Open Air festival returned again in 2013 for a weekend that consisted of mainly Northern European acts like Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Opeth, Volbeat and Sabaton — with the only US visitor going by the name of Hatebreed. The festival also saw other changes. Instead of being ushered into a park setting, the party was held in a sports stadium and rather than doing three full days, there were only two. And we were there.

by Mikko K.& Matti Manner

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There’s been some scrutiny in the Internet about the change of venue. Personally it was mainly a non-issue for me, but I could see where the disgruntled opinions come from. A sport stadium doesn’t provide a festival-y experience, it doesn’t seem as relaxed and in a way, intimate as a park would as it seemed to have more space around it — especially when half of the stadium was off limits, so thousands of empty seats kind of took away from the mass of the crowd.


There were some issues that weren’t about pure perception though. On Saturday, one of the two entrances (at the opposite sides of one another) was bottlenecked and people had to wait in queue for quite a while. The biggest problem was with the second stage. It was hidden on the road next to the stadium rather than being in the relative closeness of the main one. It seemed like it was an effort away for a lot of people who didn’t want to walk up all those steps and the concrete ramps just to see bands they didn’t already know. Scientists say people are becoming more passive each and every day and the second stage’s turnout was a proof of that. Those who did turn out, however, seemed to be quite devout. There were few minor details that hindered the overall experience as well. The signing sessions had decent-sized queues, which interfered with the water refilling spots, but luckily the weather wasn’t as scorching as it could have been.

Where’s Waldo?

On the other end, as far as comfort goes, it’s hard to complain as there was plenty of seating available, the running track provided a humane enough experience for aching feet (compared to pure concrete) and best of all, one didn’t have to sneeze black shit (dust) from one’s nose for the whole week after. Overall, it was nice to have the somewhat refreshed Sauna Open Air back.

But let’s get on with the bands, shall we.



Mikko: I saw Stratovarius live once years ago well before Tolkki lost his mind and started meddling with oddball publicity stunts and bloodied up female singers. None of that was to be seen, nor Tolkki, but the Finnish power metal institution sounded different, and dare I say, even a bit harder now. I haven’t really paid attention to the band, but I suppose it helps when you pretty much switch the whole lineup like Kotipelto and Jens Johansson have done. It seems to have paid off. Matias Kupiainen (guitars) has the tools to go into aggressive mode while still maintaining the virtuosity and delicate touch that Stratovarius fans are known to love, and the rest of the guys (including bassist Lauri Porra) are no slouches either. Surprisingly, Kotipelto seemed a lot less irritating too than the last time I saw the guy live — as if he’d come to realize that you don’t need to go hunting high all the time. Despite listening to Episode and Visions a few times in my youth, I never had a mental connection with the band. However, on Saturday, I felt satisfaction seeing them doing their thing, but most of all, it was nice seeing them also branch out from their old conventions.

Lauri Porra of Stratovarius is a flashy bass player

Matti: I was stuck in the queue when the band was playing. Not that big of a loss really, as I’ve never been a fan and thought they were pretty much done and dead already. At least I got the latest scoop (or half of it) listening to a few drunken metalheads who desperately tried to not only make sense of the situation with the band, but also empty their full beer cans as fast as possible before security check.

— Who’s that playing?
— I think it’s (hic) Stratovarius.
— Oh, I thought they played yesterday?
— No, that was just Timo Kotipelto (barf)
— Wait, I thought Tolkki was there also?
— No, just Kotipelto. Tolkki (barf) does not play anymore.
— What? I heard he came back?
— Never happened (hic)
— Oh… whatever, I am here to see Bodom!

Blood Red Hour Glass. So much rage.

Mikko: I’d never ever even heard of Blood Red Hourglass (or BRHG as they called themselves) before and I doubt you’ll hear much of them either; the group mingles in a somewhat crowded and contested territory, sailing somewhere between Lamb of God influences and those European “death/thrash” metal acts like Konkhra… you know, the one’s that you can listen through without any disdain but can’t remember much about afterwards. I was about to mention Pantera as a clear influence as well, but there didn’t seem to be as big of an emphasis on grooves or fist-in-your-face shredtastic riffing. While BRHG was putting a commendable effort for a somewhat to-the-norm pummeling of a show, I felt the band still didn’t quite go above and beyond like they should have. They failed to achieve that (almost over the top) ferocity one has come to expect from bands like these in a live setting, although on a positive side they didn’t look corny by acting out rehearsed stage antics either. The rock’n’rolling did get better and better towards the end though, so perhaps there’s an underlying upside to it all.

Matti: Agree. In a way I liked all that was going on but nothing really stuck or popped. Nothing stood out for me as something special. There were some Pantera-esque sounds in the middle of a few songs, though. Maybe they’re still there if I ever hear their current album. The guys did seem to show some dedication as some of the band members had gotten their BRHG-logo inked on their skinsuits with cat-sized letters.

Alexi Laiho still angry about the Bodom-lake murders.

Mikko: To tell you the truth, I’ve never made it a mission to see Children of Bodom live but figured I’d pop my Bodom cherry since they were up on the main stage next. For a band that has toured as much as they have, I was surprised how lackluster their show turned out to be; it first seemed as if they’d been forced at gunpoint to be on stage — as if that silly epithet, Children of Boredom, had actually become a reality. It got better towards the end and the crowd seemed to eat it all up, but looking at it overall, it just felt… flat. Not that the musicianship had gone anywhere, but otherwise it seemed like the machine had not properly warmed up yet. They also played a couple of songs (“Transference” and “Halo of Blood”) from the fresh new album and while there have been some slight alterations to their 20-year-old formula (a bit less pompous and some more extreme influences thrown in), nothing really stood out that would have made a cynical dick like myself go “Wow. I need to hear more of this.” All the musicianship is still there but… meh.

Matti: Yeah. I felt like COB are already way past the high time to get some kind of real inspiration to what they are doing — or rather selling. At this point it’s like this band has run out of all that vital young-boy angst & aggression that once built and fueled their rise. The milk has run out and the old scythe they once wielded with vigor has gotten woefully dull.

Youthful vigor and Lost Society.

Mikko: Speaking of young vigor and morning wood, while well established bands were underachieving, the biggest surprise of the festival went by the name Lost Society. The young thrash metal outfit looked like they’d come to 2013 from 1986 with a rad fucking time machine. They got some notoriety in a band contest where they got signed by Nuclear Blast. For good reason too, as Lost Society looked extremely happy to be on stage and far more eager than anybody to prove themselves worthy of one’s attention. The band plays no-bullshit, pure old-school American thrash metal and as said earlier, they certainly looked the part. The young guns suffered from some technical difficulties at first, which didn’t slow them down one bit and by the end of their 30-minute set, they had already rocked the shit out of it and achieved a level of enthusiasm that very few bands could touch over the weekend. Lost Society definitely made Bodom look even worse. To conclude, if thrash is your thing, definitely keep an eye out.

Matti: Shit! Did I come here just to confirm your thoughts or are we now tuning into some retarded hive-mind, melt-state consciousness. While this was my first gentle time with Lost Society, for weeks now I have almost daily admired their debut record’s ‘80s throwback cover art, which has been hanging on my local record shop’s display window. Outside of the cool (and what turned out to be pretty foretelling) cover art, I had no idea what to expect when I headed towards the Inferno stage as it was just about to light up. And light up it did.

These little devils made a case for themselves, all the while making me feel old as shit — not that it’s very difficult nowadays. Bunch snot-faced young lads (and most likely high school dropouts) playing music from an era when even I was just a small child. How dare they! And how old were these guys? 17-18? Fuck. But alas, I must forgive them, for they played great homage to the metal gods of the old. I see a bright future for these promising guys and I hope they can keep the same energy level going on when their balls start to sag some more.

Mikael Åkerfeldt had some fun things to say. Again.

Matti: After the young guns, came the old again. I saw Opeth play live a few years back when they were going through that clear transitional period with their music with all those quieter and subtle progressive rock elements, which would ultimately lead them into Heritage and the Åkerfeldt/Steven Wilson collaboration Storm of Corrosion. This in result made that gig a pretty big letdown for me as I was waiting to hear more tunes from their (at the time) most recent outing, Watershed. Instead I got to hear a lumbering set comprised of a couple of bigger Opeth hits and a bunch of less played songs that were plagued from the beginning to the end by what felt like randomly placed ambient prog rock gimmicks. Back to 2013, Opeth’s setlist seemed to be more streamlined and well-balanced. In a short but versatile performance, we saw the merry band play it pretty close to the vest and by doing so, showcased pretty much all the band’s strong points. I could not but enjoy the show full-heartedly while it lasted.

Mikko: Opeth did fit the “summer’s here” feeling like Finnish people passing out in public from alcohol poisoning during the summer time (then again they do that in the winter time as well). Not only did Åkerfeldt rile up the audience with his known antics (bad mouthing the Finnish hockey team), but he also seemed somewhat genuinely sorry for having to do a one hour set. But it was a warming 60-minutes.

Finntroll showed who was in charge.

Mikko: Instead of replacing some no-show act on a short notice, Finntroll was actually summoned to play their trollish tunes from the get-go. They have always seemed able to gather up a crowd even when they’ve been mere mercenaries, but I don’t think I’ve personally sat through a complete set from them. I did this time and was thoroughly entertained and it seemed like, again, other people were too.

Matti: Yup. Strong support for Fintroll. The second stage was swamped by people in a way that was not seen again during the two day festival. The nearest beer cage was filled to the quills and people were jolly while the spock-eared festival veterans stomped on the stage.

As a side note, while I found myself looking through the lens at the trolls in full make-up and costumes, I began to go through all the bands that have crossed my viewfinder. It dawned on me that a lot of those bands had some sort of extravagant metal uniforms on; be it troll ears, horned viking helments, chainmails, denim vests and band tags, artistic face paints and decorative mic stands — no corners are cut and none shall be spared. Dress up or die. Like one guy who liked to dress up once advised, “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again…”

Mikko: Maybe in the future, we’re going to have turf wars at metal festivals when the vikings fight against denims all the while the Broadstreet Corpsepainters are gooning up the casual non-dressers.

Nightwish’s first actual front woman.

Mikko: Speaking of casual-friendly music, Nightwish were up next to finish and tidy up Saturday.

After going through two vocalists (namely Tarja Turunen and Anette Olzon) Nightwish seems to have finally found the perfect front woman in Floor Jansen. As people have reported from the Nightwish shows they’ve seen with her at the helm, she did in fact, look right at home and the rest of the band didn’t seem to be playing with a stick up in their ass either. Dare I say, Nightwish actually looked like a band that had been playing together as a band for quite some time… with proper chemistry and all. Floor also managed to gel in with the music too, as she performed through old and new songs without a stretch or a worry in her voice, all the while dominating the stage with her tall presence. Third time’s a charm and perhaps the band has finally found the singer they’ve always been looking for. Will they be able to keep her along? Who knows, but I knew I was hungry so as “Storytime” hit the airwaves, I headed out to the warm evening of Tampere city in a search for a tasty… burger.

Matti: I hadn’t been paying attention to Nightwish since Oceanborn. At the time they were offering something different, even if the lyrics were corky as hell and badly pronounced. That was well before they became so theatrical that they needed to have their own movies to justify all the bullshit.

In a way I could draw some parallels between the evolution of Children of Bodom and Nighwish. While the path traveled is a little different, in the end both seem to have ended up inside an artistical void, where all straws have been pulled to maintain the commercially successful mold. Both were children of the late ‘90s and when they both hit the streets almost simultaneously, they became the new hot things in the Finnish metal scene. From there, they soon gathered the somewhat deserved international appeal. Now, both bands seem to have gone through the natural cycle and stayed well past their welcome; desperately trying to keep a falling empire afloat. Both bands seem to have gotten as big as they possibly can. Now they’re just stagnant in a coma, getting bloated with artificial efforts of maintenance.

Nightwish and the audience.

So where was I? I found myself totally out of the loop on who was singing and why. Walking towards the main stage to snap a few photos, equipped with my dog-like sense of super hearing, I got it all explained to me from afar by a random conversation.

“Dude! I hear Nightwish have yet another new female vocalist…” some guy said to another, before unleashing the ultimate reason as to why Floor Jansen was better: “…she’s got a way better ass than Anette Olzon!”

While in some other context this might have been a valid selling point for me, I carried on to sneak a peek and a few tunes too. In the end, to put it bluntly, I was not that impressed. Unfortunately, living my life completely unaware of Anette Olsen, I couldn’t compare how big of an improvement Floor was. But with the information given to me before, maybe I can do some ass-to-ass comparisons when the next Nightwish singer is crowned. [Insert some generic beauty pageant theme song here to close day one].

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  1. Commented by: Apollyon

    More photographs from Sauna Open Air 2013 available on our Facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151772485129391.1073741828.101088749390&type=3

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