Festival Report: Tuska Open Air 2013

Helsinki, Finland was a busy place on the last weekend of June 2013. Not only were there three, four or five festivals going in and around the city, but the streets were full of gay pride as well. For whatever reason, Tuska Open Air Metal Festival’s visitor count has been on the decline since the relocation from the Kaisaniemi park to the industrial zone — not that the other events around the town helped, quite possibly snatching a few casual listeners with acts like Green Day and Rammstein. However, Teeth of the Divine never abandons those in need, and thus we summoned ourselves to the 16th Tuska Festival where acts like King Diamond, Bolt Thrower and Testament graced the main stage.

by Mikko K.

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Not only had Helsinki received some new activities, but the layout of the Tuska festival area had changed a bit as well. The festival had cut one of its four stages by not setting up a tent outside. The second stage was moved to the opposite of the main stage and the boiler room still held the only indoor stage; now with minor alterations (including the removal of a photo pit) to accommodate more people. Due to the changes, the festival seemed a bit tighter.

Occasionally the second stage would bottleneck access to the third, but overall it was still easy to get around. I wasn’t too sad to see the fourth stage go, as it meant that not as many bands were booked on top of one another and you didn’t have to stampede from one end to the other to try and get a glimpse of everything. Especially when our Teeth crew was only just one man strong this time around.

Minor defects included the water refilling spots, as their locations seemed to have gone to deaf ears. People didn’t seem to realize that there were actually two places to replenish empty water bottles. Most queued next to the building that housed the third stage, adding to the clutter. There was also quite a bit of flooding from the toilet area nearby, with some of the urinals pouring over; apparently warm weather makes people drink and piss more.

However, the biggest omission that struck me in the gut was the lack of free, sponsored beverages. There was no Coca Cola stand to be found anywhere, which previous years was a great way to get some fluid back in while moving between stages. As hinted, the weather was nice throughout with a bit of burning happening on Friday, and humane warmth on Saturday and Sunday — despite some clouds here and there. Again, Tuska proved to go against all weather reports, as the festival evaded the promised rain clouds.

What I paid attention to this year around was that, going against some reports online, the sound policies were pretty much perfect to my worn ears. At no point did I notice any badly mixed sets on any of the stages that would have distracted one from enjoying the bands at hand. Instead I found myself thinking how the mixes were quite fitting on more than one occasion.

As Teeth’s task force was just one man this time around, I figured I’d take it a bit easier this year and not machinegun with the camera from one band to another. It proved to be a wise decision as unlike the previous years, I actually felt quite healthy on the next Monday after all had been said and done.

Let’s rewind.


Cut to Fit

“Because this is probably the last time we’ll ever get to play a stage as big as this…” proclaimed Cut to Fit screamer Jere inside the boiler room that held Tuska’s third stage, somewhat taken aback by the fact that indeed, they had a pretty damn good turnout for their gig at Tuska Open Air, especially considering the festival had just begun. “[…] So this will be the only crowd singalong I’ll do…” he continued before adding “You guys seen the South Park episode where the mongols invade and the Chinese guy has to defend…and the mongolians go DURRRRRH? When I count to three, go DURRRRRH! One, two, three [crowd goes DURRRRRRHH!!!]”. Not that I could see it clearly, and maybe it was just sweat pouring down Jere’s face after beating himself into submission on stage, but there might have been a glimpse of joy in his eyes before he instantly rocketed himself into the next song. And with that moment, the grindcore group from Lahti, Finland won me over. Not that I didn’t appreciate their (on average) 40 second long songs—most featuring a burly groove—about various topics that ranged from silly, to social issues (“Next song’s about how hard it’s to watch how your close ones go mental”), the intolerability of life and government’s way to fuck the average Joe up in the ass. There was something very humane and humbling about the event.


Moments before Tesseract had closed their festival opening set on the ‘Radiorock’ main stage. They’d been summoned by speed dial to replace Dillinger Escape Plan and had 60-minutes to sell their djent-influenced, rhythmic and sometimes progressive take on metal to a still cold but ever-growing crowd. While it didn’t seem to be up to everyone’s tastes, having spun Tesseract’s fresh new album Altered State quite actively the past few weeks prior, the show proved well worth my time. The band’s new singer Ashe O’Hara showed that he was quite capable in a live setting as well. The rest of the band played with conviction and precision while making a strong showcase of themselves too.


I don’t think Abhorrence needs much, if any introduction. After a twenty and some odd years hiatus, the band was back on stage on the smaller second stage, ‘Inferno’. The crowd welcomed the truckload of nostalgia with open arms, and after some adjusting, the band too got back into the groove of it more and more. The band had to throw in everything they had to fill the time slot which also lead to the fact that, in all honesty, they do seem to have some filler. Still, a curiosity that undeniably reminded that the current state of metal in Finland shouldn’t be taken for granted nor that the success of it all was made overnight.


Abhorrence wasn’t the only thing coming back on stage, as Friday saw many bands who had been playing at Tuska not too long ago make a return, including Wintersun, Ihsahn and Amorphis. Wintersun’s latest album Time I sparked some debate with the fans about whether or not it was actually worth the wait, but on stage the new material gelled quite well with the old. The band lead by Jari Mäenpää and backed by Kai Hahto sounded strong and majestic (with a ton of backing tapes), but after a handful of songs, I decided to check out the last few songs from rocking doomsters Tombstoned instead and a bit later, the first few cuts by power metal act Dreamtale. Where the first was quite subdued and concentrated, the latter showed its experience with what seemed like a strong show — considering the music did nothing for me.


Once Wintersun had done its bit to get some adrenaline going, Ihsahn arrived onto the second stage with Leprous backing him up (who had started the festival in the boiler room at the same time with Tesseract). I couldn’t remember much from the 2010 gig Ihsahn threw at Tuska, but this time his progressive metal charmed me with strong instrumentalization. One thing that stood out was how animated Leprous’ keyboardist Einar Solberg was. The guy pretty much stole the show. After a while, I went to check the remaining 30 minutes of Torture Killer’s death metal marathon. And, oh boy, did the band catch me off my guard. Especially notable was vocalist Pessi Haltsonen who provided some of the best growling I’ve heard in years, and the music steamrolled the packed indoor area into total surrender. Death Metal fans, pay note. Oh yeah, as for Leprous, I learned later on that missing them and their 20-minute (or so) set was a huge bummer as their newest album Coal is some of the best stuff put out in 2013.

Bolt Thrower

Conveniently Torture Killer’s murder seemed to have warmed up the audience as Bolt Thrower received a far bigger (and well deserved) response on the main stage than I believed possible, which was nice. The band seemed happy to throw their only European gig to a bloodthirsty audience, ready for war, death and destruction. And that’s exactly what the legendary death metal battalion brought, picking off songs from their vast discography (“When Glory Beckons” was played in honor of Jeff Hanneman) and serving it all with such absolution that none were left unsatisfied after the 75 minutes of nothing but hit songs were over. Another thing where Bolt Thrower obliterated was the merch booth, which they had set up themselves. T-shirts were around 15 euros cheaper compared to other bands (aside from De Lirium’s Order who also sold their goods at a reasonable price).

During Bolt Thrower’s set, I decided to take a peek of Kuolemanlaakso, the Finnish doom/death supergroup of sorts (featuring Swallow the Sun’s Mikko Kotomäki on vocals). I only stayed for a song and a half, but their crunchy offering sounded good, very good in fact — so much so, that I ordered their debut album Uljas Uusi Maailma (“Brave New World”) a few days later for a closer inspection.

Jere Lehtinen of Dallas Stars fame likes metal

I couldn’t explain it to myself why, but I had been anticipating Amorphis’ gig. NHL legend Jere Lehtinen (of Dallas Stars fame) introduced the band to stage, but in the end, the show left me a tad cold despite the band’s strong (as expected) effort. Perhaps it was the setlist that didn’t get me all that excited, as only “On Rich and Poor” was played off Elegy and none from Tuonela. The new songs sounded good live, though, and especially “Hopeless Days” resonated well with me, albeit the song would be tons better without the happy parts. It’s painful how clear it is that if Amorphis were to fully embrace melancholia rather than try to offer hope where they can, it could give birth to things oh-so-beautiful. It also seemed like Tomi Joutsen had something to prove after all the previous death metal outfits, as he seemed a bit more intense than I’ve seen him before. Tomi Koivusaari, on the other hand, seemed a bit less so, but then again, it was his second show of the day having played with Abhorrence just some hours before.

I’ve never grown to be that big of a King Diamond aficionado, but it would have been a crime not to have the man and his band close off Friday. While King went through some medical issues not too long ago, on stage he proved to be in excellent condition both in voice and showmanship. The group provided a show that would have been right at home at some Broadway theater with their mansion backdrop complete with a dancer acting out whatever roles were needed to illustrate the songs.

King Diamond. Who else?

Some fans seemed to crave for more recent songs, but for some dolt like me, the setlist provided a nice general view. Some Mercyful Fate songs (“Come to the Sabbath” and “Evil”) got played as well, with the traditional drum solo at the middle. The acoustic intro to “Black Horsemen” sounded great, while “Welcome Home” came early in the set to please my expectations. Perhaps the most memorable and entertaining parts of the show were “Up from the Grave” and “Voodoo” that really drove home how big of a performer on stage Kim Petersen really is (along with the convincing stage presence from guitar extraordinaire Andy LaRocque, Hal Patino and Mike Wead).

The show was a great tour de force, making it loud and clear that King Diamond is, indeed, a force not to be reckoned with and that I’ve got some more home studies to do. With all due respect to my old-time favorite Testament, King Diamond provided the festival’s most entertaining set right on the very first day. Everything just screamed heavy metal. Pure and simple.

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