Festival Report: Tuska Open Air 2014

Even if the Finnish summer does its best impression of having a bipolar mental condition by throwing hail out every other day, there’s one thing you can count on in June and that’s Tuska Open Air Metal Festival held at the capital of Finland, Helsinki. The 17th Tuska was fighting an uphill battle with the visitor count being somewhat stagnant as the mainstream heavy metal boom is starting to wind down after Lordi’s Eurovision victory in 2006. World economy hasn’t improved much either and a lot of different things like Zirconium and Tony Little’s latest ab machine are fighting for people’s spending money. So how do Anthrax, Dimmu Borgir and Emperor fare in a tight spot?

by Mikko K.

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Pretty good actually. The festival organizers reported that the event had surpassed its expectations by serving 24,000 metalheads (or so) throughout the weekend. That’s a bit less compared to past years, but no doubt the festival has balanced itself between expectations and budget. I guess Tuska’s not going anywhere unlike Sauna Open Air that went bankrupt.

With half of Teeth’s fighting crew succumbing to the battle injuries from Nummirock festival the week earlier, I was again forced to go solo — which is fine, considering all the masochism and self-deprecation that running Teeth of the Divine requires. Speaking of Nummirock, or any other Finnish festival, when you compare the lineups, there’s a lot of overlap. If one was to attend them all, things would probably go a bit stale after a while, but “luckily” I haven’t had the luxury this year.

Anyway. Tuska. 2014. Go.



Ensiferum had the honors to cherrypop the main stage. I was still in the queue waiting for my credentials and the +10 charisma boost that comes with the press pass. The plebs seemed to pour into the festival from their own gates quite effortlessly, so at least the four years at Suvilahti have ironed out some of the more basic quirks of the operation.

Poisonblack & Antti Remes

Right after I was fab fived, I found myself in the photo pit for Poisonblack. Truth be told, I really didn’t hear anything the band was doing on stage, as I was still in a rush of getting accustomed to my surroundings. Not that things had changed since last year,but at least the ‘booth babes’ with free Coca Cola had made a welcomed comeback. I know putting it that way sounds extremely exciting, especially for a metal site, but the small free cans are an excellent way to keep thyself hydrated throughout the day as you combat the sun.

Friday’s set must have been somewhat of an ungrateful gig for Phil H. Anselmo and The Illegals. A lot of people wanted to see Phil Anselmo live, but I’m not sure how many of them cared for Superjoint Ritual or even knew Phil had some new stuff to offer as well. Despite the somewhat welcoming audience, in reality, it seemed like what they truly wanted was Pantera.

Phil Anselmo

The Cowboys from Hell were supposed to play with Slayer at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, back in 2001. Then some planes struck a couple of buildings and the world changed permanently. Slayer came over with Cradle of Filth, In Flames and Amorphis, but Pantera didn’t want to have anything to do with flying planes so they stayed home. Three years and few months later, Dimebag got shot and that was that for Pantera.

Phil’s still a charismatic fellow. A lot more subdued and rugged, older to be frank, but still commands a bit of that machismo that, despite the naysayers nowadays, made the guy a legend of the ‘90s metal movement. When he speaks, you tend to listen and he still has his wits about him. “You’re waiting for your heroes… in black and white makeup… like the poseurs I know you are” the man laughed, while chuckling at his own notions that his new band would become bigger than Metallica ever was.

But, the set at this year’s Tuska was an odd thing to witness. The audience was courteous, but it still seemed like the band and the guys throwing up the fists really didn’t seem to meet — aside from when the group was covering Pantera with songs like “Domination/Hollow” and “Hellbound”, but everyone knew that was not enough. At some point Phil seemed surprised that they still had minutes to fill: “We can make it up as we go… so whadda ya want to hear?”

“What really grinds me gears…”

Dare I say there was a ton of awkwardness, but still at the same time, plenty of ‘fun’ as well. Kind of like driving 120 miles per hour into oncoming traffic, not holding back and still trying to make the best of the situation and in a nihilistic way, actually enjoy it. In one of the greatest stunts of the festival, Phil completely blueballed the audience by rocking Slayer’s “Raining Blood” on guitar, getting the rest of the band behind him, riling the audience up for a new pit and then just finishing it off into a wall before the thing got anymore traction. Ice cold.

Phil Anselmo 20 years earlier. No wait. Nails.

Speaking of getting your brains splattered all across the festival grounds, Nails was up next on the second stage and they got a “holee shit” out of me with their pummeling hybrid of all things heavy. The band steamrolls violently through any opposition and forces people to succumb to the beating. I’d assume the set would have worked better inside the boiler room, with a more intimate contact with the crowd, but whatever. A strong heads up from the band and probably the closest I’ve felt of seeing Being and Nothing -era Extreme Noise Terror live.

Children of Bodom was supposedly playing at Tuska for the first time in… 7 years or something? Anyway, they were meant to play last year but had to cancel due to reasons; most likely for touring quite actively in North America. This time the band had set up a homecoming party of sorts to celebrate the occasion, driving a couple of trucks on stage and a few real barbeques, up and ready to grill. Lost Society seemed to be doing most of the serving, while Bodom were handing out their musical meat on the front of the stage.

Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho shreds and cusses

Like I think I said in last year’s Sauna Open Air report, Bodom aren’t in my area of interest. For what’s it worth, they seemed to rock the stage, have a good time and give the audience a worthwhile metal show. Me, I had time to concentrate on benign irrelevancies, such as shaking my head at Alexi Laiho’s in between banter; the guys definitely have been touring the States for far too long, as Alexi’s tendency to speak English to the home audience felt at times, quite laughable with the constant explicits. Fuck this, fuck that. Sure, there were a ton of foreign visitors as well, but when in Rome… or whatever that smartass proverb was.

Hamferð was moody

At some point during CoB’s set I zombied onwards to the dark, murky third stage and was greeted with a wall of melodic doom slash death, as Hamferð, from Faroe Island, was making a strong showing for themselves to a devout crowd. Hadn’t heard of the band before, but it didn’t take long for the versatile vocalist, Mr. Jón Aldará to win me over along with the rest of the band. The guy also replaced Mikko Kotamäki in Barren Earth, so there’s that too. Definitely one of the biggest and best surprises of the festival, so much so, that I went and ordered their latest album, Evst. The show ended far too early and there was still enough time to hear Alexi speak his finglish on stage; “[In Finnish] Thank you Tuska, you were an amazing audience! [And right after in English] Thank you so fucking much!” Oh you little rascal, you — I’d cuddle you to death!

Stand-up comedian Jeff Walker

Jeff Walker was in a sarcastic mood, constantly bantering with the audience and throwing sharp knives towards everyone and everything; not giving a shit like Phil Anselmo earlier and rightfully so. The guy laughed at the line queuing up for Bodom’s signatures, constantly called everyone who wasn’t watching their show a loser and an asshole. The man also apologized for Carcass’ part in the creation of the Gothenburg sound and whatever melodeath bands they might have influenced in the past 20 years. Carcass threw songs from left and right, including their latest Surgical Steel album but seemed to skip Swansong for some reason.

Dimmu Borgir and Shagrath’s amazing gaze

Since you’re visiting this site, it pretty much means that Dimmu Borgir needs no introduction whatsoever. I think they played at Tuska some years ago, when Simen was still around to grace the band with his fantastic clean vocals. Apparently the band wanted to celebrate some sort of a 21 year run with the audience, albeit that didn’t seem to translate into anything special on stage. Supposedly the plan was to play through Death Cult Armageddon but I think they stopped after a handful of songs and moved onto other things, including a 10-15 minute background tape interlude — the third ‘intro’ of the show or so — at which point I wondered if the band dragged onwards like this on their albums as they did on stage, as I sure as shit couldn’t remember being actually bored the last time I went through one their albums. “Fuck this” I thought, and took the gateway out of dodge as “Gateways” began to blare in the background.

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