Festival Report: Tuska Open Air 2017


So it’s winter. 2018. New year, yet mankind is consuming the planet, waiting to be devoured by global warming and other cataclysmic events. So what’s a good way to get rid of all that negativity? Look back at the summer of 2017 and Tuska festival’s 20th Anniversary.

by Mikko K.& Matti M.

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First of all, due to unforeseen circumstances, the release of this article got delayed, delayed and delayed once again. And for that, we apologize.

Anyway, the summer of 2017 was special to Tuska Open Air Metal Festival as the premium metal festival in Helsinki, Finland celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The small festival, born from beer driven ideas, has grown throughout the years while witnessing heavy metal history in the making. Tuska was there when Finnish metal really started to pick up with the likes of Children of Bodom, HIM and Nightwish (fun fact, the success of Offspring’s Smash made it possible for Spinefarm to put the Finnish metal revolution into proper gear.) Tuska was there when Finnish sung metal became normal with the likes of Timo Rautiainen & Trio NiskalaukausKotiteollisuus, Mokoma and many others. Throughout the years, Tuska has invited a bunch of metal’s legends to rock out (say, Bruce Dickinson headlining in 2002) — some which have since gone from here to eternity, such as Type O Negative‘s Peter Steele in 2003. The festival built a gym to the backstage area just for him. Tuska has seen the culmination of mainstream success with Lordi winning the Eurovision in 2006 and the ‘fall’ that came after. Yet. Metal is still here. Tuska is still here, showcasing the current leaders, classics, followers and upcoming talent. The festival has seen the world’s ups and downs, all the while making the heavy metal crowd a visible part of Helsinki during the summer. Needless to say, no matter what one thinks of the line-ups or the festival in general, Tuska Open Air is an institution and a huge part of Finnish heavy metal legacy.

And for that, we tip our hats.

But let’s get down to the dirty basics and figure out what went on as our two-man team recollects end of June and the beginning of July 2017.

 

 

FRIDAY

Once we got through the formalities, we were greeted by Brother Firetribe on the main stage strutting its radio heavy rock. The biggest selling point is that they can plaster those rounded stickers on their CDs saying how Emppu Vuorinen of Nightwish-fame is in the band. They’re an inoffensive band, doing textbook AOR for all to enjoy, but since we didn’t want to judge them from the middle of their set, we headed towards the second stage where Anneke Van Giersberger’s Vuur were to play next.


Vuur

[MK] I hadn’t heard of Anneke’s new band before, but that’s not too surprising considering they’ve only got a single song out on Youtube. Yet once Anneke and her band took stage, it turned out to be actually somewhat promising if not even surprisingly heavy at times. Anneke herself seemed to be enjoying playing live a lot, constantly radiating positivity. Not only did they showcase the group’s material, Anneke also threw a few uppercuts by ‘covering’ The Gathering’s “On most Surfaces“ and “Strange Machines “.

[MM] As a long time listener of The Gathering, as well as a general Anneke fanboy, Vuur was one of the gigs that I was amped up about. The gig delivered. Vuur’s general sound is arguably heaviest of all the bands and projects Anneke has been part of since her time in The Gathering. While the setlist included songs like “Days Go By” that carry a similar tonal melancholy as older The Gathering songs, the musical palette was much more varied. The tempo seemed faster too. Out of their own set of songs, “The Storm” took the highlight spot in my book; built around a relentless main riff, sounding in part like something that Nightwish might have toyed around with, bombastic and operatic. It’s a sound that I don’t normally care much about but Vuur pulled it off in such a way that even I could appreciate it.

Anneke’s singing was in top form and flawless in tone as one would expect. The songwriting in Vuur clearly made use of her wide vocal range. While it quickly became very apparent that the rest of the band also consisted of well-above average musicians, one who specifically stood out from the group was the guitarist Jord Otto. Whether it came into pulling out heavy riffs, solos or laying some technical patchwork behind the beat, you could feel a somewhat unique sound in his guitar play.

  • MK: “The Storm” nostalgically showed me those early Year 2000 -albums where bands combined all sorts of metal with classical. Made me remember that Hollenthon actually existed.

Wintersun’s Mäenpää didn’t carry a guitar

[MK] Wintersun has had a hell of a year. They held new albums hostage on Indiegogo (in what is now known as ‘Saunagate’) and were able to get a measly sum of 464,000 euros in ransom — exceeding the original asking price by over 310,000 euros, much to the dismay of some well established (and now jealous) bands that have to ship their own cardboard promos to some dickweed bloggers in Arkansas. The thing that surprises me with Wintersun is that for a band that’s quite ‘marginal’ in the daily street view, Jari Mäenpää’s merry band sure has a shitloads of fans that you never come across in any other place. It’s like a huge, worldwide underground cult or something.


“Fuck Trump” said Brujeria

The festival’s Mexican population rose from zero to a handful and a half, as the ‘Mexican drug lords’ Brujeria took the second stage with machetes and intimidation. Due to the recent events, the band has new found relevance and the group didn’t shy away from that at all as they spat their anti-Trump sentiment loud, proud and on a constant basis in between songs. “FUCK TRUMP” the tent echoed — it became perfectly clear we weren’t in a GOP meeting extravaganza with a Ted Nugent cover band. Brujeria pummelled the audience into a chaotic frenzy, preparing them for Suicidal Tendencies on the main stage.

  • MM: While POTUS did not get much love from the band, the crowd gave plenty of love to the band. Language barrier be damned. Salsa dancing, luchador masks, a scent of reefer madness, chest pounding and general mayhem. What’s there not to like?
  • MK: Yeah. And their bassist had the same hair-do as Napalm Death‘s Shane Embury!
  • MM: …

Mike Muir & Suicidal Tendencies were inducted in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame

[MM] While Suicidal Tendencies was a clear crowd magnet, I took a leave of absence to find some food and to enjoy some pricy beverages that the festival area had to offer. When I got back, Mike Muir was ending it big by calling all the “Suicidal Psychos” from the crowd onto the stage. The security guys were in a state of distress, as clearly not all of the officials had received the memo about letting the fans hop over the front barricade. After the initial confusion, the stage featured a record amount of people, at least as far as Tuska Festival is concerned. Both Suicidal Tendencies and their fans on stage seemed to have a blast jumping around and chanting “ST” in unison. After the show there was a lot of sweaty hugs offered and received within the happy and exhausted crowd.

  • Mike Muir commented on getting old: “Dont fucking forget. When you’re young you fight with your fists — when you’re old, you fight with yer mind.” Still, he seemed to have a bit of a fight in him. And was that Dave Lombardo on drums, by the way?

Insomnium

[MM] I’ve never really listened to any Insomnium record but I’ve seen them live at least five times and this was the first time I actually took notice. In fact, they sounded kinda great. For me the band has sounded somewhat derived and forgettable; they play well but sound dull. This time, however the impression I got was much more positive.

[MK] It’s funny. Seems like Insomnium is a band that takes a while to pick up for some reason. Anyway, after I’d gotten my fix, I figured I’d take a peek at Barathrum who were playing inside the boiler room on the third stage. Walking towards the area felt like descending upon madness, away from the glitter of the main areas. Wading through masses of people, I only got to the entrance lobby — the building was packed with little space to breathe and since I didn’t want to cover my elbows in blood, I came to the conclusion that there was no point in looking at people’s neckbeards. So I turned around. Seems like Barathrum were quite popular.

[MM] From what I saw, the only two bands that got the boiler room stuffed during the whole weekend were Barathrum and Oranssi Pazuzu. Outside these two acts it usually felt pretty spacy, but no so with those two. My visit to the venue fell short as it really became uncomfortable because of being in a hot, humid human sardine can. I decided to squeeze out of the place before completely turning into rotten mush. As I somehow pressurized myself out, behind me echoed the lead singer Demonos Sova’s raspy voice. Between songs he had decided to give a lecture about health benefits by spraying hydrogen peroxide into your eyes: “Everybody should try it!” It was the last thing that caught my ear.


Anneke + Devin

 

“I’m pissed off because my need for validation is steeped in your ambivalence.”
– Devin Townsend, Tuska 2017

 

[MK] The audience failed Devin Townsend who, together with Anneke Van Giersbergen, had just stopped performing a lustful rendition of “Ih Ah”. The crowd hadn’t picked up the cues to sing along, denying Devin from his quest for a “Scorpions moment where the whole world would assemble together”.

Devin himself didn’t fail, as his show seemed a lot more cohesive and balanced this time around, at least when compared to his 2011’s Tuska set. Then again, his albums back then were Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction and Ghost — whereas the newest one (and a damn fine album too), Transcendence is much closer home with Accelerated Evolution. And if someone was still in doubt, the show solidified his status, again, as one of the best vocalists in the world going from depths of hell to the highest and clearest of squeals in an instant with finesse and clarity. Seeing him on top of his game and Anneke on hers was a joy to say the least. In fact, it was downright vocal pornography at times, seeing the two feed off of each other in such a way that it actually made someone’s boner visible to Devin.


Dave Young seemed to enjoy playing on Tuska’s stage again

[MM] Last time when DTP was headlining Tuska back in 2011, I felt their gig was dragging along with the setlist being a goulash of too many thematic albums. This time around the set was more streamlined and emotionally coherent. Dev was clearly on a more chatty mood and upheld constant banter with the crowd. The end came way too early and could have used a longer set this time around, but apparently festivals have these mainly one hour time slots. Songs from the latest Transcendence record played great live. Hearing the show ending “Higher” live was a totally different experience from what I got from the recorded version. Harked from the record the song felt a bit too slow and disjointed, but live it became a monolithic structure.

I also managed to catch the last twenty minutes of Trap Them playing to a very thin crowd in the boiler room. I would have thought that Trap Them had more name recognition and pull. Mainly the audience consisted of guys in their teens and mid-twenties, all throwing their bones around in the front of the stage. From my understanding of a narrow perspective, these newer hardcore acts seem to go a tad unnoticed at Tuska. In Finland there is still some line-crossing going around, where bands like this are more in sync with fans that are not your typical Finnish metal enthusiast or annual Tuska goers. A club setting or more “hipsterish” summer festival, where you can see something like Yeezus and Morrisey, would probably have a more optimized crowd for a band like Trap Them — as funny as it sounds.

Even though the turnout was not the biggest, Trap Them played with good spirits and recognized the crowd both during and between songs. They also had the option to call it short, but decided to come back: “This is not what we do. We do not do encores, but let’s play a few more.” While the band has only flashed my peripheral vision as I basically know them by name, selected songs like “Revival Spines” from their last album Crown Feral got me nodding and tapping my foot during their set.


Mayhem had technical difficulties

[MK] Where Devin Townsend’s humor serves a purpose and comes off as a natural extension of his personality, Mayhem isn’t as well known as a humorous act. Yet before the show an overly dramatic, pre-recorded message from the band started playing where they asked for people to avoid using cellphones and flashlights in order to not disturb the ‘atmosphere’ of the show. Unfortunately, Mayhem who were playing De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in full, started off with a set of technical difficulties; first tune sounded like garbled up, distorted feedback (more than it should) and Attila Csihar’s mic didn’t work either for half a song or more. Things started to look up after the fact, but by the time things got back into form, I was already totally out of it and elsewhere.

[MM] While the songs were enjoyable for the most part it was the latter part of the stage performance that hijacked my senses. Past mid-part I ended up laughing out loud at the cartoonish theatrics that were put on display. Candles for the small ritual table, which seemed to be a standard Ikea build, were lit and Attila in his robes and plague ridden facemask, plodded through the dimly lit stage behind the table to pose ominously for the ritualistic setup. Then a death knell chimed and Attila began to fondle a skull while mumbling the dark mystical transcript which were embedded on the red table cloth. The large side screens gave a bit too detailed look into this cheap decor. The whole scene became quite ridiculous and unintentionally funny — with all perceived seriousness attached making it even more so.


Sabaton and pyrotechnics

[MK] Friday’s headlining tasks fell upon Sabaton, who, according to some calculations, have had something like 13 shows in Finland in the past three years alone — if not more. I got into the game with their Art of War release and have enjoyed the cheese and crackers throughout the years. While the band performs with genuine dedication,putting on a good, entertaining show, certain formulaic tendencies have crept up the past few years and the latest offerings have been somewhat uninspired on the whole — despite always offering catchy choruses. They played a few not too good songs too (“Swedish Pagans”), instead of completely relying on surefire hits. I think the setlist needed at least “Cliffs of Gallipolli”.

  • MK: They skipped “Final Solution” again!
  • MM: Why do you wanna hear it so bad?
  • MK: There’s just something morbidly morose about seeing a happy-ass band singalong about one of humanity’s darkest moments with a crowd that’s so devout they don’t even stop to question what’s going on.
  • MM: Do they have songs about the US elections?

And say what thou wilt about the band, but they’ve found a goldmine with their pattern of producing easy to pick up songs about each nation, their tragedies and unsung war heroes. It ticks all the right parts in people’s brains; “THEY’RE SINGING ABOUT US! FINALLY RECOGNITION!” Yet, as much as I was entertained and Sabaton were doing the right things on stage, the show did leave me a tad cold. They’re starting to do things a bit ‘too right’ despite the ever changing banter. I hope they tighten their tactics slightly in the near future and maybe mix things up a bit too. Of course they can’t go too apeshit in fear of alienating their core fanbase. Yet, to me, they’re walking a thin line. One just has to hope they do not cross it and become like, for example, what Manowar did on God of War back in 2007. One could argue that their line was crossed almost what, 20 years earlier after or before The Triumph of Steel, but fuck you, 2002’s Warriors of the World was still a proper record and not just a Best of -collection of intros, interludes and outros.

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