Festival Report: Tuska Open Air 2010

Festivities ahoy! The 13th Tuska Open Air festival was to be held, for the last time, right in the middle of Finland’s capital Helsinki. Three days of metal with a strong line-up meant that the metal gathering held in Kaisaniemi park was going to be sold out: The 33,000 (and then some) visitors made sure the area was crowded. Cramped like sardines in a can. Compared to Sauna Open Air in June, the weather too was also different – pretty much the complete opposite as the temperature was lingering between 77 and 84 Fahrenheit. So, what happened?

by Mikko K.

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The good thing about Kaisaniemi park is that it’s pretty much a few steps away from the major traffic hubs; next to the railway station and a short, few minute walk away from the bus station. Once you arrive to Helsinki from the outside world, you’re pretty much greeted by a huge metal crowd as you step out of your selected transportation. Being in the center of Helsinki, the festival can be called a city festival, with some imposed regulations: Playing stops at 10 P.M sharp, even if main acts here and there tend to bend it by a few minutes. On the other hand, the location has another benefit. It’s easy to get in and once the show’s over, it’s easy to get out and relocate to wherever it is that you plan to spend the time ’till tomorrow.

Tuska Festival is also a classy festival, even if it makes the surroundings of the train station reek of piss. There are basically no public disturbances; the Five-O have thanked the festival many times for being peaceful. The organizers also allow free access to the elderly, so it’s not uncommon to stumble upon some 92-year old granny wondering how big of pussies the new generations have become. After all, in her youth the children and the teens had to fight polar bears and communists to eat.

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

I arrived to the scene a bit early and already, the queue outside had gathered to a respectable length. Yet, it seemed to move smoothly, so it wouldn’t have taken too long to get into the main area had I been forced to step in line. Me, I was able to take a shortcut by heading towards the VIP gate to use it as an entrance after picking up my press/photo pass. This time around—score!—the organizers had spelled our beloved site’s name correctly.

The backstage area was swarming like an ant nest, with last minute preparations going on and familiar faces from cover booklets marching about. I too, wanted to be somebody—somebody too—but I wasn’t (and with my tits and ass, never will be), so I took my bearings and headed towards the actual festival ground.

People from all over the world, mostly from Finland, were pouring in like a black plague of metal t-shirts and some dressed more to the occasion. Tuska Festival, first and foremost, is a music festival but to some, it’s also a fashion show. I admit I don’t know much about fashion, but I’d take it’s not too fancy when you’re wearing a corset you bought three years ago and your tits are bulging out of it like raw shit from a firm grip. Grotesque? Sure. I enjoy it.

With a handful or two minutes to spare before bands seized the stage(s), I made my rounds. As expected, there were three stages all named after local, metal related sponsors. The main stage, Radio Rock, was in the middle. The main acts would have the benefit to be sole performers during their time slot, whereas the two smaller stages, Sue and Inferno, would be manned at the same time. The smaller stages were inside tents, creating a darker setting for the bands destined to perform inside. On the smallest stage (Inferno), there was a wedding going on with some metal couple exchanging vows. I suppose that’s one way to do it.

After shaking my head a few times, I headed out to the Sue Stage, which was furthest away from the entrance, passing the major merchandise booths. The one selling official merchandise from the performing acts seemed to be busy. Apparently Devin Townsend‘s shirts sold out real quick; an indication of the man’s popularity within the festival crowd, despite the fact that the Canadian hasn’t actually graced our land (the only one being with Strapping Young Lad some years ago at a different festival).

D-Day was about to begin.

Supergroup Barren Earth had the pleasure to start the festival. I’ve yet to properly tune-in with their full-length album, but live, the band came out somewhat impressive. Not surprising considering the talent pulling the strings and straining the vocal chords. The early Amorphis-esque death, melodic doom metal really eased you into the whole festival mood, before all the thrashing and maiming would begin. Vocalist Mikko Kotamäki was a two show man as some hours later, he’d share the stage with his main band Swallow the Sun.

The last time I saw Testament was actually at the Tuska Festival a few years back. Skolnick had rejoined and they were playing old stuff exclusively. We did get to hear a lot of old stuff again, starting with one of my favorites “Over the Wall”, but quite frankly I was quite disappointed by the fact that we didn’t get to hear anything from Low or Demonic, even if “D.N.R” made up for it a bit—but that’s always a safe-bet song. Whilst songs off The Formation of Damnation worked very well live—inspiring me to revisit the album—I’d say the set was rather basic. Yet, the band performed with piss and vigor, spanking the audience into a frenzy unseen. In return the band was rewarded with, most likely, the biggest moshpit of the festival. Considering the early time slot, not bad.

There was one person in particular who would remember the gig for all eternity—some bloke with a pink Stetson hat. Chuck especially seemed fond of him, commenting the guy’s antics throughout the set. The big climax for Chuck and the man in the pink hat came during the last song “The Formation of Damnation” as the vocalist commanded him to the center of the pit, kindheartedly setting up a wall of death to devour him. “You guys ready to kill?” I don’t think I spotted the pink hat on the following days.

Even though I would have made drastic changes to the setlist myself, there’s no denying that Testament thrashed out one of the festival’s best gigs – and oh so early, too.

Guitarist Janne Perttilä, too, had performed only an hour earlier with Barren Earth, but he soon went back to work with legendary Rytmihäiriö on the hellbent Inferno Stage (punk, grindcore, crossover/thrash fans take notice). Some say it was a gig worth seeing, but I chose to see Insomnium instead, whose material was a mystery to me. I admit it. I’m a bad, bad Finn for not checking out n+1 local bands—even if they receive international recognition. Hindered by my lack of knowledge over the band’s material, the show did convince me to check out their material in disc form.

After 45-minutes of confusion, Tarot stood proud on the main stage. I’d seen them some weeks earlier at the Sauna Open Air. This time around, the show was different, and again, it failed to grab me. Color me surprised. Tuska’s set was a bit more special as they brought in a full choir from the TV show Kuorosota, a family-oriented musical show that translates into “War of Choirs”. Marco Hietala had participated as one of the choir leaders. As amazing as that might sound to some of you, it really wasn’t anything special and after taking the required photographs, I found myself at the beer area, shooting shit with a friend.

Beer was 6 Euros (around 7-8 bucks) a pint. Quite high, considering the festival has an open alcohol policy where you can bring in your own shit in reasonable quantities (one man’s reasonable might be other man’s alcohol poisoning). Enjoying every last drop of my overpriced golden liquid, Tarot decided to play, not surprisingly, “Pyre of the Gods”, which always gets a thumbs up from me. The biggest surprise for me in the whole festival was that Amorphis was nowhere to be seen. Or Stam1na for that matter!

Staying n’sync with my European heritage, I’ve always had a soft spot for Peter Tägtgren’s disco-sensation Pain. Maybe it’s Clawfinger’s fault. The Swedes resonated well with me in the early ‘90s. Whatever. Peter’s electronic lovechild performed with an extra oomph, sounding a lot more vicious in a live situation than on disc. Most might be bored with “Just Hate Me”, but I was sad to find out it wasn’t part of the set. Luckily, other obvious hits like “Same Old Song”, “Shut Your Mouth” and “End of the Line” dried the tears of sand.

Oh the sand. When ten thousand people are stampeding around a closed area, there’s bound to be some environmental hazards. The mass, combined with the high ‘n’ dry climate made sure that after a day’s worth of metal, you’d be sneezing black ooze from your nostrils. I did. We all did.

The festival’s black metal fix came in the shape of Satyricon, who’d also made an appearance in Helsinki back in February at the Finnish Metal Expo. Satyr spoke highly of the city, citing how the two gigs were the band’s only ones this year.

Never been too interested in what this particular group of Norwegians has been up to and the set didn’t change my perspective at all. In fact, I was left rather unimpressed by the whole charade as the tracks blended together into this indistinguishable stream of whatever. Kind of like the vuvuzela’s at the World Cup.

Out of the ‘mainstream’ black metal bands that I’ve seen at Tuska, namely Dimmu Borgir and Immortal, the throne is still held by The Sons of Northern Darkness as far as entertainment goes. Apparently, Emperor had a decent gig at Tuska in 2007—I wasn’t there to see it—but something just goes wrong when you combine sunny open air shows with black metal acts. I wouldn’t have objected having the quota black metal band perform at one of the dimmer tents, where it might have been on much favorable ground. In the same breath, I wouldn’t have minded seeing something more interesting than Satyricon on stage. At a fraction of the cost. Perhaps something from the USBM scene, as its messengers rarely venture this far, or even Shining, who played at one of the after clubs. Enslaved? But Satyricon in all of its presumed rock ’n’ roll glory? Meh.

Speaking of Emperor, acting out on peer pressure, I chose to check out Insahn over Obituary next. After all, the man has received plenty of nods within our pages. Unfortunately, I’m going to get some flack over this, especially from members of our staff, but Insahn really didn’t seem to be doing much for me. Granted, I’ve never been too huge on Emperor either, so I’ve never had the urge to dwell into the guy’s musically-different solo material beforehand. The small issues with sound didn’t help either. What’s more, the guy doesn’t seem to be able to shake off his past too well. A cover of Emperor’s “Thus Spake the Nightspirit” spanked the biggest reaction out of the audience. Clearly.

Friday’s grand finale came in the form of Canadian bacon. Mr. Devin Townsend conquered the main stage with his brand spanking new Ziltoid-spectacle. The plan was to go through the 2007 album in its entirety, with minor changes here and there. For example, “Kingdom” off Physicist had been injected to the middle of the show.

I was expecting a GWAR-like event with tons of shit going on, but Devin and the band took the stage accompanied by only a large video screen, only once visited by a guy in a Ziltoid costume. Yet, even as disappointing as that might sound, the show didn’t really need anything more. In fact, I’d say the world exclusive was probably one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever witnessed. Only emphasizing the fact that despite a bigger budget, KISS were awfully a lot lamer at Sauna Open Air not too long ago.

The show wasn’t without surprises though. During “Planet Smasher”, the track’s name role was reserved to no other than Chuck Billy. Sporting a makeshift cane and a cape, dragging a female slave, the man’s low grunting truly devastated through the audience. Before exiting, Billy—the legend—made sure to make his opinion clear by shouting “I hate musicals!” Devin seemed more than happy with the guest star “A dream come true!”

Wankery was witnessed by all, as the show took a Crossroads-detour. Devin and Ziltoid began a guitar duel. Too bad Ralph Macchio was nowhere to be seen. “Take that, fag nipples” claimed Mighty Ziltoid before being scolded for his most excellent Hello Kitty guitar.

While antics are great, the music too, was…well… music to the ears as The Devin Townsend Band pushed themselves to the max. The band worked with the audience to create a truly epic ending for Friday by playing the calming sounds of “Deep Peace”. I don’t think any one left the festival area disappointed or unhappy.


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  1. Commented by: Gaia

    Really cool to hear about Devin and the Ziltoid sets, I’m looking forward to the dvd that’s meant to be coming out of it. Cool review, I hope to go to Tuska in the coming years, though it’s Hellfest for me next year!

  2. Commented by: gordeth

    Great write up and photos, Mikko. Did you use the 7D?

    And, I agree that most metal t-shirts suck.

  3. Commented by: Apollyon

    Yeah. 7D was snapping most of the time, but I also used the trusty old Panasonic FZ-8 as a secondary (outside). Worked okay I suppose.

    I’m thinking of getting one of those ~18-200mm multi-purpose lenses to make my life a bit easier the next time around. Whilst they have their obvious downsides, it shouldn’t be too different from my current set-up’s image quality as I don’t have any L-glass.

    As for Devin, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi14DuJ1CHQ puts a smile on my face every time I watch it. Awesome song. Awesome show.

  4. Commented by: gordeth

    You can get a 70-200mm f/4 L for only about $75 more than the 18-200mm. I highly recommend it unless you really need to go wider than 70mm.

  5. Commented by: Apollyon

    Yeah. Been ready to pull the trigger on that lens a couple of times, but for some reason I’ve skipped it. Probably due to drooling over the image stabilized ones. Unfortunately they’re twice as much (over here anyway).

    By getting a 18-200, as it covers much longer range than any of my current lenses, I’d most likely be able to cut off the extra camera from the battle gear — be it the FZ8 or the old Rebel XT I have lying around. Also, it would allow me more time to shoot as I wouldn’t have to concern myself with as many lens changes anymore. But we’ll see.

  6. Commented by: gordeth

    Yeah, it’s crazy how much more the IS versions are. But, that wouldn’t help you with concert photography much anyway since the bands are always moving. I can certainly see the appeal of 18-200. It would be great to eliminate lens changes. If that’s what you prefer, you might also want to check out Tamron’s 18-200 or 18-270.

  7. Commented by: Morris

    Cool review. I went there a couple of times back in 07 and 08. Had a really good time. This is definitely an underrated festival that you rarely hear most metalheads in North America talking- or even knowing about. Like you said, you sure can’t beat the location, and even though the bands stop playing at 10pm or so, there’s always the after party shows at the various nearby night clubs to go and check out too.

  8. Commented by: Morris

    Btw, I just noticed on the Tuska website they changed the festival location for next year. Too bad, but at least it’s still in Helsinki and hopefully the hotels are a bit less expensive in that part of the city. Anything to help pay for those damn pricey beers! :p

  9. Commented by: Apollyon

    FYI: There’s now a collection of 80 new photos on our Facebook-page @ http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=190766&id=101088749390&ref=mf

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