Hopefully returning for 2021, Helsinki’s Tuska Festival is one of the greatest musical events in the world. Gojira has been added to the bill, joining other headliners Korn, Gojira, Deftones, Devin Townsend, Bodom After Midnight, Insomnium, Mokoma, Beast In Black, Symphony X, Eluveitie, Jinjer, Lost Society, Belzebubs, High On Fire, Perturbator, Oranssi Pazuzu, Vltimas, Gaahls Wyrd and more to be announced. Gojira returns, along with Korn and Deftones as headliners from the previously canceled 2020 event.
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Tuska Festival 2016: Day Three – Helsinki, Finland
Myrkur has generated lots of attention, and seemingly Amalie Bruun, primus motor, has received threats to her life for being a female musician doing the post black metal thing. It seems to be the ultimate blasphemy to certain individuals, that probably haven’t been there from the inception of the scene nor have they understood the rebellious primary foundation of the initial scene, where most of the legendary figures embrace both musical diversity and experimentation. I must admit to first seeing it as yet another cash-cow of everything that is black metal, like most things these days, it seems. However, with the release of her début album, M (Relapse), she won me over. Therefore I really wanted to catch her full set, as this would be my first exposure to her music in a live setting. Sadly, we didn’t manage to be at the festival site until Myrkur were in the middle of their set. Yet, even from afar, in between all the bustle from festival-goers elsewhere on the site, her angelic voice penetrated and created a welcoming atmosphere.
Gojira were simply incredible! It’s not the band I have played the most, although I became a fan around From Mars To Sirius (Roadrunner). But as a live band they are simply amazing! The level of musicianship, the songs’ ability to balance brutality and catchiness… It’s simply one of the best live bands in the metal genre these days, just like Behemoth. Both bands are able to create this energy that just makes the audience feed from it for the entire time the show lasts. With a set consisting of twelve songs, and with a good variation of songs from all their five albums, the show had a little for everyone of their fans. But maybe the most spectacular about the show was seeing them perform ‘Stranded’ live for the first time. That song manages to take some minor details and create an enormously catchy extreme metal song.
The mood was entirely different as we entered the tent stage again to catch Swedish gloomsters Katatonia. The band used to struggle live, but has since the mid 2000’s also become a live band worth catching. Their new album, The Fall Of Hearts (Peaceville) is really good, and it was nice to get to hear a couple of songs from it. The only negative aspect of the show was really that it didn’t last long enough, and that they neglected their back catalogue somewhat. Then again, they played ‘Nephilim’, and ‘In The White’, two personal favourites of mine, and two songs I never had expected for them to play. And of course the band played the hits, and by saying that, I am thinking of ‘My Twin’, and ‘July’.
Finishing off the Tuska experience: Children Of Bodom. Actually they seem to be more about calling themselves The Children of Bodom Hate Crew these days, which makes Alexi Laiho slightly come across as an emo boy at 37 years of age with mascara and nailpolish and an attempt at the teenage rebellion thing going with his image. Musically on the other hand the band are rock solid, and if you enjoy seeing keyboards tilted forwards to show off solo skills or you enjoy endless solos more reminding of power metal than extreme metal, I’m sure this would be the show for you. I, as you might have figured out, think Children Of Bodom are a bit too cheesy to my taste. I enjoyed my sixth serving of muiku immensely more than this last Tuska headliner.
WORDS BY PÅL LYSTRUP
PHOTOS BY TJ FOWLER PHOTOGRAPHY
Tuska Festival 2016: Day Two – Helsinki, Finland
Saturday was hot, and very very bright, and somehow the head had felt better. With a yearning for some sunglasses, it was time to get to the main stage and catch Primordial’s set. The band where one would think it was a solo performance with some backing musicians, but it has always seemed like nobody minds Alan Nemtheanga stealing the spotlight. Seven songs with what one can only assume is filled with the struggle of Irishmen and dissatisfaction with modern times – of course without any countering solution, but at least in ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’ what seems to be a defense and rationalization of black-and-white thinking.. But it’s good fun! And who were we to ever expect intellectualism or deeper psychological self-awareness from extreme metal, and to most of us I expect the intellect to seek out food for thought elsewhere.
Next up was Tsjuder, the festival alibi for true Norwegian black metal, anti-life anti-human, so on and so forth. Right from the start no energy was saved as the band kicked off their set with ‘The Daemon Throne’ and ‘Slakt’. What from afar looked as a tent crammed to the brim with people actually turned out to be a half empty in the front towards the stage. Apart from the disappointment in terms of turnout, it didn’t seem to have any effect on the band, who kept the audience on their toes throughout their entire set. In terms of putting on a proper show the trio may have fallen short though, compared to other bands. Not that primitive black metal was ever about putting on a show – or so they would probably claim –, but three guys in makeup on a large stage lacks a little in terms of the visual aspects.
Back at the main stage Anthrax was about to prove that age is no limit to putting on a good show. As someone said: “I’m amazed at how they still have all that energy and jump and run around on stage as if they were still teenagers”. Indeed this was true, the band were on fire! Yet, it was somewhat special to have crossover thrash metal legends on stage for ten songs, when one fifth were actually covers. Then again, their own songs included ‘Indians’, ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ‘Madhouse’, and they did finish it all off with ‘Among The Living’. As this for some reason was my first time experiencing the band live, I can’t say anything else than that I would sure like to be able to experience it again sometime. On our way to catch Anthrax we were also able to visit the smaller Inferno stage at the other side of the festival area. On stage Jess And The Ancient ones were seemingly pulling of a great gig, but staying at the smaller club scene was not an option when Anthrax were set to perform, as much as the Finnish band recently released a great album.
Finishing off the second day of the festival were none other than Ghost, the band that have grown to mega size over the course of just three albums. The melodic rock had people come from all sorts of places to catch the band live, at least judging from the people I was able to talk to before, during, and after the show. Where the first album was a bit more on the hard rock side of things the music has also taken a turn towards the more poppy. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that love songs about the devil seems a bit far out there, and almost completely surreal. The lyrics could just as easily have been about the more worldly concepts of love, but I guess the satanic stuff makes it a little more mysterious, or something like that. I think it’s starting to become slightly cartoonish by now. That the weather turned full on Marvel with thunder and lightning as they finished off their set only seemed even more fitting.
WORDS BY PÅL LYSTRUP
PHOTOS BY TJ FOWLER PHOTOGRAPHY
Tuska Festival 2016: Day One – Helsinki, Finland
This was my second time in Finland, the first stay having taken place as recently as during last December. Back then I experienced Finland, all the way from Helsinki to Jyväskylä, as mostly pitch black or artificially lit up. The contrast to a hot and sunbathed Helsinki was immense. Was this what the city looked like in proper lighting? Was this even the same city? The architecture seemed typical Scandinavian, the people and concepts quite alike those I was used to at home, in Bergen, Norway. However, during the first hour after we stepped off the boat from Stockholm I had Muiku, a Finnish dish, basically consisting of small fishes that were fried, salted and served with garlic sauce. I was sold! This delicious genocidal maritime creation set the tone for the stay at Tuska. It might have looked like a bunch of sardines crammed together, and one might imagine it to be an experience easily forgotten, even one had wanted to forget. However, muiku, like the Tuska festival isn’t easily forgotten, and I have a feeling that the festival will see me again, probably with a tray of these delights of the sea in hand.
Tuska was one smoothly run festival, everything organized and probably streamlined over the course of the years since its inception back in 1998. From picking up our passes, to buying beer in time for opening act Cattle Decapitation, it all proceeded with smiles and an air of general politeness. The audience turnout for the band of American grindcore purveyors was even much better than anticipated, and as ‘Manufactured Extinct’ aired from the massive speakers in the front, it seemed that all was set for a proper open air experience. Somehow, even though the band aren’t about theatrics or any dark overlord, Cattle Decapitation seemed a little off in sunlight. I don’t know what it is, but somehow sunlight seems to take that aggressive edge off the music, and it’s usually the only real drawback to these outdoor summer festivals that start early in the day.
On our way to catch Kvelertak we made time to catch some twenty minutes of Lordi. The band looks like something left over from the He-Man franchise in terms of the way over-the-top costumes and stage props. As for the music it’s pretty dumbed down heavy metal, probably catering to the fans of catchy tunes and sing along choruses. It’s easy to see how it gets a following, although for the ones among us that prefer our metal a little more extreme, it falls short of being all that impressive. Of the Norwegian eclectic ensemble of Kvelertak there was something else to be said. They were impressive in both sound and in how the minimalist approach they had seemed to get a huge crowd at the Helsinki stage (second largest stage, in a tent) going, fist pumping and headbanging, and even, from the looks of it, singing along to their Norwegian lyrics. Especially the songs off the new album seemed to get on well with the audience, and maybe especially so ‘1985’ and ‘Bersekr’. It’s pretty obvious that this is not the last Tuska sees of Kvelertak, at least not judging from the response.
The wait to see Behemoth perform the entirety of their The Satanist (Metal Blade) was shortened considerably by how the veterans in Testament made time a negligible concept during the hour they played the Radio Rock main stage. Twelve songs in total, and all the classics from starter ‘Over The Wall’ to ‘The Formation Of Damnation’ that rounded up their set and gave us five minutes to get to the tent stage and some real damnation. But first it was all about stocking up on beverages at the beer tent, and grabbing yet another serving of those lovely small fishes, muikku. It’ s like a good version of french fries, though it’s fish. Topped with garlic dressing it becomes the junk food of the gods – or beer swinging Norwegians. It must be said that the prizes for beer were almost as high as back in Norway. Granted it was probably 2EUR less than back home … And hey, I forget, there was also a 1 Euro return to be had if you handed in your empty can. I think I at some point paid 11 Euros for a bottle of Brooklyn lager. Now that is madness, and not just on my own behalf. According to my sources it will also be possible to enjoy alcoholic beverages outside the specific fenced off sections from next year, due to new Finnish laws. That means it won’t be necessary pretending to drink soda from paper cups anymore. Anyways, the partying was mostly in the parking lot outside the festival area. Everyone sat down on the lawns in the sun, played music from portable stereos, and from the looks of it most were in the good festival mood, were we all share the fun with each other. I can’t say that I saw a single fight or argument during the entire stay at Tuska.
At five to nine Behemoth took to the stage, led by mastermind Nergal. Flanked by bass player Orion and second guitarist Seth, and backed by drummer extraordinaire Inferno, Nergal commenced the task of delivering the audience a run-through of their last album, back to front. In other words the band did all of The Satanist, even the closing track, the bombastic ‘O Father, O Satan, O Sun!’. What separates Behemoth from many other bands is the professionalism, be it both in choreography, playing, and in general showmanship, be it Nergal’s communicatiopn with the audience or the stage props and pyrotechnics. They don’t just offer a concert, they offer an entire package, and ever since I saw them in the early 2000’s they have just kept getting better and better at this. Behemoth blew us all away, again, and even threw in three extra songs as an encore; ‘Ov Fire And The Void’, ‘Conquer All’, and the classic ‘Chant For Eschaton 2000’, from what has always been my favourite album, the ferocious Satanica.
As we tried gathering ourselves after being utterly blown away by Behemoth’s performance, we caught some songs from Avantasia. It seemed as if the crowd in front of the main stage were having a blast, but as this was just as little my cup of tea as Lordi, we choose to move on and into the night. Because when in Finland you do as the Finns do, which seemingly means partying till you eat table plants and fall off chairs, after everyone has helped emptying the entire tax-free liquor cache.
WORDS BY PÅL LYSTRUP
PHOTOS BY TJ FOWLER
Von Hertzen Brothers – New Day Rising
I suppose that fifteen years is quite a long time but, for your average music fan, the Von Hertzen Brothers represent something of a “new” thing. Certainly, the band’s recent success is testimony to the benefit of hard work; it’s also testimony to the fact that as they have honed their art so it has become increasingly accessible. New Day Rising (Spinefarm) is unquestionably their most accessible record to date and will, as sure as night follows day, ensure a wider audience and even greater success for this most agreeable of Finnish bands. It’s a record packed to the rafters with ideas; if truth be known, probably a few too many.
Matters get off to what can only be described as a rip roaring start with the title track throwing down the gauntlet: it’s sprightly and full of chutzpah, an energetic tour de force. You get the impression of a band comfortable in their skin and ready to take us on new musical adventures with gusto. ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ lightens the frenetic pace somewhat but the straightforward rock style is maintained in earnest. ‘Trouble’ is initially disingenuous with its soft opening, soon breaking out into an expansive number and a clear progression from the album’s opening two cuts. So far, so very agreeable.
The brakes come on for the melancholy of ‘Black Rain’, which has a nice gentle melody that supports the mood of reflection and introspection. ‘Hold Me Up’ is, make no mistake, Coldplay through a Helsinki misty rain, and is as arch and contrived as that sounds. It’s a self-consciously “big” ballad and I’m not sure it works: if someone said it was Finland’s Eurovision entry, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I don’t actively dislike it but it jars the overall tenor of the record.
One of the interesting things about Von Hertzen Brothers has been their fearlessness in trying something new and different, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes and demanding your undivided attention. Despite the relatively straightforward nature of New Day Rising, the quirky nature of ‘Dreams’ demonstrates that this sense of gentle provocation remains firmly in place. It’s quirky and fun, lightweight and unassuming.
‘Sunday Child’ is much more serious stuff, and whilst the Coldplay echoes and sense of impending drama remain leitmotifs there’s also a whiff of Biffy Clyro invading the melody giving it a sense of defiance in its melancholic timbre. ‘The Destitute’ is much more traditional Von Hertzen fare, with a glitzy bassline that recalls U2’s Berlin period. Again, like much of the record it dashes and dances through pace and time signatures as all Prog records tend to but, despite what appears to be wilful exuberance, the core song holds its own. The album coda, ‘Hibernating Heart’ brings the pace and mood down again: an archetypal reflection of times past, of mistakes made, it’s a heartfelt and impassioned ballad and a more than decent sign off.
New Day Rising is an album of progress and advance from the Von Hertzen Brothers: there are some brilliant new songs that build on a growing reputation. However, it’s a record that also has a few jarring moments and, weirdly, too many ideas for its own good. What we’re left with is a very good record but not a nailed on classic. Greatness though is surely round the corner. As it stands, less would, in this instance, have probably been more.
von Hertzen Brothers on Facebook
Ranger – Where Evil Dwells
Coming from the melodic end of thrash, and with eight high-topped feet planted in speed metal, Helsinki’s Ranger impress with their (rising) force, and don’t mistake the proliferation of melody for any indication that there is to be any let up in intensity or intent. With nods to pre-pirate Running Wild, and ploughing a similar furrow to Enforcer, albeit with a less rocky overtone and more of a heads-down-see-you-at-the-end vibe, Where Evil Dwells (Spinefarm) may be the band’s debut full-length, but this is an album forged in furnaces that have been burning for 35 years.
Using Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends (Combat) as a template (7 songs, sub 40 minutes, track 6 being a lengthy 8 minute plus thrashepic, track one being a lesson in extended thrash and the second longest track) is not the worst prototype any band could use, and musically the band pull from the melting pot some nice Di’anno era Maiden twin leads, especially in ‘Defcon1’, amongst the thrashing Sodom-y. Elsewhere there are enough variance of thrash and speed metal and melodic refrains to maintain the interest; ‘Phantom Soldier’ along with a nice Eastern-tinged solo and good movement between solid chugging, and riffing and all out thrashing, borrows very heavily from Kill ‘em All (Megaforce) and in particular ‘Seek & Destroy’ (as well as lifting more than a lyric from ‘Disposable Heroes’), while closer ‘Storm of Power’ is a relentless 3 minute thrash battery to bring things home. Dimi Pontiac provides yelps and squawks as if possessed at random intervals by John Connolly – a “thing” that bands do that personally grates a touch, but are a staple trope of the speed metal oeuvre – but otherwise delivers with confidence, reminiscent of So Far, So Good… So What (Capitol) era Dave Mustaine, sneer and all.
All in, though, a very solid first outing for Ranger that will do more than satisfy those whose tastes are this way inclined. It is nothing new, but here’s where I have to leave my retro-hang ups at the door and buckle my bullet belt on instead, cos it doesn’t just do what it says on the tin. Ranger, with their melodic breaks and mid-tempo deviations, do go some way to standing out and honing their own identity.
And who can argue with a hand-drawn logo and an album cover with big fucking skulls on it!
Foreseen – Helsinki Savagery
Thrashers Foreseen have been called “Finland’s answer to Power Trip.” Formed in 2010, the band had only released a few EPs and splits up until now, but with their debut album Helsinki Savagery (20 Buck Spin) they sound more like Finland’s answer to every aggressive thrash outfit ever.
Mainly labelled as a Crossover Thrash band, Foreseen combine Slayer-like speed and aggression with stomping hardcore. If you like Municipal Waste but feel the vocals aren’t ferocious enough, these guys are just up your street. It’s aggressive, raw, and full of circle pit inducing headbangers. Anyone who wears patches on their denim vests and claims to like 80s metal should enjoy this.
Instrumental opener ‘Slam Savagery’ combines Reign In Blood (Def Jam) era shredding with early Megadeth-levels of guitar histrionics. ‘Death Injection’ is a high octane slab of brutality, featuring rasping vocals, gang shoutalongs and stomping breakdowns. Whether it’s the squealing ‘Market Target’ or the slower brutality of ‘Structural Oppression,’ there’s very little let up.
Foreseen took a look at 80s thrash and condensed it down to 40 minutes of snarling, shredding and solos. Individually, there’s not a weak song among the lot. Tracks toward the end – ‘Delusion of No Consequence,’ Paving The Way’ – are filled with the same levels of urgency and searing goodness as the opening numbers. The only criticisms you can throw at the album is the lack of variety. While it’s a formula that works, there’s almost no deviation from the standard thrash blueprint. But why fix what isn’t broken?
There’s little, if anything, that hasn’t come before in the realm of thrash metal. Luckily crossover hasn’t been played over and over to death, and Foreseen do enough to avoid sounding hackneyed. They might not be too subtle about hiding their influences, but the energy they put into in the record makes Helsinki Savagery a great record for banging your head to.