It’s the first day of Tuska 20 as Tuska Open Air Metal Festival celebrates twenty years of Pain in Helsinki. It’s a midday start as the PlanetMosh team sets off to the Suvilahti district in Helsinki’s industrial zone. Walking into the arena we’re joined by hordes of heavy metal brethren from the land of a thousand lakes and beyond. As a wind gusts that would send the Wicked Witch of the East running for cover we notice the big screens either side of the main stage swinging dangerously. They’re later lowered as far as they will go in an attempt to stop the problem. Sunglasses are being worn even in the Väkevä tent to try to avoid the dust clouds blowing around, but even at that you get the feeling goggles might be a better idea.
Opening the festival on the Väkevä tent stage are purveyors of Finnish grind Rotten Sound. Strolling around the festival arena there seem to be very few people around but as soon as Rotten Sound come on stage a crowd instantly materialises. To some it’s a wall of noise, to others in the front rows it is dissonant chaos that brings manic grins of enjoyment so early on in the day. There’s actually a really good groove under all the noise. I get my first introduction to having no idea what’s being said on stage in between songs, but the Finnish crowd seems to appreciate whatever singer Keijo is saying when he addresses them. Bassist Kristian is a flailing mass of blond hair and we soon see the first circle pit of the festival, with a guy in a knee length Santa hat right in the middle of the action. At times Rotten Sound sound like old Entombed, but either way it’s a quality offering of death metal for a lunchtime treat.
Opening the Radio Rock main stage is Brother Firetribe. In complete contrast to Rotten Sound their AOR infused hard rock melodies are like aural candy. Featuring Emppu Vuorinen from Nightwish on lead guitar is an added bonus as for fifty minutes the Tuska crowd is brought back to the eighties. It’s much more my era and as soon as the keyboards kick in I’m back in the days of Knight Rider, Top Gun and Melanie Griffith’s shoulder pads. Singer Pekka looks every inch the rock star in his aviator shades. By the time they are halfway through PlanetMosh photographer Steve is spotted doing a bit of dancing and big, beardy metalheads were joining in with abandon. People remember the eighties as the decade that style forgot. Brother Firetribe are still firmly set there and are a reminder that the eighties had some things that were pretty great after all. My highlight of their set was Heart Full of Fire.
The seesaw between the stages continues as we witness the festival debut of Anneke van Giersbergen’s Vuur. There’s a decent crowd gathered in anticipation of the Dutch siren’s latest project. Steve has been itching to see this band since they were announced on the bill. For fans of The Gathering and solo Anneke this is a much more tech/prog metal outfit. Opening with, “I feel it in my bones,” Anneke’s operatic voice soars across the tent. After the first track she hands her guitar off to the tech leaving her free to rock out as much as she likes. She tells the crowd that she and the band are “happy, happy, happy,” to be there and really does seem genuinely delighted. Days Go By and On Most Surfaces (Inuit) are highlights and at one stage it seems Anneke is crying but she lets us know that she is suffering from hay fever, which is making her mascara run and making her look like Alice Cooper. Wintersun are due on the main stage next but as preparation they’re in front of me watching Vuur’s set. Playing a few songs by The Gathering as well as Vuur’s original songs makes it a set of old and familiar mixed with new and original. As Anneke thanks the crowd and says maybe she’ll see everyone later when Devin Townsend Project plays a cheer goes up. Is that a hint I wonder?
Wintersun have done a quick sprint over to the main stage for their set. The biggest crowd of the day so far has gathered to hear their blend of technical power metal and guitar virtuosity. It’s nice to see so many Finnish bands represented over the weekend, a deliberate move on the part of the organisers to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the festival, and to give the fans a chance to celebrate the occasion with them. Celebrate they do, with circle pits opening up throughout. The between song banter from Jari Mäenpää are warmly received by the natives and they lap up a quality performance that includes favourites Starchild and Time.
Back in the darkened shelter of Väkevä the masked Mexican bandits from Brujeria hit the ground running by melting the faces of the front few rows with what could possibly be the most brutally intense performance of the weekend. Shane Embury is present on this tour laying down bass lines with more punch than a Mayweather pay per view. Someone in the crowd is so excited they’re waving their crutches in the air. The bandito look is somewhat tempered by the mouth holes cut in the masks to stop the vocals being muffled, but pits are opening up left and right as the crowd goes suitably loco. They play to the crowd when a female vocalist arrives on stage with the words Fuck Trump written on her forearms. With very little encouragement the whole crowd is soon chanting, “Fuck Donald Trump,” loudly and enthusiastically. A bludgeoning performance that could knock down a border wall.
Mike Muir is back in Finland with his Suicidal Tendencies warriors to bring skate thrash mayhem to the main stage at Tuska. For a man pushing his mid fifties Mike is showing no signs of slowing down, let alone wanting to. Steve is beside himself with excitement because Dave Lombardo is on drums for this tour. Songs like Clap Like Ozzy, Freedumb and War Inside my Head (“It’s not a singalong it’s a feelalong,”) feed the frenzy in the moshpits in what has been the first opportunity for the Finnish crowd to unleash hell in the main arena. It’s actually tiring to watch a band that runs around on stage as much as Suicidal Tendencies, and as the crowd bellows ST, ST, ST we are reminded that Suicidal for Life is more than just a motto. Its an attitude of positivity in a world gone to shit. The positivity is spilling over by the end as the fans are invited on stage during Pledge your Allegiance and hundreds oblige. This is chaos of the best kind at a metal festival and will be a performance that Finns will talk about when reminiscing their Tuska memories.
Somehow, although most of the crowd seems to have climbed onto the main stage, there are enough people left over to have the Väkevä stage full for the arrival of Insomnium a few seconds later. Most of the band look like entrants in a Thor lookalike competition, all flowing blond hair flying around as they perform guitar solos with amazing tone. Insomnium are another Finnish band and it’s good to see such support for this melodic tech death metal band. Unfortunately, we couldn’t catch all their set as we dashed over to the Inferno indoor stage to see part of the performance of Finnish black metal legends Barathrum. Corpse paint, gas masks, sonic intensity and melodic passages make for a very interesting few songs before we head back to the main arena.
Penultimate main stage act on this Friday night is the master of all things nerdgasmic Devin Townsend and The Devin Townsend Project. Before Insomnium have even finished a crowd has gathered in front of the main stage and is clapping and cheering the currently empty stage area. A small but noticeable Ziltoid puppet is waving around enthusiastically. One of the most innovative, creative and experimental musicians in heavy metal over the last twenty five years gives Tuska a performance that is filled with twists and turns, melody and brutality and an air of joyous abandon. As he bounces on stage he shouts, “Hi guys, my name’s Devin. Are you ready to suck it?” From the off we are treated to Anneke Van Giersbergen joining Devin on the stage for Rejoice. These are two musicians who are meant to create music. They feed off each other’s drive and the results in the live arena are even more astounding than on recordings.
March of the Poozers, (“here’s a song about my ball sack,”) is almost as if Tim Burton wrote a heavy metal song that’s catchier than Ebola. Taking time to let us know that metal should be about going against the grain, and, “tales of love, nerdiness and fuckin penis jokes,” Devin invites Anneke back to sing an “electro-acoustic” version of Ih-Ah! (one of the festival highlights?)
Closing Väkevä stage for the day are extreme masters Mayhem. With the stage cloaked in darkness and dry ice, the setting could be from a Hammer horror movie. A message over the PA asks the crowd not to use phones, or if they do need to, not to use flash as the band wish to keep the atmosphere appropriate to their vision of their music. Frontman Attila is shrouded in a sack like hood and his face is obscured by a mangled mess of corpse paint. It’s so dark I honestly can’t see them walk on stage. Mayhem are known for this kind of darkened show and I must admit I just don’t get it. We get it, you’re a scary, horrible metal band, but fans are still paying money to actually see you. If they just wanted to hear you they could do that listening to the record at home. Why go to the effort of painting your faces and wearing elaborate costumes if no one can see it? After the showmanship of Devin Townsend I find this performance really disappointing. Blast beats are the order of the day as the performance of De mysteriis dom Sathanas in its entirety is rapturously received by the black metal aficionados, barring the start of the first song which has technical difficulties so we can’t hear anything through Attila’s microphone.
Returning two years after they previously headlined Tuska the Swedish power metal war machine Sabaton is back. With new album The Last Stand under their belt right from the off there are explosions, bombast and pyro. It’s a little surreal to hear bagpipes in the air at a metal festival but my national pride rises to the fore as they play Blood of Bannockburn. Over the last few years the band have been guilty of playing the same show (including jokes) over and over but tonight is a refreshing break from the norm. Sabaton know their crowds and when in countries of which they have found inspiration for songs they try to perform them. Tonight they pay tribute to Lauri Törni with an incredible Soldier of Three Armies. New boy Tommy Johansson has settled well into the band and seems as at home as the founding members. His guitar work is excellent alongside that of fellow axeman Chris. Along with Bannockburn, early highlights of the night include Ghost Division and White Death. The opening of the encore sounds like a WWII frontline and the band blaze back unto the stage for a bouncing Primo Victoria. Joakim knowingly asks the crowd what they want to hear next and they willingly reciprocate with Talvisota, the essential local favourite. Sabaton raucously end the evening with To Hell and Back which has people whistling it’s melody all the way home.
The rain stayed away on day one of Tuska and we returned to our lodgings to get some rest while wondering what surprises Saturday would have in store for us.
All photos by Down The Barrel Photography