Back in 2004, I had the pleasure of visiting Finland on vacation. On the night I arrived in the Helsinki hostel, I noticed a larger than normal number of heavy metal fans arriving back after a show. I asked one what gig they were at. The answer.. DIO at TUSKA. I was gutted, utterly gutted that I had no idea that this was happening and that I missed it by a few hours. Ever since that night TUSKA OPEN AIR METAL FESTIVAL has been on my radar and every year I have watched as it has grown. 9 years later I am delighted to say that I finally popped my Tuska cherry and the following is my Day 1 review of the Finland’s premier Metal Festival.
Day One – Friday 26th June 2015
Nestled a short distance from Helsinki city centre, the Suvilahti district has been home to Tuska Open Air for a few years now. Riding the number 6 tram makes for a fun sight as the hoards of black clad fans heed the call of the Metal Gods and descend on the arena for the first time this weekend. After a damp start to the morning, the ball of flame in the sky begins to burn away the dullness. The festival arena is in an old dockland industrial park and is surrounded by giant chimney stacks, decrepit buildings and an old gasometer. It’s a perfect setting for a metal meeting
The unenviable task of opening the festival on the main stage (Radio Rock Stage) goes to the UK’s Krokodil. Often, this slot can be a curse but due to the festival beginning in the afternoon rather that late morning and while many are still in work, there is an ever-growing crowd in the arena. Simon lets us know that “it is an honour to be back in Finland. Now, let’s fuck shit up. Grab the person to the left and right of you and show them what metal means to you”. Blistering from the offset, their tech-groove and brutal riffs lay a formidable challenge to the remaining bands. This is the third time I’ve seen Krokodil and they’ve never disappointed. From today’s performance, it won’t be long until they are gracing higher slots on festival billings. Highlights are ‘Sun Riders’ and ‘Skin Of The Earth’.
Finnish melodic doomsters Ghost Brigade, are up next on the second stage (Inferno). It’s pretty early in the day for their melancholic doom but this is Tuska and the crowd revel in the shaded misery. Capped lead singer Manne struts a confident as he caresses the audience with his light and dark vocal. Album number 4, ‘One With The Storm’ dropped late last year and ‘Wretched Blues’ kicks off proceedings in style. I get a little (ok, a lot) lost in translation when Manne addresses the crowd in their native tongue, but every word is greeted with a solid response. A nice performance that is warmly received.
UK scene leaders Architects take to the Radio Rock Stage. Sam Carter and the guys offer one of the only metalcore offerings to the weekend revellers. The reception is somewhat muted but they do not relent in their passion. Architects follow their own path and there can be no doubting their sincerity. They play like it’s their last ever gig and tear the faces off the punters on the front rail. ‘Gravedigger’, ‘Naysayer’ and ‘Youth Is Wasted On The Young’ make a strong impression and before the culmination of their set, Carter thanks the fans for staying with them in the blistering heat and lets us know that a positive mental attitude can overcome everything that stands in our way. The beginnings of the day’s pit action starts to bubble during the last few numbers, a promising sign for the rest of the day.
The Swedish phenomenon that is Blues Pills sets the Inferno Stage ablaze in a swathe of soulful, guitar driven, blues. Lead singer Elin Larsson is the star of this band and her voice is contender for best singer of the weekend. “It’s lovely to be in Helsinki” states Larsson to the first sizeable crowd of the day. Their style may be a little lighter than most of the bands over the entire weekend, but when Blues Pills hit their groove, they are as heavy as their fellow artists. Elin’s a capella introduction to Devil Man makes many heads turn from the far side of the arena. Alongside the tambourine shaking, fireball of energy, lead guitarist Dorrian Sorriaux offers scintillating solos and licks galore and is backed by sterling musicianship throughout the band. Blues Pills are fast becoming one of the most talked about bands in 2015 and from today’s performance it is very clear why. ‘Devil Man’, ‘High Class Woman’ and ‘Little Sun’ are highlights. If Blues Pills are playing near your city; Buy a ticket immediately. The cosmos has big plans for this band.
At the other end of the musical spectrum (and arena) Lamb Of God are giving the festival season the first proper airing of songs from Sturm Und Drang which is out on 27th July. Seeing Randy Blythe at the helm, leaned over on his plinth, bellowing like a possessed demon is a joy. Considering the much documented recent history, it’s clear that as soon as he takes the mic in his hand, delivering his music is a cathartic release. “What’s up, Suomi?”, is met by roaring approval from the Finnish Metallians. Randy, with tongue in cheek, apologises to the crowd: “We finally made it back, 3 years late, coz I got a little held up”. The emotion is strong and the show almost feels like tending unfinished business or even closure to the Czech chapter. The Silver Machine, John Campbell lays down a chugging backline that Messrs Morton and Adler (now with shorn locks) embellish with controlled aggression. This performance is a tour-de-force and testament to the power of resilience and the strong bond between the band members. The greatest response of the night is for the powerful ‘Walk With Me In Hell’, ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’ and the rabble rousing ‘Redneck’. New song ‘Still Echoes’ sounds immense in the live platform. Closing the set with a ball busting ‘Black Label’ Randy commands the audience to open up the largest circle pit of the weekend and they oblige with fervour. The biggest and loudest crowd of the day (so far) ensures that this performance will be not Lamb Of God’s last at Tuska. Headlining slot soon?
To say this reviewer is excited to see Exodus is a fucking understatement. While the departure of Rob Dukes was a shock last year, the return of Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza was a welcome surprise and Blood In, Blood Out was one of the finest metal albums of 2014. As they take to the stage it becomes clear that Gary Holt is not present for this performance. During the set, Zetro addresses the absence and tells us that “Gary is out with Slayer at the moment and will be back soon” . It’s met with a mixed response to which Zetro screams “you’re all on our ‘Blacklist’” To be fair, Kragen Lum (alongside his Heathen bandmate Lee Altus) fills Holt’s boots admirably and thankfully the songs, Especially the frantic ‘Piranha’, are as audaciously abrasive as we expect. Tom Hunting is unerring with his percussive onslaught but it is Souza who gives the band a genuine focal point. His piercing scream cuts through eardrums like a lava through a glacier. Exodus give Tuska a proper lesson in violence (sic) and the crowd respond accordingly. New songs ‘Black 13’ and ‘Body Harvest’ link perfectly alongside the classics. ‘Children of a Worthless God. The thrash masters are on point today and leave the crowd spent after an hour of pure carnage. Closing with The Toxic Waltz and Strike Of The Beast (with the obligatory wall of death), Tuska is left in no doubt that Exodus are back even stronger than ever.
Sabaton have been given the honour of the headlining slot for the first night of this year’s festival and they embrace the opportunity like a panzer batallion. From the ‘Final Countdown’ beginning into the explosive ‘Ghost Division’ it is clear that Sabaton are here to give 150%. A personal highlight is the glorious ‘To Hell and Back’ from the new album ‘Heroes’. The crowd response is phenomenal as the Finns sing along to ever word as if their lives depended on it. Affable motormouth and frontman du jour , Joakim Brodén never stops from the first note. His larger than life persona is infectious and connects with every single person in the arena. He smiles and jokes as if on a night out with friends. There is staged moments like fun guitar solos and iron maiden riffs and while some may scoff, this is what makes Sabaton special – Fun!! Brodén lets us know that he has goosebumps on his arm from the reaction of the audience which is louder than the front monitors. After a massive line up overhaul a few years ago, Sabaton are much more exciting and focused band and the interaction between them is that of joyous abandon. At times it feels like every single member plays a larger than life role that complements Brodén’s antics.
Seeing the Tank drum riser is a thing of beauty as fireworks and pyro are jettisoned over the audience. Something that is special is that Sabaton have a song for almost every country they play in, a song that resonates with the people, a song steeped in the history of their culture and on this Friday night in Suvilahti, it is ‘Talvisota‘ that is greeted with the largest reaction of the day from the audience as they remember the Winter War on a night of musical celebration. ‘Primo Victoria’ sees the crowd join the band in a mass pogo exhibition before Brodén invites a girl from side stage who is dressed as a queen to stand in the mine field behind the band where her view will only be “lots of fire and Swedish ass”. They close the night with Metal Crüe and let the crowd go home to rest before the second day.
From the early days, Sabaton showed the promise to be big players in the metal scene and while the dinosaurs are still carted out at many big festivals in a cyclical fashion, Tuska have always taken the chance and invested in the future. Sabaton are the heart of metal right now. Kiitos Tuska.