It’s Sunday lunchtime and the punters have crawled out of their beds from across the city of HELLsinki to once again descended on Suvilahti for the final day of this year’s instalment of Tuska Open Air Metal Festival. The carnage of the Saturday night after-parties is evident on the faces of those who have braved the midday sunshine. Today is going to be the hottest day of the weekend in the concrete cauldron that is Suvilahti.
The literal translation of the word Tuska into English is pain. With that in mind there is a meagre crowd in front of the Radio Rock Stage to check out Finnish technicians of brutality, Mors Subita. Eemeli Bodde on vocals is aggression personified as he screams his heart out on the large riser with their logo on the front. Older song, ‘The Sermon’ pretty much melts the iron on the nearby gasometer. The lads put in a strong shift and blow the cobwebs off the early revellers with their modern blend of riffs, hooks and snarling lyrics. A job well done as the younger metallers lash into some early pit pain.
Warmen featuring Janne Warman of Children Of Bodom kick off the day’s proceedings on Inferno. Their new album “First of the Five Elements” is littered with guest vocalists and today’s performance is no different. Pasi Rantanen is in for primary vocals but you can tell by the audience that the Helsinkiläiset are expecting a special guest. Warmen is a group of musicians having fun playing what they love. A cover of Journey’s ‘Separate Ways’ aside, it’s the original material that shines. Ratanen’s voice and presence is fantastic on stage as is the bassist’s energy. Warman stands at the back behind his trademark tilted keyboard grinning from ear to ear. Jyri Helko from For The Imperium is always a welcome addition on bass as he adds a solid bottom line as well as a visual feast with his destructive dreadocks. Jonna Geagea makes an appearance on a few tracks before the arrival of Alexi Laiho for the final two songs of which the closing number ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ that is going to be stuck in people’s heads for the rest of the day. This completes the gig on a high note with Laiho’s rock star persona connecting with the people and bring them into the show with the catchy chorus.
Mokoma are on the main stage and the local Finnish thrash terrors have drawn on of the bigger crowds of the day. These guys are a revelation. I will admit that I haven’t a clue what they are singing about but what I do see, is people singing along, moshing, cheering, clapping hands and having a right old party. Mokoma strike a nerve with their fellow countrymen and it’s great to see bands like this at such a prestigious festival in their own country. Founding member Marko Annala is an unforgettable singer as he runs all over the Radio Rock stage. That being said he is matched by his compatriots. This band mean business from the second they start and for the remainder of their set the inspire Suomi savagery across the arena floor. Check out their closing number ‘Pahaa Verta’ to get an idea of what Mokoma is about. I’ll be picking up some of their albums.
In 2014 The Sirens featuring Liv Kristine, Anneke Van Giersbergen and Kari Rueslåtten teamed up to offer fans of female fronted metal a setlist featuring songs from their pioneering careers. When this was announced I was interested to see what tunes would be played at the Finnish home of metal. The band arrive on stage before the three singers take their positions. For the set they chop and change between differing combinations of trio, duet and solo slots. An initial performance as a trio on Anneke’s ‘Treat Me Like a Lady’ which is a nice up tempo song where each of them takes individual parts kicks the show off really well followed by Liv’s ‘Vervain’. Highlight of the set for this reviewer was witnessing Anneke sing Saturnine. A cracking moment of beauty in the Inferno shade. All three voices are very different and it is a unique approach to a project and the clear enjoyment by them is very visible. I was a little surprised not to hear any Leaves’ Eyes material but hey, the audience got to hear the amazing ‘Image’ and the up tempo ‘Ride’ before which Kari tells us that they travelled from Norway and The Netherlands to celebrate the final day of Tuska.
Anneke takes her final solo slot for the well received ‘Strange Machines’ and is joined by the others as momentum clicks up a gear. I missed the final song as I had to move over to the Main Stage photographer’s queue, but in the distance I could hear the strains of ‘Sisters Of The Earth’. The Sirens may have snared a few victims at Tuska this year.
Opeth‘s progression from their death metal roots has always been a bone of contention to fans afraid to accept the fact that Opeth are one of the most creative bands to surface in the last 2 decades. From Orchid, through Still Life, Blackwater Park and Watershed, they have evolved and now with Harvest and Pale Communion under their belts, are at Tuska to fill the crowds ear holes with a selection of their craftings. Mikael Åkerfeldt (with trademark festival shades adorned) assumes his position at the centre of the Radio Rock Stage in what has to be the most searing sunshine of the weekend directly in his face. ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ and ‘Cusp of Eternity’ for sets the tone early on and after a sumptuous ‘The Drapery Falls’, Mikael introduces the band. “We are Opeth. We are from the Superior ice hokey nation, Sweden.” This is greeted by much heckling as he taps a raw nerve with the natives. Never one to shy away from good banter, he continues “We are from Stockholm, the capital of Scandanavia”. Ensue more heckling. It’s this inbetween song joking that gives an Opeth concert that something different which sets you at ease and makes it feel more personal. Åkerfeldt asks are people looking forward to seeing Alice Cooper. He tells the story of “happy hour” in school where a classmate brought in an Alice Cooper song (He’s Back, The Man Behind The Mask) and they played it, on loop for the hour. The final comment is that Mikael is going to rob Alice’s setlist and replace every song title with the afoementioned tune. After the brief interlude they get back to business. Axenrot’s drumming is utterly immense throughout the set.
Of all the bands over the weekend, this is some of the most complex and sonically moving music to be heard. Åkerfeldt’s soft singing voice is the musical equivalent of a velvet sheet being wrapped over the audience while the guitar tone sails off over the chimney stacks on Tuska, settling even the ravenous seagulls. Closing with contrast, they perform the earth-quaking duo of The Grand Conjuration and Deliverance. Opeth’s set has something for everyone in attendance from the old school diehards to the newer fans. Heavy metal is the real winner this evening although it was a little unsettling seeing Mikael singing the words “God is dead” as cascades of bubbles blew past him. A magnificent show.
The last time I had the chance to see Timo Kotipelto was at a solo show in Tavastia many moons ago so when Stratovarius were confirmed for Tuska, it was one of the performances I had marked on my timetable as an absolute definite must-see. Then the band announced that they would be performing the ‘Visions’ album in its entirety. Queue excitement. The eager crowd is gathered in the welcome shade of Inferno as the Stratovarians take their positions. They launch into Forever Free with its crunching opening riff getting heads banging in the audience. Kotipelto runs out onto the stage as his part kicks in. Timo’s voice today is fantastic, hitting the high notes flawlessly. Jens Johannson’s parts are at times like frenzied spiralling musical attacks that are followed (and vice versa) with precision by Matias Kupiainen’s guitar work. This is the trademark power metal sound that gives Stratovarious their rightful place in the hall of heroes. ‘The Kiss of Judas’ and ‘Legions’ are early highlights. The entire band are performing with a swagger that portrays the confidence and belief in their music. Timo mocks each band member during their solos and the band give the fans some respite with the ballad ‘Coming Home’. Unfortunately, my limits with the Finnish language mean I can’t understand what is said to the crowd but they cheer and laugh at every address.
I’m not sure Nostradamus would have predicted a Finnish power metal band celebrating about him at a dockland arena in Helsinki. But hey, we didn’t need his clairvoyance to predict how good this show was going to be. They close with the epic duo of Visions/Black Dianmond and send the crowd away to enjoy the headliner suitably riled up.
Its getting close to the death knell for this year’s Tuska and the act given the distinction of bringing the guillotine down on proceedings is the original king of shock rock, Alice Cooper. Tonight’s performance is entertainment lesson 101 from the master. It is a greatest hits package that defies the ages. From the opening notes, right into ‘House Of Fire’ through ‘No More Mister Nice Guy’ Cooper is resplendent. For this tour he has surrounded himself (as always) with musicians that are at the top of their game. Every single one of them is a performer of utmost professionalism. Alice must have asked the question, why have 2 guitarists when you can have three? Coming into the fold is Nita Strauss from the Iron Maidens who is almost as eye catching as the grand master as she takes every opportunity given to her by AC to shred on the centre riser. ‘Lost In America’ gets an airing before the unexpected delivery of He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask). I wonder if it was planned or did the Opeth main man actually get his wish backstage. Either way, it brought a smile to many a face.
It’s more than just music, it’s showmanship, theatre and visual art. Alice himself gets killed umpteen times every night and this evening we are treated to electrocution (Feed My Frankenstein), poisoning, stabbing and beheading. Seeing Alice in his leathers, his SS gear, his straight jacket, his top hat with sword in hand and caressed by a snake (Welcome To My Nightmare) is what’s expected. My personal highlight is ‘The Ballad Of Dwight Fry’ with Alice in his straight jacket as Nurse Rozetta mocks him. It’s a fantastic performance.
Cooper gets rolled out on a gurney under a white sheet and rises to a rousing reception as an announcer booms over the PA. “You are now in the graveyard of the Hollywood vampires”. Minions (not the yellow tic-tac kind), bring out headstones upon which are engraved the names of deceased rock stars and the band join for a medley of Break On Through /Talkin Bout My Revolution/Foxy Lady/My Generation. This is followed by ‘I’m Eighteen’ and ‘Poison’ which sees people losing their shit with excitement. Alice addresses us “Raise your hands if you’re poison”. There’s not a hand in a pocket anywhere. The end is nigh as Alice addresses the crowd for the final time, a rip roaring celebratory School’s Out with surprise guest Michael Monroe joining in on vocal. Giant confetti filled balloons bounce atop reaching fingertips as the sword wielding orchestrator slashes and ripostes. Alice Cooper has defied the boundaries of age. His shows in 2015 are on par with anything he has ever done. A true master, professional and one of the greatest entertainers ever. It’s circus macabre, it’s garrulously grim and the people of the Tuska crowd delight in every second. The band take a bow and Tuska salutes another memorable show.
Three days of metal mayhem has passed and the fantastic occasion that is Tuska Open Air 2015 will live long in the memory. Massive kudos to the organisers and the entire Tuska Team for keeping metal alive and making this festival once of the coolest festivals in Europe. I highly recommend that when Tuska 2016 is announced, that you make it your business to get your asses to Finland and celebrate our music in one of the heavy metal capitals of the world.
Tuska Open Air Metal Festival – Kiitos!!!!
All photos by Steve Dempsey of Down The Barrel Photography[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”photoset” id=”72157655225552912″ size=”z” count=”100″]