This weekend is going to be a bit exciting to say the least. Finland’s premier metal event, Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, starts tomorrow and we have just reached our comfortable apartment in Helsinki, a fifteen minute walk from the arena. Friday’s schedule has an incredible line up and I am particularly looking forward to Testament, Mantar, Kvelertak and Behemoth.
The morning of day one has arrived but the first band doesn’t start until 2pm so we have a few hours to enjoy this beautiful city. Walking along a picturesque path towards the festival site we see two large industrial brick chimneys and a giant gasometer which mark the entrance and we know we have finally arrived at Tuska 2016. Entering the festival site there is a relaxed and excited buzz about the place as we wander around and familiarise ourselves with the stages, bars, food stalls, merch, the famous Black Dining which is a full on gourmet restaurant and the Sauna! (well, it is Finland!!)
Cattle Decapitation: If you want to know how to open a festival, these guys can show you, in blistering sunshine they come onto the main stage and tear the Suvilahti district a new one with Manufactured Extinct, Not Suitable for Life, and Kingdom of Tyrants. Their first ever appearance in the city has incredible stage energy despite the fact that they haven’t slept since the gig the previous night in Hamburg, Germany and their efforts are met with a violent pit in the centre of the crowd. Tuska is the Finnish word for pain and the first pit of the festival lives up to the moniker.
Delain: Another band who has never played Finland before, but what an amazing welcome they receive! I saw these guys recently at Graspop and felt their set was lost at a large festival so early in the morning, which is one of the strengths of Tuska starting so late in the day with no camping. The inside of this tent is jumping and singing along to Suckerpunch, Get the Devil out of Me, Army of Dolls and an emotionally charged We are the Others during which Charlotte’s tears really hit home as the crowd of “others” remember Sophie. Delain’s strength is the interaction between all the members on stage. They relish every show and their joy is infectious on the Helsinki Stage today. Despite the fact that I hadn’t really listened to them before Graspop but recognised four of their tracks at Tuska says it all really, they are a band that naturally I wouldn’t usually enjoy but during this festival it clicked, I think I am a bit of a convert.
Mantar: Probably one of the strangest performances I have seen for a while. With the mic stand and drum kit set up side on to the crowd the sweaty, sinuous six stringer vocalist moves around the stage like a man possessed with the most intense look on his face. I am actually scared to take my eyes off him in case he jumps into the crowd. At several points he mounts the barrier between the stage and the crowd grasping people’s hands while he plays. The sound is HUGE despite the fact there was only the vocalist/guitarist and a drummer, so much so that the vocals are initially lost in a drudge of bass tones at the beginning. A great set for this small indoor venue called the Inferno Stage.
Cain’s Offering: The Finnish super group compromising of members from Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius are greeted by a packed tent and project their energy from the stage with reckless abandon. Power metal is the order of the day and Timo Kotipelto’s voice soars across the arena during I am Legion, A Night to Forget and I Will Build You a Rome.
Lordi: The Rovaniemi monsters have a large crowd of people waiting for them to come out twenty minutes before their set has even started. Their monstrous stage set up, complete with castle and cannons, promises an exciting show. The sound of church bells plays through the speakers and a hooded figure is greeted with clapping from the crowd as he mimes along to a vocal sample, marking the impending entrance of the deviants. Even if you have seen them before you know you are in for a good show and their costumes still pack a punch when they make their entrance. They open with Bringing Back the Balls to Rock during which the Mr, Lordi (clad in a Wolf cloak) is handed a huge staff which he grasps for the second half of the track. Pyro abounds and introduces the second song- Get Heavy – with a crash. There is some dummy fondling during Play with the Dead. Chainsaws with sparks coming from them, dry ice cannons and enough fire to melt the teeth in your skull; Lordi give you all that and more. For me it is definitely more about the stage performance rather than the music (which is extremely proficient by Amen, Ox and co.) but I’m not complaining as that is what Lordi does best and Would You Love A Monsterman and Blood Red Sandman are always fun.
Kvelertak: I am really looking forward to this and apparently the whole of Finland is too! The tent is absolutely rammed and chanting for the Norwegians to begin. As expected Erlend Hjelvik enters with an owl on his head, although it is an adapted futuristic mask with a green LED light built in rather than his usual taxidermy masquerade. Straight away during the first song- Dendrofil for Yggdrasil – a circle pit begins with the enthusiastic crowd bellowing in unison. Even though I have no idea what the lyrics are about, it is completely infectious and the sound is fantastic. Definitely the most engaged crowd I have seen so far today and security move in to try and help control the ever growing pit. A great experience.
Testament: Finally, the masters are on. I am especially excited for these guys, not just because I am a huge fan but chatting to Eric beforehand during my interview has whetted my appetite for their Radio Rock Stage performance. The thrash titans are warmly greeted by the Tuskans and launch straight into Over the Wall. Their years of experience is so evident in the way they use the space on stage and work the crowd, especially when Chuck begins his chant “when I say rise up, you say war!” Gene (The Atomic Clock) Hoglan is just incredible to watch and Chuck stirring up the cauldron pit with his mic of doom is always a fun part of their show for me. Head banging along to The Preacher, Practice what you Preach and Into the Pit is one of the highlights of the festival for me so far.
Behemoth: Entering the smoke filled Helsinki stage, the hooded figures morph into their positions and Nergal wields two fire torches as demonic chants play in the background. The marquee is the busiest I have seen all day and there is no way I am getting near the front so I have had to stand to the right of the stage. Even here, in the less violent section, it is very atmospheric as they open with Blow your Trumpets Gabriel. The band really know how to work the crowd, coming right up to the edge of the stage, almost goading the audience to join them in their adoration. During the intro to Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer Nergal falls to his knees in prayer. The ritualistic aspect of the Behemoth show, using the thurible and the fire beacons really adds to the intensity and context of the music. Another ferocious performance from one of the masters of darkness.
Avantasia: What a reception for Avantasia’s first time in Helsinki. The crowd are absolutely lapping it up as they open with Mystery of a Blood Red Rose with Tobi Sammet fronting the stage and Amanda Sommerville and Herbie Langhans delivering backing vocals on a massive stage show, complete with turrets and a giant staircase. There is a minor hiccup when the wrong track is introduced by Tobi but then they launch into Invoke the Machine during which Ronnie Atkins makes his entrance. Avantasia’s melodic, sing-a-long choruses are anthemic and the cast of singers is one of the coolest aspects of the show as we are brought deep into the Rock Opera of the German wizard.
Ghostlights follows(which Tobi has some fun in introducing again) and Michael Kiske joins him adding a new dimension with his dynamic voice, followed by Avantasia with the crowd singing along. The gradual introductions of the varied and high quality voices of Bob Catley (walking down the steps wielding a tambourine), Jorn Lande (introduced during Scarecrow) Eric Martin (stellar performance of Dying For An Angel), Amanda (incredible during Farewell) and Herbie keep the set fresh, interesting and varied for those who aren’t so familiar with the band. The fact that every member is an iconic musician in their own right shines through with the conviction and performance of each song. The highlight of the show was the last song which was Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels which included every vocalist singing in harmony. Avantasia’s headline set is an incredible experience in the strange half light of the Finnish summer midnight and a great finish to day one of Tuska 2016.
All photos by Down The Barrel Photography[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”photoset” id=”72157670706863995″ size=”z” count=”100″]