Finnish Metal Festival Guide
Summer, 2008

Whether you’re a Finn or you’re just looking to spend a summer in Finland to see all your favorite bands from the North, you’re in luck.  A wide variety of festivals are available to satisfy your every need.  Although many bigger and foreign bands cease club touring for these several months, it just saves you the money you need to travel around the country for these weekend festivals.

While you could go to a different festival every weekend between the beginning of June and the second to last weekend of August, you’ll be hard-pressed to keep your sanity amongst the traveling, camping, random shitty bands, watching guys piss on fences, watching guys pass out in bushes, drinking more beer than you have body weight, and smelling like whiskey.  So, after having spent the summer doing just that, I’ve narrowed the field down to the 5 surest bets for metalheads, in order of their happening dates.

Sauna Open Air – Tampere – 3 days (Fri – Sun) (website)

June 6-8, 2008 (photos)

Sauna was my first outdoor festival experience, and I somehow expected it to be much larger.  Sauna offers two stages with alternating set times, the smaller stage being just along a stunning lake.  Contrary to the name, there are no saunas here, nor is it hot, or even warm, as the summer has yet to begin, and the lake winds add to the chill.  Keep this in mind when you consider that you’ll probably be camping in the nearby designated area, as you probably don’t have any friends in Tampere.  So pack warm clothes, and start chatting to some strangers from Tampere on IRC-galleria, and THEN decide on coming.

What is most unique about Sauna, however, is the selection of bands.  While you will find Finland’s biggest heavy bands playing here often, namely Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Sonata Arctica, and such, you’ll also find a touch of the 80’s glam rock comebacks, that somehow don’t seem out of place.  2008 had, for example, Whitesnake, Scorpions, and Sebastian Bach.  Naturally, the audience becomes a little older here, but from what I saw, while the older bands were playing, there were rows full of stunned frizzy-banged glammed-up goth chicks wondering why they don’t recognize these songs and can’t sing along.  The older guys are drinking up the beers in the beer tents, quite a distance from the stage, but still easy to hear the bands.

Sauna has an attraction in its original selection of bands and choosing several from these same themes.  It’s not a repeat of every other festival’s lineup, nor of its previous years’.  However, if you’re a frequent concert-goer here, you’ve surely already seen each of the Finnish bands a dozen times.  But to get them all at one price, and get a head-start on the festival season, Sauna is waiting.

NummirockKauhajoki3 days (Thurs – Sat) (website)

June 19-21, 2008 (photos)

I don’t think it matters which bands are playing at Nummi.  Rather, there is an achieved feeling here that makes you willing to drive the several-hundred some-odd miles through unlikely forested paths to reach this metal haven removed from civilization.  It’s the fact that everyone else here has done just the same, and the camaraderie is strong.  It’s about drinking in the VERY close camping areas while bands you don’t care about are playing, and then waking up to drunken howling  and the scent of vomit as you realized you passed out during all the bands you DID want to see.  Welcome to Nummirock.

Nummirock takes place on Juhannus, a.k.a. Mid-Summer’s Eve, and holidays seem to bring out the wild in Finns.  It also means that on these nights, you’ll barely see the sun set, if only for a couple of hours.  Again, a lake is nearby; on one side is the camps and the other the stages.  I’ve been told that you can swim from the camping area to the backstage, and while I believe it might be true, the water is freaking cold, and you’d look suspicious hanging out backstage dripping like a wet puppy dog.

Bands at Nummirock tend to vary.   The same crowd of regular Finnish bands who just released new records are playing there, and the foreign bands are usually Scandinavian and you’ve probably seen them before as well.   In 2008, this included an explosive (meaning, pyro-filled) performance from In Flames, and a pre-dusk blast of pure evil from Watain.  These kinds of bands are playing the 2 big stages, whose set times rotate.  However, a great bonus is that two more stages are here, including an independent stage, and a cover stage in the beer tent.  These two stages play simultaneously, so you can check out both and decide.  Or decide that now’s a good time to go back to the campground and guzzle some more warm booze.  But between all of the stages, something is sure to suit you.

Tuska Open Air – Helsinki – 3 days (Fri-Sun) (website)

June 27-29, 2008 (photos)

This is Finland’s biggest metal festival, and is, as such, located in the heart of the capital… so much so, that playing must stop before 10 so that the townsfolk can get some sleep.  For one weekend out of the year Helsinki’s central Kaisaniemi Park is transformed into a mammoth of an event, that has for years been sold out in advance.

Perhaps Tuska’s biggest attraction is its allowance of bringing your own alcohol in soft-plastic or cardboard containers.  You can drink what-the-fuck-ever, as long as you transfer it into a safe holder.  You are, however, limited to the amount, but only by a judgment call of what is a reasonable quantity, and you are not permitted to leave and get more.  Once you’re in, you’re in.

Beyond that, there are typically a handful of especially excellent bands on hand.  In 2008, this included Carcass’ one and only Finnish show on their return from the dead, Morbid Angel, Dimmu Borgir, and Slayer.  The rest of the playbill includes well-known bands from all over, and Finnish bands that are making a difference.

A great bonus to this gigantic frenzy is that, since the stages shut down around 10, after-party gigs (both official and non-) are arranged every night to keep the evening going strong.  Some of these bands are even more exciting than the festival’s headliners, and the problem comes in where you need to choose between 3-5 gigs happening on the same night.  Beware, these gigs cost extra, and almost definitely will be sold out before you get there.

If you are broke, it’s as if there’s a mini-festival happening outside Tuska’s gates, to which comes people from all over Finland drinking in the grasses and listening to whichever band is playing nearer the gate.  Here is also the unofficial fashion show of all goths, cyber-hair and PVC wearing punks, and baggy-panted boys with make-up.  This year’s festival logo typified the feeling, with a bloodied-white goat and a pink backdrop.  Never have I seen so many metal guys wearing pink shirts in my life!  In honesty, I wanted to buy the goat underpants, but… sold out.  This festival attracts more than just metalheads, but the surrounding scenes’ trend-followers and local cityfolk.  Personally, I don’t like to share my fests with scene sheep, but that’s just the elite in me that finds other festivals a little more comforting.

PellavarockLammi 1 day (Saturday) (website)

August 9, 2008 (Photos)

Speaking of comforting, this might just be the ultimate festival to relax and enjoy some metal amongst your own.  Though less than 2 hours from Helsinki, there’s no easy route to get here by public transportation, and this weeds out the follower crowd.  It’s also only one day, so camping is not so necessary, nor advisable.

The stages are set up just next to each other, with a lake (big surprise!) as the backdrop, and the viewing area is an inclining hill, which is a particularly comfortable way to enjoy a festival.  What this does, is it creates a setting that you don’t want to leave, so you can sit and watch a band that you’re unfamiliar with and still have a good view, or still rush into the pit during your favorites.  And, much like Tuska, plastic bottles are permitted with whatever suspicious-looking brown-colored liquid you have in your Jaffa bottle.  All this is a recipe for a good time.

Pellavarock is not such a large festival, and therefore the bands are not especially exotic.  However, 2008 brought one particular exception in the form of Bloodbath, who played their 3rd EVER gig at this quaint little festival.  The remainder were moderately-sized Finnish bands like Korpiklaani and Sotajumala.  Overall, the lineup was satisfying, and the ticket prices were comparable to a club gig.

Jalometalli – Oulu – 2 days (Fri-Sat) (website)

August 15-16, 2008 (photos)

Wrapping up the year and the summer, a trip to the North is in order.  Whereas the other festivals’ lineups can feel interchanging and haphazard, it’s obvious that the makers of Jalometalli have some rigid standards on who they invite to this elite happening, and I can’t think of many other places this would bring a success outside of Finland.  This is the underground, denim-vest wearing metalhead’s wet fucking dream.

There’s no lake.  The camping are is shit far away.  The train from Helsinki costs 3-4 cases of beer (the official currency of metal), each way.  You can’t bring your own booze.  The surrounding area resembles a junk yard.  And it’s starting to get bitingly cold for an outdoor festival.  But yet, fanatics from around the country attend this festival, believe it or not, just for the music.

Thus, Jalometalli is genuine.  The bands chosen are noticeably of the black, thrash, and death genres, with nothing exceptionally extreme, but with a clear lack of Spinefarm fluff, and practically ALL of the headliners being flown in foreign lands.  These are EXACTLY the bands whose patches you find on denim jackets.  Possessed, Mayhem, Overkill, Satyricon… and it doesn’t stop there.  And for next year’s festival, the announced headliner is to be Voivod.  In fact, the line-up is so solid that you don’t really need to be drinking constantly in order to enjoy it.

The festival ran very smoothly as well.  With one stage inside and the bigger outside, there was a chance to warm up before freezing again.  One notable anecdote that was victim to their precisely-running timetables, is that when Possessed (which is, nowadays, Becerra in a wheel-chair, and the axe-duty performed by members of Sadistic Intent, who also played Jalo) were launching into their final, long-awaited song, after Becerra used up several minutes exciting the crowd with by saying ‘this next song is called, Death…” and everyone screaming “Metal”, and this repeating quite a few times into a climactic audience response, the final climax was the power being pulled before a note could be played!  What a pisser!  He was, however, wasting quite a lot of his set with amusing speeches, and a less vital song should, therefore, have been taken out of the set if he wanted to talk so much.

Last Words:

There are a lot of other rock festivals in Finland with excellent metal bands playing, but it’s often hit-or-miss from year to year, and you’ll be spending most of your time listening to radio-rock.  These five festivals represent the wisest choices, but not all are suited to all people.  With this guide, and the upcoming rosters of each festival, it shouldn’t be hard to make a good decision.  But my advice is not to over-do it, and to leave a few spare summer weekends for chilling with friends at a cabin down by a lake and drinking along to Sentenced.  With enough beer, this is a festival all of its own, and the ultimate event of Finnish summer.

-- Lady Enslain

Enslain Magazine