Festival Report
Accept @ Finnish Metal Expo 2011
FINNISH METAL EXPO Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki February 18-19, 2011

Black text: Ossi Turpeinen
Maroon text: Lady Enslain

Taking place again in the windiest part of Helsinki during the harshest period of winter was our yearly fix of picking free stuff from exhibition stands, collecting empty beer cups for pantti money, and hanging out with new and old acquaintances Finnish Metal Expo.  Also, a couple of bands were scheduled to play, and looking back at the line-ups of the previous three years we had attended, a few names on this year’s bill seemed exceptionally interesting to me.  While Triptykon doing their first Helsinki show was the main lure, and quite an unmissable act after their pulverizing gig at last August’s Jalometalli, two more obscure Scandinavian entities appearing in Finland for the first time were on my must-see list as well.  Previously having only heard the names of Norway’s Kvelertak and Sweden’s Ghost, their addition to the program compelled me to lend an ear to their debut albums, both of which rocked me with their catchy songs and familiar yet fresh-sounding approach.  Apart from the joy of finding new quality bands, I was also delighted to notice how this established event still has the ability to introduce something new and interesting, and be innovative with their bookings.  Well, at least some of them.

 

FRIDAY

 

Deathchain @ Finnish Metal Expo

While I wouldn’t count Deathchain among the most exclusive or interesting names of the weekend, they were a worthy addition to the cluster, and a guaranteed enjoyable appetizer to kick off the weekend.  Not a lot of people had found their way to Kaapelitehdas by the time "Panzer Holocaust" started bursting from the speakers, but the crowd was slowly growing during the full hour that the band had generously been granted to play.  The longer slot enabled a more career-spanning set instead of just a quick new album show-off, although last year’s Death Gods was naturally most represented in the song selections.  Despite preferring the more agile and thrashy material of Deathchain’s early albums best demonstrated on their second full-length Deathrash Assault over the darker and heavier death metal sound of their later works, this time live I found myself getting more into the slow Lovecraftian incantations of "Serpent of the Deep" and the epic finale "Cthulhu Rising".  Maybe it was the porridgy sound that made the faster songs sound messy and harder to get into, or then the night was just too young (at four in the afternoon) for this kind of fierce deathrash to take full effect.  Especially the atmosphere of the more crawling conjurations was further enriched by backing vocalist C. Void, invoking the Great Old Ones with his impressively inhuman burps both during and in between the songs.  Unlike at some of the earlier festival shows I’ve seen from the band, this time his vocals were delightfully audible in the overall sound, and he indeed seemed like a significant supporting vocalist, instead of just a creepy mascot dramatically spreading his arms.

 

Dreamshade @ Finnish Metal Expo

After our little pre-FME MySpace check of all the bands on the bill we didn’t know beforehand, Zeroscape’s sorry mix of reggae and bullshit metal was among the things we didn’t need to be there for, so Dreamshade were the next band to give a chance to.  Whereas their material seemed skillfully played yet averagely uninteresting basic melodeath on the basis of a pre-listen, in the live bite my tastebuds detected a surprisingly metalcore-y flavor, and that wasn’t only due to the singer’s hair and jumps.  However, these young Swiss dudes did put up a passionately energetic show for the modestly-sized crowd, showing that they have the hunger to make it far, and with help from parties like Spinefarm and Finnish Metal Events, they just might.

 

MyGrain @ Finnish Metal Expo

MyGrain, or myGRAIN, as they used to spell themselves back then, highly convinced me with their 2005 demo The Red Frame, but started losing my interest slowly but steadily after that.  While I considered Orbit Dance quite a well-done debut, the second album Signs of Existence already appealed to me a whole lot less, and the recent self-titled effort just felt somehow weirdly difficult to grasp even after multiple listens, leaving me with a feeling that they had progressed to a direction out of my reach.  Therefore, I didn’t have high expectations for their show at FME, but ended up checking them out anyway for old times’ sake and good that I did.  Although their brief half-an-hour slot was mostly filled with new songs like the video tracks "Of Immortal Aeons" and "Trapped in an Hourglass", the whole band performed with such exceptional enthusiasm and vigor that I couldn’t help but to succumb.  Maybe time to give the new album another chance?

 

Triptykon @ Finnish Metal Expo

For me, Triptykon felt like the headliner of the whole festival, and therefore should’ve definitely deserved more playing time than an hour, considering not only their musical supremacy, but also the extensive length of many of their songs.  Taking this and the often unfavorable Kaapelitehdas setting into account, it was quite clear that the gig wouldn’t be able to better the group’s previous Finnish visit, but instead of trying to, it offered a bit of something else special.  Apart from the welcomed Celtic Frost classics "Procreation (of the Wicked)" and "Circle of the Tyrants", and the ripping "Goetia", this time the audience was also treated with primitivity from almost 30 years ago in the form of the Hellhammer revelation "Messiah"!  After this, Tom & co. subdued us with their customary finale of "Synagoga Satanae" and "The Prolonging" that was sure to cease all brain activity for all of us exposed devotees for the remaining half of the set with its utter mind-raping heaviness.

 

Symfonia @ Finnish Metal Expo

My only interest in the super power metal line-up Symfonia was based on Timo Tolkki and Jari Kainulainen’s involvement, since Stratovarius was one of the first metal bands I really got into ten years ago, and still holds a firm place in my heart with their mid-to-late 90’s works.  However, their winning combination was not only made of Tolkki’s songwriting, but also largely of Timo Kotipelto’s great voice, and the lack of the latter, added to my uninterest in the other Symfonia-related bands and Tolkki’s more recent compositional efforts, didn’t make me expect that much.  Indeed, there was not a lot for me to get excited over here, but at least I have to give credit to the well-picked Stratovarius songs in the set, since the old (originally) Tolkki-sung "Dreamspace" with its dark and twisted atmosphere, and the Episode instrumental "Stratosphere" are definitely not among the most obvious hits.  A good part of the audience seemed to like what they heard, so I suppose Symfonia’s world premiere wasn’t a fiasco, and Timo Tolkki must’ve smashed his guitar on stage for other reasons…  After this, our heads were really not in need of any more power metal, even if it was the bombastic and not-so-irritating kind that Sabaton hammer out, so it was time to find more interesting things to do at the festival grounds before calling it a day.

 

SATURDAY

 

Turmion Kätilöt @ Finnish Metal Expo

Saturday’s festive activities began with me wondering if Turmion Kätilöt are becoming Finnish Metal Events’ new Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus, since they already played last year’s FME and Tuska, and now were on the bill again, with a full hour-long slot.  I hope not, since their metallic mixture of electronic sounds and dark humor has never been my thing, not even drunk and live, despite their often flamboyant stage act.  As Sweden’s Corroded were up next with their hard rock (or ÄIJÄHEVI, if you please), and seemed even less interesting, this provided a good opportunity to head towards the Valssaamo stage, where the finalists of the Suomi Metal Star band contest were about to compete for a record contract with Century Media.

 

Though FME had taken an overall turn for the more interesting, relevant, and groundbreaking this year, there are still criticisms owed on the pseudo-political side of things that can’t be overlooked.  Arriving at the small stage on this day we encountered the first significant bitching point, which was the organization’s participation in this terribly misguided, thoroughly inequitable, and sadly deficient record deal-awarding band competition.  The premise of this certainly showed ingenuity on Century Media’s part: launch a search for their next signing by searching the country that’s jammed with more promising up-and-coming heavy acts per square mökki than anywhere else.  While the theory was bulletproof, the practical side had holes shot through the face.  Four semi-finalists were chosen to compete at FME on the basis of who could annoy more of their social media friends for daily votes.  These four richly-friended bands were each afforded the opportunity to play two songs live at the sparsely populated closet-stage to a panel of five credible judges and one Heta Hyttinen.  Of these bands, Ablazer seemed to lack unity in a live setting, we escaped from Artificial Heart and their obvious fan club after seeing their corny haircuts, Avathar sounded like a sloppy and derivative version of Battlelore, and Oddland’s progressive style was simply not heavy enough, but somehow managed to win the prize.  The final judging itself seemed reasonable enough, but with these uninspiring performances, I felt bad for CM and could only think of the handfuls of demo bands that would have been ideal recipients of the contract.  Oh well, surely the deal wasn’t all that generous anyway.

 

The Man-Eating Tree @ Finnish Metal Expo

While The Man-Eating Tree’s debut Vine was quite pleasant atmospheric and melancholic metal from these old-hands, I was a bit skeptic about how their emotional and intimate (sounds gay, huh?) expression would work in a big setting like this, and the Kaapeli hall surely wasn’t the ideal place for them.  Although I found myself enjoying the calmer parts of the songs, at times even sensing some of that Throes of Dawn-reminiscent ethereal magic in them, the heavier sections felt mostly average and idle, and a couple harsher screams that Tuomas Tuominen "spiced up" the songs with just seemed out of place.  I’d assume that The Man-Eating Tree are a bit too big to play any smaller venue in the capital area, thanks to their previous bands’ merits, so maybe I’ll just stick to listening to them at home for now.

 

Tuomas Saukkonen & Karhu @ Finnish Metal Awards

And on to the next big farce, the Finnish Metal Awards.  While there is certainly a place for awards ceremonies in their acknowledgment of significant achievements and exemplary on-record performances, we’ve already learned from previous years that putting it entirely into the voters’ hands results in Stam1na’s Raja winning a best album cover award.  It’s quite unlikely that those who choose to vote are unguided by pleas of “vote for us” in their inboxes, and this explains how nearly every one of this year’s awards were handed over to Stam1na, Mokoma, and Tuomas Saukkonen’s bands, as I certainly received some “guidance” from some of these directions on where my vote should go.  But, great that Saukkonen himself won the “musician of the year” award, as it resulted in this absolutist’s public indulgence of a celebratory Karhu, which was certainly long overdue.  Record, band, and singer of the year all went to Stam1na this time, which wasn’t surprising, but would have surely found more deserving recipients from less obvious and popularity-driven places.  Hyyrynen accepted the awards with a great deal of class, doing nothing more than shrieking dumbfoundedly into the mic each time.  Well, after handing out the awards, it was announced that the rules and categories would be changing for next year, so here’s hoping they get a clue and do it with some deal of honor and justice.

 

Battle Beast @ Finnish Metal Expo

Having won last year’s Wacken Open Air Metal Battle, Battle Beast justifiably got to perform at FME, despite having no releases (that I’m aware of) except for a recent digital single.  Along with Accept, they filled the evening’s quota of traditional balls-to-the-wall heavy metal with their catchy tunes and energetic performance, perfected during their active gigging in Finland over the last two years.  Especially singer Nitte deserves a special mention, not only for possessing an impressively powerful voice, but also for being the ballsiest frontwoman I’ve seen!  It’s delightful to come across a tradition-conscious band like Battle Beast with such potential, and see it recognized, instead of yet another hollow modern metal "miracle" getting their place in the spotlight.

 

Kvelertak @ Finnish Metal Expo

Up yours next was perhaps my most awaited band on the bill, Norway’s Kvelertak.  Apart from having released an ass-kicking debut album last year, their catchy feel-good punk rock & roll with a sinfully delicious black metal flavor certainly seemed like something that would be at its best live, and the six-piece indeed met my expectations by taking over the big stage convincingly with their furious all-out live performance.  While the dominantly harsh vocals carry a bit of the black metal feeling all through the groovy rocking, every once in a while a grimly blasting section kicks in like a shot of heroin in the midst of a cannabis trip, and as long as you’re not too bigoted for a shamelessly open-minded musical approach like this, you’re likely to be blown away the way I and the rest of the audience were.  This was not only Kvelertak’s first gig in Finland, but the first of the four already scheduled occasions they’ll be playing as a supporting band here this year, so maybe after the next album we’ll get them for a headliner show!

 

Ghost @ Finnish Metal Expo

Wrapping up this year’s FME half an hour after midnight was the mysterious Swedish entity known as Ghost, presenting a fascinating take on 70’s-sounding occult rock, which quite reminds me of another rightfully hyped recent band, namely The Devil’s Blood.  However, I hear more metal and less psychedelia in Ghost’s sound, resulting in a more straightforward approach that I especially preferred live, as the infectious songs did the talking without getting lost in psychedelic jam parts.  There was no wild motion to be seen on stage, as the band opted for a more minimalistic way of performing, but the appearance of these nameless and faceless ghouls alone was quite enough to gain your attention, with the frontman (whose namelessness drifted away after a short while of internet “research”) sporting a creepy satanic pope look, while the rest of the band played clad in black cloaks.  Another notable detail about the outfit’s visual side was the members’ display of their own mark of the Devil, a symbol that combines the letter G with an inverted cross in such a striking way that Rytmihäiriö probably wish they would’ve come up with it!  Not so surprisingly, Ghost have also been booked for this summer’s Tuska, and while they are one of the more welcome re-runs, I’m not sure how effectively the group will be able to pull their rituals off in a less nightly setting…

 

While bandwise this year’s Finnish Metal Expo offered enough to satisfy me, and the bands I was most looking forward to didn’t let down on stage, the expo side of the event was quite the opposite, with mostly the same uninteresting stands situated in the same places as on previous years.  If the whole metal exhibition idea appeared fresh and interesting on the first year(s) I attended, the stasis of it has made it feel increasingly dull year by year, having nothing new to offer, with the Finnish Metal Awards perhaps being the saddest part of the event.  Seems I wasn’t alone feeling this way, since not only was there too little interest from exhibiters to fill all the stand spots, but also the number of attendees hit an all-time low.  Or maybe there just weren’t enough crowd-magnets on the bill to justify the high ticket prices, but it still gets me thinking, outside of the enjoyable yet commonplace watch-bands-and-drink-beer festival concept, what kind of a future does the event have?



~ Ossi Turpeinen & Lady Enslain with photos by Lady Enslain


Photo Slideshow : Finnish Metal Expo - Friday
Photo Slideshow : Finnish Metal Expo - Saturday

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