Festival Report
Steelfest Open Air 2012
STEELFEST OPEN AIR Villatehdas , Hyvinkää May 18-19, 2012

While Sauna was having a sabbatical in 2012, and since our beloved Pellavarock seems to be off the festival map for good, luckily a new addition to the summer’s feasts was introduced to the public this year in the form of Steelfest Open Air.  Apparently, the event had been arranged already several times before as a smaller, private happening with local area bands playing for each other, but this time more prominent names from here and abroad had been brought in as well.  Although the nice set of Finnish underground acts spiced with some not-so-exclusive foreign visitors would’ve already had enough appeal for me to check out this “newcomer”, the fact that The Crown was in the line-up made the event totally unmissable.

As the festival was taking place in Hyvinkää, only about an hour away from the capital, the connections were comfortably fast and convenient, and the Villatehdas (wool factory) area was close to the train station and town center.  However, as we had been a bit late with our hotel bookings, the accommodation we were able to acquire was the less convenient one, being a half-an-hour walk away.  Therefore, after some hassle and a quick visit at the hotel, we didn’t make it to the festival grounds in time to see the opening band Hellboozer Union, which is a shame, since I yet have to witness these Kuopio drunkards stumbling on stage.

Ominous @ Steelfest Open Air

By the time we got to the area, Ominous were almost done as well, with what was actually their first gig ever.  While their debut tape showcases very promising oldschool-spirited extreme metal with a sense of melody, the little part of the performance that I caught didn’t yet convince much, as the band left a bit of a shy impression, like they weren’t quite at home on the big stage.  The last song was of a different style, going for a more simplistic mid-tempo approach, but luckily this punky piece wasn’t any kind of a hint towards their future direction, but just an old song that the band had picked for the set.  Considering it was late Friday afternoon, it wasn’t surprising that not much audience had found their way to Villatehdas to watch Ominous, but at least some of the guys in the front seemed pretty enthusiastic, yelling their song wishes at the band drunkenly.

Valoton don’t have many gigs behind them either, but their solid debut album Beastificate has already gained them some following in the underground, Valoton @ Steelfest Open Airand they were also one of my most awaited domestic names at the fest.  The band didn’t seem to have a problem executing their fast and vicious style live, but I got the feeling that a more lightless setting would’ve done their performance more justice.  As appropriate for the depersonalized essence of Valoton, most of the members appeared clad in hoods and corpsepaint, which after a closer look revealed to be actually masks with paint on them.  Therefore, the completely normal-looking female vocalist seemed really out-of-place on stage, and I didn’t feel that her mostly harsh background vocals contributed much to the whole either.

Maveth @ Steelfest Open Air

Although Hyvinkää’s premier black metal band Azaghal have played several times abroad during their circa 15-year existence, this was one of their first appereances on Finnish soil, and the first time they were desecrating their hometown.  The four-piece played a decent gig with a confident touch, but as my familiarity with their material is slim, the only thing that really stood out of the blasting was the overall cruel and grim feel.  At least that’s better than what a lot of the bands in today’s scene are able to achieve live or otherwise…

A.R.G. had already more than convinced me of their brisk current shape with their Jalometalli and Metalheim appearances the year before, and delivered the Steelfest audience another sharp thrash attack.  After a fine set of their own vintage material, the band closed with something even older in the form of a tight version of Sodom’s “Outbreak of Evil”.  Although this timeless classic suited the whole nicely, I’m starting to get tired of hearing bands cover this particular song – there’s plenty of other killers in the Sodom catalog to pick from, for fuck’s sake…  Well, I guess I’ll forgive the Graveguards, since they were probably digging the song before I was even born.

Impaled Nazarene @ Steelfest Open Air

Although Impaled Nazarene seem to have been unusually active in the domestic gig frontier lately, these goat-obsessed schizos are always an enjoyment to witness, and were a welcome choice for the last act of the smaller stage.  Whereas I find the fruits of their long career quite consistently worthy, there’s no beating the golden oldies, and luckily the band always arm their sets with plenty of those as well, even throwing in some more surprising choices, like the experimental Ugra-Karma punisher “Gott Ist Tot” this time.  The interpretation of these audial nukes doesn’t leave room for complaints either, as Luttinen’s vocals sound still as fierce and pissed off as ever – not to mention his always emphatic ramblings in between the songs that add an extra punch to the message.

Friday’s headlining Swedes Entombed were playing their only Finnish festival show of the year, and although they were clearly not as exclusive-seeming as their Entombed @ Steelfest Open Airfellow countrymen the following day, they were a safe bet for a small fest like this.  The Stockholm legends kicked off the set with “Living Dead” off the (un)godly Clandestine, and raced through a balanced mix of the old cemetery grime and the catchy yet harsh mid-tempo rockers, from the punky mangling of “Supposed to Rot” to the bombastic bashing of “Chief Rebel Angel.”  The feeling in the audience was enthusiastic and intense, and L-G Petrov was leading his troops with such sleazy diehard charisma that one could only submit to screaming maniacally along to “Demon.”  Now this is how hard a headliner should rule.

Swedish thrashers Tyranex (along with the weakly communicated addition of Skirmish) were playing the afterparty at nearby bar Pelikenttä, but we didn’t feel like a re-run of this female-fronted trio after having caught some of them at last year’s Jalometalli, and therefore headed to our lodgings instead.  After at least a half-decent night’s sleep, a morning dip in the hotel swimming pool and a visit to the breakfast buffet, we were ready for round two, and made our way back to the cosy Villatehdas area in the early afternoon.

Forced Kill @ Steelfest Open Air

The first fighters that I needed to see in the ring were Jyväskylä’s young thrashers Forced Kill, who have very much impressed with the intensity and fury of their demos as well as their gigs.  I’ve already seen this fivesome lay small club stages to waste, but they proved that bigger arenas aren’t gonna stand in their way either, as what the quite few spectators around the main stage received was a brisk beating.  Although the entire band wasn’t on fire at this hour, vocalist Esa more than made up for this by storming around the stage filled with immersive energy and burning mania, demonstrating that even when playing such merciless thrash, you don’t have to be so fucking grim.  Destroy with joy!

Sawhill Sacrifice @ Steelfest Open Air

Confusingly named locals Sawhill Sacrifice had already caught my ear with their solidly blackthrashing debut demo a few years ago, but I hadn’t managed to catch them live yet, so they were one of Saturday’s main targets.  Maybe in part because I had missed their second and blacker-sounding demo, the band’s bloody corpse-painted look came as a surprise, as I was expecting your average bullet-ridden leather rebels.  The performance was equally as convincing as my previous aural observations, though, and especially vocalist Thimns put himself into it with an unusual amount of rage and dedication.  He probably also takes the record of being the first guy I’ve seen wearing corpsepaint and eyeglasses at the same time.

Corpsessed @ Steelfest Open Air

Although I had just seen Corpsessed crushing at Semifinal some weeks ago, their Steelfest appearance wasn’t entirely missable, as the death metal winds they blow carry an irresistible stench that reminds me of the glorious Finnish ways of the old days.  The band’s dark and heavy expression wasn’t exactly where it belongs on the main stage in the afternoon glow, but they brutalized the audience with unapologetic force nevertheless.  I could see these guys march on to great things, as long as they spawn some more of those corpsessingly morbid melodies à la “Crypt Infester.”

Sacrilegious Impalement @ Steelfest Open Air

If you ask me, Sacrilegious Impalement are one of the best acts to emerge from the Finnish black metal scene in recent years, armed with such scorching fervor that it just glows from every vocal line and riff, both on record and stage.  The sunshine didn’t weaken this glow one bit, as these bloodstained blasphemers hammered and nailed hymns like “Wolves of the Black Moon” and “March of Doom” with its ever-climactic riff-finale marking my highlight of the gig.  If previous vocalist Kaosbringer’s departure after the debut got me worried, his successor Hellwind Inferion has truly shown his claws, vomiting equally strong vocals and emanating possibly an even more compelling stage aura.  Too bad less than a month after Steelfest it was announced that he’s out of the band now, too…

Enochian Crescent @ Steelfest Open Air

Although (originally) Ostrobothnian cultists Enochian Crescent have at times seemed like an unnecessarily frequent live act, it had been more than a year since I witnessed the band with their full electrical gear, so I was again feeling hungry for their crescentian conjurations.  This time, the scissors, feathers and other already seen and expected theatrical elements had been left home, which actually didn’t bother me at all, but instead made the overall atmosphere feel even more focused and intense.  The gig wasn’t left without special stage action, though, as towards the end of the set, Hellwind stepped in, holding a torch and heating up what looked like some kind of a branding iron.  He then passed on the torch to Sister Wrath and took over the vocal duties, accompanied by Lord Sargofagian of Baptism, as the band launched into “Väkisinkastettu.”  This song seems to always evoke an especially enthusiastic response from the audience, and such was the case with the Hyvinkää crowd as well, as Wrath turned the hot iron on himself and branded the symbol on his chest.

The Crown @ Steelfest Open Air

Seeing The Crown rip it up on stage has been in my thoughts ever since Deathrace King and Crowned in Terror raped my mind and stole my soul ten years ago.  I never made it to see them before their split-up after the great Possessed 13, though, so the reunion announcement some years back gave me quite a hard-on, and hearing that Johan Lindstrand was back in the gang a few years later almost provoked a heart attack.  However, since financially bad tour experiences were a big part of what made the band quit in the first place, tours were out of the question, and we were just forced to wait for somebody to lure them over for a single show or a festival appearance.  At last, December 2011 brought the excellent news of their return to Finland after 10 years to headline Steelfest.

The Crown @ Steelfest Open Air

Well, was it worth the wait?  Guitarist Marcus wasn’t able to make it, Johan didn’t look as an überly cool Satan from Hell as in my nightmares, and Deathrace King wasn’t played in its entirety, but otherwise the gig didn’t leave much more to hope for.  Okay, since Impaled Nazarene were playing the day before, we were hoping to see Luttinen scream “Total Satan”, but the audience seemed to fill in for him quite well after all…  The setlist offered several other Kingly gems as well, like “Back from the Grave” and “Executioner – Slayer of the Light” that called forth a glorious wave of possessed rage that one could only be swept away by.  Of course, a band with as many great songs as The Crown can never fit them in one set, but there was plenty to rave about from “1999 – Revolution 666” through “Under the Whip” all the way to “Doomsday King”.  Or maybe it’s “Doomsday Unholy” now?

Steelfest had its downsides, like first-timer (public) festivals often do.  The drinking area collected frustratingly long lines at times, and was too small and way too far away from both of the stages, considering what a small percentage of minors there were attending the event.  There was a view to both of the stages from the beer box, but especially in the case of the main stage, the bush and the mixing booth obstructed the view from most of the spots effectively.  Luckily at least the beer service got smoother on the second day, and points for the pantti-system, as well as serving Tuborg!

Synchronized Pantti Dumpster Diving @ Steelfest Open Air

Not letting the audience enter and exit the area as much as they want was understandable, considering that the festival was taking place close to the the Hyvinkää center, but the whole arrangement seemed quite confused and confusing.  At least people with a two-day ticket got wristbands, and weren’t supposed to leave and come back to the area, but a couple of friends of mine were completely unknowing about this until I told them, and had been successfully going to their hotel to drink during uninteresting bands for the whole fest!  Who dares wins, I guess…

The schedule was delightfully loose, as not only were there no overlaps, but there was often 15 minutes or so between the gigs, offering even gig-junkies like me a nice opportunity to chat with friends without missing any of the bands.  The timing of the event itself got some negative feedback, though, as some thought it was too early in the year, and too cold out to have an all-open air festival.  Although some nice sunshine kept us warm during the daytime, I have to say that some of the later hours felt uncomfortably chilly, but it must’ve been nothing that warmer clothing or more headbanging couldn’t cure…  Well, at least I’m glad that Steelfest didn’t take place a week later, since having to dodge bullets in the city center on Saturday night would’ve been no start for a good festival season.

~ Ossi Turpeinen with photos by Lady Enslain

Photo Slideshow : Steelfest Open Air - 2012