Festival Report
Tuska Open Air 2011
TUSKA OPEN AIR METAL FESTIVAL Suvilahti, Helsinki July 22-24, 2011

This year’s Tuska was the first after their move to the Suvilahti industrial area, which was not only a less convenient and central location when compared to Kaisaniemi park, but also not nearly as cozy in its cold concrete milieu.  Also gone was the exceptional convenience of being allowed to bring your own alcoholic refreshments through the festival area gates, and this hard blow surely affected the ticket sales, as the attendance was lower than usual.  However, at least this time ticket-buyers were given wristbands that allowed them to leave the festival area and come back, so prioritizing cheaper drinking over less interesting bands was still possible.

The new industrial view @ Tuska Open Air

On a positive note, there was more room for the crowd, and a fourth Club Stage, an inside one, was introduced, also giving more underground and extreme acts a place at the actual festival instead of just at the afterparty shows.  As there were plenty of well-picked more prominent acts on the bill as well, the potential for another great weekend was there, as long as the arrangements would work smoothly.

FRIDAY

Omnium Gatherum @ Tuska Open Air

Our festival weekend got an early start, as Black Breath and Omnium Gatherum kicked off the festival already before 1pm on Friday.  The foreign visitors opened up the EMP stage, the secondary outdoor arena, while the Finns had been placed in the Inferno tent, which seemed like a bit of a weird choice considering that the latter probably have way more following around these parts.  I, however, followed the repulsive stench to the EMP stage right away to witness Black Breath’s Finnish live debut, as these guys’ studio undertakings had gotten me seriously hooked.

Black Breath @ Tuska Open Air

If one had to guess where Black Breath are from based on their sound, Sweden would probably come to mind before Seattle, as their savage and crusty tunes owe a lot to classic Stockholm death metal, while the noticeable hardcore punk influence brings to mind names like Victims or Disfear.  The songs retain a consistent style, yet manage to offer a healthy amount of variation, from the frantic “Escape from Death” to the heavy mid-tempo bashing of “I Am Beyond”, and from the rocking “Eat the Witch” to the creeping guitar melodies of “Wewhocannotbenamed”.  As one could assume, the catchy tunes worked like hell in a live setting as well, although I can’t help but imagine what kind of powers Black Breath would’ve been able to unleash at a smaller club… or the tent stage, for that matter.

Forbidden @ Tuska Open Air

Semi-classic thrashers Forbidden opened the main stage, being a surely long-awaited visitor for many, but if the band hadn’t really caught my ear on record, the unfamiliar tunes and Russ Anderson’s slightly annoying vocals didn’t impress me live either.  After this little break it was time for a double treat of recently resurrected old-school evil, as Hell was scheduled to go on in the tent and Bulldozer on the EMP stage only 15 minutes later, causing an unforgivable overlap of two exclusive acts that certainly share a lot of followers.  Thinking that the Nuclear Blast-signed NWOBHM legends would be more likely to return in the near future, I decided to check out the start of their set and then go get bulldozed.

Hell @ Tuska Open Air

And Hell, I’ve surely never felt as bad walking away from a band after three songs.  Not only do pieces like “Let Battle Commence” and “On Earth as It Is in Hell” still sound fresh and catchy 30 years after their creation, but the band also seemed to be in excellent live shape.  Although the whole string trio was energetic and enthusiastic on stage, new vocalist David Bower totally stole the show with his powerful and versatile voice and over-the-top performance.  After watching the white-faced frontman’s maniacal facial expressions and dramatic hand gestures for 15 minutes, it’s not at all hard to believe that he’s an actor by profession… [though Televangelism seemed more like his true calling! ~ed]

Bulldozer @ Tuska Open Air

Bulldozer had a bit of theatrics as well, with AC Wild in his Dracula-like cape singing from behind a “bloody” lectern, and the funny-looking little ghoul behind the keyboards hiding his face under a hood.  Not having familiarized myself with their music that deeply beforehand, and just having heard of the band as the Italian black metal pioneers, I was – if not disappointed – at least a bit surprised by the somewhat comical stage apparel and the light-hearted mood of some of their thrashing tunes.  Not that a grim-as-fuck approach would’ve worked on a sunny afternoon like this anyway, and it was quite interesting to hear songs about as varying subject matters as Italy’s own porn star/politician (“Ilona the Very Best”), social media criticism (“Micro VIP”), and the self-explanatory “Whisky Time”.  The set was closed with the slower, and clearly more serious, “Willful Death”  ?  dedicated to the band’s founding member Dario Carria who took his own life in 1988  ?  during which time the keyboard player also got something to do.

Arch Enemy @ Tuska Open Air

After Arch Enemy’s entertaining yet not that exciting show on the main stage, it was time to make another hard choice, this time between Grave in the tent and Electric Wizard on the EMP stage.  Already thinking that I would start with the Swedes and then leave for the start of the Brits, a sudden change of plans was in order as I received a message that Grave would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album Into the Grave by playing it live in its entirety!

Grave @ Tuska Open Air

Announcing Grave’s special set at the last minute like that was quite a weird choice, as I’m sure it would’ve made someone else choose them over Electric Wizard as well, or maybe even drawn a couple extra fans to the festival.  Anyway, witnessing this ultimately heavy and brutal Swedish death metal classic being performed from beginning to end was an enjoyable curiosity, although I have to say that despite their good live shape, Grave don’t strike as forcefully on stage as their contemporaries Dismember and Entombed do.

Electric Wizard @ Tuska Open Air

Electric Wizard were still tripping in the sunshine when I crawled out of the tent, which actually didn’t seem like a bad setting for their obscure dope rituals, but seeing only the end of the set from further away didn’t manage to induce anything more potent.  Not that their previous club gig came close to the ecstasy of their Jalometalli appearance either, but what can you expect when the band doesn’t play anything from their best album, We Live?

At the Gates @ Tuska Open Air

Having tolerated retarded Ruisrockers three years earlier mostly just because At the Gates were making their only Finnish appearance there, and were supposed to return to the grave after their Suicidal Final Tour 2008, I felt mildly betrayed when they announced shows for 2011.  Then again, I wasn’t going to pass on seeing them again, and this first Helsinki appearance (at least since the recent reunions) seemed to interest a lot of people, as they gathered the biggest audience of the day, which also created exceptionally long lines in the beer area…  The setlist was something hard to be disappointed with, as it included practically all of Slaughter of the Soul and spanned the earlier albums as well, all the way back to the opening track of Gardens of Grief!  Tompa impressed with his throat-ripping vocals that sounded just as painful as back in ’95, while leading the group with his ever-present stage energy and friendly charisma [that could use a little assistance from his band buddies ~ed].  So, At the Gates, as long as you’re able to pull off shows like this, keep it up – just save us from the quitting statements, OK?  Until we meet again…

Morbid Angel @ Tuska Open Air

As neither stoner rockers Spiritual Beggars nor this year’s odd bird Killing Joke were of much interest to me, this offered Friday’s first proper break from watching bands, providing some welcome time to socialize and prepare for the second coming of Morbid Angel.  If before their previous Tuska appearance in 2008 I was shamefully unfamiliar with most of their material, since that crushing show I had studied their recorded works in more detail, so my approach and expectations were quite different this time around.   A bit of doubt was in the air, though, as the previous gig had set the bar especially high, and the inconsistent new album that had recently shocked fans and critics alike didn’t help either… Morbid Angel @ Tuska Open Air

Although the jaw-dropping surprise factor or the magical feeling of “the first time” wasn’t there, Morbid Angel played a highly enjoyable set, concentrating on their early works and with a particular emphasis on Covenant.  The death metal side of the new album was showcased with three songs played in a row in the middle of the set, and the electronic experiments had luckily been left in the studio.  Although obviously none of the new songs are able to reach the excellence of masterworks like Altars of Madness, I wouldn’t say that they paled in comparison either, and even the corny “I Am Morbid” didn’t cause acidic burps in my mouth.  Too bad my “Lord of All Fevers & Plague” was partly disturbed by some drunken babbler who couldn’t take a hint, but luckily the security guys could, and made him continue his slurring outside the beer area…

The plan was to head to the afterparty and witness Charon’s last capital area appearance, but as we found out at Virgin Oil’s door that the press wristbands weren’t gonna get us in to this particular afterparty, and the tickets were sold out, next stop was home instead.  The night ended in a memorable way, though, as upon arrival, we found a friend who was staying at our place puking (or attempting to do so) loudly in front of the house while waiting for the ambulance he had just called…  No hospitalization was needed, but he did end up being too incapacitated to even leave for the festival the following day, and missed some of the bands he wanted to see the most during the whole weekend.  D’oh!  [Jaakko ei suosittele!]

SATURDAY Witchery @ Tuska Open Air

Our starter for Saturday was a less frequent visitor from Sweden, Witchery, who had very recently gone through another vocalist change, as Legion had stepped aside and Emperor Magus Caligula stepped in.  On stage, he didn’t go for as casual of a metal look as the other guys, but appeared more like he used to in his Dark Funeral days - wearing corpse paint and armor - which created a weird contrast to the rest of the band.  The interpretation of the material left no complaints, though, and it was cool to finally hear some of those catchy Restless & Dead tunes thrashed live.  However, as the rest of Witchery’s catalog hasn’t gotten many spins in this household, I didn’t feel the urge to stay for the whole set, but headed towards the obscure offerings of the inside stage after catching (or being caught by) “The Reaper”.

Lahti’s innovative sludge pioneers Fleshpress have been delightfully active in recent years, especially on stage, and having warmed up acknowledged names like Electric Wizard and Church of Misery has surely helped them gain more visibility. Fleshpress @ Tuska Open Air  Not that the Club Stage was swarming with people at this early hour, but a few years ago I would’ve had a hard time imagining these guys playing at a festival like this…  When I entered the room, the set was already crawling towards its end with the ominous desolation of “Grave Within”, which then built into a heavier wall of hostility restlessly anticipating a rabid outburst, and finally went out with a hectic section of pitch-black blasting – a familiar, yet always impressive sonic journey into the abyss.  Seemingly, I wasn’t the only one impressed, since the young gentleman next to me lifting his arms as if in some kind of invocatory trance seemed to be quite deep into it as well…

Simone Simons / Epica @ Tuska Open Air

Medeia @ Tuska Open Air

As Epica’s toothless pretty-girl metal doesn’t have anything to offer for me, I decided to check out a bit of Medeia, who had been weirdly placed onto the inside stage.  This surely provided an intensive setting for their apocalyptic surges of aggression, but for me it was simply too uncomfortably hot and sweaty in the crowded room to stick (pun intended) around for more than a song – especially as there was no area where refreshments would’ve been served.   Although most of the sets on this stage were no longer than half an hour, and most of the bands underground enough not to pack up the space, the lack of a drinking area was still its most notable downside, and a part of the reason why I ended up spending so little time watching the smaller names on the bill.  Well, luckily almost all of them were bands that one can [and should] catch live regularly in the capital area.

Katatonia @ Tuska Open Air

Since Katatonia had just visited Finland for a mini-tour the previous fall, a festival re-run in broad daylight didn’t really seem that ideal or necessary, but their Nosturi gig had impressed this newly initiated follower enough that skipping them wasn’t an option either.  Despite my doubts, their hour on the main stage turned out thoroughly enjoyable, and the band seemed to be in good spirits as well, with even the usually shy and reserved Jonas Renkse smirking instead of just sulking behind his hair.  I was also glad to notice that the setlist had gotten some fresh old blood with the addition of “I Break” and “Right into the Bliss”, and one of the gloomiest cuts off their latest album, “Nephilim” had finally made its way in as well.  Anders Nyström spiced some of the songs with such harsh backing vocals that I couldn’t help wondering why Katatonia have been entirely neglecting their earliest works in their recent setlists, when they clearly have a capable growler among their ranks…  Although I’ve only gotten into the band during recent years, those old albums are such an essential part of their career that they deserve to be represented, and I’m sure a lot of other fans would love to hear something from that era of the band played live, too.

Church of Misery @ Tuska Open Air

Seeing Wintersun would’ve been a rare and mildly interesting opportunity, but I was again much more drawn to the tent stage, where Church of Misery were set to play at the same time.  Having managed to miss their debut visit in spring 2010, this time I was set to find out whether the rumors about their excellent live shape were true, and it turned out that these serial killer obsessed Japanese sickos indeed had a fiery show in store for the last stop of their European tour.  The band hammered out their doomed tunes with a heavy and catchy groove, yet with harshness and aggression, especially present in vocalist Yoshiaki Negishi’s all-out stage behavior.  He truly put himself into it, rampaging frantically around the stage, swinging the mic stand or sometimes just the mic, and delivering his vocals with rude power.  This fit together with the band’s themes more than well – songs that have been inspired by such deeds of depravity should always be performed this maniacally!  I’m glad that the Tuska organization didn’t have to settle for Girugämesh and Mucc this time…

Blind Guardian’s undertakings on the main stage weren’t of much interest to me, but as Joensuu’s horror squad Hooded Menace had the longest Club Stage slot of the day at the same time, some more creeping terror was next on the menu.   Hooded Menace @ Tuska Open AirAlthough this death/doom outfit piloted by underground veteran Lasse Pyykkö has received lots of praise, and they offer a truly authentic presentation of the style, I don’t find much to get excited over in most of their compositions.  In a live situation, though, the crushing of this hoodied quartet is able to maintain my interest much better.  The lack of a second guitar player in the stage line-up didn’t bother me at all, and even if I find the vocal style a bit monotonous, current vocalist Oula’s cavernous growls are impressively close to the ones of Lasse that have previously (dis)graced their recordings.  The song that most stood out of the setlist was the title track of their latest album Never Cross the Dead, which struck with its hauntingly catchy lead guitar work.

Ghost @ Tuska Open Air

Another bothersome overlap between the EMP and Inferno stages was up next, as Enslaved were about to begin on the former, and Ghost thankfully in the tent – hard imagining them playing an open air stage on a summer day…  However, since my familiarity with the Norsemen’s catalog is slim, and the Swedish creeps’ Opus Eponymous had been steadily growing on me since their FME visit, the choice wasn’t that difficult.  Although Ghost seems to be a live band that doesn’t really offer anything new after you’ve seen them once, adding some rotating show tricks doesn’t seem necessary, as their effective stage appearance and extremely catchy songs make for a compelling act that I don’t get tired of experiencing.  It was especially thrilling to witness the glorious “Ritual” this time, after having had to walk out in the middle of Ghost’s set at the end of Maryland Deathfest a few months before.

Devin Townsend Project @ Tuska Open Air

After the double dose of Devin at last year’s Tuska, and his return for two pricey shows with Anneke van Giersbergen in the spring, having Devin Townsend Project headline this year’s Saturday seemed like an unbelievably lame choice.  However, some value was added by the fact that Anneke was in the fold again, as there’s probably no other female singer whose voice I enjoy as much, and her contribution on Addicted had made it the first actually appealing album by this Canadian freakster.  The show still didn’t convert me to a devinite, but hearing some of those catchy addictive tunes graced with Anneke’s vocals felt like something much more special than many other headliner would’ve been able to offer, so not that lame after all, I suppose.

Meanwhile, something far more ugly and hostile was about to be let loose in a crowded and sweaty basement tunnel nearby, also known as Kallio’s number one underground venue Lepakkomies, as three primitive acts were preparing to share the stage at an unofficial afterparty of sorts.  Loinen’s creeping sludgy filth sent vibrations through the whole body with its heavy bass arsenal, and while Ride for Revenge didn’t lose much in this aspect, they ventured into even darker and noisier depths in their black audio rituals.  However, this time the band in the middle drew the longest straw, as Jumalation’s hellishly furious old-school thrash metal attack took the whole place by storm, also bringing a nice contrast in between the slower and less traditionally catchy acts.  Couldn’t have asked for a much better way to end the night than in the company of bunches of inebriated maniacs and a consistent yet varied underground line-up like this!

SUNDAY

The last festival day didn’t allow sleeping late either, as among the first acts were such solid names as Impaled Nazarene and Kvelertak, but as I had just seen the nuclear goat perverts a few months before, I had to choose the latter over them this time.  Upon my entrance, I rushed to the Inferno tent, but after realizing I had gotten the stages mixed up and Kvelertak weren’t covering “The Horny and the Horned”, moved confusedly to the EMP stage.  Although they put up another extremely enjoyable show with their catchy songs and rousing live energy (points especially to vocalist Erlend for climbing up the stage structures!), these Norwegians have been to Finland already so many times this year that next time they better have a new album to promote, or an intense club show to offer.

Even if the start of the day was promising, the rest of it felt like an anti-climax for the weekend band-wise, being mostly filled with regular visitors and more popular names that have never been able to offer me much.  The Club side would’ve had some enjoyable domestic acts, but they were quite effectively overlapping with the other ones that I did actually want to see.  On the positive side, there was no need to run from one band to another as much as on previous days, and this left more time for another important aspect of Tuska, socializing with acquaintances old and new while enjoying festival-priced semi-flat beer from plastic cups.

Meshuggah @ Tuska Open Air Agnostic Front @ Tuska Open Air

Meshuggah were surely awaited by many, but their mathematically precise wriggling seemed uninteresting and out-of-place on the main stage.  Luckily, the next two bands were something completely different, and one of the more reasonable overlaps, as Jex Thoth had been invited back to Finland to play their psychedelic doom rock suitably in the tent, while Agnostic Front took over the smaller outside arena with their New York hardcore.  Being still completely unable to join the Jex hype despite my liking for doomy tunes, I decided to brighten up my afternoon with some punkier ones instead.  Although I prefer my hardcore with a bit more rasp and rage in the vocals, overall the NYHC veterans were one of Sunday’s highlights with their lively yet relaxed performance.  As the feeling was uplifting and just right, the total unfamiliarity of the song material was no obstacle for enjoying the show.

Amorphis @ Tuska Open Air

While Amorphis are a very common sight at Finnish summer festivals, and also frequently playing club gigs in their home country, they’re a group you can always rely on putting up a good show, and one that is at home on large stages as well.  It was nice to see that they also took advantage of the bigger setting and delighted us with some pyrotechnical eye-candy.  Having just a one-hour slot, the band had decided to mostly stick to their Joutsen-era hits, with a couple of earlier tracks thrown in, and apart from the interesting choice “Song of the Troubled One”, the set bore no surprises.

Misery Index @ Tuska Open Air

Before Turisas and Amon Amarth were to put a harmless end to the festival, Baltimore’s Misery Index were still to go on in the tent.  Having not played in Finland after the release of their previous album Heirs to Thievery a few years ago, their addition to the fold was justified, even when I wasn’t that excited about it.  Sure the band’s grinding death metal is tight and at times quite catchy as well, but I can’t help feeling that they’ve done their best works already years ago (Dissent, anyone?), and there are many more interesting names out there nowadays.  Well, at least they stand out by having a frontman who can entertain the audience by demonstrating his Finnish skills.

All in all, the weekend held many good gigs, and was band-wise one of the better Tuskas I’ve attended, but some of the overlaps forced painful choices.  The new milieu also worked pretty well, although the fact that only two of the four stages had the possibility to watch the bands while drinking was quite, eh, sobering.  Also, one had to stand in line for quite a while at the main stage beer area when it got more crowded, which made me not even want to think how bad it would’ve been if the event had been sold out…  Well, hopefully the festival will be able to improve these aspects next year, and we’ll see another fine line-up of acts from the underground and above storming Suvilahti.

~ text by Ossi Turpeinen and photos by Lady Enslain


Photo Slideshow : Tuska Open Air 2012

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