Tuska 2013 Review

This year the Tuska festival was held for the third time at the industrial surroundings at the Suvilahti site, about 2 kilometers from downtown Helsinki. As Suvilahti is still a rather new environment the festival organizers are thankfully listening to the audience feedback and thus making the area better every year. This year’s main optimization was changing the number of stages from four to three, which helped to make the two bigger outdoor stages to not be right next to each other. Earlier years this arrangement caused some annoyance due to soundchecks disturbing the sound of the band playing on the next stage. With the new stage arrangements the people hanging out at the age-restricted beer area also had a much better view to both of these big outdoor stages. It was also certainly a positive thing that the indoor stage meant mainly for up-and-coming and more underground acts had gotten an update for better sound.

In general the festival is being run very smoothly. Good example of this is that the bands really start in scheduled time (something which isn’t true at a lot of festivals). Another very positive thing regarding the organization is that most of the hired security people are metalheads themselves – so they are in the correct spirit. While making sure people do follow the rules set the security are doing their best to allow everyone to have a good time. If only the security were able to do something about the damn seagulls which come in hundreds to ruin the snacking experience at the food court area! This is the reason a lot of people ended up buying the food from there and go hide in a deep dark corner to not have to be afraid of the seagulls stealing their precious food portions. Apart from the seagulls blocking the sky the weather was mostly sunny and warm (as usual for Tuska). Seemed like both the first-goers and the more experienced Tuska folk were having a jolly good time all weekend. Below are my thoughts about the shows I managed to check out at this year’s edition.

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Tuska crowd
Photo: Tini Lorey

Tuska 2013 Day 1

The two very first bands to play at this year’s edition were both for the lovers of progressive metal: Leprous and TesseracT. Right after the doors opened the plan was to go first enjoy the way-too-short 25 minute set and then see a couple of TesseracT songs. This plan worked out well as Leprous kicked some serious ass even if being able to fit only four songs to their set. Despite playing the indoor stage as the first band on a wonderfully sunny Friday Leprous drew a good-sized crowd and managed to impress the progheads with their extremely varied songs. Surely this was a successful showcase for them to spread the word around to get more people to see them again on their extensive fall headlining club tour in Helsinki and many other European cities! On the main stage TesseracT had started their set same time as Leprous and while they sounded tight on stage it was hard to get into their show in the middle of it. Certainly they impressed me enough making me want to a full TesseracT show one day.

Before the festival I had an impression about old school death metal doing well in Finland and the festival organizers have clearly thought so too. The first band to play at the second stage (the “Inferno Stage”) was Abhorrence, who definitely belong to the old school category. They were playing just their second show in 20 years. It was nice to see Tomi Koivusaari of Amorphis back on stage with his old buddies. Having personally already enjoyed their performance a couple of weeks ago at Hammer Open Air and them now playing pretty much the exact same setlist it was time for a refreshing beer. After Abhorrence ended their set with the song “Vulgar Necrolatry”, which by the way Amorphis covered in the early 90s, it was time for Wintersun at the main stage.

Before the festival lineup had been finalized many had hoped Wintersun would play and their wishes were granted. Not many had yet seen Wintersun live after they had finally managed to release their new album “Time part I” (well, half of it anyway with Time part II coming some time in 2014). Half of the show was from “Time part I” and the other half of songs was from the debut album released almost 10 years ago. Posing in the bright sunlight Jari Mäenpää played his guitar stuff tightly and sung well. The rest of the absolutely skilled musicians on stage were also doing their jobs more than fine - especially the drummer Kai Hahto impresses me every time I see him playing live. The show made a great impression on the biggest fans but personally I’m not THAT fond of their superspeed melodic metal to be able to follow it for a full show in festival circumstances. Probably a club show with proper lights and more intense crowd feedback would be a much more enjoyable Wintersun live experience for me personally.

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Photo: Tini Lorey

The former Emperor man Ihsahn has been releasing quality solo albums almost on a yearly basis over the last few years. His backing band already had already successfully performed at Tuska just a few hours ago. The guys from Leprous are often doing these double duties playing concerts both as Leprous and then as Ihsahn’s band - they really give a good energy to Ihsahn’s music too. Another quality live show from Ihsahn. The keyboardist, Einar, especially gave his best to impress the crowd. However I got the impression that the crowd were less familiar with Ihsahn's recent releases. This may have caused them to be having a bit of a hard time getting into the show since most songs were from his later albums. Last time he played Tuska a few years ago at a smaller tent stage the feeling was more intense and the crowd seemed to be more appreciative. Rumours have been circling about Ihsahn and his former band members to make a comeback with Emperor, who knows maybe he will be back next year already? (Editor’s note 2014: Emperor was indeed confirmed to play several summer festivals in 2014, including Tuska.)

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Photo: Tini Lorey

The Abhorrence gig earlier worked nicely as a warm-up for the most-waited death metal performance of the weekend: Bolt Thrower at the main stage. These UK guys tour very rarely and hence the crowd anticipation had reached really high proportions. They really delivered an intense 75 minute set with songs picked all over their discography. The crowd definitely loved it big time, and judging by the smiles on their faces this show seemed to make the band really satisfied as well!

If there is one band who seems to play Tuska like every year it’s most definitely Amorphis. This does make sense since they keep releasing good albums which also happen to sell great in Finland. This time they were touring for their album “Circle” released a couple of months before Tuska. Amorphis are always performing solid live shows with the singer Tomi being one of the most interesting frontmen to witness, especially when he’s headbanging and whirling his hair wildly around. Around one third of the songs played were from Circle, one third from the other recent releases and the rest were old classics from the mid-90s era – a pretty well-thought setlist, although not one for people mainly into the old stuff.

The absolute highlight of the whole festival this year was King Diamond. The reports from his first performances last summer had been extremely positive – first performances after recovering from several serious health issues over the last few years, that is. This made the expectations very high and luckily the crowd got to see the old man in a great shape. I don’t think anybody into his music could complain about the 1.5 hour setlist as it was chosen to include really some of his best material over the long career – any concert starting with “The Candle”, and then continuing with “Welcome Home” and “At The Graves” is already a winner! King’s voice held up great and the female backup vocals of King’s wife Livia gave nice support to his voice. The whole band played really tight and the special mention goes to both Andy LaRocque and Mike Wead for some fantastic dual guitaring. This certainly was the most theatrical show I have gotten to witness in a long time: not just the epic stage setup but King also brought his long-time on-stage actress, Jodia, to perform as grandma and several other acting / stage performance roles. Of course one should not forget King’s own performance as bringing theatrical aspects to the show – he is quite the actor and frontman himself. With such grandiose ending this Friday was for me personally one of the strongest days in the history of the festival.

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King Diamond
Photo: Tini Lorey

Tuska 2013 Day 2

The Tuska organizers have already earlier years realized that people need something very energetic on the main stage to properly kick off the 2nd day of the festivities. This year the choice for the Saturday starter could simply not have been better to clear the head from the tiredness caused by all the partying on Friday. To put it simple: No matter what kind of hangover you might have had you simply had to smile through all of the Lost Society concert. It’s not every day you get to see such super-energetic and talented 17-18 year old kids playing a big stage like this. Can’t wait for these guys to release a new album next year and see them touring for it. Surely if they manage to stay together and keep getting better these boys will play Tuska several times in the future too.

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Lost Society
Photo: Tini Lorey

Soilwork had gotten an early spot to play right after 3pm. As good as their new album is I had seen them so many times before that that I ended up skipping it and do some socializing instead. After this socializing timeout it was time to go to the indoor stage. There De Lirium’s Order had 25 minutes to impress the crowd with their high-tempo technical metal and to impress is what they did. For sure me and many of the others in the crowd will want to witness their sheer technicality again for a longer set in the future.

Back to main stage then. In a typical Stam1na fashion these guys deserve the “most creative stage outfit” prize on this year’s festival. A few years ago at Tuska they were sarcastically dressed and introduced as a Norwegian black metal band, although with pink umbrellas and some “true” black metal masks on stage (the sarcasm that year was towards one of the headliners then, Immortal). This year there these Finns playing their mix of thrash/heavy metal with Finnish lyrics had no tongue-in-the-cheek humour towards any other band, but instead they were doing a full-on tropical thing with hula skirts, leis, and whatever Hawaii related they could find. Of course the amusement of all this could only last so long, but thankfully their awesomely energetic stage performance and the setlist was more than enough to keep everybody entertained the whole show.

The long-time embassadors of German thrash culture, Kreator, were up next. Lots of energy on stage, especially Mille Petrozza was in a good form. The crowd certainly joined the band’s energy with plenty of headbanging and the usual Finnish style circle pit going on most of the concert. Personally being more familiar with their older classic material I have to admit I really wasn’t fan of their set this time around. The full songs being played were mostly newer material and playing some medley versions of the old stuff was just not working for me. Although it wouldn’t really be fair to blame the band for the setlist – these guys have been around for a long time and many of the fans present at Tuska have seen the classics setlists by Kreator a lot of times. These fans probably preferred this kind of set with more recent material in.

When Lama started their set on the 2nd stage one had to really wonder if they belong to a metal festival at all. Their straightforward, raw punk didn’t gather many people in front of the stage. For what they were doing they did a fine job so no disrespect to the band at all, it was just probably not the most fitting place and timing for them to play.

Saturday’s headliner was more thrash metal brought by Testament. A well-deserved headlining spot for them and the crowd seemed to agree with really nice circle pits and some big wall of death action too. Seems like the kids and youngsters who were there to see Lost Society starting the day were still around. It’s just so nice to see this young generation of Finns REALLY being into bands like Testament and not only the metalcore stuff which sadly in many places of the world seems to be the coolest thing for the younger generation of metal fans. In fact many of these youngsters seemed to be more actively into the show than the older crowd who did also really love the show too. Unlike many of the other bands around for the last 25-30 years Testament has actually released couple of really strong albums recently with “The Formation of Damnation” and “Dark Roots of Earth”. Their recipe of playing a few songs from these albums and the rest of the 16 song set of old classics worked out fantastic. As a special treat this year they had one of the drumming gods of the scene, Gene Hoglan, playing the drums for them. The only downpoint of the show was the special guest being brought on stage. Usually these things can be the highlights of the show but one could only wonder what Bjorn from Soilwork was doing up there, since it seemed he didn’t even know the lyrics for “Alone In The Dark” he was there to sing with Chuck. Instead of giving the crowd more enthusiasm to do the classic singalonging of this song most people were trying to figure out if he was a little too drunk, bored or whatever else might be up with him since he was performing great just a few hours ago. Anyhow this was just a minor issue during an otherwise great closing show for Saturday. For our Tuska crew the live music for the evening hadn’t yet ended though as we headed to The Circus to see Shade Empire and Turmion Kätilöt afterparty show still, which turned out to be a cool idea even with all the tiredness after two days of the main festival.

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Photo: Tini Lorey

Tuska 2013 Day 3

Basically for the first time in the festival’s history the organizers had thought of filling the days with some sort of general themes. Friday was quite a mixed bunch, but Saturday was clearly thrash-oriented and then Sunday was very clearly aimed for lovers of melodic metal. Thus on Sunday the musical output of the bands was a mostly a bit softer (so to say) compared to the previous two days.

Certainly not fitting the “softer” theme of the day the very first band I got to see was actually deathy thrashy stuff, a band called Deathchain. At this point many were still at home or on their way to the festival area recovering from the earlier two days. Perhaps Deathchain was also still recovering a bit from some possible partying the night before – having seen them previously I remember them being more energetic and having plenty of more on-stage movement usually. Still it was a solid set to start the day.

The day then continued with the current kings and queens of the so-called Abba metal genre, Amaranthe. Thanks to their hypercatchy vocal lines performed together by a girl in a flashy, sexy outfit and her two male counterparts they seem to be very quickly growing bigger. The music itself is very simple but even if you hate those damn melodies you might find yourself unintentionally humming to them later on.

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Photo: Tini Lorey

The heavy metallers Battle Beast were left with a big hole to fill when the band’s singer left Nitte Valo left the band in 2012. It must have been really challenging to find a similar ballsy female singer to replace her, even so much that the band must have thought about replacing her with a male equivalent. However somehow they came up with Noora Louhimo, whose very powerful voice fits well also for the debut album songs (as witnessed here on songs such as Show Me How to Live).

After Battle Beast another band was up which had lots of doubts couple of years ago regarding a band member change - how exactly does a band deal with the long-time main man leaving the band? Obviously for some bands it can work more than okay, since Stratovarius have actually released stronger material over the last few years ever since Timo Tolkki left the band than what the last albums with him were. The other Timo in (Kotipelto) is clearly still a world-class frontman and while his vocals live are a little bit restrained compared to his best years, he can belt it out loud and clear. Naturally the highlights of their set were the old classics such as Black Diamond, The Kiss of Judas and of course Hunting High and Low.

To give people a chance to cope with working life on Monday after three days of partying the organizers have always smartly kept Tuska Sunday a bit shorter, starting a bit later and also ending an hour earlier. This year’s edition was now coming to an end with Nightwish starting their set. If this show had to be described in two words they would simply have to be: FLOOR JANSEN! What a frontwoman she is and this show truly proved her stage capabilities. She sounded fantastic and at the same time truly rocked the stage. Now Nightwish just needs to select her as the official new singer of the band (Editor’s note 2014: Nightwish did confirm later in 2013 to be the new singer). Seems like with all the energy she has it has reignited the whole band to be more into the live shows than the last few years. Judging by all the smiling on stage the chemistry between everyone in the band really works flawlessly now. The setlist and the stage were built on the Imaginaerum theme, but of course many songs from Once and the biggest hits from the older albums were played. If somebody had not realized before what an epic song Ghost Love Score can be then Floor’s kickass performance on it really helped those people to get into the song better. The Nightwish show was a really fitting end to this melodic Sunday. As every year a lot of great time were had and plenty of really good live shows were witnessed at Tuska 2013. Now begins the exciting wait when the organizers start to announce bands for 2014 edition!

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Photo: Tini Lorey
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Tuska 2014
Photo: Tuska

Tuska 2014 Preview

So it’s the middle of March, a good time to start doing preliminary plans which festivals to attend in 2014. Especially so if you need to book flights, hotels etc. and want to save a good amount of money not doing bookings late in the spring or early in the summer. Tuska in Helsinki most certainly seems to be one of the great options to go to when it comes to metal festivals this upcoming summer! In 2014 the festival takes place 27th to 29th of June. So far the following bands have been confirmed to play:

Friday 27.6.: Dimmu Borgir, Children Of Bodom, Carcass, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, Ensiferum, Hamferð, Poisonblack, Nails, Santa Cruz

Saturday 28.6.: Anthrax, Bring Me The Horizon, Stone, Devil You Know, Turmion Kätilöt, We Came As Romans, Metal Church, Tankard, Beastmilk, Amoral, Ranger, Altair

Sunday 29.6.: Emperor, Satyricon, Neurosis, Insomnium, Powerwolf, Speedtrap, Church Of The Dead

Of course there are plenty of more bands still to be announced play this year, but so far it’s turning out to be a very promising year. Or how does this all sound to you just as an example of what’s going to happen?

-Phil Anselmo playing Pantera stuff for the first time in a looooong time! Knowing how Phil always gives his best live it’s gonna be intense no matter who plays the instruments.

-Dimmu Borgir doing the whole epic Death Cult Armageddon album

-Carcass, ‘nuff said!

-Emperor’s 20 year anniversary show for their classic black metal debut In The Nightside Eclipse on their possibly last tour ever, as they have left the future plans completely in mystery

-The definite pioneers of Finnish thrash metal, Stone. If thrash is your thing at all you gotta catch them live while they are still doing these rare comeback shows.

-Speaking of pioneers of thrash, how about seeing Scott Ian fronting one of the true pioneers of the whole genre?

-Children of Bodom playing on their home soil is always worth checking, they know they need to bring their best game to get this crowd going. Same goes for Ensiferum.

-You like your metal traditional? Hard to go wrong with Metal Church and also better not miss two VERY promising up and coming Finnish traditional heavy metal acts: Ranger and Speedtrap.

-Who knows what Satyr and Frost are going to come up with, will Satyricon do a classics festival set to celebrate the 90s black metal era or something more modern.

-Like to party? Well, then you can’t miss the always completely crazy and twisted Turmion Kätilöt show.

-Insomnium keep releasing high quality melodic death metal albums, who knows if they can they still keep getting even better live too? For those not seen them before they have already been a quality live band for years.

Review & Preview by Aki M. / All photos copyrighted to Tini Lorey