Lots of friendly, relaxed and happy people dressed mostly in black having the time of their lives hanging out with their similar-minded friends and checking out their favorite or sometimes perhaps even their not-so-favorite rock and metal acts live at a cozy location almost downtown Helsinki. That's what Tuska is and has always been all about during its existence since 1998. Therefore year 2017 marked the celebratory 20th anniversary for the festival! To celebrate the fact there was for example a Tuska 20 year book written (available only in Finnish) and a 7 minute anniversary song written and performed by some of the top names in the Finnish metal scene. The festival itself was more or less the same as it had been the last few years at its current location at the Suvilahti festival site, about 2km from downtown Helsinki. There were some minor changes due to construction in the area causing the food court to be moved to a different place and some of the rare green areas of the industry-like setting of the festival being even smaller than earlier years. Tuska really is a prime example of a festival with a really versatile lineup to have something for everyone - and those bands may not always be the biggest and most well-known ones of the metal scene, but with the festival running as smooth as it always does and people attending it being friendly and awesome there always be a good size crowd attending the festival. Following are my personal views and experiences on how the Tuska weekend went starting from Friday, which was schedulewise a busy day with lots of interesting acts playing!
Tuska Day 1: Friday
Our little group of Tuska goer friends gathered on Friday to make it to the festival area early enough for Brother Firetribe starting at 2:45pm. Their brand of 80s style hard rock may sound like a weird selection to start the day at the main stage of a metal festival, but it actually worked out great. They were happy and energetic to be out there and judging by the faces of the crowd the band managed to move the energy and good mood to the crowd. Being one of the better Finnish rock vocalists Pekka Heino really delivered the goods on the vocals and it's always fun to see Emppu of Nightwish doing his stage poses and maneuvers with the same silly grin on regardless of who he is playing with. (Extra props to the organizers being really awake when the band went on and it was really windy.)
After Brother frietribe it was time to head to the tent stage to check out a band who had not even released a full album yet by the time of the show. Despite this I was really excited to see Vuur, fronted by the ever-smiling Anneke van Giersbergen and her angelic voice. Since the Vuur debut album wasn't out yet their setlist consisted of a few songs by Vuur and in addition some cover songs of Anneke's other band The Gentle Storm and of course her former band The Gathering to please the crowds.
The Finnish progressive/power/folk metal band Wintersun had played the Tuska main stage earlier a few years ago coinciding with the release of “Time I”. This time they had another album out called “The Forest Seasons” but that was not the biggest change. This time they had just hired Asim Searah (of Damnation Plan and formerly of Kiuas) to play the guitar and do backing vocals live. This meant the main man of the band Jari Mäenpää could now fully focus on the vocals instead of also playing the guitar like he did before. This was a very welcome change to the Wintersun live show because Jari's live vocals were stronger than ever and he really had time for some showmanship too by actually moving on the stage. Best Wintersun show I've seen so far!
On the smaller indoor stage Pekko Käppi & KHHL were starting their show. Being really curious how dark folk blues played with bowed lyre (in Finnish: jouhikko) fits at a metal festival I really wanted to give it a chance. It was really full at the indoor venue so it seems many others were just as curious too. Glad I did because it was a fresh change to the scene - something completely different with 3 guys on stage playing the bowed lyre, a three string self-made bass, two piece drumkit and some sort of a custom guitar with four or five strings. Hearing the Finlandia hymn with such lineup was an odd treat! By the time I got out of the indoor venue Suicidal Tendencies were finishing up their set on the main stage with the epic “Pledge Your Allegiance” song with tens of fans invited to party with them on stage, always an awesome view to see.
With their last couple of extremely solid albums Insomnium have secured their place in the top Finnish melodic death metal bands. This was easy to see when the tent stage for like 4000 people got very full to witness their live show. They have played Tuska every 2 or 3 years since 2007 and are on top of their game now with the recent 40 minute album Winter's Gate consisting of one song in 7 parts. Very cool how they played the whole album first even on a limited length festival set, and only then did four of their other songs ending with the most excellent and super-catchy “While We Sleep”.
Devin Townsend has played Tuska several times before. Being the master entertaining only he can be, he probably will play several times in the future as well! Having seen the man about 10 times live before I knew exactly what to expect and wasn't initially too enthusiastic to see him once again. Yet still he somehow managed to surprise to do easily one of the best shows of the weekend. Of course it helped some that he had Anneke to support him with her smile and voice for about half of the set. The song “Kingdom” was the true highlight of the set, such an epic version of it this time around!
After Devin Mayhem started their special “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” album set at the tent stage. Their true black metal played in really dark and atmospheric environment with all members dressed in black capes and corpse masks was about as big of a contrast to the Devin show earlier as it can get. Never been a huge fan of theirs, but they managed to keep me entertained for a few songs. All in all Friday had already been a big success with a lot of good shows, so after Mayhem I ended up checking a few songs of Sabaton headlining the day, and then happily socialized with our Tuska crew for the rest of the evening!
Tuska Day 2: Saturday
After such a successful Friday the expectations for Saturday were rather high too. Before the day my personal expectations were high especially for Avatarium, Triptykon and due to sentimental reasons even the last HIM concert I'd ever get to see. It's a bit of a miracle how our crew once again managed to get to the festival ground for the first band already at 1:45pm, the Swedish death metallers Lik.
All I knew about Lik before the show was that the Katatonia guitarist Niklas Sandin plays in the band. Having never heard Lik before I had no expectations musicwise at all. During the first song already it was clear that this is as generic Stockholm style death metal as it gets. In this case generic is a good thing though since they really sounded good and their death metal is a proper as it gets. Their stage energy together with the energetic high tempo music gave Saturday a nice jumpstart!
Amusingly enough the next band on was also from Stockholm. Avatarium have been around for a few years and personally I grew very fond of them from the first album on released in 2013. Their melodic doomy sound with a really clear and powerful female vocalist doesn't seem to be too well known in Finland judging by their first ever show in Finland at Tuska. The show however went really well and surely they made plenty of new fans with the show. Starting from the song “Into the Fire/Into the Storm” all the way to the great show ending song “Moonhorse” the guitars by Marcus Jidell sounded thick and heavy and Jennie-Ann Smith on vocals really proved to be able to sing wonderfully live too. Jennie-Ann also did some songs with acoustic guitar in addition to singing and it was a nice addition to their sound.
After such a good start to the day it was a good time to hang out some with friends while bands such as Impaled Nazarene and Mokoma provided some certainly heavy background noise to it. When Soilwork hit the main stage it was time to get moving again since they tend to always put up a good show. This time was no excuse and their energy got some nice circle pitting going on in the crowd too. Speed was having a day with his vocals and they had chosen a solid 9 song setlist with some early stuff too such as The Chainheart Machine title song and Bastard Chain from A Predator's Portrait released about 20 years ago. In fact the 9 song setlist had songs from 6 of their albums, good job guys! Following Soilwork on main stage was Amorphis, who are playing at least every second Tuska and this will probably be happening in the foreseeable future too as long as they keep releasing such quality albums and putting on quality live shows.
Triptykon were the last band to play the tent stage on Saturday. By the time of their show the weather had gotten quite dark, or it could have been just the really dark ambience inside the tent with Tom G. Warrior heading the band. They haven't released an album since “Melana Chasmata” in 2014. Supposedly they are working on a new album, but didn't quite yet premier any songs off it. Instead the setlist included 5 Celtic Frost covers, 3 songs from “Melana Chasmata” and the very strong song “Goetia” from the debut. Really intense show with no extra bullshit included at all, just pure heaviness all the way through.
The headliner of Saturday was the main event for many. Having seen the band already late in the 90s, then another time 2007 it was fun to get one last view of them. The setlist was a big hit cavalcade including songs from each of their studio albums. Chris Isaac's “Wicked Game” was an obvious cover choice for the show, being a big hit done by HIM too, but it was also great to hear them do “Rebel Yell” originally by Billy Idol. Watching about half of the show from close and the second half from way behind turned out to be a good idea. They actually sounded very good, but looking on the stage and seeing the lack of energy and enthusiasm it was sort of clear that this really is the right time for them to calling it quits. From way back one could hear them properly and just party with the crowd and not pay much attention how the stage action looks like. With their farewell tour HIM managed to get Saturday the biggest single day Tuska crowd, 14 500 people total. At the end of the show during and after “When Love and Death Embrace” there was a big firework show to give the farewell show and Tuska day a rather epic visual ending.
Tuska Day 3: Sunday
With Friday and Saturday so far having had windy and rather grey weather, it was nice to wake up to a really sunny Sunday. All the light surely gave the festival people some more energy after lots of partying the first two days. Before the lineup for Tuska 2017 was released I didn't think the first question in the minds of many people on Sunday morning would be “Where's My Bible?”. However this was the case when we got to the festival area during the first band, the young Finnish band actually called “Where's My Bible”. They got invited to start the day by winning the Tuska Thursday competition which was open for a 100 band applicants earlier in the year. They did a solid job on stage opening the day with their groove oriented rock'n'roll & metal hybrid music.
Then it was time for Noora Louhimo taking over the tent stage by strongly fronting Battle Beast. They released the album “Bringer of Pain” earlier in the year which was a huge success. Therefore they almost played the whole through even at festival length show. Battle Beast is certainly one of the most energetic live bands out there and managed to get the crowd going on a Sunday afternoon. Good choice from the festival organization for this slot!
Next up on the main stage was some older sort of energy. Udo Dirkschneider has played Tuska before back in the days he was in Accept, but this time around he was here with his solo band. Amusingly enough all the songs he played this time too were Accept songs. From the first notes on it was clear that he was totally on and sounding much better than at least I expected him to at this point of his career. “Midnight Mover”, “Princess of the Dawn”, “Metal Heart”, “Fast as a Shark” and “Balls to the Wall” were only a few of the songs really giving me a big happy grin on my stage.
As Tuska had its 20th anniversary there was also Apocalyptica having a 20 year anniversary. For them it was 20 years since they got big by starting with their Metallica by four cellos thing. From those days they have gained a drummer, who at Tuska had a really exclusive drumkit made from some sort huge pipes and other plumbing supplies. Nevertheless the set sounded good and the drumming was one of the better things of the concert. Surely the songs were great too, but after the initial enthusiasm with the first few songs Enter Sandman, Master of Puppets and Fight Fire with Fire was gone the gig started to sound a bit samey. Perhaps it was the sunny main stage, it could have been more intense at a dark club scenery. Or perhaps including a few non-Metallica songs on the set with some guest vocalist(s) would have made it more appealing for the whole length of the show.
Sonata Arctica were the last band of the tent stage. After witnessing a couple of their classics for the old times' sake such as FullMoon and Tallulah it was time to say by to the tent stage and go look for a good spot to see the Sunday headliner, Mastodon. Finding a good spot for them was all worth it since they really delivered a fantastic performance. Their new album Emperor of Sand is a perfect display of Mastodon's strengths: playing lots of groovy, technical riffs with rather progressive rhythms while still managing to have memorable melodies both with the instruments and the vocals. Live they managed to do all that too. Just like on the latest album the vocals, performed by all four members, sounded much better live now too than they have sounded before. So despite having a long history (formed 2000) the band clearly wants to challenge itself and to keep progressing both musicwise and skillwise. The set consisted of 18 songs from all 7 albums and I couldn't believe how fast the almost 2 hour song went by, especially with being really tired from 3 days of partying behind on my poor body! Now that if something is a clear sign the show really managed to kick some ass.
After 3 joyful days 20th year Tuska anniversary festivities it was time to head out of the festival area. It seemed like our international Tuska friend circle still had some energy left for some after partying, so why not still head out for a few hours. Once again huge thanks for all parties involved in organizing the fest and all fellow festival goers for having such a jolly time - See you next year!
The official Tuska 2017 “Aftermovie” can be watched here:
Tuska 2018 Preview
Tuska 2018 will be the 21st edition of the festival and will be held between Friday June the 29th and the 1st of July. If you’re new to Tuska a lot of useful practical information about the festival can be found from http://www.tuska-festival.fi both in Finnish and English.
By the time of writing this on the 17th of April the pre-parties and afterparties have not been released yet.
The actual lineup for the festival looks like this (as of 17th of April):
Friday 29th of June: Body Count Ft. Ice T, Dead Cross, Arch Enemy, Meshuggah, Turmion Kätilöt, Crowbar, Moonsorrow, Leprous, Tribulation, Charm The Fury, Mantar, Arion, Shiraz Lane, Hard Action, Baest, Gloomy Grim
Saturday 30th of June: Gojira, Kreator, Emperor, At The Gates, Hallatar, Mokoma, Carpenter Brut, Beast in Black, The 69 Eyes, Bombus, Foreseen, Red Death, Feastem, Oni, Galactic Empire, Crimfall, Six Inch, Tyrantti
Sunday 1st of July: Parkway Drive, Europe, Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus, Clutch, Ihsahn, Grave Pleasures, Stick To Your Guns, Lauri Porra Flyover Ensemble, Temple Balls, Blind Channel, Black Royal
Here's a few recommendations about bands to check out:
- Meshuggah: For sure one of the heaviest acts of the weekend!
- Dead Cross: Mike Patton fronting a hardcore punk band? Sounds like a memorable experience and having Dave Lombardo on drums surely doesn't make it less memorable.
- Leprous: One of the premier live bands of the progressive metal scene. Always flawless and super tight live - catchy prog metal done right!
- Gojira: There is a reason they are back once again at Tuska.. Their super groovy tunes with twisted rhythms combined with top class musicianship will rock everyone's asses off again.
- Hallatar: Quite an all-star Finnish lineup featuring songs by Juha Raivio of Swallow The Sun on guitars, Gas Lipstick (ex-HIM) on drums and Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis on vocals. The debut album is full of sorrow and despair and if they manage to deliver those feelings live too this will be one doomy concert to remember for years.
- Foreseen: These thrash metal/crossover guys are known for their energetic live shows and surely they don't plan to disappoint their fans at Tuska either.
- Galactic Empire: Darth Vader, Boba Fett and other Star Wars characters playing metal versions of iconic Star Wars songs on stage. It's already easy to foresee The Imperial March being one of the epic moments of the festival!
- Ihsahn: The Emperor frontman has had some hits and some misses on his solo career. However if the new album coming out on May 4th 2018 is anywhere as good as the previous solo album “Arktis” the setlist for this show will be most excellent.
- Lauri Porra Flyover Ensemble: Tuska is known to have one or two acts not generally seen at metal festivals. This year Lauri Porra's Flyover Ensemble certainly fits that category. The music is strongly influenced by jazz and cinematic scores. The show itself will probably include quite a different instrumentation, atmospheres and song structures compared to the other shows at the festival.
Review & Preview by Aki M. / All photos (except the Tuska logos) copyrighted to Tini Lorey