Agony and Pain at Tuska Open Air – A Live Review

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Karhu the Finnish bear went to Tuska Open Air Festival and this is what he saw:

DAY 1

I don’t usually spend my time seeing the first acts at any given fest. It seems like great bands are rarely booked for early hours. But mostly because they’re the first act and I’d much rather eat a nice, hot meal beforehand, and enjoy the confines of my comfortable bathroom. But for one reason or another the big bosses at Tuska had decided to make Cattle Decapitation the first act of the first day, and that meant I had to go. I’m not a big fan of CD’s recorded material (that’s the long and short of my stance on the band), but I was still very excited to see them live. Why? Because when they’re good, they’re damn good and I assumed they wouldn’t play The Anthropocene Extinction in full.

And a good they were. Spending their entire set alternating between songs from Extinction and Monolith, driving the audience from one pit to another. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a fest, or a show, with an equally intense opening. You can pretty much always tell if a band likes being up on the stage or not and Cattle Decapitation obviously did. A model example of how you don’t need a big set-up to put on a great show, just four sweaty guys flown straight from their last show in Hamburg without a second’s sleep. Which the band was, a fact that makes their dedication even cooler. Maybe it’s because this was their first time in Finland, maybe it was the audience showing participation at levels rarely achieved this early, either way – fun was had.

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Bass for the Bass God

Testament was, in fact, the only band to get me as pumped. Fortune would have it they didn’t start until eight o’ clock, just in time to squeeze out those last drops of my precious bodily fluids. About an hour, a few pits, wall of death and a pleasantly old school set (like, 90% of the songs were from first three records-level old school) I was pretty sure I had never seen Testament pull a better gig. Sure, this was the first time I saw them with Steve DiGeorgio, but Chuck Billy seemed to have lost some weight, and chucked no beers onstage. Maybe I’m just imagining things but it seemed like he was giving an extra 110% this time around.

Tuska, if you are listening, don’t have a doom band play in the scorching heat on the uncovered main stage before four, dagnabit. Swallow The Sun might’ve been playing the entire part 1 of Songs From The North – one of their coldest, yet varied albums, and straight from the loss of a someone special too (you would’ve had trouble cutting the mood with a machete with Kotamäki holding back the tears on “Heartstrings Shattering“), but time and place did their less-than-high-energy show a huge disservice, especially when the second outdoor stage was covered for less light and heat. Other than that, I pretty much loved it.

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A face says more than a thousand words

Usually Sunday is the “Pop” day of the festival, featuring few extreme bands and a lot of sing-along choruses, but most of those acts had been booked on Friday this year. During Delain’s set I got this odd feeling none of my friends were really enjoying themselves, whereas I sang along to every song (sue me), and having had enough, then skipped Cain’s Offering, a power metal supergroup founded in ’09 featuring members from Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius (Spoiler: Kotipelto) among others. I couldn’t allow myself to join the cult over a frosty mug before catching a few minutes of the show. After all this was the band’s first gig outside Japan (third overall, I think). If you enjoy melodic, saccharine and very slightly symphonic power metal they’ll be your best bet for the year. Speaking of saccharine, Friday was headlined by Avantasia. Thousands had flocked to see the band, but everyone expressed powerfully negative opinions of them. All I have to say is Kiske sounded good on the bands title-track (the only one I recognized) and they were bad, ridiculous in all the wrong ways, almost bad enough to make me forget about the disappointment of Behemoth

I liked the idea of a The Satanist-special set as that is one of the band’s better albums. I’m not a fan of the band, but I’ve heard good things about them live. Unfortunately I didn’t get too close to the front, watching the aforementioned Testament (which might’ve affected as well) instead of rushing, but at east I saw well. Well enough to feel let down. There wasn’t anything really wrong, ‘cept the sound which at the second stage were poor for all bands until Sunday. There just wasn’t much going on, my idea of a great show isn’t a bunch of semi-static guys and few pyros. The flaming mic-stand and the guitarist and bassist standing in front of  a pair of wings might look awesome on paper, but it didn’t really cut it live. Undoubtedly this was a case of overhype, but all I could think when Nergal splashed the front row with “sacramental wine” was how much better Batushka did it.

DAY 2

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“Bob, I want something.” “Take it.”

Once more we found ourselves arriving early, against all reason. Brymir was playing, but although their new album was great, we we’re much more interested in a wake up call a la Fuck-Ushima. Turns out noisy, sludgey grind delivered intensely on the smallest stage, in a dim-lit hall is a perfect way to get yourself up and moving. The day’s main attraction for me was Primordial. Unfortunately, they were up next. The band, casually dressed except for Nemtheanga wrapped in robes and face paint, took the stage to “Dark Horse On The Wind” and raged through songs from each of their Metal Blade albums evenly. Although raged is a poor choice of words here, as engaging as A.A Nemtheanga is as a frontman, rarely is Primordial’s material raging. Though drawing from black metal their majestic music has more shades of calm and bitter than anger, topped with one of the best voices ever to grace the more extreme fringes of metal. When the empire finally fell, I was so euphoric from the band’s performance I didn’t even care about Tsjuder’s tame performance. The Norwegians fell victim in part to the second stages poor sounds, but the band didn’t seem to have their heart in their performance, like they wanted to be done with it as fast as they could. Which is an anomaly in the band’s cavalcade of usually very fun gigs.

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How bizarre obscure

After a considerably long time  spent saving mine/our body/ies from dehydration Obscura became the name of the game. Though I can hardly contain my desire to throw a brick into Stefan Kummerer’s face (because personal(ity) issues) this was the band’s first time on my native soil and I still consider “Anticosmic Overload” an awesome song, the rest of the set mostly lifted from the new and good Akroasis. The band did well straddling the line between still focus and casual performance, and if Rafael Trujillo doesn’t get kicked out next week, he might become a confident showman one year.

Havok was supposed to take the indoor-stage after the Teutonic tech-deathers, but their flight hadn’t arrived, so we darted towards the beer areas. Good thing that I followed my Havok-loving friend towards the indoors bar, for before we had anything to quench our thirst, my ears the familiar tunes of doom in place of the US thrashers. Lord Vicar took the stage heavier than a ten ton catastrophe on a sixty pound chain. Complimented by one of the best sounds I’ve witnessed at Kattilahalli (famous for sounding poor) Chritus Linderson and Kimi Kärki led their troops through three albums worth of some of the finest doom metal ever written. And the it hit my eye, something I had not dared to hope would ever hit my eye. Sami hecking Albert dickcrushing Hynninen on bass. Now I know there is a god and she loves me, my life is complete.

From great to gorgeous Anthrax is always a ball and this time was no exception. Sure they played more new material than last time, but that was to be expected with the new album out and all. However, I enjoyed the band more this time around than last. From the first beat of “You Gotta Believe” through the rumbles of “Madhouse” to the last beat  of “Among The Living”, an hour’s worth of moshing, thrashing and circle pitting that only ceased in order for a few walls of death to form. There was a little rain at some point, but by the time it began a coolant was desperately needed, for once the rain was good. By the end of their set I had had so much fun in one day I didn’t feel very Finnish anymore. And by the time Havok, who managed to appear after all, began their three quarters of an hour’s worth of moshing, thrashing and circle pitting that only ceased in order for a wall of death to form, I was practically speaking Danish. What a way to end a day.

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I’ve heard of wearing glasses to a sauna, but a wool cap in blistering heat?

DAY 3

The sky looked like rain, so we chose to arrive later, early enough to catch the last few, nondescript minutes of Myrkur’s show right before Mörbid Vomit played to their biggest audience ever. The masses of people in Kattilahalli owed to the above mentioned rain, but quite a few seemed to be enjoying the show put on by easily one of the best newer (old school) death metal bands today. Sunday seemed a good day for the sound guys, for not only Kattilahalli, but also the covered second-stage sounded much better than on the previous days.

As usually, Sunday was also a quieter day when it came to the number of interesting bands. But I couldn’t allow myself to miss Gojira. And let me tell you, they were HEAVY. From “Toxic Garbage Island” through “Flying Whales” to “Vacuity“, all of the new songs they played sounded much heavier and better than on the album as well. Especially much I enjoyed the bassist Jean-Michel Labadie’s private war against the wraiths annoying him. I don’t know what drugs he was on, but I want some. He had more fun bouncing ’round the stage, exorcising demons, his instrument swinging through the air and around his neck, than all of the other bands on the fest put together. I could practically touch his excitement.

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How to recognize different types of metal musicians from a long way away

Right about after the Frenchmen’s set I could feel the weekend having worn me down and I had to force myself to soldier on to catch the end of Swallow The Sun’s third set this weekend. At least they had been given a dark, indoor stage to perform the third, funeral doom, part of SFtN. I had had to miss the second, acoustic set, because everyone who hadn’t won a special-invitation to the event had to. And I would have been unimaginably pissed off about it, if that one band, with that one man hadn’t been playing at the same hour, which means I was actually glad to skip it. The last band I had energy to really dedicate myself to for an entire set was Katatonia. I love the band, but they’re nothing special live if you don’t love them too. Playing a variety of songs from the last ten years, with little movement on the stage will wear down anyone not a fan. And truth be told I wasn’t enjoying them to the fullest either.

One more band and it would be all over. I’ve never been a Children of Bodom fan and I never will be. But 6/7 of my party were so off we went, except that I observed the first half of the set sitting comfortably. There were pyro barrels and one of my friends informed me that “Children of Decadence” has not been played on any of the numerous times he’s seen CoB. Netta Skog marched her accordion out for “Lake Bodom” and most people appeared to enjoy the hell out of themselves. Though I wasn’t the only one who felt pumping the crowd up for a special set at the end of the gig, then playing three covers was a bit lame. Even if Henkka Seppälä took the guitar and Janne Wirman the bass for the first song. The second saw a choir of musicians/the band’s friends take the stage and for the third, ten lucky fans got up on the stage too, with Dave from Havok visiting on guitar.

All in all, Tuska’s best line-ups might be a thing of the past for me, but the fest drew nearly 30,000 fans and Saturday was sold-out so I don’t see a change coming. And why should there be, Tuska 206 proved a great time and I’m looking forward to the 20th anniversary party next year.

*Featured Image via

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