Tuska Open Air is unlike any other metal festivals. It's a finnish metal festival, and the biggest one. Being a huge finnish metal fan and living only 80km away (though in another country), I just couldn't miss it. Especially with these bands in the lineup:
Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus
And so I embarked on a trip to Helsinki. Apart from being a very beautiful city, it's also probably the most metal city in the world. Every second guy you meet is a metalhead... and the rest are probably too - just dressed like common people. You just walk the streets and read t-shirts. Everyone seems to know you're going to Tuska - at the customs, in my hotel, on the streets. It's really quite amazing. In the hotel I stayed the whole floor was occupied by finnish metalheads who came to Helsinki for Tuska. There was also some Korean guy, who didn't look like a metalhead at all, but later stood right beside me at Dark Tranquillity. Fjölkaldr stayed there as well, but unfortunately I only learned this the last day of the festival.
Skipping a couple of bands, I decided to open my Tuska experience with Sonata Arctica. I had to get my press pass, so I went to a VIP booth first. Honestly, I didn't expect so many media representatives - had to stay in line for about 15 minutes! After that I found that there's a line at the festival entrance as well - like a kilometer long!
After all that, of course, I didn't have any chance to get to the front row. Despite this fact, I really enjoyed the performance. The last time I saw Sonata Arctica at Tuska 2002 and they sucked so badly that I had to leave in the middle of the first song. Now this time they kinda made up for that - the sound was very good, and the band played well. Though Tony ran backstage every time he had no vocal parts for like 30 seconds and Henrik had some trouble with his keyboards, in the end I was quite pleased. Especially when they ended the show with their own special version of Hava Nagila ("We need some vodka, horoshij vodka, gorjachij vodka, we need some vodka!"). Then, after some traditional hugging, bowing and throwing things into the crowd they left the stage.
Here's the set list, hopefully I got it right.
1. Victoria's Secret
2. Champagne Bath
3. My Land
4. Still Loving You
5. I Want Out
6. Kingdom For A Heart
7. Black Sheep
8. Abandonned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited
9. The Cage
11. 8th Commandment
After Sonata Arctica I was planning to see Ensiferum, but when I got there there was so many people that I could barely see the stage from where I was standing. So I went to my hotel, and came back only for the day's headliners - In Flames. Here I need to say that only staff and media people could do that - the rest weren't allowed to leave the festival area and come back. I was told it was done to avoid drunk metalheads roaming outside (the festival site lies in the very center of the city).
I never was a big In Flames fan, but this time I decided to give them a fair chance. What I saw, I didn't like. Five guys in identical black suits with black ties, they reminded me more of Korn or Slipknot. Especially Anders, with his dreads and movements, too obviously borrowed from a certain nu-metal band frontman. Hell, the guys probably have their own imagemaker... The whole show looked very fake, and, even with all its pyrotechnics, quickly bored me to yawning. So I took a few pictures and left.
The second day was the most promising one, and the very first band proved it. Not many of you know them, but in Finland Machine Men already gained enough fame to take an opening slot at the center stage (there were three stages - one big central and two smaller on the sides, in tents). Machine Men plays music somewhat similar to Bruce Dickinson's solo albums, and their singer has an exact copy of Bruce's voice, which is quite amazing. With all that, it would be unfair to label them as a clone band. The stuff they write is very good - interesting and powerful, if not unique. I will even go as far as to say that their part was one of the best and most memorable at this year's Tuska!
Antony, the frontman, delivered very energetic and natural performance, running and jumping, chatting with the audience (though sadly I don't understand shit in finnish) and improvising some Paranoid (yes, there's always some dude in the audience, shouting "play Paranoid!" - this time they've got it). The band played most of the songs from their album and EP, but there was still something missing. Everyone was waiting a Maiden cover. The band saved it for last - the excellent Powerslave.
It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and Mikael Stanne, the singer of Dark Tranquillity, was smiling happily, screaming and growling songs of terrible loss and despair to the cheery audience. It was obvious that he enjoyed the show just as much as his fans, if not more. As for me, I enjoyed every second of it, even though I'm only familiar with the band's latest effort, Damage Done. The guys showed their gratitude to the audience by playing one song from the upcoming album, which should come out in early 2005. It was really cool of them - actually, more bands should do it.
Call me stupid, if you want, but only by this moment I noticed that my press pass allows me to shoot photos in front of the stage. It has its own disadvantages, of course - you're only allowed to take pictures the first couple of songs, and after that you spend the rest of the show either backstage or in the 1285687th row (as far from the stage as possible). Well, at least I got myself some good photos...
Twilightning is another promising new band from Finland. Ever noticed the amount of "unique" and "promising" bands coming out of Finland every year, that become well-known internationally after the very first album? Do they even have a "local" metal scene? Anyway, Twilightning play very energetic, catchy and quite cheesy power metal, and somehow manage not to be boring in it. The performance was good, though some lack of experience still felt and the sound was way too loud. They played all songs from they debut, except Under Somber Skies - but the best part of their show was a cover of You Could Be Mine by Guns n' Roses they played the last. It was nothing less than fucking awesome! Way to go, dudes!
P.S. You've probably noticed that all the guys in the band are extremely good-looking and mostly blonde. I have my own theory about this: all of them are former models! They met each other at some model agency and decided to form a metal band. Why not? It's Finland, anything's possible here
Roaming backstage can be quite some fun. Here and there all kinds of metal celebrities pop up. They walk around, minding their own business, talking on cellphones and drinking beer - and you put on an equally important look and walk around too, trying not to mind a strong urge to become a paparazzi. Now Tuomas Holopainen in a stupid cowboy hat, giving an interview to two girls while hugging a cardboard mannequin of Pamela Anderson - that would've been some picture! Instead, I only shot a few pictures of a very intersting car, all covered with autographs of various bands. Take a look - you may find a few familiar ones
There were also a lot of media people - coming from all parts of the world it seems: Germany, Russia, USA, even one guy from Australia. Fucking unbelievable! Btw, met a guy from Metal-Rules.com - he came up to me, took a look at my press pass and just asked "Estonia?". There was no mention of my country on the pass. I nodded - at least our rivals know our site I wasn't the only one from Estonia on Tuska, though - there was a whole bunch of guys with estonian flag, it was always seen somewhere (usually waving in the air very far from the stage). There was also Markko somewhere, but I didn't meet him.
I never was a big Soilwork fan, so when I have to choose between watching them or grabbing a place closer to the stage for Sinergy, I choose the last one. That's why I only took a couple of photos and moved on - can't really tell if they were good or not.
That was one of the most-awaited shows for me. Well, to see Alexi, naturally... Nah, just kidding - I really like Sinergy music, and even if there was someone else in Alexi's place, that wouldn't have mattered much. The crowd obviously didn't think so. They were shouting "Laiho! Laiho!" the whole time, and I felt a little embarassed for the rest of the band - it must suck to play for people who seemingly only care to see Laiho in the flesh. Anyway, the show was fantastic! Lots of drive, energy and Alexi Laiho... eh, I mean... yeah, the rest of the band was really good too. Including the new bass player (I have no idea who he is, though). Kimberly declared that the show was meant to remind people of their existance and prove wrong the rumors of their split-up. She also said something about new album, but so many bands already talked about their new albums coming out, that I got it all mixed up in my head, sorry
I don't know how it happened, but I took an insane amount of photos of Sinergy - mostly of Alexi Laiho. The guy was like that unstoppable Energiser bunny - jumping, running the stage, taking all those 'guitar hero' poses and playing awesome solos. Damn, I hope I don't have an obsession for this guy - or next time you'll see me in the crowd shouting "Laiho! Laiho!" with the rest
After the first three songs I continued watching the concert from the back of the stage (the last two pictures), which was quite a unique experience. No annoying fans pushing from all directions, comfortable sitting place, interesting angle. I probably should do it more often...
I have to admit that I never listened any of their stuff until the new album, The Art Of Dying, which came out this year. Even though I'm generally not a thrash fan, I liked it - it's very solid and continues the good tradition of classic 80's thrash. Death Angel has been around for a long time (since 1987, to be exact), but their last album was in 1990, and that's also was the last time they visited Finland. 14 years is a long time - I wonder how many people visited both shows... The general public on the festival consisted mostly of the younger generation metalheads, but they seemed just as exited to see the band as the 'old school' ones. Which is great, of course.
Anyway, I expected to see these old geezers (a'la Metallica) trying to be all young and aggressive. Well, to my surprise, they pulled it really well, giving a very energetic performance and kicking as much ass as the next younger band, if not more. They were good, really good.
While I was shooting these pictures, someone in the crowd caught my attention and asked if I indeed is the very famous Ivan from Metal Storm. I confirmed the fact, shook his hand, took a picture and proceeded with my business. Only later I found out that it was our own Fjölkaldr, who's come all the way from Austria to see the show. Another Metalstormer I encountered before the Charon show was IronAngel.
Fjölkaldr and IronAngel
As much as I love Nightwish, this time I wasn't really excited about their show. First, it's the fifth time I saw it (third this year), second, their music definitely fits more for small clubs than big venues - and third, I guess I've already had too much of a good thing (this being the end of the second day) and was a little fed up
So, what can I say? Of course, they were awesome (they're Nightwish, after all!). Tarja looked absolutely gorgeous, even more beatiful than usually. After the first three songs, when I could shoot in front of the stage, I found myself in a very uncomfortable place on the side, and could barely see what's going on on the stage :- The only good thing about the big venue was the pyrotechnics. Lots of them. Fire!!! That was kinda cool, especially suitable on Planet Hell. As before on the Tallinn concerts, they played Symphony Of Destruction while Tarja was taking a short break. The set list also was mostly the same, with the only new addition - Ever Dream.
1. Dark Chest Of Wonders
2. Planet Hell
3. She Is My Sin
4. Phantom Of The Opera
6. Symphony Of Destruction (Megadeth cover)
7. Bless The Child
8. Ever Dream
10. Sleeping Sun
11. Over The Hills And Far Away
12. Wish I Had An Angel
The only band I really wanted to see on the third day was Charon. In fact, they were one of the main reasons for going to the festival at all. That's why I came one hour before their show - just barely enough to grab a place in the front row. And here comes the funny thing - the only males in the front row were me and my brother. Now that just didn't look right. When did Charon become a girlie band anyway? Hmm...
The person to blame for this is J.P. Leppaluoto, Charon frontman. You can't really call him 'handsome' (he's definitely not a Twilightning type , but he's got an insane amount of sexual attraction - I can easily see how all girls go crazy about him. His deep voice is very powerful and magnetic - it commands your attention and doesn't let go. Most of the played songs were from the last album, The Dying Daylight. Sadly, nothing from the first one, Sorrowburn - which is one of my personal favorites...
The only thing that distracted me from the show was a security guy, who, for some reason, chose to stand right in front of me, instead at the side, like all the others. That was SO fucking annoying - coming so early to get a good place, just to have half of the view blocked by some stupid fuckhead! Arrrghhh!
Yeah, I know he's a legend and one of metal's forefathers and all, but for some reason Dio's songs tend to bore me to death very quickly. Which is why I only could endure a couple of the first ones. After that I left and was never seen again at Tuska 2004
And here the story ends... almost.
As I've already told, there were the aftershow parties each day, in three clubs. One of these was Tavastia. It's located in the very center of the city, just between Tuska and my hotel. Earlier that day me and Fjölkaldr agreed to meet at its entrance after Tuska. I was already quite tired after three days of the festival and exploring the city and didn't really plan to go the the aftershow - it was just one of the places we both knew and it was conveniently located.
We both didn't know any of the 4 bands playing that evening, but still decided to go in and take a look. We missed the first 2 of them, but the ones we managed to see were quite good. The first one, Ancara, played classic heavy - with drive, but with little originality. The headliner was Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne tribute band. The most amazing thing about them was the vocalist - he looked like young Ozzy, he moved like Ozzy and sang like Ozzy. The illusion was complete. Also, they had a little surprise in stock. Near the end of the show appeared Alexi Laiho with his guitar and joined the band. That was quite unexpected - he probably simply had nothing else to do that evening. Anyway, they played one song and the band left, leaving only Laiho and their own guitarist. What do two guitarists do when left alone? Of course, they start a guitar duel! For 10 minutes they took turns showing off their quite impressive playing skills, playing both alone and together. Now, let me tell you, it was absolutely awesome! You probably want to know who won? Well, Crazy Train guitarist was among the best I've ever seen, but he should've picked another opponent Alexi was clearly more technical and his solos more complex and imaginative.
Ancara, Crazy Train and Alexi Laiho
So, that was the end - and still one part of me wanted more, while another only wanted to take a break... at least for a week.
p.s. Huge thanks to Jeff and Niklas for arranging my press pass!