Roundtrip To Hel: Discovering Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, Part II
Band Photo: Metal Church (?)
[Continued from Part I]
SATURDAY, 6/28 - 13:30
“That’s a killer e-cig; where’d you pick it up?”
Actually, the stranger on the bus doesn’t say that. At least not in English. And judging from his condescending glare from a row up and across the aisle, I’m thinking he doesn’t approve.
I exhale the last puff of vapor toward the ceiling and shrug uncomfortably.
Rachel exchanges a few words with him, nudges me on the shoulder. “He’s definitely not from here - I can’t recognize his accent - but he says you’re not allowed to do that on the bus.”
“If he’s not from here, why’s he lecturing other people on the rules?” I shoot the man a neutral nod. “This stuff isn’t affecting him.” Still, I put it away. Some people, man. Busybodies.
Through my vest pocket, I finger the boxy outline of the pack of Marlboro Reds I bought last night after I caved. Post-Dimmu, our gearing-down at Nikky’s place a few blocks away became a relaxed, languid, drawn-out gab session, leading us to miss the afterparty band, Amorphis. For shame. Harakiri shame.
Instead, we ended up at PRKL, another rock club, well after midnight. After buying the pack and stepping outside to smoke one, I nearly got myself flattened by a passing street tram. That was probably some kind of sign.
14:00 - CLUB STAGE
I do not like screamo.
Rachel and Nikky are kneeling on the pavement before the Club stage entrance, gearing up to slip through the nearby fence and “backstage” (really just a blocked-off outdoor section between the building and the Suvilahti perimeter).
I, meanwhile, am listening to the inglorious awkwardness of We Came As Romans echoing across the grounds from the Radio Rock stage. I entertain myself by wailing along, wordlessly, in a tone I imagine I’d carry were my balls tragically removed.
Unlike some people, I have quite a high tolerance level for the myriad styles and subgenres beneath the metal umbrella. In fact, I believe that today’s intra-genre warring is a greater threat to metal than any “sellout band” could ever hope to be. Rome fell from within, too.
However, a line must be drawn somewhere.
At the risk of seeming fashion-obsessed, I submit that metal culture DOES somewhat require a certain intangible cocktail of ingredients - in the realms of attitude, presentation, general ethos - that this inexplicably popular “post-hardcore,” “electronicore” (God help us) brand of metalcore barely even attempts to serve up.
The divide between the mostly very young fans of this ilk and more traditional metal fans is stark, it is visual, it is attitudinal, and it is a sore thumb that sticks right the fuck out. Maybe that’s why We Came As Romans and Bring Me The Horizon were scheduled for the same day.
Nikky more or less agrees, but is compelled to stick up for a fellow group of Aussies, Northlane. Recalling an interview she conducted with their frontman: “At least the fans find something to connect with emotionally in their lives. This guy told me about how disappointed and upset his mother was—”
“Because her pride and joy is in a screamo band?” I couldn’t resist. We laugh.
“No, because he quit studying psychology at university to join the band. But then he told me how after a few years of touring, he realized that making and playing his music was probably helping young people more than working as a psychologist ever would.”
That’s fair enough. And I can’t deny it’s likely true.
15:00 - INFERNO STAGE
What struck me first about Lost Society was their name.
Neutral, relatively devoid of “I’m so fucking metal” posturing, looks elegant on paper and rolls fluidly off the tongue. And evocative, in a subtle way, of the generation in which these young baby-faced Finns were brought up.
Historically, that’s what thrash has always been about: macro-politics balanced with microbrew (or, more likely, PBR). In any case, these guys are here to party. They also rip.
We’re on our way back to the press tent following an interview with a couple members of Beastmilk, playing the Club stage later today. I, tech-challenged stone-ager that I am, was entrusted with snapping some photos of the exchange, and am now beaming with pride at the fact that I didn’t screw up.
Or at least I hope. Those pro camera rigs are intimidating.
16:10 - PRESS AREA
If you’ve ever stood in line at a festival waiting your turn at a Port-a-Potty, you would never overlook or underrate your own exclusive set of urinals as an amazing perk.
Tucked around the corner of the press tent in a narrow alleyway between a fence and the side of another factory building, about half a dozen circular urinal troughs - with splashguards, no less, to discourage awkward overcrowding! - lie splayed out like gray chess pieces in two rows.
It’s quite artful, really. Like those public coin-tossing fountains. Except there’s no running water. And you pee in them.
I don’t see anything around here for girls, but there must be something. That’d be a gallant move, relegating the ladies to the wild wilderness of outhouses. “You ever walk in on people taking a shit?” Nikky asked me Thursday night (I have).
“Well, I’ve walked in on a gay couple FUCKING.”
I need to relieve myself of several more rounds of that wretched Jaloviina, for which I’ve strangely developed the taste. This is the second time I’ve had to excuse myself from my present company - Holger of Nuclear Blast, Markus Toivonen of Ensiferum (who I didn’t even recognize in his “normal” offstage getup until well into our conversation), and Ewo, a rock-solid bulk of a blond Finn straight out of a tour brochure. None of them have moved a step.
I should’ve remembered that in coming to this country, I’ve effectively placed myself in the supporting cast of Amateur Hour (Drinking Edition).
16:30 - INFERNO STAGE
Now THIS is one hell of a discovery, for me, anyway. After catching the last ten minutes of the reunited Stone - classic stuff, straight up thrash ’n’ roll, but fairly predictable - at the Radio Rock stage, I’m indulging in a not-so-secret, not-so-guilty pleasure of mine: big, bursting, flamboyant, shake-your-ass electronic metal.
Turmion Kätilöt, whose name Rachel and Nikky coached me to pronounce correctly, is a mammoth freight train of techno-industrial ridiculousness, the kind of stuff that, like Battle Beast, just brings an involuntary smile to your face. It’s all about the defiance of convention.
Face and body paint ghoulish enough for black metal, but cartoonish and cheesy (as if black metal is SOOO serious, but you know what I mean) enough for theatrical shock rock. Growled, chanted lyrics entirely in Finnish over cocaine-fueled beats tremendous enough to demolish your house and fuck your mother.
A more aggressive Rammstein, a goofier Pain, a more twisted Raunchy. Simply excellent stuff.
17:15 - RADIO ROCK STAGE
I’ve been just thrilled for Metal Church ever since they reformed to play 70,000 Tons Of Metal in 2013. I was aboard, and had the rare honor of witnessing the classic self-titled 1984 debut played front to back.
Here, now, it’s a more standard set sprinkled with the expected old stuff, mostly from that album and followup “The Dark.” Not surprisingly, the period between 1989 and 2005 is completely ignored.
Give the people what they want, they say, but I still think it’d be nice to see the band tackle some of the strong material from that void. Why take out a new lease on life if you’re going to live in the past?
At least singer Ronny Munroe gets to perform two songs he actually recorded with the band: “Generation Nothing” and “A Light In The Dark.”
18:30 - PRESS AREA
Caught a bit of Tankard, the functioning alcoholic’s thrash metal band, over at the Inferno stage. Now that I think of it, Lost Society might as well call themselves Tankard, Jr.
Either way, those Germans’ relentless, shameless odes to boozing have gotten me a bit thirsty for the real thing. I’ve been on my feet for a while and need a break, anyway.
At this moment, I sit at a picnic table beneath the tent in the merciful shade, a stone’s throw from the bar.
An unidentified girl sits beside me, miles away from sober, talking my head off in the most excruciatingly broken English I’ve ever dealt with, and all I can do is laugh, smile, and pretend I understand.
All other voices and sounds around me fade into a fuzzy background of low static as I struggle to listen. To my relief, the Radio Rock stage (just over the fence) is empty at the moment. If it weren’t, I’d now be speeding past drunk and skidding and crashing straight into hungover.
With the way things are going, that’ll probably happen anyway. I really need to get out of here. Alcohol is forbidden outside the press area except in designated zones, so I toss back the Crowmoor cider as though auditioning for a commercial.
19:45 - INFERNO STAGE
Bring Me The Horizon just wrapped over yonder, and everything I have to say about them, I already said regarding We Came As Romans. Anything more would just be mean.
Instead, I’m doing something I haven’t really done since this all started: festival sightseeing and shameless people-watching. With a camera. Trying not to look shady.
My favorite touch: scrawled across the base of the giant, partly dismantled, skeletal gasometer smack in the middle of the concrete “fairway,” white graffiti in block letters: “MAKE PEACE, NOT BOMBS.” Good thing Sabaton wasn’t booked this year.
The Swedish Shining, not the Norwegian Shining. A shining example of how to confuse your audience. Also, redrum. Now I’m thirsty again.
Shining plays pretty decent black metal with some nice atmospheric twists, but seems to take an unhealthy interest in encouraging me to slit my own wrists, a pervasive attitude that seeps through every note, even though I can hardly understand a damned lyric. I give them a rest and step aside to the tall merch racks running along the perimeter fence.
I buy a Tuska shirt. Scan the various bands represented. Way up top, hanging there like the ugly duckling runt of the litter, white on black: “BRING ME THE HORIZON SAVED MY LIFE.” Did they, now?
20:15 - PRESS AREA
“C’mon. Let’s get a beer.” Ewo nudges me toward the bar. As I order, he joins a casual conversation in Finnish with a tall, blond-goateed fellow, straight hair framing a slightly weathered face. He gestures to me.
“This is Mike.” We shake. The man introduces himself as Jone. After chatting a bit about Metalunderground.com and Tuska - apparently he’s there representing Radio Rock - he pulls out a spare festival program and a pen. Scrawls his name and number.
“If you have time, drop by the station on Monday and we’ll chat some more.” Well, that’s pretty cool. Ought to work; I was going to do some sightseeing anyway.
I make my way over to Rachel and Nikky at the table we “reserved” by dumping and spreading our gear all over it. They ask what’s up. I shrug, hold up the program, jerk a thumb back toward the bar.
“Strange; this guy from Radio Rock invited me to the station day after the festival.”
They catch sight of Jone, and for a few seconds I swear I’m back in high school. They start squealing at each other like starstruck teens. “Did I miss something?”
“That’s Jone Nikula. He’s Finland’s biggest DJ, for the biggest music station. I can’t believe that just happened.”
20:30 - RADIO ROCK STAGE
As an Anthrax fan, I’m torn these days about their live set. Multiply my minor Metal Church grievances by about ten, and that’s how I feel watching 4/5ths of the classic lineup perform a menagerie of songs we’ve (mostly) all heard before.
It’s pretty cool to hear “Medusa” and “Be All, End All” - the latter from sort of an underrated album on which the most-loved track is a cover - along with AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” and Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll.”
And yes, I know, “Among The Living” is a great album. But really, let’s be honest with ourselves: “Caught In A Mosh,” “Indians,” “I Am The Law,” and all the other essentials from that era are about as surprising as snow in the middle of the fucking winter at this point. It dulls the excitement.
What I really crave are more nods to “Worship Music,” a brilliant and mature record perfectly capturing Anthrax where they are today, and with the exception of two songs, passed over in favor of a rote nostalgia trip slightly more thrilling than sneaking a bowl of Lucky Charms.
It all comes down to the double-edged sword of the singer change. I don’t oppose or begrudge the direction the band has taken by welcoming back Joey Belladonna, and he sounds better than ever, but that ensures that a lot of pretty kickass “BushThrax” material won’t be played live… probably ever again.
As always, the performance is tight and furious, but like a predictable and stale thriller, lacks overall suspense. Anthrax really need to get a new record out.
22:00 - VIRGIN OIL CO.
Now THIS is an afterparty.
After Anthrax, there was no dawdling this time. I’ll be damned if I miss out on two great Finnish bands two nights in a row. We dumped our gear and caught the tram to the City Centre.
Murphy’s Law must’ve been hovering like a buzzard, waiting to screw up our evening, because I was a careless pedestrian and nearly became a greasy, smeared victim of the tram (again), and Rachel melted into a full-blown panic over some missing immigration documents that turned up just now. We’re all breathless and a little drama-high as we finally mount the entrance steps.
Towering above us and stretching out in both directions, several tall, rectangular triple-sashed windows, each separated by stately relief statues protruding Rushmore-like from the building’s stone surface.
Inside, a bar and restaurant with a bit of a swanky edge, in a tourist-hotel-lobby kind of way. They tell me this place serves Italian-American, and I’d love to check out the wood-fired pizza and barreled wine, but that ain’t why we’re here.
"From nice dining to stage diving!" Or so allegedly goes their motto.
Up another flight of stairs, a modest merch table lining the right wall, a room-length bar beyond that, and opening up to our left, what could pass for a cathedral in the world of small nightclubs. With the high ceiling suspended somewhere up in the gloom, and the pervasive, pale, moonlike blue lighting, it’s hard to believe this place only admits about 200 people.
I turn to buy a shirt. The band is Omnium Gatherum. The album still being promoted is “Beyond.” Drummer Jarmo Pikka mans the table. I hesitate, remembering Barren Earth.
“Are European sizes really smaller for these shirts than American sizes, sort of like for women’s and men’s?” I simply need to know. I’ve been curious about this for a while. I’m told that yes, they are.
“You think that’s ‘cause it’s just assumed we’re all fatter?” Pikka chuckles, nods. “Yeah, pretty much.”
There’s really only one thing I can say that will sum up, in a nutshell, how I feel about this performance this evening, and the obvious euphoria enveloping just about everyone within my field of vision. I lean over and yell in Rachel’s ear over the music.
“What kind of monster doesn’t like melodic death metal?”
Seriously, how can you not? Especially from a band as masterful and inspired as this. Omnium Gatherum are far from popular in the States, and aside from a few opening slots on a handful of tours, I’m not likely to catch them back home any time soon.
I certainly will NEVER catch them back home like this. Headlining a club, I mean. We’ve snagged the perfect spot by a standing table, maybe six feet from the bar behind us and twenty from the smallish stage. Best of both worlds, and I’m not wasting any of it.
In other words, I’m pretty lubricated. I’ve grown my hair out the past year, and now fling off my hair tie and say goodbye to the ponytail - the closest thing you’ll see to me flashing my hairy chest tonight, unless you buy me a shot - for some windmilling.
All right, that ten seconds was enough. I need to sit down a few moments to let the nausea pass. I can’t afford to be that guy.
SUNDAY, 6/29 - 01:00
Squatting in the shadows of heroes… eating fast food. There’s a poem title.
I knew my first evening that the dearth of total darkness was going to mess me up and scramble my mind and bio-clock even worse if I tried to think about the time, so I don’t - except to double check the bus schedule.
We keep the Central Station bus stop in sight, about a hundred yards across the humongous square. We parted with Nikky a little while ago, and if we miss this bus to Vantaa - the last bus - we’ll be seeing her again really soon.
I chomp on this strange hamburger from the stand nearby that’s more ham than burger, with sliced sausage thrown in there, watch the sky lighten ever so slightly as the hide-and-go-seek sun begins its quick reappearance, and listen as Rachel waves a proud gesture up at the looming statue over our heads.
“Aleksis Kivi was our greatest author and poet. He wrote plays based on the Kalevala tales and ‘Seven Brothers,’ the greatest Finnish novel. He died over a hundred and forty years ago, and he’s still Finland’s national author.”
I swallow my last bite. Gaze up at the somber man, seated in his chair atop the marble block, hunched slightly forward in brooding, forlorn repose.
Reach for my pack of cigarettes - I’ve plummeted fully back into the habit all throughout today - then change my mind. There’s something improper about it.
“You said ‘our,’” I reply.
Rachel throws me a questioning cock of the head as though she didn’t hear. “You said ‘OUR greatest author.’” I laugh, trying to signal my lighthearted intent. Just hours ago, I witnessed firsthand the very real, gnawing terror of deportation.
She shrugs. “I was meant to be here.” She takes a few moments. “Probably all my life. I never fit in anywhere else. Now I can’t think I’d ever WANT to live anywhere else.
“This is my adopted homeland.”
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