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Roundtrip To Hel: Discovering Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, Part III

Photo of Satyricon

Band Photo: Satyricon (?)

[Continued from Part II]

SUNDAY, 6/29 - 13:00

“We have less than thirty minutes to catch the bus.”

THAT gets me moving. Did I mention I’ve developed Midnight Sun Syndrome since arriving in Finland? According to the current DSM edition, its chief symptom is “a complete ignorance and lack of regard for the time of day and nonchalant indifference toward tardiness; see also ‘The Casual Southerner.’”

I enter the bathroom. Nera, a shy, tiny black cat, scampers between my legs and out the door. I almost trip and plant a bare foot smack in the litter box. I’m still waking up.

As the mornings have ticked by - it’s still “morning” to us this weekend - it’s gotten more and more difficult to grease the joints, clear the skull, and get going. Tuska is not a camping festival, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to forsake the comforts of home at my disposal. A shit, shower, and shave is as good as a full-immersion baptism after a night of drinking.

My ill-advised windmilling at Omnium Gatherum last night really did a twisting number on my hair, which is in danger of Chris Barnesing. Lacking a brush, I clumsily yank apart the knotted strands and clumps cemented together with dried sweat.

And then, Rachel’s muffled yell over the running shower, through the closed door: “You ready?” Not even close.

HAKUNILA - 13:55

So, we blew it. No, that’s not fair. I blew it. Time simply ran out.

Now the next bus is just a couple minutes away down the street, and Rachel’s on the verge of blowing this one. She dashes back inside for a piece of forgotten equipment.

I silently pray for her to hurry up. In the last half hour, she’s been on the phone with Nikky, who can’t wait at her apartment and has been forced to gather up all the stuff we left there last night and bring it with her. Rachel is dreading having to face another silver-tongued lashing from the candid Aussie, and if we miss two buses in a row, we both will.

Pacing nervously, raking my fingernails across my thumbs in spasmodic tics, struggling to stay patient - boot’s on the other foot - I gaze up at the sky. Gray. Getting grayer. Dismal. Foreboding. Rain’s coming.

It starts pitter-pattering down like droplets of lead just as Rachel bursts out the front door, lunges for her bag resting at my feet, and slings it over her shoulder. We make a mad dash for the bus stop.

As we cross the street toward the opposite sidewalk, I can hear the approaching motor just over the crest of the hill behind us. I can also hear the sage advice of Lloyd Christmas: “Statistically, you’re more likely to get killed ON THE WAY to Tuska… Getting run over by your own bus, that’s the worst.”

INFERNO STAGE - 15:00

The good news: we made it. The better news: Nikky didn’t murder us. The best news: I didn’t miss all of Powerwolf.

While not my favorite band, what I really appreciate about these Germans is, as with Turmion Kätilöt, their open defiance of convention. The whole nine yards of theatrical, gothic, and black metal imagery really elevate their brand of occult-themed traditional heavy metal. In a way, it’s a roided-up, outrageous channeling of classic Black Sabbath in look, feel, and sound.

I snap some pictures so I can gloat about this to absent MetalUnderground.com colleague and Powerwolf superfan Carl Frederick (CROMCarl), who has never, ever seen the band live due to an apparent aversion to North American tours - even ProgPower USA - and who cursed me vehemently before my trip.

*[EX POST FACTO: As a token of my appreciation for raising my awareness of Powerwolf, the absent Carl will receive this handsome footnote.]

RADIO ROCK STAGE - 15:30

Insomnium deserves to play a stage this big at every show.

Everything about their gargantuan wall of sound - the mournful, desolate wail of a lost, stranded wanderer reverberating off the surrounding ice-capped mountain peaks - is larger than life.

Had they played Virgin Oil last night instead of Omnium Gatherum - a rather similar new-millennial Finnish melodic death metal force - this thought may not have crossed my mind. But now, witnessing the band peddle the somber and the monstrous in equal doses beneath an oversized, regal rendering of their stately logo, I know every subsequent gig I catch will have a tough time living up to this.

The thick cloud cover is quite fitting, too.

If this were yesterday or Friday, the early afternoon death rays would be exploding our heads and cooking up our backsides, but today, with the rain on hold and the air waterlogged, Insomnium’s melancholic majesty takes on an even more poignant tone.

INFERNO STAGE - 16:30

The rain would’ve been polite to wait until Orphaned Land was finished, but looks like that ain’t going to happen. And this was an anticipated Tuska highlight, too.

On the upside, the falling drops, growing thicker and stronger by the minute, manage to shroud bandleader Kobi Farhi - already something of an alien Zen master - behind a thin, translucent veil of steamy mystery. Stepping up to the mic stand, he raises his hands, palms turned upward, in a welcoming gesture as if to catch the rain and perform a miracle.

When you hail from Israel, play “Middle Eastern folk metal,” (as Farhi casually describes it) and promote not beer-guzzling but peace, love, and unity… you’re inevitably bound to draw some of metal’s hateful, venomous, anti-Semitic losers out from under their rocks.

Even just this morning (before the clusterfuck that led to our missed bus), Rachel, herself a Jew, got entangled in a bomb-throwing Facebook flame war with some of the Helsinki music photography scene’s less… savory characters.

She’s shrugged it off and is somewhere in the bowels of the photo pit now, but as I continue watching the set, I wonder just why some idiots even bother voicing their opinions.

“Because we can,” reverberates the universal Cry of the Moron throughout the land.

The rain is becoming a solid sheet, and I’m getting uncomfortable. I bummed a smoke from a merch vendor a few minutes ago (ugh, I need to buy more) and barely managed to finish it before it disintegrated in a miserable sod-like heap of wet leaf fragments.

I’m also going to get soaked through to the bone if I keep standing around. I leave Orphaned Land to do their peace ’n’ love thing, round the corner of the Inferno stage, and spot one of several plastic poncho hawkers I’ve seen milling about.

Five minutes later and a couple Euros lighter, I’m still fiddling with the flimsy plastic edges with the thickness of Saran Wrap, trying to peel them apart. The rainfall is increasing and it’s getting harder to see. I wriggle my head through the appropriate hole.

Stealing a quick, envious glimpse at hundreds of fans strolling by with ponchos properly donned, I retreat back into my own private black hole of concentration, shove one arm through its hole, and promptly tear a gash in the plastic. It flutters in the breeze, slapping me in the face.

In what probably looks like a ritual dance of drunken karate for the mentally challenged, I turn around and around, flailing, grasping for coordination as I force the pitiful plastic garment into something resembling its proper place and function.

I’m already waterlogged, so it’s not much help there, but at least I won’t be getting wetter for the moment.

RADIO ROCK STAGE - 17:35

There’s a term for people who slag off Satyricon from a “trve kilt” black-metal-posturing standpoint: “People Who Really Don’t Like Music Much At All.”

For the first time since the rain really cranked up, I’ve forgotten all about it. I’ve even broken out my camera - water resistant, but not waterproof - to record some of this mesmerizing event, because this is a strong contender for Best Fucking Stage Entrance Ever.

Amplified heartbeat. A shadowy figure, permanent member Frost, situating himself behind the kit. Rolling, tribal drumbeat. Sudden, stage-storming processional as a squad of black-clad live instrumentalists emerge like race horses.

Other permanent member and bandleader Satyr, strutting to the front, arms up in the heroic “invisible oranges” pose, whipping everyone to a chanting fever pitch like a Super Bowl cheerleader. Even as the crunchy rhythms of “Now, Diabolical” take over and Satyr looses his characteristic gravelly rasp, he never quite wipes the smartass grin from his face.

The vocalist is charismatic and kind of an asshole, but not without humor, and plus, it often takes such a person to put on a show like this. “Thanks for sticking around,” Satyr remarks calmly between songs, “And for not making excuses…” (affecting an exaggerated wimpy tone) “Aww, we really wanted to watch Satyricon and Emperor, but we can’t because it’s raining!”

Right around this point, as if on cue, my camera battery dies, giving me an excuse to put it away before I let the rain ruin it. With my attention momentarily refocused on the weather, I find I’m not so bothered anymore. Gray skies and some rain can really bring out the grim side of things, rarely more so than with Norwegian black metal.

Or some variation of same. Satyricon’s secret, much like Dimmu Borgir’s, lies in the twisting of subgenre conventions to fit a broader, more accessible mold that resonates with nearly any type of crowd. Musically, it’s pure, refreshing genius. Live, it’s the spirit of rock ’n’ roll.

PRESS AREA - 18:40

By my choice, I’m missing out on Neurosis at the Inferno stage for two reasons. One, I really do need a break from this wretched rain, and two, doomy “post-metal” is not my shot of whiskey, at least not in a live setting.

I grab a drink from the bar and plop down at a table beneath the tent, clumsily shifting and squirming, trying to give my muscles a stretch and a rest without tearing the plastic poncho. For the first time in these three days, I’m feeling like a fatigued mess.

Ewo, my acquaintance from yesterday, gives a wave from a couple tables over, ushers me over to sit. My head is cloudy, my brain dampened; I can barely even decipher the bits of conversation whizzing back and forth around me.

“Did you get in touch with Jone?” Ewo asks. On impulse, I feel for the spare Tuska program in my breast pocket, on which the Radio Rock DJ’s number is scrawled. I reply that no, I haven’t - as discussed, I’d planned on calling the next morning.

“Good,” Ewo nods, “Because he was serious about that.” I ask him to clarify. “He wants you on the show.”

Now THAT little detail I hadn’t worked out for myself. Maybe I’d missed it, maybe I failed to grasp the implication of “drop by the station.” Either way, I’m both flattered and puzzled. Maybe he thinks an American perspective will make things more interesting.

So I’m going on the radio tomorrow. Finnish national radio. Pretty surreal.

RADIO ROCK STAGE - 19:45

Even more surreal: watching Emperor perform debut album “In The Nightside Eclipse,” the definitive Norwegian black metal album, front to back.

The rain has relented to make way for a different kind of onslaught. The pyro bursts amid the fading light make that jolting point just as powerfully as the screaming blast beats.

A show of this magnitude would not have happened back in the early ‘90s days of church-arson lore. Since the official 2001 breakup, the band has reformed off and on for special occasions a few years running, and now, finally, seems right at home occupying the immense space that a sonic mountain like “Nightside” demands.

It’s hard to ignore the demure, bespectacled, hipster-ish appearance of guitarist/vocalist Ihsahn - more of a progressive metaller in his post-Emperor years - but even that creates a strikingly effective juxtaposition. The hokey black metal fashion may have been ditched in favor of understated maturity, but that just allows the fury of the music to speak for itself.

Sometime in the lull between the “Nightside” set and the extended encore, Rachel approaches me, exhausted and looking like shit. I’ve pretty much wandered on my own since Orphaned Land, so I’m almost surprised to see her.

“I feel kinda sick, like I’m going to keel over. I think I’m just overtired,” she tells me. “I really need to go home and lie down.”

I’m without an internet connection and can’t look up the bus schedule on my phone, so I snap a photo of her screen display. Meta-photography.

“Nikky said she’ll meet you in the press area after Emperor.” Profane Omen is playing the final afterparty tonight, once again at On The Rocks. I send Rachel on her way and catch Emperor’s encore, including the cover of Bathory’s “A Fine Day To Die.”

PRESS AREA - 21:00

Well, Nikky’s not here, at least not that I’ve seen in the two spins I’ve taken around the crowded press area. In my tired, semi-dazed state, I haven’t scoured thoroughly for any of the other local photographers we’ve consorted with back here, but so far, no apparent sign of them either.

So instead, I’m back at Ewo’s table with a couple familiar faces, including Holger Tiefenbach, and some new ones, including Silke Yli-Sirniö, another Nuclear Blast mover/shaker. She’s now regaling me with nostalgic reminiscences of time spent in New York in the ‘80s.

And now, a mass exodus. Ewo stands, along with much of the rest of the group, including young Janne Björkroth, keyboardist for the impressive Battle Beast, a Day One highlight. I smile and nod. Ewo gestures with a hand and jerk of the head. “C’mon, Mike.”

I hesitate. I half-stand, scanning the bobbing heads for Nikky - still no sign. Did she forget about me? Silke stays seated, sips a drink, chuckles up at me. “Go where he’s telling you.”

Well, perhaps I’ll run into her at the main gate - I think that was Plan B, anyway. I fall in with the exiting crowd.

BAR BÄKKÄRI - 22:00

Well, that meet-up didn’t happen. Either Nikky vanished, or I went completely blind. Probably the latter.

Now I have to locate my coordinates and regain my bearings relative to the territory I’ve already covered, because in the bus ride over here - a private bus, at that - I became so enmeshed in conversation that I barely even bothered to keep track of the passing streets and landmarks.

In any case, at least I have my phone, and likely a WiFi connection. No one told me about this place before tonight, but I’m getting the feeling it’s… kind of a big deal.

From the humble street-level entrance and the rather standard ground-floor bar layout, a staircase to the second floor opens up on a sprawling, labyrinthine system of barrooms, lounges, mezzanines, and restrooms, all threaded together, one section flowing gracefully to the next. The centerpiece, of course, is the bar itself, which feels about a hundred miles long.

The opposing wall of the wide corridor-like barroom sports an endless array of framed memorabilia - photos, concert flyers, signed posters, ticket stubs, signs.

A yellow warning: “PLEASE DON’T THROW YOUR CIGARETTE ENDS ON THE FLOOR - THE COCKROACHES ARE GETTING CANCER.”

A notice from the Palace Hotel, Norfolk, Virginia: “STREET GIRLS BRINGING SAILORS INTO HOTEL MUST PAY FOR ROOM IN ADVANCE.”

An event calendar for L’Amour, the “Rock Capitol of Brooklyn.” Dates with Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Exciter, Hanoi Rocks.

Candid rockstar snapshots, including one of Lemmy (Motörhead) flipping the bird at the camera. A Brazilian flag covered with signatures and a bottom inscription: “CURITIBA, NOV - 05, 2008,” and a top one, “BRAZILIAN PASSION PLAY TOUR.”

Speaking of Nightwish, Ewo finds me and proudly leads me over to a lounge area just off the end of the bar. Behind a glass panel, like a museum exhibit, is a veritable Wall of Fame dedicated to Finland’s most successful rock/metal act.

Awards, blown-up live photos, artists’ creative renderings, and a stream of memorabilia: artist and press passes, flags, dolls, action figures, trophies. All lovingly curated.

It’s at this point that I realize Ewo is in fact Ewo Pohjola, longterm Nightwish manager and, according to some acquaintances in the vicinity, “The Man With A Liver Of Steel.” He even drops a few hints about the band’s upcoming studio material.

“The last album was pretty strange, pretty out there,” he says with a grin. “This new one? From what I’ve heard… it’s pretty metal.”

Feeling thirsty, I check my wallet and find it empty. I turn to excuse myself, while inquiring about the nearest ATM.

Ewo laughs, waves me toward the bar. “There’s no need for that when you’re drinking with us.”

MONDAY, 6/30 - 00:00

Midnight. When we arrived at Bäkkäri, it felt almost empty, but as the post-Tuska crowds have moseyed their way to various hotspots - I ran into Silenoz of Dimmu Borgir and think I saw a couple Satyricon members - it now feels like the entire population of Bangladesh is crammed in here.

And the WiFi connection still isn’t working for me. One of the bartenders even gave me the passcode, but no dice. I need to retrieve Nikky’s number from my Facebook messages.

As if on cue, my phone vibrates. I answer. “Where the hell are you?” That Geoffrey Rush accent.

“I couldn’t find you after Emperor. I wound up on a bus to Bäkkäri.” It becomes impossible to hear her. Either the connection sucks, or the noise from On The Rocks is interfering, or both. “WHAT?” I yell.

“I SAID, ‘CHECK YOUR FACEBOOK MESSAGES!’” Click.

Great. I borrow the phone of another new friend, a fellow photographer of Nikky’s and Rachel’s at Tuska, an Italian girl we’ve been calling Paky. She lets me sign into my account, into my messages.

I can almost hear her saying it. “Couldn’t find you at press or gate. Having dinner before, to feel more human. Then going to On The Rocks.” Fat lot of good that does me. The timestamp is over an hour ago.

I sign out, hand the phone back to Paky. I know these bars are in the same general area - at least I think - but I lack a map, and do I really want to risk getting lost on foot without a buddy? Doesn’t seem like anyone I know here wants to relocate.

Ugh. I’m sick and tired of overseas phone and data logistics, and I’d love to just stop thinking about it all for a while. My brain is starting to hurt.

A mind-reader, Paky nudges my shoulder, steering me toward the bar. “Another drink.”

McDONALD’S - 01:30

I force down another bite of the most nauseating burger I’ve ever had. Not that McD’s has ever been a gourmet franchise, but seriously, someone deserves to be shot for this. I may end up with Mad Cow.

Sometime between that phone call and the subsequent drink, a button in my brain labelled “fuck it” was pressed, and after stumbling out of Bäkkäri over an hour later, I really needed something in my stomach. Now I feel worse than before.

I shuffle outside with zero sense of direction. I flag down some passing pedestrians and ask about catching the bus - the wheres, whens, and whatnots. “Pretty sure the busses aren’t running anymore.”

Fan-fucking-tastic.

I spot a taxi station across the street. Check my wallet. Paky and I located and visited the ATM earlier; I wasn’t about to try and bum more free drinks off Ewo.

Now I’m about to burn my remaining cash. I’m all out of options.

HAKUNILA - 02:30

The sky is already lightening up, with a faint hue of pink somewhere in the east. Some remaining cloud cover, but feels like the start of a clearer day.

I relieve my wallet of its contents. The Somalian driver thanks me and takes off. During the ride, he’d told me all about Finland’s great Somalian immigration during all that early ‘90s unpleasantness. Never knew about that.

I practically limp down the shrub-lined paved path to the apartment building, mount the steps, and stare dumbly at the door for a full minute. A keypad. I need the code to get in.

FUCK.

I sit down, not knowing what else to do. My brain is drifting in and out of a translucent haze, because I’m not sure how much time passes before a mailman approaches, barely even registering my presence. He opens the door. I slip in right behind him.

I drag myself up one flight to Rachel’s door. Knock. No answer. Knock a little louder, trying not to wake anyone else up. I resist the urge to shout.

Ah! I know - I’ll call her cell - shit. I haven’t recorded her number, either. Once again, I need to retrieve it from my Facebook messages. That shouldn’t be hard; I’m already logged into her WiFi.

Except the internet doesn’t connect. And there are no open networks I can pirate.

03:30

I suck it up and step outside again. Trudge around to the rear of the building, attempt to locate her bedroom window. Now if I could find something to throw, something that won’t break glass…

What the hell am I thinking? THAT would make Rachel a big hit with the neighbors: waking up the wrong people. Or breaking their windows. Or hers.

I return to the front stoop, pull out my dwindling cigarette pack, chain-smoke probably half a dozen before someone else - a resident, I guess - comes along. For the second time, I slip inside.

04:00

The WiFi still refuses to connect, even when pressed right up against the door. And knocking still hasn’t accomplished jack shit. She’s obviously out like a light, fan turned on, bedroom door shut.

I lean against the painted concrete wall, let myself slide to the floor in defeat. I feel all remaining energy slipping through invisible cracks all over my body. The ominous pangs of an impending hangover begin to spike, but not before fatigue delivers its mercy blow.

I crumple, only semi-voluntarily, into a horizontal position, huddled in the corner like a bum, and let consciousness fade to black.

07:00

Footsteps. My eyelids peel open, breaking a fine layer of crust. A faceless neighbor passes by, towering over me for a second before descending the stairs. Shit. It’s Monday morning. I wonder how many people have seen me like this on their way out the door.

I knock again. Nothing. fumble for my phone. Check the WiFi again. Working!

11:00

I awaken a second time to find two cats lounging on my chest, and a third staring down at me from the back of the sofa. I wriggle an arm from beneath the blanket. Loki and Toki, the two bigger creatures, let me pet them, purring like royalty as if they’d been expecting it.

Nera, the tiny little black thing, darts away the instant I hold eye contact for too long.

Rachel appears, shoves a steaming mug of coffee in my face. I already explained everything when she let me inside hours ago, but I feel compelled to recap it all again. According to the barrage of Facebook messages that piled up once the WiFi kicked in, I was thoroughly MIA.

“You had everyone pretty worried,” she tells me. I sit up. The cats scurry away. I take a long sip. Why am I even drinking coffee? There’s nothing I’d rather do than go back to sleep -

“Oh, SHIT. Jone from Radio Rock.”

Here I am, fatigued, sleep-deprived, hung over, strung out, dirty, with a tentative radio interview within the next few hours. I scramble for the Tuska program with the phone number. Punch it in, slowly, carefully, checking to make sure I didn’t screw up a digit. These European numbers are hard to get used to.

The phone starts ringing. A man answers in Finnish. “Uhhh… may I speak to Jone Nikula?”

I have no idea what the guy says in response, but he isn’t too thrilled. In fact, it sounds like an ongoing rant. With a silent help-me-out gesture, I put the phone in Rachel’s hand. She says a few words, listens. A few more words. Hangs up.

“You had the wrong number. This guy said his name was Pekka, and he thought he was the victim of an attempted radio prank. He was pretty pissed.”

All right. I need a few more sips of coffee, a stretch, and then a closer look at that phone number.

CITY CENTRE - 13:45

After another shower, shave, and - thank God - teeth-brushing, I finally feel somewhat functional. We got in touch with Jone, who’s taking off for the day in about an hour, so we’ll be hitting the back end of the program.

Awesomely, he agreed over the phone to have Rachel on the air with me. It’s only fair; we’re both representing MetalUnderground.com. Now we just need to find the place.

Crossing the busy street - I’ve finally learned to watch out for those sneaky trams - we enter the complex, modern building of concrete, marble, and glass. Of all the shops and offices peppered about this place, Radio Rock is ensconced somewhere.

“You feeling better than yesterday?”

“Yeah, I really needed last night just to rest and get some energy back,” Rachel admits once again. “Sounds like that’s what you’ll need tonight. Unless you pass out from exhaustion before then.”

After at least two aimless rides up and down the escalator, we’re forced to admit we’re lost and have no clue where we’re trying to go. Until, that is, we run into a random pair of young business-casuals who happen to be heading back to work at Radio Rock.

They lead us up another flight of stairs, around a corner, through a set of glass doors. “Wait here. They’re on the air right now.” We nod, stand, watching Jone, our man, engrossed in discussion with another guest, microphone fixed before his face.

A third mic sits unused, we notice, on a section of the L-shaped table in front of two empty chairs.

Jone then pushes his mic aside, catches sight of us. Gives a wave, gestures to come in. We push the door open. Children Of Bodom’s “Sixpounder” fills the room as we all shake hands, giving us a few minutes to get ourselves in order.

Now I have to think about how not to sound like a hungover idiot on the radio.

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a native Virginia writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine.

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3 Comments on "Roundtrip To Hel, Part III"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Carlos Santos writes:

Greetings.
A great read, lively just like all the others. There will be a part IV, I presume...
Cheers!

# Sep 18, 2014 @ 2:03 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
OverkillExposure's avatar

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2. OverkillExposure writes:

That's it, unfortunately. It's a three-day festival and rehashing the radio talk would've been redundant, hence the abrupt ending. But thanks for reading and enjoying!

# Sep 18, 2014 @ 4:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
3. Carlos Santos writes:

Yes, you're right, of course. You're welcome!

# Sep 20, 2014 @ 11:16 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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