It’s been 3 years and South Park -festivaali has earned it’s place on the Finnish festival front. The 2-day festival in Tampere has been bringing in big name bands from the start, like Skid Row and Def Leppard, but 2016 steered the show away from the nearly all hard rock line-ups of the first 2 years, and brought in equally big name bands, Slayer and Bullet for My Valentine, to headline. The festival took over Eteläpuisto (South Park) on the 10th and 11th of June, and since Musicalypse has been going since the festival started up in 2014, we certainly couldn’t stop now!
First of all, it was nice to see that they had an app this year – the bigger festivals have had them a while now, and for the concert-goers, it’s much easier to keep an eye on the bands you want to see when there are a few notifications popping up now and then and you have a schedule in hand that won’t get soaked in the inevitable rain.
The festival area was set up in essentially the same place as last year, with the food court and signing booths in the same locations, though the merchandise had shuffled around. This year, to go along with the bungee jumping, there was also a slingshot station, which offered a nice alternative to people who’d rather go up than down. The weather changed from sunny and warm to rainy and grey at the blink of an eye the entire time, but that’s never stopped anyone from enjoying themselves in the past!
We arrived just in time to catch the end of Battle Beast‘s set, unfortunately missing Santa Cruz after the change in schedule. I’ve never been on the same wavelength as Battle Beast, and while I have always felt that Noora Louhimo makes them far more bearable after Nitte Valo left in 2012, their style has just never appealed to me. However, to their credit, if you like bands like W.A.S.P. I could definitely see you getting a kick out of their show.
The first bit of excitement on Friday came pretty early for me though, as I got the chance to see Ember Falls live for the first time! I’ve been interested in these guys since the release of the “Shut Down with Me” music video and have been waiting impatiently to hear more of their music and see what they’re like on stage. The festival was running late already by this point, as the guys were on stage doing a few finishing touches on the soundcheck before starting things up.
The first thought to run through my mind was, ‘I appreciate bands with a unique visual style.’ It’s not a thing I’d call ‘necessary,’ per say, but it adds a little bit of something extra to the show, which is always nice, and these guys have a really cool style. It was also cool to see how many people came out to watch them play, considering they don’t even have an album out yet. It looks like I wasn’t the only one dying to hear more songs and see “Shut Down with Me” live! Their performance was enthusiastic and I’d say akin to a well-made table that’s not quite done. The craftsmanship is quality, but a few screws need to be tightened up before it’s just right.
As for the music itself, the third song gave the bass player, Oswald, a little time in the spotlight, which I always appreciate (bass players are the unsung heroes of music most of the time, after all). The fourth song had some really classic 80s pop synth in it, and the sixth track, “Freedom,” was a very nice ballad that quickly gained my approval. They closed their set with “Shut Down with Me,” naturally, and brought a special guest on stage for the occasion: Joel Hokka of Blind Channel, who was on our list of bands to check out on Saturday! I definitely see why people compare Ember Falls to Amaranthe, but I wouldn’t say that they sound the same. In fact, I think these guys have better sound. Thomas Grove (vocals) has a hint of David Draiman (Disturbed) in there, which is kind of awesome. Overall, Ember Falls proved to have a unique blend of metal, rock, electronic pop, and so much more. I’m really enthusiastic to follow them and see where their music takes them!
And, before I move on, a big round of applause for Mr. Mika Tyni who was running the lights for their set – the tent stage is a fickle mistress, but he nailed it. These guys were looking amazing under those lights!
Our next stop was Amorphis on the main stage, and though we were watching from under a cloud, it was certainly more of a rainy grey than red. Earlier in the day I realized that I haven’t actually seen Amorphis since Under the Red Cloud was released, which got me really excited for this set. The gig started, to my pleasure, with a few new songs, including “Under the Red Cloud” and “Sacrifice.” Unfortunately, they were having some sound issues and the former started with no sound at all from Tomi Joutsen. They got him going quickly though, but he looked pretty frustrated for the first few songs. This could have been disastrous to their performance, but they came back from the problems a few songs later and put on a really nice show. A good percentage of the material was new, which is getting me really pumped up for their Under the Red Cloud show in August! The highlight for me was “Death of a King,” because that song is just wonderful, and now I know it’s equally great live!
We unfortunately missed Lost Society‘s set, as we had to run off to do an interview with Ember Falls, however, from where we were standing it sounded like they were putting on a great show, and we could feel their energy bursting out of the tent stage!
Triptykon was the blackest metal of the weekend, and to their credit, they also had some of the best T-shirt designs at the merch booth! Since black metal is not really for us, we decided to get some dinner while they were playing. I kept one ear turned toward the stage and was pleased to note that they had some very nice melodies mixed in with all the black metal traditions. While it’s still not likely to be something I’ll likely ever put on to listen to at home, I can’t say I was sorry for the chance to hear them on stage.
The food this year was largely the same as last year, though the vegetarian option at the falafel stand was (to my knowledge) a nice new addition. Poppamies again seemed to dominate the space with their burger and rib stations, and I was pleased to note that the gourmet hot dog stand had also returned.
Of course, if you’re at a festival and Stam1na is playing, there’s really no excuse to miss their set. Still sporting the convict orange overalls from the Sakara Tour, there were no visual oddities in this show (such as wetsuits or corpse paint), but that doesn’t stop them from putting on a mighty fine show, and the crowd returned their enthusiasm by going absolutely ballistic! They played several songs from Elokuutio, including, for the first time live, “Pala palalta”! Unfortunately, their gig was cut short due to the whole festival running quite behind by this point in time.
Headlining Day 1 was no less than the legendary Slayer. Like black metal, I’m also not a big fan of thrash, but Slayer is such a classic that if they play a festival, you watch! The festival was, by this point, running really late and Slayer didn’t get going until 15 minutes after their designated start time even though Stam1na’s set was cut short. As part of the Repentless tour promoting the album of the same name from last year, their set appropriately began with “Delusions of Savior” and kicked straight into “Repentless.”
I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed their show. I’ve tried my hardest to get into “Raining Blood,” but I’ve just never liked it. However, Tom Araya‘s voice was quite pleasant and overall, they were much easier to listen to than I expected. At first I worried that the fact I was enjoying it meant they’ve lost their heavy touch, but then it got LOUD! I could see the appeal to hopping in their pit right away. Araya greeted the crowd a few times, saying that after over 30 years, they should be thanking the crowd and not the other way around. For “Mandatory Suicide” he spoke about loving your country and being willing to defend it. The lighting was very well done and the performance was tight, if a little basic. By that I mean that they didn’t have as impressive a command of the stage as other bands in their genre. We were getting pretty tired, however, so we decided to stay long enough to hear a classic, and I got my wish when they played “Seasons in the Abyss,” which is the closest thing to a Slayer song I like, so it was a nice way for me to end the night. Word on the street is they kept going for five more songs after that, including “Raining Blood,” naturally, and ended the set with “Angel of Death.”
The festival was off to a great start, and there were even more bands to look forward to coming up on Saturday!
We got down to the park at the equivalent of ‘bright and early’ for a festival, at the ripe afternoon hour of 14:00 to make sure we’d be in time to catch Thunderstone‘s set! At first I thought it would be a bit early in the day for them to get much of a crowd, but we weren’t the only ones who kept it together enough to be there to see them play – the crowd grew pretty big for their set! In tune with their Apocalypse Again release tour, they started things up with the intro mixed from “Barren Land” and got things going with “Veterans of the Apocalypse.”
One thing that I absolutely adore about seeing these guys is that they are the perfect blend of chill old rockers who know their shit and complete goobers (we’re looking at you, Titus!) who mess around and make jokes. Nino Laurenne has been gloriously reunited with his lost guitar from the Canadian tour, and they were looking like they belong together. Titus Hjelm had some lovely and strange speeches, checking in to see how drunk everyone was/is, and told a tale of Thunderstone at Sauna Open Air years and years ago when he had a few “sauna beers” and decided dropping his pants on stage would be a good idea. Furthermore, they played all the best songs off the new album, like “The Path,” “Higher,” and “Through the Pain.” It’s like they read my mind, because they’ve kept my three favorites off the album for live tracks. Unfortunately, thanks to some sound problems, this wasn’t the best show I’ve seen of theirs – it seems like it was luck of the draw to have good monitor quality, etc, at this festival. Pasi Rantanen even had to swap his mic out at some point. I hope it goes a bit smoother at Tuska next month, because I’m convinced the later slot will suit them beautifully.
Next up was another band I’ve been dying to check out live since I discovered their first hit single, “Darker than Black”: Blind Channel! These guys clearly have a few dedicated fans already because there was some SCREAMING when they came on stage. I don’t mean cheering, I mean literally top-of-the-lungs shrieks. I can see why – the boys are some sweet-faced cuties and man, do they have the talent to connect with the crowd! It reminded me a bit of Bring Me the Horizon’s relationship between band and crowd – the band gives them a lot in a very personal way and the crowd eats it up! All I could think through their set was how big they were going to be. Niko Moilanen (vocals/rapping) in particular has this incredible boy-bandish charisma that will clearly lead to some serious swooning. I found a lot of pieces of a lot of other bands in their music – the rapping was a bit like Linkin Park, while the singing style was a bit like Story of the Year or Lostprophets, and so on. It was a good and unique blend. And, returning the favor from Friday, Thomas Grove (who was celebrating his birthday) joined them on stage for their big hit, the aforementioned “Darker than Black”! It was a really fun show and I expect that after their album comes out and with a few more shows under their belt to tighten those screws, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with!
It sometimes feels like you can’t have a summer festival without Mokoma, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen them so I was glad that they’re keeping up their streak of playing every festival every summer (more or less)! They came on stage to a very delightfully strange and unfamiliar intro track. They brought “Kuu saa valtansa auringolta” back onto the set (which had been missing during the Sakara Tour) and “Rautaa rinnoista” is a new live favorite of mine. “Hei hei heinäkuu” is always a summer must-have at festivals, complete with its reggae-funk interlude, and everyone in the crowd had to wave their hands back and forth to the music. I think they also likely win the “best singalongs” award for this festival! It seems to have been a good year for them gig-wise, because they were sounding great and had some seriously impressive energy.
We didn’t get too creative with mealtime on Day 2, but we did swing by some of the coffee shops. The first had chocolate muffins and some sort of roasted marshmallow tarts, but if that wasn’t up your alley, you could always go to Pyynikin munkki (sugared donut) – you can’t go wrong with that decision, as they’ve got the best hand-made donuts in town!
Shiraz Lane took over the tent stage next, kicking things off with their newest single, “Wake Up.” They’ve got an album under their belt since the last time we saw them, as well as a lot more experience, and it showed! I really enjoy watching these guys live because they have their own style – particularly Hannes Kett (vocals), and I mean that both visually and stylistically. The way he moves doesn’t remind me of anyone else, nor does the way he dresses. He’s really doing his own thing. I enjoy all of the influences you can hear in their music too – they’re a hard rock band, but there’s some funk and reggae in there too. They’re not afraid to play around with genre styles, and I appreciate the boldness. Of course, “Mental Slavery” was also a highlight, and Kett brought his bloodstained straight-jacket shirt out for the occasion. The set ended with a bubble machine, and I left the tent feeling like these are a special group. They’re a more serious band thank the party rock of Santa Cruz, and while I love that, I feel like this sort of music with a message stays a bit more memorable in the long term.
Again, unfortunately, we had to skip Powerwolf and Reckless Love due to interviews with Shiraz Lane and Blind Channel, which is a true shame because Reckless Love is always a good time and I recall catching the end of Powerwolf’s set at Tuska 2014 and really enjoying them. However, we just don’t have the power to split ourselves into two so we can be in several places at once. We could hear both of them playing from a distance though and, like Lost Society on Friday, from what we could hear, we were missing out.
Nearing the end, Soilwork was the second-last to play on the main stage. Since they haven’t brought The Tour Majestic through Finland just yet (and they’ve yet to announce a headlining show for their new album), I was really excited to see them. Regardless of the fact that I wasn’t overly impressed with The Ride Majestic, I nevertheless can’t get enough of these guys live. Björn “Speed” Strid‘s voice is just so pleasing, no matter what he’s doing with it. The schedule was running much more smoothly today and they took the stage right on time and played a few of my favorites, like “Let this River Flow,” “Follow the Hollow,” and “Stabbing the Drama.” Even though I was pretty exhausted at this point, I had to run out and join the crowd for a few songs, and was truly lamenting the fact that I have a messed up foot and couldn’t go in their moshpit because it was the best I had seen all weekend (note: I wasn’t paying attention to Slayer’s crowd, but I didn’t note anything epic going on from a distance). Strid joked about whether they or not the crowd was too wasted on jaloviina to get up on their toes and jump for a song they hadn’t played in about 10 years – “Overload” – and they proved that they were ready and willing. Again, I really like watching these guys perform because it’s equally easy to sit back and enjoy them with a beer as it is to go and freak the fuck out in the crowd with everyone else.
Exhaustion was starting to settle in (especially after Soilwork), so I decided to sit back and listen to Diablo from a distance. They had a new intro track and were sounding good, but I had to save myself for the last gig, instead promising myself I’d try and catch them at Tuska (where they’re playing late in the festival as well, oh dear).
At last, it was time to finish things up. Bullet for My Valentine was the last band of the weekend, and we finally got some pyrotechnics! They started things up with “V” and “No Way Out” and it started to immediately seem like these guys are a bit worn out from all the touring. Everyone except Jamie Mathias (bass), that is, who was the shining star of their performance. I wasn’t too familiar with him back when we saw them in November, but he’s really come into his place since then. His vocals are nothing short of fantastic and he’s still got plenty of energy to make up for what the other guys were lacking. They weren’t kidding when they said he was the perfect replacement bassist. Fortunately their sound didn’t suffer from lack of energy, and their playing was still excellent as a whole. Also, they happened to play all of my favorite new songs, including the starting track, “You Want a Battle, Here’s a War,” “Venom,” and “Raising Hell.” They also had classics like “The Last Fight” and “Scream, Aim, Fire,” complete with blazing pyros during the “fire” part of the heavy growling “SCREAM! AIM! FIRE!” bit of the song. The other highlight (besides Jamie Mathias’ entire performance) was the drum solo by Michael “Moose” Thomas, which had some energy in it still! They were perhaps a bit tired to be the final act, but their show reflected my feelings quite appropriately – the weekend had been full of great music and I was fucking tired!
So, all-in-all, South Park proved to be a fantastic weekend and definitely topped last year! I’m totally okay with the move away from being a hard rock -centered festival, and I’m thrilled to see them promoting fresh new bands like Ember Falls, Blind Channel, and Shiraz Lane. Their Facebook event is already up for next year, and chances are well be back again, rain or shine!
Photos: Lene L.