The 16th annual Tuska Open Air Metal Festival took place from June 28th-30th, 2013, and was located for the third time running at the Suvilahti industrial site near Sörnäinen and Kalasatama in Helsinki. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the conflicting schedule with Rock the Beach festival, or maybe the generally busy summer schedules of many bands, the festival didn’t have the best line-up it’s ever boasted. Nevertheless, there were a handful of bands that still made the festival worth coming to see.
On Friday, the Radio Rock main-stage opened at 14:30, but the first band we were around to see was Wintersun, who have just put out one of the most long-awaited albums of all time, Time I. With a good blend of their beautiful symphonic new material, and some of their sick-shredding heavier material from their self-titled album, they were sure to please both new and old fans alike.
Playing nearly simultaneously was Finnish power-metal band, Dreamtale, over on the indoor Club Stage. They’re a band that’s usually kicking around smaller club venues, like On the Rocks, yet nevertheless manages to draw in a good crowd, even when competing with Jari Mäenpää for viewers. Unfortunately, they started late on a 25-minute set, and didn’t have time to give as much as the crowd would’ve preferred.
One of the only bands we caught on the secondary Inferno Stage was Amorphis, who seems to make a point of doing as many live gigs as you possibly can at all times (a feeling shared by their Finnish brothers, Stam1na, who played on Saturday). They played at a ripe hour of the day, right around 19:30, when most of the people at the festival had had enough drinks to get wild, but not so much that they were falling all over. We caught them from the bar area, without a great view of the stage, but booze and distance can’t stop the strength of Tomi Joutsen’s voice from making it over to where we were standing. They had only one song’s difference between this set and the set they played while opening for Iron Maiden earlier in the summer, so if you had missed one of the shows, you didn’t miss much from their summer setlist.
The main attraction from Friday, of course, was King Diamond, who took over the Radio Rock Stage from 20:30 until the end of the night at 22:00. The stage had its own set, complete with a big gate up front, steps, and elaborate backdrops. It wasn’t just the band onstage either, but a creepy old witch, a woman holding animal skulls, and other things to entertain the crowd. With all of that, the gruesome facial expressions under the upside-down cross corpse paint, and a mic stand made of real bones, it made for a pretty wild performance. While King Diamond’s vocals are a hit or miss with most people, he still kept a huge crowd, and even did a couple of Merciful Fate songs. With his four-octave vocal range, he really sent chills up the spines of everyone present with his feral cries.
Friday itself wasn’t a hard-hitter band-wise, but there was enough there that was worth checking out to get your money’s worth. Saturday, unfortunately, had even fewer bands worth boasting for, but nevertheless, the ones worth seeing were as good as can be hoped for.
Both the Radio Rock and Club stages started out at 13:45, but we didn’t get in until about 15:00, when we were pleasantly surprised to catch a bit of Black City. A completely unfamiliar band, they surprised us with their mix of Danish rock that was not in any way offensive to our ears. Though we had started the day just wandering around the grounds, their music was enough to make us pause to listen until we made our way to the Radio Rock Stage for Soilwork.
As one of the highlight bands of the weekend, it was more than unfortunate that the sound quality for Soilwork was not at its best. They were louder than most bands, which is nothing to complain about normally, but when the sound was scratchy and feeding back, there might’ve been a few bleeding ears in the crowd. Nevertheless, with at least one new album since their last show in Finland, their blend of melodic death metal with a bit of that Gothenburg-style was worth sticking a fist in the air for.
Stam1na was our next stop, nearly an hour later, and they were keeping up their reputation of bizarre stage performances. One of Finland’s most-toured bands, Stam1na boasts more live performances than a lot of other bands combined. As of late, their performances tend to have some added strangeness to them to keep things interesting. This time around, it was wetsuits and/or hula skirts, coupled with inflatable beach toys, some of which were thrown into the crowd. We remember an inflatable pirate boat of some sort sailing over our heads at least twice during the show.
Testament headlined the main stage on Saturday evening, bringing out the full heavy sound of their American thrash. As one of the best moshing bands of the weekend, most of the crowd gathered out front of the stage to trample or be trampled in the mosh pits. Testament wasn’t a band we were too familiar with, but the crowd seemed to make up for any enthusiasm that we ourselves might’ve lacked.
To kick off the final day of the festival, we went to see Swedish/Danish melodic pop-metal band, Amaranthe. The lovely Elize Ryd is always a pleasure to watch on stage, and their heavily produced sound rocketed out over both fans of the music and the beautiful girl singing. Boasting more live vocalists on stage than one might normally see, they had a full stage of enthusiastic musicians and singers pumping out a lot of good-mood music, with only one or two of their slower ballads.
Battle Beast was out as a replacement for Asking Alexandria, who had to cancel at the last minute due to passport issues out of the band’s control. Battle Beast has a new vocalist, Noora Louhimo, replacing Nitte Valo as of 2012. While Battle Beast has never been one of our personal favorites, we found Louhimo’s vocals to be far less offensive than her predecessor’s and were reasonably impressed with the sound of their show.
We also caught bits and pieces of Stratovarius on the Inferno Stage in the late afternoon. Tuska was one of the stops on their Nemesis World Tour for their latest release, the similarly-titled Nemesis. Rather than doing a festival set, they stuck to at least four out of eleven songs from their new album in tune with the tour, but kept must-haves “Black Diamond” and “Hunting High and Low” for the end of the evening.
The band most people came to Tuska to see was, of course, Nightwish. Since parting ways with Anette Olzon in October 2012, Floor Jansen (ex-After Forever, ReVamp) has taken over vocal duties with the band, and many fans of Tarja Turunen and Olzon alike have been coming out to see how Jansen performs in comparison to the former vocalists. Since Jansen has not been yet confirmed as the third vocalist to Nightwish, it was a great opportunity to see Nightwish, as you never know if Jansen will remain at the helm.
The chemistry the band has with Jansen is palpable, and it’s always warming to see main-man Tuomas Holopainen smiling so much on stage. With more energy than Nightwish had during some of the shows before Olzon’s departure, it was clear that the split was mutually beneficial, as the band was performing at a level that hadn’t been seen in some time.
Jansen’s vocal range covers songs that Turunen’s operatic voice made challenging for Olzon, yet was gentle enough for the newer material as well. She was a delight to watch on stage; she is tall and sexy, and headbangs as much, if not more than the other guys in the band. The music throughout the performance was spot on and the set of sixteen songs ranged all the way back to their second studio album, Oceanborn. There were also a few other treats, including the Hans Zimmer intro instrumental, and four songs featuring Troy Donockley on pipes, one of which was a cover of the late Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away.” In tune with their other summer festival shows, the playing was tight and the atmosphere was fantastic.
The whole weekend perhaps didn’t host as many great bands as Tuska’s best, but nevertheless, it remains a place to enjoy some amazing live music, drink your face off, and meet with friends from all over Finland (and elsewhere) who come out of the walls once a year and make the trip to Helsinki to the festival. While Nightwish definitely stole the show, there was enough to see to make it a weekend worth one’s while, and keep you waiting for next year, to see who will be on the list in 2014!
Photos: Sanni Pasuri