A quarter century of Tuska – Festival report of the 2023 edition, part 1/3

Author Ossi Kumpula - 7.7.2023

The legendary Tuska festival in Helsinki just seems to grow bigger and bigger in terms of popularity. Last weekend the event drew a crowd of 63 000 people over three days, meaning heavy music was celebrated in the milieu of Suvilahti by 21 000 metalheads on each day. The main attractions of the festival were Gojira, VV and Ghost with many more interesting acts in between, so let’s dive into the atmosphere of last weekend in this recap of the first day of Tuska 2023.

As much as I would’ve loved to check out Avatar at the main stage on the opening day of Tuska, I ended up prioritizing KÚRU, who I had never seen or even heard of before. Witnessing this band in favor of Avatar turned out to be the right choice, for the trio of musicians known as KÚRU put forth a really intriguing blend of progressive rock, punk and metal. The band utilized both clean and harsh vocals, and their musical output made for a truly immersive and atmospheric trip. KÚRU is definitely one band I remember favorably from the Tuska weekend, and if you aren’t familiar with them yourself, do have a listen:

One of the day’s more interesting acts presented themselves at the Inferno stage starting at 15.15 p.m. All the way from Des Moines, Iowa, Vended had spent most of their June touring across Europe, and their trek ended with last weekend’s gigs at Tuska and Provinssi. If the wear and tear of hectic touring had taken their toll on these young musicians, they sure as hell did their best to overcome their fatigue with aggression. These iowans have yet to release their debut ep, which is to say they’re more or less riding on the coattails of Slipknot, since the fathers of vocalist Griffin Taylor and drummer Simon Crahan are prominent figures in that band. There is just no denying that in Griffin Taylor’s case in particular, the influence of his father is painfully apparent all the way from his vocals to his stage- and even speech mannerisms. Vended were alloted a 60-minute set, but they only played for about half of that and filled out the remainder with extended goodbyes. The name recognition of Taylor and Crahan has granted Vended’s career a bit undue headstart, so it’s truly interesting to see how these guys come into their own in the future.

Lost Society, who tore up the main stage hot on the heels of Vended, provided a prime example of a band coming into their own. The band released their debut album ten years ago, and their gig at Tuska last Friday marked the tenth anniversary of their first performance at the festival. And what a celebration it was! The gig opened explosively with musical and literal fireworks, and the intensity of the atmosphere did not let up during the next hour. Lost Society were at the top of their game, and the audience responded to them with a fervor befitting the scorching hot day and the burning hot band. As if the concert wasn’t impressive enough on its own, frontman Samy Elbanna actually found the energy to give a fourty-five minute interview on mental health later in the day at Tuska Forum.

Another Tuska-debutant last weekend was British While She Sleeps. I’d never lended an ear to this band before, so I mentally prepared myself for anything. What ultimately assailed from the speakers was not unlike most metalcore bands, though I’m not at all well-versed in the genre. The tent in which the band played was filled to the brim, however, so evidently the group has a strong following of devotees in Finland as well. While She Sleeps hadn’t performed in this country since November of 2016, so their fans certainly had some pent-up expectations to be met. And so they were, if the constant cheering, applause and moshpits in the audience were anything to go by. Towards the end of the set four corpse painted fans were admitted to the stage, and during the final song While She Sleeps employed the tried and tested squat and jump-trick to get the crowd going. I can’t say I’ll voluntarily witness another While She Sleeps show or listen to their records, but the band and fans alike seemed to have had a fulfilling experience, so all’s right with the world.

After While She Sleeps came the opportune moment to visit Solmusali for a couple of panel discussions regarding activism in metal and mental health. Unfortunately the interview of Arch Enemy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz, which was slated to begin at 18.40 p.m, was delayed, cutting down the already short interview time of 20 minutes. It was remarkable that the singer had agreed to the interview at all, given that she was set to perform with Arch Enemy later in the evening. The interview was short and sweet, with White-Gluz asserting she considered herself to be an activist even more than an artist, and highlighting that environmentally friendly lifestyle choices were within anyone’s reach if one has the patience to adjust to the changes. Immediately after White-Gluz it was Samy Elbanna’s turn to discuss the topic of menal health. Elbanna’s interview lasted over twice as long as that of White-Gluz, so the topic was discussed much more in-depth with time for audience questions at the end as well. Although it was interesting to learn about Elbanna’s personal perspective on mental health issues, the interview didn’t go too deep into the subject, which was just as well considering this was a joyful festival weekend we were supposed to be having.

Back from the dim interior of Solmusali to the early evening sunshine, it was time for me to get some chow before Arch Enemy stormed the main stage. The band were in top form, as was the audience, who cheered and raged all through the one-hour set. This gig was a prime example of the synergy that can happen between a band and their crowd, with both parties feeding off of each other to create a powerful experience. The powerful and melodic metal anthems of Arch Enemy found their perfect place in the early evening heat of Helsinki, and the crowd were more than ready for them. Thus it came as a bit of a disappointment that the show was over well ahead of schedule. On the other hand, it’s an age old wisdom to leave the audience just a bit hungry for more rather than completely satisfied, so perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all.

Before the first festival day’s main event it was time for Diablo to raise hell on the Inferno stage. If their show a couple of weeks prior at Tuhdimmat tahdit left something to be desired, then this time around the stars were aligned perfectly. The packed crowd in front of the stage were deep into the festival mood in the evening’s feverish heat, and Diablo capitalized on the opportunity quite handsomely. The band were in a tight form, as was singer-guitarist Rainer Nygård, whose remarks between the songs were sharp and on-point, aside from his tiresome use of ‘perkele’. If you were so unfortunate as to miss Diablo’s show at Tuska, you can catch them again in Helsinki on the 11th of August at Tavastia-klubi.

The day had flown by in a flash, and so it was time for the first of the weekend’s headliners. Gojira’s growth to the main event act of numerous festivals and headline tours has been a delight to behold, as their ever increasing fame has been 100% earned. Being his down-to-earth self, frontman Joe Duplantier took his time to thank the crowd and marvel at the band’s good fortune. Gojira were granted a headline slot of 90 minutes, and the band made good use of it to the last minute. Sixteen songs they performed in total, with a heavy emphasis on their newest effort “Fortitude” and a drum solo by Mario Duplantier thrown in for good measure. The band utilized to maximum effect their grand yet simple visual stunts, including giant screens showing the action on stage and in the crowd, in addition to the well-timed blasts of confetti and pyrotechnics. Especially memorable was “Another World“, with the video showing on the screens combined with the music making for a deeply immersive experience. The crowd never rested on their laurels, and video footage of some of their antics made rounds all across social media later on. Even though Gojira has never broken through to the ranks of my favorite bands, their concerts are always spectacular treats.

The festival report continues in part two, so stay tuned!

Pictures: Kai Lukander, Pasi Eriksson, AJ Johansson