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

Author Ossi Kumpula - 12.7.2023

The final day of Tuska dawned grey and drizzly. As usual with this festival, the last day was also the shortest in terms of the number of bands playing during the day. It was eerie to think a festival that had seemingly just begun was now just a few performances away from being over. For me, the first of those performances was that of Smackbound on the Inferno stage starting at 16:00. I was not familiar with these guys at all, and the group’s name conjured in my mind images of some really aggressive grooving in the vein of Machine Head. Thus it came as quite a surprise to hear the sensitive, articulate, melodic and female vocal driven output of Smackbound. As such it seemed almost incongruous when the occasional aggression did rear its head, like when singer Netta Laurenne shouted “Hey Mothersuckers!” to introduce the song. I can’t say Smackbound’s gig at Tuska would’ve made me a fan, but their performance did stick to my mind as a distinct surprise from the weekend.

Next in line was perhaps the most anticipated concert of the entire weekend for many as Lorna Shore took to the Radio Rock main stage. The group’s “symphonic death core” is a bit out of range in regards to my musical tastes, but the hype was so contagious that I couldn’t help the mounting excitement I felt waiting for Lorna Shore to begin. When they did, I was reaffirmed in my position that this music is not for me, even though I could easily recognize some elements that I liked. These included Will Ramos’s maniacally versatile growling vocals and the melodic and melancholic parts playing over the intense riffage and drumbeats. On several occasions vocalist Will Ramos encouraged the crowd to ever fiercer circle pits, which seemed a bit redundant considering the audience had been very proactive in this regard all weekend. Lorna Shore’s show at Tuska didn’t quite win me over to their camp, but perhaps it will happen by the time the band returns to Finland next November.

After the intensity of Lorna Shore it was time to chill to the relaxing tunes of Finland’s very own Xysma. The band has come a long way since their grindcore roots, and at Tuska the biggest reminder of that phase in the band’s career was the Carcass shirt worn by singer Jani Muurinen. Xysma did not attract the biggest crowd of the weekend to the Inferno stage, but their 50-minute set was graced by a warm atmosphere and a warm sunshine, a backdrop against which the group’s psychedelic stoner rock was a welcome addition. Undoubtedly adding to the gig’s relaxed mood was the gratitude shown by Muurinen, who thanked the audience on several occasions for giving their band the time of day. Xysma still has some shows coming up later this year in Tampere and Helsinki at least, so do check them out if you missed them at Tuska.

Not every day do you get to hear Mongolian metal played live in Finland. In fact, Sunday the 2nd of July 2023 marked the first time such an event ever occurred in the land of thousand lakes. I was aware of the band’s reputation and a quick dive on YouTube told me beforehand that The HU was going to be the biggest curiosity of this year’s Tuska festival. The primary question remained whether the band would rise above the status of a mere curiosity to something more profoundly interesting. I’m sad to say this didn’t happen, for the The HU’s monotonous folk metal tunes grew quite boring and repetitive very soon. The group utilizes a slew of traditional Mongolian instruments and throat singing, which made for an intriguing stage appearance, but the intrigue wore off rather quickly. The HU did attract a sizeable and enthusiastic audience to the main stage, so I’m guessing that positive first impressions were made bilaterally.

Next up on the Inferno stage shredded Urne, whose origins are in London, England. Urne released their debut album in 2021 with a follow-up being due next month, and I’ll be among the first in line to check that one out. Urne was one of the biggest positive surprises of the festival for me, combining stoner and sludge metal ingredients for a wonderfully meaty treat. The band’s unique blend of aggression and melancholy made for a memorable groove, and man if those riffs weren’t among the meanest I’d heard during the whole festival. Urne has steadily gained more recognition over the past couple of years, and I can only hope that they’ll return to Finland to promote their sophomore album. My only complaint about their Tuska gig was that it fell woefully short of the sixty minutes they were allotted. On the other hand, this left plenty of time to grab a bite to eat before the three-day festival’s main course.

Last but most certainly not the least, the festival was capped off by none other than Ghost, the hard rock phenomenon of the last decade that has maintained a stellar upward trajectory their whole career. Their intro tunes began blasting from the speakers well ahead of schedule, and I momentarily worried I’d miss their beginning as I was still relatively far from the main stage. This proved to be a futile worry as they had three intro songs before the set began, so there was plenty of time to finish my meal and head over to the stage.

Ghost was perhaps the most popular act of the festival, considering that I’d been able to get much closer to the stage during the previous night’s VV performance than I did during Ghost. The band began at 21:30 sharp, most likely eager to get the show on the road as they’d had a very late show the previous night at Provinssirock in Seinäjoki. This particular Ghost ritual started with “Kaisarion” and concluded with “Respite on the Spitalfields“, which is quite apt considering how these two tunes are easily the best on their latest album “Impera”. They performed sixteen songs in total, and if you’d been to a Ghost show during the “Impera” era, you’d been to this one. Everything was exactly as we’ve seen and heard before, which is to say, class A hard rock tunes, marvelously theatrical stage props and visuals, and Papa Emeritus’s (4th as of now) ever so witty stage banter. One humorous blunder occurred when, as Papa was just breaking into a story, a nameless ghoul began the next song and interrupted him.

Tuska was the last stop of Ghost’s European summer tour that began in late May. This, combined with the previous night’s show that ran until 2 a.m., might’ve made for an especially tired group of ghouls. If this was the case, the whole band made it a point not to let it show. The most noticeable blunder I caught was Papa’s fumbling of the lyrics during “Dance Macabre“, but aside from that they delivered 90 minutes of top notch hard rock and never once appeared like they were in a rush to get off the stage. Ghost even bid the audience farewell long enough to go beyond their allotted showtime, which demonstrated real dedication. After their gig at Tuska Ghost headed for a well deserved summer vacation, and will resume their touring activities in the USA at the beginning of August.

And just like that, Tuska festival of 2023 was done. The three long days were again a worthwhile experience, albeit the lousy weather did dampen the mood a bit over the last two days. The first batch of early crow tickets for next year’s edition sold out in a flash, so evidently metal fans are as hungry as ever for this event. I can’t say I don’t understand them as I myself have visited Tuska every year it’s been held since 2015, and I’ll consider it somewhat of a surprise if next year proves to be an exception.

Pictures: Juho Virinkoski, Kai Lukander