Hell hath no fury like a moshpit after a long corona break. Isn’t that how the old saying goes? If Saarihelvetti is anything to go by that’s exactly how it goes. The two-day metal festival held in Tampere filled once again the island of Viikinsaari with heavy music, happy people and beer.
Viikinsaari is a wonderful setting for an event like this. Like a modern incarnation of the Styx myth, people are ferried from their earthly lives over to hell. A new reality where one may forget his everyday problems for two evenings and have them replaced by some of the finest metal our country has to offer. Funnily enough, the lake on which this particular hell took place is called Pyhäjärvi, which translates to “The Holy Lake.” How wonderfully fitting, eh?
It was my first time in Saarihelvetti, unless you count last year, when I found myself listening to the distant sounds of Ensiferum‘s gig from a faraway shore cursing myself for not getting a ticket (yes, we actually had Saarihelvetti last year!). Well, that scenario didn’t repeat itself this time.
Like most countries right now, Finland is going through another corona peak so being able to set up festivals is far from certain. Luckily, Saarihelvetti didn’t get cancelled or postponed, but certain safety measures were put in place. Most notably, wearing a mask was mandatory, and safety personnel kept an eye on distances when queuing. As one might imagine, this caused a massive shitstorm online as the festival’s Facebook post detailing these guidelines was stormed by a horde of corona skeptics selling their tickets and screaming about fascism and human rights. I found this not just entertaining but also reassuring since so many irresponsible people would be staying home for the weekend.
The first day was kicked off with the hard rock of Shereign and the 80’s inspired classical heavy metal of Tyrantti. Upon setting foot on the island I caught the last couple songs of the latter. Immediately I realized how much I’ve actually missed live music. Tyrantti isn’t the kind of band that would normally get me too excited, but after one and a half years of no live music, their performance got me right into the mood. I was watching a real fucking band playing heavy metal on a stage!
My mood was improved by my excitement for the next act of the day. Finntroll was in fact my primary reason for coming to Saarihelvetti, and it seemed that others were quite excited for the appearance of the troll patrol, as well. Walking onto the Kaaoszine main stage and facing a loud and hearty welcome they began their set with the opener of their latest album “Vredesvävd”, “Att Döda Med En Sten“. “Ylaren“, “Mask” and my personal favourite song of 2020, “Ormfolk” saw their live debut, as well. I’ve always had trouble remembering the song titles of this band due to not being fluent in troll language, but the rest of the set had some classical Finntroll bangers on it, as well, such as “Solsagan“. And moshpits. Several moshpits. Despite the restrictions they were luckily allowed. Not that anything could even be done about such a force of nature, and ain’t that just beautiful? Finntroll‘s gig was one of the biggest highlights of the weekend for me, and the band seemed to have a good time, too, since this was their first performance in a long time. The sound did get a bit muddy and unbalanced at times, though. I didn’t notice this problem with any other band. Oh, one more thing, greetings to Mikko from Kuopio if you’re reading this! Meeting cool strangers like you is one of the things that always makes these kinda events special.
Next up was Spiritus Mortis on the Inferno stage. The band is a true veteran of Finnish doom metal and all that experience shows. The band was an absolute joy to behold, and vocalist Kimmo Perämäki’s versatile voice sounded amazing. The set included both slow doom and more faster material and was a brilliant experience throughout. After that I listened to the beginning of Swallow the Sun‘s set, but since the band isn’t that much of my thing I used the time for nourishing my mortal shell. What I heard of the band while shoving down my fries was impressive though, and the sound was absolutely spot on. This in general applied to almost all bands so great job, sound people of hell!
Being a smart and responsible person I had accidentally left my hoodie at home, so I stopped by at the merch stand before securing a good spot for the final show of the day. Along with Finntroll, Insomnium was my other main reason for coming to the festival. Despite knowing that I wouldn’t hear my favourite song from them (“Winter’s Gate“) I was excited to finally see them live for the first time. Oh, right, the smaller stage also had One Morning Left and Nicole performing towards the evening but I didn’t catch much of their sets.
The band did not disappoint. The set had a beautiful balance of slower, more melancholic and faster, more aggressive material, the latter of which even spawned a circle pit a few times. The band was as professional, relaxed and tightly performing as ever, and a live setting even managed to sell their newest songs for me, as the studio versions haven’t so far managed to keep my attention. Set highlights included the set starter “Valediction“, the incredibly beautiful “Heart Like a Grave“, a rare live treat “Shadows of the Dying Sun” and one of the best metal songs ever made, “While We Sleep“. Especially the solo section of the latter one somehow managed to capture exactly how I felt in that moment about finally seeing some live music again. What a way to close off this special day!
Photos: Sami Hinkkanen, AJ Johansson