Infernal return of Tuska festival 1.-3.7.2022, part 1/3

Author Ossi Kumpula - 6.7.2022

Happy days are here again. That sentiment was readily apparent among organizers and visitors alike in the weeks leading up to, and especially during, the 23rd edition of Tuska festival that took place on the first weekend of July. The prestigious event has grown to one of the biggest of its kind in northern Europe, which I imagine is equal parts thanks to the quality of the organization, the booked artists as well as the reputation the festival has earned for itself over the years. Many of the bands on the bill this year were holdovers from the cancelled festivals of 2020 and 2021, with the most interesting new addition being Mercyful Fate. The first day of Tuska 2022 was celebrated to the tunes set by Numento, Eluveitie, Elder, Shereign, Red Fang, Carcass, The Night Flight Orchestra and KoRn.

The weather forecast for the Tuska-weekend boded scorching heat throughout, and the massive lines to the wristband exchange in REDI shopping centre did little to alleviate the sweaty atmosphere. Fortunately I was informed after only a few minutes of queuing that VIP and press-visitors had a separate line, and apparently the general admission line moved quite swiftly as well, so a complete disaster was avoided. I made it through the festival gates in time to catch the last minutes of Numento’s set on the tent stage. Numento’s roots date all the way back to 2004, and their 2019’s debut album “The Cataclysm” will be followed up by a second full-length release later this year. This Helsinki-based group plays an intriguing brand of progressive metal that blends together clean, operatic as well as growling vocals, all handled skillfully by front woman Katri Hiovain. It would’ve been a real treat to witness Numento’s concert from the very beginning, but what little I did manage to see piqued my interest and I’ll definitely remain on the lookout for these guys.

Swiss Eluveitie had the distinct honor to kick-off the weekend’s Tuska-festivities on the main stage. I had my first live encounter with this folk-metal outfit only a few weeks prior at Metal Capital-festival in Oulu, and I was pleased for a repeat performance this soon. The 14:15 slot was definitely a bit early for Eluveitie considering their career and popularity, which didn’t stop the band from delivering a killer set to an appreciative audience. The joyful melodies of Eluveitie were right at home in sunny Suvilahti, with the occasional somber moments fitting in quite nicely as well. A bit amusingly, vocalist Chrigel Glanzmann stayed true to his usual headwear of choice despite the blazing heat. Epic closing tune “Aidus” stood out as a highlight in the set, with Alain Ackermann’s drum solo not far behind.

The Tuska-festival schedule was merciless in the sense that, with a wealth of interesting acts and many of them overlapping, some tough choices had to be made. For me the first of many such choices came about at 15.15 p.m when Elder and Northern Kings performed at the exact same hour on the Inferno and tent-stage, respectively. The latter is slated to perform at a festival I’ll be attending later in July, so Elder it was for me this time around. As star-studded as Northern Kings are, I did not have to regret attending Elder’s show at all. These American prog rock virtuosos put on a clinic on how to deliver an hour’s worth of mostly instrumental progressive rock that entertained as much as hypnotized, with just enough melodic hooks to hold the listener’s attention. The fact that the band managed this despite much of their equipment being lost during their flight to Helsinki certainly adds to the feat. Elder’s gig at Tuska was their last of a two-month tour across Europe, and I couldn’t be happier for having witnessed their concert last Friday.

Besides all the performing artists, Tuska festival attendees were treated to a multitude of interviews in the form of “Tuska forum by HS”-concept. These interviews have been a welcome addition to the Tuska festival program for many years now, and the first one I attended this past weekend was that of Attila Csihar. Besides all the interesting discussion, I saw visiting the talks at Solmusali as an escape from the blazing sun and blistering heat outside. The promise was half fulfilled as there certainly wasn’t any sunshine indoors, which was then doubly compensated by an even more punishing heat due to lack of air conditioning. At times the temperature felt so suffocating that I seriously considered leaving early, but eventually I got used to it and made it a point to attend one interview each festival day. As expected from someone fronting a band of Mayhem’s notoriety, Attila had many interesting stories and insights to share, from his first meeting with Euronymous and Varg Vikernes to his personal convictions regarding spiritualism. All the interviews I attended went very well, with the audience listening attentively and offering some poignant questions afterwards. Unfortunately due to the tight schedules it was impossible to attend all the discussions I wanted, but they should all be available on Supla sometime soon.

After Attila Csihar’s interview there was another tough choice to make as Beast in Black, one of my current favorite bands and Shereign, a promising new name featuring Sara Strömmer, were playing at the same time. As I’ve seen Beast in Black numerous times before and I hadn’t yet checked any bands on the Tuska Kvlt-stage I opted for Shereign. Formed in 2015, this five-piece group has yet to release an album, but the material they do have was plenty enough for a 45-minute killer gig on the opening day of Tuska 2022. Even though Shereign is a relatively new band, its members have a good amount of experience playing in other groups, so their musicianship and live output was squarely on point. Sara Strömmer is a versatile vocalist who has a firm grasp of clean singing and growling alike. The show doesn’t rest all on her shoulders, however, as Shereign’s music allows plenty room for technical instrumentation, and some of the band members are quite adept at keeping the crowd’s spirits up as well. The packed venue coupled with the ongoing heat outside made sure the indoor stage was a furnace, which didn’t seem to bother anyone as Shereign’s concert was all smiles and good vibes among the band as well as the audience. Shereign have released a slew of great singles, so I suspect it’ll soon be time for them to show what they’re made of in the form of a debut album or EP.

While waiting for Red Fang to start their set I was able to catch the last bit of Beast in Black’s show on the main stage. They seemed to have some problems with their pyrotechnics during the closing tune “End of the World” which, while noticeable, did little to dampen the song’s power or the mood in the crowd. Beast in Black have well-earned their spot as a late afternoon act on a festival main stage, and I’m so happy I got to see their show back in March as I missed most of their set at Tuska. For Red Fang, their performance at Tuska was their first ever festival appearance in Helsinki, and their first gig in Finland since 2015. Red Fang is one of those bands I’ve been intending to check out since forever, and last Friday the stars were finally aligned. It’s no secret that musically Red Fang has a lot in common with Mastodon, and as a fan of both bands I see no problem with it. With a simple black background and no real props to steal the attention, Red Fang let their music speak for itself. The intense riffage was balanced out with some of Aaron Beam’s pleasantly airy vocals. Despite the mighty Ensiferum performing on the next stage just a few yards away, Red Fang managed to amass quite an audience for themselves, and I can only assume everyone involved walked away from the show happy and fulfilled, if not pleasantly drained.

At this point in the parching hot day I was overcome with a bit of fatigue, which kept me from fully immersing myself into the 70-minute offering of Carcass on the main stage. Fortunately the band got to play for an impressive festival crowd in a much better shape than me, and the mosh- and circle pits kept on going almost nonstop during the show. This was no less than what these English extreme metal veterans deserved, as they have been honing their craft to perfection already since the late 1980s. The entire band was in top shape, with the guitarists shredding and soloing away to their hearts’ content, and Jeff Walker growling and holding the crowd under his firm and authoritative gaze with a commanding intensity. It’s a shame I wasn’t able to feel much of the show personally, but thankfully another chance looms on the horizon as Carcass returns to Finland with Behemoth and Arch Enemy this November.

Another weighing of opportunities awaited me as Heilung and The Night Flight Orchestra overlapped one another on the tent- and Inferno-stages. At first I opted for Heilung of whom I’d heard much hype and praise. Very soon however I decided that this was a band whose music and concept I should get familiar with before experiencing live, so I walked over to the adjoining Inferno stage where The Night Flight Orchestra were taking the audience to the stratosphere and beyond. The Night Flight Orchestra is rock festival music at its finest, with the light musical instrumentation and lighthearted atmosphere creating such a jovial mood that even the usually grumpy and gloomy Finns could let themselves go. Formed already back in 2007, these Swedes have an impressive discography of six studio albums. Having witnessed them twice live now, it is well past time I take a thorough listen of their studio work. With Heilung, I shall have another try this upcoming October at the Helsinki Ice Hall.

KoRn is one of those bands that were an important part of my early stages of becoming a metalhead, but with whom I lost touch due to their infrequent visits to Finland as well as their uneven discography. Nevertheless I heartily welcomed the news they’d be one of Tuska’s headliners as an opportunity to reconnect with a long-lost friend, so to speak. And what a reunion it was! KoRn is a prime example of how a band can rise to new heights after battling through some rough patches in their career. Last February the band released their latest album “Requiem” to much praise from fans and critics alike, and the two tracks from that album to make the set mixed seamlessly with their older material. I was especially impressed by the medley consisting parts of “It’s On!“, “Trash” and “Did My Time” as it was an efficient way to present the best parts of these tracks in an agreeable amount of time. KoRn’s backdrop and stage lighting were impressive enough to make up for the lack of pyros and bombs, and the audience’s response was such that one could easily take frontman Jonathan Davis’ praises at face value. In the drum & bass solos towards the end of the set, snippets of classics like “Run to the Hills” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” were played, perfectly riling up the crowd for the last tune of the evening, “Blind“.

As the day’s festivities concluded, it was time for one last hurdle in the form of leaving the festival area. Somehow the organizers and security guards hadn’t prepared for the massive outpouring of humanity after the main event, which resulted in an impressive bottleneck at the festival gates. After some corrective adjustments the lines out of the festival area finally began to flow in earnest, after which it was time to queue for the woefully understaffed cloakroom. It was around one in the morning when I finally made it to my hideout, and in a moment on weakness I wondered how my body could take another two full days of hot and sweaty festival madness. More about that in parts two and three of the Tuska 2022 festival report.

Pictures: Pasi Eriksson