The second Tuska festival day proved to be the hottest one, figuratively and literally. Temperature was dangerously close to 30ºC most of the day, and across the festival’s four stages many of the weekend’s most exciting bands gave the attendees their money’s worth. The 17500 festival-goers made for a sold-out Saturday, and they were treated to a slew of exceptional performances by artists such as Mercyful Fate, Amorphis, Insomnium, Joe Lynn Turner, Reckless Love, Wheel, Vola and Baroness.
I arrived to the festival area just in time to catch the end of Shape of Despair’s set. In 2015 the band made a critically acclaimed return from an eleven-year recording hiatus in the form of “Monotony Fields”, and speedily seven years afterwards they followed it up with “Return to the Void”. I was a big fan of this group’s first three albums way back in the day, and what little I heard of their set at Tuska last Saturday left me with the desire to reconnect with Shape of Despair.
Insomnium was the first act of the day to serenade the audience on the main stage. I’d already resolved to miss their set due to the fact it coincided with a tour of the festival area that was organized for the press and media representatives. Festival director Eeka Mäkynen walked us through the festival area starting from black dining, continuing on to Solmusali and culminating to the backstage area of the tent stage. Mäkynen shared with us a bit of the history of the black dining concept and how its popularity has skyrocketed over the years, the shared values of truth, freedom of speech and equality behind their partnership with Helsingin Sanomat, and finally we were allowed a little glimpse into the work of the backstage crew prior to Oranssi Pazuzu’s set. Originally the highlight of the tour was supposed to be a short visit behind the main stage during Insomnium, but to my great disappointment this didn’t work out. Some other time, then.
After the tour it was finally time for me to properly catch the first artist of the day, which happened to be Joe Lynn Turner. The concert was advertised beforehand as a Rainbow– and Deep Purple set, with the scale ultimately tipping heavily in favor of Rainbow as only one Deep Purple-cover was played. This didn’t bother me at all as Turner’s voice was in top shape, his back-up band consisting of Dynazty members were at the top of their game, and the overall mood was so pleasant I was happy to listen to anything that was presented. I’d arrived early to stake myself a spot in the shade near the short strip connecting the tent- and Inferno-stages, and Turner’s band played with such a temperate volume that a bit of Oranssi Pazuzu’s music seeped through, though thankfully not disturbingly much. Turner was already pushing overtime and he was given a signal to hurry up by one of the stage workers, but luckily he got to perform one more song, “Rising Force” by Yngwie Malmsteen.
Next up on the main stage was Reckless Love. As a personal preference, I would’ve liked it better if Insomnium and Reckless Love had switched places. As much as I prefer one over the other, I’d never seen Reckless Love play live before, so there was that upside. Energetic and uplifting as their performance was, Reckless Love didn’t quite yet manage to yank me into their bandwagon, and it almost seemed like their set was the longest hour I experienced at the festival. The band had their finger on the pulse regarding current hot topics, one of them being background tapes, and they made sure to let everyone know that “Badass” was played without using any.
At 17.15 p.m the Inferno stage was taken over by Wheel, who I’ve seen a couple of times before at festivals or as an opening act for some other band. Their gig at Tuska, as well as listening through their latest album “Resident Human”, instilled me with a desire to finally catch them at a headlining show. I’ll definitely be on a lookout for that, since Wheel’s slow and thick sound is right up my alley, and I feel like their music is better suited for a dim club rather than a full-on afternoon sunshine. Nevertheless the band performed well to a sizeable crowd, so the experience was definitely a net positive for the band and fans alike.
Following Wheel, it was time for my daily visit to Solmusali. This time the topic of discussion was minority voices in culture and art, and the panelists were Panu Mäenpää, chair of Helsinki pride community and Jenni Kääriäinen, designer for Tuska festival. Fascinating as the interview was, it didn’t seem to have much to do with metal music specifically. Afterwards it was my intention to go see The Mist from the Mountains at the Tuska Kvlt-stage, but the line was so hopelessly long that I opted for a lunch break instead. Danish VOLA served as the background music as I chowed down my sandwich, and they sounded just as incredible as I remembered from their last Helsinki concert back in March. VOLA was another one of those bands whose luggage got lost in transit, and I couldn’t have been happier for them and their fans that they managed to borrow what they needed on such a short notice to pull off the show. VOLA will be back in Finland in early August to play at the Saarihelvetti-festival in Tampere, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself among the audience then as well.
Attending Amorphis‘ show at Tuska was not included in my original schedule, but as those plans got shuffled around I found myself waiting for them to hit the stage along with seemingly everyone else in the area. Their start was a bit delayed, but what followed when they hit the stage was an hour’s ecstasy trip in the form of meticulously crafted heavy metal with a good pinch of progressive twists and Finnish mythology. Beforehand I wasn’t very excited for the gig as I’d seen Amorphis only a few weeks prior at Rockfest, but back then they’d been the very last band to play the festival and I was dog tired. Last Saturday’s spot at quarter past eight in the evening was perfect for Amorphis, since by then pretty much everyone had arrived at the scene, yet weren’t too exhausted to witness their show. As such Amorphis got to play to the biggest crowd for any band at the festival, or so it certainly looked from my vantage point. New songs from the “Halo” album fell perfectly in line with their older material, and the audience showed their appreciation with exceptionally loud cheers and persistent circle pits. Indeed, at times it seemed like the crowd were giving Amorphis their all even without exceptional effort on their part, which is not to say the band wouldn’t have executed damn near perfectly. I’ve witnessed Amorphis twice now since the release of their latest album, and even if I didn’t see the band anymore on this album cycle, the memories from these two shows are sure to keep me happy for a long time to come.
Before the weekend’s arguably most interesting act it was time for Baroness to present their fares on the tent stage. An incredible Swedish band by the name of Soilwork was playing concurrently on the next stage over, but as I’d seen them only a couple of weeks prior at Metal Capital-festival my choice was clear. Interestingly, Baroness have named all their studio albums after various colors, and at their Tuska gig their sophomore outing “Blue Record” was best represented with four tracks. The riffs rolled on with impressive force, and the mood in the crowd and on stage was about as warm as the air temperature. Admittedly I wasn’t very well versed in the band’s studio work which dialed down my enjoyment of the gig a bit, but this shall be rectified by the time Baroness returns to these latitudes.
After two full days and many an excellent gig by familiar names, it was finally time for the main event. Mercyful Fate, the intermittently buried and resurrected heavy metal group from Denmark, played its second ever show in Finland on Tuska-festival’s main stage. Originally slated to begin at 22:30, the band finally made their entrance fifteen minutes behind schedule and all the anxiety of waiting was instantly forgotten. The stage was impressive in its elegantly moderate decor, and King Diamond with his various masks and facepaint shone as the darkest star of the show, leaving the other members to focus exclusively on their instruments. The entire band were in an excellent performing shape, showcasing their serious intent regarding their long-awaited comeback. Another demonstration of ongoing potency was “The Jackal of Salzburg“, a new song that did not pale in comparison to their classic material even in its incomplete form. King Diamond’s voice withstood the 75-minute ordeal almost perfectly, with only slight faltering at the end which was then promptly compensated for by the audience. The set culminated in the epic encore-song “Satan’s Fall“, during which all I could do was marvel in gratitude at the opportunity to witness this classic band just a couple of hours’ drive from my home. Mercyful Fate was the perfect ending to an all-around awesome festival day, and I walked away from the area fulfilled yet not too much so for one final day of Tuska.
Pictures: Pasi Eriksson, AJ Johansson