Metal surrounded by lakes and hills – A visit to the most Finnish fest ever Himos Metal Festival

Author Julia Suloinen - 7.11.2022

Himos Metal Festival was held for the first time ever this year, and here, right in the beginning of my narration, I`d like to thank organisators of this outstanding metal-event that during these current weird and difficult times they had enough courage to give this project a start and arrange everything on such a super-high level. The fest took it`s name from the place where it was happening – ski-resourt Himos in central Finland, so, as you may have guessed, this was the most Finnish event ever: metal music in the surroundings of glorious Finnish nature – lakes and hills. The quintessence of Finland was multiplied by the overwhelming presence of Finnish bands in the line up. There also were a couple of lovely Swedish neighbours, and some dear guests from Netherlands.

Friday 05/08/2022

The opening for the fest was a responsibility of locals One Desire. I bet being the day-time opening act on the fest with such a super-famous line up can be a bit stressful. Well, stressfull or not, One Desire blasted a powerful entrance show for this festival, kinda kicked out the door with the leg, and set up the tone for the whole further two-day long metal-party with one of their most energetic tracks “Never Gonna Stop“, followed by the free-spirited “Apologize”. Unfortunately, there were not as many witnesses of this powerful, “modern power-metal meets classical hard rock” kind of beginning as it deserved, due to the early time. Yet people were gradually arriving and closer to the middle of the set, when the band was performing their, old-school to the bone, ballad “This Is Where the Heartbreak Begins” the crowd had grown bigger and sang along wholeheartedly.

Performances on Himos Metal Fest were organized in the typical “two scenes going in turns” kind of way, and, you know, having this idea in mind that the second scene usually is tacitly considered “the small one”, I got slightly confused having seen how many big bands, who normally were invited on fests as headliners, were supposed to perform on the “small scene”. Guys, I was completely wrong – both scenes on Himos Metal Fest were just huge enough, so, in fact, there were two main scenes, one just had a roof.

After One Desire had performed on the open stage Swedes Dynazty, fronted by the Dio of the new generation – Nils Molin – were ready to kick some ass on the tent scene(from now on lets call it this way:)). Mr.Molin has promoted his major project greatly since he joined Amaranthe 5 years ago, so there had already been decently crowded by the moment of the performance beginning. Guys play the same modern power metal with lots of synths (and, ironically, having no keybordist in the band`s line-up) as One Desire, but with more dance tunes(I’m not sure if it`s Amaranthe`s influence or just natural band`s evolution) and more decadent philosophical lyrics. Dynazty`s set consisted mostly of the hits from their previous album “Dark Delight” – “Waterfall“, “Heartless Madness“, “Presence of Mind“. Even though guys didn`t tour with that album due to pandemic, it made a breakthrough on the streaming platforms, so these songs were mostly awaited for by the audience, according to their reaction. Also singles from Dynazty`s upcoming album “The Final Advent”, that will see the light in the end of August, gained an incredibly warm welcome. But, of course, band wouldn`t be allowed to leave the stage without performing their good old blockbusters “The Human Paradox” and “Firesign“.

The following gig was legendary in full literate meaning of this word, as long as the amount of legends hitting one stage altogether was just breathtaking. This year, for the first time since 2010, epic super-band Northern Kings, consisting of of Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica), Marco Hietala (ex-Nightwish), JP Leppäluoto (ex-Charon) and Jarkko Ahola (Teräsbetoni) reunited to remind people that “Avengers” was not the most pretentious crossover of all times. The atmosphere on stage was nothing but positive and playful! Guys, obviously, came to have fun first and foremost, you know – making faces, gigling and grabbing their balls during hitting their famous high-pitched notes. It surely didn`t look as if Northern Kings have been on a long, as they were so comfortable around each other. The small trick here is that Northern Kings now is almost the regular cast for the worldwide famous Finnish Christmas show Raskasta Joulua (Heavy Christmas), that is why I truly believe that was naturally like a bunch of metal friends united in summer to go have fun and perform some non-metal songs the metal way. Some songs were performed all together, like A-ha`s “Take on me“, Seal`s “Kiss from a Rose” and Tina Turner`s “We don`t need another hero“. While others were, like on the studio albums, performed solo: Mr.Hietala inspired everyone with Journey`s “Don`t stop Believin“, Mr. Ahola made everyone cry with his variant of Lionel Ritchie`s “Hello“, Mr.Kakko knocked everyone of their legs with expressive “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, and Mr. Leppäluoto mesmerized everyone with the slow and spooky version of Billy Idol`s “Rebel Yell“. I truly adore Raskasta Joulua, but I wish Northern Kings gathered together more often than once in 10 years, okay?

After Northern Kings` gig one of the Kings was ready to blast some classical power metal as a one of a kind frontman of the one and only Sonata Arctica on the tentstage. You know, this fest had several artists who performed twice – some had one day break, some had other band`s gig break, but Tony Kakko was the only one who worked without any break, and without any glimpse of tiredness, but with that his exact ardour, powerful energy, sincerity and sparking charisma. Well, you can`t take away decades of performing experience, plus what else can you expect from a person who enjoys running 30km marathons in his spare time. So the wolf`s roar from the beginning of “The wolves die young” marked the start of the set, which contained mostly Sonata`s classical songs, like “Paid in full“, “The Cage“, “Kingdom for a heart“, and, of course, their undying trademark “Fullmoon“, which is finally performed in the original speed, like it was on the “Ecliptica” album. In between songs Tony was traditionally entertaining the audience with vocal competitions, and the ending song of the set was “Don`t say a word“, oh wait, no, “Vodka song“, of course:)

Further performance was the fire-show by Amaranthe, who have recently left many fans devastaded by another line-up change. Well, in contemporary realities of musical industry it`s important to be used to the fact that none is irreplaceable, even the vocalist, especially vocalist in a band with two more vocalists. Nevertheless, the gig had begun, and so there was the stunning front-woman Elize, already familiar Nils Molin from Dynazty and Richard Sjunnesson (The Unguided, ex- Sonic Syndicate), who was a temporary(?) replacement of Henrik GG6. Gotta say Richard fitted quite fine with his descent growls and confident stage presence. I know that many people were waiting for the song “Strong” to be performed in an original duo with Noora from Battle Beast, who were not only on the same fest with Amaranthe, but were to perform right after them even…But for some reason it didn`t happen. In general, if we close our eyes on the eternal absence of one of the most beloved band members – it was the typical badass Amaranthe gig with many songs from the previous album “Viral”, including the recent video-release, ballad “Crystalline”, also there were major band`s hits of all times “Amaranthine” and “Drop Dead Cynical”, as well as oldie but goodie “Call out my name”. Guys were headbanging, Elize was twerking, the stage was on fire and was close to making Rammstein pale for a while – and what an amazing show it was!

Battle Beast were just as dynamic and fiery as Amaranthe, yet a bit more about theatrics, costumes and stuff. Noora traditionally appeared on stage as Beast-dominatrix with horns and a whip(or cane, sorry, I didn`t get what it was, really, but looked badass anyway). The set was opened with the title song from the same-named album “Circus of Doom”, released this year, and songs from this album were the basis of the setlist, interlaced with hits from other band`s albums. It was imressive how in the middle of the set the intro for “Where Angels Fear to Fly” was sang by the male band-members, and even though it seemed like it didn`t turn out as good as they all expected – still thumbs and horns up for the attempt! Undying Finnish love for metal can be probably compared only to the undying love to hockey, so there was no surprise that “King For a Day” was one of the most welcomed songs from the setlist. During the closure of the set and performance of uplifting “Beyond the Burning skies” I`d suddenly and randomly thought that, though current Battle Beast`s setlist was absolutely splendid and filled with drive and fire, it was still such an awful shame that band`s old amazing songs from the first albums like “Die Hard Warrior” or “Cyberspace” are left outside andm basically, are not performed by ANY Beasts nowadays, I mean – Anton Kabanen`s Beast in Black don`t need these, unbelievably great, songs as well…

Within Temptation were the closing act of the first festival day and after Battle Beast`s powerful and epic disco-metal sounded a little lullabyish in their classical sweet melancholy. Frankly speaking, it was quite late, after midnight, Sharon den Adel kept on repeating with her lovely angelic voice in between songs that “Oh my, guys, it`s bedtime already”, which hardly sounded like a shaking up speech, to be honest:) Okay, before you got the wrong impression I will say that – no, the set was marvellous, the band was blasting in full strength, delivering their own, unique and recognisable bright classical power metal with some twists of modern vibes, and their show was one of the most enchanting on the whole festival: light, fire, screen videos, and among all that – Sharon, forever young and with eternal horn up, singing here touching tunes with her “from another dimension”-type of voice. The setlist was pretty well-balanced, somewhat “Best of” type of it: there were unbeatable hits from “Silent Force” – “Stand my Ground” and “Angel“; some older stuff like “Our Solemn Hour” and “In the Middle of the Night“, and more recent “Reckoning” and “Let Me Entertain You“. During performing “Raise your Banner” Sharon was holding the flag of Ukraine as a gesture of support and solidarity, the lyrics fitted perfectly to the situation. In the very end of the set there was “Mother Earth” their masterpiece causing goosbumps, however that night goosebumps could be also caused by the fact that Mother Earth herself decided to challenge all us festivallers and reduced the temperature outdoors 10 degrees down and switched on a storm like cold wind…

Saturday 06/08/2022

…and it was such a pity that during the second fest day there was only one band who used pyro during their show.

Yet the opening act was still fiery enough to kickstart the second fest day and set up the mood for it further. These were young, vivid and ambitious Cyan Kicks, ladies and gentlemen, who`ve been successfully climbing up on heavy music Olymp since 2016 and recently even`ve taken part in the Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu`22 – the contest to represent Finland on the Eurovision. And though they didn`t take the first place, they shouldn`t be upset, `cause, you know, the impressing amout of people who showed up to see them performing says it all. So, “The Flood” was the energetic set-starter, and then everyone was covered by the “Tidal Wave“. Gotta say I feel an eternal warmth towards bands who make such type of music to which you can both headbang and dance, and Cyan Kicks is exactly that kind of band. Also what grabbed my attention was how guys interacted with the audience – the positive vibe from the stage was overwhelming. Especially, I liked how the front-woman Susanna was approaching very close to the stage edge and sang songs as if it was personally to each and every fan. What a unique ability to create the atmosphere of intimacy and a bit of chamberness performing a full-drive electric rock show in the middle of the day time, huh! Cyan Kicks` major hits “Gasoline” and “Hurricane” – the last one is that exact potential Eurovision song with a powerful message and catchy tune – were closing the band`s set, preparing the audience for another day filled with metal and fun!

So the party went on on the tent-stage, held by the band Tyrantti, who were the only ones to perform on their native, Finnish, language out of all festival participants. The band is pretty young, yet they do sound as if they were straight outta 70s-80s, you know: a decent loud hard-rock with harsh agressive vocals with a twist of falcetto. And not a single glimpse of modern synths and stuff, everything is authentically rough yet sincere, quite archaic but with a spark of reckless youth. Guys were running on stage reminding of Scorpions in their full bloom and poured their blasting optimism on each and every listener. I assume that singing along with your favourite songs in your own language is a double joy, so all those speedy rock-n-roll blockbusters “Veritiikeri“, “Feeniks” and “Rikotaan Äänivalli” were performed almost completely together with the audience.

The next band were Swedish glam-rockers Eclipse. I bet, the first things that come to your mind when you hear “glam-rock” is eye-liner and big hair, but no, Eclipse are – first and foremost – about the spirit of wild rebelliousness. Almost each of their songs sounds like a hymn to the freedom of human nature, and on the open stage of the fest this effect was multiplied greatly. Guys entered the stage with the song from their latest album called “Wired” – “Roses on your Grave“, and followed with the most weekend song ever “Saturday Night (Hallelujah)“. Generally, Eclipse presented the quintessence of their creative work throughout the years, giving off strong Europe vibes. Don`t get me wrong, there wasn`t a single copying or something, I just love and respect Europe for their contribution to the rock/metal industry and can`t help thinking that there must be something in the air or water in Sweden that there you can find so many good bands who make music of the same genre and just as catchy and sincere as Europe did(and do!). So new songs from “Wired” organically combined with old hits like “Runaways“, “Black Rain” and, of course, “Viva La Victoria“.

Then there came a time to get some more classical power metal, and so the crowd headed towards the tent stage to witness the Godfathers (or should I say “Gods”?) of power metal – Stratovarius, fronted by the legendary Timo Kotipelto, who`s influence on the several generations of metal vocalists is hard to overrate. Having started with the “Phoenix“, guys continued the bird topic with the “Eagleheart” and in general, like their colleagues from Sonata Arctica, decided to go more with the classics – “Paradise“, “Black Diamond”, “4000 Rainy Nights“. However in the second part of the setlist there was a majestic present for the fans – the new song “Firefly“, which had been released just recently, was performed and, I guess, it immediately held it`s worthy place among other uplifting Stratovarius` blockbusters, being, maybe, not so fast, but still traditional Stratovarius song, so to speak. The closing of the set was “Hunting High and Low”, and this moment gave me the chills, as on chorus the audience literally almost shouted over the vocals from stage. That was so loud, and so heartwarming. This is probably the main thing that was hugely missed during the period of no gigs – when you sing your lungs out to your favorite song together with hundreds of your soulmates!

The next band to come out on the open stage was Pain. The arrangements were taking longer time, moving the timetable a little. But then, when the band had finally hit the stage with “It`s only them” and Peter Tägtgren came up with the greetings speech, we all figured out that while the band had arrived to Finland, all their equipment – didn`t. Therefore Pain had to perform without their costumes, backing videos and necessary playbacks, with instruments, unusually linked to wires. Someone can say that the group came without their whole show, but I will say, that the only untaken and necessary part of the Pain`s show is Peter Tägtgren, and he arrived to the fest safely and on fire, therefore mind-blowing industrial-metal party began. Before playing the most “party” and fresh song “Party in my head” the band had performed such good old songs as “End of the Line“, “Great Pretender“, “Suicide Machine” and even “Bye-Die“. During performing “Call me” there was a small confusion that turned into the hilarious moment: as long as the track with Joakim Broden`s (Sabaton) original featuring part of the song was absent – the song was straight up paused right in the middle, and Peter asked if other band members remembered the necessary lines. So they somehow performed the song altogether, and audience helped greatly. And I couldn`t help admiring how much of a professionals all the guys were, to turn such an awful situation into their favor without blinking an eye. Of course – the closing song was “Shut Your Mouth“, I mean, can you imagine Pain not performing this song?:)

By that moment there was already a great desire to get warm, as it was getting colder and colder, so the vivid disco-metal pyro-show by Beast in Black on the tent scene was right about time. Beast in Black bursted into the stage with the speedy “Bladerunner” from their latest album “Dark Connection”, introducing the song with some “guitar dance” from the guitarists. And so they went on with a fantastic(literally) and extremely dynamic extravaganza of lights, sound and fire. Almost headliner setlist contained 18 songs, so it was easy to embrace all the best songs from all three albums band had released by now, exactly 6 songs from each one. That evening “Born Again” and “Fifth Angel” from the first album “Berzerker”, were finally performed again after a long period of being dismissed; also some more disco-oriented “Sweet True Lies” and “From Hell WIth Love” from the second album delivered strongest 80`s vibes ever. The ballad of the set was “Ghost in the rain“, while which the whole place got drowned in those tiny phone lights, creating a very touching experience. After incendiary “One night in Tokyo“, which turned the fest place into one huge discoteque, and band`s trademark song “Blind and Frozen” guys, with a twist of irony, concluded their set with the song “End of the world“.

And that was the exact moment when – all of a damn sudden! – Himos Metal Fest 2022 had started to come to it`s logical end. The ones who were responsible for that ending were legendary finns Amorphis, whos measured and melodic metal was kinda made to cause slight sadness about the conclusion of these two marvellous festival days. By that moment it had become almost freezing, and the rain had started – as if the Nature itself was sharing the audience`s melancholy. According to the small amount of the songs that Amorphis performed that night – only 8 – it seemed that Beast in Black were truly the headliners of that day, while Amorphis were that one big, solemn and a bit gloomy closing act of the whole event. Esa Hoopainen`s guitar solo from the “Death of a King“, framed into the highly contrasted red and blue lights, marked the beginning of the set, which was followed by “Silver Bride“, “Wrong Direction” and  “The Bee“…I was listening to all those songs, breathing in cold summer air, and though how perferctly Amorphis` music fitted into the atmosphere around: cold darkness, lakes and hills. Northern aesthetics in it`s full glorious splendor. The final song was “The House of Sleep“, and in one breath, Himos Metal Festival came to an end.

You know what I really liked about this festival, besides the high level of organization and artists performing? Well, it`s a bit deeper and hell lotta sentimental, but I want to say that in these two days I witnessed how, from one hand, “the older generation” of metal bands is still here, full of energy and with fire in their eyes, presenting ground-shaking performances, keeping the bar sky high; and from another hand – young bands, who have already asserted themselves worldwide and who make sure that the future of metal music is in good hands. All this together confirmed me in one awesome idea:  that metal is alive, this machine is unstoppable. And Finland was, probably, the best place on Earth to feel this to the bones.