Rockin’ in the free world at last – Kuopiorock 2021, 3/3

Author Ossi Kumpula - 12.8.2021

The final Kuopiorock day culminated the last day of July. The festival truly went out with a bang as the final day of celebrations was rocked to the rhythms set by bands like Nightwish, Amaranthe, Beast In Black, Blind Channel, Granite Heart, Lost Society, Lähiöbotox, Herra Ylppö, Licuation and Self Enslaved. As a cherry on top the weather, which had grown progressively better throughout the festival, was warm and sunny most of the day with some brief showers in the evening.

I made my way to the festival area in good time to see Lost Society who in my opinion had a surprisingly early performance slot. A commendably large crowd had gathered together by the time the band started, and if anyone had yet to recover from whatever hangover they might’ve had Lost Society made sure to shake them out of it. The entire band played their brand of thrash metal with gusto, and I was especially taken by frontman Samy Elbanna’s ability to sing, play guitar and jump around the stage smiling all the way. Elbanna is an excellent thrash singer – his range is wide and harmonious as well as credibly raspy and emotional when need be. The band is rife with guitar expertise, and the instrumental exchanges between Elbanna and Arttu Lesonen was fascinating to witness. The most touching moment of the show was “Into the Eternity”, which was dedicated to Alexi Laiho. Lost Society played the rest of their set hard and fast, which befits the band’s nature.

The festival’s main day was hosted by Jussi69 who invited rap metal group Lähiöbotox as the day’s first act on K-Caara stage. Rappers Seksikäs Suklaa and Dosdela entered the stage accompanied by a foreboding intro, and the tunes they sang painted a vivid picture of some of the realities concerning eastern Helsinki. Songs like “Rikkinäinen Suomi” and “Puhdasverinen vihaaja” dealth with problems faced by immigrants, and the music’s metal elements supported the band’s strong message.

On the last day of Kuopiorock Granite Heart took the stage among the beautiful greenery surrounding Puistolava. The weather was mostly sunny on the festival’s main day, which ended up being a boost for bands and their audience alike. Sunshine lifted atmosphere on both sides of the barricade between the band and the crowd, even though there weren’t many witnessing Granite Heart’s performance that early in the day. At the end of their set the band played cover songs “Fortunate Son” and “Rockin’ in the Free World”, the latter being an especially powerful anthem in these trying times darkened by lockdowns and other miserable restrictions. These high profile songs, however, underlined a bit unfavourably the shortcomings of the band’s own material.

Sun was shining as Herra Ylppö entered the stage in his usual lethargic manner. Ylppö and the band began the gig with ”Riisu siipesi”. Ylppö’s magical charisma pulled the crowd in as he sang with full rock credibility some of the most syrupy lyrics heard at the festival. The full stadium of people signing along to “Leipää, lempee, lämpöö” was an especially moving experience in this Covid-era. At one point Ylppö ran along a ramp amongst the audience throwing high fives to people over the safety barricades. At the end of the show the crowd was almost fierce in demanding an encore and the band obliged by playing “Mustat hevoset“. Warmed by sunshine and good music the gig went by for me and many others in a joyful dance.

I had yet to visit Väinö stage during the entire festival, and this glitch was corrected on the final day of Kuopiorock. The stage was set up on a cozy beach in which the furious metal acts, beach bars and people lazing in the deck chairs made for a delightful contrast. The day’s festivities were to be kick-started by Kuopio-based outfit Licuation, and they did just that starting at five p.m. Right at the show’s beginning the lead singer let off a scream that almost brought to mind the highest registers of one Dani Filth, which earned an immediate seal of approval from me. Licuation‘s scorching death metal screeching was balanced by occasional softer jamming, and the band won the crowd over well enough to inspire a brief moshpit. Many eager fans participated also in the commemorative photo at the end of the show.

Väinö stage served also as a scene of Self Enslaved‘s (previously known as Feet Off the Ground) debut show. These up-and-coming metal hopefuls couldn’t quite match the intensity of Licuation, but for a first time their performance was sufficiently acceptable. The crowd consisted of approximately a few dozen metalheads who courteously gave their applause to these heavy metal grinders, as well.

Having successfully represented Finland in this year’s Eurovision song contest violent pop group Blind Channel took the stage with incredible energy. Witnessing it was the day’s largest crowd of any band thus far. Combined with their choreography, visuals and hard hitting music, the band utilized and conquered the entire stage space given to them. The band had much more in their arsenal than just “Dark Side“, and at one point Henrik Englund from Amaranthe joined the band to perform “Snake“. The crowd was truly into the show, which ended happily in a group photo and hand gestures prohibited by Eurovision.

Beast In Black has made a full breakthrough into the hearts of their Finnish fans. As if it wasn’t obvious enough already during the bands headline concert at the Helsinki Ice Hall in December 2019, when the crowd’s response is equally as ecstatic after an eighteen-month break the deal is well and truly sealed. Beast In Black‘s quintet of three Finns and two foreign rockers has won audience’s sympathies pretty much the world over, and Kuopio was no exception. Throughout the whole show bombs thundered, sparks flew and pyrotechnics grilled the crowd as songs like ”Eternal Fire”, ”Cry Out for a Hero”, ”True Believer”, ”From Hell With Love” and many others shook the ground. Yannis Papadopoulos thanked the crowd for their loyalty before and after the corona break, and the festival folk ate eagerly from the singer’s hand. Beast In Black has been working on new material for a long time now and considering the reception their older songs still receive one can only marvel at the heights this band can potentially reach in the future.

Swedish Amaranthe lit up the stage in flames even before all the band members had made an entrance. I have never seen pyro shows the like that this band had. Fireworks exploded as Olof Mörck began his riffing, and the crowd exploded in cheers as Elise Ryd stepped into the limelight. The band’s choreography with three singers was outstanding and the setlist was a great mixture of old and new material. The rest of the band was given a much needed breather as drummer Morten Sorensen showed off his skills with an impressive solo. Pyrotechnics flared throughout the show and in my mind I likened the band to a campfire, equally warm and beautiful. Smartphone flashlights lit up the stadium during sentimental “Amaranthine“, and “The Nexus” saw Ryd literally playing with fire as she performed the song with a flamethrower in hand. The rain that began to fall sometime during the show made the experience all the more enticing.

Leaving the stadium even for a moment turned out to be a mistake as I later struggled to find good enough a spot to see even a glimpse of Nightwish, a symphonic metal supergroup enjoying massive success at the moment. The band made an entrance accompanied by stunning live visuals. The band’s latest album “Human. :II: Nature.” was well represented in the setlist.

The band appeared cohesive with new bassist Jukka Koskinen having seemingly taken his spot within the band without too much friction. Floor Jansen proved once again her versatility as a singer when she adopted some of the singing parts previously handled by Marco Hietala with multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley helping her out in this regard, as well. Jansen is simply incredible being able to reach some of the edginess of Hietala’s vocal style and then changing to lighter and even classical expression, all within the same song. This was especially apparent during “I Want My Tears Back“, an older song which I recalled as having some important parts originally sung by Hietala.

The simple joy of playing music was apparent in keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen’s demeanor, which has always been a staple in the band’s stage presence and obviously in their music, too. “The Greatest Show on Earth” along with its lyrics chanting “we were here” left me thinking about humanity and what we will all ultimately end up leaving on this Earth. These sentiments as well as the flashy fireworks following Nightwish‘s performance were a worthy conclusion to this year’s Kuopiorock festival.

Text: Ossi Kumpula, Satu Haiko (Nightwish, Amaranthe, Lost Society, Blind Channel, Herra Ylppö, Lähiöbotox)

Photos: AJ Johansson, Pete Hossa