By Mark Gromen
Really, DAY #1, since the sun rises at 4am and doesn't set until 11pm, summer in Helsinki, the perfect time for a three-day outdoor festival!
Brilliant sunshine, with a decent breeze, making it bearable for the Northern Europeans. Two years removed from my last Tuska, then the inaugural at the industrial site. Drinking is still restricted to fenced in/guarded areas, although the 18+ sector now faces the two main stages (a smaller, third stage is located inside one of the buildings). Ironic, since public drunkeness on the streets of Helsinki is almost tolerated.At times, there were bigger crowds in the beer garden, than in front of the stage, Finland at its best!
Gates opened at 2pm and a half hour later, TESSERACT were onstage, not a stylistic replacement for the canceled DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, apart from the odd time signature, but generally a mellow, pedestrian sound, not really the way to kick start a festival (and on the main stage!). It probably works better in a more intimate, club setting, but the dry ice fog was the only thing smoking about their set. Rumor suggests Live Nation's own multi-day event (Rock The Beach) siphoned off a percentage of fans (especially Saturday, when RAMMSTEIN was scheduled to headline), just the margin events like Tuska need to turn a profit, or make future years viable. Fingers crossed Tuska continues.
ABHORRENCE is an old school death metal outfit, featuring AMORPHIS guitarist Tomi Koivusaari, divebomb guitars and pinwheeling grind. 'Holy Laws Of Pain' and 'Pleasures Of Putrid Flesh' give ample examples of their wares. The rest of the world has finally seen/heard WINTERSUN, although I was initiated into the live cult two years ago, on this very spot. Already a huge fan of the debut, they should probably invest in a video wall, or some other visual, beyond the dual scrims adorned with Time I album artwork. As big a fan as I am, still a little off-putting, in the live setting, with all the pre-fab material (heavy dose of backing vocal/symphonic tapes). Looking like the bastard child of Jay Renolds (MALICE/METAL CHURCH) and Snow Miser, from the Year Without A Santa Clause TV special,guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Jari Mäenpää led his dual guitar foursome through a choreographed performance that included 'Sons Of Winter And Stars' and the concluding 'Starchild' (complete with a short drum spotlight). Basically, these are beer hall anthems, sped up and, at times, featuring three part vocal harmonies. 'Land Of Snow And Sorrow' begins with the rail thin founder alone at the front of the stage, familiar territory throughout the night. The whole show was videotaped.
The entire band attired in black,including the stage-front keyboardist who provided backing vo-kills (?), IHSAHN wore rose-tinted sunglasses for his 50 minutes onstage. Backed by LEPROUS, who played their own show a couple of hours earlier, 'The Paranoid' and 'Frozen Lakes On Mars' highlighted the most technical display of the day (maybe the weekend, we'll have to see). BOLT THROWER, by contrast (playing their only European show of the summer), offered a full scale, career spanning bludgeoning (and only 10 Euros for t-shirts? OK, some were left over from the recent North American tour, but still a bargain. No wonder they all but sold out!). Blond singer Karl Willetts definitely was enjoying himself, mugging to the crowd and by the second song, 'Mercenary', already dumping a bottle of water overhead. 'Warmaster' followed, unprovoked, the crowd thrusting fists skyward, in unison. All but bassist Jo Bench wore camouflaged pants/shorts. Willetts dedicated 'When Glory Beckons' to late SLAYER guitarist Jeff Hannemann. He played to the stage-side camera during 'Entrenched', which gave way to 'For Victory'. Later, (can you feel the) 'Powder Burns' and 'Where Next To Conquer' led to the proper set concluding 'When Cannons Fade'. Willetts was moved by the reception, saying, "We don't do many gigs. Like to thank you all for coming out," ultimately leaving the stage, post-'In Battle There Is No Law' as sirens wailed.
AMORPHIS, at home, could have played the main stage, but scheduling made them the next-to-last band, prior to the King. Very much a new, Finnish-only set, as the glory days were all but forgotten, in favor of the material since Tomi Joutsen took over the mic, especially the amazing new Circles album. Speaking of the knee-length dredlocked singer, he strolled onstage topless (to the adulation of a heavily female audience), showing off his copious tattoos. Guitarist Esa Holopainen still embodies a young Michael Schenker. Much like the aforementioned album, they began with 'Shades Of Gray', adding the Celtic influenced 'Narrow Path', heavier 'Hopeless Days' and 'Nightbird's Song'. 'On Rich And Poor' was the lone "oldie', amongst 'Sampo' and the killer closing duo of 'The Smoke' and 'House Of Sleep'. Almost didn't miss those early gems, almost.
Haven't seen KING DIAMOND since his health scare (open heart surgery) and renewed lease on life. Rumors says he's singing better than he has in years and Tuska did nothing to prove otherwise. A giant stage set,initially behind a wrought iron fence, there was a two tier house, with dual staircases (demonic heads at the end of each banister), from which the band (Hal Patino on bass MIke Wead and Andy LaRocque on guitars) walked "upstairs" to take the stage. Wheelchair bound Grandma and assorted female 'characters' from his solo works, acted out the lyrics, a second, female vocalist present onstage throughout.In a waistcoat and top hat, King leaned through the ornate fence, toying with the crowd on the opposite side, during the opening 'Candle' and 'Welcome Home'. Brandishing a shovel, he stalked the stage for 'Up From The Grave' and 'Voodoo' finished the first segment, the fence finally removed. 'Dreams' saw the mainman playing air guitar on his crossed bones mic stand. Mounted acoustic guitars were removed by black robed monks, to start 'Sleepless Nights', which housed a drum solo. 'Shapes Of Black' saw King playing with a lantern, as a spandex covered figured shimmied around him. 'Come To The Sabbath', the first MERCYFUL FATE tune aired, was met with a rousing audience sing-along, Philadelphia's own Jody (aka Grandma, strange how many neighbors you meet up with, overseas) did a lighted candle dance, with a horned goat skull. Although 9:30pm, still light out, as 'Eye Of The Witch' closed the proper set. Returning for the first encore, it was 'The Family Ghost' and the Fate's 'Evil', King lit in red, from below (of course!), throwing the horns as the crowd takes over vocals. Leaving the stage briefly, there was time for one last track, an acoustic begun 'Black Horsemen', LaRocque now dressed in matching waistcoat. Miriam dies in childbirth, her baby left onstage, as the hooded monks remove her body. 90 minutes just ain't enough!
Can't wait for tomorrow.
More photos from the first day of Tuska can be seen here