As anyone living in Finland reading this will know, Tuska is one of Finland’s biggest metal festivals and takes place in Helsinki around the height of Summer. That means this year it was hot as balls, but hey, that’s the festival experience. It beats the torrential rain and lakes of mud I’m more accustomed to from my last few UK festivals.
Anyone coming to Tuska from outside the country will have a few things they’ll need to acclimatise to. First off, even by the standards of festivals it’s fucking expensive to get a drink. Twelve Euros for a can of beer. You’ll get one Euro refunded if you return the can (a pretty smart initiative) but that’s still crazy expensive, and officially you can’t bring your own booze in. Somehow you still see a few people who break themselves on the first night, but getting drunk here takes serious cash and commitment. (It’s possible. My first Tuska experience was going for a single day, and ending up drunk enough that I saw Slayer and only remember about thirty seconds of Reign in Blood.) Second… this is a super chill place. It’s busy but not crowded in any sense I’m used to from festivals elsewhere. People queue without fuss. I’ve never experienced or even seen anyone kicking off. Every single random person I’ve spoken to has been cool and friendly. It’s all very Finnish, except for the whole thing about lots of people being in the same place and talking to strangers. Third, and this probably relates to the second point in ways I’ll let your imagination work out, about an hour after the headliners finish it’s a “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” situation. The festival happens on a former gasworks site within the city limits; there’s no camping. It’s close to public transport links so it’s easy to head home or to whatever accommodation you’ve rented.
I’ll be forty this year and to be honest, I like Tuska’s vibe. I’d be a lot happier to drink without spending a small fortune but it’s nice to not have to put up with absolutely wrecked twenty-somethings stumbling everywhere and shitting up the walls of the portaloos (Tuska has the cleanest toilets I’ve ever encountered at a festival, incidentally – one time I saw a bit of poo on a toilet seat and it was A Big Deal to everyone who was queuing with me at the time). On a side note about my increasing age, my feet are absolutely fucked and standing about on tarmac is actively painful. So yeah. Feeling my damn age.
But, the music! I saw a lot of good shit this year. A couple of the headliners were nu metal-adjacent stalwarts of the 90s, Korn and Deftones, and I’d never seen either live before. My past opinion on 90-120 minute sets is that it’s way too long to listen to just one band, but as with so many of my youthful opinions that’s a load of shit. I don’t actually know too many Korn songs but I dug seeing them live, including the stupid and funny songs like Shoots and Ladders and A.D.I.D.A.S. They finished with Blind and played the other classics as we went. Deftones seemed a bit low-energy, but Chino Moreno kept restating how happy he was to be there and how awesome we all were, and I think it was the end of their tour so they were probably winding down, as it were. They played material throughout their back catalogue, including a bunch of tracks from White Pony and Diamond Eyes, my personal favourites, and finished with some a few really old songs including Seven Words, which I never thought I’d see performed.
The other headliner was Mercyful Fate. They were fun, not my vibe but good to see. Otherwise the best thing I’ve seen said about their performance was from my friend Michael:
Other personal highlights were Baroness, Red Fang, Gloryhammer and Heilung. The first three are all personal favourites. Gloryhammer played early on the final day in the baking hot sun to a lot of sober people, but did a bang-up job showing off their schtick: cheesy power metal but super self-aware and funny. A bunch of people were waving inflatable swords and axes, we got the full gamut of Gloryhammer-universe character work, a goblin got smashed with the goblin smasher, and they did a great job getting the crowd going.
Baroness I really enjoyed as they’re one of my favourite bands these days and I’ve not seen them play before, but it feels like they had a harder time working a crowd much smaller than the tent they played. Maybe I was just feeling bad because in my peripheral vision I could see the empty space at the edge of the crowd and people trickling out. I was happy, though. As for Red Fang, I mostly watched them sitting down on a kerb because my feet were killing me, but I was close enough to enjoy some stoner rock riffs, and I got up and closer in for Prehistoric Dog. I bought the last Red Fang tshirt at the merch stand but it was too small. God damn it.
Heilung I didn’t know going into the festival and even from the back of the tent their live performance was something else. They’ve a ton of live performances on YouTube so if you don’t know them, just go spend twenty minutes watching a couple of songs.
A quick run-down of the rest of the bands I saw: Elder were the first act I saw on day one and they were cool; I need to listen to some of their records as I came to them cold. Perturbator was intense and put on a good light show, though personally there’s other synthwave metal type stuff that I get more from. My friends loved ’em though. Carcass is another band I don’t really know – yeah, I’m historically more of a punk/hardcore guy than a metal guy, I won’t hide it, and I’ve never gotten much from grindcore or goregrind or powerviolence or any of that – but it was cool to watch a bunch of this fairly legendary band. Devin Townsend was fucking awesome; since the festival I’ve listened to a few of his records and really enjoyed them. I loved Strapping Young Lad back in the mid-2000s but hadn’t listened to much else from him, but I was really impressed by the range his songs drew from. High On Fire were intense, albeit another band I watched from the sidelines, resting my feet. Jinjer got probably the most rapturous reception I saw the entire festival and the tent was rammed for their set. Part of this might be driven by sympathy for this Ukrainian band but the majority will be powered by the stage presence and staggering vocals of frontwoman Tatiana. As metal goes it’s mostly not my cup of tea but this was undeniably good.