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Tuska Open Air - 6/30/2023 - Suvilahti - Helsinki

Friday, June 30th

Despite the difficulties that many festivals have been facing after Covid and with the current financial crisis, Tuska still managed the feat of recording sold out for the entire weekend, even when the amount of tickets have increased compared to the previous editions. This combination made for the biggest crowd ever at one of the most popular metal festival in the country: 63.000 visitors over the entire weekend.
While the process of exchanging the wristband, at least for us, went very smoothly, this was visible at least in the long queues at the entrance in all of the three days, as well as in the sheer amount of people crowding the festival area. Even though the size and the setup was more or less the same as last year, it didn’t feel as full though (with the exception of some particular shows), but it was still quite draining to deal with that amount of humans wandering around from stage to stage.

Another reason that brought a big queue under the scorching heat of the opening day, was the scheduling plan, with Swedish starting the festival on the main stage. Hard to believe that this was their first time performing at Tuska, given how popular the band is in this country and the fact the singer actually is based in Helsinki and has been a regular visitor for many many years.
It must have been very exciting for them as much as it was for the audience - also judging from the amount of clown-like outfits and face paint among the fans - to finally be able to cross this one off their bucket list. The band did what they do best: an entertaining show enriched by the gags and funny faces of their frontman Johannes Eckerström. In their 45-minutes set clearly there was space for the new record "Dance Devil Dance", as well as some of the fan favorites, in a gig that put everybody in a good mood from the get go.


Right after Avatar - and white drinking an adequate amount of water (keep hydrated kids!) - we went to the Inferno stage for one of the many young bands that were part of this year’s festival. But not exactly just "one of the many", as Vended counts some members that has metal running in their family, being the sons of more popular figures Corey Taylor and Shawn Crahan (Slipknot), and they even have the same roles in the band. Growing up in such an environment clearly has done well for these guys as it shows very much in their performance as well as in their music. They might be young, and this was their first show in Finland, but we can be sure that we haven’t heard the last of them.
In between we got to sneak in Tiivistämö’s KVLT stage for local new folk black metal ensemble Kouta. The five-piece had just released their debut in the Spring ("Kaarnaköydet"), and it’s really nice that even these young band have a chance to showcase their music in such a festival. The only - and maybe the biggest - downside was that as soon as the venue got somewhat full, the heat made it extremely uncomfortable. This was a recurring theme over the weekend, even in the remaining two, more rainy days. Either way the band showed some good enthusiasm, and as this year we tried to focus more on the smaller acts than in the previous editions, it was a positive sight to see that Finland still have something new to offer in this genre.


Soon it was time for what has gradually become the house band of the festival, Lost Society. As the singer showed on stage wearing a white fur coat (before anybody asks, we don’t know if real or fake, but as an educated guess I would say the latter) it was clear how the band has changed since the guys were just little kids playing thrash metal. It was also funny to see how the audience in the front rows was largely still of the same age the band was when they started. And it’s especially this younger audience the more enthusiastic about the newer material. The show is as good as we are used to see from Samy Elbanna (who apparently spend most his spare time during the pandemic covering his body in tattoos) and his colleagues, and helps getting more into festive mood as we approach late afternoon.
We also had time to give a quick again at the KVLT stage, where Vansidian was performing at the same time. The Tampere-based band follows the trend of promoting more of the emerging musicians in the scene, as like Kouta before them, they also recently got their first album out ("Reflecting the Shadows"). Melo-death with power metal elements is perhaps not our bread and butter, but it fits well into Tuska’s offer.

Lost SocietyVansidian

Among this year’s line-up, booking Blood Incantation stood out as the odd choice for this kind of festival, as we are used to see these guys perform in underground death metal events and small club shows. So it felt quite weird to see them play in the brightness of the sun in front of a sizable audience of death metal fans and curious people alike. As said multiple times already before, now if they would have played "Timewave Zero" this would have really been something (no, it didn’t happen).
More death metal, but closer to home, would be heard soon after inside of Tiivistämö where Sepulchral Curse from Turku got to show what they are made of. There was a lot of sweatiness again, but also a tight performance from these guys who - with the exception basically of the drummer who joined in last year - they have been together for a decade or so. They also had the occasion to gain a wider audience as the new "Abhorrent Dimensions" is going to be released later this autumn.

Blood IncantationSepulchral Curse

The evening continued without breaks (although soon it would have been time to check out the food court) with our first Tent stage show of this weekend. Mokoma is another Tuska classic, and while Marko Annala is morphing more and more into Santa and the bass player Santtu Hämäläinen has gotten rid of his long dreads that used to rotate wildly at each show, they haven’t lost their edge, still touching their fans with their music old and new.
Speaking of new - or new-er, at least - we returned quickly once again to the opposite side of the area for the much younger band Galvanizer, a name that will be very familiar to all the local death metal aficionados. Not unlike last year when Cryptic Hatred played on the same stage, these guys are at the forefront of the wave of Finnish death metal that suddenly flourished in the second half of the past decade. It’s always a pleasure to get to see this band live, and this time was not an exception (heat aside, and yes, you will hear a lot of complains about sweating).


The good thing about a festival in Finland close to midsummer is that even though it’s already evening you don’t really notice it. So when it was time for Arch Enemy to come out on the main (Radio Rock) stage, the sun was still up, but luckily the temperatures were now slightly more bearable.
Everything seems to be getting more and more blue on their stage setup every time, from Alissa White-Gluz’s trademark hair and body suit, to the background and lighting. The director of Avatar could be envious. Or if you are a little older, you could perhaps expect the evil and unlucky wizard Gargamel to suddenly appear out of the blue (pun intended). Color scheme aside, Arch Enemy is also quite the regular presence in Finland, and their fans know exactly what to expect from them, which is delivered with precision, nothing more nothing less. Of course seeing Jeff Loomis at the guitar is always a bonus (does anyone still remember the last Nevermore gig at Tuska by the way?).

Arch Enemy

The final visit - for today - to the indoor stage was in occasion of Foreseen. A welcome presence, and not for the first time, at this festival. The band headed by restless Mirko Nummelin is always fun to watch and makes for entertaining shows on and off the stage, given how much the crowd gets into the music. The resulting atmosphere is rewarding for both the band and their fans, who all got what they wanted for.
Following this very energetic show, it was good to slow down a bit when Glenn Hughes conquered the Tent stage with his smiling attitude and of course with those rock classics that most of the people present were clearly waiting for. This was possibly the gig with the older crowd on average, for obvious reasons. But wouldn’t hurt to some of the kids to also listen to some proper rock instead of all those young metalcore bands. This was a really needed break before the gran finale of this first day.

ForeseenGlenn Hughes

The headliner this evening was French Gojira, another familiar band to the Tuska audience, but nonetheless capable of always delivering powerful shows. A good part of their ninety-minute-long set was dedicated to their latest "Fortitude" (2021), and aside from their music the visuals were pretty impressive (one always have to appreciate a big stage with a good quality big screen), including pyros, which maybe were not the most welcome addition in this weather. Joe Duplantier looks always extremely serious when playing (the smiling one is usually Labadie), and he does mean business. The gig sounds really good and the performance is easily worthy of their position on the line up, wrapping up nicely the first, intense day of this Tuska 2023 edition.


A welcome return this year were the official afterparties (in collaboration with On The Rocks and Lepakkomies), so for quite a lot of people the evening was far from over, going on to party until the wee hours. But we are old and grumpy and we spent lots of energies outside today, so we went for the smarter thing - all things considered - which was grabbing some quick snack, a drink, wrap up the work for the day, and try to get possibly some decent sleep (while still failing miserably at it) in preparation for the second day.

Link to all Friday galleries

Saturday, July 1st

The second day of Tuska begins under the rain. The weather has been more unpredictable this year, but to be honest still way better than spending three days in the sun in an area which is mostly made of concrete and asphalt (without taking anything away from the many sitting areas, especially behind Kattilahalli, which actually offered some nice and more quiet space to sit down.
The opening band was the talented A.A. Williams, which many will recall if not from the recent club show in Helsinki, for either the past Roadburn apperance or the ever increasing live activity that came with the highly acclaimed "As The Moon Rests". While the band could have easily gotten a better spot in the schedule, there were two points playing in their favor: playing in the tent stage, made so that possibly more people came to check the show to find shelter from the rain, and this kind of post-rock music and the soothing voice of the Londoner singer and songwriter (whose husband is also the bass player) sounded now actually quite perfect to ease the crowd into the festival after a night of partying and drinking and possibly an ensuing hangover. Regardless of the hour and place, it would never get tiring to listen to this. Double thumbs up for this booking. These guys have a bright future ahead if they continue on this road.

A.A. Williams

Soon after on the Radio Rock stage it was once again a well-known name for Tuska-goers: Turmion Kätilöt. The live energy of the band has plunged terribly ever since Spellgoth has left them a few years back, but somewhat there are still quite a bit of young people who enthusiastically follow the show with a certain excitement. Ok there is fire and such, but you can only get excited to a certain point for some funny gimmicks.
This was a good time to take a break and explore the festival area for a while, check a little bit of Orbit Culture (which despite falling in the Swedish melodic death cauldron actually had their own spin to it that made it so it was not terrible), catch up with some familiar faces, and even have that one beer of the weekend! Trying the whole festival experience in about 90 minutes or so… until we went back to the main stage again for Clutch.
Mid afternoon is also a pretty chill time for stoner rock in a festival, so this fit like a glove and sounded as entertaining as we have grown used to see from the Maryland-born four-piece. They focused equally on their golden years and on the more recent material. Not the super-entertaining kind of show, but certainly a nice one.

Turmion KätilötClutch

Things got a bit more on the emotional side when inside on the KVLT stage Solothus was having their final show before nailing the coffin on the band. Obviously Kari and the guys have and will have other musical endeavors so that won’t be the last of them (most likely), but it’s always a bit sad when a band you have followed basically from their first steps, ultimately ceases to exist. In a twist of fate, the venue was actually not as packed as it has been most of the time, I suppose because of Finntroll going on at the Inferno stage. We stayed for the whole gig here instead, celebrating the final ride of this death-doomy creature in company of friends and fans alike. It was glorious.
After the gig for once there was nowhere else to go because next for us was Bob Malmström right here with their "borgacore". These guys - like Foreseen the night before - can be pretty entertaining for the crowd, especially when you buy into the concept of rich Swedish-speaking folks partying hard with their fancy boats and whatnot. So there is a whole lot of people going wild as they are covered in fake 500€ bills, as per the setlist of course there are the big classics like "Tala Svenska Eller Dö" ("Speak Swedish or die") and "Vi är Bob Malmström" ("We are Bob Malmström"). But the most incredible thing was the huge interest of the audience in this particular show: the venue has a limited capacity (which was stretched pretty much to the limit anyway), and still the queue to try to get inside was really out of this world, reaching few hundred meters. Who would have thought?

SolothusBob Malmström

Another flash storm arrived just as Memoriam - a.k.a. the next closest thing left to Bolt Thrower to see live - was about to start. Adding to that, they decided to clear the water from the top of the stage just minutes before the show, so the photo pit was basically a big puddle already.
The band fronted by the charismatic Karl Willetts also has a new record to promote ("Rise To Power"), so here they are, under the rain and in front of some relentless rain-coat wearing death metal fans, inciting them and waving their long hair (not the bass player) at the rhythm of their songs. It was wet, a bit messy, and it would have been somewhat nicer if the sound would have been on par with the music. So it was somewhat surprising that In Flames in comparison turned out to be somehow more entertaining.
The Sweden took on the main stage and actually delivered some good oldies that brought at least some of the audience back to their younger days, at least mid gig with "Behind Space" ("Lunar Strain"), "Cloud Connected" ("Reroute to Remain") and "Only for the Weak" ("Clayman"). The guys were in a pretty good shape and as a whole this show was quite unexpected and refreshing - and was well-received by the audience, now growing more in numbers towards the end of the day.

MemoriamIn Flames

It would have been fun to see that young unpronounceable Danish band performing on the KVLT stage as well, but the timing being what it is, and this being the one good time for a quick dinner break, made it so that it was easy to give up on that (and the most likely long queue to cram people inside, and wait without rush for the first Butcher Babies’s Finnish gig.
With a new album coming out just in a few days, that’s of course the obvious focus of the performance, which is very US American in the over-the-top show and heavy focus on the entertainment. The music is clearly not something you would call your friends and family to talk about, so I guess that the popularity of the band comes mainly from the two vocalists who jump and run all over the place during the show.

Butcher Babies

Sadly due to the limitations of Tiivistämö with this level of crowd, and the overlap with Ville Valo’s VV, we couldn’t manage to check out Ashen Tomb this time (it will happen again soon in some other local gig). On the other hand when the former HIM solo venture was about to begin, there was still quite a lot of space in the middle of the festival area, so it was surprisingly easy to move around still. Could it have been because of Butcher Babies? We’ll never know. The first impression of Ville Valo feels like they have been keeping the guy in a closet since the last performance here in Tuska (I believe in 2017 or 2018?) without feeding him, and just took him out for this performance. The guy was all skin and bones, so one couldn’t help but wondering if he is seriously sick or something. This didn’t apparently stop the hordes of fangirls - or rather fan-women now, mostly - who crowded the front of the stage screaming and hoping for a gesture or a look from the singer in order to melt and scream even louder. People are weird. The set was balancing between the new "Neon Noir" and obviously several HIM covers for the joy of the overly excited fans. For those who are not, this was also a good opportunity to finally visit a much more quiet expo inside of Kattilahalli, with witchcraft things (you could pretend to be burned at the stake), artsy sculputures, and lots of funny trinkets that I am sure many festival-goers must have loved.
To avoid the congestion at the end of the night, we left before the end of the show and prep ourselves up for the final day, which was also the one with the most interesting headliner, and a few other cool acts here and there. All in all the day was not as intense and exhausting as thought, but still required some proper recharging before the gran finale.


Link to all Saturday galleries

Sunday, July 2nd

The final day of Tuska is always a bit shorter one, and in comparison with the rest of the weekend felt like a walk in the park. So there was plenty of time for proper pre-festival lunch before walking - again in the rain, although less than Saturday - towards Suvilahti for the last time this weekend.
First on the tent stage was Imperial Triumphant with their decadent hedonistic avant-guarde music, golden masks and champagne bottles (I wonder how much of that do they use in a tour). Starting with their latest "Spirit of Ecstasy", they guide the fans on a journey into this weird world of theirs. And not unlike last time we saw the band at Roadburn in the Spring, there were many masked kids too, as in the early hours of the festival today the entry was again free for children aged 12 and below ("Pikku-Tuska"), of course accompanied by their parents.
Right after on the many stage was the much talked about Lorna Shore, which seems to be a pretty big deal. It definitely felt like it, since the crowd seemed to be even bigger than for Ville Valo on the previous night. Hard to understand the appeal of the band, but I guess I am way past that age when all these flashy American "something-something"-core bands really can give me anything. At least the guys on stage were very energetic, particularly the singer, who certainly didn’t shy out from making use of this little catwalk added today to the main stage (annoying all photographers as it makes it trickier to move around and shoot the bands).

Imperial TriumphantLorna Shore

Xysma came back with a new full-length album for the first time in 25 years. Despite the hopes of the old-school death metal fans, no… the new record is still way far from that territory the band had already left mid-nineties. It was interesting to see these guys live, but it would have made it so much more worthwhile to hear some of their oldest material from over thirty years ago. This was not the case, so despite the curiosity eventually we decided to go check out some more recent up-and-coming atmospheric pagan black metal instead.
With her second record - "Ruska" - out last year, Vermilia has been quietly gnawing her space into the Finnish scene with her pagan melodies, typically Finnish melancholic vocals, as well as shamanic drum and flute to add different layers to her mystical music. This was our one and only show in the KVLT stage for today, but was possibly the most unique of the bunch in that sense. Still maintaining a somewhat intimate feeling despite the big crowd. Crowd that was clearly very receptive towards their offer judging from the cheers and applauses during the performance.


With only a few bands left, we returned towards the main stage for Mongolian sensation The HU, which is not just an exotic Apocalyptica (see the Metallica covers), but a much more layered folk metal ensemble in its own right. The funny thing is that looking at the band members outside of the stage they wouldn’t look the part at all, and could be easily mistaken for your typical American band. Once on stage they unleash their traditional throat singing and play with these flashy versions of Mongolian instruments that make their melodies quite unique in the metal panorama.
Plus the band is actually pretty entertaining in its own right, so this was something not to miss really in this year’s Tuska offer. And also a very nice music to listen to while sitting down while eating some dinner before the last efforts of the weekend.

The HU

We changed then genre with some symphonic metal from Zwolle, The Netherlands, one of the things the Dutch are clearly popular for in the metal community. Delain can be quite entertaining, and the new vocalist Diana Leah certainly seems happy to be here performing in front of these excited fans, always jumping up the platform on the center of the stage and waving her long hair at the music from her bandmates. Promoting their new "Dark Waters", they were eventually joined on stage by Italian singer - but Helsinki-based - Paolo Ribaldini (Seraphiel, Skiltron).
Most of all, what a vast majority of people were waiting for, just by looking at the countless t-shirts (and almost as many different designs on each of them!), was clearly Ghost. The Swedes came back to Tuska after several years, and yet again also this time there was a threat of a storm approaching during the gig. Coincidence? Most likely. Does it add to the atmosphere of the show? definitely.
This band’s success in a little over a decade has literally blown out of proportions, and with their popularity they also tuned their offering to a broader audience, progressively distancing themselves more from their origins, while still maintaining some core elements, and of course the whole concept. But everything now is on a different level. The band has blown up in members, all these "nameless ghouls", who actually have now some kind of nicknames at least, and the current iteration of Tobias Forge’s character, Papa Emeritus IV, seems more like a glamorous renaissance character rather than a deranged pope (eventually he also morphed into a giant bat, adding big black wings to his outfit).
The competence of the band and the quality of the show and the music is irrefutable, and the basis of their prolonged success (it feels like that might be plateauing soon-ish though, but we’ll see if we are proved wrong), however it would have been nice to hear some more of the older songs on the setlist, which was mostly focused on the last two records. The only two songs played from the first two albums were "Ritual" and "Year Zero", and it feels more and more like those times are almost like a foggy memory, a prototype of sorts, of what this band would have then become from "Meliora" onwards.


Ultimately this was still one of the high points of this year’s festival, in stark contrasts for instance with last edition when the closing band was Deftones. Again under threat of a new rain shower, we rushed to take cover and let the people crowd the public transport to visit the final afterparties.
Tuska seems to have found a good dimension in Suvilahti, although the area seems to be getting more crowded every year, and then there is the looming threat of the new construction plans the city of Helsinki has for the area. But the festival will still be here in 2024, at least for a year. Then we’ll just have to wait and see. Clearly this year there was again an ongoing effort to attract younger audience with a lot of young bands, not sure if that worked out yet, but hopefully the more traditional and loyal Tuska attendees will not be neglected either. There was plenty of death metal this time around, which is pretty new, but then again there are a lot of youngsters here who - surprisingly - are into that genre these days, there were also a few interesting bookings ranging between very different kinds of music like The HU, Blood Incantation, A.A. Williams, even Vermilia that allowed to keep a broader perspective than just tapping into all similar bands, so that’s certainly positive.
In the end the festival is evolving and copying, like many other events these days, with the new reality of arranging events in times of economic uncertainly, for the bands, for the fans, for the organizers, for everyone. We are confident that it will still find a good balance and an offer that can satisfy most people. And most likely we’ll be there once again next summer to witness it.

Link to all Sunday galleries
Link to crowd photos
Link to all Tuska galleries

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