Pictures: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
Tuska is Finnish for pain. It could describe any kind of pain . . . from heartache to physical, but while watching the crowd moshing their brains out in a puddle of rain and dirt at Tuska Open Air Metal Festival last weekend in Helsinki, I’m assured it implies “a release of pain”; an outlet for everyday stress.
While kicking in the air and swaying hooks could get you arrested a few blocks away in the streets of Kallio, at Tuska festival it’s encouraged. (As long as you keep a reasonable distance from the next metalhead.)
Saturday was sold out for the first time in Tuska’s history, gathering a crowd of 11,000 to Suvilahti, the old energy production area, the present-day venue for numerous events and festivals. The whole weekend pulled together 28,000 people. “The bands played extremely tight the atmosphere was great and brotherly, as has been the custom,” said Eeka Mäkynen, the leader of Tuska Organization.
Mäkynen is right. I spent an intense Saturday-Sunday weekend at the festival, watching performances from bands like Anthrax, Ghost, Hatebreed and Children of Bodom, and “tight” is a great choice of word . . . but I would also add neck-breaking!
Anthrax, the legendary 80’s trash metal band from New York, is a well-known guest in Finland, having visited the country for the first time in 1986. They entertained the beer-swilling crowd on Saturday with classics like “Got The Time”, “Among The Living” and “You Gotta Believe.”
The headliner of Saturday evening was Ghost, a band flirting with Satan, faces covered in masks and skull paint, pounding powerful doom metal. Just moments before their performance it started raining heavily. People pulled on raincoats, and their skull face paints started dripping, which made them look as a bunch of sad skeletons.
The identity of the band members is unknown. They wear masks in public, just like the Finnish Lordi. But while Lordi sings”Hard Rock Hallelujah” (they performed on Friday), the song about crippled saints and the lost lambs without the guiding light, Ghost was upfront in addressing the Devil. Songs like “Monstrance Clock,” and “From The Pinnacle To The Pit” inspired the audience to hold their two fingers like horns. “Year Zero” went straight to the point by screaming the many names of the Prince of Darkness: Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer . . . . “Lucifer / We Are Here / For Your Praise / Evil One,” Papa Emeritus III, the vocalist of the band, sang during “Con Clavi Con Dio.”
On Sunday, the US metal monster, Hatebreed, kicked off the afternoon in pouring rain but gathered a huge amount of hard-core metal fans to a puddle turned moshpit. For me, Hatebreed was the definite highlight of Sunday – and, also, the festival. The band plays a fusion of extreme metal and hardcore punk, a mixture called metalcore.
Fast, killer tracks like “A.D.” made the crowd run in circles, splashing water on the nearest bystander, while a song like “Live For This” made your head jerk like there was no tomorrow. One of the definite highlights of Hatebreed’s set was “Looking Down the Barrel of Today.” A quote from the song describes the band’s attitude perfectly: “Now the world is my trigger and I’m here to fucking pull it.”
After the heavy weekend of intense moshing, jumping, many laughs and a few beers, I felt relaxed. No pain, except in my tired neck. As I strolled along the wet streets of Kallio in the early dawn, the Christmas lights of the Thai massage parlors were pulling me closer like fireflies. I pulled the door of one.
Luckily, it was locked.