An account of Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, 2017
So here’s some background for non-metalheads: Tuska is one of the two biggest metal festivals in Finland, the other being Nummirock, which translates roughly to ‘rock on the heath’. (Finland, incidentally, is the country with the largest number of metal bands per capita in the world.) Tuska is held in Helsinki, and its name translates, delightfully enough, to ‘excruciating pain’… which, needless to say, told me this was a festival I couldn’t miss!
So as one would expect, the density of black t-shirt wearers grows exponentially as one approaches Suvilahti, the festival venue, and explodes at the field itself. It would perhaps be harder to explain to a non-metalhead the warm, cosy feeling that permeates the festival grounds. In general, Finns are known for respecting other people’s personal space, and metal audiences are particularly polite and kind and committed to the music they love; so this was a crowd of thirty thousand people without the slightest chaos or crush, right up to the front rows. It is hard to say which was nicer, headbanging to Wintersun in a whirl of long-haired people and snowy music, or lying on the grass in the sun outside the Inferno Stage listening to The Raven Age.
One of the greatest pleasures of Tuska is the company of fellow metalheads, particularly those from around the world. I was fortunate enough to be sharing a hostel with a wonderful group of lively and diverse international metalheads, united by their love of Finland and good music.
Tuska is also a very family-friendly event; I saw lots of metalhead parents with small children, always wearing suitable hearing protectors. These young metalheads were appreciative connoisseurs, raising their fists and expressing informed opinions to their parents.
Tuska happens on the same weekend as Helsinki Pride every year, so lots of people, including me, visit both. This means that the Pride is full of metalheads upholding the rainbow spirit in their black t-shirts, since they genuinely support equality but own no clothes that are not black. It isn’t really surprising that metal and pride are so compatible, since pride is about embracing diversity and the warmth of love, while metal is about space, symphony and silence and the depth of feeling, respecting diversity by its very monochrome anonymity.
And of course, Tuska is about some of the best music in the world… Some of the bands I got to hear:
Brother Firetribe, sunlit, textured and vibrant in the breadth, warmth and balance of their music.
Wintersun blazing like a field of snow, catching you up in the whirl of a blizzard.
Insomnium, crimson, intimate and magnificently tender.
Mayhem, drawing you into great abysses of ice and filling the arena with all the ecstasy of cold. (The band members were a magnificent sight, emerging from the smoke in their black hooded cloaks.)
Sabaton, in all their epic richness of colour and sound.
Vorna, deep and warm and blazing, like a winter fireplace.
Barren Earth, wandering on desolate moors in the gathering dusk.
Mokoma, realising all the glorious potential and vitality of sheer noise.
Lost Society, in all their urban neon vigour.
Soilwork, pounding in the veins like a fever.
Amorphis, playing the timeless and clear music of this land and its waters. (They played in pouring rain, but this did not appear to affect either the performance or the enjoyment of it.)
HIM, the cosiest possible ending to a long day: thousands of people standing together under the almost midnight sun, singing along to songs they all knew and loved.
Battle Beast, a gleaming and vital cascade, epic and gloriously young. (Noora Louhimo and her spear… oops, mic… in ‘Lost in Wars’ formed one of the most visually compelling spectacles of the festival.)
The Raven Age, pure, clean and good metal.
Baroness, burning and passionate.
Apocalyptica, distilling magnificently the essence of metal and the majesty of classical harmony. (The sheer delight of watching thousands of people headbang to four men on cellos is without parallel.)
Sonata Arctica, crystal and soaring.
To quote Wintersun, we are sons of winter and stars. Or perhaps Battle Beast’s ‘bastard son of Odin’ would be a compliment esteemed equally by most metalheads. I look forward to joining my fellow bastard sons of Odin again next year!