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Steelfest Open Air 2018


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May 18-19, 2018 in Hyvinkää, Finland

Report and photos by Serena Solomon

 

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Steelfest Open Air is known as the metal festival to commence festival season in Finland, more so by those who are fans of extreme metal (black,death, thrash, etc.). As a first timer to Steelfest, it took a little time once there, to get into the festival mindset as a photographer and attendee, since I’m used to the season starting later in the summer.  However, the atmosphere and mood, not to mention music and location made it easy to get into the swing of things. I heard from people who had attended Steelfest regularly, that this year the weather was the best it had been in years.  Festival goers were able to lounge on the grass and enjoy the rare interminable sun and warmth  while also having the option to relax in the cool darkness of the indoor stage area. There was a lot of praise for how accommodating the festival was from the amount of seating and food/drink options available to the accessibility of the location and available accommodations not to mention how smoothly the festival ran in general. The few downsides were the compactness of the schedule; people found themselves running from stage to stage with not much time in between sets to catch a breath let alone eat or socialize. The schedule could have been a bit less hectic, specially Friday, with Havukruunu starting just a half hour after doors opened and shortened sets of more prominent bands. And, although the acts themselves catered to various music tastes, the lineup and order of bands seemed to slightly lack the diversity to keep things interesting through out the day, although ending the first day with Mortiis was probably enough diversity to carry the entire festival.

Overall there wasn’t as much bones, blood and ritual as I anticipated (basing my experience as a Turku Saatanalle regular) and a lot more color (Cult of Fire, Dødheimsgard and Mortiis). My personal most anticipated acts were Nokturnal Mortum, Necrophobic, Alghazanth and Skogen. I was also interested to see Watain, Saor, Havukurrunu, Tomentor and Dødheimsgard. Some of them were a disappointment, some delivered and there were a few performances that impressed me unexpectedly.

 

DAY 1 

Havukruunu kicked off the festival on Friday with a powerful set. However, the fact that they started so soon after doors meant there was a small crowd despite the fact that it seemed many people were eager to see their show. It all felt a bit rushed and not as solid as the performance earlier in the year at Turku Saatanalle VI.

 

Cohol was one band I started to get into weeks before the festival, I know I liked what I heard but had no expectations for their show. I was pleasantly surprised. They put on a memorable performance full of a unique kind of energy and stage presence that fit their music style. It caught the attention of many concert goers and personally left me wanting more.  Hailing all the way from Japan, their journey was well worth it.

I was honestly not familiar with One Master. I listened to their music and felt I might have been able to get more into it if they stood out more live, but for me, there wasn’t much that was memorable about their performance.

Baise Ma Hache was another band I started listening to weeks before. They seemed to have a powerful sound which was conveyed well on their live performance. They had a strong stage presence and kept the attention and participation of the crowd.  The stage presence of some of the other bands was hindered a bit by playing on the outdoor stage. Certain atmosphere was lost with the relentless sunshine, small stage area and lack of visible stage lighting. However, Baise Ma Hache’s set did not suffer one bit.

Another powerful performance was from homegrown Archgoat. Though they are not personally high on my “much anticipated” list, I respect their position within the Finnish metal scene and the fact that they are a much anticipated band to many other festival goers. Every time I have seen them live, they always deliver and never fail to get the crowd going.

Malokarpatan was another band I was not personally so into, however, their performance and sound put a bit of diversity in the lineup thus far. Their stage presence reflected on the crowd and seemed to switch the mood all together just a bit, maybe a bit lighter, maybe a bit thrashier, maybe people were simply becoming more visibly drunk. I’m not sure, but it was a positive thing either way.

I was not initially particularly interested in Satanic Warmaster. The last few times I had seen them live, it was a bit of a let down. However, their performance at Steelfest was an unexpectedly impressive show. Their energy was spot on and they, themselves, seemed more into the music than I had remembered which, in turn, got the crowd more into it as well. I personally had a hard time tearing myself away from the indoor stage to rush to the next band

Deströyer 666 was also a much anticipated band for many festival goers. They were another a band who’s energy and presence was not hindered by playing on the outdoor stage. They definitely rose up to the expectations and anticipation of the crowd as well as gave yet another twist of something different with their sound and stage presence.

Nokturnal Mortum was initially the band that made me say “sold” when contemplating whether or not I would attend Steelfest this year. Which didn’t take long, since they were one of the first bands announced. They were one of the bands I was most familiar with and had never seen live. For me, their energy was spot on, but their setlist could have been improved upon. However, I heard a rumor that their set was cut short due to the hectic schedule (specially since Watain was up next). I personally thought their energy and presence was great and reflected in the audience as well, however, some people I spoke to who had seen them before said this was one of their least favorite performances. Either way, it was a great experience to finally see (and shoot) them.

Finally, Watain. I was quite surprised that they were playing on the smaller stage, however, it made sense once they started lighting up. Though they seemed a bit cramped among the pitchforks and flames, their performance did not suffer. Again, they were not personally one of my most anticipated bands but I was eager to see their set, since I had never seen them before.  I heard they had some technical difficulties and their sound was not as up to par with other gigs they had previously done. I also heard mixed reviews of how the guitarist did taking up playing guitar as well as singing. Some people were impressed, specially since he played the solos as well, and others said his vocals suffered from it.

Then there was Mortiis. Not everyones cup of …whatever. For me it was an odd placement all together, in the festival itself,  its placement in the schedule and the fact that it was specifically a show dedicated to the “Ånden som gjorde opprør” album. This did, however pique my interest to see how the performance would pan out and what people would think about it. From what I heard, people were either really into it or really confused and uninterested by it. Some felt it was a great ending to the first day, some couldn’t bare to stay more than five minutes.  For me personally, it was a unique opportunity to see this character and the atmosphere he creates on stage live,  but it was near impossible to photograph (though the cloak of low light, fog, and a stage prop that made it hard to see him was part of the mysticism and appeal of the show) and after maybe ten minutes, the music lost me. It seemed one had to be a fan and familiar with that particular album to truly enjoy the show, or simply in the right mental space for that kind of atmosphere after a day of extreme metal. One could have likened it to the “get the fuck out” music at closing time, or a more chill way to end the night.

 

DAY 2

Starting even earlier but an hour after doors this time, Hin Onde opened the small stage for the day. They had good sound but this was one occasion I believe being on the outdoor stage detracted from their show. I personally felt it might have been more fitting for them to be inside, and again, possibly have played later in the day since it seemed many were interested to see the band.

 

Nattfog had great sound that filled the indoor area but their stage presence did not convey the power and command their sound provided. They seemed a bit stagnant and not so connected with the fact that they were performing live on stage. The drummer helped bridge the gap between the band and crowd at times but otherwise they seemed like they were not simply rehearsing rather than performing live.

Skogen, on the other hand, had no problem connecting with their own music as well as the audience and provided a visual to support the solid sound that emanated from the stage. They had no problem creating a powerful ambience and getting the crowd enthralled with their performance.

Next up on the indoor stage, Asagraum. Of course, I was curious to see how an all female black metal band would do live, though their music was not one of the most memorable sounds in the lineup. They commanded the stage quite well and brought some of the black metal vibe and aesthetic that I had felt some of the other bands were lacking. Each member had their own performance style but it melded together well and they interacted with the audience directly and indirectly which made them stand out for me more than their music.

Demilich was a much anticipated band for many people, specially since just coming off a headlining US tour. They delivered with their performance and were not hindered by they lack of atmosphere on the outdoor stage. They brought the vibe in the festival up a notch and got the crowd on their feet.

I was quite eager (as many) to see Alghazanth. They had impressed me with thier live show before, and since Steelfest 2018 marked the end of their live career, it was a must see for me and many of the other festival goers. They did not disappoint. For a mid day band, they had one of the bigger crowds filling the indoor stage area. They were well respected within the Finnish black metal scene and could not have said farewell in a better way.

Saor was a favorite for many, from what I heard. I was also eager to see them, since I had been listening to them for a long time and had never seen them live. They had a solid performance but I felt it did not convey the distinct mood their music provides. I cannot put my finger on exactly what it was, whether it was again being on the outdoor stage or the band themselves, but I felt it was missing something. However, the diversity of their music was much needed within the lineup on day 2 and provided a nice change of pace.

Necrophobic. Possibly the best performance of the entire festival. I was looking forward to see them but did not have any expectations. I was incredibly and pleasantly surprised by their sound and energy and everything about it.  They took control of the stage and commanded the entire indoor area with their presence visually and sonically. This was another band I had trouble tearing myself away from to run to the next stage, and one of the few bands that left me wanting more and eager to see again.

Since Necrophobic left such a lasting impression on me and I was not so familiar with Forteresse, their performance was a bit lost on me. I didn’t hear much spoken about them amongst the festival goers before or after the show and was not impressed nor let down by their performance. They had a solid presence but the music just wasn’t captivating for me.. but it was probably a welcome thing since they were between two of the strongest acts of the festival.

After listening to Cult of Fire for a while before the festival and seeing some photos from their previous live shows, I was a bit skeptical since I am a fan of Batushka, and felt they seemed quite similar in their aesthetic and visual appearance. However, aside from the candles/alters and ceremonial ambiance, their live show was something much different than I was expecting (not as Batushka-esque). They brought to the table the ritual aspect I had expected more of which had been absent for most of the festival thus far, but despite the fact that they were all cloaked head to toe and were not easy to see beyond the inferno presented in front of each musician, they had an intoxicating energy. While waiting in the photo pit, I was already enthralled by their presence standing on the side of the stage. The mixture of their intro track and seeing these dark figures in ethereal costumes moving in the shadows off stage sent a chill through me in a good way and, once they started playing, the chill did not subside.  The smallest details of their aesthetic contributed greatly to their haunting presence and their sound provided an energy all of its own that greatly differed from Batushka. They were yet another band that I could not tear myself away from and left me slightly unsettled in a good way and wanting more.

I noticed a lot of discourse about Necros Christos and was curious what all the hype was about. It was their first live gig after two years which included new material from their final album “Domedon Doxomedon”released the day before their show. Their sound was much bigger than the stage they were performing on but somehow it did not hinder their presence. I could feel the power in their music and how it resonated through the crowd with the praises I heard before hand sticking at the back of my mind, it was easy to understand why this band was highly anticipated and a definite unexpected highlight of the day.

 

Dødheimsgard was another unexpected and pleasant surprise for me. Their music caught my ear when listening to Steelfest bands in the weeks before the festival and I was interested to see how their sound and unique aesthetic would translate live. They definitely brought a substantially diverse act to the Steelfest lineup in the best way possible. It’s not a difficult observation to make that their sound, presence and visual aesthetics were unlike any other band, but were easily one of the strongest performances at the festival.

 

My familiarity with Moonsorrow made them one of the acts I was certain I would enjoy. However, it was quite unexpected and a bit of a breath of fresh air to see Ville Sorvali roaming freely around the stage and Henri Sorvali taking up the role as Bassist (a.k.a. Moonsorrow ft. Trollhorn from Finntroll, as the joke goes). Immediately, my mind was brought to none other than Wintersun and their recent transition of Jari becoming only a frontman sans instrument as well. I’m still not sure how I feel about this new setup with Moonsorrow but I have a few more festivals to see to make my mind up. Either way, the performance at least did not suffer at all from the recent transition. The crowd was possibly the most active and engaged I had seen through out the festival thus far, and the band was in no way hindered by the small outdoor stage. Not only was their energy spot on, as always, they played a perfect balance of old and new. Also, their use of smoke struck me as an interesting contrast to Watain’s use of fire the previous day during the same time slot.

And the finale of Steelfest 2018, Tormentor. In my opinion, a much stronger final act than the previous day and a strong enough act to provide a satisfying ending to an amazing start to festival season. Tormentor did not disappoint one bit. They played an exclusive set which coincided with the 30th anniversary of the “unrelease” of their first full length recording “Anno Domini”. It was hard to not get into the show even if one wasn’t a fan of theirs. They took off at full force and didn’t slow down one bit until the end, and managed to look like they were enjoying themselves as well. It was a flawless act to wrap up Steelfest 2018.

 

 

 

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LIVE REVIEW: Turku Saatanalle V


Turku Saatanalle V

February 3-4, 2017 at Gong in Turku, Finland

Photos and Report by Serena Solomon

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This year, Turku Saatanalle went through hell. And not in a good way. Due to personal issues, illnesses and in one case, the venue deciding one week before the festival that they were banning Naer Mataron (their words on the issue) from playing based on a steaming pile of misinformation, the lineup was constantly evolving. Even in the days leading up to the festival, Facebook followers cringed at any new notification from the promoters. But despite the bumpy, shit covered road that lead up to the fifth consecutive Turku Saatanalle, it was a great festival and consensus seemed to agree that it was near flawless and very well arranged.

I was curious going into it, since there was such controversy from the venue, how the attendees would behave towards the venue itself. I had already witnessed on Facebook negative feedback and bashing towards the venue for their misinformed conclusions. However, I didn’t witness or hear of any drama or negative situations myself at the festival. The most memorable mishaps were mere technical difficulties that barely deterred from the live show’s aesthetic.

DAY 1

Early doors were announced to keep the line moving but there wasn’t much of a crowd half an hour before the first band Azaghal, who stepped in for Sielunvihollinen. The stage stayed empty for a while, and some great atmospheric music played, setting the mood. All that was missing was incense.

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As Azaghal (Hyvinkää, Finland) started playing, it seemed not many people were as eager as expected to come early. However, once I resurfaced from behind my camera after the first few songs, I noticed the floor was full. They played a much more memorable performance than the last time I saw them, more into the music and successful in setting the tone for the rest of the night.

IC Rex (Jyväskylä, Finland) made a few heads turn before they even started playing. As the other members were still setting up and doing soundcheck, the vocalist was, what I gathered after watching him for a while, performing some kind of ritual that grew in intensity as it continued ending in him hastily laying down a symbol with duct tape on the floor and stomping on it while screaming.

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I wasn’t sure whether or not the ritual was for the audiences benefit or his own since he started out not making much of a spectacle of it as the others were still setting up, and stayed facing away from the audience the whole time. This was one of the more active, and intense bands of the night, including the backdrop that changed from a plain black and white symbol to a whole collage of colors and symbols that only added to their somewhat trippy and “what the fuck is happening” vibe.

As Nécropole (France) took the stage, the vocalist stood there, calm and composed and almost looking out of place in comparison to IC Rex’s vivaciousness, as the band and stage crew tried to fix some technical difficulties.

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It took a bit to get used to, but after a while, his vocals made sense in their unique sound. At some point there was an unexpected (to me) loud roar from the crowd after one specific song, but maybe something significant happened on stage that I missed.

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It made me wonder if they had been one of the more anticipated bands, though their name didn’t come up in casual discourse with attendees much. Though their sound was high pitched, passion filled and no less raw than other bands, their ambiance seemed to transpire as one of the more peaceful/somber/melancholic bands of the festival.

Morrigan (Germany), who filled in for Naer Mataron, though only a two member band, surprisingly had the same amount of atmosphere and full sound as their predecessors. Their raw, authentic style of performance and music was a contrast to the other bands of the night. Maybe one for the fans of early black metal. They seemed to do a longer set than the other bands,

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though maybe that was just my perception as a photographer… less people on stage to photograph, less to distract, more time to actually watch the band.

As the crowd eagerly waited for Ajattara (Helsinki,Finland) to take the stage, the vocalist of IC Rex provided entertainment for those who were around him in the crowd. Whether it was his own excitement to see Ajattara, or adrenaline from playing a good gig, or other influences, he was bouncing around the audience babbling chants and shouting praises and seemed to be performing rituals on/with random audience members. This heightened the anticipation of the crowd, who, based on my own excitement, was already very much looking forward to the final band of the night. And they did not fail to fulfill our expectations.

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I saw them at Nummirock this past summer for the first time, and was blown away by their performance. After listening to a band for over a decade, it is always a great experience to see them live for the first time. And the second time was no less impressive. They were the perfect addition to the lineup, and a great ending to the first night, leaving us amped for the next day.

DAY 2

Malum, a local band from Turku, who stepped in for FrΩnt, started the second day. I was surprised how empty the venue was for most of their set, since all of their shows I had attended locally were near sold out. The vocalist begin the night with a “Hail Satan!”. I have to say, it has been really interesting watching this band’s stage presence evolve over the few years I’ve known them.

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The visual focus is directed to their vocalist, since the other members are mainly cloaked in black, but he commands the stage well as a front man of an up-and-coming black metal band. The whole band has a stoicism and stealth about them that grabs your attention just as much as any energetic band that jumps all over the stage and spews blood at the audience.

”Ok, I’m awake now!” was my thought as Naðra (Iceland), who took the place of Mannveira, opened at full speed. They began their set as abruptly as Malum ended. In contrast, capturing the off-the-wall presence Malum did not need to portray the same amount of ambiance.

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I shot the band continuously and was surprised after resurfacing half way through that the “full speed” aesthetic they begin with had not faltered one bit (the audience seemed to be keeping up as well). Though entertaining, it made me question how Misþyrming’s set would be since its basically the same members in different places.

Archgoat (Turku, Finland) was announced the day before the festival to take the place of Korgonthurus. Though they were the last band added to the ever evolving Turku Saatanalle V lineup, the anticipation was thick in the crowd. Though they lived up to expectation without question, their technical difficulties were the only memorable fuck-up moment through the whole festival.

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The vocalists bass popped a string (or so I heard) and he kind of just gave up on it for a few songs. It did not deter from the sound or performance at all, in my opinion, and of course, the crowd was more supportive than ever and really into the show. They definitely maintained their status as a most desired addition to the festival, and as a respected death/black metal band from Finland.

True Black Dawn (Helsinki, Finland) was one of the pleasant surprises of the festival for me. They exuded such a specific kind of ambiance, and everything about their live presence seem to come together perfectly.

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Their musical and visual style was definitely unique to this festival, yet somehow contributed to the incredible coherence of the festivals flow, and highlighted the diversity.

As previously mentioned, I was eager to see Misþyrming (Iceland). Originally, they were one of my anticipated bands, but since Naðra put on such an intense, high energy show not a few hours before, I was curious if their set would suffer. And to me, since I had never seen them live before, it did not suffer one bit.

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Misþyrming seemed to be one of the bands most people I heard talking were most interested to see. It seemed the audience (and I) enjoyed the show thoroughly. It is funny though, since they are mainly the same members, how much more Misþyrming was mentioned than Naðra.

The last band of the festival was a bit of a head scratcher for me. Profanatica (USA), who took the place of the most anticipated Batushka (the band I, personally, was looking forward to most), was unique, to say the least. I had left the venue as they were setting up to grab a drink downstairs and get some fresh air. When I returned, I was fidgeting with my camera, head down until I got to a decent spot in the crowd. As I looked up, and assessed the stage, I couldn’t help the cartoonish head tilt and brow furrowing. With the drummer as the vocalist, the drum set had been brought up to the front of the stage. The band also donned unique costumes of… I don’t even know what to call it… medieval robes? Complete with head coverings.

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They put on a good show, and there was still a good sized audience, but in my opinion, Batushka would have been a much more fitting and satisfying ending for the festival. But I guess you can’t have it all, and if that was the one form of a complaint, I’d say that means it was a pretty awesome and successful festival .

The bands and their uniqueness from each other flowed really well, almost creating a symmetrical balance between the two days, and despite all the last minute drama and lineup changes. Both days, we had a local up-and-coming band, a local well-known band, a band that woke us up with their insane energy, a band that confused us a bit, and a much anticipated foreign band. Out of the three years I have personally attended this festival, this years was most memorable.The bands themselves were mostly well received and gave great performance…

However, the festival this year topped all the others just based on the fact there was such diversity between the bands, yet it all flowed flawlessly, is if it were meticulously planned that way, not thrown together days before in a fit of fuckness due to cancellations and drama. Major props to the promoters and everyone involved in the success of this years Turku Saatanalle \m/

Disclaimer – my Finnish isn’t so good, so a lot of my interpretations of the events are just that… my own interpretations. Bare with me.

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