Photos and report by Serena Solomon
The festival this year was a bit different than last. To begin, entering the festival was much less chaotic and took less time, although the first band still started quite early. The outdoor stage was much better than last year and both stages were adorned with large screens on either side. They were not so visible on the outdoor stage until the sun set, and they seemed a bit redundant on the indoor stage since you could basically see the stage from wherever you were standing, but at times they served their purpose. Both days had their ups and downs, and a balanced blend of various genres, and sounds ranging from more atmospheric Norwegian black metal to raw American death metal.
I had no expectations for the first band, Disciples of the Void, and was only able to catch the end of their set, but from what I was able to witness, although there wasn’t so much of an audience, they were able to really fill the outdoor space with atmosphere and a powerful full sound.
Advent Sorrow was one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing, however, the sound on the indoor stage really hindered their performance. This was the case for many of the bands. The acoustics on the indoor stage were not great for most of the bands sound (though it did work for some). Advent Sorrow did have really great energy and power in their stage presence, and seemed to have really good interaction with each other, though it was hard to tell because they were cloaked in smoke most of the time. To me, the performance would not have been as memorable if I had not been interested in the music beforehand. I would definitely like to see them again in a better venue.
Myrkskog was one of the few bands who’s aesthetic was not hindered by the bright outdoor stage. They had a tight performance and solid stage presence and engaged well with the crowd, which didn’t come too easily for many bands, specially with a smaller audience.
Trollheims Grott began with a blaring siren intro that captured the attention of probably everyone in the festival, inside and out. Though they were one of the best bands on the indoor stage, I personally thought their performance in Helsinki earlier in the year was better, they seemed a bit off kilter compared the the show at Nosturi. That being said, the hall was pretty full for such an early time slot, and the lighting and sound worked well for them, creating a powerful presence and what felt like the true beginning of the festival.
There was some delay before Arkhon Infaustus (almost fifteen minutes, which one might not think too much of but here at Steelfest, deviations from the schedule were not taken lightly as the bands played back to back by the minute from doors open to doors close). I’m not entire sure what the problem was, they lost their instruments? Something something, I’m not sure but their performance was not as memorable either way.
Though Antimateria didn’t impress me with their stage presence, their sound made up for it. They had a deep full sound that got to your core. They definitely seemed to be a crowd favorite, not to mention the sound of the indoor stage worked in their favor, however it felt like I was watching a different band when I was watching from the back of the venue as opposed to closer to the stage, almost like they were meant to be experienced from afar, rather than up close.
Evil did not seem to be a crowd favorite. Not one of my favorites either, specially with those ski masks, I couldn’t help thinking compared to Cohol last year and Mgła coming the next day, they looked a bit ridiculous. And what added to the “what the fuck” factor was that they seemed to be speaking to the crowd in another language (Portuguese?) .
Monarque, however, was pleasantly surprising. Another band I had no previous expectations of, but it felt like they were the first band where something was actually happening on stage, an actual performance. The indoor stage sound kept up for them, and they all around put on a great show. It was possibly my favorite thus far into the festival.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Seigneur Voland, since it was their first time playing in Finland, and they did a special 20th anniversary show. Their sound was decent, possibly would have been better on the indoor stage, since they were one of the more atmospheric bands that played outdoors, but I couldn’t get over the way the vocalist held himself on stage. Rigid and almost self conscious, almost reminiscent of an angry cat, and I couldn’t get past it. The rest of the band also didn’t seem too comfortable on stage. The crowd during their set, however, seemed to be the most boisterous, so maybe I was just missing something about them.
Vargrav had a lot going on. Their intro was probably the longest intro of the festival, and the first time I had seen two synth/keyboard players in a black metal band, and were also the first band to bring some kind of set on stage so far (and inverted iron cross on either side of the stage). They had a good performance but I think their sound was hindered by the indoor stage acoustics. I would like to see them again in a different venue.
Everything came together for Belphegor. They put on the best performance of the day in my opinion. They had great presence, energy, and interacted with each other and the crowd. The sound was spot on, and since the sun had set, the twilit outside stage along with the lighting and incense, provided the perfect atmosphere for their show. I had seen them years before and didn’t remember their show being so great. Would definitely want to see them again.
The guys of Trollheims Grott seemed to have better energy and overall be more into it during Horna. They had the hall packed, and the crowd was totally into the show. They commanded the attention of everyone watching, although again, the acoustics of the indoor stage hindered their sound. Spellgoth’s speeches between songs also took me off guard a bit, I didn’t remember him doing that during previous shows and wondered what others thought of it.
Immolation brought a different mood to the lineup. That raw American death metal vibe that added a welcome twist to the more European black metal streak that was running through out the day. They put on a decent show, though not one of my personal favorites, they seemed to really capture the crowd and were well received.
The night ended with Mysticum. Another band that didn’t quite fit in sound wise with the rest of the bands of the day yet somehow were just what the lineup needed. A perfect band to end the first day, somewhat reminiscent of Mortiis the previous year though possibly not as “out there” compared to the rest of the lineup.
The lineup of day 2 was all around more appealing, for me and many others it seemed. I’m not sure what the actual numbers were but it seemed there were much more people at the festival on Saturday. The earlier bands on Saturday also felt a lot more professional than Friday, like they had their shit together more and knew how to command the stage and the audience with their performance and sound.
My Day 2 started with …And Oceans. Surprised they were on so early, I was under the impression they were one of the more anticipated bands of the festival. They played the outdoor stage, and despite the direct sunlight and the early time slot, they definitely pulled it off. Kena’s yellow face paint was luminescent in the bright mid day sun, but the vibe of the entire set was perfect to start off the second day of Steelfest. They drew in a much larger crowd at that hour than the previous day and had a special guest appearance by Spellgoth, dawning a lovely black and white dress. Although they brought the definite comedic element to the festival, their set was no laughing matter, solid performance and great show all around.
Délétère had potential, their set and sound didn’t work so well for me but it felt like maybe on another day in another place they could have been great. Possibly the curse of the indoor acoustics, possibly the excess of smoke, either way, they didn’t stick out to me. Maybe the weak point of the day.
Aeternus was another band I felt should have been on later, but I guess there aren’t enough good time slots available with so many headliner-level bands. Their presence and sound filled the whole venue, everyone was at the outside stage. Great energy and interaction with each other, the audience, as well as us the photographers. They were one of the bands that made me feel like Saturday bands had their shit together more than many of the Friday bands.
Totalselfhatred was another band I was looking forward to, being familiar with their music and live performance. Unfortunately, they had bad technical difficulties for most of the beginning of their set. Due to the tight schedule of the festival, I wasn’t able to stay around to see if things got better for them towards the end of their set which sucked because I know they put on a really good show. Despite the technical difficulties, they powered through as much as they could and the audience was still supportive.
Grave Miasma was another band well suited for the outdoor stage. They filled the whole venue with power and a solid raw sound. Their presence filled the whole stage and they delivered a show full of non-stop energy and metal.
The next act was possibly my favorite show of the entire festival. Gaahls Wyrd. They were definitely the best band on the indoor stage. The wonky acoustics worked for their atmospheric melancholic vibe, and they had zero technical difficulties. Their performance was smooth, flawless and enthralled the crowd (and myself) more than any other band. They played some older material from Gorgoroth, God Seed and Trelldom, as well as stuff from the forthcoming Gaahls Wyrd album. It made me even more eager to hear the new album (which would release a week later). Though they were lacking incense, the heat of the indoor stage made the show almost a spiritual experience with the haunting reverb on the vocals during the Gaahls Wyrd songs. I could not get their show out of my head, and was so excited to hear they would be back in Finland later in the year with Mayhem because their set definitely left me wanting more.
I was so captivated by Gaahls Wyrd (and because I needed to eat at some point), I missed Deiphago, so Kroda was next up. The opposite of Antimateria, Kroda was more interesting up close. They had a lot of little details that contributed to the unique and intriguing aesthetic of their performance. They brought the first ritual type experience of the festival, and dawned some interesting yet fitting attire/costume. It seemed they brought one of the biggest crowds to the indoor stage, almost headliner-size. The crowd also seemed the most eager and engaged with Kroda, chanting for the band through out the show. Sound wise, I think they could have been better, the indoor acoustics didn’t work for them and I thought they were a little too loud.
Einherjer was another band I was anticipating, and they definitely delivered. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves on stage, and their own mood filtered into the crowd. They brought a lighter, more heavy metal vibe to the crowd, which, like Immolation on Friday, was a welcome change. It seemed they too were a bit louder than the previous bands… maybe it was just that time of the day to get a little louder.
I was not expecting the performance Naglfar provided. I don’t know what I was expecting, but their show definitely seemed different from what their music implied their live show to be. I wasn’t unimpressed but they weren’t one of the most memorable acts for me.
I was pleasantly surprised by Asphyx. They also provided an energy different to most of the bands. Their energy and all around vibe was infectious, and commanded the crowd in the best way possible.
Odium was different than I expected, but not in a necessarily good or bad way. Their set seemed a bit scattered and in-cohesive but it worked at times. They had more than average amount of members (including, again, two synth/keyboardists)and yet the stage didn’t feel crowded. Though their sound and music seemed a bit sporadic, their presence was pretty well put-together and smooth. They were definitely hindered by the sound on the indoor stage though.
Much like Immolation the previous day, Vital Remains brought that iconic American sound that was absent through out the rest of the day. You could tell it was their first time in Finland, and to me their stage presence and energy screamed American. The crowd loved it though, and it was obvious many of the fans had been wanting to see this band in Finland for a while.
Everything about Nargaroth was spot on… except the sound. Their show lived up to my expectation 110%, except the fact that the sound on the indoor stage totally fucked them over. I wish they had been on the outdoor stage. Their stage set up included pigs heads speared to the tops of inverted crosses, dripping blood. Their energy was raw and fit the mood of their music perfectly. It was tangible through out the crowd.
Mgła brought the biggest crowd of the entire festival, and that was not a surprise at all. They were the band I was most looking forward to hands down, and they too, did not fail. They played the outdoor stage, but honed in the atmosphere so you felt as if it was an intimate club setting. Even with their faceless, simplistic presence, their sound was anything but. Though the lighting and smoke were perfect and complimented their unique sound, the bright screens on either side were a bit of a distraction. That said, the entire audience was still engulfed in the blue murk of their set.
Although Mgła, seemed to have the biggest draw, Marduk was the big headliner. Playing an exclusive “Panzer Division Marduk” 20 year anniversary set, they closed the festival with a most fitting show. They were the only band that seemed too big for the indoor stage, sound and energy wise. Their energy fed into the crowd and doubled in size half way through the set. I think it was safe to say it was a perfect and satiating end to yet another great Steelfest.
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