May 18-19, 2018 in Hyvinkää, Finland
Report and photos by Serena Solomon
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.
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.
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.