24 & 25 July 2009
Regulars of my reports will remember me as a dedicated Wacken Open Air fan who loves the atmosphere, the metal friends I have made, the diversity of bands performing and the whole experience of ‘Metal Mecca’. Over the years I have been able to cope with the discomforts of survival style camping and weather extremes, but last year I broke off my love affair when Wacken reached record crowd numbers making it mostly impossible to see what was happening on stage clearly without the help of screens and time consuming to move from one stage to another. The introduction of an outdoor movie theatre outside the festival area to cope with the increased crowd was a joke.
The thought of spending another three expensive days carrying around six kilograms worth of camera equipment, writing notes and trying to take photos of bands I couldn’t see anyway had me vowing not to return to Wacken for the 20th anniversary.
Being an obsessive compulsive list writer, I started compiling a calendar of European metal festivals when I returned to Australia and as line-ups were announced this year I started sorting through the festivals with either my favourite bands or bands on my live wish list. As it turned out, this year was mostly about seeing bands on my live wish list and those bands were playing Finnish festivals–perfect. I was traveling alone this year so I was happy that I was going to a country where I feel 100% safe and at home even though the language is quite beyond this tri-lingual girl.
I was on the train to Oulu a couple of days after flying into Helsinki. The 5-hour trip was made enjoyable by picturesque Finland. There’s isn’t a part of this country that isn’t a shade of green and coming from Australia it was a nice change to the shades of browns and reds associated with our landscape. For most of the journey I had my face pressed hoping for my first glimpse of the local fauna on this trip–the roadkill squirrel outside my Helsinki hostel didn’t count.
Day 1 Friday 24 July
I crossed the bridge from my hotel and arrived at the press check-in at about 4pm with plenty of time to scoped the grounds. The festival is on an island which is green, picturesque and shade friendly thanks to the birch trees.
Most people at this time were watching HOLOO HELSINKI on the Outdoor stage. When I found all the stages, I went to the merchandise stand and saw a pitiful three QStock T-shirts on the table. Wacken experience has taught me to get your festival merchandise as soon as you arrive to avoid disappointment, so I grabbed a T-shirt straight away. The merchandise guy said they’d only received about twenty because they’d been on sale ahead of the festival in town. I also pick up my first Pain T-shirt and a great Poisonblack T-shirt with caricatures of the band.
The festival area was much smaller than I was expecting and before long I had nothing to do so I sat at the bar beside the Q-tent and Main stage, listened to SAMAE KOSKINEN JA HANEN TAIKABANDINSA and sipped on my favourite lonkero—a ready mix of gin and grapefruit drink.
Finnish festivals remind me of Australian ones with the strict regulation of licensed areas. The separated bar area and rude alcohol prices (6 euro for a 330 ml can) could trick me into believing I was at home except for two giveaways—the band playing was singing in Finnish and the people beside me were all drinking Fosters. Australians haven’t drunk Fosters since the ‘80s.
The Q-tent was a large circus tent/marquee so even if you didn’t fit under cover, you were still offered about 270 degrees of viewing area; much better than Wacken’s Wet stage tent.
Overall, the set up isn’t quite as good as the larger Ankkarock (in Vantaa) which offers more food variety and stalls to keep you occupied between bands; however, QStock is extremely close to the town allowing you to escape the festival area to the kauppatori (markets) for some fresh local food even if you only have an hour to kill at this 5-stage festival.
After checking out the popular HAPPORADIO on the Main stage, a Finnish style pop/rock band similar to LOVEX or NEGATIVE, I headed off for a feed and water to kill another hour until CELESTY.
The sun was warm and strong—a heatwave by Finnish standards and just before 7pm I moved to the shade of the mixing desk with a suspicious thought those guys setting up sure don’t look like CELESTY. Then one of them got on the microphone, rattled off a bunch of Finnish and the assembled crowd dispersed. Oh, great!
I turned to the sound engineer and asked for a translation. Sure enough CELESTY had cancelled. Great, terrific, not happy. No power metal for me this festival. I’ve been listening to CELESTY since about 2002 and their 2009 release has been by far their best work. I was extremely disappointed.
So now I had another hour to kill before SPARZANZA were due on stage. With the cancellation of Anthrax’s summer tour PAIN was promoted to a later slot on the Main stage and in their place was this metal band from Sweden I hadn’t heard of.
SPARZANZA are no strangers to Finland. A decent crowd had gathered and there were cheers and girly screams welcoming this hard rock/metal band.
I used the first three songs to get my shots made difficult by the heavy smoke machine. By ‘Black Heart’ (I think it was the fourth song) the overactive smoke machine turned out to be a waste as the wind blew the smoke out behind the stage enveloping the backstage area in a smoke haze.
The fifth song sounded something like ‘Robota’ from their 2009 release ‘In Voodoo Veritas’. The CD must be a well-known because when ‘Black Gemini’ was introduced there was a pretty loud response.
The singer, Fredrik Weileby, complimented the Finns on their lovely warm weather and complained that it had been raining for weeks in Sweden.
“The next song is about guns. Not for or against, just about guns,” introduced ‘Red Dead Revolver’. ‘Chasing the Dragon’ followed, then Weileby invited the crowd to raise their lighters or flame throwers (glad they mean something different in Swedish) or even panties for ‘My World of Sin’.
Overall SPARZANZA were OK for their style, but there wasn’t anything that overly impressed me. A shame really because the band was tight and the members played well together even if the lead guitarist was throwing way too many poser moves for that style of music. Maybe I should have caught one of the other metal acts I wasn’t planning to watch instead.
Before SPARZANZA had even managed to leave the stage, I was off to the Main stage for the primary reason QStock was on my festival list this year.
When I saw the front of the stage covered in little black pyro cylinders I knew to keep my distance, but it didn’t stop me from jumping from the almighty crack when PAIN opened with ‘I’m Going In’ and being covered in ash. Being a fan girl made it difficult for me to concentrate on photography when all I wanted to do was let loose with the crowd; however, singer and the man behind PAIN, Peter Tägtgren, captured my attention with his stage presence and expressive eyes.
As usual, the first three songs are somewhat a blur but I think ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Suicide Machine’ followed. During the introduction of one of the songs, the band was windmilling uniformly. I don’t know how else to describe it except that the heads moved in the same direction and everyone’s hair reached 12 o’clock at the same time—it continued at intervals through much of the set.
The crowd was going off! Flames flew much earlier than I expected and I could feel the heat on my face working on my ‘sun tan’. Occasionally, I’d check my eyebrows to make sure they were still there.
Tägtgren was wearing a really cool black hockey shirt and after seeing the Slayer hockey shirt in a catalogue a while ago, I have always wondered why more bands, especially the hockey crazy Scandinavians, don’t have hockey style band shirts. It’d be a nice change from the boring standard metal, black T style.
Strangely, photographers weren’t herded out of the pit after three songs, but I wanted to watch PAIN with the wide angle of the natural eye, instead of the lens induced tunnel vision focussed on one member. I got into the crowd, stashed my gear in my backpack during ‘Monkey Business’ and was ready to start ‘Dancing with the Dead’, one of PAIN’s more commercial songs.
“Do we have any zombies out there?” introduced ‘Zombie Slam’, then ‘End of the Line’ followed.
After ‘It’s Only Them’ Tägtgren led the crowd in a weird chant of “Party!”, “ Fucking!”, “Sucking!”, the crowd repeated after each word and then he couldn’t think of any other words so the band launched into ‘Just Hate Me’.
“Let’s go crazy people,” was our instruction for ‘I Don’t Care’ from Cynic Paradise and before ‘On and On’, we were given the insight that “Life will kick your arse if you don’t stay alert!”
No sooner had PAIN walked off stage than the we began our cheers and claps of “we want more”. Every now and then I’d have trouble focussing so I think the pyros dried the contact lenses to my eyeballs.
A long keyboard introduction gave way to ‘Same Old Song’ and I was so busy headbanging and dancing I missed the blazing drum cymbals. I scrambled to get a shot, but unfortunately the great affect wasn’t captured at its best.
With the distinct gothic dance overtones of ‘Same Old Song’, ‘Dancing with the Dead’ and others, I’m surprised PAIN aren’t more common on the industrial/gothic festival circuit like M’era Luna and Wave Gotik Treffen.
“Let’s hear the girls scream”, Tägtgren said. “We’ve got a song for you. It’s a very romantic one, it’s called ‘Bitch’.” I laughed and it didn’t seem to offend the other girls because everyone sang along.
The mix of people watching PAIN impressed me. I expected a crowd of goths and emos, but there were a lot of pop pink clad girls evenly dispersed amongst the younger crowd. Most of the older folk couldn’t bare to leave the sanctity of the alcohol—their loss and all the more room for me to squeeze into the second row.
What can I say except my long wait to see PAIN live was definitely worth it. Even with the increased timeslot of one hour, I would have loved a longer set. The pyros and flame throwers were a great compliment to PAIN’s music and the energy the band had on stage. Tägtgren seemed connected to the crowd throughout the set and it was a nice change as many gothic bands seem to forget there’s an audience in front of them while they drift off into their own ‘creativeness’ on stage. With Tägtgren’s metal pedigree, I expect no less.
I have to share, during my research into the band members’ names, I came across this information on their myspace: Brains—Peter Tägtgren (vocals and guitar); Right arm—David Wallin (drums); Left leg—Mchael Bohlin (guitar); Balls—Johan Husgafvel (bass). And here I thought the drummer would be the balls of the band, because if the balls weren’t functioning, then the rest of the ‘body’ would go to crap.
Exhausted but thoroughly happy, I went in search of a place to grab a drink and collect my thoughts before heading back to the hotel. I stumbled upon the VIP area and was surprised when Mr King Foo, aka Ewo Pohjola (famous to all Nightwish fans), walked past me. We greeted each other and then he proceeded to speak to me in Finnish. Obviously, I’m showing up in Finland so often, people are starting to regard me as a local. I’m not complaining.
The area between Kuusisaari and my very close hotel was littered with the town’s youth happy to spend their time outside the festival area partaking in the supermarket bought drinks (with the lower percentages of alcohol). It actually looked like there were more people on the outside than in.
When I got back to my room and looked in the mirror I almost died. I didn’t remember applying black eyeshadow! And here I thought I was a safe distance from the pyros. Note to self—take pocket mirror and check pyro effects on the face after every band in future.