It’s that time of the year again: The Finnish festival summer gets kicked off properly with the black metal festival Steelfest! The gathering of the wolves of the underground is easily a yearly homecoming for anyone who has a love for the extreme and obscure. And as always, the lineup is massive with an impressive list of 46 bands filled with cult bands, legends of the underground scene, and exclusive and rare performances.
After last year’s extended anniversary edition, they decided to permanently add an extra day to what used to be a 2-day celebration of the underground. So on ascension day, we already got to make the trip to Hyvinkää for a first day of exciting shows…
We made it to the festival grounds just in time to see Coraxul kick off this year’s edition. The Finnish band was a great way to start our day with some relentlessly straightforward black metal! While they are relatively new with having released only one album back in 2021, the people behind the band are definitely not new to the scene, having ties to bands like Curse Upon A Prayer, Rietas, Iku-Turso and Licht des Urteils. With a vocalist that most of the time stood his ground behind the mic stand in a rather static way with often wide-eyed stares towards the already gathered crowd, other band members having a trve kvlt grim black metal expression most of the time, and a crow with spread wings tied to a rudimentary upside down cross, this was really the perfect start of 3 days of celebrating dark and extreme music.
First band of the day on the outdoor stage featured the return of Steelfest legends Azazel. Last year they impressed with a pretty solid set, and we were hoping that the band, and especially Lord Satanachia, would be in good form again. This time it seemed he had a couple drinks too many again, and he mostly wobbled and stumbled on stage and through most of the set. While Drummer Idimmu with his attitude behind the drum kit, and guitarist Mavrofos regularly cranking out some solid solos, somewhat saved the performance, but overall, it was a shadow of what they accomplished last year. A bunch of fans didn’t care though, and I guess in part they got exactly what they were hoping for. This was not up to our standards, though. Onwards to the next band!
Back inside, Nattverd satisfied anyone who is a fan of pure, and unadulterated Norwegian black metal. With band members linked with bands like Nordjevel, Gehenna, Cadaver, Urgehal and even Trollfest, you just know you’re in for quite the trip into the icy realm where black metal came from. With vocalist Ormr ominously leering from the shade of his hood, belting out some proper harsh vocals, guitarists Atyr and Aven playing with a feverish kind of energy, lightly illuminated by the candles at the front of the stage, this was one of the first servings of the true old school Norwegian black metal, and was getting us quite excited about the other bands from the same country that were coming still over the span of the next 3 days!
After a gloomy black metal performance indoors, it was time to head out to the great outdoors where the Columbian black metal band Utuk Xul was gearing up, ready to bring the heat to the already quite literally warm crowd. These Columbian black metal warriors were seemingly very happy to play at this cult festival, stating many times their gratitude towards the audience and organizers. Even though the music might be angry and grim, they brought almost an uplifting performance, especially their bassist smiling from ear to ear the whole performance, when he wasn’t pulling his best black metal faces he had in store for us. This band, all the way from Latin America, is a rare sight to witness in these parts of the world, but whenever a band like this shows up at Steelfest, the Finnish crowd usually goes absolutely wild. Which they did yet again, only being challenged by the group of Columbian fans on the frontrow going absolutely bezerk!
Time for the first and only solo act of the festival, the Finnish black metal project Hail Conjurer. This solo act brought a wall of sound to the inside stage with experimental backing tracks, filled with programmed blastbeats, all being orchestrated by one guitar, tons of pedals and a microphone. An impressive show with many elements of straight-up black metal, doom, and even ambient that had a mesmerizing effect on many a viewer.
Even when the sound of Nocturnal Sorcery didn’t differ so much from other straight forward black metal performances of the festival, and they were playing clad in corpsepaint in the full sun, this Finnish black metal group delivered a great live experience. Especially with vocalist Maledictus Vult going absolutely crazy onstage with his antics, leaving a more lasting memory visually than musically. Still either way a band to keep your eye onto.
2023 is the year of the glorious return of Finnish black metal outfit Sacrilegious Impalement. Featuring members linked with bands from the Finnish scene like Evil Angel, Flame, and Front, we got a healthy slab of classic Finnish black metal. Luckily for them, they were playing the indoor stage, being able to bask in the dark atmosphere of the building, which really worked in their favor. Their performance at Steelfest this year was also a release show for their first full-length in over 10 years, ‘IV – Infinite Victor‘, released the week before. It was pretty apparent that many a black metal fan was awaiting their return, because quite the enthusiastic crowd had gathered in front of the stage to witness their unholy mass. With a frantic kind of energy, these guys blasted us with their dark hymns in what you basically could call a masterclass in signature Finnish black metal.
Last time we were able to see Loits on a stage in Finland, was when they were the direct support for Moonsorrow‘s limited Finnish “Verisäkeet Alive” tour back in 2020. Toasting the crowd with a bottle of wine, this Estonian gang kicked off a set of their romanticized, at times military sounding black metal that more than once reminded us somewhat in sound of for instance Moonsorrow, and other legendary acts like Vreid or Drudkh. Vocalist Lembetu brought his signature white eyes/rolled away eyes look and portrayed his passion in full force, while the rest of the band mostly seemed pretty stoic. “This is pure Estonian arrogance” stated Lembetu, and the feeling we got from their stage presence was exactly that. A highly enjoyable performance that clearly fit the taste with a large part of the festival visitors!
Up next, the international collective The Committee, bringing their atmospheric black metal about occultism, conspiracy theories and the dark side of history to the Steelfest stage. After their appearance at 2019’s Steelchaos, we were mightily impressed with this band, and we were all too happy to catch them live again. The mysterious, masked guys really know how to play their instruments and the captivating atmospheric and often sophisticated compositions really cater towards letting every instrument have his moment to shine. One of those rare cases where the bass actually has a prominent role in black metal. The intricate, but still hard hitting music, was an absolute blast, and this should most definitely be a band on your “to see live” list if you haven’t been able to catch them yet.
It seems like Werwolf is some way or the other performing at every edition of Steelfest and with good reason, since he has tons of cult following bands to his name, and Pest is one of them. This band is a dream for any black metal enthusiast, a true rare sight to see live, the almighty Pest. Seems like even many years have passed, Werwolf has no issues playing his old stuff, back sounding almost better than on a record. Seemingly Werwolf was feeling very nostalgic playing his old stuff since he was visibly extremely satisfied and happy delivering these cult classics to a rabid crowd of black metal maniacs.
Horna never disappoints, never. When you have seen this band many times enough, you pretty much know what to expect, but deliver every time. These Finnish black metal legends delivered a solid performance to an absolute packed house indoors, by eye the biggest crowd of the day. In between songs, vocalist Spellgoth said his praises to Satan and other incantations, while protruding the stench of death, before conducting this massive crowd into chants praising everything unholy. Great show and as proven, you never should miss out on a Horna show when you have the chance.
After a full day of uncompromising black metal, it was time for the wolf horde of Australia, Deströyer 666. This was a delight to see as the headliner of the outside stage, since we had to miss out on their show last year, and a nice energy boost to the crowd and to this festival reporter also. Deströyer 666 absolutely killed with their performance, quite literally almost setting off the biggest moshpit of the whole festival and even instigated a few maniacs to dive from the barricades. This was true heavy metal madness, leaving every spectator with a smile on their face.
But time to wipe that smile off your face, since it was time to get your face melted and body disemboweled by blast beats when the legendary Swedish black metal war machine Marduk raided the stage. Even though they had some lineup changes, playing without a bassist didn’t affect the band seemingly at all. Shows yet again how much the bass often gets neglected in black metal… The performance was everything we’ve come to expect from Marduk: hard, relentless and destructive.
Beyond the Grace of God
Materialized in Stone
With Satan and Victorious Weapons
The Blond Beast
The Sun Has Failed
Baptism by Fire
To the Death’s Head True
Throne of Rats
Panzer Division Marduk
A great 1st day of Steelfest XI with some absolutely killer bands and performances. And while it was rather tricky to get back home after Marduk, and it seemed like some of the usual food options and vendors were absent, that did not dampen any of the fun we had already! Onwards to the next 2 days that held a lot more promise even…