The summer is arriving and with it the summer festivals come along. The festival that kicks this off in Finland is Steelfest Open Air in Hyvinkää, a small city North of Helsinki. They offer a selection of high quality underground and obscure extreme metal bands for a limited amount of people. We had the luck to be welcomed at this highly interesting event to melt away in the sun with our black outfit…
When I arrived at the festival grounds on day one, I was just in time for the opening act Azazel (*). This Finnish black metal band has been around since the early nineties, Encyclopedia Metallum tells me, but what the hell was that? What followed was one of the by now most talked about gigs in the (black) metal scene. The whole concert was a joke with the vocalist being so wasted that I’m not sure he remembered where he was, let alone put down a good show. Not much words needed on this: false start of what happened to be an epic festival. Shame on you boys…
In this regard, the real proper opening act was Korgonthurus (***). Consisting out of some of the more prominent members of the Finnish black metal scene like Corvus (vocals) and Saturnus (guitars) who used to be part of mastodon Horna. It was clear that they’re one of those national favorites, considering the number of people that showed up at the indoor stage this early on at the event. And I could easily get why they’re quite loved: their straightforward typical Finnish black metal kicked in our faces like a mule, with Corvus sucking almost all the attention to him with his highly energetic and expressive performance, bringing his inner demon to the stage.
Of the French blackened death metal outfit Necrowretch I missed most of the gig, but of what I saw one thing was very obvious: they’re brutal as fuck! Definitely check out their latest album Satanic Slavery if you’re into straight brutal head-smashing extreme metal.
One of the bands that I had been looking forward to the most ever since I discovered them during my pre-festival research was up next in the indoor stage. The first stop of the first European tour of the Chinese (atmospheric) black metal band Zuriaake (*****) was quite an experience. The guys strode on stage stately dressed in traditional Chinese clothing (that was made completely new for this tour, we heard afterwards) including robes and Asian rice hat with dark veils covering their faces. The magical atmosphere was immediately set by their clothes, the Chinese lanterns they were carrying with them and the smoke or fog whirling up around them. Before they even played one single note they already managed to take us to a whole other world. And the music completely fit in and even enhanced the feeling that we were rather in ancient China rather than Nordic Finland. Their masterfully crafted black metal infused with traditional Chinese folk instruments and blood curling vocals that sound like the vocalist was possessed with a “Yaoguai” or Chinese demon made it an experience that’ll last with me for awhile.
We didn’t get to see anything of Finnish death metal outfit Purtenance since we had a meeting with the guys of Zuriaake after their performance, so the next band we saw was Finnish Sargeist (****). Founded by one of the more prominent members of the Finnish black metal scene, this was a ritual we just couldn’t let us pass by. And a ritual is a quite fitting word for what they brought us. In near darkness brand new vocalist Profundus came on stage swinging an incense burner bathing the place in the strong scent. Once every corner was “blessed”, founder Shatraug, also the driving force behind Horna and part of many other projects, joined him with the rest of the band. Although quite different from former vocalist Hoath, the barefoot and long-bearded Satanic monk grabbed us by the throat and dragged us with them into their dark rites, keeping us in a trance ’till the very end.
On the outdoor stage a whole other beast set up shop. Finnish Thyrane (***1/2) plays more straightforward and almost more accessible industrial/symphonic black metal. A more than decent and strong set was thrown at us with a high dose of energy. Nothing special really happened, but hey, sometimes just a simple and heavy show is just what you need and want.
After baking in the sun, it was time to dive back into the darkness of the indoor stage. Somehow it felt even darker than before with Shape of Despair (***). Their funeral doom was heavy and depressive and took every single speck of light and happiness away. Deep death metal grunts and angelic female vocals on a bed of atmospheric and depressive music… a most impressive show where we could only see silhouettes engulfed in smoke and colored backlights, Finnish melancholy at its best.
Outside we got another purely death metal band in front of us. And it wasn’t just any band… Swedish Firespawn (****) is what you can call a “supergroup”. With the energetic vocalist L-G Petrov and talented guitarist Victor Brandt from Entombed A.D. and the ever imposing Alex Friberg from Necrophobic to just name a few, you know you’re in for an old school death metal time. And that’s what we got: old school death bathing in a sauce of modern feeling groove. Despite the rather mixed critics of their first album, they delivered a really solid and heavy show that got many heads banging.
What felt like the last “real” ritualistic event of the day came with the American Nightbringer (****1/2). The band has only just released a new album and is highly respected by fans and bands around the world, bringing their philosophical views and following The Left Hand Path to us all. And also at Steelfest they impressed… consisting out of a wide arrange of musicians from numerous countries besides the American “core”, they definitely know how to bring their often complex and extreme music live. Shatraug made an appearance again on stage as their live guitarist and Menthor (later appearing again with Enthroned on Saturday) on drums is quite the animal behind his skins. The combination of Naas‘ harsh vocals with the demonic vocalization by ar-Ra’d al-Iblis brought us darkness and enlightenment at once and sucked us completely into the one hour ritual that is Nightbringer every single time.
Legendary Marduk (***1/2) brought exclusively in Finland a 20th anniversary Heaven Shall Burn set. That album marked a change in the band’s style towards ferocity and sheer brutality without any melody to be found. That album was played from start to finish and obliterated us with its power and aggression. It might not have been the best show of the festival, but you couldn’t deny that the set put down by the band was a strong one throughout, with as an extra after the Heaven Shall Burn tracks a grip from their other albums. We noticed Frontschwein and the Marduk classics Wolves and Panzer Division Marduk couldn’t be left out of their setlist. And just like the pure evil and darkness they sing about, the absolute grimness of black metal and war send us all into oblivion.
For those who didn’t have their fill of aggression yet for the day, on the indoor stage the infamous French black metal outfit Peste Noire (****) was ready to blow us away. They’ve been the center of much criticism and dislike to even being banned from playing shows because of their nationalistic philosophy. Though my research told me that they’re mainly proud of their French culture and heritage and actually using their brains on many of the social and political matters where others would just preach hate and violence. But hey, as long as no one is forcing their opinion on me, I’m not complaining… and we’re here for the music after all, aren’t we? And that prominently black metal with touches of punk and hardcore attitude mixed with some other influences was quite a vicious kick in the face. Who could have imagined the so-called most romantic language in the world ever to sound so filthy and aggressive. Vocalist and leading man Famine was in top form bringing a highly energetic and passionate set, getting a big chunk of the crowd singing and shouting along (even though most of them probably didn’t know French that well). Forget about all the negativity surrounding this band, check out their music and let them play a few more shows for their fans, they’re well worth it…
For more pictures of the first day of Steelfest go to our photo coverage here!