Now that the days are getting longer and the sun reigns over Finland, it’s time again to steep ourselves in darkness to balance things out. Steelfest is here again, a highlight in the underground metal scene that brings both fans and bands from all over the world together for 2 days. The line-up is as strong as ever with this year surprisingly many death metal bands for a festival known as a “black metal festival”, the weather promises us a dusty and thirsty weekend and the beer is cold… I hope you’re ready for this.
Day 2 got so much hotter than the day before, you might start to wonder if someone actually managed to open the gates of hell… That the line-up of day 2 was more diverse and in a way more interesting than the first day, was clearly noticed by a lot of people, because when I arrived at the festival gates, they had the tag “sold out” showing. Despite the larger audience, it didn’t feel crowded at all and we didn’t have to wait longer than before to get our cold beers. Hooray!
This day I got to hang with the extreme metal talent Matron Thorn (Ævangelist , Devil Worshiper, Benighted In Sodom and many many other projects) to experience the festival in a different way. Met other musicians, label owners, fans and random people galore! But more about that later when the esteemed Matron Thorn gives his own view of spending a day at Steelfest. He even did a couple of short artist-to-artist interviews with some of the bands playing that day. So stay tuned!
Back to the music: despite my best efforts I did not make it to the festival grounds in time to catch the first 2 bands (again!). Both of them I luckily caught live last year. The Finnish Morgal delivering some typical black metal almost leaning too much into the stereotypes, but with a good groove. And of course the legendary …And Oceans, who does anything but typical stuff within this genre. Just look at vocalist Kenny when he’s on stage with the band and you get it. This time he had his head painted bright yellow with blue streaks coming down his cheeks. How’s that for metalheads not liking color? A guest appearance took place by Spellgoth (Horna, Trollheims Grott) in a pretty dress on I Wish I Was Pregnant, it looks like I missed out on something cool only hearing the last notes of that show!
The first show I caught completely, was the second Canadian band to grace the Steelfest indoor stage. The Délétère show was somewhat special, because it coincided with the release of their new EP Theovorator: Babelis Testamentum. Relentless harsh and melodic black metal from the depths of darkest cave they could find. This band really gives off a vibe of evil and darkness. Especially with vocalist Thorleïf looking like an Uruk-hai bearing a blackened face with white streaks of warpaint on the cheeks. He easily sucked the attention to him with his ominous presence, but that definitely didn’t take away from the show. Stellar gig!
Norwegian Aeternus on the outdoor stage brought us black/death metal steeped in anti-christianity and mysticism aamong other subjects. Quite in the direction of what their country mates of Myrkskog brought us the day before. The blistering sun was noticeably making the artists partially melt, but that didn’t keep them from putting a lot of energy into their show. Especially the bearded guitarist Gorm was a quite imposing character to behold on stage with expressive faces and trying to rile up the crowd with his moves. Recently the band decided to upgrade him from session musician to permanent member, good move!
The Finnish band Totalselfhatred is quite the name in the depressive black metal genre. Normally you get a mesmerizing and almost trance-inducing show, but somehow this time they were plagued with a lot of issues. It first seemed to take longer than normally to get the sound mix right. And then once they kicked off the show properly, there were still issues with the vocals. At one time you could hear only one vocalist properly and after the first song one of them simply disappeared backstage because of some other issue. A pity, but of what I heard of the parts that actually worked well, I really need to see these guys again in better conditions!
Grave Miasma (***1/2)
Outside again, the blood-drenched guys of Grave Miasma took over the stage. These guys from the UK brought their occult death metal (or in other words death metal with a touch of black and a seriously dark theme) with a damn high energy. You wouldn’t have guessed they were getting blasted by the sun, running around, windmilling their hair and trying to rile up the crowd. Another cool death band that I didn’t know before and really convinced me!
Gaahls Wyrd (*****)
A show I had been looking forward to ever since they announced it, was the legendary Gaahl with his latest project Gaahls Wyrd. Their debut album is a strange mix of black metal with clean vocal parts and haunting folk elements, creating a mesmerizing dark atmosphere. The band surrounding the black metal icon, was damn solid on its own and played the music with a feverish energy. But as soon as Gaahl himself slowly strode on the stage, the whole atmosphere and energy shifted into something special. Somehow this guy has a certain aura hanging around him that is undeniable. He calmly walked around on the stage, going from haunting stares to clean verses to maniacal screams and growls. The mix of Gorgoroth, God Seed and Trelldom songs with some of the band’s original work, was clearly a playlist that pleased the gathered crowd from start to finish. One of the top shows of the weekend for sure.
Deiphago seemed one of the very few bands on the outdoor stage that perfectly fitted the bright sunlight. Originally coming from the Philippines, that’s not a big surprise really. In any case, back to the music. They play a brutal mix of death and black in which I found myself wondering what the point actually was of the music. At times it seemed like the 3 separate members were playing different songs and it just sounded like a big mess to me. There were some good moments, but those were usually short-lived. It seemed like most of the crowd sort of shared that opinion, because there seemed a lot more people hanging out around the outside bars.
Luckily there was Kroda next in the indoor stage to get the quality back up to par. The Ukranian pagan black metal horde took over the stage and put down a damn memorable performance. They seemed hungry and somehow composed at the same time. The energy of as good as every single band member was through the roof and the hulking presence of the black-eyed vocalist Eisenslav was an impressive sight. Little details throughout the set, like bones on their stage clothes and Eisenslav during a ritualistic sounding intro throwing some sort of dust in the air like we were actually attending a pagan ritual, really added to the overall atmosphere and made it a really great performance.
The Norwegian viking metal outfit Einherjer was probably the most accessible band of the whole weekend. In a way it seemed a little bit out of place in between all the dark stuff being played at the festival, but it was the perfect pallet cleanser that we didn’t know we all needed. Extremely energetic performance with a band that was clearly happy to be on stage and to be playing together. Often leaning more towards heavy metal than extreme metal, the tracks felt one for one like the perfect soundtrack for the legends and sagas from the old Norse lore. Great stuff!
Back to the damp hot mess that was the indoor stage by now. The show of the Swedish Naglfar somehow managed to get some sort of an evil breeze going with the cold sneer of their melodic black metal. With vocalist Kristoffer really playing the part of a maniacal looking character and talented musicians from the extreme metal scene like for instance mister Alex “Impaler” Friberg (Firespawn, Necrophobic) was a welcome sight.
Time for some old school death metal again with Asphyx! The Dutch metal outfit has been a mainstay in the quite productive and well-known death metal scene from that country and man, did they thunder over us! All of the guys had obvious pleasure playing live and despite the band having been around for quite a while, they came across as a just started young band that still absolutely have a love for the game. A bunch of friends on stage, just there to have a good time and rock the place! You might think that doesn’t fit with the war and death infested metal of this sort, but with this band it just worked perfectly!
For the second time this weekend, when I entered the indoor stage, I saw a double set of keyboards on stage. Immediately it peaked my interest, remembering the epicness that was Vargrav the day before. The recently resurrected symphonic black metal band Odium definitely sounded interesting. A bit of a pity that quite regularly they sounded a bit murky and messy. Not sure if it was because of an off-day or a bad sound mix in the venue. The amount of talent on stage was impressive enough though with as good as the complete Myrkskog on stage as a part of the band and members who play or have played (live) in bands like Emperor, 1349, Zyklon, Dimmu Borgir, Morbid Angel, Vreid,… Hopefully they continue what they’re doing and I can catch them again with a better sound.
Vital Remains (****)
Last death metal outfit of the weekend was another doozy. Vital Remains visited Finland for the first time and a lot of people had been eagerly awaiting their coming. What we got was a typical American styled death metal show with quite some action and theatrics. Vocalist Brian Werner perfectly embodied the apparent hatred the band has for Christianity with his “I Kill Priests” shirt and regular middlefingers pointed at the sky (and presumably God). Vital Remains does win the trophy for the best interaction with the crowd. Not even a full song in the set, Werner jumped off the stage to seek out his fans from up close standing at the frontline of the fence and eventually at a certain point even jumping over to join the moshpit he demanded.
Despite releasing albums with varying success, being rumored as a band that live also can be quite good or quite the opposite and seen as a big joke by many, I was curious to see the German black metal outfit Nargaroth. In the mean time the band has been for quite a while already a one man outfit, since vocalist Ash is the only remaining member. The stage was set with 2 big inverted crosses topped with a pig’s head dripping in blood and off we went. The live band consisted of very solid musicians and Ash seems to be quite theatrical with a lot of hand gestures and poses and a menacing stare into the darkness of the venue. A little bit stereotypical maybe at times, it came across as a pretty decent show, not sure what all the negativity is about.
As headliner on the outdoor stage, we had the glorious return of a band that is counted as favorites among many black metal fans. Mgła drew in again what looked like the biggest crowd of the day and steeped all of them in the murky blue atmosphere of their show. The hooded and masked band doesn’t necessarily put up the most interesting show live, but proved yet again that you don’t always need the theatrics to captivate a whole damn crowd. Just like a couple of years ago at Steelfest, a damn stellar show from a band that just doesn’t seem to know how to make bad music. Black metal magic.
The festival closer of this year was the World exclusive Marduk show during which they’d play ‘Panzer Division Marduk’ in full to celebrate its 20th anniversary. I presume it was yet another solid Marduk show, because I had to forfeit my attendance and make an early exit towards home.
Steelfest, you were simply amazing again. Saw bands I wanted to see for a while already, discovered great new artists and met a bunch of awesome people. I can’t wait till next year!
For more pictures of day 2, go see our photo coverage here:
For more about this amazing festival, check out our report and photo coverage of day 1:
If you feel the need for a good soundtrack while you’re reading this, we got you covered: