TUSKA Metal Festival @ HELSINKI, 2006

An advantage of catching an early flight from BHX is that the airport is not full of Plebeian package tour types. The disadvantage was that the bar did not open until 10 minutes before my Amsterdam flight! The journey to Helsinki was smooth and uneventful, with the Finns having a particularly relaxed attitude to customs control (There isn't any).

First impressions of Finland from the taxi were of beautiful countryside and beautiful women. The hotel was a fair 3 star off Railway Square, a two-minute walk from the festival site. After a stroll to a supermarket for beer and the inevitable 'work sweets', I ventured down to Railway Square. While quaffing several EUR4 pints of Lapin Kulta beer I chatted with some Russian lads who had made the 8 hour bus ride from St Petersburg for the festival.As I found last year, coming from the birthplace of Judas Priest and Black Sabbath carries much weight with Russian metal fans.

Helsinki is in some ways reminiscent of Amsterdam, bicycles were everywhere, the women are extremely pretty, it is easy to get lost, the Metro doesn't go anywhere, and the language is very difficult. Where it differs though is that in summer it does not get dark until nearly midnight. This was splendid as it made it easier to see my glass in the beer garden as the first evening drew to a close. After a sumptuous continental breakfast I began Friday with a trip to the Ateneum, Finland's finest Art Gallery. As well as the largest Repin collection outside Russia, they had some terrific examples of work by Albert Edelfelt.

I arrived at the festival in time to hear Sisters Of Mercy's sound check - they sounded much as they did in 1985. The crowd was an interesting mix of Finns, Swedes, Russians and Estonians. In the queue I spoke with a French guy who despite being in Finland for 9 months could barely speak a word of Finnish! It really is an incredibly difficult language, bearing little relation to any other European language apart from Hungarian.

The bar area was separate to the main festival site due to strict local licensing laws. After a couple of EUR7 pints I watched Impaled Nazarene, whose Black Metal was rather incongruous with the sun blazing down. I then popped over to the Inferno tent for 45 minutes of excellent Power Metal fromGermany's Freedom Call - a late replacement for Dragonforce who are currently chasing dollars in Bushland. England's Anathema followed and got a terrific reception but I found their Paradise Lost style a little wearing after they played 'Comfortably Numb'. Returning to the bar I met Sarita, Eija and Sirpa, three Finnish ladies who knew their Metal. The time passed quickly in this company and I missed Deathstars' set which I later learned was excellent. Sirpa then joined me to watch local power metal heroes Sonata Arctica, who played a fantastic show on the main stage with the crowd
singing every word.

Taking my leave of Sirpa was difficult but necessary as she had decided to watch Finnish battle metal band Wintersun, and I was in the mood for some Swedish Death Metal with a woman singing. Luckily Arch Enemy were on next at Inferno, and Angela Gossow did not disappoint. Seeing this woman live is a never to be forgotten experience, her voice is simply extraordinary. After consuming something like my eleventh pint of the afternoon I realised that my desire to see Sisters of Mercy was not as great as my desire to pass out, so I staggered back to the hotel without being entertained by Andrew Eldritch. The prevailing view of SOM the next day was 'They're not Metal'.

Saturday dawned with more blazing sunshine, and I began with a constitutional stroll to the Harbour and Market Square. After purchasing the normal cornucopia of cheap souvenirs I retired to an Irish pub for lunch - as bad as the Irish pubs in Birmingham but friendly nonetheless.

Day two of Tuska opened with Stam1na - superb Finnish death metal that got the crowd going. This was followed by an even better set from Pain Confessor. While I admit that I never met a Melodic Death Metal song that I didn't like, these hometown favourites impressed me a lot.

Next up on the main stage was Diablo, whose Doom was rather dull. On retiring to the bar I again bumped into Sarita, who told me all about her love for Virgin Steele. As she runs the Scandinavian fan club I did not reveal my contempt for those dreadful Americans, whose lyrics make Manowar sound like Opeth!

I tried out power metallers Norther and also The Scourger at Inferno, but neither held me for long so I returned to the bar, where I chatted with Seppo, guitar player from Denigrate who is also in two other bands - he told me a good deal about the Finnish metal scene, and as his band has just signed with WarnerBrothers he knew his stuff.

Amorphis followed on the main stage, and played a pleasant enough set but I still prefer their previous singer, the new guy is something of a wuss. I took my place at the front of the main stage in anticipation of Opeth, and they were quite magnificent. Opening with 'The Grand Conjuration' they treated us to seventy-five minutes of the finest Progressive Metal I have ever heard. 'Closure', 'The Amen Corner' and 'Deliverance' were highlights. The crowd was particularly brutal at the front, and I received an accidental size 13 boot to the shin during one particularly frenetic brawl. It was worth all of the pain though, as Opeth were the highlight of the festival for me.

Anxious to learn of England's World Cup fate and gritting my teeth I staggered back to the hotel, thus missing most of a Venom set that was by all accounts superb. I did hear them at the hotel, sounded great.

Yet another lovely day on Sunday so I walked the three miles out to the Sibelius monument in the west of the city. Very nice park, and an imaginative piece of sculpture conveying a quiet strength.

After stocking up on Finnish Melodic Death Metal CDs at the Forum shopping centre, I joined Glaswegians Mendeed for a bloody great opening set on the Sue stage. Deciding to get some exercise I tore over to the Inferno stage straight after to catch the final part of Verjnavarmu - Black Metal featuring guys who looked like non-playing characters in Grim Fandango. Pretty cool. Expect to see these cats in next year's Eurovision.

Sodom's efficient thrash got a tremendous response from the crowd at the main stage, and they played three encores including a great 'Ace of Spades'. I watched the last part of the Sodom set from the autograph queue for Celtic Frost, where I met Alois, a German guy who recognised me from the CF forum. The Frost were exceptionally nice guys, and Tom Fischer seemed impressed that I had travelled from England for the show. I caught the last half of Swallow The Sun's fine prog metal set, and then grooved along to Tarot's nippy power metal contribution. Burst treated us to some excellent melodic death metal, and then I managed to find my way right to the barrier for Celtic Frost, who ended this year's Tuska with an astonishing 90 minute trip
through their back catalogue. Highlights included an opening 'Procreation', 'Sorrows of the Moon', 'Dawn of Megiddo', 'Into the Cryps of Rays', and the final two-fisted assault of 'Circle of the Tyrants' and 'Synagoga Satanae'. Absolutely superb.

Slovenian tourists are scum. Monday's breakfast was rather spoiled by the loudmouths of this horrible bunch, whose behaviour rivalled English football hooligans for self-centred boorishness. I have never been so close to starting a fight over the breakfast table before. I hope that this dreadful little country is not in the Common Market?

My inner peace was quickly restored by a nice ferry trip to Suomenlinna, a fortress in the bay, where I as able to enjoy the views of the Baltic and 'Chill' as they say.

Lunching on Herring Paella, I passed the afternoon with a visit to On The Rocks, a fine rock pub on Railway Square, where I returned in the evening (after dining on Grilled Salmon) to see two local death metal bands, Madison and Chaos Infinitun. Both played well to a sparse Monday-night crowd, which include a couple of Italian Black Metal fans with whom I discussed Burzum and Dark Throne for a while.

Tuesday saw me finish my first Helsinki stay with a trip to Temppeliaukion Kirkko and the Sibelius Monument again. Helsinki airport proved to be highly impressive, with sensible beer prices, nice waitresses, and on-time flights. After buying unfeasible quantities of duty paid fags at EUR39 a box, it was time for me to return to Birmingham, having seen 20 bands and met a lot of cool people.

Looks like I'll be there again next year.

By Roy Evans

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