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What better place for starting my festival report than in the middle of nowhere, basking in the sun while waiting for the bus to be fixed. Hearing the announcement that a rear tyre had blown, I first thought it was a joke, but sure enough that wheel doesn´t appear to be in working condition right now. So here we are, sitting on the hot asphalt somewhere along the motorway between Tampere and Helsinki, except for the one smart guy that had a hammock at hand and neatly set it up between two birches. Got my little laptop with me (as usual) and a few beers left over from the weekend (as not so usual), so here we go...
Actually I have never before experienced any trouble with festival buses or trains, but this time the stars just didn´t seem to be right. Already upon arrival in Seinäjoki on Friday, the scheduled Nummirock shuttle bus just wasn´t there. After ca. 40 minutes, the seven of us who waited at the stop decided to share a taxi to the festival. The fare turned out to be only 2€ more per person than the bus ride would have cost, so no major losses incurred.
Friday June 24 It was a beautiful and warm midsummer day, so the first thing after arriving and pitching up my tent was to take a swim and enjoy the sauna that a group of neighbouring campers had built on the lakeside (thanks for the invitation!). Afterwards, me and a Russian reporter enjoyed a small private gig by Kypck, who did their soundcheck in person and actually played a couple of songs.
From there I went over to the beach stage to watch the rest of the Rotten Sound gig, and while their stuff is not what I would put on for a relaxing moment at home, I must say that as far as sunbathing music goes, it was a thousand times better than the disco crap offered by the summer DJs on Hietsu beach at home in Helsinki.
Then back to the main stage for the actual Kypck show, which the band kindly announced to be accompanied by a major hangover. Fortunately the state of affairs didn´t affect the music in a clearly perceivable manner, nor the show from what I saw of it before I lay back on the lawn to watch the sky through the green leaves of a tree, and eventually closed my eyes to just enjoy the music... Before "Аллея Сталина", singer E. Seppänen pointed out that Kypck is "not a project but a real band that will soon make its third album", which I´m glad to report even though it´s only a few month since the release of their second album. The set went on to include "Бардак", "Бурлаки на Волге" and the Russian cover version of "Black Sabbath" before culminating in "Сталинград" from the first album and the final status report from the band, "hangover´s gone!"
Upon my last visit to Nummirock in 2009, the demo stage had been inside the beer tent; this time it was outside of it, albeit still within the drinking area. It´s great of Nummirock to offer this exposure to newcomers and small acts such as Countless Goodbyes, who were playing right after Kypck. Their style was somewhere between death metal and metalcore, with rhythmically varied riffs but difficult to get a hold of at first listen. The screamed parts came out fine, but whenever the singer switched to clean vocals, he was totally drowned out by the rest of the band - kind of a pity, because those were probably the most interesting passages.
Going to the campground for some nourishment resulted in missing the first couple of songs by Norther, because the queue at the festival entrance had grown much longer than I expected. The total amount of tents seemed to be less than what I remember from earlier years, but the hardcore campers had already arrived on Wednesday, braving two nights of rain and cold. To them, vocalist Aleksi Sihvonen dedicated Norther´s most recent single release, "Break Myself Away". The next song also went with a dedication, greeting our new Minister of the Interior, Päivi Räsänen, with a heartfelt rendition of "Fuck You". For those of you not familiar with Finnish politics, Ms. Räsänen is an arch-conservative Christian fundamentalist, who ironically made a name for herself last year by causing some 40,000 people to quit the church within a couple of weeks following her anti-gay statements on national TV. It remains to be seen whether by the end of her period of office all Finland will be Pagan, or rather all festivals be obliged to feature psalters and spirituals.
There had been some speculation in our camp beforehand that Jason Newsted might be with Voivod, but it seems that founding member Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault is now back in the fold for good, or at least for the time being. Admittedly I haven´t followed their career over the years, as the Canadian veterans are more of a cult band in Finland than a widely-acclaimed act. This fact was proved by the diminutive size of the audience, although Denis "Snake" Bélanger didn´t let this bother him too much. Instead he praised the beautiful surroundings, which were further enhanced by the adorable weather. When the band launched into "Divine Sun", the title somehow seemed to be chosen just for this festival...
When Legion Of The Damned entered the beach stage a little while later, said sun was already approaching the horizon, looking possibly even more divine hovering above the treeline and the peaceful waters. Not even the death/trash assault slammed at us by the quartet from Holland was brutal enough to vitiate the romantic beauty of the lakeside sunset. The band even contributed to the theatrics of the moment with "Sermon Of Sacrilege", the doomy, spoken intro to "Pray And Suffer". After "Son Of The Jackal", however, I went back to camp in order to change the memory card of my camera and grab some refreshments for myself, as the headliner of the night was yet to play.
Back in the days of Pasi Koskinen, Amorphis played Nummirock almost every year, but with Tomi Joutsen, they have only been here twice before. Both times their slot was in the late afternoon or early evening, but now they entered the stage when it was about as dark as a midsummer night in central Finland gets. Which is not much, but enough to lend the desired effect to the band´s latest stage gimmick: a meticulously designed and perfectly timed pyro show. According to the myth behind the new album, the world was born from an egg, but the stage show did more to support the big bang theory. On the other hand, the album artwork, egg and all, was beautifully rendered by large backdrops and side props. Barely a month old, the new album The Beginning Of Times was also well represented in the setlist, with five out of twelve songs. A well-deserved kick in the buttocks of everyone - your reporter included - who in the recent past have complained about a lack of variety in Amorphis´ live shows and, with fresh killer tracks like "Battle For Light", "My Enemy", "Three Words" and the orgasmic "Crack In A Stone", one of the strongest sets they´ve ever played.
Saturday June 25, 2011
After Friday´s heat and sunshine, the night became surprisingly cold, as I noticed upon waking up freezing some time in the small hours. Genius that I thought myself to be, I covered my sleeping bag with an isolation blanket before falling back asleep - idiot that I was, I found myself all covered in sweat when I woke up again in the early afternoon, and not only the sleeping bag was soaked but also my mat and the floor of the tent. Not recommended. Fortunately, the lake was right at hand, and after immersing myself in the cool water I started feeling like a human being again. Recommended.
During breakfast, our camp was visited by a trio of wandering troubadours with battered acoustic guitars, who entertained us with the instant classics "I Wanna Feel Your Hairy Pussy" and "Living In Gay Mountain". Apart from these guys, the first band my friend and I saw on Saturday was Eläkeläiset, the notorious humppa mafia from Joensuu that doesn´t need much of an introduction to European readers anymore.
In Finland they tour much less often than abroad, so it was no wonder they drew a huge crowd despite the relatively early time of day. The volume near the stage made earplugs a necessity during most bands of the festival; in this case it caused a bit of a of a problem, because with added damping it is impossible to tell one Eläkeläiset song from the other. The song during which we joined the letkajenkka dancers was definitely unknown to me, but the keyword of its chorus was "laitamyötäisessä" (one of the many Finnish terms that refer to the state of inebriation) and we decided to take a cue from it, ending up watching the rest of the show - which included, among others, the humppafications of "Nemo", "Enter Sandman" and "Run To The Hills" - from the shelter of the beer garden.
Teräsbetoni were next on the bill and started with a very unfortunate choice, as far as self-fulfilling prophecies go: "Myrsky nousee". Actually what they conjured up with it was not so much the storm implied by the title, but just as bad if not worse, some heavy rainfall. A couple of songs later followed the reminder "Maailma tarvitsee sankareita", but while I can agree that the world needs heroes, there and then I really didn´t feel heroic enough to get any wetter and went back to home base instead, my true heroes of the day being the guys that had rainproofed our camp with a huge tarp.
My next excursion to the festival grounds was a couple of hours later for The Haunted. They started optimistically with "Never Better", but in all honesty I have to say that the show wasn´t as good as the one I saw in Norway a few weeks ago. Singer Peter Dolving in turn complained that the audience was a bit lame. However, I blame neither artists nor spectators for the general lack of enthusiasm, the problem was simply that after a welcome break, it had started to rain again. Like many others, I decided to watch the rest of the show from the beer tent - appreciating the wisdom of the festival crew who had placed several comfortable sofas under the roof, all of them offering a good view of the stage.
The beach stage beer area also had a small roofed corner to offer, albeit with no sofas. Since it was still raining, we followed most of the Eluveitie gig from there. The view of the stage was partly obstructed by trees, but the forest atmosphere befitted the folky music and the sound was actually better than upfront. Just when I uttered my slight disappointment at the predominance of English songs in the setlist, hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy took over the microphone and taught us all how to sing the chorus of "Slania´s Song" in Gaulish - "A blatu blande bitos biuon! A m´atrila, a ma helvetia!" - and assured us that we did much better than the previous night´s crowd at Sonisphere Switzerland. Perhaps the ancient name of the Swiss Confederation is more difficult to pronounce for the natives there than for Finnish metallers. After all, the almost identical "helvetti" is one of the cornerstones of our vocabulary.
The next main act, U.D.O., was not really my cup of tea and there was still a long night ahead, so I figured it was time for dinner. On my way to camp, the backdrop of the demo stage caught my eye: the huge waterfall at first glance brought the cover of Amorphis´ Tales From The Thousand Lakes to mind, but a closer look at the center of the image revealed a bridge one end of which was suspended in mid-air above the abyss. Cool artwork is a sure way of stipulating my interest in a band, so I stayed to watched them for a while and basically liked what I heard.
Turned out it was Sortokausi, a death metal band from Turku with Finnish lyrics, although it took me three songs to figure out the language because the singer´s growls were harsh beyond understanding. On the whole, the sound was rather muddy and the lead guitar in particular was difficult to hear, but this, as well as some technical problems on stage, was nothing the band could be blamed for.
Once more I missed the beginning of a band because of the long line at the entrance, this time it was Before the Dawn.
When they played "Deathstar Rising", the star of life began to sink - the sun I mean, forgive me the cheap poetic association, but somehow it all seemed so fitting. Not only did the slow sunset, which lasted almost throughout the set, go so much better with Before The Dawn´s music than with yesterday´s Legion Of The Damned. It also felt like an appropriate goodbye to singer/bassist Lars Eikind and drummer Atte Palokangas, both of which were performing with BTD for the last time. Be the reasons behind the split whatever they are, you guys will be missed. Lars spoke much less than usual on stage, but the "Kiitos" he whispered into the microphone before leaving the stage after "The Black" seemed to sum up the whole emotion of the gig. The band came actually back for two encores, "Hide me" and "Deadsong", but then they were gone and stage MC Jone Nikula announced that the new line-up shall be revealed at the Tuska aftershow club in a month. No idea whom it will include and no disrespect towards them intended, but for the time being, I wish the old one would have continued.
This Nummirock was the 25th so far, and to celebrate the occasion, the organizers had invited one band that had already performed at the very first instalment of the festival back in 1987: Skädäm. No-one has heard much of them since, but nothing´s wrong with a bit of nostalgia. What´s more, these guys actually hail from Nummirock´s small hometown, Kauhajoki, and obviously still have a local fanbase familiar with "Mustat joutsenet" and other tunes of the old days. Not the "good old days", mind you. At least I couldn´t imagine anyone of today´s Nummirock audience wishing themselves back to the eighties, when the festival featured conventional pop-rock because Finnish metal was barely existing yet.
That since then this term has become an internationally recognized trademark for musical quality is the merit of far more bands than anyone would have envisioned 25 years ago. Plenty of credit goes to both 2011 headliners, Amorphis and Turisas. The latter have also released a new album this spring, and while Stand Up And Fight is not as utterly overwhelming as the glorious Varangian Way, it is still full of hymnic gems. However, only "Take The Day", "March Of The Varangian Guard" and "Great Escape" were included this time around, whereas the first (and weakest in comparison, albeit excellent as such) album was overrepresented in the set, with five out of eleven songs. Maybe the band thought that the Nummirock audience at 1 am on Sunday morning was well beyond appreciation for the more complicated stuff. Well, at least we were still able to sing "Jaakko kulta" at full throttle upon Warlord Nygard´s request, the Finnish version of the French children´s song "Frère Jacques". But finally my hope for the "real", epic Turisas was rewarded with "Miklagard Overture", one of my all-time favorite songs in history. Anything else after that would have been an anticlimax, so I listened to the following encores from my tent before falling asleep. And yes, I slept like a log through all the campground noise, waking up well in time to catch the bus...
...which ultimately got fixed circa halfway during the Friday report, so the rest of the above was written on the road back home and on the beach in Helsinki. Be it mentioned that the Vianor service guy who changed the tyre scored a bigger audience and more applause than many a band on the demo stage!