If a festival is named after a record label, its line-up usually consists of that company´s roster mostly, if not exclusively. But there are exceptions. As a label, Firebox is home to only a handful of relatively unknown acts, but the Firebox Metal Fest, held at irregular intervals in Seinäjoki, presents mostly unaffiliated bands and always a few quite big names at that.
Friday Sept 30,2011
While this was my first time at FMF, it wasn´t my first visit to Rytmikorjaamo. In fact it is one of my favorite venues, and all gigs I have seen there so far have been worth the three-hour train ride from Helsinki. This time the place looked a bit unfamiliar at first, as it has just undergone some substantial renovation. All for the better, though - there is now an additional aula area where you can go if you want to give your ears some rest or make a phone call. It even has a bar and restaurant, but we didn´t try it out.
The layout of main hall has not changed very much, but there was an additional small stage erected for this festival, so that there were hardly any breaks between bands. The first of them, Vuohivasara, were already about to finish their short set when we arrived, but coming up next was my personal main act of the night, Barren Earth. Originally, their sophomore album had been scheduled to be released that very weekend, but, as singer Mikko commented between songs with words not fit to print, the whole project has been postponed until next year. But a good thing is worth waiting for, and 2011 has already been crammed with more awesome releases than any other year in my memory. At least we were served a foretaste of the new material in the form of "Vintage Warlords", a very typical Barren Earth track starting out with some of their heaviest riffing but later slowing down to a beautiful clean middle part. The rest of the set was filled with old material, albeit spiced with varied arrangements and improvisation. Afterwards I learned that guitarist Sami´s spacey delay outro at the end of "Floodred" was actually made up on the spot to cover up for some defect in the equipment, but that only goes to show that sometimes the best result springs from a makeshift solution.
Altars Of Destruction was another band that to many was even more interesting than the evening´s headliners. The mentioned delay in the release of the upcoming Barren Earth album pales to nothing compared to the history of AOD, who in their teenage days were one of Finland´s first trash metal bands but split up in 1989 after a couple of demos and an EP. Only after their recent reunion they finally released their debut album, comprised mostly of material written more than two decades earlier. The live set, which also included a cover of Testament´s "Over The Wall" sounded surprisingly fresh; if AOD want to make up for lost time, they are well on the way. It´s never too late after all.
Although Shining - the Swedes, not their Norwegian namesakes - play Finland on a regular basis, I had never seen them before; my most recent chance would have been Tuska this year but as festivals go, I missed them due to schedule conflicts. I therefore wasn´t quite sure what to expect when the kitschy intro started, but it turned out to be the most fun band of the evening. One of the guitarists actually was far more familiar than expected: jack-of-all-trades Euge Valovirta had joined the fold. Possibly on rather short notice, because his setlist was tuned with annotations on how to play this and that. Finnish help came also from Oppu of Barren Earth, whose bass Christian Larsson borrowed when his own called it quits halfway through the set. So much for active electronics. Musically the gig offered a healthy amount of variety, not only displaying the brutal side of Shining but also the other end of their spectre. The most reflective moment was saved for the outro, though: "I nattens timma" from the latest album (in fact a cover of an old song by Swedish prog band Landberk) was nothing less than pure, haunting beauty.
The next band didn´t sound all that conventional either; DeLirium´s Order basically offered melodic death/thrash metal but with an undeniably experimental edge. Quite interesting at first, but somewhat tiring to my ears after a while. On the other hand, there was hardly time to get bored as their set was very short, it seemed even less than the allocated half hour.
Friday´s main act was Marduk, who had already been booked to the Firebox Fest in April 2010 but didn´t make it because of the notorious volcanic eruption in Iceland that paralyzed half of Europe for a couple of weeks. This time they made it to Seinäjoki, but unfortunately trouble didn´t entirely spare them this time either.In the beginning all seemed well, but after a couple of songs singer Mortuus found the sound from the monitors dissatisfying. Noticing that the stage sound engineer had deserted his post, he flew into a rage and threw a pint in the direction of the empty mixing desk, hitting a friend of mine who happened to stand next to the stage and leaving her clothes and camera dripping with beer. Not cool. The sound guy returned after a while, but Mortuus kept complaining throughout the show, which on top of everything was cut short due to a fire alarm after "Limbs Of Worship". Quite an anticlimactic ending to what otherwise had been a very good night, but fortunately there was no actual fire.
Saturday Oct 1, 2011
On Saturday there were clearly more people at Rytmikorjaamo than the night before, although there would have been room for a greater number still. The line-up and the festival as such would have deserved a bigger crowd, but for some reason, the event had only been announced three weeks prior to its date, which might have been a too short notice for many.
However, when Medeia started the evening at 9 pm, the ranks were properly filled and it didn´t take long until the pit was churning. A couple of weeks earlier I had seen the band at Suisto in Hämeenlinna were the stage was so small that the six members had rarely room to stand, let alone move, and having a big stage at their disposal made a huge difference to the show. Singer Keijo in particular was in his element, but the string department made use of the added space as well. A few moments of respite amidst the breathless riffing were provided by keyboardist Laura´s soft piano outro in "Unseen" and later on by "The Burning", a slow number that builds up in style. Between songs, Keijo gave a round of thanks to the crew, the other bands and of course the audience, from which in turn gratitude was expressed in the form of a bunch of flowers thrown on stage. You don´t see that at metal shows too often, not even in Finland.
The scheduling of the main stage bands was well suited to reflect their styles, as Omnium Gatherum is indeed somewhere in the middle between Medeia and Amorphis in terms of both heaviness and melodic approach. Medeia and OG have played several shows together this fall, including the above-mentioned one at Suisto, and to show their touring buddies some support, the whole Medeia gang entered the stage during "New World Shadow". At this point the stage actually didn´t look quite that big anymore. Two more new songs followed, "Ego" and "Soul Journeys", before the guys went back to some older material. The crowd was not as enthusiastic as during Medeia, but personally I liked OG even better. Maybe their new material is a bit to academic for the moshpit...?
Admittedly, we didn´t see much of the side stage bands on Saturday, since we discovered a very cozy corner in the large beer area and ended up spending more time there than planned. The one I checked out for a few songs was Process: Pain, but in all honesty, they sounded a bit too generic to keep me interested for a prolonged time. During the first song, the singer had to change his microphone, and a little bit later he himself was exchanged, but these events were unrelated - the new man on the stage was actually the band´s former vocalist who came to do one song with his old mates.
Whereas both Friday´s headliners had been imported from Sweden, Saturday´s main act was Finland´s own Amorphis, for whom this festival was conveniently along the way of their ongoing tour. A month earlier I had seen them in Helsinki where they served the sold-out Tavastia an absolutely astonishing setlist - the Seinäjoki gig was several songs shorter and some of the best bits had been cut out, so it was a bit disappointing in comparison. Yet there was enough left to make for a solid show with good contrasts; not all of them as radical as the romantic "You I Need" followed by a short mock cover of Rammstein´s "Pussy", which in turn served as the intro for the ancient "Vulgar Necrolatry". A spontaneous addition to the encore was the Finnish version of "Happy Birthday", sung by the audience for guitarist Esa, who just before that had given "My Kantele" an exotic brush-up by playing the outro on an electric sitar.
Tired and in dire need of a drink after Amorphis, we ended up missing the final band of the night completely, which was a pity because after seeing a little bit of Oranssi Pazuzu at Tuska, I had been rather looking forward to watching their set. But I´m sure there will be another chance, and even without them, there had been enough good bands on the bill to make this weekend trip a success, not to mention plenty of fun. And by the way, if you ever come to Seinäjoki and decide to go for a beer in the pub across the street from the station, make sure to leave any knives you might have on you in the wooden block at the door...