Day One: The ‚Kymiest‚ Festival Ever
„We say it’s the most kymi or kymiest festival of all“, someone from the crew explained me. Kymijoki is the river not far from the festival’s venue. Actually the whole area all the way from Kotka at the Baltic Sea up to Kouvula is named after the river, the Kymi Valley.
There is a shuttle bus (16 seats) taking you from Kotka or Karhula to the venue which is in the [Biathlon] stadium of Honkala. So yes, Kotka is not Helsinki and the Honkala stadium is certainly not matching Hartwall arena. The road narrows down to what a German would take for a path as we arrive at the bus stop which is in the middle of the camp. Yes, there is a camp. Modest in size perhaps, but big at heart.
I take a short walk around a little hill to approach the gate of the infield. The field is quite fitting, in terms of agriculture. I am happy about it. It’s a hot and sunny day. I wouldn’t even want to think of spending a day like this on the pavement, a runway, or a market square. No. My accreditation is missing the lady at the check in says. She would call the manager. He hurries over to welcome me personally. I am the only one representing a non-Finnish media, and I am overwhelmed. Henri shows me around for which I am grateful. I meet the event office manager and some more crew members. It feels a bit like being introduced to my fictive new boyfriend’s family. I hear the first band being announced on stage. So I drop my belongings and hurry with my cam to the pit running literally into Kaunis Kuolematon. A short welcome hug and I am off. Evil Drive open the festival. The band is local, but has just released their second album, for which they signed with the German label Reaper Entertainment. I was curious to see them play. Not many opportunities, I guess. But this is about to change I am convinced, now that I attended their gig.
Time finally for a chat with Kaunis Kuolematon. In the end it goes back to the interview we did in 2017 that I am here today. For reasons beyond my reach I had missed their show then, and now there was my opportunity to experience them on stage. But before they hit the stage a new band from the big city lights rock the stage, and hell they do. Oceanhoarse unites some well-known names such as Tommy Tuovinen from myGrain or Ben Varon from Amoral. And as we’re speaking of it, somehow everybody I met here is neatly interwoven in the neuronal network of the Finnish metal scene. And then it all goes back to „Why don’t we just make a festival so our (local) bands can play? We could add some bigger names to pull some crowd?!“ That’s more or less what some friends discussed – their thoughts most likely oiled with a few beers – many years back. They did. Dark River Festival number one took place just around the corner. Indoors. For number two they moved outdoors, which they might have cursed when many summers came with plenty of rain. But the bunch couldn’t be stopped. And the festival grew year by year. They might have been tempted more than once trying to make it really big. But in the end they stayed true to with what they had begun: a festival for their local bands spiced with some bigger names.
And here we are, year number 15. Some of the local bands they began with have become quite big now, such as Omnium Gatherum. And later I even run into Markus Vanhala. Omnium Gatherum have played here quite some times over the years and Markus‘ friends are still managing the festival. No surprise to see him here.
I run once again – out of my interview and into the pit – as Kaunis Kuolematon play already. It’s worth all the while I think, shooting them, drifting ever deeper into their music. They sound a bit harder and even darker live. I like that. And shooting is a particular pleasure as their stage lights add perfectly to their show.
I enjoy the show mostly from the audience. I get some Nummirock-like sensation. The atmosphere exceeds the definition of relaxed. There are enough people to make it a decent crowd; and yet there is enough space to move, experiencing the show in your own little universe and still attach to the rest if you will. Everybody just goes with the flow of the moment.
When Rytmihäiriö set up – with the very hand-on help from no one less than Ville Sorvali (Moonsorrow) – their stage at the small tent stage behind me I hear familiar tunes. Netta Skog (known from Ensiferum) and her magical accordion fuel the crowd, inspire a sing along and have the best time you can have waiting for your beer in what feels an endless line for such an event. For the moment I decide it is due to the brain melting heat that has been in Finland this summer as well as in Central Europe. Rytmihäiriö is one of those bands that make some kind of foundation of the Finnish metal. It seems they have been around forever. In their recent line up, Une, Janne and the others rock the stage and entertain with a good deal of thrash and funny lyrics partially spiced with nu metal nuances.
Everybody is very welcoming, helpful and in a positive manner watchful. And everybody includes the bands. I have an appointment with Turmion Katilöt for an interview. When a female photographer approaches, they begin speaking in English taking her for me, I am told later. But then it’s not me but a dear colleague as I am still stuck in another interview. Unfortunately Turmion Katilöt haven’t really been noticed much beyond Finland despite being active for so many years now. A pity – their shows are excellent – just like today and their music is purest entertainment.
I ran to catch the shuttle back to town, my mind full of amazing impressions and my sd memory full of incredible photos.
Day Two: Reckless Mayhem vs Sunday Garden Party
Even the shuttle driver recognizes me as I get in, and passing the security at the gate is as if we had known each other much longer. I have an appointment with the festival manager, Henri Eerola. We sit and speak for quite some time. So many stories. I wonder how long he has been doing this job. He had grown into it. Before he was the DJ entertaining the crowd when there was no show on stage. And he has taken care of all the social media accounts for many years. Then the former festival manager, Sami, couldn’t make the time the Dark River Festival needed anymore and he stepped in. This former festival manager is still around, of course, Henri tells me. Sami makes a good example for the dedication the crew shows. Being on tour with several bands most of the year is no excuse to him not to stick to some responsiblities at the Dark River Festival. Not at all. And so he still manages the sound and what he happens to come across being around.
Show-wise the day begins with Return To Void. Their very pleasant and straight forward heavy metal is very atmospheric. Unfortunately the crowd is a bit smaller in numbers at this time of the day. The manager, however, tells me that yesterday was by far the best Friday the ever had. He even used the term „mayhem“ to illustrate the atmosphere and size of the crowd during the last two bands playing. My first association with mayhem on Friday would be more on stage. But then I am here for the first time.
HM Rock has conquered the hearts of musicians, crew and audience by now. People from the crowd watch the little creature at my belt of my camera bag, point at him when I pass by or smile openly. „Have you seen the metal muumi?“ I hear someone asking his neighbor as I go by. Funny enough, most people are surprised when I approach them with my request to take a photo with them and HM Rock. Muumi is everywhere in Finland, and two days ago there was the day of the Muumi mug when a limited special edition was sold. One of the girls I shot with HM Rock, I had watched her for some time before approaching her. She looked a bit sad, to be honest. But hugging the metal muumi, taking a close look on his thrash vest, his jewelry and the many autographs he collected by now distracted her for moment and even made smile shyly.
Sundaysong have a very relaxing, melodic and atmospheric style, which is a proper contrast to Domination Black‚s level of energy. In particular, their very young guitarist and charismatic vocalist made their impression on me, although I frankly admit that my personal weakness for bass players got fed as well, too.
I have some more time to explore the faces among the crowd today. There are families with young children, groups of teenagers and twens in more or less elaborate dresses and makeup. Even a guy in pig costume is leaving not a trace of doubt he is having the best time ever. I see some elderly couples and one man of them in band shirt, Ominium Gatherum actually. That’s metal, I think, reminded of what Evil Drive stated in the interview. It’s a life style they agreed, and Marko Syrjala asked with a frown to look at him and Ville Viren, still looking pretty much what they did like when they were only 15.
Only few months back, I had the opportunity to experience Machinae Supremacy and their powerful, party-mood fueling show in Tampere. They don’t play many outdoor festivals, I heard from the festival manager. Actually when the Swedes (mainly) played at the Dark River Festival for the first time, some years back, it was their first outdoor festival show ever! They happily returned. They played a passionate show and even more they asked the crowd to join them later in the tent for a spontaneous meet & greet! Lovely!
The crowd has grown over the day. And when Reckless Love enter the stage, a teenage memory of being back in the 80s flickers through my mind. Girls in hormone-triggered uproar, guys in glam rock outfits and colorful make up playing tunes of bands like Poison or Mötley Crüe did back in the days. And yes, when Olli takes off his shirt I can’t ignore, although I am in the dining room at the moment. No stage view. But the screams leave no room for speculation what’s going on!
A final photo from the band, the crowd and the crew – then I have to get my stuff and run for the last shuttle, as my farewells takes some time. My thoughts float as the shuttle rolls over the bumpy, narrow, unpaved road off the venue. I love Nummirock for the very relaxed and even personal atmosphere. What I experienced here exceeded my hopes by far and even had the warmth of meeting friends or family. Granted, I have received a lot more attention than any other media representative due to the fact that I am not Finnish, but editing for an international audience. This is very special to the crew running this wonderful event. Still the way I was welcomed and attended provides a deep insight into the idealism, enthusiasm, and sheer endless dedication of the crew running this festival. And it is this dedication that keeps the music scene alive. In Kotka. In Finland. Everywhere!