What are you going to do to fight the blues deriving from the lack of light on the darkest of Northern, midwinter nights when the chilly winds cut the skin of your face and frost bites through your pants? – You spend your time and energy on banging heavily to the heart-warming sounds of carefully selected choice of decent melo death bands? And who could provide a more inviting setting than a bunch of Northern masters of shredding strings and roaring growls? So all you need now is a decent festival which will offer all this.
And what does it take to establish a new festival? A line up attracting a decent audience. A venue to host musicians, audience and all the helping hands, well known and easy to reach. A manager daring to take the risk. And in the end of course all the helping hands to do the immense number of jobs and errands to be run.
Obscuro.cz will put a highlight on all the back stage working hands, minds and managers of the metal business, starting with the managers’ perspectives first (others to come as we have the chance to meet them). We will give an insight on the band managers and also the master of the twin festivals: Metal Crane (MCF) in Helsinki and JKL Metal Festival in Jyväskylä.
MCF & JKL
But for the moment let’s focus on two exciting nights in one of the best established venues for metal gigs in Helsinki. The Metal Crane Festival’s twin was taking place in Jyväskylä’s famous Lutakko. So all the bands playing Friday in Helsinki played Saturday in Jyväsklylä and vice versa. The festivals contained a neat selection of bands from several ends of the melo-death spectrum including two very well-known headliners. The doors opened fairly early and yet already during the opening gigs of both nights the venue filled decently to achieve a number I had not expected at all. The MCF was originally planned to take place in Elmun baari, the downstairs bar of the venue. Cosy but rather small. But when the ticket sales started more than promising the festival moved up to the actual Nosturi concert venue. In the end the tickets sold exceeded the Elmun baari’s capacity multiple times.
Friday night heat
Friday night the doors open and Among the Prey hit the strings heavily. While mostly vocalists and guitarists are highlighted – for quite numerous good reasons – in this very case I should move our focus on the drummer of the band, Atte Palokangas (also Thunderstone, lately touring with Beast in Black). He is one of those drummer you put on stage with their kit and enjoy the pure passion. You can read it in his face how much fun it is to hit the drums, beat the rhythm deeply into our eardrums, minds and passing the hearts, moving the guts and then into the feet. A band would not need more that but then again, Among the Prey have, of course, more than him on the plate.
Brymir combine speed-driven, heavy riffs and strong keys with deep growls, screams and some distinctly set clear vocal passages sung by most charismatic Viktor Gullichsen, their vocalist or Joona Björkroth, their lead guitarist. Viktor, he roars his insides out such as in “For those who died” – and his show is impressive though not very active. But his facial expression is strong and transfers the emotions precisely. And his jokes between the songs have their own reputation. The chemistry on stage is obviously good and a very active bass player adds to the entertainment. They played a set of catchy songs fuelling the audience from warm up to nearly boiling.
Catanemia have come a long way, speaking in terms of time, as deriving from the mid-1990s. But that doesn’t make them old men but far more veterans of rocking the stage. And although their latest album is not exactly meeting the term ‘recent’ in its core their show was fresh and powerful – just what you expect from being ‘recent’.
Kalmah, the Swamplords from the Northern Finnish Pudasjärvi, were the night’s headliners and highly expected by the crowd. I had met the masterminds, Antti and Pekka Kokko short before their gig for an interview and their voices echoed in my mind – not fully convinced the set they delivered was what they had promised before. Their massive orchestrations, riffs full of speed and lyrics telling stories of the swamp life or demanding our care and responsibility for the fragile nature of the North, however, hit a nerve in the audience. Kalmah were a big highlight for the vast majority.
Anyway my personal highlight of Friday were Brymir, although running into Viktor after the show I had to admit that Atte’s show had somewhat outranked him and his band slightly. He revealed the warm-hearted gentlemen hidden in his rough metal head outfit by taking it with a smile and dear hug.
Saturday Night Fever
Saturday approached and thereby my reason to travel to the festival in the first place. But let’s start with The Hypothesis. They had released their first album not too long ago and once more we experienced a band presenting a somewhat understating entertainment. When I met Juuso Turkki, their guitarist and main composer and Antti Seppälä their vocalist for an interview (actually during the headlining gig – so excuse my shortage of impression on that) it all made sense. These are not the guys who carry their hearts on their sleeves. But if you dare taking a sniff of their lyrics you may be dragged into the depths of their souls exploring the darkest hours, fears and emotions. And while Antti is growling his soul out the others make their strings and drumstick sing their melodic songs. Their more technical, somewhat neat appearing music might hide that efficiently the depths.
And there it was. The moment I had been waiting for ever since speaking a few minutes with Lauri Silvonen (also Wolfheart, for whom his brother Eero stood in): Bloodred Hourglass (BRHG) entered the stage only to capture the audience leading proficiently them to ecstasy. They opened with the first single from the current album “Heal”: “Quiet complaint” and this was apparently well known by the audience. None was left quiet and even less complainig. The passion grew even when later BRHG went back to present their greatest hit so far: “Valkyrie” from their previous album “Where the Oceans Burn”. We learned that “Where Sinners Crawl” the crowd jumps in joy. While the ocean of hands and metal hearts in the Nosturi burned, “The Last of Us” (the audience) fell for them before long. Can’t wait to see them rock the stage and being bewitched by their most charismatic vocalist Jarkko Koukkonen again!
A friend of mine had come to see the festival and he had never heard or read of Whispered before – unlike the rest of the audience. He is not going to forget the moment when Jouni Valjakka and his fellows entered the stage. The impressive Samurai dresses and scary make up referring to the same topic overwhelmed my friend. For a few seconds his reaction was able to pull some attraction in his audience neighbourhood before the band took them under their Samu-demonic spell. The audience in the Nosturi loves Whispered – just the way I had experienced it during the summer festivals. To me, their music and show could reflect a bit more of the band theme.
The closing gig and headliners of the last night where the Austrians from Harakiri for the Sky. For reasons I could no more but speculate on, a remarkable share of the audience left rather early. This. however, only gave room for the festival’s heaviest mosh pits. And so the 80 % of the audience who had stayed to the very end partied on and challenged the foreign guests to come up with ever more songs. Once more time to highlight a musician whose instrument usually does not attract too much attention: the bass player. Not all the darkness, Jimbo (Michael V. Wahntraum) the vocalist spread in his harshest sound could cover the bass player’s passion stating clear and somewhat bright evidence of Thomas Dornig’s love for his music. Perhaps that was not exactly meeting the Harakiri-related motto. But then passion rules!
The party went on in Elmun baari for a while after show and then proceeded into downtown bars or private locations.
My bottom line
Whoever is in for some decent melo death, was near and had no better plans – which is in general rather unlikely to be possible – and was not attending can’t be helped. Really. The Nosturi is a great venue providing a great atmosphere, space and cool perspectives on the stage from spots open to the regular crowd. The crowd on the other hand was surprisingly large in number and willing to follow the bands’ leads. And then the bands, naturally, did a good to freakingly good job on stage.
I have personally experienced quite sometimes already that the actual highlight of a show is to be found among the smaller names on stage and this holds very true for this festival as well. If I do relate all this to the ticket price I can’t believe it. The Metal Crane Festival is a most entertaining event I really hope to see more of that in the long dark midwinter nights to come in the future.
Very personal: my reason to come to MCF in the first place was to see BRHG live. And I can’t wait to see more of them! Furthermore, I had the chance to meet some exceptional personalities for interviews during the weekend and there is a hell lot of surprising, very much in-depth material to come soon here!