SAUNA OPEN AIR, Tampere, Finland
It's becoming a tradition for us that Sauna Open Air kicks off the summer. Our Sauna experiences have been limited to one day visits previously, but this year we were able to spend two days on this three day festival. The Friday's line-up didn't have much to offer, so we skipped the opening day and arrived on Saturday.
Thanks to our slightly too optimistical schedule and one badly chosen shortcut, we missed the youngsters of Finnish Metal, Sturm und Drang. We heard them play "Breakaway" and "Rising Son" as we walked to the site and got our passes sorted out, but as soon as we were able to see the stage, the band were on their way out. Oh well.
Poisonblack, the band led by former Sentenced-frontman Ville Laihiala were about to start their set on the mainstage, so we headed that way. I haven't heard much of their material, only the latest album "A Dead Heavy Day" which I thought was a bit depressive and dull, but the band actually worked better live. The songs like "Bear The Cross" and "Love Infernal" sounded so good that I really must give them another go when I have the time...
The band showcased a new song in the set, a rather cool sounding tune which promises good things for their next album. Laihiala said that the song doesn't have a name, but apparently its' "working title" is "Buried Alive", at least there was a song by that name in their setlist.
On the second stage, a local Thrash legend Prestige were about to make a "comeback". They were originally around during the late eighties and early nineties, and along with Stone, they were the pioneers of Finnish thrash metal scene. Last year they played a gig in Oulu at Jalometalli festival, after 20+ years of absence, but the SOA gig was about to be their homecoming show. Sure enough, they attracted a lot of their original fans and friends, and the gig seemed to have a real get-together athmosphere.
Although I have no interest in thrash metal, I'm sure that their fans really enjoyed the gig and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially bassist/singer Aku was cracking one-liners and interacting with the crowd a lot. The minor technical problems in the beginning of the set were met with humour and as soon as everything was fixed, the band started their thrash-engine and began banging away.
A special mention must go to the one individual who danced like a madman during the band's set, people around him took a few steps back so that his art was allowed to flow... On our way back to the hotel, we saw the same guy again and he was still a bit overwhelmed by it all, hollering "Am I not allowed to live my life here!" to the passers-by.
The next act on the mainstage was more to our liking, those Swedish power metal merchants Hammerfall. The band's been through a couple of line-up changes since we last saw them, and if I'm honest, I haven't been that impressed with their last couple of albums. However, the band didn't disappoint live, instead they offered us a fine "Best Of" set with arguably the two strongest tracks of the new album thrown in.
Although without their big production set, the band filled the stage with ease and probably converted quite a few new Hammer'heads during their show. Opening track "Bloodbound" showed everyone what they're all about - classic metal with anthemic choruses. An older hit "Renegade" followed, and a lot of people seemed to be familiar with their material, singing along to the catchy refrains.
Guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Ex-Poodle Pontus Norgren along with the bassist Fredrik Larsson were actively running around the stage and throwing classic metal poses, while vocalist Joacim Cans acted as the master of ceremony. Former Rising Force drummer Anders Johansson's style wasn't too flashy, he concentrated on the playing rather than showmanship, and that's just fine as well. Hammerfall is known for their massive choirs, and while the axemen did sing background vocals, they couldn't be responsible for the all that noise that came from the speakers. Well, that's common practise these days...
The setlist was well-built, with live favourites "Riders Of The Storm", "Let The Hammer Fall" and "Hearts On Fire" saved to the end. "Any Means Necessary", The first single of the new album was placed between them, and it seems to be a popular song too. The times have changed though - once upon a time the band would have introduced it as their latest single, now they talk about their "video songs".
We checked out the second stage's last act Finntroll briefly, and it soon became obvious that they were not for us. Visually they were somewhat entertaining - lots of action, painted faces, a mysterious hooded second keyboard player and a vocalist with a weird "claw" glove. But musically... a band with two keyboard players might make you think of over-the-top pomp rock, but Finntroll are nothing like that. Their Folk Metal might be actually tolerable, if it wasn't for the vocals... the growling and screaming is an artform that I won't probably ever understand. Apparently the band sings in Swedish, but one really couldn't tell.
Next up - the headliners Mötley Crüe. The band had a special policy for the photographers, which seemed a bit tricky. In short, the photos would have had to be taken from the ramp next to the mixing table, some 50 metres away from the stage, and after the three songs the photographers would have had to leave their cameras to the cloakroom by the entrance, then rush back to the front to see the rest of the gig. That didn't sound good, so we decided to become "average fans" and packed in our SLR and used our smaller camera for MC. Hence the somewhat different quality...
A lot of Finnish people had been waiting for the Crüe a long time, and for many of the youngsters this was their first Mötley experience. Indeed there were a lot of young people in the audience, many of them glammed up to match the looks of the band in their heyday. For us 30-somethings, the gig had a bit of a nostalgic value, although I wouldn't class Crüe as an heritage act just yet. After all, their latest album "Saints Of Los Angeles" spent a respectable 10 weeks in the Finnish Top 40, peaking at number 6. What's more, the three songs from it were just as welcomed as the golden oldies, and I'd be surprised if at least the title track wouldn't become a staple in their set.
The band started the set with three classics, "Kickstart My Heart", "Wild Side" and "Shout At The Devil", and you really couldn't pick a much stronger trio of songs to kick off the show. The aforementioned "Saints Of Los Angeles" followed them smoothly, proving that it's a future Mötley classic. Vince Neil's voice was in decent shape, although his timing sounded quite sloppy here and there, as if he didn't keep up with the band. He was an energetic frontman though. Nixxi Sixx had a good stage presence too, but poor ol' Mick Mars looked like a fragile ghost. The years in the "World's Most Dangerous Band" and his health issues have taken their toll. He still plays mean metallic guitar though... except for his solo spot.
The flow of the show was interrupted with a rather pointless solo from Mick Mars, and I swear I saw a few people yawning during it - me included. The blandess of his noise assault was soon forgotten as he played the opening riff of "Live Wire", and the rest of the band returned to the stage. They followed this early Mötley song with the title track of their first album "Too Fast For Love", which was merged into "On With The Show" from the same disc.
"Do you guys have award shows here?" Neil asked and got a weird response of "nooyeaoooo". He told us that they should've won an award by now - "Motherfucker Of The Year". This new song went down really well too, and people were happily waving their middle fingers in the air... "White Trash Circus" was another new one, and while it wasn't as sing-along kind of a track as the other two new songs, it got a good reception as well.
At one point, Tommy Lee jumped to the front and gave a little speech, in which he thanked us all and told us we were the greatest and how he'd like to hug us and even more... He didn't have the notorious "titcam" with him, but he did express his wish to see some boobies... and some ever helpful guy did flash him his "manboobies".
For "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)" Neil got himself a guitar and played the clean guitar parts of the song, while Mars added the metal edge to it. During the song, a flock of Crüe balloons were thrown to the audience. Didn't notice whether anyone managed to keep one as a souvenier... "Same Ol' Situation", another song from the band's best-selling "Dr. Feelgood" got the whole crowd joining in on the chorus. And the hits just kept on coming, one after another: "Primal Scream", "Looks That Kill", "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Dr. Feelgood", which ended the main set.
A grand piano was dragged to the stage for the encore, the mother of all hair metal ballads: "Home Sweet Home". Tommy Lee played the piano, and Neil or rather the crowd sang the song. Sixx and Mars joined in, and after the second chorus Tommy jumped behind his kit and the rest of the song was played with full force. Tommy didn't seem to get enough of the crowd, as he went into his second monologue of the gig, laying on top of his piano and telling us how great we were. Well, thank you.
As we weren't really interested in the first two bands of the line-up (Kotiteollisuus and Omnium Gatherum), Kamelot was the first one in our agenda. Their gig in Tampere a couple of years ago left us highly impressed, so expectations for this one were high. They were met, if not surpassed. The band was on fire, vocalist Khan ruled the stage and gave the photographers a lot of his trademark facial experessions. The band used a lot of pyrotechnics, and there were times when the band was almost literally on fire thanks to the unpredictable summer breeze.
Apart from Khan's theatrical presence, the other members made their mark too. Guitarist Thomas Youngblood proved that while he's a fast-fingered shredder, he hasn't lost his touch for melodies. Stand-in bassist Sean Tibbits bounced on stage like a hard rockin' hobbit, while keyboard player Oliver Palotai was a tornado of hair behind his instrument. Drummer Casey Grillo's playing is always fun to watch, he hammers the drums with full force and knows a thing or two about showmanship. The band had a female backing vocalist on stage, but I didn't catch her name.
The band's set was pretty good, though leaning heavily towards the latest two albums, with only a couple of older tunes included. I thought it was a bit odd to include "Pendulous Fall", a bonustrack from the latest album in the set rather than surefire crowdpleasers "Center Of The Universe" or "The Haunting", but I do appreciate the fact that "Edenecho" has found its' way to the setlist - it's a catchy track and possibly a future Kamelot Klassik?
The two older tracks in the set were "Forever" and "Karma", and I do believe that they were among the most popular songs of the set. Along the way, the band has moved to a more progressive direction, and many of the latter songs of theirs just don't have those unforgettable melodies and hooks of their Karma/Epica-era material. Still, I really enjoyed the gig and continue to hope that their next album manages to combine the great melodies to the complexity and cinematic nature of their recent material.
On the second stage, Swedish rockers Bullet were starting their set. I checked out some of their songs before the gig, and was fairly unimpressed - very AC/DC'ish, nothing to shout about. On stage, the band is a different animal - they really come alive, and their boisterous energy is something to behold. I don't think I've ever seen a band who seem just so damn happy to be onstage, and totally into it. Their straightforward nods towards Acca Dacca are hard to resist, and you could see how more and more fists started to punch the air during each song.
The band's vocalist Hell Hofer sounds like the long lost brother of Udo Dirkschneider, Tom Keifer (Cinderella) and Brian Johnson, and the guitar work of Hampus Klang and Erik Almström is carved from the same wood as that of the Young brothers, maybe with a hint of Tipton/Downing and Accept. Nothing new under the sun, but effective and fun to watch. A special "Mr. Smiley" award for the babyfaced Hampus Klang, who had more enthusiasm than the rest of the festival line-up put together!
Stratovarius had a lot to prove. This was one of their first gigs in Finland with the new guitarist Matias Kupiainen, and I guess many of us wanted to see how this new Strato would work. The band went for a Best Of- set with a few songs from their new "Polaris" album, and I think they succeeded. The "new boy" played well, but didn't have a strong live presence yet, so vocalist Timo Kotipelto and bassist Lauri Porra took care of the showmanship.
The set's highlights for me were the anthemic hits "Hunting High And Low", "Eagle Heart" and "Black Diamond". I have a feeling that "Higher We Go" from "Polaris" might become the next Strato-hit, it's anthemic, catchy and seemed to be highly appreciated by the audience. "The Kiss Of Judas" sounded like a bit more uptempo than its' album version, but good nevertheless. The intensity of the set did suffer a bit when the band played a couple of ballads with only one faster song between them. One slow one might have been enough for this set.
The band didn't play the encore-game, as after the plodding "Visions" Kotipelto just said that they have time for two more songs, and asked if it was okay for them to play. The answer was a resounding YES. They played the progrock-influenced first single from "Polaris", "Deep Unknown" and the aforementioned "Black Diamond", with a short Jens Johansson solo as the "prelude". A sharp, no-frills set from Stratovarius, and one of the best performances of the festival.
Before the headliners Nightwish there was a special show to be expected on the second stage - the one and only THOR! Back in the eighties, he got a lot press in Kerrang! for a couple of years and left a lasting impression on the Heavy Metal loving youth of the era. Well, at least on some of them. Some people were all hyped up on web forums to see him, so we had to see what the fuzz was all about. I don't think I've ever owned a Thor album though I'm pretty sure I've heard one or two of them back in the day. I guess they weren't too memorable, since I haven't felt the urge to hunt them down. The Thor gig didn't change that, his songs were really basic 80'ies metal songs, but he did put a lot of effort into the show, that I can't deny.
I guess Thor has every intention of creating a larger than life stage show, but since his resources are limited, it ends up being a bit "home-made". Two chicks in fur bikinis - the Valkyrians - bring out his hammer and strut their stuff for a couple of minutes, before Thor himself makes his grand entrance. For the next few songs he's wearing masks, ranging from alien heads to a white sheet. The transition from one mask to another is done right there on the stage, he just drops to the floor and changes the mask, as we wonder whether he had a stroke or something. Later in the set he does another disappearing act, when he jumps to the photo pit and shakes hands with the first row. A cool thing to do for the fans, but it did look like he fell off the stage for us standing a bit further away!
Since Thor's been called "The He-Man of Metal", his show has to include a couple of displays of power. So, we see him breaking bricks with a hammer, bending steel bars with his bare hands and teeth ("Valkyrians, bring me my STEEL!") and one mikestand got a bit of rough handling. No more blowing up hot water bottles though, it was a dangerous and an unhealthy gimmick.
The Thor band, including his long-time musical partner Steve Price on guitar, doesn't favour extra-ordinary costumes, which makes them look a bit out-of-place. They churn out the "Muscle-Rock" tunes professionally enough, but next to Thor they're so damn ordinary.
Closing the Sauna Open Air was Nightwish, Finland's biggest metal export of all time. Their setlist was pretty much the same as in Munich, where we saw them a few months ago. They had dropped a few tracks, unfortunately the rather excellent "Escapist" included. I don't know if that was intentional or due to the fact that Marco Hietala forgot the lyrics to "The Islander"! After his lyrical blackout they started the song again, and with a little help from Anette he managed to sing it all the way... a funny moment, and the fans took it very lightly as well. No booing in Sauna!
The highlights of the set were the powerful opening tracks "7 Days To The Wolves" and "Dead To The World", the hits "Amaranth" and "Nemo" and of course, the already traditional ser closer "Wish I Had An Angel". "The Poet and the Pendulum" is still perhaps a bit too long for its' own good, and I could've done without the instrumental "Last Of The Wilds". Perhaps it was included so that Anette could have a longer breather... speaking of her, Poor Anette had chosen to wear shorts for the event, still in a mediterranian mood after a holiday in Cyprus. Not a good choice, since it was getting a bit chilly when they were on. By the time of "Angel", she was hurrying Marco to cut the talk and get to the song, as she was freezing.
The Nightwish show was enhanced with a lot of pyros, some confetti and good light show. Apart from Marco's blackout everything went smoothly, the band played well and I'd say that Anette was more convincing than in Munich. A good gig. Oh yeah... before the gig we got to witness a wedding proposal by Nico Hartonen, one of the hosts of the festival. Her girl said yes.
This was our third time in Sauna, and just like before, the festival was well organized and the athmosphere was great. The weather could've been better on Saturday, but that's something that the organizers have no control over... it did clear up for Sunday, which made the day even more enjoyable. Unless there are drastic changes in the festival's program policy, count us in for 2010.
Review by Kimmo Toivonen