For the last few years, Sauna Open Air in Tampere has been the first major festival of the summer. Last year there was no Sauna because of reasons best known by the organizers I guess, but a welcomed comeback was in the cards this summer. Compared to the three-day event of 2011, the festival had been scaled down this year and the location had changed. One could say that the festival went back to its' roots to Ratina Stadion, since the two first festivals were held in the park close by.
SOA 2013 was a two-day event, preceeded by a free-entry event on Friday, where Timo Kotipelto and Jani Liimatainen played an acoustic set. The first "officia" festival day was Saturday, with a line-up that featured mostly Finnish bands. Nightwish were the headliner, with Stratovarius, Children Of Bodom, Finntroll and Opeth some of the other big names in the line-up. Thanks to my work schedule, we would have only had time to catch Nightwish, we decided against it. So it was only Sunday Sauna for us this year...
The first few acts of Sunday were all on the more thrashier side of things, but after them it was time for a "Swedish Open Air" - Hardcore Superstar, Crashdïet and Sabaton back to back. These three acts were the ones that we wanted to see, and none of them disappointed.
First on the list was Hardcore Superstar. I wasn't really expecting that much, I've liked some of their songs but that's about it. However, they exceeded my expectations around 400% and played a really good "greatest hits"-setlist. There was a lot of traditional rock moves, booze and chicks on stage... it seems that HCSS is a band that works best in a live environment. Vocalist Jocke Berg's somewhat one-dimensional singing style didn't bother me as much as it does on the albums, and somehow their songs got an extra boost - take the opener "Moonshine" for example: on the album it's an okay, fairly catchy track, but live it becomes an infectious, foot-stomping groove monster!
The crowd was very much into it from the start, thanks to the sing-along anthems such as "Moonshine", "Bag On Your Head" and "Last Call For Alcohol". The Swedish-language "Barn av vår tid" and the acoustic "Someone Special" calmed down the vibe a bit, but it was back "on" when the hilarious, Finnish-spoken intro of "Guestlist" was aired. The current radio hit "Above The Law" was also a festival hit, and arguably one of the band's catchiest songs. As it was sunday, "We Don't Celebrate Sundays" had its' place in the setlist and it was another sing-along anthem for the Sauna crowd. Apparently the band played another song, but we had another Swedish band to catch so we were elsewhere by then. Indeed, if there's one thing that could be improved it's the schedule - a 5 or 10 minute break between bands would have been nice. At least for bands who obviously have a lot of same fans.
I would have liked to see Crashdïet take over the bigger stage, but I guess their status in Finland isn't big enough for it. That didn't seem to bother them, they played like they were in front of a stadium audience and put on a good show. Vocalist and occasional guitarist Simon Cruz is a wild and energetic frontman, but he's also a fine, versatile singer. That glowing, blue mohawk was pretty impressive too...
Due to a disappointingly short 45-minute slot the band had only time for ten songs, which meant that many of my and probably many others' favourite songs weren't played. Actually, only two "pre-Cruz" songs were in the setlist, the other eight were from the last two albums. With the first few songs being newer material, it took a while for the crowd to warm up. Besides, a lot of people were still on their way to the Inferno stage from the Hardcore Superstar show.
The immensely catchy "Chemical" was one of my favourites of this setlist, and a special mention must go to the very moving and heartfelt "California", dedicated to Michael Sunden. Cruz' performance was very intense and raw. The two golden oldies "Riot In Everyone" and "Queen Obscene" were also excellent, but the highlight of the gig for me was "Generation Wild", it's simply a killer track that works both live and on a CD. Never mind the slight similarities to certain 80's classics.
Note: as we had to leave a bit early to catch the start of Sabaton's show, I can not confirm whether the band played something else after "Cocaine Cowboys" or not...
I've seen Sabaton a couple of years ago at Ruisrock and they were the band of the day for me then, completely winning me over with their superb performance. Since then, the band has gone through some major line-up changes, with 4 out of the 6 members of the 2011 line-up leaving and starting their own band Civil War. Vocalist Joakim Broden and bassist Pär Sundström carried on with Sabaton and recruited three new "soldiers".
The new soldiers have found their place in the band, and today's Sabaton is an even more lively and energetic band than the previous incarnation. The big stage isn't a problem, the band makes good use of the space and especially Broden seems unstoppable. This energy is infectious, and the number of fists in the air seemed to grow with every song. It didn't matter what was the language, every track got a great reception. Of course, the songs about Finnish war history went down very well, as did the older crowdpleasers "Ghost Division", "Primo Victoria" and the bandname-dropping anthem "Metal Crue".
Joakim Broden is a great frontman and he really connected with the audience. The good-sprited jokes raised a lot of cheers, and the way he noticed the really little boy watching the gig was quite endearing. The Band Of The Day for me.
Note: one of the new soldiers, drummer Robban Bäck is on a paternity leave, and Snowy Shaw, a well-known veteran metal drummer is replacing him on this leg of the band's tour.
HATEBREED were playing on the second stage between Sabaton and the headliners, and we checked out a couple of their songs. Their aggressive attitude-metal wasn't for us, but they did have their fans too.
The headliner of the day was VOLBEAT, a band who are regular visitors in Finland. Their rock/country/metal hybrid is highly popular here, and they were obviously the most popular band of the day. A slight departure from the usual metal/hard rock bands of Sauna, they brought in a lot of people who probably would not have had interest in the festival otherwise.
"Thank you and good night, you've been great" was the first thing Michael Poulsen said, but the crowd was having none of it of course. However, the first couple of tracks really made me wonder what's the fuss about this band, as they were frankly really boring and unmemorable. "Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood" was better as was "Pearl Hart", but still... after the explosive Sabaton show, Volbeat just weren't that entertaining or interesting. I was in the minority though, the stadium was packed and people were enjoying the band, so it was a triumphant victory for Volbeat and the Sauna Open Air 2013 ended on a high note.
I hope that this year's Sauna Open Air was a financial success and there's a SOA 2014 too. The location of the festival is excellent, Tampere is a nice city to visit and everything at the festival works smoothly. Next year I'd like to see a few more international acts, hopefully bands that do not visit Finland too often. How about Ratt, they cancelled their appearance a few years ago, it's about time to go "Round And Round"?
Review: Kimmo Toivonen