For the last few years, the ”Start of the Summer” for us has been Sauna Open Air, a metal festival held in Tampere. You can imagine our misery when it was announced last year that there would be no more Saunas… the misery was swept away by hope, as rumors of a new festival started to go around. The first band name that was mentioned was Europe… The rumors appeared to be true, and once the festival dates were announced, I reserved a hotel and a couple of days off from the day job. Once the full line-up was announced, I knew I had made a good choice. The headliners Europe and Skid Row were good bookings, but I was even more impressed by a couple of other bands selected to appear: H.E.A.T. on their first big Finnish date and the long-awaited return of Brother Firetribe.
Now that someone’s probably asking how can they name the festival after a cartoon TV show, ”South Park” is actually a direct translation of ”Eteläpuisto”, the location of the festival. Nobody killed Kenny at this festival… The location is absolutely fantastic for a festival of this size, right next to a lake and just a stone’s throw away from the city. Last year the Sauna Open Air was held at Ratina Stadium close by which was a decent enough place, but South Park is the right place for the festival. The stages were neatly situated close to each other, with the smaller one in a huge open tent where you could stay away from the rain. In fact, some bands who played in the tent stage benefitted of the rain and drew much bigger crowds to watch their sets than normally. Doom Unit for example thanked the higher power for the rain and put in their best effort to convert new fans.
The two day event began on Friday at 16:00, when local melodic metal act DREAMTALE kicked off the festival on the tent stage. My knowledge of the band was limited to a brief listening of the samples on their website the previous day, but they were so impressive that I wanted to see the band in action. As we arrived, the area looked frighteningly empty, with only a handful of people scattered around. Of course it was quite early, and lot of people were still at work or traveling to Tampere etc. Nevertheless, slowly but surely the people gathered to the tent and witnessed a rather impressive set from Dreamtale. The band plays rather un-Finnish type of metal, as the usual elements of gloom, doom, despair and misery are nowhere to be found. Although a certain other band has adopted the Merry Metal monicker, it would just as well suit Dreamtale’s euro metal. I’d compare the band to the likes of Edguy, Freedom Call and Axxis. Big melodies, fast tempos and high-pitched vocals with guitar wizardy and swirling keyboards on top of it. I liked it, and will investigate further for sure.
Island of My Heart
The first band on the big stage was SANTA CRUZ, the rising stars of the Sleaze/Glam Rock genre. This was the third time I’ve seen them live and they keep on getting better and better. This time the atmosphere was somewhat dampened by the torrential downpour, but the band surely tried their best to overcome the forces of nature. I stayed down at the front as long as Mira was photographing the band, but then we moved to the covered area and watched the set from there. I still think the band needs a few more killer songs, but hopefully that will be fixed when their second album is released. The latest single ”We Are The Ones To Fall” was the only new song that has made it to the set list so far, the rest of the set was from their debut album.
Santa Cruz are definitely an ”old school” band when it comes to being on stage, they put on a show and take charge. Especially vocalist/guitarist Archie is already a star, and the girls in the front row seemed quite impressed by his antics. I think that the next album will be a really important one for them, a ”make it or break it” kind of a thing. It looks good though, the first single has been getting a lot of airtime on radio and the band is playing a lot of high-profile gigs around the country.
It kept on raining during DOOM UNIT’s set, which meant that the band got to play to a very packed tent. The took advantage of it and played a good set, playing their radio hits and other tracks with a lot of energy. Vocalist/guitarist Jape was possibly the funniest frontman of the festival, coming up with good deadpan one-liners between the songs.
I am not too familiar with the band’s catalogue and I can’t say that their post-grunge heavy rock is exactly my cup of tea, but I quite liked their set. They do have a couple of fine hard rock songs, like ”Get Away”, ”Reckoning Day” and ”Crawler”, and they played their ”lesser” songs with rather infectious enthusiasm. Their breakthrough hit ”Killing Time” got the biggest crowd response, although I find it rather monotonous and dull. Never mind, this kind of stomping riff-rock seems to appeal to the Finnish audience. Anyway, the Unit did good and probably converted a few non-believers… I’ll have to check out their albums.
SPARZANZA’s bass player Johan Carlsson was the fastest bass player of the festival. Not necessarily the fastest player, but fast enough to join Doom Unit on stage for one song and then a little later jump to the other stage with his ”day job” band. However, I was fairly unimpressed by Sparzanza’s gig this time around. Back in 2011 their energetic show at Sauna Open Air’s small stage was quite good, but now their shouty metal went over my head. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for their level of aggression… and maybe their music and style of performance is more suited to a smaller stage?
We skipped Death Hawks (a strange psychedelic rock group from Finland), and returned to catch SONATA ARCTICA. Now we’ve seen the band a few times and somehow their appeal has diminished each time, maybe because of the song choices or whatever. At South Park they played a good gig, and a real ”return to form” kind of a show. With their latest album they’ve moved back towards more straight-forward melodic metal style of their earlier material and I think it’s a good decision. The new bassist Pasi Kauppinen has brought in some extra energy to the band’s stage show, as he’s much more animated on stage than the band’s previous bass player.
The setlist was nicely balanced between Sonata classics and newer stuff, including hits like ”My Land”, ”Full Moon” and ”I Have A Right”. It certainly made me want to check out the new album, as the new songs didn’t sound too bad at all.
The Wolves Die Young
Next up was DIMEBAG BEYOND FOREVER, a Pantera tribute band. They had tons of energy and their set would have been surely approved by Dimebag Darrell. The tent was quite packed again, and the Pantera fans seemed to be enjoying the gig. As Pantera’s ”groove metal” has never been something I’ve enjoyed we watch only a few songs and the decided to check out the merch and other stuff going on. Interestingly, when we returned, the personnel on stage had changed, there were two singers and I’m pretty sure some of the other players weren’t the ones we saw earlier. IT was a case of a real celebration of Pantera’s music by various Finnish metal artists rather than an ordinary tribute band.
Not sure about the set list, but at least they played ”Cowboys From Hell”, ”Walk” and ”This Love”.
Friday’s headliners were SKID ROW, the U.S. band who made it big during the late eighties and early nineties with their first two albums. Three of the band members of their ”classic line-up” are still in the band, bass player Rachel Bolan and guitarists Dave ”The Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill. Johnny Solinger has been the band’s vocalist since 1999, and Rob Hammersmith has occupied the drummer’s stool for the last four years. Compared to a lot of bands of the era, the band’s line-up has been relatively stable, with only a couple of drummers coming and going during the last 15 years. Of course the most noteworthy change in the line-up has been the ”new” vocalist Solinger. Even though it’s been almost 20 years since Sebastian Bach has been in the band, Solinger is still considered the ”new guy” and comparisons are being made. It’s quite natural since Bach was the ”face of the band” during its’ MTV heyday and sang all the biggest hits.
Anyway, the band played a (casual) fan-friendly set of classic Skid Row material with only a couple of new songs thrown in. They seemed to be genuinely appreciative of the warm reception, and thanked the crowd for the opportunity to keep on doing what they love to do. They also commented on the loyalty of the Finnish fans and their dedication to hard rock and metal.
I was quite thrilled to hear songs like ”18 and Life”, ”In A Darkened Room” and the anthem of all anthems, ”Youth Gone Wild” again. I also enjoyed the more recent material, it didn’t sound out of place next to the old songs. The band of the day for me, hands down.
The Saturday morning was spent on a cd/vinyl hunt and indeed I did find a few good additions to the collection from the second hand stores of Tampere. We missed the first band of the day (Egokills), but were armed and ready (well, armed with cameras) for BATTLE BEAST, who were the first band on the main stage. Now with a new singer Noora Louhimo fronting the band, they came out with all guns blazing (stay tuned for more battle cliches :P) and took no prisoners. Their brand of anthemic Heavy Metal is made for big stages, and they really know how to put on a good, old fashioned metal show with synchronized head banging etc.
My favorites from the set were ”Out On The Streets” with its’ killer chorus, the first album’s hit ”Enter The Metal World” and ”Out Of Control”, but I quite enjoyed the whole set. A good start for the day!
Let It Roar
Young thrashers LOST SOCIETY are one of the hottest bands in Finland right now, and there were a lot of people checking out their set. Their gig was a throwback to the late eighties, when the thrash metal culture was taking its’ first steps here. The band was fast, frantic and full of attitude. They spat out their songs with no mercy and the fans loved every minute of it. I couldn’t really tell one song from another and thought that their gig was a bit chaotic, but then again, I’ve never been a thrash metal fan.
Next band on the main stage was RECKLESS LOVE. With three albums under their belt, the band has now around 40 songs to choose from. When several of those songs have been hits, they have no trouble at putting together very fan-friendly set lists. This is just what they had done for South Park, choosing pretty much all of their singles to the list, with only a couple of album tracks from the new album.
”I Love Heavy Metal” could have been the slogan of the festival, especially when the bands and songs mentioned in the song are all from the ”golden era”. It was a surprisingly subtle opener for the set, but the band pushed their engine into higher gear with the Crüe-like ”So Happy I Could Die”. Then it was one radio hit after another, only exceptions being ”Bad Lovin’” and ”Sex, Drugs & Reckless Love”, which haven’t been released as singles, not yet anyway… ”Edge of Our Dreams” was dedicated to the audience, while ”Romance” was introduced as a track they had forgotten for a while, but recently found again.
The Reckless Love gig was a very entertaining one with most of my personal favorites in the setlist. Catchy tunes, plenty of showmanship and good vibes.
I Love Heavy Metal
The next band SHINING is described as ”a Swedish black metal band. The band's music contains depressive undertones, which include personal and suicide-themed lyrics.” Something completely different between Reckless Love and H.E.A.T, huh? We politely declined and decided to rest our feet for a while elsewhere.
As the band was tearing it on stage, I was overjoyed about their success and felt really proud. After seeing them earlier last year in a tiny club, it was great to see one of ”our bands” taking over a major festival stage and proving that they truly belong there. If there’s one band that deserve to come back next year it’s H.E.A.T.
The band played a set that concentrated on their latest album ”Tearing Down The Walls”. It’s a great album and I enjoyed hearing the likes of ”A Shot At Redemption”, ”Mannequin Show” (never mind the questionable Britney ”influences”, the song works like magic in a live setting!) and ”Emergency”. The older songs were great too, although I was surprised they didn’t play ”1000 Miles”, which is probably one of their most well-known songs. Still, I have no complaints… they could’ve easily played another hour and they still would have been forced to leave out a few killer songs.
A special mention must go to Erik Grönwall, who might just be the best frontman out there right now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone work the crowd as hard as he did, and sure enough, in the end he was proclaimed as the winner. The man is possessed by music!
POISONBLACK played next on the tent stage. They’re an ok band in my books and played a decent set, but had a difficult task in following H.E.A.T.’s hyperactive show. Their low-key stage presence and darker style of rock sounded like it came from another planet, but once I got used to it I started to notice that the band does have a handful of good songs - ”Mercury Falling”, ”Down The Ashes Rain” and my longtime favorite ”Buried Alive” for example. All three are heavy, dark riff rock tunes with enough melodic hooks to entertain a wimp rock like me! Not bad at all.
For the last few years, it seems like W.A.S.P. has been easier to see live in Finland than most of the Finnish bands. They continue to be a rather popular live act, and their South Park set was no exception - they had a sizable crowd waiting for them.
W.A.S.P. played a rather strange set: the first half of it was ”the greatest hits” with the classics from the early albums. When ”I Wanna Be Somebody” was played as the sixth track, I was really surprised - all the biggest hits had been played, what they were going to do for the rest of their set? Well, Blackie and Co. had ambitious plans…
”The Crimson Idol” album is considered as one of the best W.A.S.P. albums by many, and it represents the more serious side of Blackie Lawless. It was originally supposed to be his solo album, but was eventually released under the W.A.S.P. name. Back in 2007 W.A.S.P. played the album in its’ entirety, but at South Park they didn’t have the time to go that far. We were treated to a shortened version of the story.
I guess that for most of the die-hard W.A.S.P. fans the Crimson Idol set was pure heaven, but for the more casual listeners it was a bit of a buzz kill. The sing-along fest of the first few songs turned into something way more demanding, and I noticed that many people headed to the bar area. We stuck around until the end, and if nothing else, had the pleasure of witnessing Blackie pour out his soul to the songs that obviously mean a lot to him. Once the ”Idol” story had been dealt with, the band played their traditional closing track ”Blind In Texas”, which is always crowd pleaser.
The South Park gig wasn’t the most energetic W.A.S.P. gig I’ve seen. Guitarist Doug Blair and bassist Mike Duda were as lively as ever but Blackie was rather understated. His long silent moments between songs just watching the crowd intensely reminded me of daytime soap operas… His vocals were good though, he was really impressive especially during the slower songs.
On Your Knees / The Torture Never Stops
The Titanic Overture
As Blackie was going blind in Texas, we headed to the tent again. The world’s only ambassadors of ”Tennis Heavy” were about to start their game, and we weren’t going to miss any of it. I’m talking about BROTHER FIRETRIBE, the finest Finnish AOR band of all time and long-time RockUnited favorites. They had been on a break for a few years, and it turned out that we weren’t the only ones waiting for their return. The tent was again packed, and it didn’t even rain outside!
Once vocalist Pekka Heino lead his troops into the first song ”One Single Breath”, the place seemed to explode, and not just because of the pyrotechnics. Everyone was singing along, hands were in the air and a good time was had by all, including the band I believe. Every song was given the kind of a reception normally reserved for the artist’s biggest hits, even the new songs were sung along loudly.
Even though there had been a change in the line-up (new drummer Hannes Pirilä replacing Kalle Torniainen), the band sounded as good as ever. The setlist was one highlight after another, but if I have to pick a few extra-brilliant moments I’d have to say that ”I’m On Fire”, ”For Better Or For Worse” and ”Heart Full Of Fire” were some of those.
The only disappointment wasn’t really the band’s fault: I wasn’t expecting them to return to play ”I Am Rock”, as their allocated time had already been used. Well they did, and we and many others were already on our way to the other stage to see Europe when the familiar bassline and power chords started booming out of the P.A!
One Single Breath
The headliner of the festival was EUROPE, who have been in Finland almost as often as W.A.S.P. over the last few years. They are still quite popular it seems, as there were about 5000 people watching them. They also had the biggest signing session queue...
Europe are a professional band with a great frontman, so they always put on a decent show. Joey Tempest (vocals) is an old-school frontman who throws poses, does vocal acrobatics and commands the crowds with ease. The other musicians in the band are happy to let him take care of the showmanship, both bassist John Leven and guitarist John Norum are pretty much glued to their spots on stage and let the music do the talking. Or walking?
The band's setlist is quite heavy on the tracks of their latest album "Bag Of Bones", which obviously wasn't something that most of the audience wanted to hear. To be honest, I didn't care for them either, I've tried to get into the album but it's probably my least favourite out of all Europe records. The band performed them with a lot of intensity and the frontrows lapped them up, but further away they were getting a lukewarm reaction. The two tracks from their second album "Wings Of Tomorrow" fared a little better I think. They were among my favourites anyway, especially the awesome "Wasted Time". In fact I would have loved to hear the full "Wings" set they did in Sweden recently, but I guess that wouldn't have gone down too well at a festival. Maybe in 2016 they'll be back and play the full "Final Countdown" album, when it is its' 30th anniversary?
The main set ended with "Rock The Night", which was a popular song. Even John Norum finally stepped up to the microphone and sang backing vocals! I can't remember him singing anything before that song. The encore included one of the band's better post-comeback songs in "Last Look At Eden" and naturally the inevitable "Final Countdown". I know a lot of people are sick of that song and it's been voted as one of the most annoying songs of all time, but I say funk 'em! That keyboard riff still gives me the chills (in a good way), and the effect it has on the audience is something quite spectacular.
Review: Kimmo Toivonen