Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023 - Review

2023-08-28
Let the Monster Loose •

In the heart of Helsinki, a new metal festival emerged on August 11-12, 2023, promising a showcase of international headliners and the raw energy that defines the genre. I eagerly set out to capture the essence of the inaugural Hellsinki Metal Festival. My initial apprehension gave way to excitement as I arrived at the Helsinki Ice Hall early, only to find the gates delayed by about 30 minutes. With the launch time of 13:30 (or closer to 14:00), it was evident that most metalheads were still at work or school, but as the clock ticked on, the festival grounds teemed with enthusiastic fans.

Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Throughout the weekend, I had the privilege of witnessing awe-inspiring performances from a diverse array of artists, many of whom I was experiencing live for the very first time. From the relentless drumming of death metal to the soaring guitar solos of power metal, the stage was a canvas for sonic exploration. The bands brought an electric atmosphere, igniting the crowd with their impassioned performances. It was a euphoric convergence of music and metal culture, uniting both newcomers and seasoned festival-goers in a shared celebration of metal.

As I navigated the festival terrain with my camera in hand, I couldn't help but notice a few minor hitches that come with any fledgling festival. The limited seating areas prompted some challenges for the sore feet between sets. Additionally, the single water tap generated quite a queue during the hottest hours, a testament to the nice and hot weather for the people wearing mostly black. These minor inconveniences, however, were overshadowed by the overwhelming camaraderie and enthusiasm that Finnish metal festivals are well known for. As the sun set on the second night, it was clear there’s no question if Hellsinki Metal Festival managed to carve its place in the metal scene in Finland and I’m already eagerly waiting for the next year.

FRIDAY

Mors Subita

Kicking off my festival weekend with a burst of energy, I found myself immersed in the sonic assault of Finnish melodic death metal powerhouse, Mors Subita. As I set up my camera to capture their performance, the band acknowledged the initial worry of a sparse crowd, a sentiment I had shared when I first arrived. Yet, as if summoned by the music itself, a tide of metalheads quickly swelled before the stage.

Mors Subita at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Mors Subita at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

With each thunderous riff and bone-shaking drumbeat, Mors Subita demonstrated why they are a force to be reckoned with in the world of metal. Their performance was a testament to the unwavering nature of their genre, delivering a relentless barrage of melodic death metal that resonated with the crowd. From the frenetic pace of their opening notes to the final chords that reverberated in the air, their set was a masterclass in intensity and skill.

Familiar with their established reputation for delivering solid and energetic shows, I was not disappointed. Mors Subita held nothing back, maintaining an unyielding momentum from start to finish. The marriage of aggressive riffs and soaring melodies created an atmosphere that was both cathartic and captivating.

In the end, any initial fears of a lacklustre turnout were quashed, replaced by a sea of dedicated metal fans who stood united in the kickstart of the festival weekend. With Mors Subita's unwavering passion and formidable stage presence, they set the bar high for the remainder of the festival.

Arion

Transitioning from the explosive energy of Mors Subita, I found myself in the presence of another Finnish gem, Arion, a band synonymous with melodic metal excellence. This marked my inaugural experience witnessing their live act on the second outdoor stage. Having originated in 2011, Arion's name had previously graced the NMK Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu 2013.

Arion at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Arion at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

As Arion took the stage launching the No One Stands In My Way from their second studio album, the crowd's energy was infectious, and the band wasted no time in harnessing that fervour. It was an honour to witness the evolution of a band that had once graced NMK, and to see them ascend to a level where their live show stands as a testament to their musical journey.

Asagraum

Diving headlong into the uncharted waters of black metal, I found myself facing an intriguing anomaly within the genre: Asagraum, an old-school death metal band composed entirely of four talented women. While my knowledge of black metal was limited, the prospect of witnessing a unique convergence of musical and gender boundaries was undeniably enticing. While my familiarity with black metal was limited, the intensity of their performance transcended any preconceived notions I had held, especially by opening aggressively with They Crawl from the Broken Circle.

Asagraum at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Asagraum at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Having inked a deal with the Finnish record label KVLT, the band's ties to Finland are hopefully enough to see them take the stage again soon as I was left craving more. Asagraum's performance left an indelible mark on both the festival and my own understanding of the genre.

Voivod

Hailing all the way from Quebec, the old-school thrash metal titans, Voivod, graced the stage with a live performance that was nothing short of surprising in its sheer fun and unadulterated enjoyment. As the echoes of their music filled the air, I couldn't help but be transported back in time, immersed in the vibes of a garage band playing purely for the love of the craft. Voivod's performance radiated a nostalgic charm that resonated deeply with the crowd.

Voivod at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Voivod at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Drawing in a crowd primarily composed of the older generation of fans, their presence was anticipated long before the festival gates even opened. Their classic thrash metal sound was a powerful reminder of the genre's roots, executed with a genuine passion that showcased their unwavering dedication to their craft. Voivod's on-stage camaraderie and the sheer joy they exuded were contagious, turning their performance into a communal celebration of metal's rich history.

Their set may have concluded earlier than some would have liked, Voivod's live performance was a testament to the enduring legacy of thrash metal and its power to unite generations under the banner of pure enjoyment.

Clawfinger

A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I experienced the electrifying fusion of rap and metal, a genre that encapsulated the essence of my millennial childhood. Swedish powerhouse Clawfinger took the stage, delivering a performance that transported me back to the days when rap metal, NuMetal and other variations of the same species dominated the airwaves. The embodiment of this genre, Clawfinger breathed new life into the fusion, rekindling childhood memories with every beat and lyric.

Clawfinger at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Clawfinger at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

At the heart of their performance was the charismatic Zak Tell, whose dynamic stage presence effortlessly bridged the gap between band and audience. His constant interaction with the crowd injected an element of spontaneity that mirrored the raw energy of the music. As the riffs collided with the rhythmic cadence of rap, the atmosphere crackled with an intensity that echoed the genre's rebellious spirit.

Amid the barrage of sound, Zak Tell's onstage persona took an unexpected turn, offering a lighthearted contrast to the weighty music. His playful antics and comedic gestures transformed the performance into a captivating spectacle. Amidst the sea of dark attire, Zak Tell stood out like a vibrant beacon in his colourful Hawaiian shirt, embodying an irreverent spirit that perfectly complemented Clawfinger's genre-blurring sound.

Their set was a testament to the enduring appeal of rap metal, a genre that continues to resonate across generations. Clawfinger's ability to infuse their performance with both nostalgia and novelty was a reminder of the genre's timeless charm from an era of youthful defiance and unapologetic expression.

Monuments

British progressive metal maestros, Monuments, took the festival's energy to an unexpected turn, igniting a torrent of excitement that culminated young vocalist Andy Cizek of crowd surfing and standing on the gate between the stage and the audience. The band's dynamic performance showcased their youthful energy widening the smiles of the audience.

Monuments at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Monuments at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Their performance marked not only the first crowd surfing of the festival but also a powerful testament to the genre's capacity to inspire and unite.

During the Monuments show I also witnessed the legendary #Pittipaavo, seen at Tuska, had been found in the midst of the Hellsinki Metal Festival crowds as well.

Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
#pittipaavo

Suicidal Angels

Returning to the depths of the Ice Hall's enigmatic Black Box, also known as the Kaaos Stage, I was engulfed by a storm of thrash metal courtesy of Suicidal Angels from Greece. Formed by guitarist/vocalist and main songwriter Nick Melissourgos. Since its inception, the band has released seven studio albums, and has gone through several line-up changes leaving Melissourgos as the only constant member.

Suicidal Angels at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Suicidal Angels at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

The band's relentless energy resonated with the crowd, culminating in the exhilarating spectacle of the festival's first mosh pit I witnessed. As I maneuvered through the darkness with my camera gear, the urge to join the frenzy was nearly overwhelming, a testament to the band's magnetic stage presence.

Especially the ending with the song Capital of War definitely made me to add the Suicidal Angels to my following in Spotify.

SLAM Wrestling

Venturing into unfamiliar territory, I delved into the world of SLAM Wrestling, a stark departure from my childhood memories of larger-than-life Hollywood personas engaging in testosterone-fueled soap opera spectacles. This marked my first experience of witnessing the show wrestling live. While the soap opera aspect was toned down next to american WWE, what unfolded before me was an unfiltered display of pure action, providing an unexpected complement to the thrash metal fervor of the preceding Suicidal Angels show in the Black Box.

SLAM Wrestling at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
SLAM Wrestling at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

The wrestlers' intricate maneuvers and acrobatics elicited a sense of awe, as well as a chill that ran down my spine, harkening back to my own experiences in martial arts before an injury forced me to step back. As I watched the performers execute their stunts with precision, I was reminded of the dedication and athleticism that underlie the spectacle.

Amid the flurry of grappling and high-flying antics, I was unable to remain to witness the culmination of the match as I had to hurry outdoors and get through the crowds to see the next band hitting the stage.

Might need to check out some of their events one day when I get a chance to get a full experience.

Sodom

Emerging from the shadows of the Black Box, I ventured back outside to witness the seasoned veterans of thrash metal, Sodom, delivering an onslaught of their own brand of auditory chaos. As one of the revered "big four" German thrash metal icons, Sodom's name reverberates through the annals of metal history. Despite my familiarity with their legacy, this marked my maiden voyage into their live performance realm. The Hellsinki Metal Festival had indeed orchestrated a line-up that boasted legends aplenty.

Sodom at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Sodom at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Sodom's presence on stage was a testament to the enduring power of their music. Their performance was a relentless barrage of thrash metal fervour and I personally loved the guitarist Yorck Segatz’ energy on stage.

Benighted

As the sun-drenched summer day transitioned into evening, a shift from classic metal icons to the enigmatic realm of the Black Box, I prepared to immerse myself in the visceral world of extreme deathgrind, courtesy of France's own Benighted. The anticipation was palpable, the contrast between the two experiences adding an element of thrilling unpredictability.

Benighted at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Benighted at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Julien Truchan, the barefooted vocalist, stood as the charismatic conductor of chaos. With no hint of mercy, he unleashed a torrent of guttural growls and frenetic movements that galvanised the audience into a wild frenzy. The energy was infectious, sweeping through the crowd like a tempest of raw power.

It was a testament to the primal nature of extreme music, a cathartic release that both the band and the audience could revel in.

Blind Guardian

Emerging from the Black Box's intense Kaaos Stage, I opted for a brief respite outdoors, allowing myself a well-deserved lunch break and a refreshing cold beer that had plenty of options at Hellsinki Metal Festival (except my favourites of dark stouts and porters. Might be a niche, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them at festivals one day)  to recharge my energy for the evening ahead. As I savoured my refreshments, the resonating melodies of Blind Guardian kept me entertained. The German power metal juggernaut had amassed such a colossal following that the main audience area was packed to capacity, leaving me contentedly enjoying their show from a distance.

Blind Guardian at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Blind Guardian at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Despite not being able to venture closer due to the immense crowd, the atmosphere was electric, with each note serving as a reminder of the band's widespread influence. Blind Guardian's captivating presence was an embodiment of the festival's ability to unite fans of diverse metal subgenres under a common banner of appreciation for music's transformative power.

Dark Funeral

The outdoor stage was enveloped in a shroud of theatrical costumes and an unmistakable aura of the satanic as the Swedish black metal legend Dark Funeral assumed their rightful place. Dark Funeral emerged during the second wave of black metal founded by guitarists Blackmoon and Lord Ahriman in 1993. With a history steeped in satanism and an overarching theme of anti-Christian lyrics, the band took the stage, prepared to weave their dark magic upon the metal aficionados.

Dark Funeral at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Dark Funeral at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

While the theatrics and the band's presence were undeniably compelling, a longing for pyrotechnics resonated within me. The absence of these fiery accents was a noticeable gap in an otherwise mesmerising show during the early darkening evening. Nevertheless, Dark Funeral's performance stood as a potent reminder of the genre's ability to elicit strong emotions and leave an indelible imprint on the souls of those who bore witness.

Apocalyptica

In an unexpected turn of events, the void left by Helloween's last-minute cancellation was seamlessly filled by the local talents of Apocalyptica, along with surprise guests Samy Elbanna from Lost Society and Tipe Johnson from Leningrad Cowboys. The stage was set for a memorable performance, a convergence of musical prowess that promised to captivate the audience's senses.

Apocalyptica at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Apocalyptica at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Despite a minor hiccup resulting in a delayed start of 15 minutes due to technical issues with the back screen, anticipation hung in the air as the crowd eagerly awaited the grand spectacle that was about to unfold. The moment the technical hurdles were overcome, the stage was ablaze with a pyrotechnic display that sent waves of warmth throughout the entire audience, even those stationed at the back of the crowd.

Apocalyptica's fusion of their renowned cello-driven sound with the dynamic energy of Samy Elbanna and Tipe Johnson created a unique experience that resonated with the crowd. The ambiance was electric, charged with an infectious enthusiasm that transcended the initial technical setback.

Personally I wished to hear their Nothing Else Matters cover from Metallica and that expectation was met during the later half of their show. Eventually Apocalyptica played two other Metallica covers, For Whom the Bells Tolls and Seek & Destroy. On top of that there were also two from Sepultura. Refuse/Resist and Inquisition Symphony. And the amazing show ended with In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Apocalyptica's performance, complete with its unexpected guests and fiery visuals, was a powerful reminder of the festival's ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and deliver an unforgettable experience. As the music resonated and the flames danced against the night sky, it was evident that the fusion of artistic vision, technical prowess, and unyielding dedication had resulted in a truly remarkable performance that would be etched into the memories of all who were present.

Batushka

The final ritual of the night unfolded in the form of Batushka, a Polish black metal entity that brought a fitting conclusion to the evening's symphony of darkness. With a distinct blend of theatrics infused with Eastern Orthodox Church elements, their performance was a captivating crescendo that lingered in the air.

Batushka at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Batushka at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

As the night embraced the festival grounds, Batushka's presence created an aura of mystique and solemnity. The intricate theatrics and cool costumes added an air of authenticity to the performance, transporting the audience into a realm that blurred the boundaries between reality and the arcane. The incorporation of Eastern Orthodox Church elements further heightened the sense of ritualistic immersion.

While the visual elements were undeniably enthralling, the show seemed to lack the energetic fervour that characterises many other metal performances from earlier. The cool costumes and elaborate stage design, while impressive, didn't fully compensate for the energy that was perhaps expected. This left me with a desire for a more dynamically charged atmosphere.

In light of my yearning for a higher level of engagement, I chose to conclude my evening slightly earlier than anticipated. As I left the festival grounds, I knew that the second day held the promise of new musical encounters and one of my personal favourite artists. Batushka's performance, despite its captivating theatrics, had left me in search of a more visceral connection that I hoped to discover anew on the forthcoming day.

Batushka will be gracing Finnish soil once more later this year, on the 15th of October, at Vanha Ylioppilastalo in Helsinki.

SATURDAY

Bob Malmström

The next day's intentions were set on immersing myself in the realm of Finnish-Swedish hardcore punk with Bob Malmström. However, a series of unfortunate delays in the public transportation system conspired against my plans, leaving me with a mere glimpse of their closing moments. Frustration tinged with irony washed over me, as this marked yet another instance where I found myself missing out on witnessing Bob Malmström's festival performances. It appears that fate is nudging me toward their standalone shows, where I hope to finally experience their live show firsthand.

Pentagram

As pioneers of heavy metal, Pentagram’s presence on stage was a living testament to the genre's historic roots, invoking a sense of excitement that was evident in the air. Having missed out on their earlier Finnish performances, the opportunity to finally witness their live show was an experience that brimmed with anticipation.

Pentagram at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Pentagram at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Pentagram's legacy as one of the earliest heavy metal bands in history lent their performance a sense of gravitas. The audience bore witness to a living relic of metal's evolution, their music a bridge that connected the past with the present. The echoes of their first sold-out show in Finland back in 2011 resounded through the venue, a reminder of the enduring impact of their music on the metal community.

As Bobby Liebling, the iconic figure at the helm of Pentagram, took the stage in his high heels, the performance took on an added dimension of flair. His presence was a testament to the enduring spirit of rock 'n' roll, and his solid showmanship was a tribute to the decades he has dedicated to his craft.

Adding to the enchantment of the evening, the legendary Victor Griffin returned to the forefront, wielding his guitar with a sense of mastery, but it was the bassist Greg Turley who captured my camera lens most of the time with his showmanship.

Pentagram's performance was a celebration of metal's heritage, a reflection of the genre's resilience and ability to adapt to the changing tides of time. The opportunity to witness their live show, even in the intimate setting of the Black Box, was a remarkable experience that left an indelible impression.

Bloodred Hourglass

Bloodred Hourglass at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Bloodred Hourglass at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Returning to the open air, I navigated my way through a thronging audience eagerly anticipating the performance of Bloodred Hourglass from Mikkeli. The stark contrast in audience size between Saturday and Friday was unmistakable, with the festival grounds buzzing with a heightened sense of energy and enthusiasm. As I threaded my way through the densely packed crowd, it became evident that Saturday had drawn a significantly larger turnout, and this surge in attendance created moments where movement through the area was notably challenging. This was particularly pronounced as I exited the photo pit, encountering pockets of enthusiastic fans whose fervour mirrored the electric atmosphere that permeated the festival.

Samael

The moment had finally arrived, fulfilling a long-standing entry on my bucket list as Samael took the stage. With a name that shared a connection with my own middle name, I had eagerly awaited the chance to witness their live performance. And what better way to savour the experience than capturing a few photographs while immersed in their show? This Swedish extreme metal ensemble commanded the stage with an authoritative presence, engulfing both the venue and the audience in a maelstrom of sound and spectacle.

Samael at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Samael at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

The stage seemed to shrink beneath the sheer magnitude of Samael's performance. Their mastery over the art of live showmanship was evident as they dominated the space, owning every inch with a magnetic energy that radiated from their presence. The symbiotic relationship between the band and the audience was palpable, with their music serving as the conduit for a shared emotional journey.

As I captured moments through my lens, I was reminded of the power of live music to create lasting memories. Samael's performance was a testament to their status as consummate performers, delivering an unforgettable show that resonated deeply with the audience. The culmination of years of anticipation and the thrill of being able to document the experience through photography was a realisation of a dream that lingered far beyond the closing notes. Samael was easily one of my personal favourite shows of the festival so far.

Priest

Priest at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Priest at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

While the majority may have been drawn to the Hellsinki Metal Festival by the allure of more aggressive metal acts, my personal focus was directed towards the darker electronic realms conjured by the Priest. The anticipation of a Saturday night infused with their unique brand of feverish electronic sounds had driven me to the festival grounds. My affinity for their live performance was kindled during my previous encounter at the Hellsinki Industrial Festival, leaving an indelible mark that inspired my return. With a larger stage this time, the Priest seized every inch of it, transforming it into a pulsating electronic sanctuary. However, even the expanded space seemed insufficient to contain the infectious energy that vocalist Linton Rubino, also known as leading character Mercury, exuded while creating an intimate connection that reverberated through the first-row spectators. A show well worth the wait just as I was hoping for. I’m yet to witness a vocalist have more uplifting stage performance than Linton Rubino and I’m sure I’ll be there for future shows when I have a chance.

Déluge

Hailing from France, Déluge took the stage following Priest in the Kaaos Stage, embarking on a journey that started as a disco night darkening it with the echoes of black metal. As a newcomer to the sounds of Déluge, I approached their performance with no preconceived expectations, ready to embrace the experience with fresh ears.

Deluge at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Deluge at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

France has long been a fertile breeding ground for the black metal genre, and among its hidden gems lies Déluge. Since their inception in 2014, the band has been conjuring a captivating blend of black metal and post-hardcore elements. Their debut full-length release, "Æther," dropped in 2015, followed by their sophomore effort, "Ægo Templo," in 2020, which expanded their sonic horizons while maintaining their core essence.

Originating from the northeast of France, Déluge's dedication to their craft is unwavering. Their music, characterised by its luminous intensity, resonates with power and authenticity. Drawing inspiration from the black metal genre, they unapologetically refuse to adhere strictly to its conventions, boldly labelling themselves in their early days as "untrve French black metal," signifying their unique perspective and creative approach.

Leprous

Recognizing the opportunity for a brief respite, I decided to take a step back from the frontlines and embrace the mellower tones of Norwegian band Leprous performance in the background while meeting with my friends. While their style diverged from my usual preference, the allure of their music provided a serene interlude, offering a chance to connect with those around me in a more relaxed setting.

Leprous at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Leprous at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

Leprous, often categorised as progressive metal, progressive rock, or even avant-garde metal by some, stands as a testament to the fluidity of musical boundaries. While these genre labels offer glimpses into their sonic identity, it's worth noting that the band's members themselves choose not to confine their artistry within the limits of a specific classification.

Personally I’m not too keen on the genre, but as I joined the crowds during one of the fan-favourite songs Below I could not be noticing how the romance was flowering in the midst of the couples of the audience.

Bury Tomorrow

Bury Tomorrow, a band that had somehow eluded my musical radar until now, emerged as an unexpected revelation during the Hellsinki Metal Festival. Despite a vague familiarity with one of their songs, the experience of their live performance was a transformative moment that solidified my newfound appreciation for their craft. It was no surprise that many attendees cited Bury Tomorrow as their primary motivation for attending the festival.

Bury Tomorrow at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Bury Tomorrow at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

This English hardcore outfit ignited the stage with a potent mix of electrifying energy and infectious camaraderie. Their presence inspired daring feats of audience participation, including enthusiastic crowd surfing that symbolised the unifying power of music to connect strangers in a shared experience. The sprawling moshpits that persisted throughout their performance served as a testament to the band's ability to catalyse unadulterated excitement and uninhibited expression among the crowd.

Vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates' efforts to initiate a wall of death, while perhaps not flawlessly executed, symbolised the band's enthusiasm for engaging with their audience on a visceral level. Even though the plan may have transformed into a conventional moshpit, the sentiment behind it remained intact: to foster a sense of community and kinetic interaction.

From the very beginning until the final notes reverberated through the air, Bury Tomorrow delivered an exceptional performance that encompassed the entire spectrum of live music's magic. Their stage presence, coupled with the raw passion they infused into every note, resonated with both die-hard fans and newcomers alike. As I immersed myself in their show, I found myself swept up in the contagious fervour that radiated from the stage, solidifying my status as a newfound fan and reminding me of the unparalleled ability of live music to create memories that transcend time.

Emperor

Emperor, a Norwegian black metal band, had long occupied a coveted spot on my musical bucket list. Immersed in the lore of the Norwegian black metal scene, with its infamous church burnings and tales that had reverberated even across the Finnish metal scene, the allure of Emperor's music and legacy was undeniable. Although my personal tastes leaned more toward other genres, Emperor stood as one of those transcendent bands that seemed to transcend genre preferences, calling upon every metal aficionado to experience their performance. The moment had finally arrived, and as their iconic presence graced the stage, it was a testament to the power of live music to fulfil long-held dreams.

Emperor at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Emperor at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

The echoes of history reverberated through their performance, as their music bore the weight of an era that left an indelible mark on the metal landscape. As I stood amidst the thousands gathered at the Nordis parking lot, it was apparent that Emperor's music had transcended its genre origins to unite fans from across the spectrum of metal. The mystique that had surrounded their name was tangible, and the collective experience of witnessing their live show was a culmination of years of anticipation and reverence.

Despite my limited inclination towards black metal, the significance of the Emperor's presence was not lost on me. The opportunity to witness their performance in the flesh was a reminder of the profound impact that music, regardless of genre, can have on shaping cultural narratives and individual experiences. Their performance not only fulfilled a personal aspiration but also served as a testament to the enduring legacy of metal music and its ability to create moments of connection and shared history among diverse audiences. As the night was soon to end, I marvelled at the power solidifying their place not just in the annals of black metal history, but in the hearts of all who bore witness.

Fit for an Autopsy

"I want you to show me the biggest fucking pit this hall has ever seen" commanded Fit for an Autopsy's vocalist Joe Badolato, setting the stage for one of the most monumental mosh pits the Helsinki Black Box had ever witnessed. Hailing from the USA, this deathcore outfit ignited the night with their fierce performance, igniting a mosh pit that spiralled and surged throughout most of their set.

Fit For An Autopsy at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Fit For An Autopsy at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

In the world of death metal, where grisly subject matter often takes centre stage, few bands manage to intertwine their societal discontent with their sonic expression as seamlessly as Fit for an Autopsy. As purveyors of savage deathcore, the band's music fuses lyrical misanthropy with unadulterated sonic destruction, resulting in an assault on both the senses and sensibilities of their listeners. Emerging in the early 2010s, the band truly found their stride with the release of their acclaimed third full-length album, "Absolute Hope Absolute Hell" in 2015. Their trajectory continued to push the boundaries of deathcore, evident through subsequent releases like "The Great Collapse" (2017), "The Sea of Tragic Beasts" (2019), and "Oh What the Future Holds" (2022).

Their performance held a dual role as a climactic precursor to the festival's conclusion, effectively priming the crowd for the final crescendo of the evening. The searing intensity of Fit for an Autopsy's deathcore anthems acted as a sonorous rallying cry, guaranteeing that the festival's grand finale would remain etched in the minds of attendees long after the final notes had dissipated into the night. As the festival drew to its close, the vivid memory of the monumental mosh pit resonated as a vibrant testament to the immense power of music to unite, invigorate, and elevate the collective spirit of the metal community.

Watain

As the stage was shrouded in theatrical illumination resembling a hellish pit, the atmosphere was set ablaze, quite literally, when the fires were ignited. During the outset of the performance, a heart-stopping moment ensued as the vocalist Erik Danielsson hurled a torch towards the front row, nearly intersecting my path. A sense of relief washed over me as the fervent fan successfully captured the fiery projectile, sparing my thick hair from its fiery embrace.

Watain at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Watain at Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

The experience elicited a reflection from one of my friends, who aptly remarked, "This is the show I always imagined black metal shows to be when I was a kid." I found myself in staunch agreement. While the scene may often feature an abundance of individuals adorned in black studded leather and intricate corpse paint designs, Watain offered a show on a totally different level that should be witnessed at least once by every metal fan. Their show proved to be an embodiment of the very essence of black metal, transcending the surface aesthetics to create an immersive and evocative experience that resonates with the genre's essence.

Regrettably, the constraints of capacity prevented some from gaining entry to the Black Box due to security concerns. The synergy of Watain's performance and the indoor setting was undeniable, with the pyrotechnics creating a mesmerising display that seamlessly complemented their dark sonic and visual narratives. The intricate choreography of fire and sound created a symbiotic relationship that would have been difficult to replicate in an outdoor setting.

In essence, Watain's performance was a manifestation of the black metal ideal, serving as a conduit to transport the audience into the very heart of the genre's thematic and sensory intricacies. The flames that danced in synchronisation with their music were a reflection of the inferno that burns within the hearts of both performers and attendees alike, a confluence of artistry and audience engagement that will continue to linger as an unforgettable chapter in the narrative of the Hellsinki Metal Festival.

Conclusion

The echoes of blazing riffs, thunderous drums, and impassioned vocals still reverberate in the air as the curtains close on the Hellsinki Metal Festival. From the explosive energy of deathcore pits to the haunting allure of black metal's flames, this two-day odyssey transcended mere music, morphing into a vibrant tapestry of unity, diversity, and unbridled passion. As the final notes faded and the last moshpit subsided, what remained is a mosaic of memories, each stage, each artist, each connection etched into the collective consciousness of a community that thrives on the unifying power of metal's relentless spirit. The Hellsinki Metal Festival illuminated not just stages, but souls, reminding us that within the chaos of sound, lies an unbreakable bond forged through shared experiences and a love for the unapologetic art that is metal.

Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023
Hellsinki Metal Festival 2023

This article was originally written for Tuonela Magazine. You can read the published version of the experience from both me and Laureline Tilkin HERE DAY 1 and HERE DAY 2.

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