Steelfest Open Air, Hyvinkää, 16/05/14-17/05/14

Steelfest Open-Air opens up the summer festival season in Finland with a full aural assault. It's two days of live metal, drinking and catching up with friends for a festival that's big enough to have great headlining bands, but small enough not to need a map to get around.

Two days after Steelfest Open Air 2014 wrapped, I still had some friends suffering valiantly from hangovers. The Finns rarely do anything half-heartedly; so at Steelfest Open Air, one of the first warm weather metal festivals of the season in Finland, they fell to drinking, partying and moshing in the chill spring air like it was already summer. Held about an hour out of Helsinki, in Hyvinkää, Steelfest is an annual two-day ritual of black, thrash and death metal. This year, the headliners included Primordial (IRL), Inquisition (USA), Vader (POL) and Deströyer 666 (NED/AUS).

My Friday afternoon train from Helsinki to Hyvinkää was heavily populated by metalheads. Finland may have a high percentage of metal bands per capita, but it was clear to see that these black-shirted masses holding plastic shopping bags of beer were all headed to the same place. Bars and eateries on the short walk were busy, and the grass outside the festival gates was filled with groups of friends drinking before heading inside. Alcohol was available inside the festival, but why miss an opportunity to save a few more euros for drinks later in the evening? 

Steelfest has two stages, one outside in the bright late evening sun and the other in the dimly lit old factory warehouse. The festival was opened by Finnish bands Lantern and Baptism, Raven Woods from Turkey then Hautakammio (FIN). By 8pm, the sun was still shining bright and much of the outside crowd had emptied their supermarket stock and headed inside to watch Maveth (FIN) and Valkyrja (SWE). On the menu next was a heady serve of black thrash, starting with Norway’s Aura Noir playing to the crowds of revellers before the late Finnish dusk on the outside stage. They were followed by the unforgiving ritual of Nifelheim, bedecked in long spikes and a take no prisoners attitude. 

With the deep of darkness settling in outside, Deströyer 666 took the stage. When KK Warslut addressed the audience in his still thick Australian accent, I admit I had a moment of homesickness. I trailed the other photographers out of the pit to the opening strains of my anthemic favourite from Deströyer 666, I am the Wargod (Ode to the Battleslain). The crowd were fist pumping and yelling lyrics along with the band from in front of the stage, and also from the nearby drinking area. Last up for the evening was the black metal duo from the US, Inquisition. I last saw Inquisition on a tiny stage on 70000tons of Metal, but seeing them play to a packed warehouse full of Finns was a new experience. The lights were low, and the tremolo fast, while Dagon strode imposingly between microphones on the wide stage.

 As the first night of the festival ended, many punters made their way to the nearby official after party, with Iron Maiden cover-band Maiden Hell, or to accommodation to sleep off their litres of beer. Many more made their way to catch the last train from Hyvinkää home to Helsinki. The seats were full and the aisles crowded with standing Finns, but there was still a bottle of whiskey making the rounds between friends.

Saturday morning caught many metalheads rising groggily and reluctantly from their beds, friend’s couches or park benches. The drinking outside from the day before was set to repeat itself though the day was set to start at an earlier 2pm with Finland’s Apocryfal, Alghazanth and Convulse. Archgoat and Goatmoon followed up with some more devastating acts riddled with corpsepaint and blood, before Mustan Kuun Lapset brought their dark metal to the stage. The Netherlands duo Urfaust filled the outdoor area with their unique brand of atmospheric black metal, before the hooded musicians of Desolate Shrine crowded the indoor stage for an aural assault of obscure death metal. 

Hailing from Bergen, Norway, Aeternus’ dark death metal fought against the evening sun as the crowds thickened inside the venue. By this time it was rumoured that the last few tickets on the door were close to selling out. People were still coming in with three acts left in the Festival. Necrophobic (SWE) slammed onstage with their dark death/black metal, the crowd pushing against the barriers and almost emptying the outside areas of the festival. It was a quick drink for me with some fellow photographers, before we pushed our way through the crowds to the barrier entrance for the first of the night’s headliners.

The sounds of Star Wars’ Imperial March filled the gathering dark outside as the crowd surged forward for Poland’s Vader. The fast and furious extreme thrash from the Poles had me unsure whether to headbang or take photos. I kept the camera going for a few songs, then gave into my instincts and joined the outskirts of the crowd. Midnight heralded the final headliner of the festival, with a stage full of Irishmen and a sold out festival confirmation.

Primordial delivered their addictive blend of Celtic and Black metal to the cheering masses filling the inside performance space of the festival. Vocalist Alan Averill gave his microphone stand a debonair swing, resting it on a shoulder to survey the crowd. Stepping down from the stage edge onto the speakers, he reached out with words and hands to bring the audience closer to the music. Bloodied Yet Unbowed had plastic cups of drink raised all over the audience, and I spotted more than one group of friends with arms linked staring smiling forwards throughout the set. 

As the audience trailed from the festival grounds, some made their way to see the Death cover band Suicide Machine at the final official after party but many more called it time to sleep (or find somewhere else to keep drinking).