On the first weekend of August, 5.000 metalheads gathered on a small island off the coast of Tampere, in Southern Finland. Why, you may ask? Well simply because that island, for just one weekend, became Saarihelvetti, “The Island of Hell”.
Saarihelvetti is one of those small festivals you don’t hear about if you are not familiar with the local bands. It has been going for several years, and this year was the biggest on record, with a total of 5.000 participants. The ticket you buy for the festival is also a valid ferry ticket, since, obviously, you need a boat to get on the island. 4 boats have been commandeered by the organizers to carry people back and forth between the city harbor and the island. Where else are you going to get such first aid responders at a festival?
Once on the island, you are greeted by a lovely scenery, some century-old buildings, like an ice-cream kiosk, in a luxuriant forest, still green of the Finnish summer. You may have had the chance of talking with some band members on the boat; if you didn’t, worry not, you may still see them being carried around in a tractor trailer. Because, yes, there are no cars on the island.
The first stage is located indoors, and it hosts performances by (mostly) local young bands who won a regional contest. Some foreigners were invited this year, such as MØL (Denmark) or The Nomad (Russia). It’s always nice to see what the locals have to offer, and perhaps get an idea of the next big trends, who knows? Among the performances to remember on that stage was Arion, the power metal band already seen in Tuska and Lähiöbotox (“suburban botox”), labelled “the saviors of Finnish rap-metalcore” by local news. Sure, the scene is not the best and it might feel cramped, but if you don’t mind the smell of a few hundred people sweating together, this is just the place for you.
Just outdoor, past the sausage stand, you’ll find the “Rock’n’Tits” stage. Which, as the name states, hosts… well. Rock. And tits. Some parody-rock bands on Friday, and 5 hours of burlesque performances on Saturday, both individual and collective. The stage is small and poorly lit, but(t), let’s be honest, who cares? The 3-400 hundred people watching them surely didn’t mind.
If this is not your jam, you can head through the other path, and go past the kids’ area (full of metalheads just relaxing on swings and playing with children toys) to find the main stage. Here are the main acts of the weekend, from Korpiklaani and their antlers to Turisas and their Viking-glory songs. Because who has never dreamed of being in a mosh-pit while shouting “We are the Varangian guard!”, on an island in Fennoscandia? Of course, for some people, it’s rather “Vodka!” all around, even for men with a plan.
Unless, that is, you prefer to headbang on the industrial rhythms of Ruoska, the Finnish Rammstein, or the techno-like beat of Fear of Damnation or Turmion Kätilöt, possibly the two craziest Finnish bands. Crazy make-up, sadomasochism, psychiatry and running in the audience? Sure, sign me in for that any time.
And of course there are the usual veterans of the Finnish metal scene, from Kalmah to Swallow the Sun, plus an amazing performance by Omnium Gatherum. It’s always nice to get a bit of traditional death or doom while you happily swallow your “Heil Seitan” vegan hot-dog on the edge of the forest.
So overall, a cool weekend away from the noise of the city among passionate people just having fun and, incredibly (for Finns), talking a lot with each other! All that’s left to do is queue to get back to the city… on that small ferry.