Hyvinkää, Uusimaa, Finland
By Pasi Eriksson
Last weekend Hyvinkää Airfield was crowded with around 50,000 rock and metal music loving visitors celebrating Rockfest 2023. The Finnish festival season got kicked off with the three-day event, serving an amazing line-up of rock and metal acts, some even legends, in mostly sunny weather. A total of 32 bands performing would put out shows to remember and many of the ones I saw left me in awe.
My festival started with Sick of it all performing on Red Stage by Soundi. These New York heavy hardcore veterans have been around since 1986 and though the music fitting the description is close to my heart, I’d never heard of them before. Their riffs were crushing and beats aggressive, arrangements progressive. Raw sounding vocals, filled with attitude. Their presence on stage was warm and there were no grunt faces, though laying down such heavy music – they were having fun and kept crowd entertained. Easy to appreciate and you could tell of the folks partying in the mosh pits they agreed. I left as a new fan.
Next up was Lordi, who’d be the first ones to set foot on the Main stage. For most of the show I was getting a Paul Stanley make up at the VIP section next to the stage, positioned so I could hear but not see. (Cheers to the makeup artists, they’re pros and friendly people) I heard some classics I remember from my childhood – my little brother got the first album for Christmas some twenty years back – and found myself feeling nostalgic. Overall, the set had lot of banger songs with plenty of different types of musical influences, though obviously Lordi’s main thing is hard rock. The production was thoughtful – melodies compelling, passages were epic and somehow every now and then the moods felt like Andrew Lloyd Webber could’ve taken part in composing them. Anyway, after getting the makeup done, I walked past the Main stage and saw massive castle/dungeon backdrop and the monster outfits rocking the stage. All fit to the music I had been listening from afar just right.
Monster Magnet was the doze of blues-laden heavy rock on the Thursday’s line-up. The band rocked hard and sounded great, but I’ve still had a cooldown going on from overly consuming stoner rock classics some years back and found it a little hard to focus during the gig. A cover of Hawkwind’s Born to Go was a nice surprise and Space Lord got people singing along for real. (Note: After all I basically listened to Monster Magnet whole time compiling this festival review. They got the seed planted alright.)
With Rancid the party never seemed to end. Their energy made me smile and people move – just the right band to play during the sunset. These legends have been a familiar name to me for many years, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened an album from cover to cover. This summer I probably will, I thought while having my hot dog dinner on the latter part of the show.
Talking about hot dogs, the festival area was pretty much identical to the setting of previous year. Had the same great doggos last year and knew already where to find them this year. The area is very practically arranged open space, and everything worked for the whole three days perfectly. No hour-long queues, no scarcity of anything, clean toilets and festival area. Friendly and professional staff. Only downside can be
found at the traffic arrangements when arriving and departing the parking lot, but with little scheduling and by making little compromises one can skip most of the jams. We did learn the hard way.
VV was enchanting. Their setlist was a mix of titles from Ville Valo’s this year’s solo album Neon Noir and variety of HIM’s classics. I liked watching Ville singing; he has his voice so well in control one could see microscopic changes in facial expressions to finetune a single vowel’s pronouncing… or something. So much precision, it amazes me. He basically was on focus most of the time, so I’d like to give a shout to the rest of the band; these musicians kept the thing grooving and played flawlessly.
While writing this couple of days after the festival, my voice hasn’t recovered from the Pantera’s show – and mine probably isn’t the only one. Crowd went wild instantly as the band’s name carrying gauze fell off in front of the stage and revealed the band playing the opening title of Vulgar Display of Power, A New Level. Moshpits were like endless vacuums, people sang along to every song performed and cheered the band with all their hearts. Solidarity among the crowd was tight as everyone got shielded and helped up back on their feet when landing into the ground in the pits. Lots of crowdsurfing too, at times it felt I was there to do days work-out. Decorations and pyrotechnics on stage were cool. Musical performance was top tier; Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante on guitar and drums filled their spots with style and the original members Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown put out their best as well. Altogether classy act, grace and appreciation were present. “For the fans. For the brothers. For legacy.” printed behind the tour shirts summed up the emotional state accurately.
With a setlist like A New Level / Mouth for War / Strength Beyond Strength / Becoming / I’m Broken / Suicide Note pt. II / 5 Minutes Alone / This Love / Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit / Fucking Hostile / Planet Caravan / Walk / Domination/Hollow / Cowboys from Hell it was a no brainer to wrap up the first day of Rockfest 2023. I left home fulfilled; this was one of the best gigs in many years.
The 69 Eyes knocked off the day number two. Their set was full of hits of the thirtysomething years past – though I’ve never been a major fan, many of my teenage best friends were and I’ve been exposed enough to recognize most of the titles played. Apparently, they’ve put out a new album recently and some newer sounds made it to the setlist too. They fit just right in as the band has kept loyal to their original sound – which has stood the times well. As they played, I got a new makeup; Friday’s look was Aladdin Insane.
Escape the Fate was like a throwback to last year’s Rockfest. Their technical screamo thing seemed somehow generic – though the musicians were talented their thing felt like it lacked imagination. I watched them play for a couple of songs, decided to escape the fate and leave the festival area for a little while.
There’s a whole lot of amusement in the area. You’ve got “Raivoomo” – I’ll freely translate it “Ragery” – which is a room with only you, home electronics etc. junk and baseball bat. Ferris wheel, even helicopter rides were available. Plenty of places where to fill your cup or get a new can of some decently priced cold beverage and sit down at a table. Place to get piercings done. A podium with a video camera revolving around it where a person or a little group could be filmed for a cool short clip to be sent to you and shared with the world instantly. All sorts of great stuff.
But there was no place for solitude and quiet, gathering thoughts (though the media area surely existed just for this) and laying your eyes on something else than the, in the end rather soulless, festival area. Don’t get me wrong, it fits well for the purpose and anyway and one could say Rockfest is about the bands, the people and having good time, not the actual setting. Still, it takes place in an old airfield – and there’s not a lot of magic in those as they come.
So, the nearby forest outside the festival area was my place to take a break from the grind. Just sitting alone on an old fallen tree trunk, thinking nothing, listening to birds chirping before getting back into the action.
Anyway, next up Mötley Crüe on the main stage. Tough cookie. I used to consider them my favourite rock group for some time in the past, and they were the first band I went to see live as a growing glam rock youngster. I loved it and this time had controversial expectations. The premise was they would be, neatly put, awkward act to witness – and they sort of were. I mean, there were weird decorations on the stage, go-go girls dancing (they owned it, though), all the screens had super cheesy filters and animations, the backing vocal mics hung from the stage ceiling so they would revolve as wind passes and make it impossible for the singers to hit the right spot when due. Lasers blasting over the audience. Boobie cam appeared, and some dudes took over most of the screen time showing love to Tommy Lee. Playback was surely used on at least a few tracks vocals. They even played ridiculously loud – but the audience seemed to love them, despite all the mentioned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many black leather biker jackets in one place as on Friday anyway.
Setlist was mostly golden bringing hit after another including a compilation of the covers the band has recorded over time. At least John 5 nailed his spot by playing well and paying homage to Mars’ style (yet remaining distinctively different), as the rest of the band seemed to stumble here and there. Regardless to Vince singing better than I had in mind, he wasn’t very good. Totally against my expectations the band seemed to be aware (though left unsaid) of their underdog position and their presence felt somehow humble, even shy. The show turned out to be rather sympathetic, and I once again had great time with the Crüe. If they just had the balls to come as they are and leave all the silly irrelevant stuff at home.
Testament made playing fast and with precision look like taking a walk in a park. My jaw dropped with the bassist shredding part of the set with a fretless five stringed electric bass. The set was consistent thrash metal celebration from head to toe. Though they were the act I ended up appreciating most on Friday’s palette, I realized I’ve never much listened to them either. Bound to change next time I crack a cold one open.
Def Leppard threw in a nice party and the stage looked fancy. Their boogie made me smile and kept my foot a-tapping. We had to leave in early to get out of the area swiftly – lesson learned from the last night.
Hot and even sunnier Saturday. Popeda had the Finnish Hymn as the intro tape and started rocking straight away. Audience was already warm for the band, as the sun was blasting from the clear sky. I think they appeared to touch the widest range of audiences’ soul and the band was a perfect fit for the current circumstances – people were dancing, partying and singing along before four o’clock. The mood was just right. I loved the fact they had brass section with them, adding their hard rock a little more timeless and jazzy feel. My favourite song Lihaa ja perunaa appeared on the set too, whoop.
Then again, Turmion Kätilöt were in a wrong spot playing in the hot sunlight in the middle of the day. Though audience appreciated them playing, it felt to me they should’ve been in the tent at sundown laying down their rave-esque metal grooves. Musically the set started to feel a little repetitive, though I love many of their songs. Nonetheless, they put out a great show. Teurastaja!
Michael Monroe was energetic and joyful act to watch. Their hard rock feels stylish and unique. If I didn’t know them from before I’d guess they originate from New York. I’ve seen Hanoi Rocks many times after the reunions and had most of their albums, but Monroe’s band has been in a blind spot. The charisma about them is something you don’t often see these days and always gets my humblest respect. During the show I went for the makeup of Saturday – it was time to become Abbath.
Igorrr was one act I’ve been curious to see a while and happily got the chance now. Their infusion of blackened progressive metal, jungle/d’n’b (insert electronic music genre here) breaks, opera style singing mixed with screaming and even baroque music worked out well in the live situation. I was just staring with my mouth open most of the time.
Danzig blew my mind. If Pantera didn’t play on Thursday, I’d say this was the best performance of the whole festival by landslide. Danzig delivered the heavy blues with such a depth and soul, it hit me just in the right spot. Their stage was just like I hoped Mötley Crüe would’ve had; all black, no backdrop, nothing that wasn’t needed. Side screens were decorated with the first album’s – which they played entirely; can it get any better – cover art. That’s it. The music did the thing, each member of the band is a trimmed professional and proud of it in a healthy way – and giving the audience the best they got.
The Hellacopters performed well and delivered their feel-good rock ‘n’ roll with tight grip, but I wasn’t capable to receive, still being overwhelmed by Danzig. Holy smokes, what a gig! Mother!
Grandma once said, “if you don’t have anything good to say, remain silent”. Though I don’t completely agree with this wisdom, Volbeat provoked pretty much only thoughts better left unsaid. The breakthrough hit song was almost close to ok, and I was happy to hear the bit far away from the parking lot. Anyhow, Rockfest 2023 wrapped up and we had a blast.
You can find full galleries from all acts here