When it comes to Finnish record labels, one of the more prominent ones is the awesome Svart Records, whose roster contains a whole host of excellent bands, so when Svart Festival was announced, with dates in Helsinki and Jyväskylä, it went without saying that the lineup would feature some tremendous bands, and we headed to the Helsinki date to see what it had to offer.
Opening up proceedings on the downstairs stage was Musta Risti (6/10), which was a good choice for an opener. Although there wasn’t much variation from song to song, the music was very accessible and made for easy listening. The performance as a whole was very tight, with the frontman’s voice sounding particularly powerful, and although it would have been a little better if there had been a little more movement from the band onstage, it was a good start to the night.
After a little confusion about how the festival was set up, largely because of my lack of knowledge of the Finnish language, I eventually made my way upstairs for the latter half of the performance from Kesä (6/10). Instrumentally the band was very good, and the keys in particular were especially noteworthy, adding a stunning melodic layer to the music, but vocally they seemed somewhat lacking – most of the vocal lines consisted of a single repeated note and after a while it got a little grating.
Up next on the smaller stage was rock and roll outfit Hard Action (8/10), who really amped things up. It didn’t matter if you were a fan of them or not – quite simply, it was impossible not to have a good time as they powered through an energy-filled set because the whole room felt so involved from start to finish. You could see the band were having such a great time onstage, and this feeling spilled out into the crowd, with people clapping, punching their fists in the air and cheering raucously between songs. It was just a fun performance and really got everyone psyched up for what was coming later.
Following Hard Action was the mighty Sammal (9/10) on the bigger upstairs stage. After being seriously impressed by their EP No 2, I was expecting great things from their performance and needless to say, they didn’t disappoint. The music had a stunning amount of vibrancy and colour to it, and the sound quality and performance level was so good that it was almost like the band were miming along to a backing track, rather than them performing the music live – which was certainly no mean feat to achieve.
Performance-wise they were a very involved band, moving as one unit rather than as individuals, and the use of a whole host of different percussion instruments from frontman Janu was fantastic. A particularly great element of the performance was when two of the members (Jura and Juhani) switched instruments (guitar and synth respectively) with one another – it showed versatility and kept things just that little more engaging, and made for a show that really stuck in your mind. This is a band you absolutely have to see live if you get the chance.
Although the crowd response for thrashers/heavy metal troupe Speedtrap (6/10) couldn’t be faulted, the set itself just felt somewhat samey, with songs blending together rather than having their own unique identity. Whilst the enthusiasm from the crowd definitely helped give the set momentum, it wasn’t the most engaging of shows and frontman Jori’s voice would have packed more of a punch if it had a bit more support behind it. It certainly wasn’t a bad show, but it just didn’t leave a tremendous impression on me – but since they went down a treat with everyone else, perhaps it was just me.
Headlining the night was Jess And The Ancient Ones (9/10), who gave a visually engaging and gripping show. Sometimes when a band don’t interact with the crowd, their performance can feel a little wooden and stagnated, but that certainly wasn’t the case with JATAO – the music and visuals spoke for themselves. Jess And The Ancient Ones is a band that clearly prides themselves on putting on a show – rather than them simply standing there and playing their songs, the band members all interact with one another so well and frontwoman Jess is an engaging performer, moving in an almost ethereal manner.
It didn’t take long for everyone in the venue to get involved with the show, and fairly early on in the set, the whole room ended up along to the chorus of their track Astral Sabbat. The roof was practically raised as people sang along to the pivotal line of “enter the astral sabbat!” -and it was tremendous to be a part of. Another highlight of the set was newer track Samhain, which seemed to take on a whole new form live. The keys in particular gave the song a different feeling, giving it an almost creepy and haunting vibe.
Closing with Come Crimson Death, it was the perfect ending to the show. It’s a very climatic song, with lots of big moments that really helped the night to end on a tremendous high. From the powerful vocals to the massive instrumental lines that contrast perfectly with the softer and gentler moments, it really rounded things up well and as the closing chords rang out, so did the cheers in the room.
Quite simply, this was a night not to be forgotten. Same time next year?
Check out our review of the new JATAO album here.