KING DIAMOND / BOLT THROWER – Tuska Open Air, Helsinki 28.6.2013

text VILLE KRANNILA

THIS round was the first Tuska Open Air for me since 2005 and Accept then playing a reunion set with Udo Dirkschneider. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then and the location of the festival has now been moved to other part of Helsinki, Suvilahti. The new Tuska took place amidst the concrete and asphalt as opposed to park-like atmosphere of the previous festival surroundings in Kaisaniemi. I didn’t find this problematic at all, of course Kaisaniemi with its central location was more convenient but you could reach the centrum pretty quickly from Suvilahti as well.

The day also featured several other acts than those mentioned at the top; Amorphis, former Emperor star Insahn playing a solo set, Wintersun, returning Finnish death metal pioneers Abhorrence and Torture Killer. However, the first band we made our way to see was Finland’s own Dreamtale. They played at the new Club Stage inside the nearby building. Unfortunately this venue is not really acoustically suited for live performances and the sound inside was atrocious. We got two minutes into the band’s latest single “Tides Of War”, before I even recognised the song. Such a shame because with Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica wandering in strange and prog-infested waters Dreamtale are currently the finest power metal band Finland. For what it’s worth, the group gave their all and those fans at the front row seemed enthusiastic enough.

The time between watching Dreamtale and the appearance of death metal legends Bolt Thrower, we spent mostly consuming beer. Just after 6 PM it was the intro tape of “Battle Of Britannia” and time for UK’s finest Bolt Thrower. I just recently got into this band via a friend (thanks Juha!) and have been quickly collecting their records. The band originally started out in Coventry 1986 and have been rock solid ever since. Although not recording anything new for the past eight years they have toured frequently. The Tuska festival show was their only European appearance that year, so it seemed we were definitely witnessing something special.

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Set-list mixed classics and stuff from their latest album “Those Once Loyal” released way back in 2005, so those could very well be regarded as classics too. The set worked like a freight train. The material recorded without their original and most revered lead vocalist Karl Willets in late 1990’s were maybe wisely ignored, but otherwise this was as complete as any Bolt Thrower concert could be. Speaking of Willets, he delivered the goods and seemed genuinely happy to be on stage. He also thanked the crowd several times, mentioning they don’t tour that often anymore so it’s always a special event when they do. The rhythm section including female bassist Jo Bench provided a solid foundation for both guitarists to lay killer tank riffs one after another. The best player award tonight however clearly went to rhythm guitarist Gavin Ward, whose riff work was simply outstanding. All tracks got lifted off to another level compared to their studio counterparts, and this was largely because of Ward’s heavy and pounding style. Lead guitarist Barry Thompson and BT’s drummer since 2000, Martin Kearns was very impressive as well. All in all their playing went on like a well oiled machine.

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“When Glory Beckons” was dedicated to late Jeff Hanneman and Bolt Thrower did him justice with a crushing take of the song. The medley of “World Eater/Cenotaph” got heads banging, although I don’t usually support medleys in place of fully performed songs, this one worked out perfectly. “We have been going on together (the band and fans) since 1986 and will do so for many more years,” promised Willets before launching to powerful “Entrenched.” The final words of the song “In A World of Compromise, Some Don’t” seemed to describe Bolt Thrower. Willets added “Tuska, never compromise!” after the song’s conclusion and by now the evening was completely theirs.

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They ended their set with double blast of “Where Next To Conquer” and “When Cannons Fade” before departing. It looked like the show was over, but gainst the odds they returned for one more swing from their debut album: “In Battle There’s No Law.” This rocked the audience with its intensity and the pit remained steadfast in the middle throughout the whole show. One left for hoping a full club show from this band. Although they played for 1 hour and 10 minutes, you have to wonder what type of a killer set they would deliver given 2 hours for example. But regardless of set’s length, we saluted Bolt Thrower, they are firmly at the top of the classic death metal tree.

At 8:30 PM headliners King Diamond took the stage. Sun was still blazing down hot and light seemed to shine straight to King’s eyes, thus during the show he gave some evil looks towards the sun. Instantly what became obvious was King Diamond’s admittedly very impressive stage show lost some of its effect in bright daylight. Another somewhat jarring aspect of the stage set-up was a weird barrier, which seemed like a fence of some sorts. It was placed in between audience and players for the first five songs. The band played behind it and somehow this took away some of the much needed contact between players and the crowd in the beginning of the set.

Set-list, which for obvious reasons remained the same throughout the European tour, was far from perfect. Part of it of course is down to the ever present problem faced by artists of King Diamond’s stature and longevity; it is simply impossible task to satisfy everyone. Only two Mercyful Fate songs were offered; in my opinion this was exactly the right choice. One certainly hopes Mercyful Fate would reunite once more and then that would be a show for the ages! Until then King is better off focusing on his own rich back catalogue. Unfortunately the choices made on that front for this tour leave a lot to be desired. While it is commendable they played two songs off two of my least favourite albums “Voodoo” and “The Graveyard,” the reason “Up From The Grave” and rather mediocre title track of “Voodoo” were the picks remains a mystery.

On the other hand ignoring two best albums King has recorded in this century, “House Of God” and “The Puppet Master” was a puzzling move. Also since his latest album isn’t one of favourites either, “Shapes Of Black” could have been left out, but I do understand the obvious coverage of a latest studio release – albeit several years old. Ending with “The Black Horsemen” – I’ve always felt this song is much better on record and somehow doesn’t work as a set closer where you would need something a bit more straight forward.

There was certainly the good stuff too, anything from “Conspiracy” and “The Eye” is always a treat and those songs were the crème de la crème of the evening. Also “Dreams” from “The Spider’s Lullabye” worked well and the song got some new appreciation from yours truly. And the aforementioned Mercyful Fate songs were truly pleasing to hear and also got the crowd enthusiastic.

But to keep the praises coming, I must say King’s voice was in awesome shape. It is amazing to think just few short years ago the man was literally fighting for his life. Add to this his previous problems with his back and to see him on stage in this great form is nothing short of a miracle. The famous falsetto had never sounded better and you have to remember, the man we are talking about here closing on 60 years of age!

All the other players also all did their parts to perfection, guitarists Mike Wead and legendary Andy LaRoque handed out killer solos and riffs in rapid succession. Another icon from the 1980’s days, bassist Hal Patino provided a solid backing along with long time drummer Matt Thompson. Also the wonderful actress Jodi Cachia did a splendid work on stage supplementing King’s gruesome stories. With its minor faults, this was a great experience.

All in all, I loved seeing King Diamond for the first time and there were plenty of excellent things to make it all worthwhile. Still I’m left hoping for a future King Diamond-show a club stage and a bit more thought-out set-list would make it all perfect.

Setlist Bolt Thrower:

– Battle For Britain (intro)
– The IVth Crusade
– Mercenary
– Warmaster
– Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)
– When Glory Beckons
– World Eater/Cenotaph
– Enthrenched
– For Victory
– No Guts No Glory
– The Killchain
– Powder Burns
– Where Next To Conquer
– When Cannos Fade
Encore:
– In Battle There’s No Law

Setlist King Diamond:

– The Candle
– Welcome Home
– At The Graves
– Up From The Grave
– Voodoo
– Let It Be Done
– Dreams
– Sleepless Nights
– Drum Solo
– Shapes Of Black
– Come To The Sabbath
– Eye Of The Witch
Encore:
– The Family Ghost
– Evil
– Black Horsemen

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