Rock in the City Festival, Kuopio Finland – June 14-15

Rock in the City is a new festival tour in Finnish summer, happening in 9 mid-sized “cities” or more like towns, and the very first in line was Kuopio, the center of the world (the main marketplace of Kuopio is often called “Mualiman napa”, which means center of the world, on Savo dialect). The other big marketplace is located on beautiful Kuopio harbour, beside the lake Kallavesi. And this harbour area was now serving as the festival area.

The line-up of the festival could be split roughly on two kinds of music styles, there was metal bands like Stratovarius, Battle Beast, Sonata Arctica, Mokoma, and then there was some bands that could be generally called rock bands, like Melrose, Pelle Miljoona United, Klamydia… So not a full metal fest, but enough good bands to make it worth visiting.

Friday June 14th

The gods of weather seemed to be gracious, sun was shining and birds were chirping, so it looked like a perfect day for a festival. When we arrived to the festival area, it was not very full yet, so we had a little walk around. The area looked quite small and tight, on front of the stage was the space for the audience, obviously, and all the bars and food spots were surrounding that area. So there was not much places for “escaping” a bit farther, like there usually is on bigger festivals. But otherwise all the services seemed to be well placed and organized, and there was probably enough options for eating and drinking for every taste too.

When we arrived, the first band was already on full speed, they were Pelle Miljoona United, legendary Finnish punk rockers, who have been more or less active since 1977. Still after these decades and probably millions of kilometers behind them, these veterans performed with great energy and seemingly enjoying the playing on a beautiful summer day, with audience singing along with their classic hit songs like Tahdon rakastella sinua and Moottoritie on kuuma. Their playing was tight but still relaxed and full of fun. All in all, a very good opening for the festival.

After the good-mood punk rock it was time to change the gear to metal! Next in line was Mokoma (est. 1996), whose music is an interesting combination of thrash/death metal with deep poetic lyrics and sometimes very catchy melodic parts on vocals or guitars. Their performance could be described with a Finnish saying “tunti turpaan”, which could be freely translated to “one hour of facepunching”. Their sound was very heavy and thrashy but still crystal clear, and the front man Marko Annala’s vocals worked very well on all the styles he did, from thrash screams to clean melodic singing. Mokoma was performing with energy of the young horses let out on the field first time in the first summer day. Annala was bouncing around stage and guitarists were joining the fun. I am not very familiar with their music, so I can’t say much about the song selections, but I suppose there was something old and something new, as usual. Anyway, it was a very enjoyable “tunti turpaan” session!

It was easy to see that the bands were clearly enjoying one of the first summer festivals on a nice weather and so was the audience who had now already filled the area making it quite packed but still there was enough space around to move to the bars and food spots.

Next band was one of the most known Finnish bands internationally, power metal pioneers Stratovarius (est. 1985). Even after numerous line-up changes and parting ways with the long time main songwriter Timo Tolkki already over 10 years ago, the band still delivers high quality power metal. The recent line-up consists of remarkably talented musicians like Jens Johansson and Lauri Porra, and vocalist Timo Kotipelto’s voice is still in great shape, unlike many other vocalists who have been active as long as him. Their songs were picked from multiple different albums from their career, well selected collection of newer material and older hits with loud sing-a-longs from the audience. Again an energetic show with good mood on and off stage.

Since the festival had only one stage, there was always 30 minutes break between the main bands. On those breaks, in a “beer tent” was playing Kuopio´s own hard rock sensation Block Buster (est. 2008), who will finally release their debut album in autumn, after years of making great music and gigging around and supporting some big names like Bon Jovi. They would have well deserved a slot on main stage, but these guys always rock big time, even on a tight tent stage half-acoustically.

So, back to main stage, where Kotiteollisuus (est. 1991) was about to start. I must say, they have never been my “cup of tea”, but the majority of the audience seemed to like them, and that´s what matters. If Mokoma was brutally heavy but still fast and joyful like electric rabbits, Kotiteollisuus was just brutally heavy, period. Slower and much more serious music, but still there was lots of humour included in their performance. Last time when I saw them years ago, they were a trio, but nowadays they have been expanded to a quartet. About the song selections I can’t say much, most of their material is unknown to me, just couple of songs are such that probably everybody knows them in Finland, the band is anyway very popular here.

The last act of Friday was another big Finnish power metal name Sonata Arctica (est. 1996). They have evolved their musical style more and more far from simple traditional power metal, and I have a bit lost interest on them nowadays. And this made the gig a bit boring to me, well there was nothing wrong especially, just the song selections were not from the best known side of their discography. For example the last song of the base setlist was 10 minutes long Larger than Life, yeah it was sure some epic theatrical composition or something, but I would have rather heard couple of catchy 5 minute hits instead. And I think the majority of audience was thinking the same, since the applause was quite lame when they left the stage, and it needed the festival host Jone Nikula’s help to wake up the audience and call for encore. Well anyway, SA is still a world class band and their performing is on high level, so they were sure a good choice for the headliner of Friday.

Saturday June 15th

Second day of Rock in the City Kuopio had just 2 bands that were interesting to the metal world, so we skipped the 2 first bands of day, Melrose and Dumari&Spuget, first of them being rockabilly/rock’n’roll and second some kind of mixture of rock/blues/folk. Weather looked again good, after the light rain that appeared on Friday evening. Not too hot and not too sunny, just nice half cloudy summer day.

So for us the first band on Saturday was a very interesting one. Marko Hietala (artist formerly known as Marco Hietala), maybe the most known rock musician from Kuopio, had just recently released his first solo album Mustan sydämen rovio, a Finnish language album consisting of moody but massive music (not metal) and personal stories about his life and experiences. And this show would be his very first as a solo artist, so the excitement was certainly high on stage and on audience too. I was a bit sceptic before the gig, how would this kind of moody music work on a festival stage on a bright summer day. But sure it worked, the band has some of the finest musicians in Finland and they sounded great of course. The sound was big and heavy, not heavy in a metal way, but just massive somehow. And the voice of the master himself was just great as always. It was also so nice to see how relieved and genuinely happy he was, to finally get to play his solo material live, and how well the audience responded to it. Very enjoyable show indeed.

Next band on Saturday was Battle Beast (est. 2008), a very popular metal band in Finland, and getting more and more known globally too. They share a bit similar history with Stratovarius, since they also parted ways with their main (only) song maker a few years ago. So there was a bit worries then, how they would continue and if their collective songwriting skills would be good enough. Well it seems they know to make great music, just the latest album has gone to a bit more ambitious way, having more of movie/theatrical elements and therefore following on Sonata Arcticas footsteps. A bit less catchy hit songs, a bit more experimenting, but high quality music anyway. Well the show was just great. Songs were selected well, so there was no space for boredom. The band had good looking matching outfits, and especially the vocalist Noora Louhimo with her “Maleficent-style” horns looked very cool. BB also knows, not just play damn well, but also to perform. They were running here and there, made nice poses and synced moves, so the show was very entertaining. And the biggest star of the show was Noora, who has one of the most awesome voices, not just between female metal singers but any singers. She can sing gently and nicely when needed, and on the other end she can deliver so damn powerful metal singing that it just gives the shivers most of the time. For me this was the best show of the festival, and it looked/sounded that the audience also agreed on this.

Last band of the festival was Klamydia, who play some kind of “everyman’s” simple punk rock. They are very popular in Finland but not much to my taste, so checked just few first songs and then had enough.

All in all, Rock in the City was a very nice and well organized mid-size town festival, and I sure hope it would be back again next summer. Also the timing was quite good, since there are not other rock festivals in Kuopio in June, next one being Kuopiorock in the end of July.

All photos above and below by Marci Novotna

Marko Hietala at Rock in the City – Kuopio 15.6.2019
BATTLE BEAST – Rock in the City – Kuopio 15.6.2019
STRATOVARIUS – Rock in the city – Kuopio 14.6.2019
SONATA ARCTICA – Rock in the City – Kuopio 14.6.2019
MOKOMA – Rock in the City – Kuopio 14.6.2019
KOTITEOLLISUUS – Rock in the City – Kuopio 14.6.2019