Saarihelvetti 2020

Report and photos by Serena Solomon

A few days of relief from the monotonous, gigless summer. Saarihelvetti 2020 was one of few festivals that luckily were able to stay strong and keep going as planned (minus a few inevitable lineup changes) amidst the chaos(lessness) that became of festival season 2020 due to… well… we all know.

Originally, foreign acts The Black Dahlia Murder, Combichrist, Unleash the Archers, The Agonist and Betraying the Martyrs were booked to headline the two day festival, but had to cancel due to travel restrictions. The final lineup replaced them with local talent Turmion Kätilöt, Ensiferum, Omnium Gatherum, Bloodred Hourglass and Fear of Domination. The lineup change didn’t affect attendance at all, seeing as this one of very few festivals that were able to carry out, everyone was desperate for some live music action. Saarihelvetti 2020 was sold out! Festival organizers took precautions, handing out face masks and hand sanitizer to festival goers as they boarded the boats from Laukontori to Viikinsaari.  Hand sanitizing stations were provided through out the festival grounds and the Inferno stage, which in previous years was located inside one of the buildings, was relocated to a third outdoor stage. Many festival goers took it upon themselves to wear masks, many of which were pretty extravagant and brought the festival life/festival fashion insanity to a new level!


Day 1 – August 7, 2020

On a personal level, the day began with warm hugs from all the fellow photographers that only usually get to see each other in the photo pits at Nummirock or other festivals that were canceled earlier in the summer. We were all a bit rusty, and it took some time before we got back into the swing of how this festival media thing worked. Camera? Ear plugs? How to festival? What was this bright, sunny place with people we haven’t seen since last summer and, whats that? Live music? It had been the longest concert lull in many many years. I’m sure many festival goers, artists and other festival staff felt the same way.

Detset opened up the festival. Although the direct sunlight of the outdoor Inferno stage didn’t seem to fit their vibe, they started the festival with a powerful performance that impressed in sound, and presence.

Atlas was next. Their somewhat American metalcore aesthetic made it almost feel like you were watching a foreign band, which provided a bit of unexpected variety since this year all the bands were Finnish. The band seemed to be giving the show their all and were a great choice to break the ice on the main stage.

The mighty Oceanhoarse was next, definitely get Most Epic Hair award for day one between Jyri Helko, bass master, an his dreads that have a mind of their own, and Ben Varon‘s fan magic blowing his shiny hair back like a shampoo commercial (fitting that their new single is called “Locks”!). Otherwise their set was mighty as always… despite the questionable Slipknot cover.

Rotten Sound brought the chaos in the burning sunlight. Pure grindcore in blazing mid day sun. What else is there to say?

Next, it was dance time (part 1). Ruoska came to the main stage, but unforunately did not live up to expecation. They seemed to have some technical difficulties that put a damper on their show (and energy maybe). Although through the rest of the festival it seemed the main stage had technical difficulties all around, at least at the beginning of many of the bands sets. But from Ruoska, at least, it felt their stage presence was a bit more tamed than normal, not the same energy or connectedness I had felt in previous gigs. Still, it was enjoyable.

One of my personal highlights of the day, Brymir. The last time I had seem them was opening for Children of Bodom in December of last year. The stage was smaller here, but their energy was fit for a stage bigger than the main stage! It was obvious they were a crowd favorite and the were totally comfortable being there. Always a pleasure!

And of course, to close out the night, who else than Ensiferum! They played a good mix of new and old, and I have to say, their new Keyboardist, Pekka Montin, really added a new (and much needed) spark to the band and the live show. Not only is he charismatic on the keys, he is also reintroducing incredibly powerful clean vocals! For a few songs he even abandoned his keys and came center stage, almost as if Enska has two vocalists now. His vocals are much more “power metal”, in Ensiferum‘s music you could say touching on old times when Jari had the job, though Pekka’s vocals are quite different. All in all, it was a great band to close the main stage and I was pleasantly surprised by the new addition.

The last band of the first night was Wheel. No prior expectations, but they were a pleasant surprise and a nice chill vibe to end the night. The atmosphere was dark and moody but after the blazing sun and up beat bands for most of the day, it was fitting. As a photographer I also welcomed the challenging darkness to get more artistic shots to fit the more gloomy, melancholy music rather than the direct sunlight that provided unchanging lighting for most of the day.

Day 2 – August 8, 2020

To start Day 2, competition winners Horizon Ignited warmed up the Inferno stage. I had the pleasure of seeing this band in Turku in December and was pleasantly surprised. It was great to see them on a larger stage and bigger event, which is what I felt they were more meant for instead of the small bar they played in Turku. I even felt they had more presence and… life?oomph? something… than some of the main bands that played the previous day. They are certainly a new band to keep an eye out for. I hope the best for them!

Mors Principium Est was next, though mainly Finnish, they also brought some sort of international vibe to the 99.9% Finnish lineup. They’ve grown since I saw them last, in popularity and in spirit. Their lineup has also changed (possibly more than once) and this new, more mature Mors brought a weight, heaviness, professionalism that was unexpected. But it was all positive, the crowd was really into them and they also seemed to connect with the crowd really well. Despite the previously mentioned main stage technical curse, they pulled of a pretty impressive show.

The next few bands on the Inferno stage probably had the most melancholy, moody atmosphere of the festival, and unfortunately had to play in unfittingly direct sunlight.  Despite this, they were both my favorite acts of the festival. First, Kaunis Kuolematon. Despite the sun, they were successful in exuding the melancholic vibe in their sound. Mikko Heikkilä‘s clean vocals resonate not matter what venue they play, in a way that you feel in your bones while Olli Suvanto‘s growls and screams pierce through your soul. The contrast between the two, plus the driving riffs and energy of the entire band almost make you forget it was the middle of a sunny day on an island in summer.

Wolfheart was next on the Kaaos Stage. For some reason I kept forgetting they were playing this festival, but they played a very memorable performance.  They played a balanced mix of new and old music and had a powerful but easy energy that showed they were happy to be playing at the festival. They were unquestionably a crowd favorite too.

Vorna brought the beauty in gloom to the Inferno stage once more. Fortunately they had a few seconds of clouds to  relieve from the blazing sun once in a while, but they suffered a similar fate as Kaunis Kuolematon. Despite this, they soldiered on and played the most memorable set on the Inferno stage of the entire festival. Towards the end of the set, the sunlight and smoke provided a fitting atmosphere for their finale “Kauas” which gave me (and probably many others) chills as the entire crowd sang along. If anything, I’m grateful Saarihelvetti was able to happen just to see this moment.

Dance time part 2! Fear of Domination flipped the vibe and turned the tempo up! Not only with their easily danceable music but their light hearted yet power driven presence. They always seem to be having a great time, dancing, joking, and simply connecting with each other and the audience. Everyone is in 110% festival mode when they’re on stage!

…And Oceans was the only “Black Metal” band to play the festival. For many it was the first time to see them with the new man on vocals Mathias Lillmåns. They played a solid show and seemed even more comfortable with the new lineup than back in March at Turku Saatanalle.

Omnium Gatherum was one of the late additions to the festival lineup, and they are always a welcome addition!

Dance time, part 3! King Satan have changed their live performance a bit since I saw them last. They’ve added a few new members/characters along with new instruments, props and attire, but also bring some of the original aesthetic from their earlier days. It all fits together perfectly in an industrial mad house/freak show aesthetic. Everyone has their own kind of persona but they all tie together and make you want to dance to the beat of the drum played by the post-apocalyptic burlesque goat-man.

And of course, the ultimate Dance time (part 4) and the finale of the festival, Turmion Kätilöt. They were also a last minute addition, which was funny in a way, since they are always the finale of Saarihelvetti. And always a fitting way to end a weekend at the Island of Hell.

But wait! There was one more band! Mygrain played as most people started queuing for the boat back to Tampere. Unfortunately, I felt they were a bit of a weak way to end the festival. Their sound was a bit off and, where the dark lighting fit the previous nights ending band, Wheel, for Mygrain, it kind of gave the sense of falling a bit short.

And the best part of the festival…. Festival life photos!!!