Report from the Finnish SteelFest

In the beginning, we would like to thank Tom Heten for his review.

Steelfest! The iconic Finnish festival takes place just a few kilometres from Helsinki in a medium-sized town poetically named Hyvinkää (from the Finnish „Hyvä“ meaning good). It proudly presents itself as a festival unafraid to invite names that, for various reasons, cannot play elsewhere (as we saw a few months ago with Infernal War at Gothoom in Slovakia). Because black metal has always been about not pissing anyone off, right? The man behind it, known as Commander in the Finnish scene, has been musically active in various metal projects for years.

Come, friends. Get comfortable—whether on the toilet, a luxurious IKEA chair, or even standing (if you prefer). But most importantly, join me in exploring this festival. We’ll go through each day and answer burning questions like: Is it worth visiting? What was worth seeing this year? How do you get there most easily? And other important details. The festival takes place in the town centre within a former wool factory area. This year, the headliners included four well-established names: Gorgoroth, Inquisition, Blasphemyand Mysticum. These were supported by a plethora of quality underground names (Marras, Deathchain, Délétère) and some less underground (Misþyrming, Horna, Dødheimsgard, Kroda). The lineup also featured some death metal (Unleashed) and goregrind (Torsofuck), but these were more occasional cherries on this sheep carcass (more on the sheep carcass later) rather than the norm. The main focus of the lineup is black metal. And it’s for the black metal that people come.


On the first day, I arrive at the venue just as Deathchain, a Finnish Death/Thrash band that has been around for years, is playing. They deliver hit after hit, creating a very pleasant ambience as I try to find my bearings—where the cloakroom is, where the toilets are, where I can get salmon for 20 euros, and luxurious Krušovice beer for 9 euros. I manage this Herculean task and soon soak in the atmosphere like a native Finn. The next two bands, Aegrus (decent Finnish black metal) and Craft (Swedish black metal), I only catch briefly. Usually, when I arrive at a festival, it takes me a while to get oriented, have a few beers, and start enjoying the festival, so I can’t really comment on them.

During Commander Agares, I was fully immersed in the festival atmosphere, and it was the first concert I watched in full. Steelfest has two stages, one outside and one completely covered indoors. They never play simultaneously (almost). Commander Agares delivers an interesting concert that will delight any romantic who has had En Ring Til Å Herske by the sympathetic bard Louis Cachet as an alarm clock for years. Traditional black metal with dual vocals that neither surprise nor offend. Following Commander is Hellbutcher, a „new“ project by the iconic figure of the Swedish BM scene Hellbutcher from Nifelheim and numerous other bands. The audience livens up, and this almost 50-year-old shows he still has plenty of energy. As it slowly gets dark (though it doesn’t look like it outside as the sun sets in Hyvinkää around 11 PM), a band I have been looking forward to the most today takes the stage. The Finnish project Antimateria, though it only has one album, is truly remarkable. At its core, it’s partly a Burzum clone, but capable of standing on its own. The vocals are strong, the sound is perfect, and since I know almost every track, I can thoroughly enjoy it. If you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend it.

I skip Aeternus, as I need to go to the toilet and grab a beer, and it’s impossible to see everything. Right after them, the first of three concerts by the Finnish legend Horna follows (yes, Horna plays every evening). Each concert is conceptually set in a different time period of the band with a different vocalist. Tonight, Nazgul, aka Mr. Werwolf, takes the vocals. Probably the most famous persona of the Finnish black scene, also behind the project Satanic Warmaster. It’s evident that everyone knows Horna and collectively looked forward to this concert. What follows is total hell. The band is excellently coordinated, and Werwolf clearly enjoys the old tracks coming from his throat. Several cult songs are played. Fantastic. Probably my favourite Horna performance (I saw all three – more on them in the following days). Right after them are Unleashed. Excellent Swedish death metal. They are one of the first (if not the first) death metal bands to deviate from traditional social/gore lyrics and delve into Nordic mythology. I like them a lot, and overall, they are one of the bands I was looking forward to most from today’s lineup. So I’m a bit disappointed. Musically, it sounds OK, but the band seems a bit off. The whole performance feels very cold, and I miss the soul. Maybe it’s also due to the excellent Horna just before.

The first night concludes with the Norwegian legend Gorgoroth, which I decided to skip since I’ve seen Gorgoroth live many times and don’t feel like a repeat, as I’m already getting tired. I prefer sleep. On the way back to my accommodation, I encounter a large rabbit whose eyes glow with the red light of Satan. A chill runs down my spine, and I lower my gaze, choosing to walk another path. I don’t want to tempt fate. 


On Friday, I get to the venue a bit later, just in time for Strid, as I plan to see everything that follows and miss nothing. Therefore, I didn’t manage to see Chamber of Unlight, Ereshkigal, or Inferno. I can’t comment on them. However, Strid resonated with me. They are Norwegian pioneers of Depressive Black Metal, who basically defined the genre with their first EP, End of Life. Their set is played professionally, but with soul. I get chills and am quite entranced after a few minutes. An excellent concert. But the best was yet to come. After Strid, I moved to the Quebec black metal band Délétère, which hits hard. I haven’t listened to them much, but I see they represent a melodic black metal branch with a distinctive vocal and a decent amount of charisma. A solid performance. After Délétère, I quickly rush to Batushka. I haven’t had the chance to see the true Batushka live yet. They have the most distinctive theatrical show at Steelfest (if we don’t count White Death, which we’ll get to on Saturday). All the tracks flow very well, and the chorals work. However, towards the end, I started to get a bit bored, and the tracks blended for me. I’m somewhat glad when it ends.

I watch Ved Buens Ende from a distance and after two tracks confirm that this is not a band for me. So, I get a Lonkero (Finnish grapefruit drink) and a nearly half-kilogram piece of grilled salmon with potatoes. This fills my time until… Misþyrming. What follows is hard to describe. This is the third time I’ve had the honour to see them live, and the leaps in quality they show from one concert to another are incredible. I must note that I’m not the biggest fan of their studio recordings. Despite that, I’m blown away by the sound wall the guys can produce. The whole concert feels aggressive, original, and at times I’m so drawn into the concert that I forget to clap. One of the best performances of the whole festival. If you ever get the chance to see Misþyrming live, don’t miss it. They are one of the best live bands of the new BM wave. Next is Infernal War on the outdoor stage. I quite like their studio recordings, reminiscent of Marduk. The concert is quite standard. One track follows another, and the audience evidently enjoys it, but overall, the performance didn’t leave a strong impression on me, especially compared to the preceding Misþyrming. But that’s really like comparing apples to oranges. After Infernal War, I catch the second half of another Horna concert. This time, we move forward in time, and Corvus takes the vocals. The setlist consists of all the classic known songs like Kuoleva Lupaus or Mustasiipinen. Great satisfaction. Horna plays three times mainly for foreign visitors – at home, they are a staple. Here, it’s worth noting that Steelfest consists of almost 50% foreign visitors. English, Spanish, Italian, French, and almost all Nordic languages can be heard at the festival. I also met a few Czechs but no Slovaks.

The day is slowly coming to an end, and I have two things ahead of me that I was most looking forward to Kroda and Inquisition. I’m not sure what the current situation with Kroda is, but they managed to come (unlike Nokturnal Mortum, who were originally announced two years in a row). The setlist includes known tracks like On the Wings of Storm or Cry to me, river, but this time, there’s no interesting cover at the end as Kroda sometimes does. I don’t have much to criticize about the concert, but I can’t highly praise it either. The main strength of this band is more in their studio recordings than in their concerts.

The day ends with another blast. Inquisition. I’ve never seen them live before, so I don’t have high expectations. However, I’m very pleasantly surprised, and looking back, I consider it probably the best concert of the whole festival. I admire projects that play live as duos. As soon as they start with „We are here to play pure fucking black metal, the name is Satan, Thank you,“ it’s immediately clear that this is not a band playing for the first time or unsure of what they are doing. From the beginning, they confidently control the entire crowd and play one banger after another. The sound is beautifully clear, and Dagon’s vocals, transitioning from raven-like screeching to clean passages ala Merciful Fate, send chills down many necks. Superb. Just like with the Icelanders Misþyrming – if you have the chance to see Inquisition live, don’t miss it.

That ends Friday, and I fall into bed exhausted. 


The last day of Steelfest is here. I got to the venue a bit earlier than the previous days as I wanted to catch Marras, who played around 14:45. This Finnish underground project, which is essentially classic black metal in the style of the Norwegian wave, is sometimes enriched with urban filth and the melodiousness of Lifelover. I quite like both their studio albums, and since this is their first concert ever, I’m excited. And I’m not disappointed. Marras delivers a very professional show (even though it was their first concert, it wasn’t the “first” concert for the musicians; if you’re interested in where else they play, check metal-archives). They play similarly to yesterday’s Strid. Overall – a very good concert. Great atmosphere. I admit I didn’t know Thornspawn, who followed. They are an American black metal band that sometimes overdoes the theatrics, which, let’s be honest, isn’t always the best. The show isn’t bad, but the subpar vocals and the strong sun shining on the stage don’t help. It’s evident that the band, despite being from Texas, doesn’t always manage. During childish shouts of „fuck the sun,“ I decide to leave the concert early and move to the second stage for Ifernach. Ifernach is a Quebec one-man band that clearly draws inspiration from other well-known one-man bands. But he does it well, and the lyrics often revolve around Native American myths and history, which is always interesting (at least to me). The concert is fine but doesn’t quite do justice to the excellent albums. The show is quite sterile, especially compared to yesterday’s Délétère, which was about a level better. But that’s the case with many projects that play live with people who don’t create the music themselves. This has been the case for many years with, for example, Gorgoroth. After Ifernach, I immediately moved to Sarkrista, who plays on the outdoor stage. Since everyone is in corpse paint, the blazing sun (27-28 degrees) doesn’t add to the atmosphere. But the band handles it brilliantly. What follows is raw yet atmospheric black metal, which these Germans are known for. This is the first time I’ve seen them live, and surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the best concerts of the last day for me. Superb.

Diocletian isn’t my cup of tea. Despite that, I try a few tracks live but confirm that this just doesn’t work for me, and I go to eat. I see Barathrum only from a distance. They are relatively old Finnish black with doom elements, active since the early 90s. Since I haven’t listened to the band much, all the tracks blend together for me, and I prefer to focus on my small fried fish (Coregonus albula – I have no idea if it has a Slovak equivalent) and baked potatoes. Ahead of me is White Death. A band known not only for playing great black metal but also for their extravagant concerts, especially when they’re on home turf. And this time was no different. They drew a huge crowd, and I have the feeling that the entire festival audience rushed into the indoor hall to enjoy this experience. The central theme of the show is a blood-drained crucified sheep, which is gradually carved up and then, to the sounds of the iconic song White Death’s Power, thrown into the crowd. All this is accompanied by really great, almost melodic black metal and the corpse stench that permeates the entire crowd. Wonderful. After the concert, I learned that a flying sheep’s head broke someone’s nose and medics had to intervene. I’m glad there are still bands that aren’t afraid to do such wild things. This show will stay in my mind for a long time. And it won’t wash away the next day like the crowd after White Death left the concert hall (the corpse stench permeated the whole hall, especially in combination with the heat).

I decided to skip Acherontas and Denial of God. I wander around the venue, look at the merch stands, and buy some T-shirts, a hoodie, tapes, and badges. Purity Through Fire or Werewolf Records has its own stall here, and you can get really interesting stuff. A great element of Steelfest is also the blacksmiths who create rings, bracelets, necklaces, etc., throughout the three days and can resize them on the spot. I have the last concerts of Saturday and Steelfest ahead of me. And since everything must eventually be covered by the relentless sands of time, we are nearing the end.

Norwegian Dødheimsgard delivers a beautifully bizarre and energetic show. It took me a long time to appreciate this band, and at festivals, I always had them in the “maybe” category, but over time that changed, and today I look forward to every concert. Horna continues what they did yesterday and the day before. Today, they appear in their current lineup with Spellgoth on vocals. Once again, they deliver one of the best concerts of the day. The band is wonderfully coordinated, with crystal-clear sound and a suggestive fiery projection that makes this concert one of the highlights of the whole festival. After Horna, the cult Canadian band Blasphemy follows. I respect their impact on the scene, but musically, they never really resonated with me, so I’m quite sceptical. However, I end up enjoying the concert a lot. The audience is having fun, and the band is with them.

The whole thing ends with another cult project – this time from Norway – Mysticum. However, I skip their industrial black metal, take one last look at the venue, and prepare to leave. Then I notice him. The rabbit from the first night! He gazes at me with his blood-red eyes, pointing at me with a paw ending in pus-filled claws. A pitch-black pentagram swings around his neck like the vocalist of White Death’s appendage under his studded briefs. And I know I will definitely return next year. 

What to say in conclusion? Just that I can recommend Steelfest to anyone:

  1. Who loves underground black metal and smaller bands.
  2. Who seeks perfect organization with minimal delays and great sound.
  3. Who is not into large festivals with trillions of people.
  4. Who appreciates having enough personal space around them.
  5. Who is annoyed by idiots with phones at concerts (this was quite acceptable here). 


Written by: Tom Heten

Author: Bes Webzine

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