Text and photo by Mattias Westfalk
Finland is now stored safe in my memory bank, the distant but real buzz from a spectacle in sounds and emotions still lingering. I sat down in front of my work desk after flying back to Berlin, the place I call home for the winter, tuned in to Stench Of Decay and zoned out, thoughts bouncing in all directions about how I would best describe what I had just witnessed after this 2 week stint in Finland, whereof six of those days were deeply involved in a one-of-a-kind musical and social event – the Finnish Death Metal Maniacs Fest. I say deeply involved because I was one of the first people on site and one of the last ones out. And I say one-of-a-kind because the sheer magnitude of the Finish Death metal history that was on display. I helped with building stages, erecting tents, running supermarket errands with the organizers and even helped prepare food for both the bands and the fans. They were fed the same Colombian (!) vegetarian awesomeness I ate and thrived on during the three days the FDMM Fest ruled the world.
I decided I was going to write about how the Finnish Death Metal Maniacs Fest got going, and grew into this small but ripping old-school monster, popping up like a mischievous maniac brat out of the box all of a sudden, out of nowhere. And how the two Finnish organizers, John Franzen and Ilmari ‘Immu’ Jalas, were inspired by first and foremost growing up in and around the Finnish Metal scene, being part of it and seeing it develop into something original and sinister since the late 80’s; and then how Denmark’s Killtown Death Fest inspired them to start toying with the idea to take a step into the direction of organizing and let the world know that Finish DM still is, and always has been, a freestanding scene within the scene, with its unique heavy sounds (oldschool steamroller approach) that didn’t get the coverage it so deeply deserved when it took off, but is now coming back with a vengeance. The Finish Death metal train obviously never disappeared over the horizon, it just merely took a long trip into the dark damp woods of Finland, never out of earshot at all. It’s always been here, it just did not reach out to grab the global community as we’ve seen in other Northern lands. The older metalheads up in North Eastern Scandinavia kept the groove alive and bred a new legion of young musicians (the youngest on the bill is 17 years old) to join in – not to take over per se, but join in to keep the tradition alive and the black flame burning dark. One of the reasons why the FDM sound has stayed so intact seems to have come out of a sheer ignorance of what was once considered an art-form in heavy music societies around the globe – that is, to keep each other informed, and befriend and share tapes with all and everyone interested. The Finn can be seen as cool and distant compared to his Scandinavian adversaries, and has not really ever given a fu*k about this in a larger scale, while in the neighboring countries a specific sound and style developed and kept developing into something new at a steady pace, without losing it’s roots and heavy sound. Look at Entombed and At the Gates, two Swedish bands that became active in the same era, and you’ll see what I mean. Well, this is what I was told by some trusted sources, anyway. What do I know about anything, being just a mere observer? But I was going to write and go deep into this and poke around with an anthropologistic trident in our underground social behaviors and find out what differs and why.
Then I was then going to try to explain who each of the 25 bands on the bill were and their background, where they are from and how their standpoint on the FDM scene was rooted, how the whole FDM mechanism functions. How the older bands would compare, but not compete, with the younger ones, and vice versa. Why some of the older guys hadn’t played for almost 20 years, but regrouped and joined up just for the FDMMF, and apparently has decided to dust off their V’s and cause havoc once again. I was going to, with brilliant words, try to give a true and precise look at bands like Rippikoulu, whom for all old school heads from all over the world means a somewhat forgotten core of the Finnish death-doom sound. And how one band made one of the organizers (Immu) weep, because they reminded him of his younger days and the struggle to make a mark by keeping it original and with a self-made pride. That band was Galvanizer, teenagers ripping a hole in the old black canvas that was painted by their music, spewed out and torn apart. After this, I was going to focus on the interesting fact (for us metal nerds) that the by now legendary Stench Of Decay’s bass player couldn’t make the festival, so members from Krypts joined in on the warm-up day (Thursday) and most probably gave one of the best shows of the festival. A totally unfair statement, since comparing the bands with each other wouldn’t make any sense at all. Archgoat sharing same stage as Lubricant, Amputory with Convulse etc etc. The fact that the Finnish deathmetal sound and style has moved on into different dimensions doesn’t change the fact that the spirit of it all is still the same and has only one real common foundation: to keep it ruthless, free, oldschool raw and with a strong pull towards D.I.Y – in other words, to keep it Finnish and maniac.
So, as you can see, my head was wrapped up in ideas of how I was going to try to show the people who didn’t make it or couldn’t get their hands on one of the limited tickets that the FDMM fest was one of a kind experience. The ones that made it don’t need any explanation. They know the joy of seeing so many happy maniacs sharing something so uplifting and pure under the same roof, something that was thought to be an unreachable goal, but was made possible by two die-hard local Finns with only one single-minded aim, that is to get the Finnish Death Metal monster (a deep-rooted maniac for sure) on display and give anyone who made the effort to reach Pori and the venue(s) a truly memorable and eye opening experience. The idea to host the fest in distant Pori and not in the capital was to give room for the very hard core of metal maniacs who showed up, the diehard fans that the fest deserved, not for the Helsinki prima-donnas and bullies to wander in hammered on booze or drugs, to cause minion fights. And the true fans showed up, from all over the world. They showed up with smiles from ear to ear, loaded with positive attitudes and a karma that will surely be missed in sleepy-town-Pori for many months to come. Seldom have I witnessed security guards so bored yet light minded and easy going. No need for anything less than enjoyment from all sides. A band of brother and sisters paying tribute to heavy music, a deep rooted culture and each other as one concrete entity.
But things don’t always play out as you plan them. Especially if you are a less than mediocre music writer and more of a visual vagabond and dreamer. So my grand scheme of a well-written article with anecdotes and interesting facts stopped dead in it’s tracks. Thinking cap off. No point in fooling myself and pretending to be something I’m not, to do something I cannot. So I’ll let the photos speak for themselves instead. I shot over 1500 images with a camera less than suited for the job (intentionally and symbolically), turned the tables by going Quantity over Quality, shot all in black and white since it gave me that old “look” that you would get with a low cost out-of-the-box fully automated film camera, which kind of reflects back on the sounds in a nice way. Over produced and picture perfect isn’t what I heard in Finland, so why go bananas with a medium (color) to portray something that does not look what it sounds like and does not sound what it would look like. Never mind, my own decision after all, and I’ve always liked this “raw” way of capturing an image, so that’s that.
As a photographer that has been active in the underground scene mainly in Japan for the last 15 years, I noticed so many common traits between the Japanese and the Finnish way of behaving and getting shit done, both socially and practically. The true maniac factor is there on both fronts, as well as the extreme ‘nerd’ level of knowledge of what the scene is and shall represent. The sound and look may differ on many levels, but it’s on the same battlefield that these two maniacs are fighting their hearts out, not against each other but together, guts spilled out while the banner of D.I.Y stands tall in the middle of the mayhem. So obviously, my mind was constantly returning to what these two distant scenes have given to the underground and how cool it would be to see more of the same. I saw more Anatomia and Coffins patches in Pori than I’ve ever seen in Tokyo. One can only ponder over what would happen if the two reached out and had shows together in Finland and Japan. Would bands like Solothus and Necrolepsy be well received in the basements of Tokyo and Osaka? Hell yes – no question about it. A new era is looming, that of the Metal Maniac.
What you see is what you get. Play your shit loud when eyeing these images from FDMM fest, they are movements caught and stopped down, reflections of moments, showing us who we are and what we do when in the right mood, amongst likeminded and drenched in sounds, sounds that makes the blood boil and the mind slip (for some reason I’m thinking about a distressed Bambi with busted eardrums on a thin-layered black and bloodied ice, coated with lit Napalm). Free and easy, music is the encoder of your life.
Krypts/Stench of Decay
Lubricant (1st set)