Headbangers flock to Europe's only heavy-metal karaoke

Beneath the civilised veneer of Helsinki’s broad boulevards lies a throbbing night scene fuelled by tar-coloured liquorice schnapps, lethally sweet cider and Lapin Kulta beer.

Perhaps nowhere illustrates this better than Hevimesta, whose sober wooden doorway in the ministry of agriculture building gives away nothing by day. Long after office hours, however, a parade of Metallica T-shirts along this sedate street suggests that something unusual is going on underground.

A classic black-leather hard-rock scene on most nights, Hevimesta—literally, “the heavy place”—lets customers take the microphone twice a week, becoming Europe’s only heavy-metal karaoke club.

Owner Jouni Lanamaki launched his first heavy-metal bar in northern Finland before branching out to the capital, where in a few months Hevimesta has won a following of young (and not-so-young) would-be headbangers.

At 10pm on a recent Wednesday, the cavernous basement labyrinth of brick-walled rooms was still quiet, with just a few students on a Microsoft-sponsored outing venturing up to the microphone.

Some dressed the part, in black from head to toe. Antti-Pekka Sarin (23), the most convincing singer that night, wore white jeans and a red baseball cap for his first visit to this bar.

“I like this place a lot,” he enthused after a spirited rendition of Back in Black. “Finnish people love heavy metal almost as much as in Eastern Europe and Germany, where it’s huge.”

After midnight the action really hotted up, though one fellow in an business suit—slumped over his table—was so far gone he could hardly stand, much less spring to his feet and belt out Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills.

A mix of office workers on a night out, students in search of cheap beer (all drinks cost â,¬1) and die-hard heavy metal fans clad in clunky boots and studs took turns at the microphone before a tolerant audience that eventually hit the dance floor.

The coat-check man and occasional bouncer, who would identify himself only as Pasi, said he has seen “some very strange things happen” on karaoke nights.

The most popular bands, he said, are heavy-metal fixtures AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin, and the number one song is Stairway to Heaven.

In second place is the Scorpions song Winds of Change, which Pasi described as “a girl’s song”—about one in five of those who brave the microphone are women.

“Karaoke can be embarrassing, but here it’s great because people don’t care what you sing,” said the hoarse-voiced, 20-year-old Tatu Kairi, who had picked—you guessed it—Stairway to Heaven from the bar’s repertoire of 300 songs, all of them in English.

Asked if he would return, he didn’t hesitate: “Hell, yeah.”—AFP

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