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Conor Tierney was raised on the sounds of Aerosmith and Van Halen. By 15, he was shredding metal on his guitar. By 22, he was rocking in front of thousands at the Helsinki Music Festival in Finland.

For Tierney, a senior marketing major at UCF, his interest in metal began at 15, when he discovered his new inspiration — the Finnish band Children of Bodom and its metal guitarist Alexi Laiho.

“He was kind of the one who introduced me to the shredding style, like playing really fast, because he’s one of the best known for it as a guitarist,” he said. “I think that’s probably when I started getting better at playing guitar — when I started trying to play their songs.”

This past summer, 12 years after picking up his first guitar, Tierney found himself playing onstage at the Helsinki Music Festival in Finland alongside his childhood hero, Laiho.

After submitting his audition tape in a worldwide competition, Tierney was selected as one of 100 guitarists from around the world to assist Laiho in playing a 15-minute-long piece that he had composed for more than a 100 musicians as part of his project, 100 Guitarists from Hell.

“The Helsinki Festival is like this big 16-day festival that they do every year, and that was one of the events,” Tierney said. “But this year was one of the biggest crowds they had at any event, mainly because Alexi Laiho was there, and he’s a big hometown hero in Finland.”

Laiho brought together 100 guitarists from around the world — some from as far away as Japan — with only five Americans in attendance, including Tierney.

After only two four-hour-long rehearsals, the group was scheduled to play live in front of thousands of people on the same day as Tierney’s 22nd birthday.

“There was a big celebration afterwards,” Tierney said. “There’s this club called the Tavastia Club in Finland, which is pretty big over there. After the show, Alexi and his local band called the Local Band did covers of Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, stuff like that. They played at the club after, and all the guitarists got in free and everything.”

Chris Bollyn, who roomed with Tierney in Finland during the festival as another one of the 100 guitarists, recalls the night after the show.

“I knew he played guitar, but I didn’t know until midway through the trip that he could do vocals and sing. That blew my mind,” Bollyn said. “There was an open-mic night one night after practice, and he went up onstage and did a great Phil Anselmo on Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ It was sweet.”

In retrospect, Tierney acknowledges his experience in Finland as an eye-opener to his passions.

“I’ve taken that I want to pursue music seriously,” said Tierney, who had originally resigned himself to a career outside of music. “I’ve always wanted to, but I’ve always thought in the back of my head, ‘Hey, if I don’t and I have a regular nine-to-five job and just play gigs on the weekends, that’s cool.’ But now my attitudes more like, ‘No, I’d rather go all for it.’ I think that’s the biggest take-away.”

Tierney and a few other of the Guitarists From Hell currently collaborate on covers on YouTube and he is working on branching out from metal and into acoustic guitar.

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Tori Fernandez is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future. 

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