A little history lesson on Finnish metal, compiled in about 20 minutes from total memory while a nerd tries to fix my internet, so please feel free to comment/correct in the comments if I haven’t got this quite right.
Finnish Metal: The Beginning
Finnish metal began when tr00 metal began – In the late 70s, and it began with Sarcofagus. Kimmo Kuusniemi’s Sarcofagus started recording their own brand of Egyptomanical heavy metal, inspired by the sounds coming out of the UK and Germany. At this time, Sarcofagus found Finland unreceptive of their music, so they packed up and shipped off to search for success in England, which was then one of the world’s metal hubs.
Another popular early Finnish band was Hanoi Rocks, who were a huge influence on the glam metal/glam rock scene. During the 80s, the Finnish metal scene was relatively quiet, but then a rumble started from deep below.
Although they aren’t well-known outside of Finland (I’d never heard of them till a commenter mentioned them) thrash metal band Stone released four albums in the late 80s-early 90s and proved a highly-influential band for many of today’s more popular FInnish bands – particularly Children of Bodom. Alexi Laiho was a huge fan of Stone guitarist Roope Latvala, so when their previous guitarist left the band in 2003, they were stoked when Latvala stepped up in his place.
In the 90s, an unholy host to truly majestic undergound metal spewed forth from Finland. The dark and twisted melody of Beherit, the aural assault of Demigod and Demilich struck deep chords with extreme metal fans around the world. But it was Amorphis, the death metal act with the hauntingly beautiful melodic 1994 album Tales From the Thousand Lakes that told the world Finland would be the country to watch.
For this and their subsequent album Elegy, Amorphis combine their melodic death style with different traditional instruments. The songs follow themes from Finnish myths and legends, including the epic Finnish poem the Kalevera. These three albums form the bass notes of the folk/pagan metal explosion of recent years (which I’ll get to in a second).
Just as we were all recovering from that bombshell – (the first time you hear this album, it’s a bit of a revelation. It’s one of the albums that made me realise how much I could love death metal) – some scraggly-haired young’uns named Children of Bodom released Something Wild, an album of classic thrash tune with a uniquely Finnish bent that caught attention worldwide. Named after a fascinationg murder mystery from their hometown of Espoo, their debut self-titled single went straight to number 1 on the Finnish charts. Adding keyboards and changing their style to their unique thrash/heavy/black/WTF sound, Children of Bodom followed this with Hatebreeder and Follow the Reaper, and, through serious touring, having an unbelievably hot lead singer and being generally awesome, they’ve become a household name – at least in households I tend to frequent.
Which brings us to perhaps the most commercially popular and well-known of all Finnish metal bands, and the band I’d consider nearly wholly responsible for bringing metal into the mainstream in Europe – Nightwish. Since 1997s Angels Fell First, they’ve been tremendously popular in Finland, but It was 1998’s Oceanborn and 2000’s Wishmaster that brought them worldwide fame. Their unique, keyboard-driven symphonic metal with traditionally-trained opera vocalist Tarja Turunan is loved by metal fans and traditional housewives alike.
In 2005 Nightwish dismissed Tarja via an open letter, citing personal conflicts with her husband and her business interests as reasons for the breakup. Tarja responded with her own open letter – the whole event played out like a bit of a soap opera. Anette Olzen (previously of Alyson Avenue) now sings for the band – her rock-style vocals adding a different flavour on Nightwish’s most recent release Dark Passion Play.
While Nightwish and Children of Bodom were off doing their thing, a strange and weird movement was taking place on the underground. That thing was called Finntroll.
Picture this: You’ve got a ordinary pagan Finnish black metal band, with blastbeats, screechy vocals and lyrics about how much they dislike that Jesus fellow, and you add some humppa. What is humppa? Why, it’s Finnish polka music, of course. Played on an accordion.
Finntroll don’t use an accordion, but rather incorporate humppa melodies with keyboards, which have traditionally been worked in alongside the guitar and bass for added melody in black metal (the keyboard, not the humppa). Their 2001 album Jaktens Tid became a chart success, and featured vocals from Jonne Järvelä of Korpiklaani.
While Finntroll started with metal and added folk elements, Korpiklaani were originally a folk act who incorporated metal. After working with Finntroll, Korpiklaani were interested to push the metal themes in their music, which they did, to worldwide success. It helps that they sing about beer a lot. They rely only on traditional instruments for their folk melodies.
With Finntroll and Korpiklaani doing their thing, a wave of Finnish folk metal bands began to emerge. These included Moonsorrow, who combined folk elements with Bathory-style Viking metal, Ensiferum, Wintersun, and Turisas, who sound a lot like Korpiklaani but not quite as good. This outpouring of awesomeness met with the medieval rock and metal scene in Germany and the big acts coming out of England and we ended up with the crazy world of European folk metal we have today.
And, of course, one couldn’t talk about Finnish metal without mentioning H.I.M. This is, of course, despite the fact that I still can’t see how in any stretch of the imagination, H.I.M could be considered a metal band. Even if they do call themselves “Love Metal”. What is love metal, anyway? H.I.M are a Finnish gothic rock band insanely popular with 15 year old girls. I think if I was 15 when I first heard them, I would be in love with them too. I own one album but every song sounds exactly the same.
H.I.M’s logo – the heartogram – is a trademark of the band. Many fans get this tattooed – including Kat von D of LA Ink. Jackass’ Bam Magera shares the trademark of the heartogram with Ville Valo.
The H.I.M phenomena was good for one thing – it brought the world’s attention to Apocalyptica – a cello quartet formed by four musicians at the Sibellius academy who had a particular fondness for ripping out Metallica riffs on their instruments. Apocalyptica now record and perform their own compositions as well as covers, and many famous musicians like Vile Valo, Max Cavalera and Dave Lombardo. Apocalyptica opened for H.I.M on their first gig, and as H.I.M’s popularity rose, so to did Apocalyptica. They now play live with three cellos and one drummer.
Elements of Finnish Metal
Nowadays, when you talk to someone about Finnish metal, they often immediately think of folk metal. I think the folk metal sound will continue to be tied to the country, at least as long as they continue to output decent bands. Many metal purists dislike the term “folk metal” as a genre, since the addition of folk instruments or melodies seems to automatically qualify a band as “folk metal” despite any other unifying themes. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, but it’s certainly easier than saying “melodic black metal with folk-inspired instrumentation” every time someone asks me about Finntroll.
About the only thing you can say is that folk metal contains elements of traditional folk music – including instruments, melodies and lyrical themes. These sounds vary greatly depending on the country of origin of the band (or, in some cases, the folk style of the country they’ve “adopted”). Lyrics tend to mimic those found in traditional folk music – myths and legends, nature, paganism, spirituality, beer drinking, and women-defiling. Many bands will play traditional instruments and dress in old-style garb for videos and performances.
Aside from this, Finland has produced a unique array of power metal, gothic metal, death metal – much of it with folk or pagan elements, and black metal. Finnish death metal is particularly well-loved, especially the way they add a little doom into the mix. Bands like Vacant Coffin, Gorephillia, Swarming, Funebre, Ripplkoulu and, of course, Amorphis who’ve given death a uniquely Finnish spin.
In the minds of press and fans alike, Finnish metal had begun to evoke a certain atmosphere. It didn’t matter what they sounded like, but you heard a band from Finland and thought “that must be a seriously fucking metal country up there, if they come out with this.” Only the Finns could take something as aurally abhorrent as polka music, mesh it up with a metal band, and make it so fucking cool.
Finnish Bands and Albums to try:
Amorphis – Tales from the Thousand Lakes
Amorphis – Elegy
Amorphis – Skyforger
Apocalyptica – Plays Metallica on Four Cellos
H.I.M – Love Metal (just so you know what it is)
Beherit – Drawing down the Moon (another stunning black metal album that just missed out making my top five. It would definitely be in my top ten)
Behexen – By the Blessing of Satan
Children of Bodom – Hatebreeder
Children of Bodom – Follow the Reaper (I’m not a fan of anything after this)
Ensiferum – Iron
Ensiferum – From Afar
Finntroll – Jaktens Tid
Finntroll – Nifelvind
Impaled Nazarene – Manifest
Insomnium – In the Halls of Awaiting
Insomnium – Above the Weeping World
Kalmah – Swampsong
Korpiklaani – Voices of Wilderness
Korpiklaani – Karkelo
Moonsorrow – Suden Uni
Nightwish – Oceanborn
Norther – Till Death Unites Us
Sentenced – North From Here
Sentenced – Amok
Sonata Arctica – Ecliptica
Sonata Arctica – Reckoning Night
Turisas – Battle Metal
Wintersun – Time
(sorry this list is so long. There really are a LOT of awesome Finnish bands)
Finland Metal Links
Metal From Finland – the place to look for all things metal and Finland
Promised Land of Metal – Documentary site – don’t forget the Steff Metal deal – email the PLOHM crew with the code “STEFF” and get the DVD for a discount.
Right, now I’m stuffed. Any thoughts? Comments? Corrections? Other favorite Finnish bands?