It's so heavy to be a Finn
by Matti Riekki :: 2007
"You Finns are such a metal nation." When Finns travel abroad, this is what they're most likely to hear, along with a joking comment about the amounts of alcohol Finns tend to consume. It is now generally known that this nation near the Arctic circle really does enjoy its rock when it's heavy. If any more proof was needed, it arrived in the year 2006 when Finns managed to smuggle heavy metal into the Eurovision Song Contest — and win the whole thing.
The monstrous Lordi and his elaborate masks are, however, only the tip of the reindeer's antler, if you will. The diminutive Finland has produced heavy metal of international quality ever since the 1980s. The only problem was that Finns lacked the know-how to export it thoroughly enough. But the new millennium has done away with this problem and provided Finns with ample opportunities for boasting about their admirably successful groups.
But what is it that makes Finnish metal so unique?
Anyone interested in the answer should dig deep into the snow and live the long, dark, cold winter. They should also look for the answer in the woods, behind the trees. And not forget the Slavic melancholy, either. For when the sombre Finnish mentality meets yearning melodies, the result is something you're not going to get elsewhere.
Some would claim that you're unlikely to find any traces of these elements in the exceedingly successful HIM, led by the iconic Ville Valo — after all, the group is supposed to be about everything that people worship in Anglo-American hard rock. Ditto for the operatic Nightwish, who have sold millions of albums and whose music is nothing short of bombastic. But the traces are there, you just have to pay attention.
And then there are the groups that have stressed their Finnishness from day one. Amorphis was founded in the spirit of The Kalevala, our national epic, and although it never sold as many records as the two groups mentioned above, its part in building the foundations for what was to come was very significant. Another group that simply cannot be forgotten in this context is Sentenced, hailing from northern Finland. The band no longer exists, but they excelled in combining heaviness, melody, melancholy and humour that was blacker than black. Both of these groups now have a number of successors who bravely continue the tradition.
Children of Bodom is one of the younger bands that has toured extensively in Europe and North America, and they have also confounded a lot of critics — what is it that this group plays, exactly? Death metal? Black metal? Thrash metal? The answer is: all of that, and when you consider that these guys can really play, even in the demanding context of fast metal, it is small wonder why a figure as legendary as Steve Harris from Iron Maiden has been heard to praise the group.
One of the characteristics of many Finnish groups is, indeed, the way they fuse various elements. Finntroll, for example, manage to combine the Swedish language, polka-related rhythms, folk, heavy metal and pagan stories about trolls, and the end result still sounds logical.
Finland is also the country where people first had the bright idea of combining heavy metal and classical string instruments. Apocalyptica started their career playing Metallica covers, but these days they concentrate on their own material, and they're one of the most wanted Finnish groups abroad. They're also definitely the only heavy metal band out there whose members are in danger of getting their hair stuck in cello strings while playing.
Finnish metal has many faces: Swallow The Sun uses slow doom-metal tempos, and critics in England have gone absolutely bonkers about the group. Insomnium is a very direct descendent of Amorphis, whereas the ultra-fast Rotten Sound can be heard playing on most European festivals. If you're into something a little bit lighter and more melodic, try Stratovarius or Sonata Arctica. Or Machine Men — you might like them as much as Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden does.
Or how about "battle metal"? That's what Turisas plays (they also happen to be the number one up-and coming band of 2006, according to Metal Hammer), and Ensiferum operate on the same area, and people in Germany have fallen love with their paganism. You know, we have plenty of this stuff... Not bad for a shy, introverted, constantly sad nation of people with serious self-esteem problem, right?
"Yes, we are a metal nation."
There is no way we can disagree. Just take a look at the local album charts: no matter what the season, no matter how hot or cold the temperature, approximately half of the Top 10 artists are metal-related. You try to argue with that...
Translation © Tero Valkonen