Introduction to Finnish Popular Music
by Tero Valkonen :: 2006
Something completely unexpected happened in 2006: Finland won the Eurovision song contest. The man, or, to put it more precisely, the monster behind this unprecedented feat is called Lordi, who has subsequently become a media darling and kiddie favourite.
This is saying something, because he looks like a cross between Freddy Krueger and your childhood nightmare, the one that made you swear never to watch horror movies again.
Lordi is an avowed hard rock fanatic in the 1980s sense, and his winning composition was entitled 'Hard Rock Hallelujah'. Some of his other songs are 'The Devil Is a Loser' and 'Would You Love a Monsterman'. In Finland, the answer to that question has been a resounding "yes", and countries such as Sweden and Germany have also bowed to our cuddly beast. His album 'The Arockalypse' has now been released in 27 countries.
The love metal band HIM also made history during 2006. Their most recent album 'Dark Light' went on to sell more than 500 000 copies in the United States, which means that HIM are the first Finnish band to reach gold status on the other side of the Atlantic. The band's worldwide album sales are currently in excess of 4 million.
HIM made their commercial breakthrough in the year 2000 with the album 'Razorblade Romance', and particularly the hit single 'Join Me'. Before that, the band had been reasonably successful in Finland, but they quickly became well-known across Europe. Their subsequent worldwide recording contract with Sire Records has now paid dividends in America.
The Rasmus, Nightwish & co.
The pop-rock group The Rasmus have also gone from strength to strength. The group released their first album 'Peep' in 1996, but it was with 'Dead Letters' that they really shot to prominence in 2003. The hit single 'In the Shadows' infatuated people all over Europe with its relentlessly catchy melodies. Their most recent effort 'Hide From the Sun' came out in 2005, and the album's most memorable hit was the debut single 'No Fear'.
One must also not forget Nightwish. The album 'Once' made a huge impact on the European metal scene in 2004, and the band also gained some popularity in South America. However, once the long tour was over, tensions within the group became unbearable and the lead vocalist Tarja Turunen was fired. The future of Nightwish was probably never in doubt, but it will be extremely interesting to see what it holds.
And as far as metal is concerned, the most notable name right now is Children of Bodom. The guitarists Alexi Laiho and Roope Latvala have gained remarkable renown for their skills, and it's quite common to see the world's major guitar magazines discuss their techniques and styles. Their most recent releases are the album 'Are You Dead Yet' from 2005 and the live cd+dvd 'Chaos Ridden Years' from 2006.
Finland has always been a good country for hard rock and metal, as some of the abovementioned examples testify. And we do have an abundance of metal groups, some of which have a highly idiosyncratic view of the genre. Think of Apocalyptica, for instance: these four guys started their career playing Metallica covers on four cellos. You wouldn't expect that, now would you?
Next big hits?
But it's not all metal nor doom and gloom in Finland. Take a look at Don Johnson Big Band, for instance: they've got hip-hop, they've got pop, they've got a little bit of everything in their blend. They've also got a hyper-energetic lead vocalist and rapper. Definitely something to check out, and their most recent effort 'Don Johnson Big Band' came out in 2006.
In the mainstream, one of the most interesting bands right now is Poets of the Fall. They shot into prominence via a very unusual route: one of their songs was featured in the computer game Max Payne, and their self-released debut turned the band into an overnight success. Their second album 'Carnival of Rust' came out in 2006.
The scene is extremely lively at the moment, with all sorts of things happening and all sorts of styles being tried. The indie market is also thriving, and one of the names worth mentioning is Disco Ensemble. One must also not forget Fullsteam Records, an indie company that is providing a good home for many a new voice.
Finland has a network of small and interesting record companies. The Sähkö Recordings, in particular, have come up with a number of lo-fi techno bands that have attracted international attention. The label also served as a springboard for Jimi Tenor, a highly unusual lounge/jazz/funk artist.
The domestic market continues to be dominated by Finnish performers and bands singing in Finnish. Right now, the hottest name of all is PMMP, a female duo whose artistry consists of good lyrics, well written melodic poprock and breathtakingly clever media strategy.
Some of the current local favourites are the groups Zen Café, CMX and YUP and the solo artist Maija Vilkkumaa. The local scene is very versatile, with many groups firmly rooted in the sounds of the past but always looking for the future. This attitude produces songs that effortlessly combine punk, pop, rock and/or prog with the most recent technology.