2017 brought us the classic dose of anniversaries, both famous and less known. Most people around the world may be thinking of (and possibly celebrating) the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. In fact, as many of you would remember, I presume, a couple of revolutions took place in Russia back in 1917, dismantling the Tsarist autocracy and leading to the rise of the Soviet Union. Not the same amount of people, on the other hand, will be remembering what happened in the same year (if not in the exact same period) within a nation this webzine's staff cares about — Finland.
(Oneiros, Elisunn and other friends worshipping evilness during Tuska 2016)
As it happens, many of you might not even know where the hell Finland is or what is its capital — come on, that's easy: Reykjavik! Oh no, wait a sec… — how does a language spoken by less than 0,1% of world's population sound like or what kind of relationship there is/has been between it and its neighbours, Sweden and Russia (both of which have its own, long and respectable musical history). Though, since you are aristocratic readers, this introduction might have told you nothing new; nonetheless, this article could still seem a little strange at first sight, I know. Then fear not, my friends: I'll explain you everything.
Yours truly, Elisunn and Nihal (one of our Italian articles' editor) have a certain passion for Finland, because of our academic careers or life choices, and the same — yet for different reasons — may be said for Bosj, M1, Dope Fiend and more or less every member of this staff, since Finnish music played an important role in building and developing our musical tastes. Therefore it seemed right and proper to write this brief commemorative article for a nation which today turns 100 years independent, a nation whose music has been the soundtrack to our becoming who we are. So, after some more words spent to set the mood, you'll find a thematic playlist, written and commented by each member of the staff; and, surprise!, this one will also be the first playlist we're going to publish on our newest official Spotify account!
Finland is indeed well-known for its nature, for sauna, for its suicide rate (no one is actually alive in Finland, didn't you know that?) and for the renowned beauty of its inhabitants. Well, beauty aside, there's a lot more there which is unrelated to sauna (though that's one of my favorite Finnish things ever) and nature — and I'm not talking about salmiakki, fisu and, overall, alcoholics. Something extremely important is metal music.
In fact, according to some published data, this nation — where just five million people live in — has the highest percentage of band per capita of the whole world. Music is strongly encouraged within Finnish culture; for example, children do often start learning how to play musical instruments. Metal music is something widespread, there: it's something people are so accustomed to that you can find it in ads about sore throat remedies as much as in traditional Christmas music CDs; there are also a metal band whose members are dressed like dinosaurs and play music for children and even some famous artists being coaches at The Voice Of Finland!
There are Finnish bands so famous that almost every metalhead around the world can recognize them as Finnish just by their name, as if they were heralds of their land: the most well-known — nowadays even a bit mainstream — ones are indeed Amorphis, Ensiferum, Nightwish and Sonata Arctica; and let's not forget about HIM and Ville Valo's charming personality! When thinking of Finland, underground lovers on the other hand would recall the names of Archgoat, Azaghal, Moonsorrow, Satanic Warmaster, Sentenced, Swallow The Sun and many others, bands that have made their own mark in national music scene, sometimes becoming influential on dozens (if not hundreds) of later projects even from abroad.
And how do Finnish people feel about this Finnish metal topic? Well, Tuomas, our Elisunn's boyfriend, tried to explain us his opinion about this, allowing us to have a glimpse of how this theme is perceived through native's eyes:
«As we speak of Finnish metal referring to metal sung in Finnish, something important must be pointed out: it has not always been something this popular. Some hard rock/heavy metal bands already existed back in the 80s, for example Rajuilma or O.S.S.Y, though they were not that mainstream — they might have sold a couple of thousands CDs, at the most. Metal sung in Finnish became something huge just a bit later, between the end of the 90s and the first years of the new millennium. This happened thanks to Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus' "Rajaportti" (2002) and Kotiteollisuus' "Helvetistä Itään" (2003), the same albums that's made those bands successful. Later, then, Mokoma and Stam1na became the most popular bands of the nation.».
Maybe it's because winter in Finland is long, dark and full of terrors, or it’s due to the brief summertime; maybe it's because of people having such an extreme respect of personality, or maybe it's due to their cultural bond with nature; maybe it's just for a thousand of other reasons I still don't get, but bands coming from this very land surely sound their own, unique way: just for example, traces of melodies coming from the ancient past, reminding us of old epic poets singing traditional tales, are as clear as easy to find within nowadays music, whether it's folk or death metal. Well, let's keep in mind these preconditions and face the following commented playlist, since the mood is now definitely set. Paljon onnea, young Finland: live long and prosper and independent and may your name be always synonymous of deep, good music!
A tribute to Finland by the singers of the BBC symphony choir and orchestra, playing Sibelius' "Finlandia", the de facto Finnish national anthem.
Amorphis – "Blood And Tears"
I was about to turn 16 and my knowledge of metal was only slightly over cute keyboards and, at best, Tolkien's world. Then, almost by chance, one day I bumped into "The Cold White Light" and it was love at first listen. I had never met (nor would I ever meet again) a band able to merge deep sounds, legacy of death metal origins, and accessible solutions, products of that Finnish taste for melody.
Sentenced was the band of dualism, both in the music and the lyrics, where profound themes were approached with disillusioned romanticism, as well as macabre humour. "Blood And Tears" is a summa of all of this, the snap-shot of a band experiencing a spiritual state of mind and treading a fine line; a band that knew it was destined to be kicked in the teeth but nevertheless believed life «seemed so worthwhile, for a moment».
Crypt Of Fear
Demilich – "The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son Of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed)"
I knew the Finnish metal scene since I was young, there was no lack among my occasional listenings of some power metal bands and an handful of black metal formations to which I wasn’t too much attached. I owe my approach to death metal to Demilich and a few others; a genre that was secondary to me up until that point.
Guitarist Antti Boman’s band is one of those better representing Finnish death metal, and their only album called "Nespithe", that came out in the far 1993, brings a characteristic and difficult to replicate sound. The technical level is high, but never showed off; the listener’s attention gets drawn by the bizarre atmosphere, by the twisted insanity that leads every note, while the growls tells us about horror coming from Lovercraft books.
All the tracks are worthy; however, if I have to point out the one that better describes this album, my choice surely falls on "The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son Of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed)", in my opinion the one who does a better job in sticking into your head since the first notes, putting a strain on the listener’s mental sanity.
Thergothon – "Everlasting"
I discovered the existence of more extreme music with no haste. When I was close to reach adulthood, black metal seemed to me the last frontier, the Hercules' Columns: there could be nothing after it.
Then, for a stroke of luck, I got in the mail the only full-length by the Finnish band Thergothon. Both the opener "Everlasting" and the closer "Crying Blood & Crimson Snow" have served me as the pinnacle of what utter bleakness must look like: dilated melodies, slowness so slow you could hear your heart pumping, the organ and the keyboards that could only whisper, almost resigned to only scratch the stifling heaviness of the being. To this day, I consider "Stream From Heavens" an experience tantamount to being left alone and trapped in a never-ending winter, deprived of everything, even of hope; the music flows and makes the measurement of time an empty concept, forcing you in an a narrow and suffocating internal space, finally coercing you into performing a frantic introspection.
For these reasons alone, it doesn't matter that I have listened, through the years, to albums that are possibly more extreme, depressing and distressing than "Stream From Heavens"; the first kiss with Funeral Doom is impossible to forget.
Shape Of Despair – "Angels Of Distress"
"Angels Of Distress" is one of those albums that leaves its mark, and also a track predominantly composed by a melancholic, slow and relatively minimal melody leading almost ten minutes of music. A delicate and gentle emotion, but at the same time deafening, deadly and implacable in enclosing all the facets of a painful and necessary fall into oblivion. The cavernous and desperate voice of Pasi Koskinen is an awl that digs in the heart, guiding us note after note along a rugged but welcoming path, until it reaches the most hidden part of the soul, that part we perhaps hide even to ourselves and within which we nest the most unconfessable torments and heartaches.
In my opinion, Shape Of Despair are one of the most beautiful things coming out from the Finnish music scene and in general from the atmospheric Funeral Doom trend, and "Angels Of Distress" is one of the most empathic expressions of anguish: a genuine monument to the fragility of the human soul, which remains bow down and helpless in the face of pain. Helpless as one would remain spending a night in the icy embrace of the deepest silence, that muffled silence enveloping the ruthless and magnificent rigor of a snow-capped tundra on the shores of a frozen lake.
Finntroll – "Svartberg"
Among the bands mentioned in this article, Finntroll is probably the only one representing that 5% of Swedish-speaking Finns. What are the reasons for this minority? Essentially historical: for about 800 years, inland belonged to the Reign of Sweden, which ultimately imposed its own language, thus surpassing the poor, autoctonous Finnish idiom.
Finnish trolls are, in my opinion, the best thing that has ever happened to Finland (after the Finnish Language Equality Decree): they don't take themselves too seriously, the're practically a gang of fools, but listening to only one song only once isn't just enough, you always find yourself carried away with their whole discography within one day.
To me, this band represents the important turning point towards black metal, which I absolutely coulnd’t stand before listening to "Jaktens Tid" or ”Midnattens Widunder". The fusion of black metal and humppa (basically the Finnish polka) did the trick and got me closer to this dark music genre and, at the same time, made me fall in love with Finntroll. Hopefully they'll soon release some new material.
Children Of Bodom – "Downfall"
Mocking Children Of Bodom in 2017 means hitting the easiest of targets. Anyways, try to walk in the shoes of a secondary school kid, whose 56k modem works as window on the wide world and brave captain leading her through extreme metal, making her come across such a record as "Hatebreeder".
Tacky and clean, punk and baroque, kings of Nordic metal and a little bit of high school losers: the Children of the most famous lake in melodeath are (were) undoubtedly a band for teens and preteens as I myself was back then; then again, they contributed dramatically to establishing a peculiar music scene and we can't deny it.
That kiddo is almost in her thirties at this point and listens to "Downfall" again, the final track of the album and her favourite at that time. Thanks to those unforgettable keyboards and the good ol' Alexi Laiho, a virtuoso with both the guitar and the eyeliner, the kiddo met her buddy, with whom she now shares this funny memory and life.
Archgoat – "Nuns, Cunts & Darkness"
Of all the Aristocratic staff, I'm probably the one who has less to do with Finland, musically and culturally speaking. Luckily, not everything that comes out of there is either power or symphonic, so my putrified taste can be satisfied by a variety of bands dedited to evilness and depravation: Archgoat are among them, these guys don't even know what decency means.
To be honest, I discovered them recently so I don't have any deep or meaningful link to them, but their early death-black metal (reminiscing of Hellhammer and such) is just moving. Let's add the whole blasphemous graphics and the semi-serious titles and the Turku combo gets repugnant just enough: for this reason, I chose for this article "Nuns, Cunts & Darkness". What else did you expect?
Skepticism – "Nothing"
Approximately until the end of high school the bond between Finland and metal for me was limited to Stratovarius and a few more names, mainly belonging to the environment of power metal et similia. The gradual discovery of trve evil, first in its melodic form with Swallow The Sun and then in the more evident and funeral doom one, made me appreciate a group of lads who were devoted to keyboards that slightly differed from Johansson's or Holopainen's style.
Skepticism is one of those bands constantly there, seldom inserted in my mental list of all-time favourites and anyway able to compose the epic linked to our finiteness of human beings with qualitative and emotional levels not reachable by many. "Nothing", off the 2003 masterpiece "Farmakon", is the perfect example.
Impaled Nazarene – "Sadogoat"
Impaled Nazarene is a name you just can't forget. Mika Luttinen's band is at this point a desecrating icon of sadism, perversion, attack of morals, anarchy and… insane sense of humour.
The brutal debut "Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz…", released in 1992, puts together thirty minutes of hymns to Satan in the form of bastard black metal, with shocking bestial sounds, savage screams and unexpected atmospheric tracks. Not bad for a first encounter of a teenager with Finland.
This irrational, punk-oriented nucleus was, later through the band's career, directed to more focused and diverse paths, carrying the unmistakable Impaled Nazarene trademark nonetheless.
Elenium – "Velocity"
Elenium was one of the first bands I reviewed for — newborn, at that time — Aristocrazia Webzine, with their album "Caught In A Wheel". A Finnish band that didn't play old school death metal, didn't engage in an exclusively melodic statement and that surprised me with its ability to sneak in quite the number of fitting riffs within "Velocity" (that is, nine minutes overall!), a song I listen to over and over again with great pleasure to this day.
Elenium is unknown to most people and has been on hold for too long already; I can't deny I'd be curious to see these musicians back to work again, who knows what they could bring out.
Johanna Kurkela – "Rakkauslaulu"
Probably I'm the only one who didn't become interested in Finnish language because of Finnish music: when I decided to study this amazing language in 2008 I knew nothing about its sounds, its culture and traditions, its music. I had read something on a grammar manual given to me by a friend and I was captivated by some pics of a country called, I would later discover, the "Land of the lakes". I took my own leap of faith and I still feel and live it very personally.
Only later did I get closer to Finnish musical panorama (up to 2008 I only knew H.I.M., I admit it). One of the voices I associate the most with my personal relationship with the Finnish world is Johanna Kurkela's: known as the female counterpart in "No Dream Can Heal A Broken Heart" by Sonata Arctica, she gained appreciation for her versatility in different genres.
The song that immediately comes to my mind is "Rakkauslaulu" ("Love Song"): her voice here is limpid and pure both to my ears and my eyes, as it brings back memories of the Finnish nature I used to enjoy from my balcony or while walking through the paths and the parks in Pihlajämäki, a rakkauslalu that grew to become my own voice of that period.
Sonata Arctica – "My Land"
I don't think it is possible to find, in all Sonata Arctica's discography, a song that's more connected to their own homeland than "My Land", a true hymn to freedom intertwined with the overwhelming desire to enjoy nature. These are, in fact, central and recurring elements in many of the lyrics of these five power metallers hailing from Kemi, but I believe it's just more than fair to honour this specific song, for it catches the sense of belonging Finns feel towards their land. It is not by mere chance that their national anthem is called "Maamme" (literally, "Our Land").
Call me obsessed, tell me I'm biased, but it's true: Tony Kakko and friends introduced me to metal and I wouldn't have become who I am now without them. This song is probably the top one of the band's best three ever.
Mokoma – "Valapatto"
I am originally from a small city in South-Eastern Finland, called Lappeenranta. The three previously mentioned groups [footnote: Kotiteollisuus, Mokoma, and Stam1na] all come from Lappeenranta, or nearby (Stam1na is froma Lemi, a municipality 15 kilometers from Lappeenranta). I lived through my teens listening to these bands so for me they are something special, especially Mokoma. I dare to say that they are my favorite band, no doubt about it.
Mokoma started with rock but then changed their style to thrash-death metal. During the recent years some softer influences in their music can be heard more clearly again. The song I chose to share with you is Valapatto from "Kuoleman Laulukunnaat" (2006), since I have an unforgettable memory of seeing the band for the first time playing in a bar in Lappeenranta in the beginning of 2009, a few months after I turned 18. They opened their set with this song and there was an instant mosh pit from the first beat on. My friends lost their shoes in the middle of this mayhem. What a night to remember!
Beherit – "The Gate Of Nanna"
In 2011 I flew to Helsinki to listen to the Ride for Revenge's "Under The Eye" preview. Where did those disgusting traits marked by ritual cadences come from?
Few other Finnish groups made so much fuss, bringing to the fore the name of their country of origin, like Beherit. Laughed at in the beginning, in 1993 presented "Drawing Down the Moon", in which the raw Black Metal bent to order, to ritual rhythms with suspicious New Wave hints and cold Industrial attitudes. These culminate in "The Gate Of Nanna", a radiant song as a December evening in the snowy suburbs of Turku.
The simple but effective composition was interpreted in different keys by many formations. Despite such veneration Beherit are still seen as some ugly and bad brats to be ignored when approaching. In short, they are under different points of view as the medium Finnish guy: reserved, controversial, proud but modest and crazy at the same time.
Antimateria – "Kun Aukeaa Mysteerit Kuoleman"
I'm probably one of the less Finland-loving Aristocrats: other countries had more importance in my musical formation and even after that I've always preferred more exotic places.
That said, sometimes I find some project which manages to fascinate me: with the one man band Antimateria, for example, was love at first listen. Mastermind Ahma's Black Metal is celestial and conceptually linked to the cosmic side of the genre, even if musically there are some differences with the bands that led it to success.
The light-darkness dichotomy represented by the collaboration between guitar and keyboard has its highest point in "Kun Aukeaa Mysteerit Kuoleman": the first create a light veil of introspective melancholy, while the latter teleport the minf in other astral planes; mid tempos further emphasize the contemplative and supernatural atmospheres of the song. The icing on the cake is the singing in Ahma's mother tongue, perfectly appropriate to tribute the Finnish land.