Monday, May 20, 2013

Metal Scenes: Finland

Key Release: Once (2004)

You know you’ve made it when people are lining up to write movies to your soundtrack. Perhaps Finland's most famous metal band, Nightwish has crossed over into the mainstream with its keyboard-driven power metal, often accompanied by a full orchestra. Long-time vocalist Tarja Turnunen was fired in 2007 – though not before an extremely emotional and bombastic final concert that became the End of an Era DVD – and new singer Annette Olzon has taken the band in a more mainstream direction with increased commercial success. The backbone of the band has always been keyboardist and songwriter Tuomas Holopainen, who also handles the symphonic accompaniments. Nightwish’s most recent effort, Imaginaerum, is set to be released as a feature film later this year.

Key Release: Follow the Reaper (2000)
Children of Bodom

Love it or hate it, Children of Bodom have undeniably made an impact on popular notions of metal. Led by virtuoso guitarist Alexi Laiho, the band has toured worldwide and reached the US Billboard 200, and is one of the best-selling artists in Finland with over a quarter million records sold in their homeland and three straight #1’s. With a style lying somewhere between death and power metal – early efforts such as the seminal Follow the Reaper touched on black metal and symphnic, also – COB has a diverse palette and the knack for crafting infectious melodies and choruses. Along with Cradle of Filth, it is one of the first extreme metal bands to reach star status in the United States.

Key Relase: Silent Waters (2007)

Drawing on ancient Finnish history and legends for inspiration, Amorphis has evolved from a small death metal band to a crossover juggernaut in its twenty-three years. Incorporating folk elements and traditional melodies, the sextet has extended the boundaries of metal in its native country with their consistently strong efforts such as Silent Waters (2007) and Skyforger (2009). Its newest album, Circle, became its fourth chart-topper and reached #11 on the USA’s Heatseekers list, despite breaking away from the band's traditional subject matter (the Kalevala, or Epic Poem of Finland), and being made with new producer Paul Tagtgren (Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Amon Amarth, Hypocrisy).

Key Release: Wintersun (2004)

Fans of Wintersun’s groundbreaking debut were promised a new album for nine years, and Jari Maenpaa (who does everything but drum) finally delivered last winter. Time I, the first of two albums in the works since 2004, proved that there was plenty left in the tank for one of the most anticipated solo projects in recent memory. With soaring guitar leads and a full orchestral backing, Wintersun’s sound may not be entirely unique but it is certainly potent. Wintersun drew comparisons to Yngwie Malmsteen’s guitar pyrotechnics, and was seen by many fans as the album that should have been released by Maenpaa’s previous band Ensiferum.

Key Release: Ensiferum (2001)

Speaking of which, Finland’s premier “heroic folk metal” band has had itself a pretty good run since 1992. Ensiferum picked up where metal pioneer Quorthon (and his project Bathory) left off, using Vikings and Norse history as the basis for its concoction of melodic metal and pastoral folk music. The band's eponymous debut grabbed the attention of fans around Europe with high-energy songwriting that focused more on memorable hooks and melodies despite its members’ obvious technical ability, influencing power metal bands worldwide ever since. Though its recent efforts have yet to reach the heights of Ensiferum and its successor Iron (the band made the mistake of axing vocalist and guitarist Jari Maenpaa for spending too much time on Wintersun), the band is still a well-respected founding member of Finland’s metal scene.

Key Release: Silence (2001)
Sonata Arctica

Like most power metal, Sonata Arctica can get pretty corny with its lyrics, but that hasn’t stopped fans from eating up the band’s soaring harmonies and anthemic songwriting. After changing its name and adopting the power metal style that had long been brewing in Germany, the band evolved a more uplifting approach heavy on synthesizers and major-chord choruses. The quintet maintains a diverse approach to its music, giving each album a unique twist – particularly the band's first four efforts, which solidified its place at the front of European power metal alongside such luminaries as Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, and Helloween.

Key Release: They Will Return (2002)

Since 1998, Kalmah has been machining high-octane death metal with commendable consistency. Set to release their seventh album this June, the band seems to have flown under the radar compared to contemporaries such as Dark Tranquility and Soilwork, but this oversight certainly isn’t due to a lack of quality material. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case for Kalmah’s second album They Will Return being a genre classic, and five of its six LP’s are generally held in high regard. Brothers Pekka and Antti Kokko consistently impress with their gargantuan riffs and hooks, shaking things up a bit with each new release, and drummer Janne Kusmin is among the best in the business at laying down creative and powerful rhythms.

Metal Scenes is a weekly column highlighting prominent metal acts from the same city or area. Next week's scene will be Los Angeles, California.

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