Finland

Review: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Location: Kitee, Finland
Genre: Symphonic/Power Metal
Released: March 27, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

Third time is the charm, right? With Floor Jansen now at the mic for Nightwish, it just might be.

Finland’s largest cultural export (other than the indestructible Nokia brick phones and Angry Birds) decided to go Dutch by bringing in Floor (After Forever, ReVamp, and a ton of Arjen Lucassen’s projects) after the departure of Anette Olzon (who herself is Swedish). Marco Hietala, the band’s bassist and vocalist, called Floor a perfect fit for the band, and it’s not hard to see why. Although Anette did an admirable job with the more ambitious direction Nightwish wanted to take, Nightwish is at its best with a classically trained soprano on board.

Tuomas Halopainen, the leader of Nightwish as well as the man who brought you The Life and Times of Scrooge, wants the listener to hear this album from front to back, and that goal is reflected in the album’s rich composition. There isn’t a single track here that isn’t at least somewhat enjoyable. I might have made an exception for “Élan,” which served as the lead single*, but it built up into a worthwhile number towards the end. I’m also not a huge fan of “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula,” an instrumental that I’m told was originally supposed to have vocals before the band called an audible, but I don’t have any legitimate complaints about the track other than the desire to hear what Floor can do with this song.

“Weak Fantasy” and “Yours Is An Empty Hope” both have a strong Symphony X vibe to them, especially the latter. The band grabbed Wintersun/Swallow The Sun drummer Kai Hahto to fill in for this album’s recording, which might help explain some of the album’s heavier elements. Floor particularly shows well in “Empty Hope” and a later track, “Alpenglow.” Even the ballads, which have been boring on previous albums, are enjoyable here. “Our Decades In The Sun” holds the flag for the ballads, while “My Walden” has a very interesting male vocal solo in the introduction that sets the stage for the rest of the track.

The biggest standout here is not any particular song (and most of them are quite good), but rather the production. It’s the closest to a flawless production mix that I’ve heard this year, and the balance of folk instruments along with the usual metal instrumentation in the mix is fantastic. The only noticeable slip-up is in the 24-minute (!) finale, “The Greatest Show On Earth,” which has loud bursts of sound in the beginning that sound like they were recorded during a building demolition. That song, while good and powerful in some places, is unequivocally too long for its own good. I understand the Symphony X influence here, but trying to out-Odyssey The Odyssey isn’t going to get you many victories.

Minor gripes aside, this is a by-and-large enjoyable album that should be quite accessible both in and out of the metal community. The general concept of the album, mostly revolving around the meaning of life and how short it is, adds to that feeling of accessibility.

Overall: The best Nightwish album since Oceanborn. Seriously.

Rating: 3.5* 

*What is with this trend of bands and/or labels putting the worst song of the album as lead single? I’ve called Nightwish, Devin Townsend, and Blind Guardian on it within the last five months, and they aren’t the only ones. I thought the purpose of putting out singles was to get people to buy your albums, not bore them into submission.

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ATF Review: Stam1na – Nocebo

Location: Lemi, Finland
Genre: Progressive/Thrash Metal
Released: February 8, 2012
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

My first exposure to Stam1na, one of the most popular metal bands in Finland (most Americans and other countries don’t know who they are, although that could change on their upcoming tour through Europe), came in 2012 during the Finnish Metal Meeting, in which they played a headlining set. They were quite entertaining, but their greatness didn’t sink in further for a couple years. Their most recent effort, SLK, is another likely ATF nominee, and most of their previous works would also rate very highly. But this particular album has kept me captivated in many ways.

It starts rather unassumingly with “Pirunpaska,” roughly translated as “damn shit.” The first few seconds sounds like the beeping sound of a microwave, but it quickly turns into a track with many different riffs and a chromatically lyricized chorus. This is one of the more upbeat tracks on Nocebo, and the best example of this is the bridge that occupies a large section from about 2:10 to 3:00.

“Valtiaan Uudet Vaateet” has a main riff that would have perfectly blended into an early Mastodon album. The chorus is also extremely catchy, capturing the essence of “scream singing,” with the emphasis on the clean aspect of the vocals. There’s also a nice guitar lead that isn’t overly showoff-ish but is extremely effective in crafting a melody. The shortest and thrashiest track on this album is “Tavastia Palamaan,” except for its catchy chorus, which is a common theme for this band. The same goes for crafting innovative bridge sections.

“Puolikas Ihminen” is slightly less thrashy than the previous track, although it has its aggressive moments. Even in its thrash sections, it still carries an upbeat sound. There’s even elements of classic country in this track’s bridge section, because…why not? It all flows so well that it really doesn’t make a difference. “Aivohalvus” is another thrashing track with another utterly fantastic bridge section. They have the elements of songwriting down to a T, and it only gets better from here.

The second half starts with “Rabies,” which contains another quasi-Mastodon riff, and I swear that I’m hearing a metalized version of an oldies song in the pre-chorus, if it can even be called that since it only shows up once. This track has the proggiest structure on here and is a highly recommended listen. The next track, “Lepositeet,” has an intro that resembles the Finnish Santana talking sensually to you while playing a beautiful riff (which comes back later) before turning into a midtempo number. Even as one of the weaker tracks on this album, it’s still solid by all metrics.

The last three tracks are among the album’s best, and would compare favorably to any consecutive three tracks on most albums. First is “Nomad,” which is the only Stam1na track across their six albums to be sung entirely in English. This sounds like it started as a creative reworking of Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” which I am quite fond of in comparison to other post-Master of Puppets tracks, but “Nomad” goes far beyond the latter and morphs into a track similar to “Rabies” in structure, but is more engaging and has a great solo.

“Ei Encorea,” or “No Encore,” is another fun listen that I can’t really put my finger on in terms of describing it. It’s thrashy, while not being thrash metal, and proggy, while still carrying a relatively traditional structure. The ending, which takes the galloping chugga riff with its clean, melodic vocals, is one of the more unique features of this already creative effort. Lastly, “Arveton on Arvoton,” or “Scarless is Worthless,” has the best damn chorus on this album, and the bridge is simply stellar. Guided by a grooving bass, it unexpectedly takes a left turn into Breakdownland. For those who are trying to figure out how to make breakdowns work, this is how it’s fucking done. The chorus changes key signatures for the last go-around before fading out gracefully.

There seems to be an argument in the metal community (what? Metalheads arguing with each other? I’m shocked!) about the existence of modern thrash metal, and why it still exists. There’s one group saying “Screw that; Slayer did it 30 years ago and these new guys are posers.” The other side says “Hey man, these new thrash bands are different.” With respect to bands like Warbringer and Havok, both of whom I like, they’re not as innovative as I’d like them to be and would probably score a 3.5 or so on review (although Warbringer’s debut might be worthy of a 4.0). Stam1na, on the other hand, is way out there in terms of reinventing thrash metal. It doesn’t even feel like you’re listening to a thrash metal album, and frankly, based on what I can make of their lyrics, I don’t think the members of Stam1na really care about any of this nonsense.

The fact that they have reached as much acclaim as they have in their home country is either nothing short of a miracle, or a testament to how awesome Finland is as a country. Because when was the last time a truly innovative American band won a Grammy for hard rock/metal song or album? And for that matter, when was the last time anyone in the United States gave a crap about that particular category?

Anywho, this album rules. Stam1na rules. Listen to them.

Overall: This is right up there with Anathema’s Weather Systems for “Best Album of 2012.” 

Rating: 4.5*

Review: Edge Of Haze – Illumine

Location: Espoo, Finland
Genre: Progressive/Symphonic Doom Metal
Release: August 21, 2014
Format: MP3 (192 kbps)
Feature: Global Conquest – Upcoming Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

I know I’m not alone in saying that there are albums that start out deceptively strong and have some innovative qualities to them, but then come away disappointed in the final outcome. Unfortunately, Edge Of Haze’s second album fits that description, but with a couple of caveats. 

“Drawn” opens off Illumine on a fantastic note; there are signs of progressive instrumentation, much in the vein of Haken. The vocals sound like they could have been delivered from Soen’s front man, which I consider to be a high compliment. It takes a while to build into it, but the payoff is quite rewarding. There’s also a section of this track that almost takes on a lounge feel to it, further pointing the needle towards Haken and their over-the-top instrumental breaks. So far, we’re off to a promising start.

Most of the tracks that follow, however, sound way too much like their fellow countryman Insomnium, who I already wrote a mixed review of earlier this year. With that said, there are some nice touches of synth, especially in “Unlearn,” and the intro to “Into The Red Sun” sounds like A Natural Disaster-era Anathema, which was a nice change of pace. 

The final two tracks return to the vibe that “Drawn” started. They don’t sound similar by a long shot; in fact, one could hear some djent or -core influences put in. It’s done in a tasteful way that makes a unique contribution to this album’s sound. The ending to “Newfound Horizon” is another unexpectedly pleasant twist.

Illumine is based loosely off of the plot from Escape From Camp 14. Those who have read the book may appreciate the lyrical content, which is already good by this genre’s generally standards, more. 

Overall: Very uneven. There’s parts of this that make me want to come back for more, while other parts are merely just tagging along for the ride.

Rating: 3.0*

 

Review: Children Of Bodom – Hate Crew Deathroll

Location: Espoo, Finland
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Released: January 7, 2003
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Library Randomizer

By: Kris Kotlarik

I have always pictured Children Of Bodom as a band that would be more fun to watch live than their studio albums would indicate, and Hate Crew Deathroll is no exception.

The best song here is the opener, “Needled 24/7.” There’s a brief but majestic synth solo which can also be heard in “Chokehold” and “You’re Better Off Dead.” The last two tracks, “Lil’ Bloodred Ridin’ Hood” and the title track, are among the album’s fastest and are above average. The rest are merely okay or worse, with “Angels Don’t Kill” sounding like new-era Sabaton (read: slow and cheesy) in melodeath form. There are some decent moments; “Bodom Beach Terror” has a cool bridge riff following the first verse. The ending to “You’re Better Off Dead” sounds like a stripped-down version of Painkiller’s intro and continues into “Lil’ Bloodred.” Otherwise there isn’t a lot of unique parts to draw me in.

Unfortunately, Children Of Bodom wound up on a similar career path with their Swedish counterparts, In Flames. If you’re looking for some Bodom to sink your teeth into, start with their debut, Something Wild, work your way through Follow The Reaper, and ignore everything else that came after that (including this) until their most recent release, Halo Of Blood, which is a modest return to form. I can see how other fans would enjoy Hate Crew Deathroll and the album that follows, Are You Dead Yet?, but both albums don’t pack the consistent punch that their stronger works contain.

Overall: Needs more synth solos. And perhaps a U.S. tour. 

Rating: 2.0*

Review: Dawn Of Solace – The Darkness

Location: Lahti, Finland
Genre: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Released: May 26, 2006
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Diving For Treasure

By: Kris Kotlarik

The genre tag is a little misleading, in my opinion; there’s not much of a death metal vibe from Dawn Of Solace’s only album, but the melodic doom metal part definitely makes sense. The band makes solid use of acoustic instruments and clean vocals in addition to fairly standard doom metal lyricism and instrumentation. The problem is that most of the songs don’t go anywhere.

By my count, there are two stellar songs; “Dead Air” has the best example of the aforementioned clean vocals that occurs throughout the track, and the ending is especially heavy The Darkness‘s standards. “Wrath Of Gods Amongst Us” has shades of prog and has a particularly impressive section of dual growling vocals.

The intro, “Dying Daylight,” as well as “Winter Song” and closer “Avalanche,” are all space fillers with some combination of ambient noise, acoustic guitars and repetitive patterns that don’t progress. Out of the other three tracks, which I consider to be alright but not spectacular, “I Am Chaos, I Am Destruction” comes closest to being a top song but doesn’t quite get there; it starts building up midway through and really brings it home towards the end, but the first half is forgettable. “Wings Of Darkness” and “I Was Never There” both drag on for too long and would have been better served with a couple minutes chopped off.

Overall: Not a bad album by any means, but there isn’t much to make me want to come back for more.

Rating: 2.5*

Review: Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

Location: Joensuu, Finland
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Released: April 25, 2014
Format reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Anyone who has talked to me for five minutes probably knows that Finland is my home away from home. I love it there; it’s a place where education actually makes sense, and it’s possible to get highs in the 60’s in the summer. Add Finland’s love of heavy metal (particularly its folk metal bands) to the mix, and it makes me wonder why I haven’t simply just moved there already.

During the summer of 2012, following my semester in Tampere, I went to Tuska in Helsinki. Insomnium played the smaller tent stage to a packed house and had a great set. While their newest release, Shadows of the Dying Sun, brought back some of those moments, many parts of Shadows didn’t resonate with me as much as I would’ve liked. The parts that did resonate with me, however, represent a big step forward for the band.

The bottom line is that this album sounds a little bit too much like a less anarchic/angry version of Arch Enemy. Depending on how you feel about Arch Enemy, this might be a good thing.

The main offenders are the ballad tracks and occasionally repetitive lyrics. Take these lyrics from “While We Sleep,” for example:

“When your heart gives out and your love collapses
When the hand that never lets go is there no more
When you reap and sow only throe and resentment
When there’s no one else but you to blame it for

When all you ever wish for is to go back once more
When all you ever wish for is to change it all
When all you feel is remorse, pain and regret
When you dwell in the past unable to move on”

The lyrics are relatable, but they don’t really go anywhere. With that said, there is a lovely guitar break towards the end that I’ll probably revisit several times.

“Lose To Night” and “The Promethean Song” are two balladesque tracks that feature minimal progression lyrically and are the two most skippable songs on this album. “Ephemeral” is rather poppy in its structure, which I can somewhat understand given the chorus:

“Dying doesn’t make this world dead to us
Breathing doesn’t keep the flame alive in us
Dreaming doesn’t make time less real for us
One life
One chance
All ephemeral”

Ephemeral means “lasting for a very short time.” Given the sound, I interpret the lyrics as making the most of what little relative time we have, which again comes across as very poppy. That’s not inherently a bad thing; it just doesn’t feel right in this song.

My favorite songs on Shadows are “Revelation,” “Black Heart Rebellion,” and “The River.” The latter two tracks sound like they could have been paired with Die Apokalylptischen Reiter’s “Auferstehen Soll In Herrlichkeit” from Licht. Both tracks contain some pummeling blast beats, and “The River” in particular has a fantastic layered vocal bridge.

“Revelation” is another uptempo song to a lesser extent that features some of the best all-around drumming on Shadows and also features some fantastic use of vocal dynamics. Other strong moments include a nice guitar melody in the back half of “Primeval Dark,” and the title track is a solid ending to this record.

The production here is well done and in addition to the multiple examples of vocal dynamics, the musicianship is also excellent and is surprisingly diverse as far as melodic death metal albums are concerned.

Overall: Although large chunks of this album are at least somewhat forgettable, “Black Heart Rebellion” and “The River” are more than enough to salvage it. “Revelation” and the title track further bolster Insomnium’s sixth album. 

Rating: 3.0*