Metal Chick of the Month – Viktoria Viren

She’s armed… and she’s dangerous…

There isn’t a lot of personal details about our metal chick for this month, but I don’t think you’ll really care that much about it as our chosen one kicks some serious ass with her devilish growls, stunning looks and a badass attitude. Furthermore, if you’re a diehard fan of Swedish Melodic Death Metal titans Arch Enemy, nurturing a special admiration for their almost 15 years with the unparalleled screaming queen Angela Gossow on vocals, you’ll certainly have a blast listening to the ravishing singer Viktoria Viren, the frontwoman of Finnish Melodic Death Metal band Evil Drive, bursting her lungs and delivering high-voltage Heavy Metal with her bandmates, proving once again that the importance of women in extreme music is only growing more and more through the years. So keep your eyes and ears open, because whenever you see a “double V” in Melodic Death Metal, you know it’s going to be brutal, thrilling and, obviously, awesome.

Born on November 11, 1988 (I guess) somewhere in Russia (but also Finnish at heart), Viktoria started her career in heavy music at an early stage of her life, singing in various bands from when she was only 14 years old, with her first major festival happening a couple of years later, when she was 16, performing with a Death Metal band at the Vyborg Castle, a Swedish-built medieval fortress originally constructed in the 1290’s and one of the three major castles of Finland, around which the town of Viborg (today in Russia) evolved. You won’t find many videos of Viktoria from her early metal days, except for this 2012 footage of our diva (at that time part of a band named Alistaja, which I couldn’t find any information about) singing Megadeth’s neck-breaking all-time classic Symphony of Destruction, and this one with a band named Soulcrypt at the Vyborg Castle in 2010; however, based on this sole sample of what Viktoria can do with her voice, it’s easy to understand how she quickly progressed in music until reaching her status today with Evil Drive.

“It was 2004 and the only woman in a metal band that I knew of was Angela Gossow”, said Viktoria in one of her interviews, and that’s one of the main reasons why she decided to follow the path of guttural singing in heavy music. She mentioned that she really likes the growling and screaming, that it makes the music more powerful and energetic, and that she feels stronger when doing guttural. Viktoria also said that, although she could be doing some clean singing with Evil Drive, she doesn’t think that can properly transmit the power of their compositions to their fans. We saw something similar happening with Alissa White-Gluz when she left The Agonist and joined Arch Enemy, when she completely ditched her clean vocals and began doing only guttural for Michael Amott’s iconic band due to the nature of their songs and their musical direction. Maybe we’ll see Viktoria doing some clean singing one day, but for now let’s keep enjoying her beastly roars (as if that wasn’t awesome enough for us metalheads).

In regards to her band Evil Drive, I think we might say Viktoria and the band are one single entity. There’s no Viktoria Viren without Evil Drive, and vice-versa. Founded in 2013 in Kotka, a city located on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, by Viktoria, her husband and guitarist Ville Wiren (who by the way also plays for Finnish Symphonic Power/Gothic Metal band Domination Black), and drummer Juha Beck, the aim was to set up a band which has not been previously heard. All the musicians in the band have a history in a number of different bands and different genres, therefore incorporating many distinct musical styles into their compositions, sounding like a traditional Melodic Death Metal band with a twist of 80’s style Thrash Metal. When asked about the origin of the name “Evil Drive”, Viktoria mentioned the fusion of those two words has a strong influence on the band’s music, as everything they do and try to achieve is characterized by this name. The word “drive” connects to her love for motorcycles, energy and freedom, while “evil” was a wicked combination found by Viktoria, becoming a simple but powerful name in the end.

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In November 2013, Viktoria and her bandmates Ville Wiren (guitar), Niko Huusari (guitar), Marko Syrjala (bass) and Juha Beck (drums) released their debut self-titled EP, getting a lot of attention not only from the Finnish media, but from critics and fans all over the world. The EP consisted of four original songs that would later become part of their first full-length album, entitled The Land of the Dead, released in January 2016. In the official video for one of the tracks from the EP, the excellent Bullet, you can have a very good taste of what Evil Drive are capable of, providing a clear view of the musical direction the band was going to follow with their upcoming releases. The Land of the Dead, released in the beginning of 2016, contained the four songs from the Evil Drive EP plus six original belligerent tunes that helped cement the name of the band in the metallic scenario worldwide, in special in the world of Melodic Death Metal. You can check their two official videos recorded for the album, one for the song War, and the other for the title-track The Land of the Dead (which can be seen at the end of this essay), showcasing the evolution in their musicality and how their looks and the use of military imagery became a crucial part of the whole concept behind their music. Well, Viktoria and the rest of the band don’t need to worry too much about maintaining their warlike visual always fresh and renovated, as they have a healthy partnership with the highly acclaimed Finnish army supply store Varusteleka, making it easy for them to keep the war going.

In addition to that, the band even had some extra fuel to release the single Anti-Genocide on October 12, 2016, to be featured on their upcoming album which is scheduled to be released sometime this year. The new single, which features the band’s new guitarist Juha-Pekka Pusa (replacing Niko Huusari), offers the listener a different theme and feeling compared to The Land of the Dead, which was all about the current world politics and war, according to Viktoria herself. “The new track is about the history of the American Indians and about the fate they had to face when the white men came and took over their land”, said our gorgeous screamer, and as per the official video for the song you’ll be able to see the band truly immersed themselves in the topic, especially Viktoria with her awesome Indian attire.

As every metal band in the world, it’s when the musicians are performing live on stage that we finally know if the band is worth a place in Valhalla among the metal gods, right? Well, there’s a lot of good quality footage on YouTube where you can check Viktoria kicking fuckin’ ass with her Evil Drive, such as two videos from their first year as a band playing in St. Petersburg, Russia on November 22, 2013 (just click HERE and HERE); playing the song Screaming Soul at the now closed PRKL Club in Helsinki, Finland  on July 17, 2015; paying an awesome tribute to the iconic Lemmy and his Motörhead by playing a cover version of the classic Killed By Death at the traditional pub On The Rocks, also in Helsinki, on January 23, 2016; performing at the Finnish winter festival known as Metal Bath on March 4, 2016 in Hämeenlinna, Finland, as you can see in the songs War and again the Motörhead cover Killed By Death; and more recently playing their newest hymn Anti-Genocide live at Bar Bäkkäri in Helsinki on December 10, 2016.

When questioned if the presence of a frontwoman affects the career of a band, Viktoria said that in the past having a female band member attracted more attention because it was a world dominated predominantly by men, but today that’s not the case anymore. We see more and more talented women taking the stage on par with any male musician, and not only on vocals but in any other instrument. Viktoria also mentioned that over the years women have mastered the art of guttural singing, becoming more prominent in metal and, as a consequence, being more accepted in extreme music than before. She said the combination of factors such as the beauty, the strength and the unpredictability turn a female guttural singer into something mesmerizing, and we must agree with her it’s always astonishing to see a woman that looks delicate at first sight start screaming like a beast and headbanging like a maniac on stage, just like we got used to see with Angela Gossow, Alissa White-Gluz and many other exceptional growlers, don’t you agree?

Lastly, there couldn’t be a better place for Viktoria to live than Finland, a land that breathes Heavy Metal. When asked about how hard it is to find the right musicians in her homeland, our red-haired metaller said it’s actually quite easy to put a band together in Finland, as every other person is a guitarist, a bass player or a drummer, but that’s also extremely challenging to keep the band members working side by side in a productive and friendly way, as everyone has different ideas and visions on writing and making music. As long as Viktoria and her band members are able to keep working as a single powerful unity like what we’ve been witnessing with Evil Drive, the world of heavy music will remain happy and energized for more of her impactful demonic growls, no doubt about that.

Viktoria Viren’s Official Facebook page
Evil Drive’s Official Facebook page
Evil Drive’s Official Twitter
Evil Drive’s Official YouTube channel
Evil Drive’s Official Instagram

“Over the recent years females have shown to master the throat singing just as well as men. I think the interest in us is caused by many different factors: the beautiful, strong and the unpredictable – this is mesmerizing.” – Viktoria Viren

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Album Review – Teräsbetoni / Metallitotuus (2005)

The best Manowar album of all time not recorded by Manowar. And what’s even better, it’s entirely sung in Finnish.

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metallitotuusAs any normal person in the world, I developed a passion for a country very different from my own many years ago: the Republic of Finland. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? And I had some very good reasons for that, because especially in terms of music and drinks, Finland is way better than Brazil. So I started studying Finnish and saving money for the “trip of my dreams”, which finally happened in the beginning of 2006. I was able to see the snow for the first time (which now that I live in Canada doesn’t seem to be that cool anymore); I tried lots of different types of beer, vodka and other typical Finnish drinks; I made some really good friends; I saw Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and Lordi live, as well as a theatrical play with Tarja Turunen; and went to a heavy karaoke where I saw a guy singing an amazing song called Metallisydän. Wait, what the hell was that song? What band was that?

Then the next day or the other one (of course I don’t remember exactly when), I went to a nice pub called On the Rocks, and there was this cover band playing some classics from Queen, Rolling Stones etc., when they played another powerful heavy song in Finnish called Taivas Lyö Tulta from that same band, and that was more than enough to make me ask a guy at the pub the name of the band and run to a record store the next day to buy their album. This is the story of how I discovered the Power Metal band Teräsbetoni (“Reinforced Concrete” in English) and bought their debut album, the almost perfect Metallitotuus (“Metal Truth” in English), one of the best, if not THE best, Power Metal album of the past 10 years at least (and a million light-years better than anything Manowar has produced since Louder Than Hell).

terasbetoniThe album starts in the most powerful way possible with a track that has the same name as the band, Teräsbetoni (Reinforced Concrete), which could easily be used as the Finnish National Army’s anthem. It’s impossible not to compare each part of the song with some old Manowar classics, and I’m pretty sure that was the band’s original intention. The next track is one of my favorites: Älä Kerro Meille (Don’t Tell Us) has an amazing riff and the lyrics have that message about the fight for freedom and making your own decisions. Then comes my top Teräsbetoni track of all, not only of this album: Taivas Lyö Tulta (Sky Strikes Fire) is the perfect “battle track”, with a superb chorus that even if you don’t know a single word in Finnish you’ll start singing it as soon as you listen to it. This is a masterpiece that could have been a Manowar classic in a parallel world, if Manowar hasn’t become the most arrogant and laziest band in the world of Heavy Metal.

The following tracks might not be as good as the first three, but they’re very interesting in terms of riffs and rhythm: Vahva Kuin Metalli (Strong as Metal) and Silmä Silmästä (Eye for an Eye). Then comes another instant classic called Metallisydän (Metal Heart), a beautiful ballad I heard for the first time at that heavy karaoke I mentioned and that until today makes my “metal heart” beat stronger, and the funny Orjatar (Slavewoman), which in my opinion was some kind of tribute (or joke?) to Manowar’s Pleasure Slave. Anyway, it’s an awesome tune for all headbanging girls of the world.

The last part of the album keeps the energy level up with the fast and heavy Tuonelaan (To the Underworld); the title-track Metallitotuus (Metal Truth); another of my favorites Voittamaton (Invincible), which has the most Manowar-ish riff and drums of all (it sounds a lot like Fighting the World); and the interesting Teräksen Varjo (Shadow of Steel). The ONLY crappy song of all is the last one, Maljanne Nostakaa (Raise Your Cup), not due to its instrumental which is fairly good, but the singing done by Arto Järvinen makes you skip this track and go back to the beginning of the album. It’s simply mediocre.

digipak

Metallitotuus special digipak front cover

The front cover is a piece of junk (albeit not as bad as this one, and besides you can be lucky to find the special digipak version anyway), Jarkko Ahola oversings 99% of the time, and their Manowar-ish lyrics didn’t add much to my limited Finnish vocabulary, but I don’t really care about those minor details. Metallitotuus is pure Heavy Metal, and a very exciting album to listen to at any occasion.

Teräsbetoni, as well as many excellent European bands, are really underrated in North America.  Add to that the fact they do not sing in English and are in an indefinite career hiatus and it seems absolutely impossible to see them one day playing live here in Canada. Anyway, despite all that, it’s a band definitely worth listening to, which has recorded some very good albums with Metallitotuus being their biggest masterpiece. Let’s just hope they get back in action, and that for the power of Odin they somehow come to Toronto for at least one single concert.

Best moments of the album: Taivas Lyö Tulta, Älä Kerro Meille, Metallisydän and Voittamaton.

Worst moments of the album: Maljanne Nostakaa, mainly due to the horrible singing as I mentioned before.

Released in 2005 Warner Music Finland

Track listing
1. Teräsbetoni 5:54
2. Älä Kerro Meille 3:29
3. Taivas Lyö Tulta 3:21
4. Vahva Kuin Metalli 3:02
5. Silmä Silmästä 3:41
6. Metallisydän 5:27
7. Orjatar 3:11
8. Tuonelaan 3:33
9. Metallitotuus 4:30
10. Voittamaton 3:50
11. Teräksen Varjo 4:32
12. Maljanne Nostakaa 6:05

Band members
Jarkko Ahola – lead vocals, bass
Arto Järvinen – guitar, vocals
Viljo Rantanen – guitar
Jari Kuokkanen – drums