Album Review – Whispered / Metsutan – Songs Of The Void (2016)

Armed with their powerful fusion of Melodic Death Metal and eccentric sounds from the East, these unstoppable Scandinavian samurais strike again with another thrilling tribute to the Japanese culture.

Rating4

whispered2400pixThe term “Samurai Metal” might not make sense to most fans of heavy music who have never had any contact with Melodic Death/Power Metal act Whispered. And if you think the band hails from Japan, you’re absolutely wrong, as those metallic samurais come from a country well-known for their Heavy Metal bands, but that has nothing to do with the Japanese culture and history. Whispered are a group formed in 2004 in the city of Tampere, Finland by lead singer and guitarist Jouni Valjakka, and despite all members having a pure Scandinavian background, their hearts are filled with the passion, talent and courage of real samurais from the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

It’s not only their Samurai-inspired face-painting, outfits and lyrics that refer to the ancient Japanese culture, but the music itself is a fusion of Scandinavian Melodic Death Metal with Japanese folk music, blending heavy riffs and growls with the sounds of traditional instruments such as the shamisen, the shakuhachi and the koto. After releasing their debut album Thousand Swords in 2010 and the more brutal Shogunate Macabre in 2014, both which led them to share the stage with renowned Finnish bands like Korpiklaani, Turisas and Ensiferum, appearing in major festivals like Tuska Open Air and Nummirock, and even supporting Battle Beast during their 2013 tour in Japan, it’s time for Whispered to strike again with their guitars and katanas in Metsutan – Songs Of The Void, their third full-length installment.

The very entertaining intro Chi No Odori (or “the dance of Chi” in English), with all its wicked sounds and voices, tells the listener the battle is about to begin in the fast-paced hymn Strike!, with its lyrics depicting the relationship between a Samurai warrior and his sword (“And he moves / with the swift pace unrivaled / unseen by the aspirants’ eyes / And he knows / in his heart so unbridled / That he’ll soon execute / the flawless / STRIKE!”). This is the perfect example of how awesome the mix of Melodic Death Metal with Orient Metal (as well as other elements from Japanese culture) can be, with the guitars by Jouni and his fellow swordsman Mikko Mattila adding a lot of electricity to the musicality. Exile Of The Floating World is fury to the second power, a melodic devastation led by drummer Jussi Kallava where the elements from the East become even more evident; followed by Sakura Omen, a thrilling Melodic Power Metal madness showcasing Arch Enemy-inspired riffs and a headbanging rhythm in what is undoubtedly one of the best of all tracks in the album. At this point of Metsutan – Songs Of The Void, there’s absolutely no doubt that “epicness” is a word that can be used to describe all songs by Whispered, don’t you agree?

whispered_promopicWhile listening to Kensei (or “restraint” in English), it truly felt like watching a Japanese anime or a tokusatsu due to its totally adventurous pace and background elements. However, it’s the band’s furious Melodic Death Metal that stands out in this good composition where once again Jussi is relentless on drums; whereas in Our Voice Shall Be Heard the band simply slashes the listener with their razor-edged instruments, with all atmospheric breaks, guitar solos and ancient sounds being inserted in the right place and moment, therefore boosting the song’s impact. And in Tsukiakari (or “moonlight”), the second longest track of the album, a calm intro represents the serenity of our warriors before heading into the battle, with highlights to its melodious passages and riffage following the lines of classic Swedish Melodic Death Metal.

Warriors Of Yama, a three-minute instrumental track that pays homage to the Asian culture, introduces us to the violent Victory Grounds Nothing, with its lyrics portraying the fortunes of a Samurai life (“Age of strife has finally turned away / Fear so strong and sound fades to bliss of the day / Bloodstains on the sword will scene the tale / manifold test of might, honor, verdict and pain”). This high-speed composition feels like a sharp sword cutting our flesh, where Jussi and bassist Kai Palo craft a solid base for Jouni and Mikko to keep delivering their blazing riffs. And lastly, we have Bloodred Shores of Enoshima, the longest and most epic of all tracks divided in 5 distinguished acts: “五頭龍 – Gozuryu”, “The Chord of a Goddess”, “Divine Affection”, “The Fury of the Five” and “龍口山 – Tatsu-no-kuchi Yama”. Each act has its purpose, ranging from imposing and symphonic instrumental passages to pure metallic music led by the growls by Jouni, all enhanced by its outstanding background choir until it reaches its climatic ending, resulting in a masterpiece of the East.

Featuring a powerful artwork by Japanese artist ToK, Metsutan – Songs Of The Void can be purchased from Record Shop X, iTunes or Amazon, and in case you want to know more about this exciting fusion of Scandinavian and Japanese music you can go check the band’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and SoundCloud. As an admirer of both Finnish and Japanese cultures, I must say it’s impressive how these Scandinavian samurais are capable of creating such a powerful fusion of Melodic Death Metal and different sounds from the East without sounding cheesy, incongruous or even desultory. And that, in the current state of heavy music, is definitely worth gold.

Best moments of the album: Strike!, Victory Grounds Nothing and Bloodred Shores of Enoshima.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2016 Inverse Records

Track listing
1. Chi No Odori 1:51
2. Strike! 4:50
3. Exile Of The Floating World 4:12
4. Sakura Omen 7:31
5. Kensei 5:29
6. Our Voice Shall Be Heard 5:43
7. Tsukiakari 8:05
8. Warriors Of Yama (Instrumental) 3:07
9. Victory Grounds Nothing 3:20
10. Bloodred Shores of Enoshima 11:23

Band members
Jouni Valjakka – vocals, guitar
Mikko Mattila – guitar
Kai Palo – bass
Jussi Kallava – drums

Advertisements

Album Review – Vorna / Ei Valo Minua Seuraa (2015)

A stunning expedition through the depths of human mind, crafted by proficient Finnish metallers whom no light follows.

Rating3

vorna_cover640As I stated earlier this year in the review for the self-titled debut album by Stoner/Progressive Metal band Sata Kaskelottia, and also in the review for the 2005 classic Metallitotuus, by Power Metal band Teräsbetoni, anytime I receive material from a band from the land of ice and snow that’s sung in their mother tongue I get quite excited about what I’m about to listen to. It couldn’t be any different with Finnish Black/Pagan Metal orchestra Vorna (named after a character from the Finnish folklore), who have just release their second full-length album, an incredible full-bodied expedition through the depths of human mind entitled Ei Valo Minua Seuraa (or “No Light Follows Me”, in English).

Dealing with themes like nature, myths and struggles of mind, this ascendant six-piece group formed in 2008 in Tampere, Finland are an exquisite treat for all fans of Black, Pagan and Folk Metal, and their new album will blow your mind no matter how much you love (or even hate) those subgenres of metal music. From its minimalistic and gorgeous artwork, designed by Jarno Lahti (KAAMOS Illustration & Design Studio), to its intricate passages and somber atmosphere, Ei Valo Minua Seuraa offers all metalheads a memorable feast of darkness, all spiced up by the uniqueness of the Finnish language, of course.

The name chosen for the album is already legitimated by its opening track, the pleasant and dark Harmaudesta (“Away from Grey”), where the orchestrations blend perfectly with the harsh vocals by Vesa Salovaara, while the obscure keyboard notes by Saku Myyryläinen, together with the precise drumming by Mikael Vanninen, boost the song’s impact significantly. In Jälkemme (“Heritage”), a sense of epicness emanates through its soaring ambience, inducing a strong feeling that the battle is about to begin. In addition to that, Arttu Järvisalo and Henri Lammintausta do an excellent job with their flaming guitars by adding elements of Black and Viking Metal to their riffs.

vorna_promophoto_2015Their symphony of darkness goes on with a fusion of Melodic Black Metal and the band’s core Pagan Metal in Itsetön (“Soul Shriven”), a hellish waltz flawlessly crafted by the entire band until everything morphs into a melancholic ending; whereas Sieluni Varjossa (“In the Nightside of Self”) presents a sharper sonority thanks to the beats by Mikael and to the solid and resonant bass lines by Niilo Könönen. Moreover, the second half of the song is pure obscurity, perfect for afflicting your soul before the serene Vaipunut (“Of Life Descended”) arises full of melancholy and sorrow. It’s almost like a Dark Metal ballad, very interesting and gripping, showcasing the band’s versatility and Vesa’s clean vocals, which sound as powerful as his guttural.

All that sorrow keeps flowing in the amazing Yksin (“Alone”), with Saku leading Vorna’s metallic orchestra while Arttu and Henri continue to darken the music with their riffs, turning this song not only into the best of all tracks but, more important than that, into a beautiful aria of solitude, fear and sadness. And Vorna lead the listener to one final fight in Hiljaiset Rauniot (“Silent Ruins”), an emotive and razor-sharp chant with an inspiring intro and atmospheric keyboards, and where you can feel death is imminent through both the growls and clean vocals by Vesa, efficiently ending such a distinct album.

This proficient Finnish orchestra can be reached at their official Facebook page and YouTube channel, and their Stygian concerto Ei Valo Minua Seuraa can be purchased through the Inverse Store, Record Shop X or CDON.COM. Indeed no light follows Vorna, but that doesn’t mean their music is dull or unreverberant. Quite the contrary, Ei Valo Minua Seuraa is doubtless one of the brightest releases of the year.

Best moments of the album: Jälkemme, Vaipunut and Yksin.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2015 Inverse Records

Track listing
1. Harmaudesta 3:57
2. Jälkemme 7:37
3. Itsetön 8:07
4. Sieluni Varjossa 6:58
5. Vaipunut 3:47
6. Yksin 6:40
7. Hiljaiset Rauniot 8:48

Band members
Vesa Salovaara – vocals
Arttu Järvisalo – guitars
Henri Lammintausta – guitars
Niilo Könönen – bass
Saku Myyryläinen – keyboards
Mikael Vanninen – drums

Metal Chick of the Month – Noora Louhimo

noora01

Let It Roar, Noora!

It is a well-known fact that all Finnish women are pretty and charming, absolutely no doubt about that. But it’s when a girl from the land of ice and snow releases her inner beast that things get even more exciting, which is exactly the case with our Metal Chick of the Month, the ravishing Noora Louhimo, lead singer of Finnish Heavy Metal band Battle Beast. And if you don’t like the voice and the looks of this blonde “warrior princess”, honestly, I don’t know what to say.

Noora was born on November 6, 1988 in Tampere, Finland, around 180km north of the capital Helsinki, and she has been singing since she was only 4 years old. She had many hobbies before she started focusing on singing, such as dancing, acting, drawing, painting and anything else she could do to express herself. When she was around 13 years old, she had her first band at school, singing Finnish pop songs as well as love ballads from artists like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.

Despite being a huge fan of Heavy Metal from the 80’s when she was a teenager, when she was 16 years old she had some classical singing lessons, before starting to study music in a more Pop/Jazz-line and doing some jam sessions at bars at the age of 19. That was also when she found her first band, called Admiral Octopus, at a place called BluesBar. The band used to play Rock N’ Roll and Blues from the 60’s, 70’s, and also songs from Janis Joplin, which according to Noora herself is the reason why she got the rasp in her voice. After Admiral Octopus, Noora took part in a singing competition called “Wanna Be A Rock N’ Roll Star” at a place called Henry’s Pub, also in Tampere, and guess what? She won the competition singing Janis Joplin’s classic Piece of My Heart. That’s how her single Relax was born, and that’s pretty much her history before joining Battle Beast.

It was during autumn in 2012, right after Battle Beast finished touring some summer rock festivals in Finland, that singer Nitte Valo, who was with the band since its inception in 2008, announced to be leaving the band due to family issues. In September 2012, guitarist Anton Kabanen found Noora by accident on YouTube when he was searching for a new vocalist for Battle Beast, and after a couple of calls Noora accepted the challenge to be the new frontwoman of the band. In 2013 our blonde diva recorded her first full-length release with the band, the powerful self-titled album Battle Beast, and more recently the also amazing Unholy Saviour, in January 2015.

The Finnish lioness mentioned in one of her interviews that she does many different exercises with her voice, rest it when needed and then a lot more, and also that working out is a very important part of keeping her vocals in a good shape. Whatever she’s actually doing with her voice, it’s working more than perfectly, as we can notice in her excellent performance on a Finnish television program in 2014 singing the song Into the Heart of Danger, her contributions to the good song Satans of Swing by Finnish band Somehow Jo! and to the inspiring Eye to Eye by Swiss Melodic Power Metal band Crystal Ball, and also singing one of her favorite songs from Battle Beast, the electrifying tune Let It Roar. One interesting fact about her singing style is that, as much as she wants to sound like a female singer with “balls”, she wants to sound feminine and sexy at the same time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In regards to her main influences in life, our warrior princess doesn’t only sing Heavy Metal, but a huge variety of music genres such as Soul, Rock, Blues, among others, and those different styles are what keep her in balance and inspired as a singer. As aforementioned, she started listening to metal music when she was 16 years old, and that “fire” started actually with Guns N’ Roses. When she heard Welcome to the Jungle for the first time, she knew there was no coming back. Then there came Dio, Judas Priest, W.A.S.P. and of course Iron Maiden. Although her list of influences is endless, including names such as Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, Ronnie James Dio, Whitney Houston, Blackie Lawless, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Michael Jackson, Axl Rose and many more, her biggest idols in music are first Janis Joplin and second Ann Wilson.

And last but not least, when asked if she’s addicted to any bad habit or guilty pleasure, her answer couldn’t be more feminine than that: chocolate. Well, our “blonde ninja” is an extremely talented and beautiful woman, and Finnish chocolate is by far one of the best in the world. I guess there couldn’t be a better combination than that to celebrate two years of The Headbanging Moose, right?

Noora Louhimo’s Official Facebook page
Battle Beast’s Official Facebook page

“My passion has always been music and different ways of expressing myself as an artist.” – Noora Louhimo

Album Review – Shrapnel Storm / Mother War (2015)

Grab your bayonet, your hand grenades and your combat helmet, because it’s time to go to war to the music by this excellent Death Metal band from Finland.

Rating5

SHRAPNEL STORM - Mother War cover artThe term “shrapnel”, used to represent fragments of a bomb, shell or other object thrown out by an explosion, has its origin in the early 19th century, named after Major General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), a British artillery officer whose experiments culminated in the design and development of a new type of anti-personnel artillery shell used until World War II. However, since 2007 it can also be used to describe the straightforward war-themed Death Metal by Finnish quintet Shrapnel Storm, a band highly influenced by icons such as Bolt Thrower and Obituary who above all relies on brutality, respect for traditions and groove to shape their own sounding.

Founded in the city of Tampere, Finland and singing almost exclusively about war and fighting, “The Old School Death Metal Bulldozer” as the band itself likes to say has already released four demos since its inception, but it’s now in 2015 that they’re finally ready to strike and conquer the world of heavy music with their debut full-length album, the violent and elaborate Mother War. If you are a fan of visceral Death Metal supported by a meaningful and electrifying concept, you’ll have an amazing time going to war with Shrapnel Storm.

The intro Casus Belli, which starts to the sound of that infamous siren from World War II, is the perfect example of how detailed their music and lyrics are. This is a term of war and politics, an expression that comes from Latin used to describe an act that justifies war. For instance, the Soviet Union staged the artillery shelling of the Russian village of Mainila and blamed Finland for the aggression, using it as a “casus belli” for the Winter War (1939-1940). Interesting, isn’t it? But let’s get down to business with the raw and gruesome Carpet Bombing, where lead singer Ville “Ykä” Yrjölä starts firing his growls while the rest of the band presents their sonic weapons. In addition, its guitar riffs are so dirty (in a good way) to the point they sound like a real war instrument.

The amazing tune Detracked will make you bang your fuckin’ head due to its modern and fresh rhythm, but keeping that inner ferocity needed in Death Metal. Drummer Mikko Orava leads the attack backed up by the sick guitar lines by Aki Laaksola and Tohtori Mäkitalo, turning it into one of the best tracks of the entire album. Following that raid we have the short and blustering Combat High, where hints of Thrash Metal make the final result even more enjoyable and the asperity of the musicality is perfect for the message sent. By the way, this song focuses a lot more on its lyrics than on the music itself, like if they were trying to convert the words of most soldiers in the world into sonorous rage (“Like many before me / I will go down eventually / But before the time is nigh / I will take as many as I can”).

SHRAPNEL STORM band photo 425wAnd this nonstop war machine from Finland delivers another solid track tailored for fans of the mid-tempo Death Metal by Obituary and Deicide, entitled Calling of the Void, with the bass lines by Petri Saarenma sounding clearer and more metallic, followed by Warfiend, with highlights to its badass intro and to its sharp riffs and bass lines. Moreover, the harsh growls by Ykä get closer to what Max Cavalera used to do with Sepultura in classic albums like Arise and Beneath the Remains. Darker and more melodic than its predecessors, the title-track Mother War provides the listener awesome lyrics about the passion mankind has for all things war (“Athena, guide us to victory / In assault led by the valkyries / Freyja, if we die in battle, welcome us to your halls / Mother war, we are your rising storm”), with the old school guitar riffs and solos by Aki and Tohtori boosting the song’s overall electricity.

The fast and rhythmic To Each Battle showcases a great cataclysmic vibe with interesting breaks and variations and absurdly angry vocal lines by Ykä, and I’m pretty sure its powerful atmosphere will generate some sick mosh pits if this song is played live. Then we have the high-quality combination of Death and Thrash Metal in Radars Down, where Mikko unleashes his inner beast on drums and with some of the riffs reminding me of the all-time classic “Seasons in the Abyss” by Slayer, giving the song a more melancholic touch; and finally themore introspective and progressive Rising Storm, where some sort of dark energy emanates from all instruments and vocal lines. Its lyrics might look harmless at first sight, but we all know how frightening they are (“Deserted streets, all the windows barred / On the borders the men stand in guard / Women and children hidden beneath the ground / Waiting in terror for that siren to sound”), not to mention its final piano passage full of sorrow, closing the album as if the war was over at last.

If you’re a true Death Metal soldier and enjoyed the impetuous music by Shrapnel Storm, go enlist yourself at their Facebook page, check their SoundCloud and ReverbNation pages, and purchase your copy of Mother War at Levykauppa Äx or at the Witches Brew webshop. As the peace treaty seems to be coming to an end, you better grab your bayonet, your hand grenades and your combat helmet, because it’s time to fight side by side with these talented Finnish death metallers.

Best moments of the album: Detracked, Combat High and To Each Battle.

Worst moments of the album: Calling of the Void.

Released in 2015 Witches Brew

Track listing
1. Casus Belli 1:20
2. Carpet Bombing 3:15
3. Detracked 4:22
4. Combat High 2:27
5. Calling of the Void 3:39
6. Warfiend 4:15
7. Mother War 5:09
8. To Each Battle 3:48
9. Radars Down 3:56
10. Rising Storm 6:08

Band members
Ville “Ykä” Yrjölä – vocals
Aki Laaksola – guitar, vocals
Tohtori Mäkitalo – guitar
Petri Saarenma – bass
Mikko Orava – drums 

Guest musicians
Zachary Hietala – guitar solo on “Radars Down”
Aadolf Virtanen – piano on “Rising Storm”

Album Review – Somehow Jo! / Satans of Swing (2015)

Get ready to dance to the interesting mix of Alternative Rock and Heavy Metal by this fresh and groovy Finnish band.

Rating4

SHJ_ISO_KANSI_2When I got the new Somehow Jo! album to write the review and I was told by my friend it was an alternative rock band, I must confess I was a little bit scared or concerned for this is not my kind of music. It turns out that I was surprised when I listened to it, as you “forget” about labeling the music and start paying attention to the quality of the songs, to the lyrics which go from funny to intense, to how they show different kinds of music in a short time and to how well-produced it is.

So, for those who are not familiar with the band yet, Somehow Jo! are a band formed in 2009, in the city of Tampere, Finland, and after releasing two EP’s they are finally ready to show the world their debut full-length album, Satans of Swing. There is an interesting fact about this album: according to their press-release, the “album was recorded live, because the band wanted to avoid triggering and interfering organic audio”. Recorded at Headline Recording Studio in Tampere, produced by Ari Pietilä and mastered by Teemu Kinnunen, you can feel how pure and raw every track sounds.

Still according to their press-release, “the band’s ideology is to tell people about loss, giving, open-mindedness, equality, anger, love, freedom, relaxing, questioning the future, encounter prejudices and facing difficulties”. And you find everything in this album, starting from the opening track, Next King. The first surprise is how well Christian Saurén, the vocalist, mixes moments of clean and screaming vocals – of course, this can be heard throughout the entire album. This song has a really nice rhythm, is groovy and has a heavy guitar solo. You know those songs that are nice to listen at a bar, while sipping a cold beer? This is the case in the next one, Lovesong, with highlights to the awesome work on drums and bass – they lead the song from the most alternative rock music to much heavier moments naturally. Godbye is a calmer song compared to the others, but still heavy at some moments, and it has a pretty cool harmony among the musicians responsible for the backing vocals, giving it a good old vibe.

Hatesong is different from everything else in the album: it is possible to find touches of Hard Rock, Alternative Rock, Heavy Metal and Metalcore in it. It gives you that impression of “I’ve heard something like this before” and yet it is totally new, making it one of the most interesting compositions of the album. Fool has a lot of rhythm and that chorus that will make you hate yourself singing it all day long (“This is what I do, my darling, this is what I do / Baby I still miss you but I won’t be coming back to you / This is what I do, my darling, this is what I do / I’m so sorry that I made you feel like fool”). It would be interesting to see a live video of this song showcasing the interaction between the band and the audience, but in the meantime you can check its official video clip below. Great Sex & Red Wine is one of the heaviest songs of the album, where its guitars are simply amazing and its drums play an important role in the construction of the melody.

SHJ_PROMO_MEDThe strongest attribute in Hellhole Bar are its guitar riffs, which somehow resemble old 60’s rock, but the rest of the elements are kind of confusing, which did not result in good unity as a whole. On the other hand, Beginning still brings old fashioned elements, especially its bass lines and backing vocals, mixing those with new elements like screaming vocals, and the result is pretty interesting.

To finish the album, the title-track, Satans of Swing, brings more Heavy Metal moments and a very special guest: Noora Luohimo, the mighty vocalist of Battle Beast. And they could not have chosen a better female vocalist to this task for she fits perfectly to the heaviness of this melody. Noora herself was very pleased to work with Somehow Jo!, as she declared to the band’s website: “I gotta say that the recording session with Somehow Jo! was one of the highlights of my life and I enjoyed working with them enormously. Above it all, the song ‘Satans of Swing’ kicks ass and so do the guys of the band. Love you Somehow Jo!, keep on rocking!”. Definitely, this is a pretty different song from what we have heard so far from Somehow Jo! and also completely distinct from the work of Noora with Battle Beast.

After nine tracks and a little more than half an hour, this band makes you ask for more and more of their music, as time flies in a very pleasant way while listening to this album. Interested in more information? Check for updates on their official Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram pages. And, of course, you can purchase Satans of Swing on iTunesRecord Shop XInverse Store, and at many other locations. Satans of Swing is a really interesting piece of work, and it does not matter what kind of music you like, this is pure Rock N’ Roll for those who want to have a good time.

Best moments of the album: Lovesong, Hatesong, Fool and Satans of Swing.

Worst moments of the album: Godbye and Hellhole Bar.

Released in 2015 Inverse Records

Track listing
1. Next King 3:38
2. Lovesong 3:32
3. Godbye 4:45
4. Hatesong 3:51
5. Fool 4:50
6. Great Sex & Red Wine 3:20
7. Hellhole Bar 3:55
8. Beginning 2:40
9. Satans of Swing (feat. Noora Louhimo) 6:13

Band members
Christian Saurén – vocals, guitars
Sakari Karjalainen – guitars, backing vocals
Eero Aaltonen – bass, backing vocals
Lassi Peiponen – drums

Additional musicians
Noora Louhimo – female vocals on “Satans of Swing”
Cardinal Satan – additional guitars, banjo, tambour