Album Review – Ahola / Tug Of War (2014)

A new Teräsbetoni album would have been a lot better for all of us.

Rating6

coverIt looks like Finnish singer and songwriter J. Ahola is really determined to go on with his solo project, Heavy Metal/Hard Rock band Ahola, which means that unfortunately there’s no sign of a new Teräsbetoni album anytime soon. In fact, Ahola seems to be his main band now, not only a project, but I really wish it was the other way round, especially after listening to his new album Tug Of War.

Albeit Ahola’s new album is a million light-years away from being bad music, and the musicians involved are very competent, Tug Of War lacks all that originality and especially the punch from any of the Teräsbetoni albums. In other words, for a guy that has been in a band responsible for powerful classics such as “Taivas Lyö Tulta”, “Metallisydän” and “Missä Miehet Ratsastaa”, it’s hard to accept generic material with song titles like “I Need You” and “Dog”, and it’s even worse due to the bland way he’s using his voice.

The End of the Line opens the album and, despite its promising intro, lacks a lot of energy in its entirety, especially J. Ahola’s vocals which are not what we all wanted to hear. Road of Creation is a more Doom Metal track with his voice sounding a lot better, but again it’s not a great song; and the title-track Tug of War is stronger than the previous tracks but still lacks that “it” factor.

Tug Of War continues with the two best songs of all: On the Run, a nice Hard Rock track with an interesting chorus; and  Still Metal, a song that keeps us wondering how awesome the whole album would have been if it had the same Manowar-ish approach as here. Fortunately, Rock’n’Roll is another solid song (although too generic) that keeps the momentum, but on the other hand One Among the Crowd is a weak ballad and the worst track of all, and followed by the generic The Final Incantation drags the album back to just regular.

AholaThings do not get better with The Will You Always Had, a totally forgettable song, and I Need You, which sounds like a tired Teräsbetoni playing. And finally, we have Dog, an average Hard Rock track with a bad chorus (feel like a dog, really?); Age of Hubris, with some good riffs to elevate the album level a little; and Beerland 2, a total waste of time.

And I’m not even complaining about the fact he’s singing in English now, as I understand (although do not agree) that the Finnish language was kind of limiting his boundaries. The real problem here is that Ahola sound like a sell-off, like something made just for money. I know we cannot expect Ahola and Teräsbetoni to be the same, but it’s sad to see such a talented Power Metal musician, a guy that loves Manowar, Rainbow and Deep Purple, doing some generic material. May the power of the mighty Odin open his eyes and take him back to what he does best: awesome Power Metal.

Best moments of the album: On the Run and Still Metal.

Worst moments of the album: One Among the Crowd, The Final Incantation, The Will You Always Had and Beerland 2.

Released in 2014 Playground Music

Track listing
1. The End of the Line 4:30
2. Road of Creation 5:15
3. Tug of War 4:02
4. On the Run 3:17
5. Still Metal 4:03
6. Rock’n’Roll 3:48
7. One Among the Crowd 4:27
8. The Final Incantation 5:18
9. The Will You Always Had 3:16
10. I Need You 4:29
11. Dog 4:20
12. Age of Hubris 3:28
13. Beerland 2 2:24

Band members
J. Ahola – vocals, guitar
Jari Laitinen – bass
Antti Mäkelä – drums
Antti Karhumaa – lead guitar

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.

Rating2

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