It’s not often that the subject of heavy metal is raised in speeches by heads of state – certainly not often enough by our reckoning – but last week saw a notable exception. Indeed, the head of state in question was none other than President Obama, though it should perhaps come as no surprise that the comments were not in relation to his own country but that of Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, his visit to the White House prompting the somewhat humorous observation; “Finland has perhaps the most heavy metal bands in the world per capita and also ranks high on good governance – I don’t know if there’s any correlation there.”
We don’t know about good governance, but Finland certainly does have a ridiculous amount of metal talent in residence. We give you the lowdown on ten of the bands that put the country on the map…
Though bands such as the UK’s Skyclad pre-date them, Amorphis helped kick off the international folk metal explosion in the early ‘90s when they began adding elements of traditional folk and prog to their death metal template. They have continued to utilise such elements in the intervening years while also drawing upon Finland’s national epic The Kalevala, a sizeable work of poetry and mythology.
Though Norway is obviously the more famous country as far as black metal goes, Finland deserve serious kudos for giving birth to Beherit in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Explicitly Satanic and utterly primal, their ritualistic assault earned a legion of followers and influenced many later groups. The band still remain popular despite their sporadic and unpredictable activities.
Children Of Bodom
Melodic death metal meets virtuoso guitars: Children Of Bodom took the spirit of eighties heavy metal and thrash, and married it to a contemporary death metal framework, helping to make solos cool again in the process. Balancing shredding skills with a taste for hell raising, Bodom are one of Finland’s most popular bands and have become international stars, with central protagonist Alexi Laiho becoming something of a household name in metal circles.
Another Finnish trendsetter, Nightwish’s seemingly-unlikely combination of symphonic heavy metal and operatic vocals effectively launched an entire sub-genre of epic, female-fronted bands. Ridiculously popular, the band have shifted millions of units to become the nation’s third biggest musical act (regardless of genre), maintaining their status despite changing their vocalist on more than one occasion.
A fine example of Finnish eccentricity and musical dedication, Apocalyptica began life as another seemingly insensible combination of musical elements – in this case, Metallica and cellos – but gradually moved away from cover songs to instead create a unique combination of metal and classical inspirations. They have earned themselves a dedicated following internationally while also becoming respected enough at home to be commissioned to create a work for the national opera company.
Epitomising the stubbornness, heavy drinking, morbid humour and batshit craziness that one often finds in Finnish extreme metal, Impaled Nazarene began life as a somewhat primitive black metal band but quickly went off into a new universe entirely, with a punky, nihilistic, stripped-down and sometimes almost avant-garde assault on the senses.
Taking the folk and symphonic metal strains popular within the country and combining them to winning effect, Turisas were one of the most impressive acts within the folk metal explosion that came out of Finland last decade. Their use of violin and accordion, historically-informed Viking storytelling, humour and love of seventies disco has made them a unique and much-loved proposition.
Another group who became popular during Finland’s folk metal boom, Ensiferum won over fans across the world with their melodic and epic compositions. Somewhat less ‘bouncy’ than many of their contemporaries, their heroic and somewhat earnest approach has put them in good stead with fans of a more traditional heavy metal as the years have passed and they remain an impressive live act.
Dubbing themselves ‘love metal’, HIM took the more accessible side of Paradise Lost’s gothic metal, added an eighties pop/rock flavour and ran with it, winning many hearts in the process. Frontman Ville Valo quickly became the nation’s most recognisable rock star, even breaking into America, thanks in part to the championing of Bam Margera.
An essential inclusion (if only to highlight how intrinsic heavy metal is within popular culture in Finland) Lordi are of course the monster Kiss-inspired, costume-wearing winners of 2006’s Eurovision Song Contest. Their victory made them national heroes, the band appearing in a horror film, Dark Floors, opening a restaurant and even launching their own brand of cola!