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Indulging in micro-doses of Metal in May

In Finland, the world’s capital of extreme metal, let’s take a plunge into the genre

brunch Updated: May 28, 2017 13:26 IST
Sanjoy Narayan
Sanjoy Narayan
Metal veterans Rotten Sound play ‘grindcore’ metal, a genre characterised by micro-songs delivered with a high intensity(rottensound.com)

In 2012, The Atlantic carried a map of the world made by a Reddit user that showed countries with the highest per capita heavy metal bands. The cold Nordic nations − Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark − topped the list. But Finland, with 53.5 metal bands per 100,000 people, soared above everyone else. If you consider that Finland has a population of five million people, even in absolute terms the number of metal bands that it has could seem staggering. Oh, and just for contrast, the UK and the US have, respectively, 5.2 and 5.5 metal bands per capita.

So, fittingly, here I am in Ostrobothnia, a coastal region in western Finland, sitting in a smallish town on the edge of the Gulf of Bothnia, listening to one of the city’s own metal bands named Rotten Sound. Having formed in 1993, Rotten Sound are metal veterans. They’ve seven studio albums, several EPs, some singles and a couple of DVDs under their belt. I’m listening to them indoors on my headphones because I think my co-dwellers are not going to be particularly enthused if I play them on the speakers. Yes, because Rotten Sound (take a cue from their name) play metal of an extreme kind − some call it ‘grindcore’. Their music is characterised by abrasive, tuned-down guitars, a very high-velocity beat, bass lines that drill spirals into your head and, above all, vocals that growl menacingly (all extreme metal vocalists do that) and also occasionally shriek.

I start by listening to Species At War, Rotten Sound’s 2013 EP. The songs are like short stabs. The first one, Cause, is 58 seconds; the longest, The Solution, is 1:43 minutes. Short songs are typical of the genre; it’s their intensity that matters. I try to make out the words to Cause and after several listens get this: “Every single time an empire went wild/ Your urge to believe/ increased drastically/ Causes to justify blood/ Deeds to cause more grudge/ Terror and misery.” And on it went: “There was no light or no other side/ The chosen gods did never prevail/ There is no light and no other god/ The chosen one will never be saved.” Doom, despair, darkness all delivered in quick dystopian doses with hyper-quick, bone-crunching sounds and vocals to match.

Micro-songs, delivered with very high intensity, have always been the hallmark of grindcore. Among the pioneers of the genre is the British band, Napalm Death, who may hold the record for the shortest micro-song − You Suffer − off their 1987 album, Scum, clocks in at six seconds! In Europe, Sweden’s Nasum was considered one of the leading exponents of grindcore before it disbanded after the death of their guitarist and singer Mieszko Talarczyk, who died in the tsunami of 2004 while holidaying in Thailand. Some trivia: a few years ago, Nasum did one last tour, for which none other than Rotten Sound’s frontman Keijo Niinimaa joined up to do the singing.

Sweden’s Nasum was considered one of the leading exponents of grindcore

For me, metal, especially of the extreme sort, acts like a palate cleanser. I’d been spending weeks listening to an array of predictable music. Some new, such as John Mayer’s pleasant but just a little bit bland The Search for Everything; some old, such as the newly-released and excellent Grateful Dead Live at Barton Hall (a live gig that they did back in 1977 at Cornell University); the Gorillaz’ new album, Humanz, for which Damon Albarn gathered up a vast array of musicians to collaborate with; and Thurston Moore’s new solo, Rock N Roll Consciousness, which is so unlike the Sonic Youth albums and yet so satisfying with its five long songs.

All of that music is good stuff and highly recommended but sometimes one wants to move a bit out of familiar terrain and experience something else. I chose metal. Rotten Sound led me to old Nasum albums such as 2003’s Helvete. With its 22 songs and only a handful of them crossing the two-minute mark, it was cathartic.

Heavy metal band John Frum’s music is infused with psychedelia and riffs

Tailpiece: John Frum is a new American heavy metal band that takes its name from a cult in the South Pacific Islands, that reflects the wartime encounter of native s with US forces that para-dropped provisions and equipment in Vanuatu. According to one interpretation, the cult believes Frum is a mythical US military man from World War II, who is worshipped as a harbinger of prosperity. But John Frum, the band, is formed partly by members of yet another American heavy metal act − The Dillinger Escape Plan − and the music they play is not of the garden variety death metal. They infuse with it some psychedelia and riffs that could make them the only death metal band with a jamband-ish character. Needless to add, their tracks are a bit longer. On their debut album, A Stirring In The Noos, some tracks nearly kiss the 10-minute mark!

DC recommends: Six tracks to add to your playlist

Pink by Boris

Exalted by Thurston Moore

Swanee Riverby Hugh Laurie

Still Feel Like Your Man by John Mayer

A Stirring in the Noos by John Frum

Call the Police by LCD Soundsystem

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From HT Brunch, May 28, 2017

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