Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Scandinavian music

I recently bought a CD by the Finnish goth-rock band The 69 Eyes, entitled The Paris Kills. It is a pretty good album, definite Sisters of Mercy influence on the lead singer's low tones and their use of the synths. The lyrics are simple but not to the point of idiocy. This may be a result of English not being the band's first language, as other continental European rock bands also sometimes have trouble developing complex lyrics in English, such as The Gathering, and let it be said that I like their style overall. Bands such as the German FSK, aware of the limitations of their lingual skills, have successfully played their shortcomings up, ie their version of "I Wish I Could Sprechen sie Deutsche."

The 69 Eyes have solid hooks and musicianship throughout The Paris Kills. Although the lead singer Jyrki 69 (!) is reminiscent of Type O Negative's Peter Steele, The 69 Eyes does not have the same sonic harshness, self-satirical dark humor (if you find Type O Negative funny in their audacious anti-PC rants) or over-the-top goth posturing. Sadly, Jyrki 69's voice also lacks the range of Steele's. Perhaps The 69 Eyes take themselves more seriously than their talent warrants, but this is hardly rare among goth-rock bands when the aesthetic is characterized by self-conscious melodrama. The band has apparently been at the top of the charts in Finland, meaning that I am taking music seriously that probably appeals mostly to Finnish adolescents.

I prefer 2002's The Paris Kills over their more recent release, Devils, which is haunted even more intensely by their occasional lyrical weakness as well as heavier reliance on synthesized melodies and hooks.

Anyhow, while on the subject of Scandinavian music, I would like to mention my favorite experimental metal band from Norway, The 3rd and the Mortal. Between about 1994 or so until 2004, they morphed from a doom metal act into a more ambient, electronic, and atmospheric darkwave band and slowly have faded from the musical scene. Fortunately, there are some spin-offs and related bands including Ulver, which I have not yet had a chance to hear, The Soundbyte, with mixed reviews, and Tactile Gemma, which I am just now hearing and enjoying thus far. Norway has what seems to be a unique, slick electronic ambient darkwave scene, and I dig it.

Among other Scandinavian music fall the Swedish folk band Frifot and its side-projects. They play a near Celtic-sounding mix of stringed instruments, herding tunes from the mountains, fishing tunes from the sea, and the production of their music has been as clear as ice from a mountain stream in winter. I find their music beautiful and powerful, thanks to the versatile and powerful voice of lead singer Lena Willemark.

I must mention Varttina, another Finnish folk band with talent. The flip side is that this group of female singers has such power in their voices that I cannot bear to listen to them for more than about 12 minutes without the feeling that my ears may ring all night. Their harmonies are piercing, and they sing traditional Finnish tunes as well as newer songs of their own creation. Nevertheless they are unique and talented.

For fans of the mystic (yes, somewhat new-agey) world percussive Dead Can Dance, myself included, Arcana's most recent release Le Serpent Rouge moves them into the direction of "ethno-tribal-ambient" darkwave, more similar to Dead Can Dance circa early and mid 1990's. It has been seeing frequent use in my CD player, significantly more than Arcana's earlier dolorous recordings of medieval-style chants, choruses, and laments without the Middle Eastern-style and electronic percussion, comparable to Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, which I believe was released in 1988 (and never grows old).

Finally, I have heard two albums by the Swedish band Garmarna, who sing a dark fusion of folk, Rennaissance, and contemporary music, sometimes with electronic beat to dance to and catchy enough to play at a party. I particularly recommend the release Vedergalningen, with some danceable renditions of songs by Hildegard von Bingen, the medieval religious mystic and composer.

Perhaps it is always autumn in Scandinavia. I love the dark, introspective, often gothic aesthetic and emotional music that I have found coming from the region.