Stam1na – Nocebo – 4.5/5
If metal can be considered to have a home, that region to the north of Central Europe otherwise known as Scandinavia would undeniably be it. The infamous Norwegian black metal scene; Swedish death metal and 'Gothenburg' riffs, and then there's Finland. Certainly they're none the less obsessed with the genre – one of the biggest children's shows there, Hevisaurus, is basically 'Barney' if he donned some denim and made a power metal band – yet whilst we can safely establish the nation tends to have a better taste in popular music, so much of what becomes big there never seems to migrate. Sure, some of it does; the likes of Nightwish and HIM still plague us to this day, but then there's artists such as Von Hertzen Bros. and Alamaailman Vasarat which whilst reaching the Finnish album charts, never seems to leave the country. Which brings me squarely onto Stam1na, releasing this #1 album that nobody else seems to have paid attention to, and it's not the first time this has happened either.
A concept album about a 'nocebo' or an 'anti-placebo;' medical science giving people drugs that actually do nothing yet we think will make us worse, and that negativity actually does end up making everyone feel worse. And then they set fire to Tavastia for some reason, a well known music venue in Helsinki (look, I don't speak Finnish and that's the language they sing in OK? I'm only telling you what I know). It's the apocalypse that mankind has brought down on itself through our own ignorance; it's a bit like Mastodon's 'Leviathan' all over again, except with more of a Devin Townsend's 'Ziltoid' brand of insanity about it. Describing how they sound isn't exactly the easiest of tasks, and perhaps 'alternative metal' in the vein of System of a Down is one of the better descriptors (I know, 'alternative to what?' right? As much as I hate the term, here it oddly fits), along with 'Progressive Thrash.' But not the kind you're thinking. No, the thrash isn't the Bay Area kind but rather the melodic and groove laden kind. Nor is the progressive element akin to what I suspect you're probably thinking either but a little closer to 'Rush' instead. So alternative progressive thrash that's sort of like Devin Townsend but not with catchy System of a Down elements and some Rush in the- look will you just click the damn youtube video at the bottom already? It'll make my job a great deal easier. Then hit repeat as the video is all kinds of B-Movie awesome as well, though I suspect the view of four hairy Finns windmilling in unison contains some form of brainwashing capability.
Moving on, one of the stand out features of this album is the diverse vocal work. There are clean lines and deathly growls, both done pretty darn well, but what he really tends to favour is a violent yell. It's unconventional but actually works; frantically shouting what I can only assume translates to a hundred variations of 'fuck you,' not that I'm entirely sure who he's shouting at nor why he would want to utter obscenities at them. It doesn't matter, his point gets made and he makes it so loudly and with such frenetic tenacity that there will be times where you'll move to wipe the flecks of spit from your face only to realise there's nothing actually there. There will be times, too, when the guitar work is fairly chug-heavy but contrasting the down-tuned fretwork is a higher pitched riff always around the corner. Often it's the guitars that offer it in the form of a melodic solo, psychedelic riff or something even less expected, but sometimes it's a keyboard synth passage. At one point it's even a banjo interlude, but whatever they choose it usually arrives out of the blue and yet somehow never feels at all out of place amidst the insanity, only straying so far as to keep things interesting.
There can be no doubt that you're listening to a Stam1na track the second it starts spinning – nobody is crazy quite like this – but no two tracks sound alike, and it's a testament to the production work that all this is possible. I know I've made all this sound atrocious; catchy as crap music with lots of shouting, groovy riffs and a mainstream appeal, but it's not. It's not even in that 'guilty pleasure' category where you find yourself humming the tune and nodding your head but then feeling dirty about it, as though you've done something inherently wrong. Yes, it may sometimes sound like nu-metal's feisty cousin, but holy fuckin' shit is that one damn sexy cousin.
Highlights: Valtiaan Uudet Vaateet, Tavastia Palamaan!, Rabies
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 14 August 2012