The holidays were a long stretch with little consumption of live music -- though not a total void, thanks to baritone saxophonist Claire Daly's congenially swinging quartet at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola and Cassandra Wilson's idiosyncratic intimacies at the Blue Note. But for this observer, musical 2006 finally roared, thumped and pogoed to life last night at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on Times Square. The cause for celebration was the New York City debut of Finntroll. The name suggests a pack of Scandinavians singing about wild hunts and goblins -- and in this case, that impression is absolutely correct.
While it might run contrary to expectation, heavy metal has always been a genre wide-open to experimentation, as well as one singularly amenable to influences from other musical styles. Still... humppa? The very word suggests "oom-pah" -- and that, too, is a completely accurate assessment: Humppa is a Finnish version of the polka, and it was that hopping rhythm that set Finntroll apart from just about any other metal band I've heard. Thrashing guitars and blasting drums intersect with quaint little clarinet and accordion ditties (played on a digital keyboard on tour, alas), while gargantuan vocalist Wilska roars of bravery, valor, ferocity and brotherhood... in Swedish.
While my TONY colleague Elisabeth Vincentelli had enthusiastically boosted the band for weeks in advance of the performance, I have to admit that I'd scarcely paid heed. (She also wrote a fine little article on the band in the "Out There" section of the January 5-11 issue of TONY, which you'll find right here.) Still, the promise of a metal outing with Elisabeth and Mike Wolf, another TONY comrade, proved too attractive a proposition to pass up.
Despite having been around for nearly a decade, Finntroll is only now making its first North American appearances. Given that, as well as the band's musical peculiarity, I wondered what kind of reception the sextet would receive from a crowd there to see Sodom, a veteran German thrash-metal trio and the ostensible headliner. From the moment Finntroll hit the stage, however, it was clear the band's reputation and music had proceeded it. It was afforded a rousing welcome by a crowd hundreds strong -- many of whom obviously knew Finntroll's music, and some of whom even knew the words.
For a hot, sweet hour, guitarists Skyrmer and Routa and bassist Tundra played riff-heavy metal not so far removed from the tuneful thrash of countrymen Children of Bodom, but colored with a distinctive folk-music streak -- and, of course, those jumping, jigging humppa rhythms. The keyboardist, who I'd guess to have been a fill-in for regular member Trollhorn, looked like a conservatory drop-out who'd leased David Coverdale's hair for the evening, but handled the band's racing "accordion" breaks well enough. Beast Dominator, the band's hulking drummer, proved equally adept at polka and blastbeat. And Wilska, who looked like an economy-sized version of former Exodus vocalist Steve De Souza, was a dominating presence at center stage... and a man who could pull off the band's obligatory kilts with no questions asked.
Sodom, a band that has existed in one form or another since 1984, arguably embodies a crucial link between American speed metal (Metallica, Slayer) and European black metal (Venom, Celtic Frost). As such, the band commands a degree of respect -- and got it in spades from a crowd adorned in more denim, bullet belts and nubby chrome spikes than I've spotted in the last decade of metal concert-going. For me, however, Sodom lacked stage presence. Its set was plagued by seemingly interminable dead spots between one song and the next; despite bursts of energy provided by vintage blasts such as "Agent Orange" and "Outbreak of Evil," the show proved anticlimactic. I took a powder after about half an hour, leaving Sodom in the enthusiastic company of a crowd that obviously remembered the trio's glory days more fondly than I did.
Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks, Vol. 4 (Grateful Dead)
Phil Lesh and Friends - Washington St. Armory, Albany, NY, 12/04/2005 (soundboard from Archive.org)
Grupo Montez de Durango - Y Sigue la Mata Dando (Disa)
King Crimson - Heavy ConstruKction -- disc one (DGM)
Cannibal Corpse - Tomb of the Mutilated (Metal Blade)
Ingrid Jensen - At Sea (ArtistShare)