A Double Dose of Finnish Prog-Rock: Malady and Sammal
Ah Finland, what a country. I’m still convinced that there’s something in the water over there that helps musicians become amazing at what they do. I became ecstatic when I discovered Kairon; IRSE! and then again with Siinai; and so when some promotional material was headed my way which included two Finnish prog-rock bands, both on the Svart Records label, I knew it would end up being a gift from the heavens. Enter Malady and Sammal. (You’ll notice that my good friend Karhu said good things about Sammal in the most recent Mini-Reviews Around the Bowl, but Malady should be completely new to you.)
Malady was the first band I listened to, and that was only because of the order in which they were presented in the promotional e-mail. Toinen toista was released in February of this year and it reminds me completely of an old Genesis record (not a particular one, but anything from Trespass up until Selling England by the Pound). Do you know how good of news this is to me: that’s my favorite band! (I often wonder if other metalheads would have the same built-in appreciation for their early work, as it was very progressive, trippy, and theatrical, quite different from the “Invisible Touch” type stuff.)
Four tracks of normal-length tunes and then… a 23 minute opus. Taking a page from the Genesis playbook right there, as “Supper’s Ready” was also a healthy 23 minute transformative journey (the last song on Foxtrot). Song length isn’t the only thing they have in common, both are intricately written prog-rock opuses with plenty of very tasteful transitions from one wacky part to a way different wacky part. Both have a gorgeous hook-like movement which is re-used one or two more times throughout its strenuous track length, so no matter how drastic of a change in style you do hear…it will always return to the familiar part and reel you right back to where you started.
It’s beyond good. Sure it meanders around, but that’s expected from nerdy prog rock. But the rest of the album is no slouch either, just more reasonable in song length. There’s a guitar tone as warm as Steve Hackett’s and heavy usage of keyboards (or is it mellotron? I’m not that smart) akin to Tony Banks’s work. Right after starting up the second track (Laulu sisaruksille) you’ll hear some mellotron with a tone JUST like what was used in that famous intro to “Watcher of the Skies“. What I’m trying to say is that no matter where you are, once you hit plan on Toinen toista, a thick cloud of weed smoke is going to magically appear in your vicinity. This one’s gonna sound extremely good on vinyl. If you want to a McNulty recommendation, check out track four “Etsijän elinehto”, it’s second only to that final opus.
Next up is Sammal, and the reason Karhu beat me to it, is that I’m reeeeeeaaaaly lazy and didn’t get around to composing this until after his ran. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the album so much that I wanted to hear it like 15 times before composing the review. No, it’s laziness, I’m sorry. Well he gave you a teaser, and here is my full assessment.
While Toinen toista was a relaxing yet psychedelic trip, Suuliekki ramps up the tempo and the Finnish folk influences. Now I won’t claim to know any traditional folks music from Finland so I’ll trust the promotional material. What I do hear is plenty of fuzzed-out guitar riffs, some of it reminiscent of Black Sabbath songs, and a heaping helping of lively percussion that could overlap with traditional Latino music. There are slower, more contemplative movements like the first half of “Lukitut päivät, kiitävät yöt” but even that one incorporates a swift tempo change after the three minute mark, replete with 70’s hard rock riffs. It’s the catchy “aaaaaaaaaah, aaaaaaah!” vocal crooning which makes the backbone of the tune, played between choruses sung entirely in Finnish. It climaxes with a rollicking guitar solo before slowing back down to the pace with which it began.
Each of the eight tracks here (and a short intro song with a personality of its own) goes through a few tempo changes which give them a life of their own. The fourth song contains some organ playing that would feel right at home on a great Deep Purple record, further sealing the 70’s prog rock feel. It’s of the shorter side of things, clocking in at an easily digestible three-and-a-half minutes, yet still has time to fit in a cool yet fleeting keyboard solo. Then when you think you’re reached the pinnacle of catchiness, song 5 “Pinnalle kaltevalle” strikes with its booty-shaking drum beat (that is what really resonates with me as Latin-sounding — but like I said, that could be traditional Finnish folk and I just don’t have the vocabulary for it).
You cannot go wrong with either band, each represents a different side of a prog rock coin, one a little slower paced and one more upbeat. Both Toinen toista and Suuliekki provide amazing listens and they’re perfectly matched for each other to be played along side each other in a playlist. Each will satisfy your inner prog rock nerd and that Finnish music need that hopefully you share with me.
Here’s Malady’s Bandcamp page.
Here’s Sammal’s Bandcamp page.