Sound — 10
I decided to write a review about a Finnish band called Stam1na for Ultimate Guitar, since there are no reviews of any of their albums here. This is of course somewhat expected as they sing in Finnish, so of course most people find it hard to identify with their music and especially lyrics. But I still wanted to write this review, as their sound is phenomenal.
I'll just cut to the chase here: Antti Hyyrynen, the vocalist and rhythm guitarist of Stam1na, is one of the best harsh vocalists in the world. The reason I find it so disturbing that non-Finnish people don't pay attention to the band is probably because Hyyrynen doesn't get all the attention he deserves. Ranging from his signature style of mid-range shouts and tone screams to clean vocals and death growls, he is technically unbelievably good. His voice has a certain clarity to it: even when he growls or screams his lungs out his lyrics are distinguishable.
Hyyrynen is not the only talent in the band and not even the only guitarist: their lead guitarist, Pekka Olkkonen, deserves our attention as well. They both use seven stringed guitars, but not in the usual brutalizing fashion. Of course, being extreme metal the music is filled with blazing riffs, but it also has equal parts beautiful and emotional guitar work. This album actually has a lot of black metal influence, especially when compared to their previous records. This is why their staple guitar style has a bit more of haunting and of course tremolo picked riffs than usual, resulting in a darker tone. The album still has it's punkier songs, but the black metal influences are what sets the record apart.
Dark guitar work is well balanced by the keyboards. The album kicks off with a beautiful piano melody backed by electric guitars, and later keyboards are used for ambient backing for example. Keys rarely take the lead, but they compliment the guitars really well. The closing track, "SLK," has some dark organ sounds that work well with the black metal sound. Stam1na only recently got a steady keyboard player, and he's fitting in very well.
The rhythm side is flawless. Bass compliments the leads very well, and the drums blend in beautifully, giving the record a solid groundwork. Overall, the album is produced flawlessly, and all the different tones are spot on. Actually, you could give it a ten based only on the vocals.
Lyrics — 8
Stam1na has some weird lyrics. They're filled with strange metaphors and fuse realism and fiction with ease. I'll go through the lyrics on the most relevant songs, and try to provide good translations.
The album kicks off with "Rautasorkka," translation would be "Iron hoof" or "Ironclaw." The first lines of lyrics, sung in a computerized fashion, go "Elektroneina/rautajumalana/olin ikuinen/siksi halusin kuolla." In English, it's roughly "As electrons/as an iron god/I was eternal/so I wanted to die." The song tells the story of a fictional race with a divine, mechanical king, which is slaughtered by "foreign pagans." The titular god-king of the track just happens to be immortal, and then avenges his people by raging for a thousand years. In the end, he still curses his immortality, since he cannot die even as he wants to. "Rautasorkka" is probably my second favorite song off of the album, and I'm always fascinated by the story and how the downfall was portrayed.
Then there is "Panzerfaust," the album single. This is a track about religion, Nazism and the stupidity of men. It comes across as extremely anti-Christian, as for example the swastika is compared to the holy cross. This song has one of my favorite opening lines ever, Hyyrynen shouting "ranteissasi nauloja," translated as "nails in your wrists," obvious christian metaphor. But it also portrays these Nazis as idiots, claiming that they have "heads of wood." This is a controversial song, but also thought provoking and powerful. An excellent single, the lyrics are not exactly complex but their delivery is powerful.
Then there is the radio hit of the album, "Dynamo." This is actually my least favorite track off of the album, it's clearly made out to be more radio friendly. The chorus repeats with different lyrics, and the first set is this: "polkee tyhjää/kiertää kehää/dynamo animoiden sähköistää." This is a tricky part to translate, but it's roughly "stalling/going around a circle/dynamo animates and electrifies." This is a crappy translation, but Finnish language is tricky. I think that the lyrics are about a pair of people who are dying, and the dynamo tied to their carriage wheels keeps them alive and "animate." Later, they want someone to bar the wheels to stop the dynamo, and so they die. The lyrics are fine, but I do not like the delivery, it does not have the same energy as the rest of the album.
The last track I'll touch upon is my favorite track on the album, and one of my new favorite tracks of all time. The closing title track, "SLK." You probably wonder what "SLK" stands for, to understand this you simply must listen to the song. "Salli luonnollinen kuolema," allow a natural death. I guess the album name in English would be "AND." I like the Finnish one more. This is grim song about a man lying in a hospital bed, simply wishing to die. The song describes his state, stating that he is just a hollow shell, having brought this to himself. The lyrics itself have a neat theme: His state is explained via musical terms. The song mentions his hearts BPM being 120, and that the score of his ECG is in it's outro. The lyrics have a recurring theme of Death playing a waltz on an iron whistle. The high point of the song is the buildup describing the mans death: "Kerran valssiin lähden/viimeisen kyydin tähden/kalman tritonuksen/rautapillin soiden," again roughly in English: "I enter the waltz/for the sake of the final ride/as the iron whistle/of Deaths tritone plays." I know it's really tacky in English, but in Finnish, it's a brilliant part and the highlight of the album. "SLK" has a great idea for the lyrics, and the delivery is perfect, without a doubt my favorite lyrics on the album.
Do you see a pattern here? Couple of songs about genocide, and couple more about death? Well, Stam1na stated that the theme of the album is "final stops," lyrics revolving around death and ending. It does have lyrics about some mundane things too: a very punky song, "Heikko Ehkä" ("Weak maybe") is pretty much about paying the morgue. The lyrics are diverse, but revolve around a theme. There still are some songs like "Dynamo" that have somewhat bland lyrics, and "Kuoliaaksi Ruoskitut Hevoset" ("Horse lashed to death") that have generic choruses that prevent me from rating the lyrics that high. Overall, I think that the lyrics are spot on and compliment the music in an excellent way, but the more radio friendly songs still fall short of perfect.
Overall Impression — 9
The reason I wanted to write this review is because everyone should be aware of this band. Compared to other progressive flavored extreme metal, like Gojira, Stam1na is at least on par, and sometimes better. Comparing this to their previous albums, it has a distinct black metal flavor to it, setting it apart and showcasing progress, while still having a lot of elements from the earliest Stam1na records. It's not my favorite Stam1na record, but it isn't the least favorite either, and in my opinion it wipes the floor with their previous effort, "Nocebo."
The most impressive parts of the album are the beginning and the end. "Rautasorkka" is an amazing song, and it's only shadowed by the closing "SLK." Also the tracks "Panzerfaust," "Heikko Ehkä" and "Kylmä Kuuma Kylmä" are among my favorites, delivering a nice amount of black metal and punk influence to balance the more special tone of the best tracks.
I love the black metal influence, but on the other hand, I don't like the songs without it that much. This album has the same problem as the last, being advertised with a bland radio track, this time it being "Dynamo." That song does not reflect the concept of the album at all, as this is a lot more grim and violent than their previous records. The single "Panzerfaust" instead represented the album perfectly, but sadly after the full album came out it's represented by the listener friendly tracks.
These few track still do nothing to make me like the album less, and it is without a doubt the best album to come out this year so far. I do not wish to part ways with it ever, and I listen to it regularly. Even though it is not the best Stam1na album, that is not an insult, instead it's a compliment to the rest of their discography. It is a must listen to any extreme metal and progressive metal fans, and hopefully will bring more attention to the rest of their discography.