Diversity by Default
After their 2020-masterpiece “Global Rock”, we are back to Waltari, this time with “3rd Decade” Anniversary Edition. More than ever, we can expect a cross-over album in the best of senses, given that each song features additional singers or even whole bands. The impressive list of names such as Jyrki 69 (The 69 Eyes), Jonne Järvelä (Korpiklaani), Lordi or April Art sets quite a benchmark for our expectations. Additionally, they promise an infinite spectrum of various folk genres, pop influences from several decades, numerous intensities of rock, up to the harsh synthi scapes of hip hop, rap and industrial – all that meets finest metal. Can that work?
Waltari’s basic idea of the album is to take a fine selection of their songs and make them songs fitting the style of the featuring artist. Let’s give the album a spin and find out what this sounds like.
Merry Go Round feat. Jürgen Engler
Straight guitar chords and industrial synthi sounds flow into a catchy keyboard sequences opening this little piece of fun music. “Merry Go Round” is the only new song on the “3rd Decade – Anniversary Edition” album. Hip hop beats and synths play as a gloomy, harsh, ‘not-really-voice’ voice sets in. I am certain we have heard the melody and this voice ‘somewhere’ before. Right. We have grown up with Jürgen Engler as voice of the industrial pioneers Die Krupps. Some ideas of 1980’s Aggrepo of contrasting aggressive and positive elements, repetitive sequences, shouts vs catchy clean vocal lines re-lives in this song.
Finally, the lead guitar takes over this very groovy beat, you will leave this song in a good mood, lots of positive vibes included.
Below Zero 2021 feat. Marko Hietala
Slightly harder tune and guitar chords sustained by a keyboard layer until the one and only master takes over the vocals. Yes, “Below Zero 2021” is Marko Hietala at his best, he undeniable is the soul of the song with his unique voice. Much harder than most of the songs from Marko’s recent solo album or his former main band (Nightwish) but still a very catchy melody does it come over nicely. Blasting drums break into very melodic duet sequences, later combined with harsh, nearly rap-like vocal parts of either Kärtsy or Marko or both. Marko’s ‘musical rap sheet’ is long. Very long. And very variable from classical Heavy Metal (Tarot) up to Christmas carols (Raskasta Joulua). Yet, the abundance of vocal styles, versatile vocal lines and melodic metal instrumental parts make “Below Zero” fitting Marko’s personal spectrum perfectly and still a true Waltari song. By the way, “Below Zero” originally was the title track of Waltari’s 2009 released album.
Skyline (remix) feat. Bomfunk MC’s
A complete change of genre, well, what do we expect from a band like Waltari? A blend of hip hop, rap and funk-pop rock. Kärtsy raps the verses but sings the chorus in a clean and sweet manner. This version has many elements good Nu Metal songs would have. Ok, nu metal is perhaps still one of the more controversial discussed metal genres. But this song again, leaves you in a good mood. The original version was released only lately on “Global Rock”. This anniversary version is featured by Bomfunk MC’s, a Finnish electro/hip hop band founded in originally in 1996. They quit in 2005 and kicked off again in 2018. The original version is perhaps a mix of many styles and genres with a focus on nu metal while the Skyline (remix) 2021 is rather pure nu metal.
Ehtoopuolella feat. Eläkeläiset
If there is any doubt of how variable songs can be and how entirely new a song can become by its transition to another genre, “Ehtoopuolella” proves any doubts wrong.
“Ehtoopuolella”? Has there ever been a Waltari song named “Ehtoopuolella”? No. But listen and make your educated guess which Waltari song was fed to the ‘Humppa-transformation-machinery’. Add some accordion, simplify drumming and keyboard lines, switch it to a Polka timing and here we are! The result is silly but fun and the nagging question: For f*ck sake, I know this song but hell, which is it? Don’t fight the Humppa. Spare the effort. Give in. The legendary Humppa veterans of Eläkeläiset (literally: retirees) will win anyway. They easily make the toughest metalhead surrender to the polonaise.
Which Waltari song was it again? No idea still? Ok, granting a hint: there are two versions previously released in 2008 and in 2003/2004.
So Fine 2021 feat. Kevin Ridley & Youth Choirs Sykkii and n.u.k.u
Some synthetic guitars and the featuring Youth Choirs Sykkii open the song. The choir performs the yoik that has brand marked the song from its very first release on. This synthetic guitar part which provides a major share of the songs atmosphere could easily make a computer-game soundtrack from the very early days of digital gaming. It sounds strange, very strange, even a bit irritating. Then again it is catchy as hell – a great tune. As some rougher guitars set in later those add a third entirely new soundscape to the song. The slightly rougher though still very clean riff of the chorus is just brilliant.
“So Fine” has been released in various versions. Originally it was the title track of Waltari’s 1994 released, third full-length studio album. It reappears as new studio version titled “So Fine 2000” by Waltari & Angelit, next on “Decade” (2003), then another again by the Waltari & Angelit together with four other songs in 2020. This latest version now is featured additionally by Kevin Ridley and n.u.k.u.
Yoik Meets Metal
From the very first version of “So Fine” on, a yoik played a major role in the song. And while over the time and reinterpretations the accompanying arrangements varied, the yoik remained as naturally the basic song itself. For example, “So Fine” (2003) has several sequences of hard, electric beats beats, e-piano accompanying short vocals and guitar chords. Each episode in each sequence separated by breaks. Then a piano sequence leads to the actual beginning of the vocals, namely the yoik.
Yoiks usually come in one of the Sami languages and often are a highly individual musical expression of members of the Sami. Many yoiks are highly spiritual and often have neither a classical song structure, nor actual lyrics or rhymes. The reappearance of this form of art in the public perception during the past century carries a strong socio-political momentum as nationalistic, radical Christian and political mainstream movements tried to force the Sami to give up their culture until the 1970’s. Angelit (former Girls of Angeli [which is a tiny village along the Teno river in the vast taiga of Northern Finnish Lapland]) belong to the most popular yoik performers at the very least in Finland.
A Folk Passion
The folk aspects – surely yoik can be considered to be such – in the song, one would expect to come from Kevin Ridley. Beyond the yoik, they might come in disguise here. I find it best in their shared attitude or perhaps passion of neatly weaving a rather exotic folkloristic threat into the carpet of their more traditional metal patterns.
By the way in the very beginning, Kevin Ridley was the producer of Skyclad’s first album which was by then meant to be a one-album project. He stuck with the band, so to speak and became their vocalist in 2001.
Finally, even if you might not like “So Fine” after the first spin, its catchiness will win latest after the third round!
Step Outside feat. Angelit
Would you expect the next song to be similar to the previous one? Maybe from 90% of all other bands but not from Waltari. Then again, it is another song from the cooperation with Angelit. Very poppy, I could even be tempted to consider Britney Spears to be feature. No. Not really. But as yoik is far from being present in mainstream media and even barely found in progressive music, the choruses of “So Fine” and “Step Out” might sound very similar. Surprising to find those two songs right next to each other on the album when usually more metal-like songs follow on songs with focus on folk, humppa or pop.
In contrast to “So Fine”, here we find some darker instrumental quotes from the 1980’s pop universe. This combo of ‘synthispheres’ and electro beats beams me all the way back to Franky Goes To Hollywood or Yazoo. As sharply contrasting to the yoik-metal blend this may sound, the more harmonic the song is as one element melts smoothly with the other.
In The Cradle 2021 feat. Jonne Järvelä & Jyrki 69
What begins like a classic Korpiklaani song soon turns into a sad ballad sung in low tunes by Jyrki 69. It carries the sadness of Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” although “In The Cradle” is mostly a good deal quicker. Then again this ‘Korpiklaani-Humppa-Metal–light goes Emo’ still has some lightness if only from the reappearing accordion or Kärtsy’s ‘ooh-hoo’. All in all it is a very catchy, very international and very Finnish song that works despite or perhaps exactly because of the incorporated contrasting styles remarkably good. The original version of “In The Cradle” can be found on the 2009 album “Below Zero”.
Misty Man 2021 feat. Niki
Just a guitar riff opens the song, drums and a second guitar fall in before Niki’s voice takes over. A fabulous and classic intro for a rock anthem. Niki’s slightly smoky voice contrasts harmonically to Kärtsy’s bright, good mood-radiating voice. That’s why there is an air of pop in the song. Niki’s fascinating performance invites to check out more of the Barbe-Q-Barbies. “Misty Man 2021” contains symbolism. Traditionally one would expect a male voice to be lower and rougher and the female to be brighter and clear. “Misty Man 2021” changes these outdated roles for the best!
Taking a look on the song’s history, we can’t miss to notice: The latest version sounds remarkably more serious and is the rockiest version; although naturally the keyboards remain in their prominent position. The intro of the 2021 version suggests a completely different song than “Misty Man”. It was originally released on the “So Fine” album in 1994 and as “Misty Man (Mix-98)” on “Decade” (1998). To me, this song shows a very important attitude: self-irony reflected in the keyboard sequences in both previous versions. Those pretty much remind me on the home organs and children play keyboards that spread in the 1980’s. Yet both are really great songs as is the recent version. Greater vocals and greatest mood, what do you want more?
Lights On 2021 feat. Lordi
With “Lights On”, we jump back into the very early years of Waltari’s band history. Give the original version found on the album “Torcha” from 1992 a spin. Doesn’t this song beg to be re-interpreted with or even by Lordi?
“Lights On 2021”, the bass guitar opens the song, and creates the Lordi-magic from second one on. Lordi take their crowd on a ghost train ride during their shows. “You better turn the lights on! Move on. Move on. Move on!” Hop on and enjoy the ride from harshly rapped vocal parts, rocky guitar riffs, wild bass lines.
The chorus with Mr Lordi’s harsh leading vocals and the seductive background choir is very ‘lordy’; their strength making their songs catchy but also their curse. It triggers “Hard Rock Halleluja” memories in the audience that have haunted the band ever after winning the European Song Contest 15 years ago.
Metal-Rap from it best, Metal-Pop from its best, of course intermixed with Waltari’s wildest fantasies. My personal “Lights On” wild stories find realization in its amazing bass play, be it in the intro, the later solo and leading bass lines in the funky-jazzy middle part of the original version.
To complete the story, “Lights On” made it in a remix on the “Decade” album in 1998, too.
The Stage 2021 feat. Tampere All Stars
Aaaaand keyboards, keyboards, nearly sounding like an organ underlining in some aspects lead to – again –a very catchy song with wonderful vocals. A guitar interlude can’t be missed – maybe the song sounds a bit like the good, old 1980’s metal days when hair metal ruled. This hair metal atmosphere is all but accidental, as a former Negative ranks among the Tampere All Stars. The magic of the song, however, comes from the enchanting female voice. First, it reminded me to the Canadian rock divas of Heart. Somehow the voice seemed familiar and then yet unknown. Nevertheless, Capri (Amberian Dawn) and her mesmerizing voice are familiar. She has proved to be a most diverse vocalist performing literally everything from ABBA – literally – to metal.
“The Stage” was released twice already, originally on the “Big Bang” album (1995) and on the album “Decades” (2003). All versions of “The Stage” share a very prominent bass play creating major parts of the Hardrock spirit from the 19909s, its catchiness and easy-going-atmosphere. The vocals of the two previous versions are performed by Kärtsy alone with a rap-like verse and seductively clean sung chorus. The older versions have by far fewer instrumental layers which provide a straighter, also more serious, less playful atmosphere despite the playful melody of the chorus vocals.
Helsinki 2021 feat. April Art
The intro resumes a dark guitar theme from “Below Zero 2021” before a bright, elegant and powerful female voice sets in singing Finnish. Who needs English when you can have Finnish? Well, April Art’s charismatic voice Lisa-Marie Watz performs here in both languages. Interestingly, Kärtsy’s vocal parts are all in English. Lisa-Marie’s elegant clean vocals should not cloud her fierce harsher vocals, mostly brutal screams performed later in the song.
More interestingly, “Helsinki” has always been a duet, performed originally by Kärtsy and Ilkka Laitala (NICOLE) accompanied by background choirs. There are two previous versions on “Blood Sample” (2005) and “The 2nd Decade – In The Cradle” (2008). The dark, bass-focused atmosphere is preserved in the 2021 version; dark and rocky.
While all other featuring artists (incl. Ilkka Laitala, Nicole was founded in 1997) share a long if not even epically long band history, April Art are a comparatively young band. They might be understood as the ‘next generation’ of cross over bands which completes the symbolic circle.
“Helsinki 2021” is the longest song on the album and puts a heavier weight on its finale. As with most, if not all, other songs, very catchy and easy to listen too.
100 % Waltari, 100 % Fun
With their journey through three decades, Waltari manage to renew, keep and refresh their unique sound. Even more than its predecessor “Global Rock” (2019), this compilation is more than a cross-over but an international world-music album. Let’s say, it is a very typical sound, lend from other bands – or do all over bands lend from Waltari?
And thinking of the self-irony, Waltari in general and “3rd Decade – Anniversary Edition” in particular give a good idea about Finnish humor. Contrary to German humor, it really exists, given you get used to it and understand it. Why not ask Waltari on their next tour?
Oh and before it slips my mind: what was the name of the song before meeting Eläkeläiset crashed into it? It was “One Day” (originally on “Rare Species”, 2004).
Certainly, “3rd Decade – Anniversary Edition” will not make doom metal enthusiasts go wild – or will it? But otherwise it provides the perfect party music as it has something for everybody to love. Rock, folk, pop, hardrock, humppa, and plenty of finest progressive metal not to forget the incredible vocal performances.
Music = Notes
They really have made it! Waltari songs became songs of the featuring artists, even entirely new songs came up like “Ehtoopuolella” or perhaps “Misty Man 2021”. This makes it all the more 100 % Waltari, 100 % fun and the best promotion for diversity – be it in music or beyond! It is like Pekko Käppi said once: “And if you take away like the stylistic features from the surface, it’s all the same notes, it’s all singing, all playing. So I don’t really see much differences” (check out the interview).
The “3rd Decade – Anniversary Edition” is brilliant and fun. It is the light we need to in the forthcoming 2nd pandemic winter.
A really worthy album to mark three decades of band history and diversity by default!
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Thank you Friend X for writing about this wonderful piece of art!