Until several years ago, “Finnish metal” was used to describe a certain group of bands that would get their inspiration from SENTENCED and carry on with the same melancholy, heartache and gothic tunes. Soon there was not much left to say in this genre, so it faded away towards extinction. Was Finland going nowhere? Of course not. With new inspiration in its great melodic death metal acts, it began to develop its own brand of the genre.
GRENDEL‘s cross to bear in the Land of Metal is a tough one; the melodeath area becomes overcrowded already, there are simply too many bands and too good to make possible long-term successes like those from past decades. This explains why I, for example, am writing about this band in 2011 (they began in 2000). There were many occasions in which I encountered its name, it was getting a grip on my memory, but I got too emerged into other bands to check it… However, the effect of the discovery was a fast and mind-blowing one. I haven’t known such enthusiasms for a Finnish band since I got into SWALLOW THE SUN, which actually has quite a sound connection to GRENDEL. On some tracks, that is. I must mention the diversity of which this band is capable! From numbing melancholy to downright anger and aggressiveness. A great plus is that these musicians engage in acoustic and cover gigs – truly awesome stuff. By all evidence, they love what they’re doing and they invest a lot in it, expanding the experience.
So far I have befriended only their latest 2 albums, “A Change Through Destruction” (2008) and “Corrupt to the Core” (2011) If Mikko Kotamäki (SWALLOW THE SUN) impressed with his clean/growl duality of vocals, this time another Mikko takes it to an even higher level. The clean vocals of Mr. Virtanen are able to sustain much more with their richness and depth. Their specific sound is inviting, dark, seductive – at the same time intimidating – without the “unfortunate trait” of many such vocals in death metal, that manage to decrease the testosterone levels and to sound out of place. No, Mikko Virtanen is blessed with an unforgettable voice that adds depth. On the brutal vocals aspect, he does it fantastically also. There is raw power and harshness which, combined with well-crafted guitar riffs (like in “Apocalyptic Rain“) are a great metal treat. On tracks like “The Deaf Cult“, the slower pace and doom atmosphere remind of the aforementioned co-nationals. A bitter, blue-hearted, haunting masterpiece. The deeper and wider growls are something remarkable here. Its equivalent on the newer album seems to be “Five Years Without the Sun“, the difference being that this one is sung in clean vocals entirely, with the help of guitarist Mika Kivi (a nice surprise). “One Desire” is a song that probably makes AMORPHIS wish they wrote it. Also Tomi Joutsen has a serious challenge in front of this roaring lion – Mikko Virtanen – and his energy (can’t help but appreciate the storming stage presence).
I find their 2008 album to be somewhat richer than the one of 2011 – as the band made better use of the qualities they had and their uniqueness. “Half Life” can be an example for the state of the art for GRENDEL: it exhibits the best of melody composition, the best of Mikko’s vocals and technique and a perfect unity of message + atmosphere + execution. However, among their new tracks there are great compositions too, such as “Silver Tongues“, that gave me visions of a crushing gig at a big open air festival, with a crazy crowd and some fine pyrotechnics. This 2011 record is more brutal, fit for moshing, with more consistent guitar work (watch the killer riffing in “Day of Redemption“). It’s a release that shines on the faster and heavier side but lacks on the side of clean vocals, which are not used to their full potential on some tunes.
The lyrical themes of GRENDEL mostly deal with soul search, guilt and penance, mankind’s current state and so on. All in all, very introspective lyrics that maintain the band in the “top quality” area. It is a deeply human journey through many levels and aspects of life, put on a variety of rhythms. Definitely, the foremost qualities of this band stand in the various genres they visit, the vocals and the live appearances. Just can’t get bored with them.
Go meet this monster on the Metallia Perkele! -tour this autumn!
Mikko Virtanen (Vocals)
Mika Kivi (Guitars, Background vocals)
Jussi Kraft (Guitars)
Kari Martikainen (Bass)
Juha Terrilä (Keyboards)
Jarkko Piipari (Drums)