|Musical Style: Symphonic Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Bullroser||Country Of Origin: Finland|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website: HB|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 44:13|
HB came out of the burgeoning Finnish metal scene in 2004, releasing its full length debut Uskon Puolesta before following up two years later with the sophomore outing Enne. The band proceeded to put out a live DVD in 2007, Can You Road?, only to return to the studio and record its spring of 2008 Bullroser Records debut Frozen Inside. The latter half of 2008 finds HB presenting with the Bullroser follow up effort Piikki Lihassa, an all Finnish release in which the group continues to impress with its unique brand of female fronted symphonic metal.
Piikki Lihassa builds upon the strengths that made Frozen Inside such a solid release. Still inviting comparison to Nightwish and Within Temptation, HB maintains its penchant for taking an upfront rhythm guitar sound and lacing it with operatic vocal harmonies, epic arrangements, grandiose keyboards and classical instrumentation. The addition of a male vocalist, at the same time, brings another dimension to the bands sound.
The album is based on a foundation of quality symphonic metal pieces - “Ilo Herrassa”, “Turvapaikka” and “Piikki Lihassa” – but can also deliver a touch of the progressive (“Jeremia”) or even some Goth-influenced moments (“Sanna”). Rounding things out are a couple of up-tempo rockers in “Mina Olen” and “Hankl Elama”.
You will also find three ballads here, ”Hylkasitko Minut?”, “Han Pitaa Kadestas Kiinni” and “Alttarilaulu”. Now, it has always been my opinion that you do not want more than two ballads on a ten song album- unless they are expertly performed. The three, while well executed and constructed, have a bit of a sameness feel to them in that they are classical ballads upheld by keyboards, piano and acoustic guitar. If HB had delivered two ballads instead – with one heading in hard rock territory and the other classically influenced – the album might have flowed with better continuity.
As previously stated, Piikki Lihassa is an all Finnish release. Lead vocalist Johanna Aaltonen exhibits added strength and depth to her delivery throughout the project. Perhaps it is the opportunity to sing in her natural language – or simply the maturity that comes with experience – but she comes across with much more confidence in terms of her all around performance. Check out ”Hylkasitko Minut?” and the albums stunning title track, two pieces in which she really shines.
Keyboardist Antti Niskala assumes a duel lead vocalist role. The best way to describe his style might by low-key and swarthy but with touches of the Goth-like. Needless to say, it works and, as already noted, adds another dimension to the bands sound. “Sana” is the only track in which he handles lead vocals while he trades off with Johanna on “Jeremia”, Mina Olen” and “Han Pitaa Kadestas Kiinni”.
Talented guitarist Janne Karhunen returns as well (at this point I would like to add that in this age of frequent band turnover I am impressed with how HB has maintained the same line up from one album to the next). Quite the understated musician, Janne best exhibits his neo-classical playing on “Jeremia”, “Ilo Herrassa” and “Turvapaikka”. And as mentioned in my review of Frozen Inside, I wish he would cut loose a bit more in that there are several tracks that would have stood out further if featuring a bit of lead guitar.
Production values, for a lack of better words, are superb and rate with the genres finest. I would not have done anything differently.
Album opener “Jeremia” showcases a creative touch of the progressive. The song stands out with its variety, ranging from quieter passages interwoven with palatial keyboards to guitar driven moments bolstered by a brisk rhythm guitar- all the while the band adds symphonic touches in the form of operatic backing vocals and neo-classically flavored lead guitar. By far my favorite track here bringing an elegant environs that won me over on first listen.
“Mina Olen” heads in upbeat hard rock territory. Three and a half minutes of spirited metal, the song finds Johanna adding a smooth touch during its exquisite verse portions while Antti steps forward with his somber flavorings for its guitar driven chorus. A perfect contrast – from the melodic to the aggressive – is created in the process.
“Hankl Elama” maintains the up-tempo initiative. With Johanna leading the way, the song drives its length to a persuasive rhythm guitar as sublime keyboards highlight the backdrop. The end result is an energetic aura that will pull you in and refuse to let go. The pace only lets up for a short instrumental interlude upheld by a piano.
The symphonic based “Ilo Herrassa” opens to a keyboard solo that transitions to an edgy rhythm guitar. Tapering to an ethereal setting for its first verse, the song gradually gains momentum until it explodes for a spirited chorus in which a piano plays a distant but highlighting role. Janne provides for the albums best stretch of lead guitar.
”Hylkasitko Minut?”, the first of three ballads, is a haunting piece slowly flowing to a melding of piano and classical instrumentation, projecting an overall vibe on the mood-filled and swarthy side of things. This one allows Johanna to shine with her crystal clear vocal delivery- and leaving little doubt as to her abilities in the process.
“Sana” proves another dark and resonant number, with the main reason being the low-key vocal approach of Antti. Almost Goth-tinged in capacity, the song is put over the top by its choppy rhythm guitar sound and rumbling mid-paced impetus. Vocal harmonies step forward to back its dogged chorus. Also, it must be noted the humorous feel to the last thirty seconds as impetus picks up for a polka-folk-like rhythm.
HB returns to symphonic metal territory on “Turvapaikka”. The song begins its first seconds in a keyboard driven manner, gradually building impetus – to some heavy duty (almost harsh) backing vocals – only to abruptly pick up the pace for an energized chorus backed by pummeling drums. Another stretch of fiery lead guitar.
The albums second ballad, “Han Pitaa Kadestas Kiinni”, follows the pattern set by ”Hylkasitko Minut?” in that it is a plodding piece sustained by an amalgamation of piano and orchestration. Annti briefly adds to the somber scene with his resonant vocal delivery.
The refined keyboards at the start of “Piikki Lihassa” soon give way to a drum solo. The albums title track proceeds to evenly flow ahead in guitar driven fashion while reflecting touches of the classical with its continued use of keyboards (and a short piano driven instrumental portion). Chorus wise, the feeling projected is epic, almost bordering on the grand and stately in magnitude. Beautiful song.
Closing things out is “Alttarilaulu”, the final of the three ballads. Similar to the two preceding it, this one proves an orchestral piece with its piano and keyboard driven flavorings. The only difference is that a lacing of the acoustic makes its presence felt.
What we have in Piikki Lihassa is another solid effort from HB. The album presents with good variety, ranging from symphonic metal to upbeat hard rockers to ballads (although I might have gone with two of the latter as opposed to three). Production represents a strength as do the vocal abilities of Johanna and Antti. The best way to sum up would be to state that if you enjoyed Frozen Inside then you will find a lot to like on Piikki Lihassa.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Jeremia” (5:55), “Mina Olen” (3:35), “Hankl Elama” (3:27), “Ilo Herrassa” (4:36), ”Hylkasitko Minut?” (4:21), “Sana” (5:08), “Turvapaikka” (4:05), “Han Pitaa Kadestas Kiinni” (4:23), “Piikki Lihassa” (3:56), “Alttarilaulu” (4:47)
Johanna Aaltonen – Lead Vocals
Antti Niskala – Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Janna Karhunen – Guitars
Tuomas Maki-Kerttula – Bass
Markus Malin – Drums
Also Reviewed: HB – Frozen Inside