The Essentials Of Old School Finnish Death Metal

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John Coyne, Staff Writer

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What is Old School Finnish Death Metal? Well… it’s death metal from Finland… but what is so special about that? The Finnish people put together a death metal formula much different from their neighbors of Sweden (Swedish Death Metal → more melodic) and Norway (Norwegian Black Metal → satanic music played with buckets of stuff as instruments [not actually]). Any metalhead knows that death metal wouldn’t have come into existence if it weren’t for Slayer’s 1985 album, “Hell Awaits.” Tom Araya’s shrieking and Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King’s dissonant duets set the stage for more extreme music to come. However, as seen on “Hell Awaits” and their 1986 album “Reign in Blood,” Slayer achieved their brutality through sheer face-melting speed. This is where the Finnish do it best—they achieve their brutality through dragging, groovy riffs, keeping the dissonance, making them sound dirty and mean. 

My love for Old School Finnish Death Metal (as discussed in previous articles, Old School is important because of the grimy analog production as opposed to the overly produced music on the modern era), came from when I listened to Sentenced’s 1991 album, “Shadows of Past,” and the Eureka moment specifically happened during the intro riff to the second song on the album, “Rot to Dead,” (probably Death instead of Dead but whatcha gonna do about translations…). The intro riff seemed to combine the intro riff of “South of Heaven” by Slayer (one of my favorite songs of all times), and “Slowly We Rot” by Obituary (my favorite Obituary song) into one, and it was at this point I knew that this genre was something I would love.

With that in mind… the essentials for Old School Finnish Death Metal would be:

1) “Shadows of Past” by Sentenced → To add-on to the points made earlier about this album, this album is the very definition of the genre. What’s also great about this album, is that it is 51 minutes long, which is a lot of death metal for one album. The production is perfect, with the right mixture of lows, mids, and treble for the tremolo picking sections and enough distortion to make the harmonies sound meaner.

2) “World Without God” by Convulse → This album creates one heck of a dark atmosphere, starting with the 50-second intro track with a mystifying piano/organ piece directly into the semi-out of tune intro riff of the title track. The best part about this album is the sudden changes between tremolo-picked sections to slow, almost scary, riffs. Each note picked seems to start above the desired pitch, drop below, and then come back to center in tune, which creates the dark and creepy atmosphere of this album. If you like this album and Sentenced’s album, you’re gonna love the rest of Old School Finnish Death Metal

3) “The Karelian Isthmus” by Amorphis → What is great about this album is the number of memorable riffs I seem to get stuck in my head. Amorphis is the best band of the genre for creating memorable riffs due to their off-beat presence and change of pace. Amorphis also likes to play around with harmonies with one guitar playing the same note over and over again, and the second guitar changing to different notes to change the meaning each time those notes are hit at the same time. This is definitely the “catchiest” Old School Finnish Death Metal album.

4) “Musta Seremonia” by Rippikoulu → Let’s see… how to be heavy… Down tune to G# standard and go slow. No, slower. SLOWER… ssssllloooowweeerrrrr… Rippikoulu brings the doom (slowness) to the forefront of their take on the genre. They down-tune their guitars to some ridiculous tuning and just chug away, with the vocals that are just like gradual sound waves passing by you. Starting soft, getting louder, louder, dying down, fading away… These guys are so heavy. When the first note of that album was played upon my first listen, a giant grin just popped on my face.

If all these albums suited your liking, you are now part of the Old School Finnish Death Metal scene. Welcome! Time to listen to some of the best albums ever created… Some more to get you started… “Slumber of the Sullen Eyes” by Demigod, “Nespithe” by Demilich (holy dissonance and super scary vocals), and “Member of Immortal Damnation” by Purtenance. Stay metal! \m/