Thursday 19 March 2020

Waltari - Global Rock (2020)

Country: Finland
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 Mar 2020
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The boundaries of rock opened up a lot in the nineties and there may not be a better example of a band who embraced that than Waltari. Their 1992 album Torcha! ran the gamut from rap to speed metal, a former punk band covering Madonna, and they've only expanded on their musical tastes since then. This is very much for the open minded, so much so that some of this goes too far even for me.

Case in point: opening number Postrock, which combines crunchy metal guitar and autotune, the oddest combination of styles I can imagine. Metalheads are not always averse to other genres of music, even chart pop, Billie Eilish a surprising name on a lot of metal lips nowadays. But rock music generally is based in live performance and autotune is anathema to that mentality. I'm a hater of autotune myself because it sounds awful to me on anything but the most abstract electronica. I don't like this song because of it.

That said, it's only used for effect on this one song and not throughout it, while the rest of Postrock sets the stage for a lot of what's to come on the rest of the album. This is pop music but it's metal music and there's enough of each to underline both. The choruses here are pure pop but the backing is metal and the midsection is as far from pop as it gets, with duelling guitar solos and prog phrasing. We're not in Kansas any more, Toto.

The question is whether such a wide variety of styles can co-exist within a single song because Waltari don't merely alternate heavier songs with light ones, they combine those styles within songs. They mostly confine themselves to the pop/rock/metal spectrum, so they're not as wild as, say, Mr. Bungle, but they often bring Faith No More and Babymetal to mind. I'd especially say the latter because of the frequent use of pop vocals, often saccharine ones, over a metal backdrop. The latter is more obvious in the shifts of style not only within songs but sometimes, as with Metal Soul, within lines.

Wikipedia currently tags Waltari as avant-garde metal, alternative metal and progressive metal, but I think they need to reevaluate that given how much a lot of songs depart entirely from metal here. Skyline is the extreme here, a song that kicks off with AOR phrasing, then adds a little heavy guitar for a moment before a fundamental shift to hip hop over electronica, finding a pop chorus within a minute. It's not really my thing but it is done well and I'm not going to rail against it the way I did the autotune on Postrock.

What it does is variety and it does it well, just as do so many other songs here. No Sacrifice starts out like a churning Slayer number with vocals that range from Rage Against the Machine to Ozzy Osbourne; halfway through, it's all symphonic before that Slayer riff kicks back in. Sick 'n' Tired reminds of Oasis with less of an accent until it grows into a Peter Gabriel number. Going Up the Country is a popped up blues song, a sort of Spirit in the Sky type spiritual chant but remixed by a DJ. Orleans kicks off with a driving metal riff in the vein of Accept but adds in some electronic woops and some country blues slide. There's a lot here.

The wildest song may well be Boots, which shifts from an R&B influenced acid intro to an arena metal number rather like the Scorpions, before becoming a sort of cross between a rave and an aerobics routine. And yes, the title is referring to the Nancy Sinatra song, These Boots are Made for Walking, which is re-interpreted for the chorus, even though this isn't a cover of that or the Megadeth take on it. It's remix culture gone wild.

The most varied songs are the most interesting ones here, though it'll take an open mind to appreciate all of them. What gets me most isn't the variety but the lack of acknowledgement of what's cool and what isn't. That may well be what impresses me most here, because Waltari aren't just mixing extremes, they're doing so in any way they want, even if it means incorporating arena rock, AOR or the nu metal that's all over The Way, even though it does get a little more older school as it grows.

The most forgettable songs are the ones that don't care to get remotely that imaginative. There are a lot of them here, thirteen full songs taking up an hour of play, so it shouldn't be too surprising that some of them are rather forgettable, especially towards the end. Sand Witch is easily the best late song with its transition from folk into power metal and post-punk.

All in all, this is a wild journey for anyone with the balls and the disdain for trendy labels that's required to really get it. I admired this more than I enjoyed it but there are still songs I wouldn't mind playing a lot. Kudos to Waltari for making something this interesting.

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