Sunday, March 16, 2008

Finland's Northern Kings take on Radiohead's Creep and turn it into an instant classic

Towards the tail end of 2007, Finland put together four of their biggest hardcore metal rock vocalists in a heavy metal supergroup called the 'Northern Kings'.

They recorded the album 'Reborn' which featured their own metal versions of songs ranging from Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, David Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes', Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', Tina Turner's 'We Don't Need Another Hero' (from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) and Radiohead's 'Creep'.

On paper, the very idea of doing a metal album of cover songs sounded crazy, like some heavy metal cash-in or a metal version of an El Divo Greatest Hits album. Forget it. This is the polar opposite.

This could very well be, one of the best symphonic power metal albums of the last 20 years. It's a phenomenal achievement.

'Reborn' went Gold in Finland when it was originally released on 31st October 2007. The album will finally be released in the UK by Warner Music in June 2008.

Finland has always been into cutting edge heavy metal music, in particular, bizarre hardcore blood metal bands. The scene is very extreme and makes goth metal types seem power pop perfectionists on a shopping spree in their local shopping mall.

The Northern Kings are comprised of four vocalists, who are all frontmen of successful Finnish heavy metal bands. The band masterminded the idea of recording their own metal versions of an electic selection of 80's staples.

Unlike most bands who try to reproduce the sound and arrangements of the original songs, the Northern Kings have deconstructed the arrangements, by coming up with their own renditions, most of which is backed with metal guitars, a full symphonic orchestral backing, and electronic enhancements.

The four vocalists include Marco Hietala from the critically accliamed Finnish bands 'Nightwish' and 'Tarot', Tony Kakko from 'Sonata Arctica', JP Leppäluoto from 'Charon' and J Ahola from 'Teräsbetoni'. Each vocalist has his own trademark sound, including deep, satanic, operatic metal rock vocals. It's all-consuming and larger than life.

What blew me away is the sonic attack of the bands' take on each song. Any band who attempts to cover Radiohead's 'Creep', either has to be totally insane, or verging on sheer genius. Northern Kings make the song their own animal, and it sounds epic.

The general vibe on the album is to give the metal makeover a fully orchestrated backing (string section, the works), with some electronic noodling thrown in . The metal guitars are prevalent, but you can't help but dig the Norse God, Viking vibe of the band's renditions. It's not a gimmick, but it is very dramatic, very lush and grandoise sounding. However, what really makes the songs fly, are the incredible soaring vocals.

If you loved the way Guns'n'Roses recorded the big orchestral rendition of Wings' 'Live and Let Die', then 'Reborn' will repeatedly hit the mark.

A perfect example is the first single lifted from the album, 'We Don't Need Another Hero'. It makes Tina Turner's original version sound like a cover. The Northern Kings have done the impossible. They've re-invented the original songs and they've made them their own. Unlike most artists or bands who record a cover, the version is traditionally inferior and not a patch on the original.

I can't think of any other band who have taken a song like Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' or Lionel Richie's 'Hello' and have given it a new lease of life.

The Northern Kings sound harder than Iron Maiden, sexier than Van Halen and more relevant than Metallica. Forget the hype. Potentially, this could be the new dawn for what ultimately could be Finland's heavy metal world takeover. And why not? The Soprano's ended their final episode with Don't Stop Believin', and the Northern Kings take a stab at it as their opening track to the 'Reborn' album. Coincidence?

Track Listing -

Don't Stop Believin'
We Don't Need Another Hero
Broken Wings
Rebel Yell
Ashes To Ashes
Fallen On Hard Times
I Just Died In Your Arms
Don't Bring Me Down
In The Air Tonight
Brothers In Arms

Northern Kings on MySpace -