REVIEW: Oceanhoarse – Heads Will Roll

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Set for release on February 17th, 2023, via the German metal label, Noble Demon, “Heads Will Roll” is the sophomore studio album by Finnish metal outfit OCEANHOARSE, a band that seems to have been stirring things up rather nicely after their 2021 debut Dead Reckoning.” For some reason, this bunch has managed to fly under my radar until now, so let’s check out what the hubbub is all about.

I suspect the Finnish metal fraternity must be following some obscure variants of those three Mendel laws when it comes to creating progenies; the rise of amazing up-and-coming outfits simply defies the laws of physics. The thing is – here is yet another band that engages with the metal aesthetics of the past in such a novel and fantastic way that every bit of the hype seems very well deserved. The new album rolls out feisty riff noodles that smite you on sight with a balanced mixture of sounds, ranging from hard rock to groove metal to metalcore. It certainly helps that vocalist Joonas Kosonen showcases his vocal power, accordingly, resonating by turns with the air of early KILLSWITCH ENGAGE and AMORPHIS, even. It’s hard for an old grit like me not to have an acute sentimentality attack triggered by the music, switching my brain into a pastel Technicolor mode of nostalgia. These metal hooligans sure know how to play on their strengths, which happen to be those that were more prominently in vogue in the pre-internet world – that is, killer songs.

The album opens with a nice curve-ball of hard-rock riffs entitled “Fall Like Dominoes.” In fact, the first few bars sound especially enticing, what with the intro wavering like a lysergic emanation from an ocean of Big Muff distortion as if it was 1992 once again. The song doesn’t plunge into grunge territory though, but sets out to traverse more traditional metal terrain with singalong choruses and all. The production and the delicious guitar and bass tones, in particular, give away that the song is modern-day material and not from the sepia-filtered time immemorial. However, there is something deliciously old-school in the songcraft, something that makes you feel almost as though entering a past-life memory from the 1980s. That’s not a bad way to build authority in the metal scene, I’d say.

The follow-up track, “Help Is On the Way,” with its not-so-subtle metalcore vibes, would convince even the novice on the town, at least, that this bunch is no mere nostalgia act. In addition to the upbeat riffing, the metalcore vibe derives perhaps from the way the clean vocals do resonate with the subtle air of KILLSWITCH ENGAGE‘s most famous vocalist, Howard Jones, here and there. If I made it sound like a word of reproach, it’s not – in my books, the Jones-era KILLSWITCH ENGAGE albums still count as their finest efforts to date – sorry, not sorry! What I find particularly lovely about OCEANHOARSE is the way the vocals steer clear from the emo department, despite the occasional metalcore belting. At times, the clean vocals resonate with the air of AMORPHIS frontman Tomi Joutsen too, creating nothing short of exciting mental associations, as the band’s music does not play on the Slavic melancholy that much.

That said, one of the standout tracks on the album does boast delicious melodies that nod gently in that particular direction. “Smoke Signals” triggers pleasant AMORPHIS flashbacks here and there, with a distinct OCEANHOARSE twist. I guess there’s no way you could escape the melancholic undercurrent in your music if you come from Finland – it grows into us through mother’s milk. Then again, if you were specifically looking for something cheerful, metal music might not be the go-to genre to begin with.

Next, possibly the slowest and heaviest track on the album, “Waves,” crushes you with the weight of a dying star, chugging forward down the thin line between the SOUNDGARDEN variety of grunge and vintage heavy metal acts such as DIO – and if you haven’t become a convert in the parish of the band’s most diehard fanboys, yet, this is perhaps the point of no return. Then, after the crushing waves (sic) of such heavy riffs, “Dead Zone,” is a sprawling guitar instrumental that fits nicely as a short breather into the band’s otherwise heavy oeuvre. The dreamy, atmospheric sound of the guitar fractals does feel like a breath of fresh air after six tracks of crushing riffs, adding a deeper dimension to the sonic character of the album. For me, the album peaks at these two tracks, no questions about it.

The rest of the album is devoted to satisfying even the most gargantuan appetite for killer riffs. In the title track, “Heads Will Roll,” you can even sense subtle melodic references to IRON MAIDEN‘s golden years in the 1980s – delivered with a modern touch of metalcore. Now, that’s a combo that I didn’t think I would appreciate at all, but these crazy Finns show how it’s done with style and the song’s charm lies in this slightly unusual mix.

As if to further prove the band’s superior firepower, as far as feisty riffs are concerned, “Adrift” takes off on an almost pop-punk-ish tangent, side-stepping into the realm of ALICE IN CHAINS briefly, at some point, with the multi-layered vocals. I cannot help but think about the possibility of OCEANHOARSE flirting yet more openly with the Seattle sound of yesteryear – oh, yes, I would like it very much! Kosonen has a vocal sound that would work wonders in that particular context, no doubt! Then again, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. This bunch is way ahead of the competition already as they are and half the battle is won by their meticulous, tradition-savvy songcraft that smacks you in the face with just the right amount of everything.

Finally, the album closer, “Carved in Stone,” plays with some more IRON MAIDEN vibes. The opening guitar motif resonates with the air of “The Evil That Men Do” from IRON MAIDEN‘s 1988 album, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” which happened to be the first vinyl I ever bought. So, it goes without saying that this selection ends on one hell of a high note! All things considered, OCEANHOARSE‘s sophomore effort is a positive kick in the groin, a not-so-gentle reminder of why we turn to music as the ultimate pleasure, albeit maybe not the most optimal album of choice for the wall-huggers or the hen-hearted. It kicks ass with so much force that you might not want to sit back in a candlelight circle and burn the sage – it’s a jolly good ride in the higher dimensions of old-schoolish heavy metal!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Fall Like Dominoes
  2. Help Is On the Way
  3. Pryopen
  4. Brick
  5. Smoke Signals
  6. Waves
  7. Dead Zone
  8. Heads Will Roll
  9. Adrift
  10. Nails
  11. Carved in Stone

Lineup

Ben Varon – guitars

Jyri Helko – bass

Oskari Niemi – drums

Joonas Kosonen – vocals

Label

Noble Demon

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