Oh Lordi, here we go again! But I kid... I totally dig these guys. Not only are they from Finland, and it's been proven that the spirit of true metal bubbles up from the ground in all Scandinavian countries, but they're also right up there with GWAR when it comes to rocking out in elaborate makeup and costumes (some of their stage props were designed by New Zealand's acclaimed WETA effects workshop), they've played themselves in a big-budget Finnish horror film, they're the first metal group to win the Eurovision Song Contest, they've got their own comic book and even an official Finnish postage stamp, and of course their live shows are the stuff of legend. I mean, who doesn't love the idea of an explosive (literally) arena rock show with Alice Cooper theatrics and KISS pyrotechnics, performed by a lineup of hideous monsters? Nobody I'd hang out with, anyway.
It's actually been nearly three years since Lordi's previous full-length record Babez for Breakfast hit US shores, and while that one didn't quite catch fire in the States, the follow-up To Beast or Not to Beast – which hits stores today – is less of an exercise in '80s nostalgia than its predecessor, and represents a good balance of KISS-inspired hard rock and gothic horror metal that might win over more converts. While they haven't exactly reinvented the wheel, they have made some significant changes to their well-established sound; the band's lineup changed a few times in the intervening three years, with drummer Kita and keyboardist Lady Awa departing the group and newcomers Mana and Hella stepping into their respective boots.
The band's new look (which is revamped for each new album & tour) also got a cool metallic overhaul this time, and even the cover art is kinda classy (although to be honest, just about anything would be an improvement over that skeevy Babez cover). The gothic horror elements which stepped up in 2008's Deadache – and declined in Babez – are prominent again, with more synth atmospheres and spooky effects added to the mix. The quality of production, courtesy of Michael Wagener (who has worked with giants like Alice Cooper, Ozzy and Metallica), is one of the elements both this album and its predecessor have in common, and that's most welcome, but the band has stepped back in time a bit from the previous album's '80s metal vibe.
The Alice Cooper spirit is all over this album, as indicated in the rowdy opening cut "We're Not Bad for the Kids (We're Worse),” with its blackly comic intro narration, and the blazing tempo of cuts like “I'm the Best.” The album's first single "The Riff” demonstrates how the band's skill with a good hook stands up to just about any kind of hard-rock style, and while some might balk at the dance beats, they should remember how KISS alienated some fans with their own disco phase until songs like “I Was Made for Loving You” became massive hits. Hella's keyboards are quite strong here and throughout the album, bringing much-needed gothic horror overtones to tracks like the moody "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and creepy "Horrifiction.” The latter makes good use of a nightmarish vocal intro, an element they use again in "Schizo Doll.”
With that said, muscular riffage is still one of Lordi's greatest strengths, along with anthemic choruses just begging to be shouted at maximum volume, thanks to frontman Mr Lordi's ease with simple, effective hooks (although he changes things up with the creepy vocal effects of "Candy for the Cannibal"). To Beast is also one of the band's heaviest records, with lower tunings, a more distinctive bottom-end and thunderous rhythms from Mana, who proves his worthiness most admirably. As with all Lordi albums, we get another installment of their ongoing “SCG” (Scarctic Circle Gathering) instrumental series, here in the form of “Otus' Butcher Clinic,” which this time comes at the end of the album instead of the usual intro, with a drum-solo centerpiece that seems a bit out of place.
There are a few awkward missteps ("Sincerely with Love" is the worst offender, aiming for badass attitude but instead coming off as snarky), but for the most part To Beast or Not to Beast is a solid return to Lordi form, with an added emphasis on horror elements, which is absolutely the right thing to do for a band who built a reputation as larger-than-life rock 'n' roll monsters. “The Riff” is a strong example of how they can do it right, so we'll send you off with that one, complete with lyrics...