Since Finland’s own genuine Monsters of Rock, known worldwide for their elaborate horror costumes, ‘80s-style arena anthems and WMD-level pyrotechnics, have returned at last to storm North America's shores, I figured it's high time I took a good listen to the new album – their first since that history-making win at the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest and subsequent US success with Ozzfest last year. Not that any mere recording can approximate the live Lordi experience… but in the end it still comes down to the music, and duty compels me to dig deeper.
Those who have a passing familiarity with these quasi-mythical figures usually describe Lordi as “KISS with more makeup,” and I suppose there's a lot to that... after all, parallels to the American legends are too numerous to count, and include a muscular ‘70s/’80s cock-rock vibe (with grue substituting for glam), a superhuman public image, and a merchandising juggernaut that comes close to topping their American counterparts' ubiquitous mugs on everything from bedsheets to credit cards (hell, not even KISS have their own theme restaurant and soft drink brand). In fact, the Lordi Empire is so all-encompassing that it demands an entire article of its own... and, rest assured, that's coming soon. But first, it's time to rock out with yer socks out and talk Deadache, Lordi's slickest production to date.
Overall, the themes and styles in Deadache are consistent with their previous full-length effort, the quaintly-titled The Arockalypse, but this time around I detected a darker, harsher edge to a lot of the material – more in keeping with frontman Mr. Lordi’s coarse but beefy vocals, which recall Gene Simmons at his “God of Thunder” meanest (with maybe a touch of Lemmy’s whiskey-soaked rasp). The production is even bigger and louder than ever – something I didn’t think was possible for these guys – but in this genre, size does matter. Hell, why do you think they put lifts in those “Man Skin Boots?”
Opening with a creepy lullaby that slips into a dark ambient nightmare instrumental, the haunted-castle mood is locked in tight before the explosion of “Girls Go Chopping,” full of catchy and chunky riffs that establish the skills of guitarist Amen (he’s the one in the mummy getup) from the get-go, ably supported by an appropriately Gothic synth undercurrent. The chorus is dripping with ‘80s hairspray, which can grate on the nerves occasionally, but if you’re at all familiar with this band, you know that’s pretty much part of the package, and you can tell right away Mr. Lordi’s visualizing big arenas when writing these tunes.
As its title implies, first single “Bite it Like a Bulldog” is even more aggressive, and the band did a kick-ass rendition of this ditty on Conan O'Brien just before launching into their US tour. It's all rumbly bass and simple locked-in riffs, with a catchy chorus hook that recalls ‘80s-era Alice Cooper (another strong influence). Other strong cuts include the macho “Man Skin Boots” and the blistering “Raise Hell in Heaven,” both of which demonstrate a much wider palette of tones and styles in vocals and instrumentation. As with the album opener, the band also reveal their skills in creating rich atmospheres on tracks like “The Rebirth of the Countess” (featuring some solid work by keyboardist Awa) and a bit of Phantom of the Opera thievery in “The Devil Hides Behind Her.” Closing track “Missing Miss Charlene” is melodically one of their strongest yet, and includes the always-creepy effect of a children’s choir (rumor has it one of the tykes in this chorus is Mr. Lordi himself, recorded when he was a young pup).
On the downside: it’s the area of ballads where this band starts to lose my interest, and unfortunately there are a few of them here, particularly “Evilyn” and the decidedly KISS-like “Monsters Keep Me Company.” Although technically well executed, power-ballads have never really been the strong suit of a band that made their bones with fist-pumping anthems. I can’t say there’s a Lordi equivalent of “Beth” to make you raise your lighter in appreciation – but that’s just my personal taste. Plus it’s hard to get all teary-eyed at a song being delivered in a coarse growl by a man dressed as a Genghis Khan zombie.
In summary, Deadache is more of what Lordi does best: a fun, crank-it-to-11 Halloween party in a can with absolutely no illusions of being high art – and their fans already know this. Stephen King once wrote in Dance Macabre that there’s nothing wrong with wanting “junk food” entertainment once in a while, and with that in mind I consider the Lordi experience to be the musical equivalent of a big, cheap but tasty hamburger. And sometimes that’s exactly what you’re hungry for.