Finland is celebrating its first 100 years of independence on the 6th of December, 2017, and as most of our staff is either from or living in Finland right now, we decided to put together a list of songs that, to us, tell something about Finland. Whether they’re specifically about the country or just something that reminds us of some aspect of the people, nature, or whatever it may be, here’s a glimpse into what our Finland looks like in 15 songs.
Turisas – Täällä Pohjantähden alla
Starting with a pick from our editor-in-chief, here we have Turisas’ rendition of “Täällä Pohjantähden alla”, a song written by Petri Laaksonen with lyrics by Turkka Mali, which the battle metal troupe has covered now and then on stage. Here’s Amy’s view on the song: ”I’ve never been particularly interested in the Finnish anthem, and to me, that song is how I see Finland (my Finnish anthem, if you will), and this rendition is very powerful and shows a lot of local love from the band.”
Amorphis – My Kantele
Amorphis is, without a doubt, one of those pioneering Finnish metal bands that have paved the way for later generations and influenced the birth of the entire subgenre of folk metal. Since the 90s, Amorphis have brought the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, out to the world with their lyrics, but the ones in the song we picked are not from Kalevala, but its ”sister”, Kanteletar, which is a collection of Finnish folk poetry. ”My Kantele” specifically tells about the birth of the kantele (Finland’s national instrument), ”out of hard days” and ”endless woes.” Our wordsmith, Wille, had a story to share regarding the song: “A year ago I had a couple of exchange students over for an international dinner. After we’d finished eating, I played them a few Finnish songs on my acoustic guitar, and “My Kantele” was one of them. To me this song just embodies Finnishness so well, even though the lyrics are in English.”
Kiuas – The Spirit of Ukko
Our photographer Lene explains her pick: ”For most of my life, I’ve been fascinated (and somewhat amused) by stories of how stubborn Finns defied the new religion brought to them by Swedes from the west and went on with their old habits and gods after the crusaders had left – after washing away their baptism in a nearby lake. Somehow the old religion and its worship has survived until this day, in one form or another, and Kiuas brought their own modern and spirited flavor to the celebration of the old pantheon.”
The next three songs show the Finnish relationship with northern nature in three different ways – from the tranquil and beautiful to the grim and harsh. Finland is the first country in the world to have an official flag day for nature, and it’s been an endless source of inspiration to artists all across the board ever since the golden age of Finnish painters in late 19th century until today.
Swallow the Sun – Songs from the North
As our journalist Kalle put it, ”I can’t think of a band that reminds me of Finland better than StS.” There would be no shortage on what to showcase from them, but this acoustic piece from the album of the same name made the cut with its soothing verses and soaring, Finnish-sung choruses.
Eternal Tears of Sorrow – River Flows Frozen
Our photographer Janne picked “River Flows Frozen”, saying, ”I’ve always liked the song ever since I listened to it years ago when wandering in the woods during the winter.” That, more or less, sums up something essential about the Finnish relationship with nature.
Wintersun – Land of Snow and Sorrow
Editor-in-chief Amy talks about her other choice for the list: ”It seems very fueled by local thoughts and feelings, and while grim on the surface, reflects a lot of the beauty as well. Isn’t that a perfect way to describe Finland too?”
Sentenced – No One There, Excuse Me While I Kill Myself/Suicider
Finland is known for its traditionally long winters, which is a natural result of the country being located up in the north. One mental defense mechanism against the dark and cold is humor, which in Finland tends to be quite dry and sometimes dark. Sentenced tended to write about suicide and depression, and in some songs the grim and morbid humor was taken to its extreme – the most famous examples are “The Suicider” and “Excuse Me While I Kill Myself”, which the band played as a medley at their final show, which was captured on the live release Buried Alive (2006). “No One There”, on the other hand, represents the more serious and melancholy side of Sentenced, and the emotional music video featuring an old couple is worth watching for the feels.
Suamenlejjona – Keppana viimeinen
Moving from one typical kind of Finnish humor to another, Kalle picked a song by Suamenlejjona that reminds him of when he was growing up, and incidentally, reminds some of the rest of our staff of Nummirock. Kalle explains further: ”The whole band has this vibe of authenticity surrounding it, even though it is just a joke.” Combining the stereotypes of Finns’ love for hockey, beer, and metal, Suamenlejjona is loved both for and without irony.
Popeda – Kersantti Karoliina
Finland has been a progressive nation when it comes to gender equality: it was among the first to give women the right to vote and be candidates in parliamentary elections, and in 2000 Tarja Halonen became one of the first female presidents in the world. In the 1990s women were permitted to serve in the Finnish military, and Popeda wrote about the subject in the song “Kersantti Karoliina” (Sergeant Karoliina). While the tune is rather tongue-in-cheek, it reminds us of a turning point in Finnish society. Our photographer Miia reminisced on the topic as follows: “I used to say I’d serve in the army if women were allowed in there. After 2 years it was possible, but I didn’t go!”
Stam1na – Vapaa maa
Continuing with the contemporary themes, Miia also picked Stam1na’s “Vapaa maa” (Free Country). Stam1na has made their brand of modern, quirky, Finnish-sung metal into a phenomenon that reaches all kinds of audiences within Finland and has steadily made its way outside Finland as well. “Vapaa maa” is a good example of vocalist-guitarist Antti Hyyrynen’s skill of cooking up insightful, machine gun-paced lyrics with varying societal messages.
CMX – Discoinferno
The term “luova hulluus” (creative madness) is well-known in Finland and refers to thinking outside the box, sometimes quite radically so. This is certainly familiar to Finns, as demonstrated by the fact that the wife-carrying and mobile phone throwing world championships are held in our country. In the field of music a good example of this crazy creativity is the not-so-easily categorized band CMX with their eclectic range of influences. Their song “Discoinferno” combines industrial sounds, a guitar riff that consists of all the 12 notes in the chromatic scale played up and down, and a lyric written in the Kalevala meter, which is a form of trochaic tetrameter used in Finnish folk poetry and the eponymous national epic. Just listen if you don’t believe!
Sonata Arctica – Black Sheep
Finland has a rich tradition of literature, although not many writers besides Mika Waltari are famous abroad. Their influence, however, occasionally raises its head even in heavier music, an example of this being “Black Sheep” by Sonata Arctica, which is inspired by the novel The Howling Miller (1981) by Arto Paasilinna.
Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus – Lumessakahlaajat, Psychework – Bullet With My Name
Even though the independence had been gained over 20 years earlier, it was at stake for some time when most of Europe was in the middle of World War II and Finland fought the Winter War and the Continuation War against Soviet Union. While the common narrative on Finnish independence is quite heavily influenced by stories of war heroes and miraculous victories, some bands have told stories that step a little away from that glorified history – stories of refugees and close calls.
Mokoma – Sydänjuuret
Almost a cliché in a list like this, Mokoma’s “Sydänjuuret” from the 2010 album of the same name is essentially a song from and about Finland, sung in Finnish. It’s made its way into the hearts of fans with ease, and at Independence Day shows in particular the sing-alongs are quite something.
The Finlandia hymn
There is probably not a more proper way to wrap this list up than Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia hymn. Originally composed as part of a patriotic symphonic poem in a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire and later worked into a stand-alone piece, it is one of the most important national songs in Finland. It’s also been covered by numerous Finnish bands, from Stone to Nightwish, and most recently by Frosttide. This rendition by the YL Male Voice Choir is one of the most loved versions, and with it, we wish the independent Finland many happy returns and peaceful centuries to come.
Text: Lene L. and Wille Karttunen