Adoration of Resuscitated Necrobrains: Xysma

Since obsessing over old(school) Finnish death metal will surely be one of the key characteristics of this space, let’s start with my Adoration of Resuscitated Necrobrains article from Enslain #11.  Also, I’ve been too lazy/busy split 7” to write anything actually fresh, so here we go:

Before discovering the musical marvels of Xysma’s early works through the double-CD compilation that Spikefarm graciously put out in late 2004, my only brushes with old Finnish death metal had been some early Amorphis and Sentenced songs, which hadn’t really served as much more than interesting glimpses into the past of bands that were now doing something more interesting to my ears.  However, facing the intensity, atmosphere and originality of Xysma’s music left an inerasable trace in my sonic memory.  The release of the compilation also triggered a fair amount of exposure for the band in the Finnish music media, and their charmingly cruddy old photos and heartwarming stories of tape trading times, youth center gigs and rehearsals in sub-zero conditions added to the compelling aura.

So, I started looking deeper into the past of Finnish death metal, and soon learned about a plethora of Xysma’s contemporaries.  While there seemed to have been quite a lot of variety on the field, with most of the bands not sounding like they were imitating each other or the big names of the genre, it felt like they shared a certain kind of dark arcane atmosphere that wasn’t quite like anything I had encountered before.  I was also intrigued to find out that many other bands than Amorphis, Sentenced and Xysma had “grown up” and gone through – or at least attempted – a stylistic change, delving into groovier or more experimental territories.  Most of them had faded away before reaching this kind of a turning point, though, or at least soon after.

Spanish Xtreem Music also disinterred some significant recordings in 2004, re-releasing the debut albums of Turku troops Disgrace and Funebre, terribly disgracing the cover art of the latter with computerized crap, by the way.  As a few more years went by, the interest towards these kinds of old obscurities seemed to be increasing, with both oldheads and younglings excitedly seeking and sharing the material on the net while praying for re-releases.  The labels soon started answering the demand with more reissues, and this newfound interest seemed to also ignite a couple of the old bands to get back together – some just for a nostalgic show or two, a few others to put together new material.  For somebody quite obsessed with old Finnish death metal who never got to experience the original phenomenon, these have been fascinating times.  Here’s a look at four bands who were forging the foundations around the turn of the 90’s, and have recently awoken from slumber to drag their festering bodies back under the stage lights.

Xysma

My first run-ins with this chameleonic collective actually happened through a few pleasant pop/rock songs from the later side of their career, and hearing claims of Xysma having been the first Finnish grindcore group with their late 80’s debut demo naturally created a fascinating contrast to this.  As the aforementioned compilation from 2004 gathered together all of their early releases, it was an excellent starting point for delving into the uniquely multifaceted world of Xysma.

The package wasn’t a goldmine of information, with the booklet merely containing some old photos and a short introduction, but the musical contents were astounding, with each step in the band’s discography bringing a new thrilling discovery.  The first disc presented their first two full-lengths – Yeah, which combined deathly brutality, relaxed rocking and naturalistic atmospheres in an unprecedented way, and the supremely memorable be-all and end-all death ‘n’ roll masterpiece First & Magical. The second disc consisted of the rabidly intense grinding of the Swarming of the Maggots demo, and the soul-swallowing death metal putridity of the following MLP and EP.

Quite soon after my introduction to the more ravaging side of Xysma’s palette, I also acquired their later works, and found myself almost equally enthralled by the still ripping yet clearly less metallic Deluxe, as well as the über-cool rock ‘n’ roller Lotto and the smooth and poppy tunes of their conclusive full-length Girl on the Beach.  Viewing their career as a whole, I can hardly come up with any other band that would’ve gone through such an extreme evolution, and done it with this much class and style.

After going their separate ways in the late 90’s, Xysma had gotten back together only on a few rare live occasions.  One of these took place in fall 2006, when the rest of the band played a memorial gig for the recently departed guitarist Toni Stranius at Bar Päiväkoti in Turku.  This wasn’t the ideal timing for yours truly, though, being still about a month short of turning 18 at the time… However, I only had to wait five years for the band’s next public appearance, and this time it was thankfully for a more joyous occurrence.

Svart Records – you know, those Turku bastards that have been mercilessly emptying analog-lovers’ wallets for the past couple of years with their steady stream of quality vinyl – had started recently re-releasing Xysma’s old albums that had never received the black gold treatment, starting with First & Magical in 2010.  Deluxe soon followed, and to celebrate getting the album finally out in the format that it was initially intended for – being recorded with solely analog equipment, and structured for the two sides of an LP – a one-off release gig at Turku’s Klubi was announced for November 2011.

Having a love for all of the band’s works, I wasn’t too worried about what they would or would not play, but looked forward to the gig with childlike anticipation instead.  Many others with an interest in only certain part(s) of Xysma’s career didn’t seem quite as thrilled, though.  For instance, many seemed to be unexcitedly expecting a set mostly or merely concentrating on the late 90’s material without growls or any other metallic tendencies.  Although I would’ve surely enjoyed one of those as well, I didn’t consider it the most likely scenario, keeping in mind that the reissues of the older albums were the trigger for this show in the first place.

The band wasn’t playing the primary stage of Klubi, but had opted for the more intimate “Ilta” side instead, which was packed by the time the Deluxe interlude “Le Mans 66” kicked off the show.  They then launched into the hard-hitting album opener “I Feel Like Lou Reed,” a title that had a peculiar new flavor to it, as Lulu had just come out a few weeks before…  Anyway, there was no need for a setlist on stage, apart from the freshly released Deluxe LP, as the whole rest of the album followed in track order, with the exclusion of the repetitive oddity “So Divine (reprise).”

Samae Koskinen was replacing Stranius on second guitar, but otherwise the Deluxe line-up was all there.  Joãnitor hadn’t lost his raspy growl during years of singing clean and pretty, but was sounding even more aggressive than on a lot of the album, while lookin’ all cool and charismatic in his sunglasses and leather jacket.  He didn’t seem to feel like taking too much of a frontman position, though, as bassist Heavenly did most of the talking, while handling the occasional clean vocals as well.  The speeches were relaxed and relevant reminiscences where he, for instance, credited the inspiration for “Green Gas Station Jacket” to an obscure flea market finding.  The overall mood on stage was jovial and enthusiastic, like it was just a bunch of old friends having fun while cracking out some mean ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.

Stunned by the special show that we had just witnessed, yet still hoping that the fivesome had something more up their sleeve, loud cheers invited them back onto the stage after “Viewmaster.”  Something even more special ensued, as the band kicked off their encore with the opener of First & Magical, “One More Time.”  It was magical indeed, as those vivacious riffs turned back the clock to ’93, to be followed by the most brutal burst of blasting heard that whole night, a rockingly commanding chorus and mind-altering leads, and finally to return to the uplifting theme of the beginning.  Seriously, I could go on and on, picking apart what makes these songs so fantastic, but maybe that’s a story for another time.

The rest of the out-of-this-world encore consisted of “Uranus Falls Again” and the “hit” song of the album, “Turning,” which concluded this November night on such a heavenly high note that it brought tears to my eyes.  However, I had felt a slight sting earlier, when the band blurted out on stage that there had been plans about doing a similar full-album release show with First & Magical, but they had been scrapped for some reason or another…  Too bad, but even the triumphant three-song taster of this material live was far more than probably any fan would’ve dared to expect, and enough to tell all the sorry-ass skeptics to suck it.

With Lotto next in line on Svart’s release schedule, or possibly already out there on the flowery pastures by the time you’re reading this, more sunshine into the short Finnish summer 2013 will have been brought by a whole six-date Xysma tour.  Excited to also finally hear their non-metal material live, and curious to find out what else they might have in store for us this time around, at least a few of these are mandatory attendance for me.  Open-minded and broad-tasted music enthusiasts and fans of kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll – it’s about time to take notice!

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Live photos of Xysma

Feature continues…

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