Sure, the Finnish metal band Sentenced are obsessed with everything dying, dead, and decaying. And if you took "Excuse Me While I Kill Myself" from their previous album, The Cold White Light, at face value, you might be forgiven for feeling the need to call a suicide hotline. Except that Sentenced turned "blow my brains onto the wall" into a catchy football chant, included an appropriately inappropriate Beatlesesque coda, and let singer Ville Laihiala grumble like a demented Scandinavian Fred Sanford wailing at Elizabeth. You got the feeling that their nihilism wasn't all that nihilistic. And maybe they might not be all that serious.
But damn if the band didn't make good on their self-destructive threats, figuratively at least, by pulling the plug on their career with classy calculation. The Funeral Album, their final release in a 16-year history, has been planned with the attention to dark detail reserved for Gothic fashion shows and punk-rock weddings. And being alive to piss and moan another day has resulted in an irresistible slab of Finnish cheese.
The band has fashioned an eminently listenable blend of power metal shredding, icy atmosphere, huskily melodic songwriting, and big, juicy hooks reminiscent of that nexus between commercial new wave and AOR in the late '70s and early '80s. In lesser hands, that combination could be dire, but Sentenced has two wild cards. Laihiala's voice, while grounded in James Hetfield's white-knuckle emoting, has a frayed-nerve charm of its own. Which helps steady the band's loopy lyrics--macabre yet possessed of life-affirming humor. In the case of "Vengeance Is Mine", with Laihiala leading a cooing children's chorus, it's outright slapstick: "Strike from behind and knock me to the ground/Kick me while I'm down/Stab me in the back, you bastards...Vengeance is mine!"
Rest in peace, guys. You'll be missed.
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