I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded guy — though I don’t think anyone thinks of themselves as proudly closed-minded even if they are — but man, I cannot understand why there are still keyboards in metal in 2012. Or even 2002. (1992, I get it then.) With the vast leaps production quality has taken in the last few decades, why a band would willingly shoehorn in some chintzy-sounding synths is beyond me. I’ve never been big into Children of Bodom, I’ve never warmed up to Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse due to the prominence of 8-bit keys, and I don’t get how metalcore bands that awkwardly integrate them as something to throw in front of obligatory eye candy/objectification targets in booty shorts can justify them beyond a flimsy excuse to appeal to their perpetually emotionally stunted audience. In a genre that prides itself on instrumental proficiency, the continued awkwardness with which keyboards are handed in metal is mystifying.

Granted, they work in some places. When used as ambient fog by bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, they broaden an already considerable space. Jesu’s similarity to bands like New Order makes them a natural fit. On later Emperor records and Ihsahn’s solo work, they’ve become endearing even at their cheesiest. And their prominence on Stam1na’s new release, Nocebo, is part of the album’s personality.

The keyboards do often threaten to veer into cheesiness, but instead their broadness and penchant for being over-the-top never ceases to be exciting. Stam1na are a well-oiled prog-thrash machine, and the keyboards often act as the joints that keep it moving efficiently. Simultaneously brimming with aggression and nerdiness, it boldly lifts itself above the genre ghetto and ascends to kick-ass metal.

Nocebo maintains a tight focus throughout its 42 minutes, not going off the map long enough to notice the band doing anything outside their oddly-timed riffs. And while most bands would make this kind of lack of variance feel tiring, Stam1na hold your attention with two hands. They cover an astonishing amount of space in a limited scope. A lot of this has to do with their session musician-esque mastery of their instruments, but moreso with their songwriting. The proggy riffs never get too intangible, and the groove riffs — which sometimes skid onto the verge of nu-metal — stutter right before they get too boneheaded. Music like this tends to get lost up its own ass, but Stam1na never do. Or even if they do, at least it’s interesting up there.

And all that is wonderfully augmented by the vocals, weaving between thrashy bark and delectable clean-singing. The wall of harmonized vocals that surface in the chorus on closer “Arveton on arvoton” give the proggy swirl of the band behind it an added layer of depth. And all largely sung in their native Finnish provides a layer of alien mystique for Western hemisphere neophytes like me. This all makes Stam1na the band they need to be: meticulously plotted out but executed effortlessly, unnatural talent coming into being naturally. That kind of environment is rewarding to keyboards, which is why they’re there.

So when your djentcorestep band is wondering whether you should get that scene girl from Intro to Music Theory to play keyboards, have them listen to Nocebo and… well, maybe quit and join a better band.


(4 out of 5 horns)


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