Europe's biggest success story of 2006 has set its sights on the unsuspecting North American audience. Don't say we didn't warn you.
In one of the most surreal events in pop music history, a bunch of costumed GWAR look-alikes and Manowar sound-alikes calling themselves Lordi won the 2006 Eurovision song contest, the hugely popular annual program most noted for launching the careers of ABBA and Celine Dion. And not only did Lordi win, they won big, destroying the competition with the highest ever point total in the final round, all with the song "Hard Rock Hallelujah", a rehash of 20-year-old pop metal clichés that would have been deemed tacky in 1985. Already stars in Finland, Lordi became an overnight success all over Europe, their album selling extremely well (especially in metal-mad Sweden, Germany, and Greece), and climaxing with a massive free concert in Helsinki in front of an estimated 90,000 people (hell, I haven't even gotten to the official Lordi restaurant in Rovaniemi, Finland). While all this was happening last summer, those of us in North America reading the music newswires were left thinking, have they all gone mad over there? What could possibly have possessed millions of European TV viewers to fall head over heels for a bunch of foam latex-clad goofballs singing retro-metal? Listening to The Arockalypse, it doesn't take long to figure out Lordi's immense appeal: it's campy in the Eurovision tradition, but most importantly, it's fun, plain and simple.
On this side of the Atlantic, the comparisons to GWAR are going to follow Lordi wherever they go, but while GWAR chooses to play unremarkable thrash metal while they splatter their fans with goo, Lordi's formula is far more hook-laden. As indebted as the Darkness was to 1970s arena rock pomp, Lordi is to 1980s rawk excess. While other contemporary European bands such as HammerFall, Edguy, and the inexplicably resilient Manowar walk the line between seriousness and self-parody to the point where it's hard for most people to tell whether it's all a big piss-take or not, Lordi invites listeners to lose all inhibitions, hold up the devil horns, and embrace the stupidity of it all. From the garish costumes (including a guitar-playing mummy, a "hellbull", and a vampire), to the B-movie schlock subject matter (including an uproarious four minute homage to War of the Worlds that starts the album), to the fist-pumping anthems, it's all about the escapism, about enjoying oneself at a rock show, as opposed to paying 75 bucks to hear a bunch of sullen modern rockers mope for two hours. It's stupid, but sometimes rock 'n' roll is meant to be stupid, and it doesn't hurt to be stupid along with it every once in a while.
For all its tackiness, Lordi is well-schooled in '80s metal, and on The Arockalypse, they show they know every trick in the book, and wear their influences on their slimy alien sleeves. "We're the SMF, with metal hearts / Got love machines, we're breaking the law / We've got the looks that kill / We're the youth gone wild / We're the creatures of the night," howls frontman Mr. Lordi at one point, and if you know and love the seven songs he's referring to, chances are you'll dig this album in a big way.
Announcing itself with a major-league chuggin' riff and double-kick beats hammering away, "Bringing Back the Balls to Rock" is every bit as contagious as Manowar's equally silly "Kings of Metal" 21 years ago, its "Hail in the name of rock and roll" rave-up chorus daring even the most jaded cynic to join in. "The Deadite Girls Gone Wild" carries itself with a cock rock strut as Mr. Lordi displays about as much melodic range as Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman (in other words, none). The lascivious "Who's Your Daddy?" doesn't hide its wink from the audience, having obvious fun with the tried-and-true BDSM metal gimmick ("Get down, get down! Lay down, lay down! Stay down, stay down!"), while "Good to Be Bad" has the cojones to prominently use a synth hook stolen directly from Aldo Nova. As for the ubiquitous "Hard Rock Hallelujah", oddly enough, it's not the best song on the album, but its bizarrely wimpy chorus still manages to get stuck in our heads, making Europop fans' fixation with such an incessant song understandable.
In keeping with the '80s theme, Lordi has some metal heavyweights lending a helping hand, including Twisted Sister's Dee Snider and Jay Jay French, former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick, and in the most impressive coup, a guest vocal turn by the great, gravel-voiced hobbit Udo Dirkschneider, from German legends Accept (Mr. Lordi himself also pulls off numerous Udo impressions of his own throughout the album). With a whopping 15 tracks over 55 minutes, including three bonus tracks specifically for the North American release, The Arockalypse does run about 15 minutes too long (do we really need a power ballad?), but there's far too much fun to be had on this album to dwell on the more tedious moments. It's unlikely that North American audiences will take to Lordi as ravenously as Europe has, but those who do will discover one of the great bombastic pleasures of the spring, a welcome diversion from the usual flaccid mainstream hard rock we're force-fed. And for that, we say, "Hallelujah."