One of the many Finnish rock acts to recently wash up on American shores, “goth n’ roll” progenitors, the 69 Eyes further Americanize their sound, steeping it in the fine tradition of 1980s Sunset Strip sleaze-metal on their latest outing, Angels. In the decade and a half that the Finnish fivesome have been together, their musical style has undergone a striking metamorphosis that has come full circle.
Affectionately know to their fans as the “Helsinki vampires” — a direct nod to both seminal Strip band L.A. Guns’ Hollywood Vampires album and club of heavy, celebrity boozers of the same name that frequented the legendary Rainbow — the 69 Eyes proffer a disc of gothic-tinted sleaze rock that sounds more at home in the ’80s heyday of the Sunset Strip than a bleak Finnish landscape. Openly citing such influences as Elvis Presley and a cluster of punk and/or goth bands that start with “The” (Ramones, Misfits, and Sisters of Mercy), the 69 Eyes bring these unlikely muses into a sound configuration that simultaneously blends and highlights each one. The Eyes’ first two albums, 1992’s Bump n’ Grind and 1995’s Savage Garden could have easily stood alongside Faster Pussycat or a host of glam-metallers of the late ’80s. Gradually, the group began moving towards a darker and heavier sound. As evidenced by the Angels redux of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” from the band’s 1997 album of the same title, vocalist Jyrki69’s voice has taken on a completely different inflection, swapping the nasal upper register commonly assigned to the glam-metal genre for a low-end baritone that combines the wormwood-and-velvet tones of Type O Negative’s Peter Steele with the curled-lip sneer of both Elvis Presley and Billy Idol.
With Angels carrying over the same production team of Johnny Lee Michaels and Hiili Hiilesma from their previous album, Devils, it seems that the 69 Eyes have hit their stride musically and found a happy middle ground in doing so. Having evolved into a style that sets them apart from both the pack of West Hollywood trash and gloomy goths, Angels picks up where Devils left off. It seems that the band has formed an eerie kinship with the city of Los Angeles as well as American culture in general. Scattered throughout the album are tongue-in-cheek references to various and sundry, sordid, and sultry bits of Americana. The album’s first single, “Perfect Skin”, pays homage to Hollywood blondes, past and present, while oozing sexuality with its grinding, pulsing guitars. Jussi69’s drums crash and then pause for effect, kicking in at the right moments to underscore the song’s primal nature. “Frankenhooker” is reminiscent of W.A.S.P. with its stinging, scratchy guitar riffs and mad, Blackie Lawless-style cackling. In keeping with the Hollyweird theme of the disc, the track stands as an ode to the sublimely trashy cult comedy/horror classic of the same name.
While the tongue-in-cheek references work well on Angels, there are a few clunkers here and there. “Rocker” runs rampant with cheesy lyrics that recall some of the worst of the ’80s glam bands, and tries too hard with its declaration of “Baby, I’m a rocker… / A goddamn rocker, yeah!”
In spite of its seraphic title, the bulk of material on Angels deals with darker, more macabre themes. The disc’s self-titled opener is dense with post-apocalyptic and vampire imagery layered over heavy drum beats and a synthetic Transylvanian pipe organ that makes you wonder if Grandpa Munster was lurking about in the mixing booth. The dark themes continue on the disc’s second single, “Never Say Die”. Featuring some well-placed sound effects that add a suitably eerie touch, the track marries harmonic vocals and chunky guitar riffs with lyrics that tackle the best of the literal and metaphoric. In the same vein, “In My Name” puts the 69 Eyes’ fast-paced dirge-rock spin on gospel (goth-spel?) music and comes up big.
While Angels is about as straight-forward of a rock album that you’re going to get, the band pulls out a few surprises from its bag of tricks (namely a guest-appearance by Finnish metal cellist trio Apocalyptica) adding to a complex, neo-classical string arrangement on “Ghost”. Similarly, the beautiful “Star of Fate” sounds like a lost number from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, tinkling music box and all. The song’s blending of theatrical and rock elements is reminiscent of the epic Use Your Illusion era Guns n’ Roses, particularly with guitarist Bazie69’s fret work adeptly channeling Slash.
With this latest release under their belts, it seems that the 69 Eyes have almost Americanized themselves, sounding much more Hollywood than Helsinki. While its native country has embraced the band, with both Angels and “Perfect Skin” hitting #1 on Finland’s charts, it remains to be seen how big of a splash the Eyes make in their newly-adopted homeland. But bless their devilishly angelic hearts, the 69 Eyes offer a unique brand of full-throttle rock that hasn’t been seen on either continent for some time.