Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. Today's 26th TBT centers around a band whose monumental reality TV success made them a worldwide sensation. The television triumph fanned the flames of popularity for Lordi. However, the bands flirtation with fame proved intense but short lived. Did selling well to big audiences also mean selling out? Or, was there another reason Lordi's popularity suddenly faded? Those are the questions spurred upon examining…
LORDI'S THE AROCKALYPSE
Release Date: March 23rd, 2006
Record Label: Sony BMG
Truth be told, The Arockalypse is a hugely successful album whose musical content leaves something to be desired for the modern metal head. I like pop-inspired album well enough, and I'm impressed by some of the melodic choices such as unexpected half-steps and symphonic transitions that mark the music as distinctly metal. Overall, however, I view the album's place in musical history as more as a playful novelty and an interesting piece of heavy metal history. I've been harping since day one here on TBT that musical taste is subjective. So if The Arockalypse blows your rubber armor off, own that shit. Further, I'm not saying I dislike Lordi. In fact, how can you hate them? They're hysterical in interviews, and an all-around good time on stage. I could definitely see myself being one of the over 80,000 people who sang "Hard Rock Hallelujah" in an organized event to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest group of people singing a karaoke song.
Tomi Petteri Putaansuu moonlights as Mr. Lordi, the band's founder and one of two original and still-remaining members. Lordi formed in 1992, donned their body suits and masks in 1994 and found their first big success with the single "Would You Love a Monsterman?" (later re-released on The Arockalypse):
The bands' members donned stage names such as Ox, Kita, Awa, and second original/remaining member, guitarist Amen. Their whimsical on-stage and off-stage personalities, spectacular costumes, and spirited horror-themed music won over the hearts of new fans and set them up for success in their next surprising endeavor.
Lordi achieved fame and garnered worldwide respect by entering and subsequently winning the Eurovision Song contest in 2006 with the song "Hard Rock Hallelujah", a track off of their third studio album The Arockalypse. The contest, generally known as a platform that tends to favor pop and soft-rock acts, saw Finland's first win in 45 years with Lordi's Gwar-esque stage costumes and Kiss-like song appeal. To say the win was unexpected is an understatement. Finland exploded in national pride for Lordi and even boasted a Lordi brand cola product.
"Hard Rock Hallelujah" catapulted the band into US tours with Type O Negative and Ozzfest, and a headlining gig at the MTV Europe music awards. Here is a strange little video from that award show in which Justin Timberlake cusses up a storm before introducing Lordi as "Revlon's new spokesperson" and "Finland's number one band".
The Arockalypse shot up the Europian charts scratching single-digits in Germany, Greece, and Sweeden. It also reached the number one spot in Finland, achieving Platinum 3 times over. The momentum carried Lordi into their 4th studio release Deadache. Featuring the single "Bite it like a Bulldog", Deadache landed them another US tour and a spot on American TV on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. I couldn't find the interview, but here is Lordi talking excitedly about his experience with Conan. Mr. Lordi recalls having the popular height discussion with famously towering celebrity Conan, stating "It's just the platforms. Sorry to tell you, I am actually a dwarf".
There is no question about the commercial success of The Arockalypse. The album not only sold fantastically and won Eurovision, it also featured a host of cameos from rock icons Dee Snyder (Twisted Sister) on "SCG3 Special Report", Bruck Kulick (Grand Funk Railroad, Kiss) on "It Snows in Hell", Udo Dirkschneider (Accept) on "They Only Come out at Night", and Jay Jay French (Twisted Sister) on "The Chainsaw Buffet". So why with all the fame and celebrity cred did Lordi fall from the limelight?
The answer isn't a clear one. Some cite the band's cheezy lyrics, unsustaining novelty, and general lack of 'real' metal credibility as the governing reasons for their 'demise' (though the band is still active). Marc Campbell of Dangerminds.net says it best, "What was intended as a subversive act was seen as a sellout by the audience Lordi really wanted to cultivate: the metalheads." In a 2017 interview from Blabbermouth.net, Mr. Lordi states that Finland's modern mainstream music has switched from the occasional interest in heavy metal acts such as Children of Bodom and Nightwish to mainly hip-hop and R&B. I mean, if any country could claim that metal is a part of their mainstream, Finland would be one the places. But that begs the question, isn't metal mostly counter-mainstream to begin with? And, does it's general unpopularity also make Lordi unpopular?
Perhaps another part of the answer can be found in a film. The life of frontman Putaansuu, including his rise to and fall from fame, is chronicled in the 2014 documentary Monsterman. You can watch an excerpt of the documentary here. From the dangerousminds.net article, Campbell states, "In Monsterman, Putaansuu is heroic in his efforts to pull himself up by his bootstraps (which are enormous by the way) and resurrect his career. He knows no other world." He goes on to add, "he’s been in a state of arrested development since he was a teenager", and that Putaansuu, "lives alone in a snowbound cabin 50 miles from the Arctic Circle and is still doted upon by his loving mother."
I'm certainly not trying to paint Lordi or Mr. Lordi as ineffective man-child incapable of creating music. His previous records alone should prove that he can be quite successful in that endeavor. However, what I am trying to say is that none of us can escape who we really are. Maybe who and what Mr. Lordi is can't sustain in a fringe, aggressive, evolving sub-genre like metal. Bands like Kiss are jokingly referred to as Dad metal by the youth of the culture. Does a good-natured shock-rock band still have a place in metal?
That's not a question anyone can really answer. What seems to do the answering for us is the lack of presence of bands like these. We, of course, have Ghost and Slipknot who took the masked angle of metal bands and elevated the effect of the pageantry with music to match the show. It's possible that the over-the-top glam of platform boots has seen its glory days. Without their costumes and stage show, Lordi does lose a lot of luster. Perhaps the only example of a sustaining shock-rock band is Gwar. And, while it's easy to draw a comparison between Gwar and Lordi, they're fundamentally different bands with different intentions and different viewpoints. It seems like Gwar's number one seat in the 'stage costuming and gigantic phallic prop' category remains largely unchallenged.
Here's the positive: Lordi's costuming is positively terrific. Their mouthpieces move while they speak which significantly adds to the creep factor of blood-shot eyes and rows of pointy mandibles. Lordi have been through several costume changes and each iteration becomes slightly more gruesome and fantastic than the last. The best part of all, is that Lordi is notorious for being great to their fans, always willing to pose as metal as possible in their entire get-up.
While Lordi may not come back as the superstars they once were, perhaps we will see them reinvent themselves in a new way that meshes with modern metal, or at least inspires us to appreciate where our metal roots came from. Until then, let's take a look at the song that started it all for them, Eurovision 2006 song winner, "Hard Rock Hallelujah":