2021 produced some strange records, but Solar Cross might have the most unusual prog metal release of the year. Formed by the three Pikka brothers – two of whom used to play in Finnish melodeath favourites, Omnium Gatherum – their new group mixes thrash metal, post-punk, and stadium rock and draws inspiration from Finnish folklore and the death and rebirth of nature’s cyclical patterns of existence. Echoes of the Eternal Word is like a foray through your eclectic record collection with an emphasis on bringing the best elements together into one harmonious experience.
Album opener, ‘Kaukomieli’, reveals little of what’s in store with its two-and-a-half minutes of luscious acoustic stumming and slow pitch bends. You might feel like you’re in the embrace of an evening sunset in a Sunday beer garden, but you know Solar Cross have other plans for you. ‘Jatuli’ is the first real song and one of the most bizarre concoctions on the record. Think of The Cult in their mid-80s stride with black metal vocals and hard rock guitars pulsating in the background. Harri Pikka revisits his favourite U2 and Simple Minds records on this track and uses these influences to second-guess you with a sudden switch to vintage Megadeth at the two-minute mark. No other band sounds like this, not even Tribulation. It’s so effortless yet so enlivening at the same time.
Like Tribulation, Solar Cross enshadow their sound in the silhouettes of gothic textures, even when exploring genres that have nothing in common with the darker foreboding of their music. ‘Bloodstreams’ starts with a Fates Warning guitar hook yet pivots to a Type O Negative verse and goes off in a berserk death-thrash tangent in the middle parts. Lauri Pikka’s vocals are vampiric and harsh, as if the inhumane rasp of his voice could summon the ancient spirits of his Finnish ancestors. Put them on the same stage as Dream Theater or Death Angel, and no one would object to Solar Cross as interlopers.
It’s clear the band have as much hard rock and grunge in their library as death metal and prog. Seldom do they misfire when trying to incorporate their wide-ranging tastes into their final compositions. ‘The Ever Unfolding’ dares to take the retro chord choices of The Who with a heavy metal stomp and a nod to Paradise Lost for the heavier parts. ‘Mother of Wolves’ is perhaps the one experiment that yields an inferior result. It starts like Testament but relies on harmonious backing vocals for the chorus, which weakens the impact of the thrash assault in the space of eight bars.
Solar Cross are aware that incongruent experimentation presents a risk for the listener. Does this explain the muscular metallic grunge of ‘High God’, a song that sticks to an established rock structure despite its bizarre Voivod middle eight of robotic voice harmonising? Maybe their instinct to fuse extreme elements with the dramatic sweep of post-punk is their raison d’etre. One listen to ‘Technophiliac Trance’ confirms the efficacy of their subtle formula with its stunning Death/Chuck Schuldiner guitar lines and Echo and the Bunnymen gyrations. How they make this work is hard to fathom but easy to enjoy.
Finnish prog-metalcore quartet, Atlas, produced one of the most original releases of 2021 with Ukko. Sweden’s Loch Vostok also demonstrated the lengths you can go to when incorporating opposing genres into a heavy setting. But Solar Cross take the crown for the most coherent vision of a prog metal sound that co-exists with post-punk and stadium rock.
Release Date: 19/11/2021
Record Label: Transcending Records
Standout tracks: Jatuli, Bloodstreams, Technophiliac Trance
Suggested Further Listening: Tribulation – The Children of the Night (2015), Megadeth – Rust in Peace (1990), The Cult – Love (1985)