Maple Cross – Heimo – [Unsigned/Self-released]

One of the best surprises from 2006 is this, the third full length release by Finland’s veteran thrashers Maple Cross. To those wondering what does the album’s title stand for, it’s vocalist Marco R.Järkkä’s grandfather, the man who’s experiences in World War II is what is the basis for the story in this concept album. Now, even before the album began, I was already impressed by the effort being put into the concept and lyrics, that’s one of the things I respect in a metal band – the use of some content in addition to the music. It just makes all the difference.

Happily, the music is far from being a let-down. The band creates what can be described as melodic thrash/speed with some more aggressive elements, very reminiscent of some of the better thrash bands to come out of Finland, with some Prestige and Stone thrown in there. This is no death metal attitude neo-thrash, this is the real thing, and there are very few bands that can still pull off this genre in such a fine way.

The Opener, “Train To Cape Stone”, already bears all of the band’s strengths; the main thing is Järkkä’s strong vocals, a gritty and aggressive voice that still uses a small dose of melody to put in the right color in the vocal passages. The guitar riffs are grade A thrashers, and there’s a very solid rhythm section backing it all up. Another thing is the crisp and clear sound, easily one of the better ones I’ve heard lately from any band not on a big label.

The music and the vocals fluctuate from more melodic oriented thrash, in numbers such as “24 Hours”, one of my favorite here, and the almost death-like “District Of Hate”. Järkkä’s vocals run the gamut from harsh yet melodic passages to screamed aggressive ones, with some death-like growls in there as well. But the main thing that works for the band is the songs, the most important thing in a metal album that most current thrash or neo-thrash bands get wrong. Here, they’re just well played, well written, the lyrics-music combination is just right, and that’s probably what makes this album one of the best metal albums I’ve heard out in 2006, and a strong contender for the top list of modern thrash metal albums.

These guys need to be on a big label, they deserve a following, and I think that if they start releasing albums in a much faster pace than what they did up until now (3 albums in 22 years!!!), they’re going to get the recognition they deserve.

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