music review – Xysma – No Place Like Alone

Xysma is a Finnish rock band whose album trajectory is both strange, amazing, and pretty fun. Their last full length came out in 1998. Who are they? As in what kind of band? Well that’s hard to say, other than at the last release they were kind of a light rock band, a little bit of groove and plenty of pop influence with some crooning vocals. There was a strange progression to this, as they started off as a grindcore band, a bunch of teenagers who probably heard Carcass’ first album and had to try to emulate it.

I was hooked after I heard Lotto, which in 1996 was probably their only album that got distribution in America. It’s a lot of hard rock and some killer vocals to go with it. Most of those vocals are provided by Jani (Joanitor) Muurinen, who started off doing the growly screechy death metal up until the previous album Deluxe. When you backtrack you can hear how the band changes their sound, with only the death metal vocals staying put until they’re completely dumped for Lotto; that’s where you get this Lemmy meets Danzig meets Sinatra crooning (that’s what I hear what he’s going for, okay?). One way I’d describe it is, once I saw a band called Devil Lounge, lounge version of Misfits songs. Still with me? That’s the mood. That’s what these guys are capable of.

I can type all day about the catalog, but the albums that sound like the band going places and the not-metal-crowd will dig are Lotto, Singles (an EP of some covers and some originals), Girl On The Beach, and maybe Deluxe, which precedes the other three and where the music really takes this turn with occasionally clean singing. I dig it all, and have backtracked further, to hear “Yeah” and “First And Magical,” and you’d need an open mind to get through maybe the rough recording to pick out where the Black Sabbath and retro psychedelic rock starts to kick in for this band as they ditch grindcore (aka noise).

I don’t know what they’ve all done since Girl On The Beach (bigger keyboards, still some driving guitars but toned down attitude, and Jani’s vocals are more Danzig crooning than Lemmy) other than singer Jani appeared on three albums for a hard band called Mannhai, where he was more Lemmy than Danzig, you get the idea. But maybe before the pandemic Xysma was like “you know what, let’s make an album!” and here we are…?

No Place Like Alone, like their albums before, shows some progression, but from where? There’s some of that heavy guitar that makes it sound like it’s between Lotto and Girl On The Beach, but new a new keyboard sound and a raspier, higher pitch to Jani’s singing that takes them to a new territory that honestly feels like they skipped another element that made them specifically Xysma. That’s hard to pin down – there was a progression from album to album, but arguably every album feels so different to each other.

It starts off with some hard rockers (Well Seasoning, Model 670) that miss a bit of the groove from Lotto, and then there’s the keyboards that take them to the mid-80s instead of the late 60s. Midnight Call specifically sounds like a Rupert Hine production missing off an 80’s Rush album or 80’s action movie soundtrack. Yet, in the same song, there’s the driving guitars and spacy solos that sound like Xysma.

It’s Jani’s vocals that feel like a big change – he lets it out for sure (channeling Lemmy again for Rowdy Barrel), but often during spacy lighter moments the old Jani is buried deep, like a loud whisper (Earthrise).

In listening to Lotto and Girl On The Beach, I can tell some of the other guys take turns on vocals, but here it sounds like they’re mostly doing backups save for the occasional lead on the chorus (again, Rowdy Barrel).

It took a few spins, but it definitely is a Xysma album, and sounds like them, heavy in spots but more bombastic when it is, and little time for the tenderness that Girl On The Beach and Singles brought us. (There’s also some death metal growl on the prime example of their progressed tone, Moose & Gutbucket, probably the best example of old and new Xysma).

There might be more listens where this is up there as one of my favs by this group, but I’m stuck in my ways in trying to figure out where it fits, if it’s previous Xysma shoved into a blender or there was an album or two a still-together Xysma released between Girl On The Beach and this one that us already familiar with them needed to hear to prepare us. But also, it’s not bad, it’s pretty good, and deserves more listens.

I think my problem is that I want you to hear this band, and they’re just hard to describe other than that they rock in so many different ways, not just from album to album but almost from song to song. Are the songs here more straightforward, does it take a bit longer for this to sound like the Xysma I know and love? Do I wish for my Danzig Tony Bennett mashup? I have my preference. Why am I resistant to change when this band is nothing but change? No Place Like Alone is interesting, rocks pretty hard, still a bit of fun, and a good place to start if you HAVEN’T heard these guys yet.

I have the bandcamp for No Place Like Alone listed above so you can check it out. For a long time, you couldn’t hear Lotto and other albums online, but I’m glad labels are making these available on streaming services. I’m going to link them here, I hope you check them out! (if you’re against using Spotify for moral reasons, you can find these on youtube and some other services)

Lotto (Spotify) – This one is still my favorite, nearly every track is a banger. My favorites are…well, all of them, but I love We Just Came Inside, One Hell of A Man, New Gell In Town, Shoes…you get the idea. Let this one roll from track to track.

Girl On The Beach (Spotify) – Their last and probably “lightest” album, but each song is a bit of a rollercoaster anyway. You can hear the 60s pop vibe from the getgo with Fit, but that riffing groove and crooning kicks off with I Saw Them Kissing and sometimes you’re rocking out and sometimes you’re in outer space watching magical whales pass you by (Penniless) before closing it out with the all over the place, from groovin’ to hard hitting rock with It’s About Time and I’m Not Ready to Dance (that BASS, wow). 10 out of 4 stars.

Deluxe (spotify) – Like, yikes, if you backtracked were wowed by the singing and then you heard THIS, sorry? yet, also NOT sorry. Maybe the cookie monster thing got really difficult. You try that for 45 minutes. The music isn’t punk, it’s not exactly alternative, right off the bat (I Feel Like Lou Reed) the band starts off a little heavy and then there’s a simple but loud piano bit and then a little guitar harmony solo and then you hear a “cha cha cha cha” like what? What’s the joke here, fellas? But frankly, I love this album. I’d keep it but also how cool would it be with a clean vocal attempt? There’s some great music throughout (Lemans 66) and maybe you need a bit of advance warning about the death metal vocals, because the music for Head Off is so wonderfully out there with keyboards and great riffs and a bouncy beat and then there’s Cookie Monster throwing in his two cents. I stand by this as a great and fun record, but…beware.


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