I’ve recently featured more international acts on this blog than ever (in the past few months I’ve written about artists & bands from South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Italy and Denmark, as well as a compilation album featuring artists from across Europe), and today I’m pleased to introduce my first ever act from Finland, a wonderful band called Frozen Factory. I learned about them when band vocalist Stephen Baker reached out to me about their new EP The First Liquidation, which dropped May 28th.
Formed rather spontaneously at the end of 2018, the Helsinki-based group has undergone numerous personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, and Marianne Heikkinen on drums. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.
They released their marvelous debut album Planted Feet in June 2020, then followed with a series of singles from December 2020 to May 2021, which culminated in the release of The First Liquidation. Interestingly, the EP almost never got made, as Frozen Factory originally planned to drop a few one-off singles before moving on to focus on their already-written second album, to be released later this year. But they were having so much fun creating these new songs that ‘a few singles’ eventually grew into to a five-track EP, which then ballooned to become what the band describes as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” It now features eight tracks, six of which are fully fledged songs, with the other two serving as intro and outro. Because it runs less than 30 minutes in length, the band feels it doesn’t quite qualify as an album, hence their insistence in calling it an EP. The songs were co-written by Stephen and Tomi, with Tomi also flawlessly producing the EP.
About the EP, Stephen explains: “We’re extremely proud to present this record to you. In between our main records we wanted to spend some time practising our craft using some strong songs that didn’t match the theme of our previous or upcoming albums. It’s been even more rewarding than we imagined in terms of fun and from how much we’ve learned making these songs. This record takes a brief look at human-to-human relationships, expressing some thoughts on empathy or lack of, and telling a couple of true stories. We think you’ll enjoy the emotive true-to-life direction of the record and the expanded use of sound design. We’re active with talking to those who follow us, especially on Instagram, so please come and say hi and join our mailing list on http://www.frozenfactorymusic.com.”
In listening to the EP, what first strikes me is that, despite its relatively short run time, it feels almost like a rock opera or an epic musical in the vein of Les Misérables. This is partly due to the music’s complex and cinematic arrangements, but also the sounds and interludes used between songs that work to tie them together. Also, Stephen’s gorgeous vocals have a rich and commanding timbre that make them perfectly suited for the more grandiose orchestration. (As a side note, he recorded his vocals in a tiny home sauna that he converted into a sound booth, so as not to disturb his family and neighbors. Because it heated up very quickly within the enclosed space, he recorded vocals in his underwear.)
The opening track “The Alternative Missed” starts off rather ominously, with dark, cinematic synths and distant choral vocals, followed by sounds of footsteps in snow and a door opening and closing as someone enters a building. The ominous music returns along with Stephen’s vocals earnestly singing the profound lyrics that seem to speak of a fallen leader, and setting the tone for the EP: “And once his head’s spun with truth and fiction. The wise lament lest they ignore his final diction. And languish their judgement or vanquish indeed. His theatre has vanished and with it his heed. And we all miss the man that he could have been.”
The song immediately segues into “Au Contraire“, a lovely, melodic song with lyrics in both English and French. The song continues with the theme introduced in the previous track, namely what seems to me to be the duplicity of a hubris-afflicted leader who disregards the suffering of his/her citizens: “Fait accompli. The value of the public’s clear. Raison d’être, to earn for you through their blood, sweat, and tears. Objet d’art, the walls of that cathedral stand, Vis à vis, now aligned with your contempt for those who truly need.” Stephen beautifully sings the English and French lyrics with ease, accompanied by guest vocals by French singer Madeleen singing the choruses. The whistling at the beginning of the song, as well as the warm organ and accordion notes and gently-strummed guitars give the song an intriguing French flair.
One of my favorite tracks on the EP is the anthemic “Hour of Need“, with its stirring piano-driven melody and dramatic soaring choruses. The song’s arrangement and execution are first-rate, nicely showcasing the exceptional musicianship of all four band members. I don’t know who plays piano here, but it’s stunning, and I love Stephen’s plaintive vocals, backed by Marianne’s hauntingly beautiful harmonies. The poetic lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but my guess is that they speak to the current fears and strife facing many of us, urging us to remain focused on the big picture, and make the best of this one life we’re given: “In our hour of need, we’re adrift endlessly / Always remember this journey’s but once. Don’t cast it away. A sound destination sits on the horizon. Keep above the waves.”
Frozen Factory taps into their metal sensibilities on “Old Money“, which has a frantic, almost punkish vibe, both musically and lyrically. Mici rips through the airwaves with his blistering guitar work, while Tomi and Marianne keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Stephen’s rapid-fire vocals sound fiercer than ever as he launches into a diatribe against the wealthy elite and how they keep the rest of us financially enslaved: “Some are born in, with every way out they could wish for. Others are born out, with no way in. Yet many search endlessly for an open door./ Their old money. Their old kings and queens. Their bloody tricks. They’ve had us on our knees.”
I have a special fondness for female drummers, and this video shows Marianne working her magic.
They then show their softer, more introspective side on the poignant ballad “Two Dads“. The touching song is about a man on his way to work who encounters a homeless man begging for a handout. He fumbles through his pockets, only to discover he has no change to give him, and thinks about the fact that they both have children who they’d give their life for, and how fate and luck have put them in such differing life circumstances: “His face says that he knows, my growing dread has been shown. He’s sensed me thinking of my son. We’d both die to save a cherished one. I can’t begin to comprehend gifts only received by the few lucky kids. Ought’a run to my job, can’t be late, no I won’t miss my stop. After leaving I ponder my time. Could have gone to get cash, my career would survive.”
“When You’ve Grown” is equally poignant, with lyrics spoken internally from a father to his child who’s growing up so fast, thinking out loud about how he will miss them as they are now, yet looking forward to knowing them as an adult too: “I feel I will miss you when you’ve grown. That child you are today, it’s sad that we won’t meet again./ I’d never hold you back. Never hope for that. I’ll be proud to see the grown-up that you will be.” The song starts off slowly, with eerie synths and a far-off gently pounding drumbeat that’s soon replaced by somber piano chords as Stephen wistfully sings. Halfway through, the music and Stephen’s vocals turn more dramatic and impassioned, with heavier metal-rock guitar and percussion, before calming back down at the end.
The powerful and haunting rock anthem “You” is another strong track, with outstanding guitar work, sweeping keyboards and thunderous percussion. Mici’s fiery guitar solo and Stephen’s impassioned vocals are fantastic, leaving me covered with goosebumps. The lyrics seem to speak to a leader of some kind who’s waging a valiant but continuously threatened effort against tyranny: “You build us up, and you’re torn down. We suck the gun aimed at you. Target of the noose. You call injustice by its name. And you won’t stop until it’s better. Though you’re sick of the lies. You give yourself for our lives. Enduring the pressure.”
The EP ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “An Improbable Flame“, a brief, rather dark-sounding track that opens with harsh sounds of radio static, eerie thumping drumbeats, ill winds and breaking glass, which are eventually replaced with a somber piano movement. Stephen speaks the hopeful lyrics that perhaps we’ll do better next time: “A flame is improbable in a storm that’s unstoppable. Yet it is not the storm but the greed that tips the candlestick. To light for one a second wick, only to snuff their blessing out. Yet when gifted another time and place, perhaps this soul won’t make the same mistake. But share instead that flame around, til’ the winds blow not amongst the circled crowd.”
In another review of The First Liquidation for Finnish webzine Kaaos, a writer criticized the eclectic nature of the music and songs, commenting that “the listening experience leaves you wondering what the band really wants to be: serene, flexible British pop, gloomy Gothic rock, or post-grunge world pain?” He couldn’t be more wrong, as I think the variety of styles and sounds of the songs are a real strength, keeping the EP sounding fresh and surprising, rather than boring and predictable. Every track is superb, and I found that I grew to love each song with repeated listens, as the music is so complex and rich, and Stephen’s arresting vocals such a joy to hear. The First Liquidation is an exceptional work on every level, and I’m now a committed fan of Frozen Factory.