They did it first-ish, did it better than their peers, and sure as Hell moved on before it stuck. — Sentimental as the legions of musicians they’d inspired remain since the earliest of nineties one never got the impression that the mind-melting ten year gouging that Turku, Finland-based troupe Xysma provided to the greater Scandinavian heavy music netherworld was at all a self-serious, sentimental directive. By way of their transformation from ‘Reek of Putrefaction‘ cloneage to death n’ roll pioneers ’til a not-so straight up heavy rock band their name was in your mouth back in the 90’s because they were different at every turn and in this sense the legacy of such a group is inherently difficult to “sell” beyond celebration of eclecticism in pursuit of the genuine self. Twenty-five years later they’re back and once again not at all sentimental about where they’d been, unwilling and frankly incapable of parodying themselves in the slightest as ‘No Place Like Alone‘ is simply album number six, the next one, and certainly the dad-level mature yet vibrant heavy rock record to bear the old soul their collective energies had always manifested.
Do you need the whole story, really? Up front, no way (!), you don’t need any context to jet into Xysma‘s yacht-ready feelgood hustle and have a good time with their greater butt shaking, sunglasses at night kinda gig which hits clean and catchy song after song for its duration. The songcraft will easily sell itself to anyone willing to hit play and let it ride without any particular expectations, and especially if you’re big on the melodic side of late 70’s/early 80’s prog rock and its greater diaspora per Europe’s un-easygoing retro rock legacy since the mid-90’s. Sure, it comes a bit stiff-necked and in cooing sermon rather than full-bodied rocking most of the time but this shouldn’t alienate anyone easily prompted by a solid rock beat and simple, expressive songs with a light twist of the tit here and there to keep it interesting.
For those of us who could’ve only ever known their gig by way of our disgusting habit of drooling over teenaged Carcass clones and the unbeatable Finnish death metal zeitgeist thereafter… knowing the score, the history and the aftermath of Xysma is all valuable context and, sure, I’ve only so many legit reasons to write about this stuff in perspective. As often as ‘Swarming of the Maggots‘ (1989) is heralded as an influential “Hey, we can do this shit too.” moment for Finnish extreme metal wunderkind abounding we find a lot of the biggest buzz surrounding the band cropping up circa 1990 as their first mLP ‘Above the Mind of Morbidity‘ and their most palatable early material’s arrival via the Seraphic Decay released ‘Fata Morgana‘ 7″. All of that’d sounded like trash with their definitive debut LP ‘Yeah‘ which released in 1991 a truly original record wherein the only spiritual contemporaries at the time were perhaps the demo readied Korpse per their ’91 tape or Swedish group Carbonized even if ‘For the Security‘ certainly wasn’t as interested in working heavy rock riffs into the fold. If there is any reasonable argument to be made for death n’ roll that still holds up the conversation must be limited to Finnish groups (Convulse, Lubricant, Xysma…) who’d always done it better and I’d be the one weirdo in the corner voting for ‘First and Magical‘ (1993) as perhaps the most original take on the idea before ‘Wolverine Blues‘ released and others followed that particular direction. For many underground extreme metal fans this is the peak and the end of the story for Xysma. You probably won’t like ‘No Place Like Alone‘ if you wouldn’t dare venture beyond that point in their discography, soak your head elsewhere.
Back then Paradise Lost where putting out rocking death metal albums at a clip, Disgrace were ready to write their death n’ roll transition off (see: ‘Vol. 2‘) and that whole death n’ roll thing was basically over before it started as far as most were concerned. The folks in Xysma were stuck on doing something different and no doubt the full rebranding that ‘Deluxe‘ (1994) constituted at the time was an entire -thing- with its growled vocals, heavy rock riffs and stoner buzz. They’d only just began to fully embrace their interest in contemporary rock with an alt-metal crawl and this’d meant dropping the whole death metal thing right there. It’d been a bigger step into rock than any other death n’ roll group at the time and arguably made the move right away, while the iron was hot at the only time it’d made sense. From there we’d only get half-assed steps into this sort of territory until ‘Same Difference‘-era Entombed and the abysmal side of things, shit like Dominus‘ awkward ‘The Last 9‘ arrived years beyond the ugly trend’s expiration date in the mid-90’s. Xysma had fully moved on from each and every one of their extreme metal tics with ‘Lotto‘ (1996) and too many ex-death metal musicians to count made similar pushes into various forms of alternative and/or retro rock music with varying results alongside them. The reality of it was that they just didn’t have a song for the times in ’em, nothing so publicly viable as say, The Hellacopters, beyond being a few steps ahead of its time in some small respect.
By 1998 Xysma had picked a strange corridor to venture down with ‘Girl on the Beach‘ which’d fused late 60’s garage rock trot with a sort of Pixies-esque shake to it, a combination one could only describe as “camp“, though most historians refer to this progression within the 1990’s as a “retro” rock direction for the band. They were done and off living their own lives beyond that point. Now, if you’d sat there for two and a half decades dreaming up what Xysma might sound like circa 2023, holding fast their already outside-of-time work throughout the 90’s and seeking a path forward, then you might conceivably have imagined something in the ballpark of ‘No Place Like Alone‘ but that isn’t what the band themselves had been up to. Instead we find a number of projects (Magenta Skycode, Shake, Trouble Bound Gospel, Mannhai, Uhrijuhla, et al.) exploring the realms of psychedelic pop, indie rock, garage rock, stoner metal and so forth particularly beyond 2005 or so. Today it’d seem that these experiences were all additive, gains made towards the surety and overall matured performative sensation that this new record brings throughout. What makes this a Xysma record, then? Perhaps the signature moments will be more clear to a fan of their mid-to-late 90’s style in context but it’ll have to be the combination of the individuals and how they function as a group which necessarily defines the entity.
Bar not included. — As we kick into the rousing twang n’ roll socking of opener/debut single “Well Seasoning” we are getting it all from maestro Janitor Mustasch who’d never been much of a belter even back in 1998, yet here he is a force and the notable ‘most improved’ considering the often multi-layered, off-harmony performances and generally sharp mapping of his vocals. Though the first couple of songs are quick and steady rides the amount of detail and tuning-up they’ve put into each is evident for how steadily the action develops. The plane has fully taken off by the time the opener has fired off and “Model 670” acts as the slap to thrusters, giving some notable feature to keyboardist Janne Lastumäki and his choice of organ/piano for a ’68 feeling twinge at the heart of the song. At this point it shouldn’t go without saying that the production values on this album are particularly sharp, getting the drums right at that point where they’re hi-fi and glossy in the mix but not to the point of artificial estrangement per an early The Cars record or whatnot. This combination of sleek color-blocked vinyl interior sound design, brightly colored neon keys and the already sprawling range of expression available to der Janitor converge for one of my personal favorite pieces on the album, “Midnight Call” which has a sort of mid-80’s Priest chug to its initial verse before taking a surreal dip or two into dreamlike synth reprieve which seems intent on invoking a specific era of accessible prog-adjacent rock. Beyond that it is yet another mercilessly catchy piece complete with a harmonized guitar solo to top it off.
We’ve got a feelin’ even-gooder croon bop in “Mr. Fulltrade”, a prog-rock build into a stoney garage rock kicker on “Final Episode” and at this point in the major sequence it is clear Xysma wrote this record so meticulously that it sounds like they’re impossibly on a roll, each piece as indefatigably effortless and similarly weighted in general vibe that it all flows by impactful yet entirely unobstructed. Over on Side B we get a bit more snarl on the verses for “Rowdy Barrel”, and “Sigh For Sore Mind” gives us a decidedly Finnish experience of an affected mind releasing itself atop an upbeat and outstretched anthem. The whole thing ends with another major standout for my taste, “Encounter at Dawn”, a very slight nod to some ancient heavy metal interest and as it ends it should dawn upon the invested ear that there is no serious impediment to the realization of the ten songs that make up the whole of ‘No Place Like Alone‘. It all goes off without a hitch, strangely enough. Irony, humor, indulgence, joy, dark sarcasm and all manner of personality reeks from these songs even if they stop short of naked sincerity or performative schlock, this leaves the whole of this new Xysma experience feeling like an earnest heavy rock experience, void of any self-conscious drought common to the unrealized self. And hey, if you need growl or two “Moose & Gutbucket” has a bit of barf n’ gag gruffness in its chorus.
So, where do we leave an experience like ‘No Place Like Alone‘? You’re going to see folks saying shit like “This is the record they’d always wanted to make” and whatnot, sure, but they’ve always made the record they’d wanted to without any barrier beyond skill. It is kind of their thing, eh. I’d rather say this is the most inspired Xysma‘ve sounded since the second half of ‘Lotto‘ and the rest is all relative. It’d make sense to warn folks that this is record feels good, it is a personality rich dad-rocking affair with big melodies enacted by way of over the top vocal performances and classic synth/keyboards. They’re into it and you might have to be up for the big energy they’re throwing up front. On my end all it took was the crossed bedroom eyes of “Midnight Call”, the kick of “Well Seasoning” and the rest followed-up naturally as a memorable if not at all demanding good time. A high recommendation.
Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:
Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly