The Funeral Album
Release Date: May 30th 2005
We have now gathered here, with heavy hearts, to lay SENTENCED to rest. Therefore let us cast an eye on those sixteen glorious years of this band's life.
Following a short prelude, the two guitarists Miika Tenkula and Sami Lopakka as well as drummer Vesa Ranta came together in the provincial town of Oulu in the cold north of Finland in the year 1989 to baptize their death metal newborn, and gave it the name: SENTENCED. Only one year later, this child of death let loose its first startling scream in the shape of the demo "When Death Joins Us..." (1990). When its voice developed an extremely charismatic touch with the recruiting of singer and bass-player Taneli Jarva, a first record-deal followed soon, which led to the release of the traditional death metal debut "Shadows Of The Past" (1991). Two years later SENTENCED took a more melodic turn on "North From Here" (1993) and created a true milestone of their deadly genre. Just a small amount of time elapsed until this rapidly growing whelp honoured its Iron Maiden roots with "The Trooper" (1993). This MCD also saw a strengthening of the band's melodic side at the expense of its harshness. With a fresh worldwide contract of German label Century Media in their pockets and the release of their third masterpiece "Amok" (1995), the Finns were getting their deserved breakthrough. It was emotional, melancholic but still harsh. Taneli's smoky voice breathed life into the album and the fans loved it. Another hint of a change in style was given by the second MCD "Love & Death" (1995). Just coming out of his infancy, this precocious youngster opened up to more rock influences and broadened his musical horizon. SENTENCED had reached a first peak in their career, but the fast and furious rock 'n' roll lifestyle demanded a sacrifice: rough-throated Taneli Jarva was too worn out to continue and took some years off before returning with his own band The Black League. An era had reached its end. SENTENCED had built the base of the Finnish boom in metal, alongside Amorphis and Waltari, paving the path for such diverse bands as Children of Bodom or Nightwish.
Still there was no rest for the wicked, and SENTENCED were not satisfied to rest on their earlier succces. They recruited the charismatic Ville Laihiala and returned with the sensational "Down" in 1996. "Down" finally ended the chapter "death metal" for the reformed five-piece band. Taneli's deep rumpling voice was replaced by Ville's warm and clear delivery. The dark-maned Finn immediately put his own touch to the new melancholic and pain-ridden songs. Caught between anger and despair, "Down" offered more than once suicide as the only way out. While that theme became something of a trademark, SENTENCED more or less toyed full of self-irony and biting sarcasm with the melancholic stance of their fellow countryman - likely caused by too many dark days in wintertime. A simultaneous change of singer and style meant truly taking a dare, but for SENTENCED it turned out to be a lucky one. The band kept most of their old fans and added a considerable number of new followers to their camp. From now on SENTENCED released top-records in a quiet regular rhythm of two years. "Frozen" (1998) followed "Down" and delivered a more precise and refined version of the new formula. Next up "Crimson" (2000) added a mighty dose of bitterness and finally "The Cold White Light" (2002) took this special SENTENCED-sound to a new peak: The perfectly interlacing stringwork of guitar-duo Lopakka & Tenkula gave the band’s desolate picture a shining silver frame. Melodic beasts of groove were driven by Ville's electrifying voice, embodying the pain of broken hearts and seeming to drown easily in streams of alcohol at the same time. SENTENCED manage to use all those clichés of their homeland to better effect without ever appearing stereotyped. It was quite the other way around - while the band matured into a young adult it created some of their most breathtaking songs like the poison-dripping "Excuse Me While I Kill Myself" or the sadness filled "Cross My Heart And Hope To Die". It is beyond doubt, that SENTENCED as masters of melancholy in their second incarnation delivered a decisive impulse, that others successfully turned into poppier sounds like HIM, Charon or even The Rasmus - yet SENTENCED remained always true to the metal-genre.
And now it is supposed to be all over. Just like in their songs, the five Finns commit collective suicide as a band and part ways with each other. At the end of this year, SENTENCED will no longer be among us. What a painful thought full of drama and tragedy. Only one hope remains, before the end we will once more enjoy the happiness of a new SENTENCED-release. Dear assembly, behold "The Funeral Album", which the Finns from Oulu luckily leave as their final testament. "We decided to end the band's career with this record, and already knew what was going to happen when we were writing the songs", admits guitarist Sami Lopakka. "So we agreed to make this one final round, to make a farewell album and a funeral tour." Knowledge of their mortality and the end firmly in sight led SENTENCED to an outburst of unexpected powerful creativity: "The Funeral Album" oozes with self-confidence, variety and a barely restrained hostility. It was recorded at Finland's Tonebox and Finnvox Studios and mastered at Finnvox Studios by the acclaimed Mika Jussila. Manning the producer's chair was Hiili Hiilesmaa (HIM, Moonspell, Apocalyptica, Theatre Of Tragedy and many more), who also produced SENTENCED's two previous albums "Crimson" and "The Cold White Light". Right from the sparkling opener "May Today Become The Day", an uptempo rocker with brilliant solo-parts, the album hits home. The following ice-breaker "Ever-Frost" reminds immediately of "Frozen" in its most distilled form, while "We Are But Falling Leaves" continues the Finns' great tradition of sad half-ballads. Only one track further down the album, "Her Last 5 Minutes" explore even greater depths of despair, underlined by fragile solo-guitars. This song leaves the listener with the frosty feeling of standing in a cold winter's rain and a truly freezing shower is soon to follow: "Where Waters Fall Frozen" proves to be a short instrumental reminder of SENTENCED days in the realm of death metal. "There are some references to the things we have done in the past", agrees Sami. "However, those pieces came out naturally. For example "Where Waters Fall Frozen", which somehow links to "North From Here", was born in rehearsals when we were waiting for someone to show up - kind of a live burst of aggression." This nostalgia is also present in "Despair-Ridden Hearts". Once this song takes up speed after its surprising harmonica intro, and those fingers fly over the strings one feels returned to the grace of "Amok". The same feeling points towards the angry impetus of "Down" while listening to the nicely coarse "Vengeance Is Mine". At this point it is necessary to state, that these songs are not even close to ordinary copies of gone glories, but only mildly hinting to the past while still being full of fresh ideas. Just marvel about this insane choir of children in "Vengeance Is Mine" for example. “Consider Us Dead” and the dirty groove of "A Long Way To Nowhere" both take another turn off the band's road and treads on the melodic path in between metal and gothic rock. One step ahead, "Lower The Flags" demonstrates clearly that SENTENCED are well able to deliver a stunningly dark piece of rock, which makes their more commercial Finnish colleagues look rather pale in comparison - and not only because of the classic piano-intro. In a last struggle before the looming end, the lively "Drain Me" stubbornly refuses to give in to tearful moods, but now it is time for the inevitable: After the thoughtful acoustic piece "Karu" allows a last pause, the stone is finally and firmly placed on the grave by "End Of The Road". Ville sings with a tender voice of this journey's end, then a grave-bell tolls and the guitars set in for a dark requiem like the last beats of a heart surrounded by silence. The choir of children returns and "End of The Road" makes a final stand, rising beautifully before slowly fading into eternity. "Obviously the overall feeling of the album is very final and every song has the words ‘good bye’ written upon it", remarks Sami. "After making "The Funeral Album" we can look back on our career with the knowledge that we kept the flame burning at its brightest till the very end and let it die with dignity."
There is nothing to add to these last words. So let us praise and celebrate "The Funeral Album" now, for it is the grandiose peak of SENTENCED's too-brief but wonderful and glorious life. When attending the band's last rites at this year’s summer festivals, we shall all turn those concerts into a worthy memorial of both laughter and tears. Amen.
- Gunnar Sauermann