Santa Cruz and Shiraz Lane – the messengers of Finnish glam metal and hard rock – need no shortcuts making their name. Fresh sounding, stadium-sized songs and unquestionable love for the road will do.
If you enter the Helsinki nightlife you’ll probably find the same thing you would see in any other city in the western part of the world. The same Spotify top 50 songs filling the clubs and the same fast fashion brands’ clothing crowding the dance floors.
But wander into one of Helsinki’s few rock’n’roll nightclubs and you may experience a trip 25 years back in time. To a place where Appetite for Destruction is permanently tattooed in the jukebox, red wine is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sunglasses are mandatory at night, River Phoenix is still alive and any talk about the death of the electric guitar is labeled fake news.
The modern glam metal movement may be an underground thing, but in a country as small as Finland, this heartfelt scene gets noticed in the mainstream as well. Be it a number two spot on the official album chart or a brief visit in Finland’s most popular prime time TV show.
Paying the dues
Santa Cruz is to blame for the aforementioned feats but don’t get me wrong: this band has not taken any shortcuts in their 10-year plus career. The group’s singer-guitarist Archie Cruz (pictured right on the main image) says that good work ethic and paying the dues are what has gotten band where it is now.
"Things are not going to happen overnight for us, but it's possible to reach a new level after each tour." – Archie Cruz (Santa Cruz)
While the Helsinki four-piece seems invincible and doesn’t lack swagger on stage, they have no illusions of grandeur either. Still, Santa Cruz has been able to get a foothold in the UK, which is traditionally a challenging territory for Finnish acts.
"I love playing abroad more than in Finland. I find it somehow more... exotic. In December 2017 we played our first headlining tour in Britain and I like to think that is a significant achievement," Archie Cruz says.
"Things are not going to happen overnight for us, but it's possible to reach a new level after each tour."
The Finnish Invasion
Following the footsteps and mindset of Santa Cruz there are a generation of newer bands, most notably Shiraz Lane. They share the tour-after-tour mentality and love spending time on the road. The paths of these two bands crossed most recently in Sweden, at a club night at named "The Finnish Invasion".
"The gig went very well and it was awesome to see such a reception from the crowd," tells Hannes Kett, singer of Shiraz Lane (pictured left on the main article photo).
"In Sweden I noticed a prominent cultural difference compared to Finland. If you make something remarkable or succeed, people think that's a good thing. Your success is not taking anything away from anyone else. In Finland we get jealous reactions and talking behind our backs. That's fine because I have no intention to stay in Finland, abroad is where we belong," Kett continues.
"I have no intention to stay in Finland, abroad is where we belong." – Hannes Kett (Shiraz Lane)
His band has already opened for Santa Cruz at their Finnish tour, but Kett’s first touch with them was before Shiraz Lane was formed.
"I first saw Santa Cruz way back at a youth center and was blown away. So, you can make this kind of music in Finland! I thought."
While these elder rock'n'rollers (Archie Cruz turning 26 years old this year) might have shown Kett the attitude on how to hit the stage, he doesn't think there's much more his band could learn from Santa Cruz.
"Santa Cruz are mighty great at what they do! Their latest album Bad Blood Rising (2017) took their music to a more versatile direction – but I'd love to hear something even more diverse from them," Kett claims.
Bad Blood Rising does indeed bring more dynamics to Santa Cruz's catalog – with the heaviest riffs the band has written as well as some acoustic guitars. While the album got good reception from both fans and press, Archie Cruz is already thinking about the follow-up. A bit surprisingly he names Marilyn Manson as an influence for the album and reveals that it's going to be more "nihilistic". He also offers his opinion about his fellow Finns.
"Shiraz Lane can play the hell out of their instruments. To keep me interested they should focus more in their songwriting and try to sound more modern", Cruz says.
Guitars will never die
Shiraz Lane's sophomore album Carnival Days will be released in February. Archie Cruz's critique may apply to Shiraz Lane's debut For Crying Out Loud (2016) but Kett promises that the new album will take the band forward – also production wise.
"We were disappointed in how the first album sounded. It didn't sound big enough, modern enough, but the new album will kick asses. And this time we didn't hurry. We took all the time that the writing and recording took", Kett swears.
"Feel free to declare guitar dead, but looking at our gig calendar you might end up in a different conclusion." – Archie Cruz (Santa Cruz)
Acoustic guitars have now been mentioned by both Cruz and Kett. I can't help but ask about the death of electric guitar, music journalists' favorite topic for the past couple of years.
"I don't give a shit about that kind of comments", Kett sighs while Cruz laughs: "We're spending this whole spring on tour, and then we’re playing the biggest summer festivals in Finland and Europe. Feel free to declare guitar dead, but looking at our gig calendar you might end up in a different conclusion."