As a little nipper, I’d sit bug-eyed on the floor about two centimeters away from the television. Why? Wrestling, baby. On Saturday morning, it was time to watch RAW or Smackdown. The wacky, surreal, flamboyant, melodramatic, corny, incredible world of professional wrestling hooked me instantly. To this day, I follow the world of a professional wrestling from a distance. My love has diminished but my respect for the business has increased. There’s something magical about this carnival world—wrestlers like Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker, Kane, Brock Lesnar, and Jeff Hardy being my particular favorites: mesmeric, larger-than-life characters who faced trials, tribulations, and supernatural machinations on live TV for my baffled entertainment. Few metal bands use wrestling as a conceptual driving force and I don’t know why. It has everything a band needs to produce chaotic, vibrant, wildly imaginative music. Well, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, weighing over a thousand pounds for sure (five members), hailing from Oulu, Finland, please welcome old school heavy-metal body-slammers Wrestling. They’re here to bust your spine and insult your mothers with their speedy mix of Accept and Judas Priest on Ride on Freaks, their debut release.
Ride on Freaks is a freakishly peculiar record. The instruments are played proficiently. The production is clean and meaty. The vocals are… interesting. Take “Kitsch in America” as one of many examples of its weirdness. It’s a bizarre, circus-like song which is overwhelmed by the theatrical strangeness of Tommi Saha’s vocals. I’m not sure if he is serious or if the entire thing is a mad parody. Regardless, his vocals are a loud, obnoxious, nasally, inconsistent behemoth. At one point, he sounds like Frank Zappa, if Zappa was a circus ringleader holding a lion; at another, he sounds like a toothless Mike Patton with a bitter cold; mostly, though, he sounds like a zombie-esque version of Rob Halford mixed with an Ozzy high on bath-salts. Occasionally, Saha isn’t garish enough to drown some quite good music—”Feels Like Midnight” is a fever-dream spurt of speed-metal featuring solid transitions and darker mood. “Driving All Night” continues this darker, doomier mood—Saha’s nasally tones suit the sliding guitar riffs, although he spoils this when he bellows and moans.
Unfortunately, there aren’t that many references to wrestling here either. There is the five minute “Wrestlemania VI,” an Ozzy-meets-Saliva track which features Saha shouting out to a fictional crowd like a ring announcer. The band describe this as “strange mutated rap music from hell.” Atop monotone, lightweight guitar chugs he half-halfheartedly shouts “prepare for some slamming action,” “you will experience malfunction in your brain,” and “wrestling… wrestling… wrestling!” Finally, Saha introduces The Ultimate Warrior as an imaginary crowd go wild. The song, surprisingly, builds with some excitement—Saha’s vocals become gruffer, less pronounced, allowing the rest of the band to become looser and more expressive. But, in the grand scheme of heavy metal, this is a solid nope.
There really isn’t too much else of note here. “Venom Makes Me Stronger” channels Judas Priest‘s groovy turbo energy. Tasty licks, hook-laden vocals and solos are present in typical Priest worship fashion with subtle touches of glam. “Beyond The Limits” is the same, a banal, pastiche opening makes way for more an intense closing featuring twin-guitar harmonies, soloing, and gruffer vocals—by this point I’ve reached my limit. Most songs follow this format, beginning steadily then opening up into a more furious downward slide towards the end.
Wrestling don’t offer anything new or exciting—maybe 15 minutes here is really good stuff. The rest is passable at best. There are a lot of different styles and genres implemented here, a mad combination, really; it’s like a cheesy musical montage viewed through beer-goggles. In a genre that lives off legacy, the best new bands are those who write incredibly memorable songs with a flavor of authenticity emerging from the energy of the music. It’s a fine line, and Wrestling tread on the wrong side of that line by a long distance. And, really, the ’80s is the ’80s and 100% pastiche, with worse vocals and strange pacing, is bound to fail.