It’s been what, a few months since we’ve heard Professor Black commanding the microphone on a heavy metal album? But if you’re hoping for Dawnbringer 2.0 or an even Higher Spirits, you might end up getting a bit weirded out by the peculiarity at the crux of the three-dollar bill that is Aktor. Then again, if you’re at all familiar with the general mindset of the band’s other two principal architects, Jussi Lehtisalo and Tomi Leppänen of Finlandian oddballs Circle and Pharaoh Overlord, then perhaps you’re already prepared for something that’s destined to lead you more than just a few paces off the beaten path.
First and foremost, Paranoia is more of a proggy hard rock album than straight-up heavy metal. In that regard, it’s more in line with Jussi and Tomi’s other NWOFHM (NWOFHR?) outfit Falcon, which released a burner of a debut in 2013 called Frontier that sounded a bit like Alice Cooper fronting a more succinct, madcap version of Saga circa 1983. Aktor carries a very similar torch: Simple, catchy rhythms, plenty of hook in the choruses, and melody that’s often driven by a heavy dose of squirrelly keyboards.
New Wave of Finnish Hard Rock? Or a fitting soundtrack to a 1983 After School Special centered around a kid who uses his Apple IIe to tap into his High School’s mainframe, but instead of changing his Gym grade from a D to an A, he ends up uncovering missile codes from the U.S. government. DON’T HIT THE ENTER KEY COREY IT’LL RUIN THE BIG DANCE ON FRIDAY
Some of the fare is a little more fired-up and focused on dynamic guitar melody – “Six Silver Guns,” “Something Nasty” and “Never-Ending No” – and much of it is mid-paced and slightly darker, with a distinct peak being achieved early by the hugely satisfying shadowy march of “Gone Again.” But it’s all buttoned together by enough bleepblooping Atari 2600 keyboard atmospherics to keep the prevailing mood comfortably secured within a spectrum that’s 100% Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.
And by God, there’s just something about the informal tone at the heart of Chris Black’s overall delivery that makes vocal hooks such as these so gratifying. Maybe it’s because unlike the Diamonds and Halfords of our day, there is something a little more attainable that allows us to belt out slightly less embarrassing versions from our showers or Subarus. Who knows. Call it the Scalzi effect: Not too flashy, but still emotive and fully compelling.
There’s no question that we all have more than our fair share of quality music competing for ear-time, but if you have a taste for something different that maintains a heavy metal edge while intersecting a terrifically atypical line between the angular quirk of Devo and the more straightforward melodic drive of Fire of Unknown Origin-era BÖC, Aktor’s nostalgifuturistic debut LP could very well hit the target dead center.