Cryhavoc and let slip the tits of war

CRYHAVOC: Sweetbriers

Release year: 1998/2022
Label: Spinefarm Records/Lipposen Levy Ja Kasetti

The late 90’s were a great time to be a metalhead in Finland. The scene was active, with lots of new bands popping up, but there was basically no mainstream popularity to constrain creativity. Bands such as Nightwish, Children Of Bodom and HIM were starting to make a name for themselves at home and abroad, whilst established acts such as Sentenced, Amorphis and Impaled Nazarene already had a reputation and multiple albums under their belt. The (at the time) indie label Spinefarm Records were releasing new stuff on a steady basis. Most of the new bands released an album, maybe two, and faded away into obscurity, and widespread acclaim was never to be their lot. But by jove, it was an exciting time to be alive.

One of those bands who came from nowhere, released two albums to maybe a bit of buzz but no greater acclaim and then faded away, was Cryhavoc from Helsinki. In truth, they didn’t come from nowhere: under the names Preprophecy and Ravensfall they’d been active since 1992 and released a couple of demos, but as a death metal band. Upon changing their name to Cryhavoc, they dropped the death and became just metal, very much in the same vein as Sentenced did on their seminal third album Amok.

When speaking of Cryhavoc, one cannot avoid Sentenced. In more ways than can be counted, Cryhavoc’s debut Sweetbriers – adorned with a tit-illating cover sure to grab the attention of teenage metalheads everywhere – models itself after Amok, with dollops of follower Down thrown in. Indeed, it’s hard to get much more derivative than this.

Both Discogs and Encyclopedia Metallum mention “melodic death metal” in conjunction with Cryhavoc; something, which definitely was not used to describe the band back in the day. I can sort of understand the descriptor, though: some of the riffs do have the slightest death metal tint to them, at least if you listen to Sweetbriers with that in mind, and vocalist Kaapro’s raspy voice does touch growl territory now and then. Very much like Sentenced’s Amok. But no, despite of this, this is not melodic death metal. And Encyclopedia Metallum calling Cryhavoc gothic metal is entirely off the mark.

No, this is hard rockin’, melodic metal in a very late 90’s vein. In a very, very, very Amok vein. Mostly speedy mid-tempo, melodic riffs, catchy choruses. If you’ve heard Amok and Down, you know what I’m talking about. Imagine Down but a bit more like Amok and with Taneli Jarva on vocals, and macho bravado instead of the suicider romanticism, and you’ve got Sweetbriers pinned down to a tee.

The one thing that sets Sweetbriers apart from Sentenced is indeed the machismo and bravado. Sure, Sentenced had a bit of that, but Cryhavoc take it over the top. A great many song deals with romancing luscious ladies just to get laid in a true love ’em and leave ’em fashion. All delivered with the unshakeable, and most likely entirely unfounded confidence of a bunch of young twenty-something guys. To be honest, the one thing that hasn’t aged well at all on this album are the lyrics. They’re not only somewhat embarrassing thematically, but written in jumbled, broken English that might appear to make sense but really doesn’t upon closer inspection.

This is one of those albums I bought at about the time it was released, loved and consequently spun a lot. A lot turned to too much, and pretty soon I was sick of Sweetbriers – and sold it. Waxing nostalgic, I bought this re-release, and was positively surprised by how well Sweetbriers has stood the test of time. Whilst obviously very much a product of it’s time, it is that overwhelmingly positively. It is derivative and unoriginal in an almost criminal fashion, but it is also filled to the brim with youthful exuberance and energy. I can imagine these guys entered the studio with as much bravado as their lyrics display – and veteran producer Ahti Kortelainen managed to capture a lot of that on tape.

Live on Jyrki, the most significant music TV-shows in Finland during the late 90’s. Yeah, the mixing is out of balance.

Whilst containing few “hits”, the overall level of the album is extremely solid. There’s energy, memorable choruses (I find myself still being able to sing along even when I hadn’t heard the album in 20 years!), good riffs and solid songs. And silly lyrics. Vocalist Kaapro’s rough snarl has charisma.

No, this isn’t one of the big albums of late 90’s Finnish metal. Cryhavoc weren’t a seminal or groundbreaking band. Truthfully, they were a bit run-of-the-mill, but Sweetbriers is an extremely competent debut album by a band whose biggest flaw was their total lack of originality. In that sense, this re-release of Sweetbriers is almost more fun than unearthing some lost legend or forgotten gem: this is a peek to the day-to-day of a Finnish metalhead during the late 90’s. One of the bands s/he was wont to listen to in the days before aforementioned Nightwish, HIM and Children Of Bodom made Finnish metal a household name across the globe.

Cryhavoc released their second album the following year, in 1999. Though the band officially disbanded as late as 2006, in reality their saga ended shortly after Pitch-Black Blues, the somewhat lacklustre second album. By the turn of the millennium, Cryhavoc were largely forgotten and have remained so to this day. I doubt this re-release will change this, especially as a comeback is highly unlikely (vocalist Kaapro passed away from cancer in 2016), and I doubt there was huge demand for this re-release.

Even so, I find this re-release to be very fun, and I am glad it exists, as it allowed me to revisit Sweetbriers and rekindle an old flame. Because I really like this album. It’s a fun slice of history, and a musically solid album to boot, from an age when metal without prefixes was genuinely exciting to me.

Cryhavoc doesn’t have an online presence, but here’s an old fan site.

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